Paul Foot

Unemployment – The Socialist Answer


A Labour Worker Pamphlet.
First published 1963 by the Labour Worker, 10 Kersland Street, Glasgow, W2.
Transcribed by Christian Høsbjerg, with thanks to Derek Howl.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


The Myths
The Realities


The Excuses
‘Demand’ and Overproduction
The Cold War Cure
The Pressure on Wages

The Three Dilemmas of Mr. Maudling

1. Tory ‘Expansion’ and Unemployment
2. Arms Expenditure
3. Depressed Areas


Labour’s Remedy
Wooing Big Business
‘Work at any Price’
The Limits of Reform


‘Do-it-yourself’ Demands
Five Days’ Work or Five Days’ Pay
No Sackings – Share the Work
Workers’ Control


The Myths

“A new situation has arisen which shows certain similarities with what happened in the early 1930’s. I do not intend to convey the idea that we must repeat the sad experiences of those years, but I do think we shall have to take definite measures to see that they are not repeated.”
Mr. Per Jacobssen, director of the International Monetary Fund, 20. 2. 1963

The director of the International Monetary Fund is not employed to instruct workers as to their prospects in the future, nor is it his job to comment on the best action for the world’s unemployed. He is concerned to report to the international employing class on the nature and progress of world capitalism. The “sad experiences” of the 1930’s for Mr. Jacobssen were not the experiences of millions of workers cut off from their only source of livelihood, but the experiences of capitalists, whose profits, on the whole, were small and whose productive capacity was seriously underemployed. Mr Jacobssen knows quite well that the employing class will act out of sheer desperation to avoid those experiences, and it is to desperate action, no doubt, that he urges it to act. The capitalist, wherever he operates, listens and understands. He knows only too well what Mr. Jacobssen is talking about. He himself is able to observe the accounts of his business, and to study them in the light of past experience. And he knows that the next few years will be a period of difficulty and distress. He makes no effort to question this forecast nor to examine the causes of it. In fact, he knows very well that investigation and question of that kind can only do him harm. His job, then, is to hush everything up ... to get out the old, old platitudes, dust them up a little, and present them to a cynical apathetic public.

We have been asked in the past few months ‘to put our shoulders to the belts’, ‘to tighten our wheels’, ‘to get our nose to the wall’ and ‘our backs stuck into the grindstone’. References have been made to Dunkirk. For the religious among us, there is the story of the seven lean years and seven fat years, and, if that is not enough, there is always the attraction of forty days (or months) in the wilderness without food or drink. All this nonsense will be spewed out during the next few months. Newspaper columnists, television commentators, politicians from all parties, businessmen – all will carry to the country the same unmistakeable message: “All right. We’ve had our good times. Now’s the time for a bit of ‘consolidation’ and ‘self-sacrifice’.”

The Realities

The worker on the other hand has no interest in this mythology. He is concerned rather with the reasons for all this sacrifice. The shipyard in Glasgow, whose yard closed overnight; the girl bank employee in London who got her notice because of “necessary review of staff owing to serious difficulties in the banking business”; the Birmingham builder whose job, once safe, now depends on the local authority’s plans for new houses, which get less and less ambitious every year ... these people will want to know why. Machines, computers, and building techniques improve and increase every day. The productive capacity of society stretching from the Rockies to the Urals has doubled and re-doubled over and over again since the beginning of the century. The worker himself produces more every year, in less time, and yet his own condition is suddenly infinitely worse. His weekly income is slashed five times. Furniture on hire purchase has to be given up. Housekeeping money has to be halved. Luxuries of any kind have ruthlessly to be abandoned. What used to be a careful but comfortable way of life is changed overnight into a grim struggle to keep the family alive. Why?

Why Unemployment?

