Open Letter to Trade Unionists
Trade Unionists should reject the argument that a policy of voluntary wage restraint is somehow better than one that is imposed. This is like saying that a prisoner is better off if he shoots himself in his cell, than if he is shot by a firing squad. In either case the result is the same.
This also applies to wage restraint, whether it is operated by the TUC or imposed by legal enactment. The end is the same and the politicians get what they set out to achieve at the very beginning, with the added bonus that the bulk of trade unions believe they have gained some sort of victory. Surely it is time that trade unionists, particularly those who claim to be Socialists, stopped to consider exactly where they are allowing themselves to be led.
The balance of payments crisis and the difficulties of increasing exports against foreign competition, which the official excuse for the government’s wage restraint policy, is regarded as something new. The truth of the matter in that trade crises, often world wide, have been a recognisable and insoluble feature of capitalism for the past hundred years and more, and will continue as long as capitalism remains. Those politicians who talk of formulating a long-term policy to “put the economy on a sound footing” are ignoring the competitive nature of capitalist society. Even of the workers of this country co-operated 100 per cent with the government’s proposals for wage restraint and with all the new productive methods of the employers, it would not solve the problem. True, that in so far as it would result in a lowering of production costs it might enable more goods to be exported, but this would inevitably cause other countries to intensify their efforts to reduce their production costs lower still in order to regain their share of world trade. If they succeeded, the capitalists of this country would be faced with the same problem once again. This is the everlasting rat race of capitalism, caused by the need to find markets for wealth that is produced primarily for sale in order to realise a profit.
The problems which confront us are not caused, as some would have us believe, by the failure of trade unions to change with changing methods of production, but because society itself has not changed. In spite of all the changes that have taken place, capitalism remains basically the same; the overwhelming bulk of wealth and the means of production remain the private property of a small percentage of the population, whose sole interest in the production of wealth is to produce commodities for sale and making profit. Modern production is social in character, the wealth produced is by the common effort of the whole of society, but it is not owned in common — it remains the private property of a few. Only by bringing the ownership of the wealth produced into harmony with the mode of production, that is by changing the basis of society from private to common ownership and producing wealth for use and not for sale and profit, can the gigantic means of modern production be fully employed without causing the upheavals we are experiencing today.
J. E. Apling
Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT)