Review June 72
Events in the docks, on the railways and in the Industrial Relations Court seemed to indicate that the government policy on the unions is, as the newspapermen like to say, in ruins. At first they huffed, with the big fine for the TGWU; then they puffed with the railmen’s ballot and the threats to imprison the dockers. But then their house fell down. The Labour Party seized upon the government’s confusion, implying that things would have been better ordered under Wilson. They forgot that the last time a government was made to look foolish over taking legal action against strikers was the Labour government who prosecuted dockers in 1951. They forgot also that every government starts off with promises to tackle the unions, in one way or another. This applied to the Wilson period, which began with attempts at getting the unions to agree to voluntary restrants and ended with the famous, ill fated legal restrictions of In Place of Strife. The insoluble problem for all governments, which are trying to run capitalism, is to legislate order into an anarchic situation. The class struggle is an essential part of capitalism; politicians who think they can control it, and workers who vote for them in that belief, are simply deluding themselves.
The same newspapers which took a high moral tone over the allegedly grabbing activities of the unions also adopted the same attitude over the activities of the asset strippers, notably John Bentley who has stripped so effectively in recent times that he has become a millionaire. The whole point about asset stripping is that someone makes money — a lot of money — over shutting a factory down. City editors striving to believe that there is something logical and beneficial to us all in capitalism thought it a bit much, that someone can make a fortune over a process which involves throwing thousands of other people out of work. In fact, asset stripping conforms perfectly to the basics of capitalism, which is that everything must be carried on with a view to making profit. Bentley personifies the uselessness of the system which provides for him so well.
The South African government are under increasing pressure to modify, if not abandon, their policies of apartheid. Of course we have been hearing for a long time now, that the end of apartheid was near; meanwhile the special type of suffering which it entails has if anything worsened. What is new about recent developments has been the growing tendency for whites to protest against the government— and not just whites who were anxious that they would lose the chance to watch touring sports teams but some with other concerns, other interests. In many ways apartheid stands against the logic of capitalism, which needs a free, mobile working class. In South Africa, the industrialists have smarted under the restrictions of the official policies and have looked hungrily at the vast labour force which was being denied them. The immediate possibility is that Vorster will crack down on the protests with more restrictions but beyond that, in some way, there must be an end to apartheid if capitalism is to develop in South Africa. When that happens, and the Africans have arrived at a state of established working class life style, with all that implies in terms of poverty and suppression, the protesters may realise that something more fundamental is needed by way of social change, if human problems are to be dealt with effectively.
Anyone who still cherishes the idea that the parties of capitalism are united bands of brothers will have had their delusions damaged somewhat by recent happenings in party committee rooms. In both the big parties, the knives have been out and there have been one or two corpses to cart away afterwards. The whole trouble has been that in the next election there will be a lot of redesigned constituencies, as a result of the adjustment of parliamentary boundaries. In many cases this has meant that thousands of supporters have been drawn into a neighbouring constituency, where they are likely to be swamped by the larger votes of the other side. Some seats probably change hands, others become perilous instead of safe. The struggle has been to desert the sinking ships and find a place on a nice, dry safe one—and it has involved some big names among them no less than the Prime Minister whose seat at Bexley may have become Labour in the reshuffle. Capitalist politicians are persistently telling us that they serve us. sacrifice themselves for us, give us the best years of their lives and so on. When they are struggling for their survival, however, they tend to show rather different motives.
(Socialist Standard, July 1972)