The Excuses

A small factory closes. A shipyard is merged. Twenty or thirty office workers are told that they can go elsewhere. Stories like this are commonplace to-day. And just as commonplace are the official reasons given by the bosses for the sackings. These have a depressing sameness about them. Take some examples. On the 9th January 1963, the bosses of Rolls Royce decided to put 16,000 men on short time. The reason? “There has”, said the official statement, “been a decline in orders in the company’s aero-engine division”. Or take the statement of Mr. J.M. Wotherspoon, plant manager of Remington Rand typewriter factory at Hillington Glasgow. On 8th February the company coolly announced that 1,100 men would lose their jobs the following week. Mr. Wotherspoon’s statement of explanation must have brought great comfort to the workers. “For months” he said “we have been overproducing, hoping the typewriter market would improve. It hasn’t. In fact, there has been a slump in overseas orders for typewriters and sets of parts. We had to do this to protect the continued operation of the factory”. The same reasons had been put before 1,200 French workers at Lyons a month earlier when Remington closed a large typewriter factory there.

What a relief such statement must be to the redundant workers! Those long, drab mornings at the Labour Exchange will no doubt be cheered by the thought that the reasons for the sackings were good ones, that, after all, demand had slumped; that, after all, the Rolls Royce bosses and Mr. Wotherspoon are still in work.

‘Demand’ and Overproduction

Let us look a little closer at these excuses: “fall in orders”, “slackening demand”, “overproduction”. Perhaps it means that no one wants any more aeroplanes or typewriters. Perhaps the world is so saturated with these (and other) commodities that mankind can now do without for a period. Possibly there are enough aeroplanes for everyone to travel wherever they wish, enough typewriters to supply everyone who wants one. To find out, we could ask the 15,000 aero-workers at Rolls Royce how often they have travelled on an aeroplane. We could ask the 1,100 Remington workers whether they are all perfectly satisfied with their typewriters.

The fact is, of course, that there is still a desperate need for both these commodities. Only a tiny percentage of the world population have travelled on an aircraft, and very very few own typewriters. The simple fact is that the average worker can’t afford a typewriter or a trip in an aeroplane. His wages are simply not enough for him to contemplate either. The “markets” and the “orders” which the bosses talk about have nothing whatever to do with what people want. They refer only to what people can afford.

“Afford” – what does this mean? To millions and millions of workers it means the size of the wage packet – the small brown package he gets each week in return for producing the aeroplane or the typewriter or whatever else he does. The value of that packet is not the same as the value of what he has produced.

For the boss has snaffled a proportion of it – as surplus value – as profit. When we think of the fact that the vast majority of people are workers, and that they only get paid a proportion of the wealth they produce, we can immediately see the problem which the boss class must face: “who is to buy the goods”?

Of course the boss class themselves can buy a certain amount of goods. Mr. Roy Thompson can charter an aeroplane to go and see Mr. Khruschev one weekend. Lord Robens in fact can actually buy an aeroplane. But the bosses cannot possibly absorb more than a tiny proportion of the mass of goods produced.

There is only one alternative. To sell the goods to the worker. But the profit which the boss must make is not realised until he sells his goods at a price. The price must be enough to allow him to pay his workers and get the profit. In other words, the workers’ wages are too low to buy back the goods which they produce. That is an essential characteristic of the capitalist system. It means that from time to time the capitalist cannot sell his goods. Like Mr. Wotherspoon and Mr. Rolls Royce he shuts up shop, pays his workers off or puts them on short time.

But why from time to time? If the system was as shaky as that, you might expect it to be in a state of permanent crisis – as it was in the thirties. The point is that he crisis would only be permanent if all workers were employed on “consumer” goods, which they would be expected to buy. Of course, that is not the case. Workers are employed on making heavy machinery, which they do not buy. Others waste their time in advertising or in journalism or in dead-end office work which contributes precisely nothing to the production of things which are necessary or desirable. As investment in machinery and factory-building goes up, more and more workers are employed in this field. More and more wages which they can spend on consumer goods, thus for a time alleviating the problem of overproduction. But one fine day the factory is completed. The workers who built it and installed the machinery are then laid off. As there is a tendency for many employers to invest and start building at about the same time - the beginning of a boom –the completion of the jobs also occur at about the same time and large numbers of workers are thus made redundant – the beginning of a slump. Then there is more productive capacity for a smaller market. The problem starts over again.

