Review April 1972
The cruelest month brought yet another bout of misery for workers who rely on the trains to get them to and from work, as the railway workers went slow in an effort to get some results on their pay claim. There might be some argument about whether the railmen were well advised in their handling of the episode in which Alex Jarrett awarded them a rapid 12½ per cent. That would be a matter of tactics. What cannot be in dispute is the fact that here we have another section of workers who are struggling to arrest a lowering of their living standards. In view of the recent history of the railways, which has been one of cut back and decline, they may well be trying to hold back the tide; but theirs is a struggle which all workers should support. And in giving this support workers should not be in the slightest impressed by the cynical mouthings of the press and of official spokesmen, who express such concern over the “suffering of the public”. To take only one example, British Rail have not considered public interests when they have decided to shut down lines; they have been concerned only with the profitability of the railways. That remains their concern and that is why they are fighting the railmen. In the confusion of the struggle, the essential facts must be kept clear.
Of course the government claimed that their stand against the railway workers was a matter of principle—and any worker who still accepts that capitalist politicians have such things may have believed them. Yet they showed again, how flexible their “principles” can be, when they agreed to pump more money into the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Those with a memory which goes back to June 1970 will recall that the Heath government was going to make capitalism a joy to live in by the simple process of refusing to support lame duck firms and industries and making all of us stand firmly on our own two feet. This policy took a knock when the government virtually nationalised Rolls Royce; now there is another example, in the case of Harland and Wolff. The plain fact is that modern capitalism runs on a large measure of government interference in, and support of, private industry. When the Tories pretend otherwise they are merely playing for votes by ignoring facts.
Vietnam forced its way explosively back into the headlines it had been kept out of by Northern Ireland and all the other news items about the current violence of capitalism. As Nixon prepares for his re-election campaign, it may be remembered that in 1968 he seemed quite sure that his administration would not have too much difficulty in finishing the war, which seemed at that time to be about to drag on for ever. With the approach of election year, Nixon has put in force a policy of training the South Vietnamese to fight the war themselves on the ground, with support from American aircraft and “advisers”. This policy has now been exposed, like the rest, as impotent. Nevertheless, we can depend on it, that in November there will be more policies, more plans, more vote-catching promises. None of them will deal with the reality, which is that the war in Vietnam is another of the conflicts which spring from the essentially divisive nature of capitalist society. It should not matter to workers, what nationality of people it is that fights a war; as workers their interests are the same. War is unavoidable in a capitalist society and workers everywhere should unite to end the system.
Another great split in the Labour Party, bringing back memories of the days of Aneurin Bevan, although elegant Roy Jenkins is of course much more acceptable in the vote-floating areas than was Bevan, who might sometimes sound as if the Labour Party was in opposition to the Tories and who could therefore be a bit of an embarrassment. At least until he learnt his lesson at the famous Brighton conference in 1957.
The latest split came over the issue of a referendum on the Common Market. Recently a group of Labour M.P.s have been agitating for this, completely ignoring the fact that when they were in power they were trying to push through membership of the Six without any talk of a vote on whether the workers wanted such a thing or not. Apart from this, the Jenkins rebels are fighting over the Labour leadership, however much they protest, hand on heart, that nothing is further from their intentions. This is not a battle over principles, since neither side have any to fight over. It is at best a struggle over an issue of capitalism—whether and how the British capitalist class should join a trading combine of other capitalist classes on the Continent. It is of no consequence to workers whether their rulers join any such combine; neither is it of any consequence how the affairs of that combine are handled. Jenkins may or may not improve his career prospects as a result of his resignation; the real issue for workers is whether they will continue to stand for capitalism, with its trade and its conflicts and its cynical leaders.
(Socialist Standard, May 1972