1980s >> 1981 >> no-926-october-1981

Editorial: Socialism the answer

There was a a time, not so long ago, when the politicians could talk as if slumps and unemployment, and the power these gave to employers to enforce wage cuts, were all in the past. We now had a new breed of wiser, cleverer leaders who had learned from those days and the unenlightened thirties would never come again.

Well once again the real world of capitalism is upsetting the dreams of its politicians’ speeches and programmes. And the people who are suffering in this are the working class; the screw is being turned on their wages, their working conditions, their sense of security.

It is ironical, that this pressure is especially severe on workers in the aircraft industry, both those making aircraft and those operating them. For this industry was a post war boom spot which, because it was comparatively young and had obvious scope for development, was widely regarded as one where jobs would be safe for a long, long time. Then there was the glamour of big airliners with their uniformed crews roaring off to far away places, which made a job with them seem very desirable.

But much of the glamour is now being rubbed off, by some stern economic realities. The staff of British Caledonian have recently accepted a management suggestion that they forego a pay rise this year, although they have a contract which allows them an annual increase. Pan American has a plan to cut its employees’ wages by ten per cent. British Airways has announced its intention of cutting its workforce by 9,000 by June 1982 and imposing a wage freeze until the end of September 1982.

In this grim situation the unions seem almost powerless; at most they can protect some of their members from the worst of the effects. It would be useful, if this were to prompt trade unionists to ask themselves why their organisations can do so little and why it all happens anyway.

In all industries, whether glamorous or not, workers are employed so that their employer can make a profit. If there are no profits, then workers are likely to be sacked; for example, the Chief Executive of British Airways said, when announcing the airline’s economy plans, that BA is losing money at the rate of £200 a minute: “No business can survive losses on this scale”, he added. Part of the process of profit production is the workers selling their ability to work — their labour power — for a wage. Labour power then is a commodity, like everything else which is produced to be sold.

The price of a commodity fluctuates around its value, or what is needed to reproduce it, but at any one time it corresponds to the balance struck between the competing pressures of supply and demand. If there is a shortage of bread, its price will tend to rise; if there is a surplus (in terms of the market) of labour power its price — workers’ wages — will be under pressure to fall.

This is a fact of capitalist life which is often obscured. For example an airline pilot, as he jets across the oceans, will not easily accept the idea that he is doing something as sordid as selling his ability to control the aircraft. But at times it is made compellingly obvious by our very living experience. This is happening now to airline crews, whose wages are under the squeeze along with all the other employees and who are likely to have to face some forcible redundancy.

Just as workers are up against capitalist reality, so are the trade unions which are there to protect them. And this illustrates the important fact that, at best, the unions can only be defensive of workers’ wages and conditions (at other than best they can, and do, operate against their members’ interests); they can only try to ward off the harsher effects of capitalism but they cannot deal with the basic cause of those effects.

This must be the act of the working class on the political field and here we are discussing a social revolution with the object of fundamentally changing society. Such a revolution will end the private ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution and make them the property of the entire human race. It will abolish all the relationships typical of capitalism, including the all-pervading one of wage labour to capital, in which labour power is a commodity to be bought and sold—or, when it is not required, thrown onto the nearest scrap heap of social security.

Yet the human ability to work, to conceive, to design, to make, is a vital, precious force in human society. When socialism is established it will be applied to produce wealth which will not be commodities but will be objects produced solely for use. Socialism’s wealth will therefore be freely available to all its people. Socialism will liberate labour power and allow it to realise its full range of ability for the benefit of the human race. The possibilities of this are awesome.

So how do we achieve this? It will be a start, in the growth of working class consciousness which is needed for the establishment of socialism, for frustrated trade unionists to grasp the reason for their lack of power in face of the slump. The next step for them is to stop thinking in terms of defending their position as workers and in terms of abolishing it, by setting up a classless society. This will involve the world working class cooperating to take over the society which they now design, build and operate. In their concern for human welfare and progress, trade unionists need look no farther than the case for socialism.