The Cold War Cure

Why then has there not been mass unemployment, no slump, since 1939? The answer is that the ruling class has resorted in desperation to the panacea which has solved so many of its problem the past ... war.

War means the employment of vast numbers of workers on producing absolutely nothing for personal consumption. They produce for destruction and savagery. Tanks, guns, warships and so on are turned out by the million. Workers are paid for doing it, and the problem of overproduction simply does not arise. The fact that millions of workers are slaughtering each other under phoney and meaningless banners is, of course, of no consequence to the capitalist class.

Since the Korean war, the ruling classes of the world have worked a new system – war in peacetime. This is sometimes known as ‘The Cold War’, or ‘Peaceful Co-Existence’ or ‘The Balance of Power’. One thing is clear. It has nothing whatever to do with the workers. The bosses on one side of the Iron Curtain call down threats and counter-threats on the heads of the bosses on the other side. Workers may be impressed by the nature of the calumnies. But whether in Russia or in America they are being exploited just the same.

War in peacetime means that an enormous hunk of what we produce every year – 7% in Britain; 10% in America; even more in Russia – is diverted into armaments – some of them so hideous that no one even dares to contemplate what would happen if they were used. Hundreds of thousands of workers are paid to produce these weapons, or to join the army etc. etc. The money they are paid opens up new markets in which the consumer goods industries can sell their produce.

International capitalism has – for the time being – solved its problems by using its productive capacity, which could produce a better and more satisfying life for thousands upon thousands of us, to manufacture the ugliest, most disgusting and most utterly useless products in the whole of human history.

But wait! Why is it necessary for them to produce armaments?

The Pressure on Wages

Why can they not use some of their profits to raise wages? This would create the markets in which to sell their consumer goods, and all capacity would be used on things which people need. Certainly it would. But one of the most charming characteristics of the capitalist class is that they are always at each other’s throats. One boss’s success is another’s failure. The forces of capitalism are concentrating into huge monopoly blocks (sometimes, as in Russia, a whole nation’s enterprise is one single state capitalist bloc), but the competition intensifies. It becomes more and more vicious, more and more regardless of workers’ interests. This competition forces the boss to accumulate the surplus wealth he extracts from the worker. The greatest problem for every boss – the one which keeps him awake at nights – is the question: “Have I enough capital accumulated?’’ For if the answer is “no”, then the competitor down the road or across the seas will invest more, produce cheaper goods, and undersell him in the markets. It is his instinct of self-preservation which forces him to accumulate as a top priority. If he is to survive, nothing else matters but accumulation of wealth from the exploited workers. That is why Anthony Wotherspoon expresses “sadness” at having to sack workers, he does it nevertheless – because the loss of orders is damaging the level of accumulation in Remington Rand. The slogan of capitalism is now the same as it always has been. “We must accumulate. The workers, their needs, their wants, their families and their aspirations can go to hell (or heaven) provided we accumulate.”

And, of course, there is only one major item in his accounts which the individual capitalist can alter – his wage bill. The never-ending drive to accumulate forces him for ever to keep his wages in check. And as the rate of profit (that is, the amount of profit made for the amount invested) goes down and down so there have to be ‘wage pauses’ and ‘guiding lights’ and the National Incomes Commission.

This, then, is the terrible dilemma of the capitalist class. If wages are low generally, then there is no market for the goods he produces. If wages are high, he cannot accumulate enough. Whatever “solution” he finds for one problem, in some degree, he lands himself in the other. Either way, it means unemployment, misery among thousands of workers ... and the most terrible waste of human endeavour and productive forces.

Unemployment and the Tories:
The Three Dilemmas of Mr. Maudling

Lord Hailsham: “I offer you faith and courage. What more do you want?”
A voice: “A f... job.”

Public meeting of workers in Hartlepoole, Durham, Jan 29th.

1. Tory ‘Expansion’

Capitalist “expansion” involves a whole series of petty fiscal measures. A fall in bank rate here, a cut in purchase tax there, a release of credits, and other gimmicks. The net result is to increase demand for a period until capitalists from other nations cash in on the expanding market, imports rise, and the national capitalist class has to shut down again or be beaten on its home ground.

