1980s >> 1980 >> no-913-september-1980

Running Commentary

Take cover

Hiroshima and Nagasaki disappeared into the atomic dust just over thirty five years ago so it is clearly time for the government to give some serious thought to protecting the population in the event of a nuclear attack.

One way of doing this would be to build enough shelters for everyone to be able to take cover but that would cost between £60 and £80 billion. While a government will readily spend that sort of money on weapons they are not likely to be so free when it comes to protection from the weapons’ effects. Rich people, of course, can always afford to build their own shelters; the rest of must do the best we can with the blanket of official propaganda and advice, which is about all the government are prepared to offer.

The essence of this advice will be to keep faith, the government’s airy assumption is that about 15 million people will be left in Britain after the attack (although most of them will be a bit deaf and probably bronzed, as if they had just come back from a holiday near a tropical jet airport) and that will be enough to eventually rebuild towns, roads, factories and so on and in general get the machinery of capitalist exploitation going again.

To ensure this, the government’s plans give priority to their survival. There will then be money available for the construction of adequate shelters for our rulers, be there ever so little for them to rule over. Rather lower—in fact at the bottom—of their priorities comes the safety and welfare of the working class. Perhaps there is an unconscious, ironical justice in this; after all, the working class don’t have to keep capitalism in existence, don’t have to make its weapons, fight its wars . . .

For the workers, anti-nuclear defence measures have a special meaning. We shall be encouraged to keep our heads wrapped in a jacket or some other substantial garment and to whitewash our windows which, writes Home Secretary Whitelaw, “. . . can provide very effective protection against fire resulting from the heat-flash from nuclear explosions.”

This rather unnerving optimism was echoed, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph (23/6/80) from a Dr. Kitty Little of Oxford, on whose operating table we must all fervently hope never to find ourselves. Dr. Little offers us the assurance that “The only serious long-term hazard . . . are the stress disease symptoms caused by apprehension and fear.” Her advice is to keep “an open tank of water” on the window sill to stop the heat-flash igniting inflammable material.

So when the Bomb comes there will be rather a lot for us to cram into the four minutes. Whitewash the windows, set out tanks of water, select a durable jacket from the wardrobe, prop the table against the wall, with a sandbag or two to secure its base. Anyone who feels any fear or apprehension coming on may take solace from the thought that, beyond their flimsy defences, their ruling class are keeping the flag of privilege flying—as usual giving themselves the best possible chance in life.

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Take it out

There are factories in Japan where the workers are able to give vent to their suppressed anger in a place called the Rumpus Room, where they are able to pummel effigies of the managers. But even this clever idea is not enough to divert all frustrations; in the Tokyo tube and suburban commuter trains, female travellers are becoming increasingly angry at the male hands which too often explore their bodies in the rush hour crush.

At peak travelling times, when the workers are hurrying to their places of exploitation, part of the degradation process is the cramming of three times as many people into those trains as they are designed to carry in comfort. There are, in fact, workers whose job it is to pack in the bodies as skilfully—which means as tightly and as profitably—as possible until, in the words of one railway security guard, ” . . . you can’t lift your hand to scratch your nose.”

These journeys are not enlightened by the added insults of the posters which are aimed at encouraging even more discipline from the sardine-like travellers. Don’t leave anything behind you; don’t sit with your legs wide apart; don’t wear clothes like a peacock’s plumage; don’t let your head flop onto your neighbour’s shoulder. All these undisciplined travel habits take up too much room—and more room means more workers packed into the sweating crush.

After a journey like that (the average commuting time in Tokyo is two hours twenty minutes) and a day on the production line or in the office the Rumpus Rooms must have plenty of customers. And beating a lifeless doll must be a lot cheaper than building more comfortable railways.

Japanese workers are often cited as examples of industrial discipline, people whose hard and uncomplaining work reaps rich rewards for their master class. Whatever the truth of this, it is clear that they rank pretty high among the world working class for the intensity of their exploitation—and for the contempt in which they are held by their capitalist employers.

Little wonder that they experience such tensions. But there is a more useful way of taking out their frustrations, than in any Rumpus Room or in annoying their fellow workers.

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Take off

Two episodes in the life of Steve Skingle of Plaistow – skinhead, unemployed, Tube traveller extraordinary.

On Easter Monday Steve, like any self-respecting London skinhead, was in Southend getting a bit of aggro. He was arrested and bailed to appear in court at a later date.

Before he went back to court, Steve was involved in the Tube crash at Holborn and, apparently unlike any self-respecting skinhead, helped to rescue the train driver. This made some lovely headlines for the copy-starved hacks in Fleet Street and eventually so impressed the Southend magistrates that they put Steve on probation.

“You could,” commented the chairman of the Bench, “be a useful member of society. It is just a matter of bringing it out.”

“Lovely,” gasped Steve when he was asked what he thought of his sentence, then went back to Plaistow to work at this being a useful member of society.

He got a job as a labourer on a building site. “I’m enjoying it,” he beamed. His father (who is out of work) weighed in with the hope that Steve would soon give up being a skinhead and obligingly defined what a useful member of society should be about” ” .  .  . I hope that now he has started to find himself he’ll get himself new clothes, a bird and a car.”

Being a useful member of society means one thing to people who draw the dole in Plaistow and another to people who draw their dividends in Belgravia. Pompous magistrates judge people like Steve Skingle by their degree of conformity; is he “well dressed”, in a steady job, looking forward to a lifetime of marriage and mortgage? Is he a toe-the-line wage worker, giving his all in the process of his own exploitation? Is he normal—by which they mean, does he conform?

How long will the working class assent to their inferior social position? How long will they direct their frustrations in the wrong direction? Steve’s shaven head was, he hoped, a badge of rebellion, a mindless reaction against something he does not understand but which he does not like. Perhaps, after all the publicity, he will be relieved that he can drop the pose and fall in with the docile role his conditioning demands of him.

This may satisfy insecure parents or pontificating magistrates—both symbols of capitalist authority—but it has little more to offer than a seaside punch-up.

Ivan

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