Many who voted the Labour Government into power in 1964 and with a much increased majority earlier this year are wondering if they did the right thing. They knew what they wanted: steady or lower prices; higher wages, shorter hours and longer holidays; more houses, lower rents and mortgage charges; bigger pensions and sick benefits, and, of course, no unemployment. Obviously not extravagant demands because all the leaders, Labour, Tory and Liberal, promised much the same things. How could the voters lose, whichever way they voted? But in the event the majority decided that Wilson was the man to do it.
Now the voters are not so sure. They read the Labour Party election manifesto promising a 25 per cent rise in living standards in the next five years and many of them (including, of course, the seamen) cannot understand why the glowing promise turns into a Government refusal to concede more pay and shorter hours in the merchant ships and the threatened use of Emergency Powers against the strikers. They also see that most of the other promises have gone into oblivion. Almost the only favourable sign is that unemployment has so far continued at a low level.
But perhaps the present troubled state of affairs is just a passing phase and before the end of the year all will be well? ,
There are indeed signs of change before the year is out, but according to a report in the Observer on June 5 it is likely to be a freeze on prices and wages.
In the previous week a story was leaked to the Press (put out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer according to one view, though it is denied) that if the seamen’s strike
continued the Government intended to take drastic action in the form of a “freeze”.
The leading article in the Observer added its own interpretation of Government tactics.
The Government seems almost deliberately to be encouraging the Machiavellian explanation of its attitude to the seamen’s strike: that it half-welcomed this dispute as a pretext for tough and unpleasant economic measures which the Labour Party would otherwise find difficult to swallow. Already private hints are being dropped—accompanied by public denials—that as a result of the strike, and particularly if it ends in a messy compromise, the Government may have to introduce a wage freeze.
That fact is that the Government’s “incomes policy by persuasion” is in ruins. The increase of production in the still-born National Plan has not taken place, exports and imports have not adjusted themselves and foreigners holding pounds sterling are as jumpy as ever about the prospects of devaluation. So what will the Government do? Impose a freeze? Or let things take their course and rely on a few hundred thousand unemployed to help to keep wages down?
We can be quite sure of one thing. The Labour Government which took office to “put things right” will blame the workers for the failure. The magician who can’t produce the rabbits out of the hat will lay the blame on the audience!
It is an old story, repeated in every Labour Government here and elsewhere. It was told first when the Labour Government came into office in 1929. One Minister, J. H. Thomas, addressing the National Union of Railwaymen, of which he had been General Secretary, told them: “We ask you not to expect too much, nor attempt to force from us, because we are a Labour Government, what you would not force from a capitalist government.”
By “Capitalist government” Thomas meant Liberal or Tory, but from the working class point of view it is a distinction without a difference. We live under capitalism whether administered by Tory, Liberal or Labour, and capitalism operates through profit. It is therefore the function of all governments to enable profit to be made. With enough unemployment to put a brake on wages the government need take no special steps, but when unemployment is too low attention turns to an “incomes policy” to do the trick.
Has something gone wrong that the workers should be faced with this dilemma? Would another government be any better?
Nothing has gone wrong. This is capitalism running true to form. This is the way capitalism works.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain, at and between every general election, points to the way out by replacing capitalism with Socialism. All those who chose capitalism by voting Labour, Tory, Liberal (or Communist) have only themselves to thank. They have got what they voted for.