The pattern of unemployment in post-war Britain has been one of regular cycles, with the graph rising and failing within narrow limits and corresponding roughly to the “expansion” measures. Another feature about the figures is the regular decline in the summer as construction work and catering trades get into full swing.

Over the years the tendency has been for unemployment to drop less and less as the “squeeze” is lifted. The “peaks” of the graph have climbed higher and higher. The number of wholly unemployed, in February 1963, was slightly more than 600,000 which is easily the highest since the war. The previous highest, just before the last election “boom” in 1959, was 530,000.

Similarly, and this really frightens the Tories, the fall in unemployment figures as the brakes are taken off has become more and more negligible. It looks as though the process has now reached its logical conclusion ... that the normal methods of Tory “expansion” do not any longer have any noticeable effect on the unemployment figures. “The economy” and “production” can “grow” and “grow”, but unemployment remains at the same rate, and even increases! Thus the National Institute of Economic and Social Research predict that a growth rate of 3% will see the same number of unemployed at the end of the year. And the Financial Times – the Internal Bulletin of the British capitalist class – of February 11th, 1963, went even further:

“When an economy starts to expand from a position of over-capacity, is can achieve impressive increases in production without making any substantial dent in unemployment ... it is quite possible that a more efficient use of manpower can lead to unemployment and production rising simultaneously”.

As more and more plant is manufactured, and more and more goods pour onto the market (witness the new car factories at Halewood, Liverpool, and Linwood, Paisley), there is greater productive capacity for the same market. The capitalist dog-fight becomes more and more vicious... and the boss’s natural reaction is to turn to his labour force and trim it of all unnecessary and unsavoury elements. He throws out the old and the unskilled. And he throws out the militants. The two serious labour disputes at Dunlop, Coventry, and Fords, Dagenham, both involved the arbitrary sacking of militant shop stewards.

This is the process described so politely as “a more efficient use of manpower” which leads “unemployment and production to rise simultaneously”. But it puts the wretched Tory Chancellor in a terrible dilemma. If he leaves “expansion” at the normal rate, the unemployment figure will rise nevertheless. If he expands further than the limit, his class will lose out to the rest of the world capitalists who will rush in to exploit the new huge markets. Thus inflation: thus balance of payments troubles. Mr. Maudling, who understand the capitalist system as well as anyone else, put his position in a brutal moment of frankness in the Commons Debate on unemployment, December 17th, 1962.

Maudling: “A level of unemployment of 550,000 to 600,000 is too high. On the other hand, a level of unemployment half that would lead us back into the difficulties of inflation and balance of payments which we have seen in the past.”

Hon. Members: “Oh”.

Maudling: “I do not say that these problems are insoluble, but it is unreal to try to pretend that we can bring the unemployment rate down to half what it is at the moment without running into problems”.

The honourable members who shouted “Oh” simply did not understand the nature of the capitalist system.

2. Arms Expenditure

The Tories are saved from sudden, drastic slump by the continued expenditure of huge resources upon armaments. But even this is no permanent stabiliser. The technical demands of the “deterrent” rise every year, and so, out of all proportion to what the ruling class can afford, do the costs. Different sections of the class are already complaining bitterly about the heavy burden of the arms bill. Why, after all, could they not exploit the consumer boom with the extra profits?

Keeping the “deterrent”, then, means not only infuriating many of the bosses who produce consumer goods, but also spending so much of the national product on armaments that huge gaps are left in investment in consumer goods industries, which can be promptly filled by competitors from abroad. Cutting the arms bill, on the other hand, may mean the end of the “deterrent”, but also thins out the extra markets of the armaments workers. Poor Mr. Maudling is trapped again.

