Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 2 no. 4 (April 1959)
Transcription: Francesco 2008
Proofread: Fred 2008
Markup: Manuel 2008
Five hundred and fifty thousand are officially unemployed since the decrease of 58,000 announced between February and March. This was the figure given in the Parliamentary Debate on March 18th. But this does not include pensioners forced to retire, married women and the young people just leaving school. If all these are taken into account the number unemployed still cannot be far short of a million.
Production according to the latest Economic Survey is as high or even higher than previously in the last few months. But unemployment has dropped very little. With automation, mechanisation and speed-up more can be produced by fewer workers. Consequently the measures of the Government will not abolish unemployment even if production rises to the limits of present capacity.
Building workers, dockers, miners, engineers and even agricultural workers have been hit by the industrial slow-down. Apart from the exceptional and temporary, fuel crisis, there is more unemployment than for 19 years.
Despite all the solemn promises since the war that the depressed areas would not reappear, Scotland, Wales and the Northern and N.W. regions have been worse affected than other areas. The grim reality of hunger and deprivation already face substantial sections of the working class. It is impossible to live on the meagre pittance given by unemployment pay even if National Assistance is added. The rates are far lower in proportion to the average wage than in Holland and some other countries of Europe.
The Government as representative of the bosses will not do anything in this connection till they have been forced by the movement of the mass of the working class. The big capitalists do not regard this as an unmitigated evil. They wish to use unemployment to make their workers more amenable to pressure, and less capable of demanding better conditions and wages. The Times, organ of Big Business, remarks in this connection, “The changed atmosphere has made it possible to introduce more economical methods of working, and cut out waste of manpower without difficulty where two or three years ago the suggestion of such things would have provoked strikes.”
The Tory policy has revealed itself as bankrupt. For it is not only in Britain but in the whole capitalist world that mass unemployment is developing. Five million in America, 1,300,000 in Germany, in proportion big unemployment in Canada and Australia, as well as other European states. In fact MacLean’s boast was that unemployment was less in proportion in Britain than in the main capitalist countries.
In this atmosphere the T.U.C. has called for a big programme of slum clearance, road building, schools, hospitals and other public works. A cut in the taxes of the workers in order to increase spending power. This in effect is merely asking the Tories to intensify the steps they have already taken.
Likewise all that the Labour leaders proposed in Parliament was a more vigorous prosecution of measures being introduced by the Tories. Douglas Jay demanded special concessions to capitalists to rent Government-built factories in areas of mass unemployment. The profits go to the capitalists, the expenses are borne by the State. But clearly this does not go to the heart of the problem.
Macleod could afford to jeer “The interesting thing not only about the right hon. gentleman’s speech (Douglas Jay who opened for the Labour Party) but about this section of the pamphlet (on unemployment) was how very similar his ideas are to the ones the Government are pursuing, as the right hon. gentleman from time to time had to admit.”
Perhaps this explains why Labour is making such small progress. If Tory Ministers can find no fundamental difference in policy how can the people see any vital distinction between the two parties even on such a question which involves and affects the lives of the mass of the population?
The militants in the trade unions and Labour Parties must demand that the movement exert pressure on the employers and their Government. It is their system, their responsibility for this crisis. Let them bear the burdens!
Machinery and productive capacity in steel, coal, engineering, textiles and other industries is lying idle or only used to 80 percent of capacity. At the same time workers, who could be employed productively for the benefit of society and themselves and their families, are forced to suffer. The capitalists can’t produce the goods needed by society, then let them make way for a social system which can! Why should the victims of the system starve through no fault of their own? Work or full maintenance, that is the demand which should be made by the unemployed and backed by the organisations of the Labour Movement.
The engineers are demanding a 40-hour week which has insolently been turned down by the employers. Yet the 47-hour week lasted for 28 years from January 1st, 1919. And the 44-hour 5-day week has been in existence in engineering since the beginning of 1947. Automation and other methods of rationalisation have meant a big rise in the productivity of Labour. A cut in hours without reduction in pay should prevent putting more workers on the street. At the same time the unions, shop stewards and other workers should put a ban on overtime in all industries where there are mass sackings.
Workers at Platts in Manchester went on strike when 400 out of 2,000 workers were threatened with redundancy. They insisted on sharing the work. This should be accompanied by a demand for increased wages to make up for the shorter hours.
On this one issue alone the Labour Movement properly organised and led could bring down the Tory Government and force new elections. But demands for public works are not enough. Demands for concessions to open a few factories are not enough. A Plan of Production must be worked out. This would involve taking into account the entire economy of Britain. It would mean nationalising the banks and Big Industry. This should be explained to the workers in a campaign throughout the country. The difference between the capitalist policies of the Tory Government and policies which would benefit the workers and the mass of the people could be made clear. A campaign on these lines beginning with the elementary demand for the right of everyone to a job could shake the country. Only by putting up a militant programme can the enthusiasm of the rank and file be roused to its topmost pitch. The Tories could be forced to resign and a Labour Government would triumphantly be returned.