1980s >> 1989 >> no-1021-september-1989

Competing for Capitalism

During August, the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham was host to the 1989 International Youth Skill Olympics. 450 apprentices and young trainees up to the age of 22, took part in internationally-agreed work standard tests enabling the countries taking part to compare techniques and training. As in the sporting Olympics, the winners received gold, silver and bronze medals. Working to strict timetables, the competitors were tested in some 34 skills ranging from bricklaying to hairdressing.

Employment’ Secretary Norman Fowler said about the event:

If this country is to become world class, training is of the essence. This is why the Skill Olympics are so important They focus the attention of employers and public alike on this nation’s performance and allow them to compare it with its competitors. Individuals, employers and the nation in general stand to benefit from them. (Employment News, February 1989)

Fowler was being slightly economical with the truth in his remarks. In the present system of society, capitalism, it is the working class, the vast majority who are forced to sell their labour power to a minority property owning class in order to survive, who have all the skills necessary to run capitalism on behalf of capitalists. The capitalists have the political and economic power necessary to ensure that workers continue to produce commodities for profit rather than for need.

Capitalism is a world-wide system where there is intense competition between different capitalist economic units, or countries, to appropriate as much profit as they can from their particular working class. The value-creating unpaid labour of the working class is converted into money-wealth when the commodities produced are exchanged on the market. The ability of the working class to generate technological advances for their capitalist masters, thus reducing the cost of commodities and increasing profits, is of great importance to capitalists.

Fowler’s attempt to invoke national pride on behalf of British youngsters “going for gold” has more to do with the ruling class’s need to accumulate even more capital than in any real pride in the youngsters abilities and talents. If capitalism can no longer exploit them for a profit the winners of any medals will be thrown on to the scrapheap. even when a real social need exists for their skills.

Treated Like Mushrooms 
The personal roads that lead to becoming a socialist are many and varied. None of us tumble from the womb shouting. “Hey mum. I’m a socialist.” For some the route may lead from activity in one of the political parties committed to reforming rather than abolishing capitalism. Others, active in trade unions perhaps, come to realise that although it is necessary to fight the everyday economic battle against the capitalist class, the war will only be won through concerted political action on the part of a class-conscious working class. Some, like myself, start off as apolitical, but when confronted with the case for socialism agree with that capitalist class fighter, Mrs Thatcher—there is no alternative.

Once engaged in the struggle for socialism, it soon becomes apparent that hundreds of years of capitalist conditioning cannot be easily overcome within five minutes. Every new socialist experiences the shock of discovering that others fail to agree that socialism is the only viable alternative there is to this insane capitalist society. However, attitudes and opinions do change, and it is capitalism itself which creates socialists.

It is normal capitalist practice for small businesses to be swallowed by larger ones. This has just happened to the company which buys my labour power. During the time preceding the take-over. I and the rest of the wage-slaves here were treated, as usual, like mushrooms—kept in the dark and shit on from a great height. Although my work-mates hold deeply entrenched capitalist values, royalist, nationalist, racist and conservative, the threat to their livelihoods from the takeover has resulted in a drastic change of attitude. This doesn’t mean they have all become socialists. Far from it. But they have done something which a few months ago would have been unthinkable for them. They have joined a trade union.

If a class struggle between a minority who own most of the wealth, and a majority who are forced to sell their labour power in order to exist, was not taking place then trade unions would be unnecessary. Despite all the capitalist propaganda to make unions unpopular with a large number of the working class, and the futile involvement of the unions themselves in political action through the Labour Party, the only wav that the working class can even the odds a little is through economic strength and solidarity.

Socialists, wherever possible, belong to unions. Besides needing to defend ourselves as workers against employers, there is a need to balance the overwhelming insistence on the part of most trade union activists that support for the Labour Party is the only thing that is in the interest of the working class. The Socialist Party does not, unlike Leninist-Trotskyist organizations, believe that workers are only capable of attaining a “trade union consciousness”. but we don’t believe either that it is industrial struggle that will politicise workers. While unions are still fighting for a fair day’s pay for a pay day’s work, socialists fight for the abolition of the wages system.

Dave Coggan