3. Depressed Areas

President Kennedy in his “state of the nation” speech last year referred to heavy unemployment in some regions as the second most important problem facing the administration. In Britain, where capitalism is oldest, the problem is intense. Northern Ireland at present has 11.2% unemployed, while productivity in that hard-hit area has been rising for the past two years twice as fast as anywhere else in the United Kingdom! In Scotland the figure is 6.2%, the North of England 7%, Wales 6%. The average for Britain as a whole is 3.2%, and in the largest area, London and the South East, the figure is a mere 2.3% (the highest for years). Ever since the Local Employment Act, 1960, the Tories have strained British capitalism almost to the limit in an attempt to heal these economic deformities. They have spent more than £75,000,000 in inducements to individual capitalists who have set up shop in development districts. Here and there they have succeeded. But the general picture is one of total failure. Scotland has received the lion’s share of the money (£43,000,000). Yet unemployment in Scotland has risen steadily since the act was passed, as has the steady stream of unemployed Scots crossing the Border to find work elsewhere.

Here, then, is Mr. Maudling’s third dilemma. For the economies in the depressed areas are so dependent on heavy, declining industry that the degree of “reflation” needed to get them growing again is about twice or even three times that which the already expanding areas like London can stand. To “stimulate” in an attempt to revive Scotland would mean chaotic inflation in the South, and serious balance of payments problems. To keep the South in check is to suffocate the depressed areas still further. The Tories take the latter course, but they do not enjoy either. These then are the problems faced by capitalism in an era of ever-expanding machinery and automation. All of them point inevitably down the road of slow and steady increases in unemployment, to the “boom” periods coming less and less often, to the “depression” periods becoming more and more disastrous. The Tories will pin their faith in keeping enough workers in “prosperity” to win the elections. This optimistic notion, as well as the entire tragicomedy of dilemmas, could be laughed to scorn by the workers ... if, and only if, the Labour movement had something better to offer them. But has it?

Unemployment and the Labour Movement

“The Government has therefore decided to express the full employment standard of the United Kingdom at a level of 3% at the seasonal peak.”
Hugh Gaitskell, Chancellor of Exchequer, March 22nd 1951.

“I beg to move: “That this House expresses its deep concern at the rise in unemployment figures to 814,000 (3.2%) ...
“It is both a tragedy and a scandal that this House, in 1963, should again have to debate heavy unemployment ...”
Douglas Jay, Opposition front Bench, February 4th 1963.

Labour’s Remedy

Hans Christian Andersen has an excellent fairy story about a King who bought a “magic” suit of clothes from a couple of fraudulent tailors. The suit of clothes did not in fact exist, but the “magic” about it was that it was invisible to fools.

The King, the Queen and all the courtiers and hangers-on agreed that the suit of clothes was the most magnificent thing that they had ever seen. It was unanimously decided that it should be worn on the next royal parade.

The masses, too, had been informed about the magic suit, and they did not want to appear fools either. So they all cheered and cheered as the King, surrounded by artillery, cavalry and infantry, was carried through the centre of the town in shining, innocent nudity.

Just so do Mr. Wilson, Mr. Callaghan, Mr. Woodcock and Mr. Cousins, flanked by the armoury of 13 million votes, sport themselves before an ever-increasing body of apathetic supporters clothed in “magic” remedies for unemployment.

The central panacea of the Labour leadership is the direction of industry to the depressed areas.

All past experience proves how futile such policies are.

Way back in 1935 the Government introduced a lukewarm and totally ineffective Special Areas Act to try to “channel” industry from the South to Scotland and other “depressed” areas. In 1938 the Barlow Commission recommended stringent Government control of industrial development in the South. In 1945 the Coalition Government introduced the Distribution of Industry Act – which was to become the foundation of Labour’s policy toward location of industry. The Act granted special powers to the Government and local authorities to develop land and industry in certain specified areas (which included huge chunks of Scotland) in order to entice private industry to expand in these areas. There were also other inducements – such as low rents, and building grants, and lump sums to cover the loss suffered by the move North.

The Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, gave the Government powers to control industrial development by refusing industrial development certificates to firms wishing to set up shop or expand in the congested area.

Wooing Big Business

How well did the two Governments – Labour and Tory – succeed with these powers at their command? If we take the amount of industrial building it looks at first sight as if the Labour Government succeeded in channelling industry to the development areas. Between 1945 and 1951 30% of all British industrial building took place in the development areas. Between 1952 and 1958 the figure slumped to 18.8%. But a closer look shows a different picture. Between 1945 and 1948 44% of all building was in the development areas (20% in Scotland). In the three years 1949 to 1951 the figure went down to 18.9% – almost exactly the same figure as was maintained in the following seven years under the Tories!

