Not so friendly

A group of socialists recently attended a meeting of the Friends of the Earth at Sunderland YMCA. It had been advertised as an open public meeting, all ideas welcome. There was a crowd of about fifty, mostly students, and we sat at the back of the room to listen to what the speakers had to say.


There were three speakers, two from the Industrial Common Ownership Movement (ICOM). One talked of alleviating unemployment by creating ‘Worker Controls’ in which workers would commonly own their industries, and capital investment (which would also be commonly owned) would be used in the interests of the workers. The ‘Worker Controls’ would also be used to teach workers how to run their own affairs (how nice). The other ICOM speaker said that one of their members was at present investigating ways to solve ‘over-population’ and food shortages.


When it came to question time, one if us asked the speaker to explain the cause of unemployment “since you must know the cause before you can attempt to solve the problem”. The ICOM speaker replied that there were various causes of unemployment, then relapsed into a tone such as to be inaudible to anyone. The member answered his own question: “Capitalism is the cause of unemployment, and your energies should be directed at removing the cause. men and women are thrown onto the dole because they are of no further use to their employers. Perhaps the market is ‘glutted’, but there must be a reserve army of labour ready for use when the market demands.” Amazingly enough, the ICOM speaker replied that there was plenty of demand, but forgot to add that needs do not constitute market demand.


Another member said:”You say that workers will learn how to run their own affairs in these ‘Worker Controls’, but workers control everything now. The working class run capitalism from top to bottom. You won’t find a capitalist soiling his hands with work.” No reply. Another socialist rose and said that ‘overpopulation’ is a myth and the ICOM speaker stands accused of helping to spread dangerous myths. If half the starving people were removed tomorrow, the other half would still starve. It would not make an iota of difference. The accused, and red-faced, speaker stormed out of the room, not to be seen again that night. At that moment a member of the audience (or perhaps another member of ICOM) stood up and said, “I’ve had enough of this” and, “Perhaps our friends would like to leave”.  (I wonder if they are that friendly with whales!)


They then proceeded to discuss ‘Worker Controls’, perhaps hoping that they had silenced us, but they hoped in vain. for another of our group said, “Obviously production in ‘Worker Controls’ would have to meet market demand, so in a situation where one group of people needed food but had no money (which is not market demand) and another group wanted arms and had the money (which does constitute market demand), the workers would have to produce arms.” “I cannot see a workers’ co-op producing arms”, said the ICOM speaker. “Then I am afraid the only alternative would be the sack”, said the member. We were then invited to leave. Why? Because the speaker decided to close the meeting after a very brief question time. We did not get the chance to put our case at this meeting, but we will continue to attend meetings that are ‘open’ to us.


Vince Maratty (North East Branch)