1960s >> 1969 >> no-774-february-1969

The Review Column: Take Over

Take Over

Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest and church-going. In fact, it is the day when about ten million British people excite themselves by reading in the News of the World all about sex sins of famous actresses and obscure country vicars.

The paper recently described itself as “as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding” and perhaps, in a way, that is true. Little wonder, then, that when Pergamon Press launched its take over bid the fight for the shares was a matter of popular concern.

It was one of the hardest fought of all take overs. The News of the World warned darkly that “Mr. Robert Maxwell, a Socialist M.P., is trying to take . . . over” and was careful enough to remind its readers that Maxwell (who was responsible for the Back Britain campaign) was “formerly Jan Ludwig Hoch.”

The NOW, it was clear, thought that the worst thing that could happen to British workers would be to have their favourite Sunday scandal sheet taken over by a naturalised Labour M.P.

Maxwell himself has never been famous for a reluctance to join the infighting. His delicate description of the man who defeated him — Australian newspaper owner Robert Murdoch — was “mothbeaten kangaroo”, and after the shareholders’ votes had gone against him he (of all people) mourned that “the law of the jungle has won.”

These dignified exchanges should be remembered, the next time Maxwell, or the News of the World, complain about the alleged childishness of striking workers. In the meantime, let us extricate ourselves from the mire of the battle between rival capitalists so anxious to protect their bank balances and take a look at the real issue.

Modern capitalism is a society of unrelenting insecurity and poverty. Such is the degradation of its people that millions of them greedily swallow the muck dished out by rags like the News of the World.

It pays to produce this muck. The real issue is not who owns the muck-making machine, but what about the nature of a society which makes it worthwhile to produce it, and which stimulates the need for it?

The Dark Side of Space

Space flights, we are promised, have brought us all sorts of benefits — anti-corrosive fluids, improved transistors, non-stick frying pans. That seems to be the limit — no space technician has yet been able to show that, say, a solution to the deadly riddle of cancer is likely to result from the exploits of those daring young men circling the moon.

But before we start cheering about the frying pans we should reflect on the other results of the space programme. One thing which is obvious is that no world power is ever willing to spend the sort of money which is being poured into the Apollo flights in order to make life any easier.

The only justification capitalism will recognise for that sort of spending is military or economic. We already know that any improvements in rocket power and guidance systems are applied to the delivery systems of nuclear missiles. We have also heard that the space powers can now orbit nuclear bombs above the earth, selecting the point at which they will come back through the atmosphere and onto their target.

There is also the possibility — and how strong this may be is one of the things the Americans and the Russian are not in a hurry to publicise — that the moon and other planets contain valuable minerals, it is not far fetched, then, to imagine a power struggle for possession of the planets, in space and so for dominance over the space lanes.

These should have been sobering thoughts for the world, as it goggled at the fantastic pictures coming back from Apollo 8 over Christmas. The glamour and excitement of it all obscured the cold, unpleasant realities but one day they will have to be faced, just as we have had to face the realities of the exploits of the Wright brothers.

The crew of Apollo 8 are brave men, dedicated to what they believe is the advance of humanity. This is not the first time capitalism has taken such useful instincts and perverted them for its own inhuman purposes.

Getting Tough

Whenever she is pressed on the point, Barbara Castle stubbornly insists that she is a left wing socialist — which in her vocabulary means the very opposite of someone who acts as she does in her job as boss of the Department of Employment and Productivity.

After her determined axing of wage claims under the Prices and Incomes Act, Castle is now getting ready for what might be her biggest fight so far. The government are preparing legislation which, under the name “reform”, will be nothing other than another restriction on the unions.

Castle wants a 28 day cooling off period before some strikes and compulsory balloting before official national strikes, with prosecution and fines for those who break the law.

Both sides of industry are pressing for changes in these proposals; the employers want them tougher and the unions are timidly asking for some relaxations.

Whatever happens, we are clearly in for another step in what may be one of Labour’s dearest ambitions — the control of wages. It is reasonable to wonder whether the government is clinging to office, in face of the humiliating election results, only long enough to attempt that particular piece of dirty work for the British capitalist class.

The government are justifying their proposals with the weary argument that if they don’t do it the Tories will — which is a clear admission that Labour is as much the enemy of the unions as the Tories.

Then there is the case put up for the ballots — that it is the democratic way of doing it, that a national strike which affects millions of people should not be decided upon by a handful of men.

In practice, the ballot might be a two edged weapon. In the meantime, may we ask how far Labour will carry this democratic idea? When they want to take a decision on something which will affect millions of people — like devaluation, prescription charges and so on, will they arrange a ballot before they act?

No prizes are offered for the answer to that question.