The point was that immediately after the war, when a great many firms were starting again from scratch (this is particularly true of a large number of firms from the USA) – private enterprise was relatively susceptible to “steering” under the Distribution of Industry Act, and a “tough” industrial development certificate policy. But from 1948 – with capitalism gaining confidence and building more extensions to existing plant, resistance to Government powers increased, and private firms began their accustomed conglomeration near their big markets – in the South.

Between 1948 and 1962 both Labour and the Tories failed to shift private enterprise from its firm resolve to stay and expand in the South. Yet Labour’s case remains today the same as it has been for the last ten years – Labour would use the existing powers with greater effect than did the Tories.

Against this background of legislation to solve the problem of unemployment (all of which has failed dismally) we can take a better look at the solutions at present offered by the various parties and trade union bodies. First there is a policy of “negative direction” of industry – or the refusing of industrial development certificates, where possible, to firms wishing to develop in the South. This policy is backed by generous -“inducements” to firms to move into the development areas (low rents, building grants etc.). This is the broad policy of the Tory Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party. There are three main reasons why it is totally inadequate and worthless.

The first, as I have shown, is that it has failed. If industrialists are refused permission to expand where they want to, they will not expand at all (cf. Mr. R. Maudling, then President of the Board of Trade, November 9th 1959: “There is always the possibility that firms prevented from setting up in areas of their own choice will decide not to expand at all – but to do nothing”).

The second is that where it does succeed, there is no permanancy in the industry which develops in the areas. The factories which have gone to Scotland are branch factories and “bits and pieces”.

The branch factories are always the first to close in times of recession, always the first to pay off workers, or put them on short time. They are always the last in the queue for heavy investment and modernisation. The “bits and pieces” are wholly unstable, and provide not even a semblance of a basis for industrial prosperity.

Thirdly, there is the trend of British capitalism towards Europe. The industrialist who is refused permission to build in Birmingham, Coventry or London will not turn to Liverpool or Glasgow. He will turn to Hamburg, Rotterdam and Paris. It’s important to remember in this era of European “internationalism” that our Government’s control of private industry is strictly limited by national boundaries. Capitalism is as international as ever.

But lastly, and most important, this policy leaves the initiative to private enterprise. It is a policy of wait and see. The idea behind it is that the Government should not act until private enterprise acts. Then, of course, it is to act “toughly” with a few expensive bribes thrown in. There is no real plan behind the policy. No one is to sit down and decide what type of industry is best in Scotland. The initiative lies, as always in the hands of Big Business and Profit. That is why the policy has been, and always will be, utterly futile.

Why not admit right away that private enterprise – because of the historical development in Britain – cannot successfully move to the North. Why not admit right away that the only answer is public enterprise under workers’ control?

Not public enterprise alone – as the sacking of miners and railwaymen by nationalised industries bears witness to, but public enterprise under worker’s control.

Work at Any Price’

The policy of the Labour Party leaders aims to tinker with capitalism, not abolish it. Petty tinkering with administrative details is always the prerogative of fashionable Labour economists.

But they do not even start to provide an answer to the essential contradictions of the capitalist system. Nor do they anywhere threaten the continued existence of class society in all its most ruthless forms.

In fact, the official Labour Party policy statement has some interesting things to say about class rule in industry:

“With certain honourable exceptions, our finance and industry need a major shake-up at the top. Too many directors owe their position to family, school or political connections. If the dead wood were cut out of Britain’s boardrooms and replaced by the keen young executives, production engineers and scientists who are at present denied their legitimate prospects of promotion, our production and export problems would be more manageable.” (Signposts for the Sixties, p. 10)

