Making and owning

They’ve built a new block of flats near where I live. “Fairview” is what they call them, although the view is actually over the North Circular Road, which for five to six hours a day is far from fair.


They started building the flats last summer. It used to be a small area of waste land where boys played football with tennis balls and teenaged girls stood around pretending not to be teenaged girls. Then last summer a lorry load of men, wearing clothes that had not been purchased in the Harrod’s sale, turned up and started doing things.


It’s funny, isn’t it? You always read in the papers about how lazy British workers are. All those car workers sleeping at British Leyland while the cars build themselves and all those miners having a kip while the coal extracts itself from the ground. So, when I saw these builders turn up I expected to see them pull a few Slumberlands out of their lorry and pull on the continental quilt. Funnily enough, these builders had building equipment with them and before long the local streets were filled, not with the sound of heavy snoring, but hammering, drilling and demolishing.


At the end of June I went away on a working holiday and returned five weeks later. I went to have a look at the wasteland, but it was no longer there. It was a partially-completed building. These so-called lazy workers had been working hard. I wondered what the directors of ICI and Unilever had made during the same month.


In the centre of the building site was a hut. Quite often I would pop in there to have a chat with the builders. They took their jobs seriously — not least because there was a long queue of unemployed building workers to replace those who did not. An old carpenter called George told me that he was getting too old for this open-air lark, but what else could he do to keep his family surviving? I showed George a copy of Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and he said that he liked a read, so he borrowed it. One or two of the men bought copies of the Socialist Standard, but one stopped buying it because he voted Labour like his old man and wouldn’t hear a word said against them.


By November the flats were almost completed. George said he was trying to make the job last a little longer because he needed the money for Christmas. Paddy, the plumber, told me that he agreed with everything in the Standard, but couldn’t we put it more simply? I told him that he joined us he might be able to show us a simpler way of expressing our ideas and he promised to have a serious think about it. After Christmas most of the work was being done on the inside of the flats. Terry, a painter who spent his spare time listening to Motorhead tapes on the cassette stereo in his van, told me that he was getting married but there was no chance of finding anywhere suitable to live. He had answered all the advertisements in the local rag, but they were all either taken or too costly. He was going to sell his van and use the money as a deposit on a cheap flat—but he would only get a few hundred for that, even with his precious stereo.


At the time of writing, Terry still does not have a place to live with the girl he wants to marry. He has listened carefully to Thatcher’s advice about the need for strong family life, but that does not seem to provide him with a flat. Terry is sick of the whole bloody system. Last week he asked me to let him have some more of that socialist literature — and could he borrow the book that George had read. Comrade Capitalism is doing a good job in recruiting Terry to the socialist cause; I just have to stand there and agree with him.


Produce to satisfy human needs
The flats are now completed. Last month they stuck “For Sale” notices all over the windows of the flats. At only £29,000 for a two-bedroomed home the flats are not very expensive. After all, they were built on the cheap—and with all that rush-hour traffic going past your window you’re not going to pay a fortune.


Terry would like one of those flats. He worked for months building them. The owner of the building firm did not come on the site once while building was in progress. Now Terry has even sold the van that took him to work but those flats are not for him. George told me he would love to retire in a flat like that. For ten years George and his family have lived in the upstairs part of a terraced house in Kilburn that was originally built for one family. If George saved £10 of his wages from now until the day he died he could not even afford the deposit on one of the flats.


Under capitalism production is not for use, but for sale with a view to profit. Some of those flats could stand empty for months, but Terry and his girl could not have one.


In a socialist society production will be solely for human need. If people require houses, then builders will work to create them. And they will be the best houses that human beings can build. In socialism the world will belong to the people and those who produce the wealth will not be regarded as the inferiors, while those who possess but do not produce live in comfort and privilege.


But socialism will only be built like the Fairview flats were built: by human beings who know what they are doing. As builders of flats George, Terry, Paddy and the rest were experts. The working class are the experts because we, between us, create all the wealth of society. Most workers have ideas of how production and distribution could be organised, if only the barriers of the present system were removed.


Production for use instead of profit offers the only sensible alternative to the waste and anarchy and poverty of the capitalist system. Upon the huge wasteland of capitalist society we need to build a world which caters for human beings — where the best is produced not just for the few, but for all — where technology is converted from destructive to positively productive use. It is there for the taking.


Steve Coleman