“We Want Work”
The sight of a demonstration marching through London demanding work is enough to shake anyone out of his complacency. For some years since the end of the Second World War, workers have regarded relatively full employment as a right, something that was here to stay. How wrong they were! Unemployment in November last topped the half million mark and was the worst figure in that month for over 20 years. And now we witness workless Merseysiders shouting slogans and waving banners. A spectre is haunting us—the spectre of the 1930’s, the lean and hungry depression years.
How pathetic it is that an old problem has evoked only the same old stale and worthless ideas for its solution. If we pause for a moment and listen to the spokesmen for the marchers, we shall hear them demanding government action to stop the flow of industry southwards and to force more factories to the depressed areas. At best this will only remove the sting from the hopelessness of the unemployed Merseysider. Like most convenient cut and dried theories, it conveniently ignores the basic cause of the problem and, as we might expect, it is a stock line of the average Labour Party supporter.
In our capitalist society, industry goes where there is profit to be found. Nearness to raw materials, short lines of communication, plentiful supplies of suitable labour, easy access to markets, availability of cheap fuel and power—these are some of the main factors which decide the location of a factory and cause it perhaps to be moved elsewhere later on.
It is true, of course, that governments have also tried to move industry to fulfil political or strategic requirements, and since the end of the war firms have been encouraged to take their factories to the “development areas.” During a period of boom when markets are buoyant and expanding, many companies are quite willing to operate from the more remote areas such as South Wales, Scotland and the North. They have a sellers’ market and good profit margins. But what happens when the markets are tightening, goods are no longer easy to sell, and profit margins are shrinking? Why, production is curtailed, of course, and redundancy threatens.
Firms which have moved out of London and other big towns then start casting wistful eyes back home. Costs have become even more important and any method of reducing them is looked at carefully. It may be, decided to concentrate production in one area instead of dispersing it over several areas as before. Although unemployment may appear earlier and be more acute in some parts than in others, it is a condition which will affect most areas if a depression deepens.
If a thriving industry is transferred to Merseyside from Surrey, it may provide work for some of Merseyside’s unemployed, but the basic trouble has not been cured. It has merely been spread a bit more evenly, a few more workers looking for work in the South and a few less in the North. Capitalist politicians have been quick to notice that people generally tend to ignore the existence of a social problem if it is not too heavily concentrated, and this has been one factor influencing their post-war employment policies. But it is when a trade slump gets out of hand and unemployment figures soar into the millions that spreading-the-load theories take a back seat, and more varied and bizarre speculations are taken from the lumber room.
The problem of unemployment is rooted in our private property set up. The majority of the population—the workers —own little or no property and can get a living only by selling their energies to those who do own—the capitalists. Workers produce more than they receive in wages and it is this surplus, realised when the goods are sold, that belongs to the capitalist class. But the market is capricious, unpredictable, quite anarchic, despite all the market research by the bright young men of industry, and capitalists often find themselves faced with a falling market at the very time when they have planned for an increase in demand. Capitalism is, in fact, quite unplannable.
What then is to be done? At the risk of being called all sorts of names, we say that marches of the unemployed are of no value. Workers might just as well save their shoe leather and stay at home. That is one lesson at least which we should have learned from the 1930’s. There is only one way to end such evils as unemployment, and that is by the world’s workers understanding, desiring, and taking conscious political action to achieve a new social structure, based upon the common ownership of the means of living. This is Socialism.
There will be no unemployed marchers and no pro-capitalism Labour reformers. The working class have to make the choice. To ignore or oppose only means a continuance of the insanity of our times.