The important struggle, in other words, is for better and brighter bosses. Our boardrooms will be plastered with the new slogan of the Left: “Etonians keep out! Only Winchester and Manchester Grammar School can give the correct training these days!” Nor is the perspective of the Trade Union movement any clearer. Most of the “solutions” from that quarter have been for “expansion” along conventional capitalist lines. In some instances the leadership has resorted to the most appalling remedies. “Jobs For Scotland” – a “campaign” conducted by the Scottish TUC to attract more jobs to Scotland was divorced completely from the rank and file. “Direction of industry” to Scotland, with all its narrow chauvinistic implications, was the central theme. This sort of zany nationalism, which has nothing to do with socialism, reached its logical conclusion in a frantic letter written by Mr. John McWillian, Labour convener of Fife County Council, to Sir Patrick Henessey, managing director of Fords in Britain. “Why not bring your Liverpool factory to Fife” was the theme of the letter. “We won’t go on strike up here”. This deliberate class-collaboration merely delights the capitalists and serves to prolong the insecurity of the workers.

To solve the problem of unemployment in the shipyards the STUC propose a “scrap and build” policy for Britain’s navy. In the 1930’s the unemployed Fenians in the South Side of Glasgow discussed an idea to blow up the power station to create more work. The idea was dismissed when someone pointed out that the ruling class would simply leave them in darkness! No less stupid is the idea of the STUC. Unnecessary, futile and extremely pernicious work, like the building of a Polaris submarine, should be boycotted completely by the workers and their representatives.

The Limits of Reform

And so the miserable story goes on and on. Demands for petty, administrative reform. Demands for the restoration of national prestige. Demands for “work for work’s sake”, for the construction of the most horrible weapons of war... irrelevant, idiotic demands made without thought or consideration and intermingled with all the flatulent pomposity, petty wit and sterile academics which are the peculiar characteristics of the latter-day working class representative.

Creeping unemployment is not the result of “evil” men in power, or of “the tired, old men on the Tory benches”. The young, active and no doubt super-virile President Kennedy with all the best intensions in the world can do nothing to stop it. Nor is it the result of administrative muddles in Whitehall, or of an overdose of Anglophilia at the expense of the Scots.

The reason is that we live in a class society, in which the productive forces cannot be used to satisfy the needs and desires of the workers. The competitive rat-race of capitalism meant, in the thirties, that huge numbers of men and machinery were redundant, useless, to be thrown aside. To-day it means that hundreds of thousands of men and millions of pounds worth of machinery are employed in creating worthless weapons, which can only be used for the destruction of mankind. And even with the drastic measures, unemployment is beginning to grow again.

This is the system which the fashionable Labour intellectuals would have us accept, and reform. But unemployment rises relentlessly, the prophets of permanent affluence are paying the penalty for ten years of class collaboration, ten years without theory, without propaganda, without thought. The cold wind from the North whips away the scanty tatters of reformism, exposing the awe-inspiring nakedness of the entire Labour leadership.

Capitalism cannot be reformed out of overproduction and a falling rate of profit. It cannot use the productive force which it has so ingeniously developed to produce what people need and want. As long as capitalism continues, the threat of unemployment hangs over the head of every worker. It is the job of the Labour movement, while fighting the day to day struggle with all the militancy at its command, to expose the flaws and frauds of capitalism and call for its replacement.

How to Fight Unemployment

‘Do It Yourself’ Demands

How to fight unemployment? But, first of all, who is to do the fighting? The capitalist class will never give way before an elite of bureaucrats or professional revolutionaries. It will convert them or smash them. Nor can the workers look to the capitalist State to solve their problems for them. The State is only an instrument of the ruling class. It simply serves as a convenient instrument to pool the resources of individual capitalist, and do their dirty work for them. Transport is run for the business man by the State; so is coal, electricity, gas, water and so on. Recently the Tories have all but “nationalised” the ports, to the hysterical cheers of the Labour Party. Nor did the Tories object to the nationalisation of coal and railways by Labour. It’s perfectly possible that there won’t be any serious objection to the nationalisation of steel (except of course by the steel bosses). Nationalisation by the State has nothing to do with the workers. It simply means that the enterprise is run more efficiently, the workers exploited more clinically in the interests of the ruling class.

