1960s >> 1969 >> no-783-november-1969

50 Years Ago: The Fallacy of Nationalisation

On the 9th October the Prime Minister met a deputation representing the Trades Union Congress and the Miners Federation, who presented a demand for Nationalisation of the coal mines on the lines laid down by the Sankey Report.

According to the report of the interview given in the Daily News (11 October 1919) Mr. Smillie, representing the miners put forward two main reasons why the mines should be nationalised.

The first was that ‘the mines are largely unsafe because they are working for private profit’. In what way Nationalisation would make them safer was left to guess. There is no evidence that the railways have become safer for the railway workers since they have been under government control, nor has it ever been put forward that the Admiralty Dockyards are safer than private ones.

Mr. Smillie’s second point is given as follows:—

“I want the mines Nationalised in order that by the fullest possible development in intelligent lines, with the assistance of the engineering power we know we possess, we might hereby develop the mines and increase the output and so reduce the price”.

Coming at this moment, after a certain bitter experience by the miners, the last suggestion in this statement is simply staggering. Coal is under Government control now, and a few months ago, without any economic reason, the price was raised by 6/- a ton.

Neither is it certain that Nationalisation would result in ‘the fullest possible development of the industry’. While this is possible it is far from probable, as experience of the Government departments during the war — and since — has shown only too well.

But these points are not the important ones . . . Nationalised industries are expected to show as good a result as—or better than—the private business, as, for instance in the case of the Admiralty Dockyards.

The fundamental fallacy underlying the TUC and Miners’ demands for Nationalisation of the coal mines—and it applies with equal force, to the Nationalisation of any other industry—is their failure to recognise the slave character and position of the workers . . . The workers will remain wage slaves while capitalism lasts, even though every industry were Nationalised.

(From an unsigned Editorial “Coal and Cant” in the Socialist Standard, November 1919.)