1970s >> 1979 >> no-893-january-1979

Diary of a Capitalist

SUNDAY
Been making arrangements for my next little trip abroad, a three-month world cruise in the P&O flagship Canberra, starting on January 6. I’ve got one of the cheapest two-berth cabins for my wife and myself, for about £6000 (Observer, 19.11.78). I’ve got a good management team, and they’ll keep my businesses running nicely until I get back.

MONDAY
I keep reading of alleged incidents where companies have to pay compensation for “wrongful dismissal” to people they have sacked, or where they have to make “severance payments” when they close down a factory. All that the relevant Acts of Parliament do in effect is to help weed out the less crafty capitalists, which of course helps capitalism generally to run better for the capitalist class as a whole.

Why can’t these people remember that any worker on strike can be sacked forthwith, without any comeback? And any employer worth his salt can bring about a strike whenever he wants one. I’ve often engineered a strike when stocks have been high, and I have wanted to close a factory down for a spell without any labour costs, particularly where the shop stewards have been getting above themselves. Nothing is easier. If the weather is cold (as it is two-thirds of the year in this country) the manager goes into the works one evening or weekend, and unfortunately the central heating breaks down, and the defective part can’t be obtained under two months. Or the local team is having a cup replay one evening, and the manager tells everyone they’re on compulsory overtime until the match is over. Or you get a quality inspector to reject a whole batch of work from one assembly line, so bang goes their bonus.

Or the lavatories and wash-basins keep getting blocked up, or the tea-break concession is suddenly withdrawn, or the man who’s just been elected an official of his union branch is by a pure coincidence moved to a worse job the very next day. The number of possible dodges is endless—it’s like taking candy off a child. Then, when your stocks have run down a bit, and the workers have been slated solidly as idle, good-for-nothing layabouts by the press, radio, and TV (everyone from ministers, MPs and editors down to flat-capped comedians getting into the act), you generously let them crawl back to work on your terms.

So to avoid any “wrongful dismissal” nonsense you just provoke a strike over any issue you want, and then sack the lot. You can’t sack only some of them, because the Labourites put through an act saying that would be victimisation : so you sack every last striker— as George Ward did at Grunwick, or the Margolis family did in the Garners Steak House dispute, both struggles over whether the workers could be represented by a union or not. (They had to find out the hard way.)

What I love doing as I issue dismissal notices is to say how much I would have liked to take the strikers back, apart from one or two ringleaders, of course, but unhappily the Act of Parliament passed by the very Labour Party their union supports makes it quite impossible. Then I make some crack about most of them being good chaps at heart, but sadly misled by their shop stewards, who have inveigled them all into a strike which has only had this sad result — the sack. That’s a shrewd blow at all the union enthusiasts.

The pleasures of being a capitalist are not limited to merely grabbing all the profits!

TUESDAY
Talking of provocation, I was in two minds about the pronouncements recently made in Washington by John Toland. the historian (Daily Telegraph, 1.12.78). He said that President Roosevelt enticed the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbour in 1941, thus beginning the American-Japanese War. Now we members of the ruling class all know that a country goes to war to defend its interests as a capitalist state, and that the carefully prepared story that it has no option, in face of the foul and unprovoked aggression committed by the bestial enemy (a story put out by both sides, and equally firmly believed by the populations of both countries) is so much bunkum. I know Toland went on to say that Roosevelt had done it for the best of reasons, getting America into the war in a way that circumvented the objections many Americans would have had, but, even supposing Toland’s theory is correct, should one ever be so frank? My friends tell me that it doesn’t matter now—it was nearly forty years ago, and the workers are too stupid (after undergoing their brainwashing in our educational system) to draw any parallels the next time it happens. But I don’t know, I don’t know. Some workers may be brighter than we think.

WEDNESDAY
Another old friend of mine in trouble! He is a wealthy entrepreneur in his fifties, owning a number of London restaurants, and “living in style” (Daily Telegraph, 1.12.78). Part of the style was a model and actress in her twenties, who agreed to become his mistress. He bought her a £25,000 house, paid her bills, and made her regular payments of £75 a week (at 1973 prices). Then she became pregnant. To my friend’s dismay, she made the ungrateful decision that she wanted to have the baby, instead of disposing of it by an abortion. Here was a rich man paying her for performing a certain role (which is one of the fundamental relationships of our society), and she was allowing her maternal desires to spoil the whole thing. She was putting humanity before her rich friend’s interests. That kind of thing is immoral, in my opinion. Naturally he stopped his weekly payments, and tried to get her out of her home. She went to the High Court, and asked them to say the house was hers. My friend told the judge he was “very upset” about the pregnancy; “there was no reason for her to go on and have the child” (Daily Telegraph, 2.12.78). However, his ex-mistress has been given the right to stay in the house—until she marries or finds another man who will support her.

 

As I always say to my friends: enjoy your pleasures, certainly—it’s your right as a capitalist in a capitalist society, where everything is available, thank God, to those who can afford it —but make sure you can clear off without trouble when the time comes. In the same circumstances, for example, I always fix up a rented flat, rather than buying a house.

 

THURSDAY
I’m still getting together a few sticks of furniture. At the sale-room today there was rather a splendid table—the so-called Combe Abbey Library ‘I’able, made in 1754, and attributed to Thomas Chippendale. I bought it for £100,000 (Daily Telegraph, 2.12.78). If you want the best, you have to pay for it

 

Saw Harry Hyams, the property man (Centre Point and all that), at the sale. He bought a 1740 giltwood chandelier for his place down in Wiltshire. He only gave £59,500 for it. I condoled with him on having to go for the cheaper stuff, and offered to lend him his trainfare back home. Jokingly, of course.

 

FRIDAY
At the Dorchester this evening for the unveiling of a new portrait of the Queen commissioned by the officers of the 16th/5th Queens Royal Lancers (Daily Telegraph, 30.11.78). The painter was telling all and sundry that when he turned up for the first sitting, he said the regiment had asked him to paint the Queen in a green dress. “I was taken to see her wardrobe, and there were at least 110 green dresses.”

 

Now we all know that the Queen has a large wardrobe—if she has 110 dresses in only one colour, how many has she altogether?—but this affair was badly managed. The painter chap should have been shown say a dozen or so green dresses—a normal kind of number for a well-dressed woman about town, when you allow for other colours and other kinds of outfits. Then he wouldn’t have been making such a sensation of it in the Dorchester. Even there some inky scribe might hear of it and put it in the papers. Then workers might be tempted to calculate that the whole lifetime’s earnings of a skilled man—if he never bought any food, or clothing, or housing, or anything else, for himself or his family— would hardly be enough to buy what is currently in the Queen’s wardrobe.

 

It’s not what we do that we have to worry about: it’s what people get to know that we do.

 

SATURDAY
Got an unostentatious little gold necklace with carved lapis stones for the wife’s birthday, £575 (Daily Telegraph, 22.11.78). Then bought myself a dozen bottles of Chateau Lafite 1945 (Daily Telegraph, 1.2.78). for £1900, or about £158 a bottle. It really is splendid stuff. How can so many people drink this cheap rubbish one sees about, at £10 a bottle or even less?

 

Alwyn Edgar