1980s >> 1982 >> no-939-november-1982

Running Commentary: Running : Poland – The Iron Heel

Poland: the iron heel
Jaruzelski, the Polish military dictator, has pushed through his Iron Heel Act. Rubber-stamped by the subservient pseudo- Parliament. the Sejm, it made illegal not only Solidarity but all forms of trade union organisation.

This Bismarckian act of repression, backed by the infamous thugs of ZOMO and other security forces, will not solve Poland’s desperate economic crisis, any more than the sacking of several economic ministers will help feed the hungry.

Sympathy for Polish workers is widespread. ranging from the far left to the Foreign Office statement:

The policy of the Polish government is one of confrontation rather than reconciliation. (Daily Telegraph, 9 November 1982)

We go further. The hardships experienced by Polish workers have been extreme. In peace-time Europe there is famine. Capitalism in chaos can — and does — kill. Poland is but one extreme example of this.

In 1981 plant closures and unemployment indicated the continuing decline of the economy. With the economy. the morale of the ruling Party collapsed. The bankrupt Party saw the workers’ movement as a political threat. Jaruzelski’s actions in first suspending, and now banning. Solidarity were a reaction to a the movement’s assumption of a wider role — “both a trade union and a wider social movement” (Solidarity Programme Resolution. Autumn 1981).

We cannot endorse the demand for a “new social contract” based on cooperation between workers and management in the “national interest”. Yet Solidarity was the workers’ only defence against the severe erosion of their wagcs and pitiful standard of living.

The class struggle cannot be legislated out of existence. Although this attempt to establish an independent trade union and political movement may have been crushed, we know that there will be others in the future.

We hope that such attempts will benefit from the lesson of the failure of Solidarity — that ultimately every class struggle is a political one.

Court in the act
Magistrates are called (in court, at any rate) Your Worships and their legal advisers are known as Your Learned Clerk and the whole procedure is carried along on a tidal wave of bowing and scraping and forelock-touching, so why they should want any help from On High must be a mystery.

However, there it is. The court in Coventry recently decided that each day’s proceedings will open with a ten-minute prayer meeting in which everyone, including the defendants, will be asked to join.

Now this will present some obvious problems because there will be people praying for different things all at the same time which will be very difficult for god who has to hear all and see all and know all.

The police, for example, will be saying a few words in favour of the person in the dock getting the heaviest possible sentence because that is the righteous way of dealing with offenders against the law. But the offenders will be praying to be let off lightly or, if they are pleading not guilty, for the magistrates to believe a perhaps unlikely version of the events.

The magistrates will probably be asking god for some interesting cases, for the court reporter to make a careful note of all their witty asides and to get them in the local rag, for the court to run long enough for them to claim a whole day’s attendance allowance and for lunch time to come around quickly.

But of course it is not all farcical. Courts exist as part of the coercive machinery which enforces the rights and minority privileges of property society. Their job is to assert the fact that there is a class of people in capitalism who own the means of life and whose position must be protected with punishment for anyone who threatens it with breaches of property laws.

Religion is also a prop of this divisive, repressive social system. It teaches the non-owners, the non-privileged, to accept their lot and meekly to consent to their own exploitation. It stands up for the symbols of privilege and repression like the royal family and supports the nastiest aspects of the conflicts of capitalism, like its wars.

So it is entirely appropriate that the two factors — coercive state machine and lick-spittling religion — should come together in such open and unequivocal support for capitalism. In Coventry, the view from the dock could not be clearer.

Adman cometh

Travellers who have booked with British Airways may be having second thoughts since that airline announced that its advertising was being taken over by Saatchi and Saatchi, who masterminded the Tory election campaign in 1979 with the implied promise that unemployment would disappear when Thatcher got to Number Ten. With that record behind them, the new ad agency had better not try any slogans like “We’ll Take More Care of You” or all the passengers will be hastily booking to go by sea.

That famous phrase was followed by the patriotic “Fly The Flag”, which was probably intended to cash in on the Concorde boom which never came. Now more, similar, rubbish is promised; Saatchi and Saatchi have hired one of the advertising industry’s (sic) wonder boys just to write the new slogans to persuade people to fly British Airways.

This wonder boy — Geoffrey Seymour — is still in his thirties but is well wise to the cut-throat ways of the advertising world. Seymour’s trade is to spend lengthy periods of time fashioning a few words of dramatic, enduring impact which will result in one product selling more than any others — even if the others are better.

He has already had a lot of success (for such it is called) at this. Products like Hovis bread, Heineken lager and Hamlet cigars are said to have sold better after Seymour’s fertile mind had been at work (for such it is called).

Success has come in other ways; Seymour has actually won prizes for his slogans and, probably more to the point, he now gets something like £100,000 a year from the advertising world as reward; This may cause anger and bitterness among, say, Health Service workers who are doing a vital human job and have to struggle to defend an already meagre living standard. But there is another aspect to be considered. We live under a social system which produces its wealth for sale, winch means that the market is all-important.

So salespeople, advertising executives and the like have a very important place in this society. They don’t actually produce anything, their work does not make human life one jot easier or happier; a sane social system will have absolutely no use for what are called their talents. Their gargantuan rewards could happen only under a society in which all values are distorted and crazy, in which profit comes a long, long way ahead of people.

Family party

Margaret Thatcher, it is reported, sent her key ministers and advisers off on their holidays during the parliamentary recess with the instruction to Think About The Family. But protective parents need not worry; it is unlikely that the Prime Minister intended Geoffrey Howe to reflect on the effects of poverty on family relationships, or Norman Tebbitt to write a paper on the degrading frustrations in both employment and unemployment.

What Thatcher wanted from the Tory thinkers was some ideas on how to exploit electorally the concept of the family as a cosy, protective element in social stability. This may be shrewder than it at first appears. The present phase of property society encourages everyone to strive for an ideal in their personal relationships, based on the assumption that the human family must be a private, monogamous, exclusive unit.

In fact the style of family — whether monogamous or polygamous, whether nuclear or extended, whether patriarchal or matriarchal — can and does vary according to the basic social arrangements in force at the time. There is no evidence that the contemporary family is ideal, or beneficial, or that it will endure.

What is clear is that the present day family conforms with capitalism, with a social system based on the private ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution and the consequent production of wealth as commodities. This form of family places no obstacles in the way of the organised, widespread wage slavery or the savage conflicts of capitalism. The restraints it imposes are on human freedoms — sexual, social and moral. Its privacy is only extended where a market can be created, where each family unit has its own private home having its own car. washing machine, TV .   .  .  .

A sane society will have a very different family. If the repressions, neuroses and exclusions of the capitalist family are so comforting to those who endure them as to be an electoral asset to some capitalist party, then that is apt comment on this system’s distortion of human relationships.