1970s >> 1978 >> no-892-december-1978

Running Commentary: Don’t Do As I Do

“Confetti money” is the trendy phrase which all the publicists are now using to explain how wrong-headed and greedy the workers are when they try to achieve the same real wages as they got a year ago. What’s the point of getting more bits of paper — so the industrialists and their yes-men say — when it’s only going to buy less because of inflation? At the recent second annual conference of the Confederation of British Industries (Daily Telegraph, 8.11.78), the chairman of the Scottish region denounced “the crass stupidity of strikes for confetti money”, and the chairman of Dunlop appealed to the work-force to “give up confetti money for something with a solid ring to it” (which is like appealing to someone who is drowning to give up water for land).


In other words, the workers must accept that the employers have the right — while charging more on the market for their goods whenever they believe the consumer will pay — to make a cut in their employees’ real wages from year to year and from month to month. But you can always tell that a piece of reasoning is bogus when the reasoner applies it only to others, never to himself. On October 20 last, the one news carried a clip of a representative of the Ford management warning the Ford workers against putting in for higher wages, since it would only be “confetti money”. But Folds themselves have put the price of their vehicles up during the last year not only to keep pace with inflation, but considerably beyond it — hence the bitterness and determination in the Ford strike. And that morning the papers recorded that there had been 344 price increases in groceries that week alone, including biscuits, cakes, canned meat, cheese, lard and so on. The total of price increases for the year had reached 9655 (Daily Telegraph, 20.10.78).


That means that the management of companies had considered the “confetti money” argument 9655 times so far in 1978, and had rejected it on each occasion. But they still expect it to convince their employees.


State Capitalist Board Smashes Strikes
Whether an industry is owned by private capitalists, or by the executive committee of the capitalist class, the State, makes no difference to how the business is run, nor to the altitude taken by the bosses towards the workers. Wage-increases will be conceded if there is no alternative, and rejected wherever the chips are stacked on the employers’ side of the table. The State-owned British Transport Docks Board is firmly rejecting any claims which would mean that their employees could attain the standards of living they thought they had agreed to work for a year ago. The chairman said: “We shall not be moved from whatever pay guidelines there are” (Daily Telegraph, 3.11.78). The managing director added: “We will also refuse to enter any productivity deals. We will not enter the charade of so-called deals.” The board has already scored some notable successes over its employees.


  Already men at one of the board’s ports — Fleetwood — have settled for five per cent. Two major confrontations. one at King’s Lynn, and the six-and-a-half week strike at Southampton, have been met and defeated. In both instances the men returned to work, having lost up to £300 in lost earnings, on the board’s terms . . . Another dispute, settled on the board’s terms, was at Plymouth where men were out for two weeks demanding higher pay for handling passenger ferries.


(A five per cent pay increase would still be well below the rate of inflation in the past year: in fact, allowing for the usual deductions, the effective increase is more like three and a half per cent in nominal pay, which means a sharp drop in real pay.) Years ago the Labour Party said that nationalised industries would benefit the workers because they would “lead the way” in improving real wages and conditions. Clearly they don’t: more and more Stale-employed workers are finding themselves at the back of the queue when they try to maintain their real wages. The State boards only lead from the rear: like the Duke of Plaza Toro, who led his regiment from behind — he found it less exciting.


But either way, nationalisation has nothing whatever to do with socialism.


Catholicism In The Blood
The Polish Cardinal Wojtyla. installed as Pope John Paul II. made a large claim in his inaugural speech:


  His native country, he said, had for 1000 years remained faithful to the See of Rome (Daily Telegraph, 23.10.78).


This claim, to put it kindly, is not all that true. In the 16th and 17th centuries many Poles became Lutherans or Calvinists (that is. Protestants), and many others belonged to the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Catholics themselves labelled Poland “the paradise of the heretics”. In the 18th century, despite the fact that the Polish constitution guaranteed complete religious toleration, the Roman Catholic Church deliberately stamped out the Dissenters. or non-Catholics. They were forbidden to hold public office or sit in Parliament, their churches, schools and monasteries were either destroyed or seized by the Catholics for their own purposes, and they were subject to many disabilities and persecutions. When their ill-treatment provoked religious riots, as at Thorn in 1724. heavy repression followed. In “the Blood Bath of Thorn” as it came to be called, the rioters’ leaders were executed, along with the Protestant Mayor and town officials for not preventing the trouble.


In this way the Poles returned to Holy Mother Church, and the pope is now able to claim that they were never anything but loyal.


Survival Of A Tyrant
The rule of the Shah over Iran has not been notable for its genial tolerance towards any opposition, nor for a reluctance to display his abounding wealth alongside the extreme poverty of many of the Iranian people.


In recent years, in an effort to damp down the growing hostility to his reign, the Shah has been offering reforms with a desperation to match a man on a sledge being pursued by a pack of starving wolves.


One minister after another has been sacked: the Shah has even ordered an investigation into his own wealth and that of his family, But the demands that he should go have continued and in the demonstrations something over a thousand people have been killed by the Persian Army.


In some respects there is little to choose between the Shah and his opponents: some of the demonstrations were religiously inspired opposition to his offers of land reform and of raising the low status of Iranian women.


This gave British Foreign Secretary David Owen an excuse for Britain’s support for the Shah, on the grounds that his opponents were “right wing, reactionary and fanatical”. Such pious mouthings should deceive nobody; the true reasons for the British capitalist class’ support for the Shah and his despotic rule are less reputable.


Firstly, Iran is a strategically placed country: it has a border with Russia and stands athwart the route to the Middle Fast oilfields. Secondly, it is one of the area’s great oil-producing countries, although as far as Britain is concerned this is of less importance with the opening of the North Sea.


Thirdly, Iran is one of British industry’s big customers; in 1977 British exports there were worth £654 million — the biggest market in that part of the world. Arms make up a large part of this total but valuable exports have also been in building, power stations and heavy generating machinery.


To expect, in face of this, that David Owen would denounce the Shah as an outmoded tyrant would be unreal. He is, after all, paid to represent the interests of British capitalism, even if this entails giving support to characters more unsavoury than even the normal run.