All workers are forced to offer their labour for sale. If successful, they immediately forfeit all control over how, when and where it will be utilised. It is this loss of control which produces alienation between the worker and his labour. In my own circumstances this tends to occur frequently but varies in intensity.
I am employed as an engineer selling combustion equipment, and obviously have no control over what fuel is burnt, how the energy produced is used or how much pollution of the atmosphere is allowed to occur. Recently I was phoned in the early hours of the morning by a hospital in Glasgow which deals with geriatric patients. A combustion failure meant that they were running short of steam for heating and sterilisation. I rushed to the hospital, but it took several hours to repair the mechanical and electrical faults on the outdated equipment. I washed up and discussed the problems with the hospital engineer. “You know those burners are now illegal”, I said. “Yes, I know, but I can’t get the money to replace these units even though they contravene the Clean Air Act”, he replied.
I was sharply reminded of this conversation when I travelled to an RAF base the following day to commission a new combustion unit on a new boiler. The base was playing war games and it took an hour to negotiate the sentry posts before I reached the boiler house. It took all day to commission the burner and complete efficiency tests. The engineer arrived to verify the combustion readings and I enquired what work the steam would be performing. “It’s to keep the fighter planes in that hangar warm at night”, he replied. “They must be kept at the right temperature so they can take off at a moment’s notice.” I was to learn later that the fuel bill for keeping the planes warm at night was over £650,000 a year.
The long drive home gave me plenty of time to reflect on a system which cares more for machines of destruction than the health of its elderly citizens.