1960s >> 1968 >> no-763-march-1968

News In Review: Trawlers In Distress

Trawlers In Distress


There is no quick solution to the tragic deaths in the deep sea fishing fleet—nothing that will appeal to any official inquiry, nor to zealous newspaper men, nor even to protesting relatives.


The fishermen would be safer in bigger and better ships, and with a mother ship to provide immediate help. The trawler owners are reluctant to invest in this kind of equipment, and are fighting against government restrictions on winter fishing, because they say this would damage the economics—in other words the profitability—of the industry.


For those who support capitalism, with its wealth production based on profit, that is a powerful argument.


But this is not a case of coffin ships being sent into impossibly dangerous waters. The fishermen themselves often take risks with their own safety; they penetrate into dangerous seas, they are reluctant to give their position away to other trawlers and do not, therefore, report regularly by radio, they often run before a storm instead of heaving to and riding it out because they want to be first into port with their catch.


They take these risks simply because they are paid on what they bring back. There is nothing new in workers, under this kind of pressure, putting their lives at hazard. An inspection of almost any factory or building site would reveal many cases of safety precautions being evaded in the chase after a bonus schedule or higher piecework pay.


Perhaps, if they were asked, the workers—including the trawlermen—would say they would not have it any other way. But what would that prove?


That some workers depend on their wage almost to the point of desperation. That sometimes they will accept appalling conditions, because they can see no alternative to the system which makes them. That capitalism’s morals of acquisitiveness have hardened some workers to the point where even their own lives are cheap.


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The latest flare-up in Vietnam showed that not only the Americans are capable of escalating the war there. It also showed that, in spite of all the bombing, which Washington always insisted was aimed at the North’s supply lines, the Vietcong can still infiltrate in strength and can still equip their forces behind the lines.


Will this latest offensive be followed by the Americans stepping up their war effort? The working class have been well prepared for this and the newsreels and photographs of the recent fighting, including those of the outrages committed by both sides, will have stimulated those who advocate the use of nuclear weapons.


There is no reason to think that retaliation would not follow, perhaps from China. It is the blood-chilling work of capitalism’s strategists to evaluate such perilous situations and to make their speculations in death and injury and destruction.


Another possibility is that the Vietcong attack was intended to strengthen their hand at any peace talks which may be in the offing.


This in itself says a lot about the nature of any such negotiations as may take place. It reveals that they will not be about peace but about conflict and that they will be, in their way, as much a trial of strength as any war.


It reveals that the people of Vietnam have nothing to hope for from negotiations and that even if the current war is brought to a halt the Far East will continue to be an area where irreconcilable interests clash over which group of capitalists shall have access to which markets, oil fields, rubber plantations . . .


Vietnam is simply another of capitalism’s conflicts. In its protraction, its atrocities, its morals of violence and its frightening possibilities it is no more than another page in a fearsome history.


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It would be exceedingly difficult, in face of the greater and greater mergers which are taking place in industry, to keep up the once-popular myth that this is the Century of the Common Man.


The two latest headliners—of GEC and AEI and of British Motor Holdings and Leylands—were classics of their kind.


All four companies were already huge and had been built up after a series of previous mergers and takes-over. There are, it seems, no limits to the field of monopoly; size is no restriction and neither is competition as deadly rivals readily sink their differences in the new combines.


One of the driving forces in this is the hope that the mergers will bring economies in production and administration—including in the people who work in these.


It did not take GEC long to announce some of their cuts, in particular their plan to close the old AEI factory at Woolwich. The workers there reacted with stunned indignation; some of them have been at AEI for a very long time, many with their families.


But of course capitalism does not employ people as a benevolent service; nobody has a right to a job. People are employed if it is profitable for an employer to do so; if it is not, or if there is more profit to be made from sacking them, they will not be employed.


These facts are harsh, but facts nonetheless. If mergers do nothing else, they show workers their degrading place in capitalist society—as entries on an accountant’s balance sheet, as faceless units in production to be analysed, coded, evaluated and, in some cases, dispensed with.


The employers, for their part, can only trust that the merger’s economies will solve their problems. But the markets of capitalism remain untouchably anarchic. Perhaps the workers in the combines are not the only ones who are in for some shocks.