1990s >> 1993 >> no-1072-december-1993

Sting in the Tail: Winter blues

 Winter blues

Every worker in Britain will shortly have a series of beautifully produced, full colour and glossy pieces of nonsense thrust through their doors.

Your husband can buy you a super collossal new washing machine. Whoopee! Your wife can buy you a new chainsaw. (Well, the kids have become a bit uppity recently.)

In December we are in the month when sellers of commodities wring their hands at the prospects of giant sales. It is Christmas, when alienated workers try to make up for their anti-social behaviour by buying their friends commodities that will never make up for that behaviour.

Inside a socialist system of society women and men will probably celebrate the winter solstice, but it will be without recourse to the nonsense of spending money as a substitute for community and love.

Not in the script

All over the world in every industry the cry is that costs must be cut because of competition. Besides low wages and more unemployment, this also means the lowering of safety standards at work and nowhere is this more apparent than in Britain’s mines

The Cost of Coal (BBC2, 29 October) revealed how pressure to cheapen production is leading British Coal to fake the monitoring of dust levels, and the American system of “Extended Cut” is being introduced. This allows coal-cutting machines to cut further without additional roof support and the accident rate in American mines is much greater than in British mines.

Most people used to expect that life in capitalism would inevitably get better: incomes would grow, jobs be more secure and safety at work improve, yet the opposite is happening. Those expectations simply didn’t take into account capitalism’s built-in drive for profit and the competition it brings in its wake.

Fair Trading?

Sainsbury, Tesco and Safeway; the names ring out like a litany of praise to the benefits of competition. Or at least so they would have you believe. The facts are somewhat different.

They were all objectors to Costco, a US warehouse-style club, and its plans to open its first UK store. However a high court judge ruled against them and Costco opened its first store on 30 November.

The reason for the big three being so concerned is not difficult to deduce.

“In the US, although this may not he the same in the UK, food trades off a gross margin of around 10 percent, significantly loner than the 26 percent or so currently achieved by the operators of UK superstores” (Herald, 2S October).

It is that old capitalist story again. 
Competition is good — for other people!

Pads for proles

Prince Charles’s visit to Glasgow provided the opportunity for yet another lecture on how to patch up capitalism.

HRH blamed modern tower block housing for creating feelings of “hopelessness and alienation” among youngsters and praised the traditional Scottish tenement which he thought “could, perhaps, solve many of our current problems”.

The idea that tenements were full of happy, neighbourly people is an old one. Apparently, you could leave your door unlocked with safety and everybody looked after one another. After a lifetime spent in tenements, and not just in Glasgow, Scorpion’s experience hasn’t been quite like that.

The Prince urged developers to ask themselves before schemes went ahead — “Would I want to live here myself?”. That’s the question he should ask himself before singing the praises of tenements, but then he was talking about homes for proles, not parasites.

Cancerous growth

Every year breast cancer kills 13,000 women in Britain, so when the breast cancer gene was discovered somewhere in Chromosome 17 there was universal excitement. It seemed that a breakthrough was on the way to understanding the disease.

Scientific teams world-wide exchanged information regularly in an effort to identify regions of the chromosome that could be eliminated. A wonderful picture of selfless white-coated devotees peering through microscopes and co-operating internationally to cure this scourge emerges. Well, it’s not quite like that. This is capitalism after all:

“But as the groups edged closer to identifying the gene they began to split apart”, said Simon Smith, head of Cambridge University research team funded by the Cancer Research Campaign. “Things have now gone quiet because none of us wants to give information to the other”, he saul.
“In an ideal world we’d be talking to each other and not holding back information. But our work is judged on what is published. If we are always second it’s no good. “(Independent on Sunday, 31 October)

So the winner gets the kudos, the big financial rewards and the biggest grants. Isn’t competition a wonderful thing? Tell that to the 13,000 women and their grieving families.

Taken for granted

Towards the end of World War Two the British government set in motion plans to regain control of Britain’s Asian colonies, particularly Hong Kong, from the local politicians who would initially take over from the Japanese.

To this end SOE, part of Britain’s spy network, organized “subversive activities”. Lists were drawn up of “who to bribe”, plans made for “fabricating the semblance of pro-British demonstrations” and to spread dark rumours that displaying the British flag “was the best guarantee for the safety of one’s person and one’s goods” when British forces returned.

All this and more is contained in the lastest batch of secret documents to be released as part of the “open government” initiative. What is remarkable about these revelations is not so much the greed, cynicism and corruption of our rulers, but their absolute confidence that they can tell us all about it and still retain our trust in them.