1960s >> 1968 >> no-765-may-1968

Finance and Industry: Tycoons in Sweden

Tycoons in Sweden
Capitalism is based on the monopoly of the means of production by a minority. In Britain, for instance, the top 1 per cent of the population owned 42 per cent of personal wealth in 1960. It has been argued by our Labour party opponents that this position can be changed gradually by means of penal taxation, nationalisation and other reform measures, so that capitalism would be transformed into Socialism. Things have not turned out that way. Labourites may claim to have had power when things have been at their worst, acting as a stop gap while the Tories take a breather. True, the Labour party have not had the twenty-five years of power Bevan claimed was needed to do the job. Ideas of gradualism are not confined to Britain alone. They are common to the Social Democratic parties of Europe.

In Sweden the Social Democrats have had power almost without interruption since 1932. The war which saw British industry run down gave an impetus to its Swedish counterpart. The “misrule” of their predecessors is long forgotten. There is no East of Suez policy to dog their footsteps. Nor do the gnomes of Zurich threaten the kroner. In fact this is the type of situation that Labour ministers, harassed by capitalism’s problems in Britain, would regard as ideal to bring about their gradual transformation. There is even talk of “Scandinavian socialism” (whatever that might be).

But consider this Daily Telegraph report of 15 February on a survey of the distribution of wealth in so-called socialist Sweden:

  Fifteen families control one-fifth of Swedish private industry . . .  In 94 of Sweden’s 232 leading companies whose record the committee scrutinised, the share majority was held by one person. In 96 it was held by two persons, in 81 by three persons and in 11 by four or more persons. The tendency for wealth and voting power to accumulate in the hands of a few has been steadily increasing since 1960, the committee added.

This government survey gives the answer to the gradualist argument. Under capitalism the tendency is for wealth to accumulate into a smaller number of hands, whatever type of party tries to run it.

Labour and Social Democratic governments have no role to play in establishing Socialism, where the means of production are owned in common and are democratically controlled by the whole community. This can only be done by workers organising consciously for the job in Socialist parties. The lesson of over thirty years of Social Democratic government in Sweden is there for all workers to learn.

Robbing Peter
The decision to close the Woolwich telecommunications plant of GEC-AEI in which 5,500 workers are employed does not mean that the new group is giving up this side of their business. Rather it is part of the rationalisation that is taking place. Production will be concentrated in factories in north-east England and in Scotland. Jobs are harder to come by in these parts of Britain, but the move is not being made out of philanthropic concern for the unemployed workers there. The work will be done in brand new factories, with greater productivity as 3,000 fewer workers will be turning out as much as the 5,500 at Woolwich now do. Another attraction is the regional employment premium paid by the government in these areas. So it is a case of transferring production from one [place] to another in order to cut costs so as to capture a larger share of the market and increase profits for the shareholders. It is a grim game of musical chairs where 5,500 people in London leave the work bench for the dole queue, while less than half this number leave the dole queue for the work bench in the north and Scotland—the music is played on cash registers and scored to the requirements of the balance sheet.

The affair shows that under capitalism it is the profit motive that dictates the line of action to those who try to plan it. It also shows that one set of planners can cause havoc to the carefully prepared blueprints of another. The regional policy of the government involves offering subsidies to attract industry to areas of high unemployment. They succeed with GEC-AEI and ruin the plans of the GLC who are having the new town at Thamesmead built to relieve the pressure on London’s housing. Prior to their takeover by GEC, AEI hoped to expand their Woolwich operations to provide 2,000 jobs. All the signs suggested that there would be plenty of jobs for workers from the new town in nearby Woolwich. Also a new housing scheme is going up on the site of the old Woolwich Arsenal. All this is going to mean people having to get jobs elsewhere in London, adding to the congestion of the already inadequate transport system.

Before workers in the north-east and Scotland take their new jobs for granted they should take heed of the Postmaster General’s dissatisfaction with the industry that will employ them, which is running late on delivery on over a thousand of its 1,700 contracts. The PMG threatened to place contracts for equipment overseas if this is not improved; This would mean that the brand new factories might not be needed after all.

Workers suffer insecurity under capitalism, with or without futile attempts at planning. The system cannot be planned, not even with computers, the planners might as well consult astrologers — if no more reliable it would at least be cheaper.

Joe Carter