Nor can the worker expect to sit in his house and leave it to his representatives. The more he sits at home, the less are they his representatives. If there is no pressure from below, the trade union official, the Member of Parliament, the local councillor become absorbed and fascinated with bureaucracy, charmed and delighted with petty power. Very soon he will put away all thought of the people he represents and continue on his irrelevant road to nowhere.

The slogan for the workers must be “Do it Yourself”. At every twist and turn in the industrial struggle, challenge the bosses’ right to hire and fire, challenge his right to run the workers’ lives. But, through the Labour Party, through the trade unions, and on the factory floor do it yourself.

What to do? To oppose the bosses at the points where their case is weakest, and to expose the absurdity of class society with every demand and complaint.

Five Days Work or Five Days Pay

The most immediate and obvious effect of unemployment is the fall in living standards of the unemployed. Suddenly, through no fault of his own, although he is prepared to work five days a week, he is told: “You are no longer any use. Go away.” And his living standards are cut by five times.

Workers, both employed and unemployed, should demand that the boss who sacks his workers would continue to pay them full rates of pay until he can offer them work again. A sacked worker is much more important than a shareholder. Let him be entitled to at least the same sort of benefits.

Side by side with this demand, it is vital continually to oppose all unnecessary work. If the unemployed get full maintenance, it is easier for miners in Fife to oppose a coal-fired power station, when an oil-fired station is cheaper and easier for all concerned; it is easier, too, for shipyard and chemical workers to refuse to waste their time in the construction of weapons of war.

No Sackings – Share the Work

When the boss finds that through a drop in orders or a new machine, he wants to cut his labour force, the workers should demand that not a single sacking takes place. Instead the available works should be shared out between the existing labour force, without loss of pay. If ten men can do the work in four days, why not twenty men in two days? The work is done just the same, and all the men are happier.

However, the strength of trade union organisation varies tremendously from industry to industry, and from factory to factory.

Probably, at present, in most industries such demands cannot be won. What then?

If the fight for 5 days’ work or 5 days’ pay is lost, we must fight for demands on a sliding scale:

  1. Shorter working week (i.e., four days) with loss of pay.
  2. Retraining of personnel to take other jobs within the establishment.
  3. In the event of redundancy having to be accepted, an attempt to keep redundant workers on the payroll of the firm until suitable alternative work has been found outside.
  4. In the event of failure compensation payments whilst looking for alternative work, plus severance pay.

Severance pay should come as a last resort when all else fails, and on terms dictated by the workers not the boss; and not accepted at the first opportunity as a sort of leaving present from the boss, which has been the attitude of many union leaders.

To the demand for a 35-hour week or a 7-hour day the bosses always have some reason for saying it is impossible. In those balmy days of “full” employment the answer was “No, there’s a shortage of labour.” Today, they say “No, we can’t afford it – increased labour costs,” etc. Both ways the workers lose out.

Our answer must be clear. “We, the workers ‘can’t afford’ unemployment!!! It is your profits and your capitalist system which prevents a 35-hour, 30-hour or an even shorter week.”

At the same time we must stand firm on the question of overtime. We must say: “Whilst our fellow-workers are on the dole will not work overtime for you.” By banning overtime we force the boss to take on more workers from the dole queue.

Workers’ Control

These demands raise the question of workers’ status. They assume that the worker can run his own life, can indeed run his own industry, and that he is much more entitled to benefits from industry than the shareholder of the boss himself. When put to the boss they do not allow him to bluff with statistics or Parliamentary manoeuvre. They force him openly to defend his system. These demands clear away the debris of clichés about “faith and courage”, about “two world wars” about “national prestige” and “making Britain great”. They expose the hard core of capitalist society ... the struggle between the classes.

All the time this struggle is going on. And wherever the issue is boss against worker, the worker must be supported. Every wage claim, every strike in workers’ interests must be supported, every sacking bitterly opposed. Yet all this is useless unless, somewhere, the idea of socialism begins to take root among the workers.

For socialism, workers’ control of all industry, agriculture and services, is the only real hope for the end of unemployment.

Last updated on 19 August 2016