1970s >> 1976 >> no-862-june-1976

The Welsh Scene

The recent unrest in the steel industry was inevitable to anyone with just a little knowledge of the nature of capitalist economy. In Wales, as elsewhere, workers have been rudely awakened from their dream that full employment would last. The logic of the message that the Socialist movement has propagated over the years is once again amply demonstrated. Unfortunately it is not at all palatable to workers who, for a considerable period, have depended on the unstable structure of additional pay from overtime and shift work.

 

Now the employers have had to shed many thousands of their work-force as well as cutting out the various forms of overtime. At a recent press conference in Cardiff the British Steel Corporation’s chief executive, Bob Scholey, said: “We do not think the funding of this luxury at public expense is fair.” Apparently he was serious about the world “luxury”: he was referring to the workers’ demand for work in an industry which, from the bosses’ point of view, is overmanned. A new blast furnace capable of increased output but requiring fewer men has been accepted by the unions on condition that the wages for manning it are increased, and this has been agreed to by the employers. So a section of the workers will be seen as retaining their jobs at the expense of the others—a hint of “divide and rule”.

It is indeed a sorry pass to which the workers have come, to be told that working longer hours is a “luxury”—that it is in some way associated with the quality of one’s life. Overtime has been the provider of holidays abroad and the host of knick-knacks which workers have been led to believe are indispensable for the good life. It is not that we are against the acquisition of more and better artifacts. We may condemn the shoddy and inferior things foisted on the workers; but even that supply can be diminished at any time when the capitalist system can no longer allow the means to enjoying them.

Some steel workers are attending the job despite being told there is no work. The masters claim it is unreasonable to demand work when it is unprofitable to employ them; they own the factories and they know the situation. It is the workers whose thinking is wrong, in imagining there is some divine law which entitles them to jobs. When are they going to wake up to the fact that all they have is their labour-power—and when that is not wanted they have to take it elsewhere if they can? The steel industry, like any other, exists to make profits.

There is no logic in workers’ giving their masters the legal authority to exploit them, and then kicking at the results. The constantly repeated crises of capitalism can only be overcome in one way, and that is for the working class to take—legitimately — the ownership of the means of living. This relatively simple, democratic measure will put and end to the sit-ins, strikes and the other acts which manifest the miseries of the present system. Society can be transformed into a structure wherein its resources will be utilized solely for human needs. This can happen when men desire it. The task of Socialists is to urge the working class to be conscious of itself and its potentialities.

W. Brain