1990s >> 1993 >> no-1064-april-1993

Sting in the Tail: Death Ships

Death Ships

When the oil tanker Braer sank off Shetlands in January it was a media event. It was great TV. Storm-struck shores, dying sea birds and earnest local politicians looking grim and concerned.

What is not generally realized is that it was not an isolated episode.

In the past three years alone, 38 vast hulk carriers, have either sunk without trace or suffered severe structural damage. Around 40 oil tankers . . . have also been lost during the same period.

(Observer, 14 February).

In a Panorama programme Scandal at Sea (BBC1, 15 February) it was reported that in the last three years 300 seamen had lost their lives in “accidents” in bulk carriers. As one bitter seaman said “people are concerned about the plight of birds but little is done about dead seaman”.

It’s just another example of the callousness of capitalism. What are the lives of workers worth compared to the insatiable drive for profit?

Menace of the Mob

The killing of James Bulger was a dreadful event but so was the behaviour of some of the crowd outside Bootle magistrates’ court. This lynch-mob mentality has shown itself on many similar occasions. Indeed, the mob wanted the blood of an innocent 12-year-old boy who was wrongly detained by the investigating police.

Are these people so blind that they have never noticed how often the police hold suspects during murder enquiries only to later release them? After the murder of the young woman on Wimbledon Common last year the police held several unfortunate men who had nothing to do with the killing.

All this plus the numerous examples of people being “fitted-up” for crimes they did not commit should be warning enough for anyone that an arrest is proof neither of guilt nor of police infallibility.

Services Rendered

Two men got a pay-off in February for services rendered. One was a Glasgow man who had worked for 47 years at Albion, part of Leyland-DAF. He never had a day off sick but his severance pay was £6,150 (£135 per year), the very minimum he could get. To add insult to injury the company thanked him for his “exemplary conduct and faultless timekeeping” (Daily Record, 18 February).

The other man got £5.2 million. He was Thomas Ward, an American lawyer, and the money was his “success fee” for the part he played in helping Guinness take over Distillers in 1986.

One man spends a lifetime creating real wealth and is sent packing with a pittance while another is paid 845 times as much for a spot of legalistic ducking and diving. There could hardly be a more accurate measure of capitalism’s values than this.

Market Madness

Like every other car-maker, Mercedes of Germany have problems. Because of falling sales and profits the company wants to cut production from 600,000 cars to 505,000 in 1993.

This has meant the introduction of short-time working plus plans to cut 15,000 jobs. Problems solved? Not one bit because Mercedes workers are so worried by all this that they are refusing to go sick and are, as a company official put it, “working like madmen”. i he result is that output has increased so there will have to be even more short-time working!

In socialism cars will be produced for use instead of for sale, so the madness of the market won’t come into it. Enough cars will be produced to satisfy society’s requirements and the people who make them can then do other things and not be reduced to “working like madmen”.

Advice to a Prof

Professor Alan Walters, Mrs Thatcher’s former economic adviser, has accused John Major of lacking “any firm set of ideas” and of not having “understood markets at all” (A Brief History Of Our Time, C4, 14 Feb).

Who does, prof, who does? For example, did all those stock market dealers and analysts understand their market was about to collapse before Black Monday in October 1987?

And it’s easy for the prof to lecture politicians, but they, unlike him, have to take political as well as economic considerations into account and all too often the two simply don’t mix. Just look at all those ideologues, left and right, who came into office armed with a “firm set of ideas” and then had to throw the lot overboard!

The prof should stick to his ivory tower and give heartfelt thanks that he doesn’t have to wrestle with capitalism in all its bewildering complexity.

A Familiar Tale

Fveryone knows how the recession has hit people in the inner cities, the black community, the big council ghettoes and even business executives, but how has it affected Britain’s Jewish population?

An article in the Jewish Chronicle on 29 January makes clear that Jews are faring no better than any other group, with 10 percent unemployed, people forced to give up their homes, many appealing to charities for help, money problems causing marital breakdown, and school leavers unable to get jobs.

And this applies especially to those who come from the leafy suburbs of London and other major cities, people who had thought themselves immune to hardship:

In 1993, the stereotype of the community, successful, wealthy and middle-class is far removed from the reality.

The common idea that all Jews are rich always was nonsense, but many who were at least “comfortable” are no longer even that.