Source: Socialist Fight, Vol. 3 No. 6, August 1961
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Niklas 2009
The Tory government has launched its attack on the standard of living of the people in order to “cut consumption” by £500 million. Cigarettes, beer, purchase tax, as foreshadowed, the taxes on these have all been increased. At the same time as increasing the cost of living the government has announced a standstill on wages in public and private industry. The teachers have been the first to feel the effect of this. But the government is preparing to resist, and back the employers in resisting all the wage claims which have been made.
The government announces that these measures are in the interests of the “nation.” They have been “forced” on the government by the sixth crisis since the war. Every two years since the war ended Britain has been faced with a similar crisis. Strong measures, the government claims, must be taken to “protect” the purchasing power of the pound. In reality the real purchasing power of the pound has dropped to a third of what it was before the war. While the productivity of labour has increased 3 percent a year on the average since the war ended basic wages have not kept pace.
The profits of the capitalists have steadily increased year by year under the Tories. At the same time more and more concessions in taxation have been made to the rich. The last occasion was the previous budget where £80 million were handed [out] as a present in surtax. In the last 12 months the appreciation of values of stock exchange shares has been £6,000 million. Every section of the ruling class has benefited by the measures of the Tories. The landlords, the stock exchange sharks, the financiers and the industrialists. The present measures will hardly affect them at all. It is the working class which is called on to make the sacrifices for the benefit of the gentry mentioned above.
In the last decade even from a capitalist point of view, while the rich have got richer, and only by overtime, women working, and so on have the workers managed to gain a modest improvement in the standard of living, the government and the capitalist class have misled the people as to the real situation.
Wasting the substance of the production of the people on the class interests of the ruling class, endeavouring to maintain the imperialist power of Britain by massive and crippling expenditure on arms the position of capitalist Britain has worsened on the markets of the world. From 25 percent of world trade taken up by British exports the proportion has dropped to 15 percent. In the field of modernisation and production Britain has been outstripped by her rivals. West Germany long replaced Britain in the production of steel, which is one of the indexes of productive capacity, as the third world power. Now in the first six months of this year formerly backward Japan has outstripped Britain. Britain drops to fifth place in the world league of steel production.
In comparison with other modern industrial states Britain has been standing still in the last decade. Production in the last six months in Britain increased 1 percent over the first six months of last year. In the Common Market countries the increase has been 8 percent!
In the decisive field of production Britain has been falling behind. In the sphere of capital investment and modernisation of plant she has fallen far behind West Germany and the United States. It is this which has caused the crisis and not the lying propaganda that workers’ wages have outstripped production. In the countries of Western Europe in the last 10 years the standard of living has increased far faster in proportion to what it was previously than it has in Britain. In real standards of living the Belgians, French and German workers are catching up. In the field of the social services it is the same story. The gap is far less than it was before the war.
Now the government wishes to put the burden of the capitalist crisis onto the shoulders of the working class. Even the liberal Manchester Guardian was constrained to declare editorially:
“Here is the familiar deflationary recipe designed to restrict credit, damp down spending, and perhaps raise unemployment… This is not the required approach to the problem of chronic economic crises… worst economic crisis since 1931… Once again there have been substantial tax concessions for the wealthy, to be followed by tax increases and other burdens, such as the repeal of the house purchase scheme, which fall on the less wealthy. To expect any wage restraint after such a combination of measures is astonishing…”
The reaction of the working class has been such that even such right wingers as Tom O’Brien, a member of the general council of the TUC declared, “This is an invitation for every trade union to put in for a new wage increase.” Ron Smith of the UPW said, “The Chancellor cannot look for wage restraint if his first move is to put up the cost of sugar, tea, petrol, and everything that affects the cost of living.”
The Labour leaders in Parliament too have protested against these measures which expose the hollowness of the general election slogans of the Tories. All these are brave words which every worker in the labour movement will support. But how about some action to translate words into deeds? The trade union and labour movement must prepare a joint campaign nationally against these measures. Let them explain the real economic facts to the people. Let them campaign on the basis that the backers of the Tories must bear the burden. Its their crisis, they have had control—let the capitalist pay for their mess. They can bear the burden—let them shoulder it. Cut the crippling arms expenditure not the standards of the old, the poor and the sick. Cut down the record profits and dividends.
A campaign of exposure on these lines, a campaign to improve living standards and wages, at least to keep pace with the increase in the cost of living, would gain enormous support. At the same time the basic economic issues could be exposed. In simple popular terms it should be explained to the people that only the abolition of rent, interest and profit can fundamentally change the economic climate in Britain. If the capitalists cannot guarantee even a minimum standard of living then away with capitalism!
It is not sufficient to talk of a plan of production, a plan can only be successfully introduced by the putting into operation of clause 4 of the party constitution. The nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange and their democratic control is the only way of solving the problems of the working class.