Ted Grant

Defend nationalised industries against Tory attacks

Source: Militant, no. 68 (October 1970)
Transcription: Francesco 2010
Proofread: Fred 2010
Markup: Manuel 2010

Nationalisation becomes a key issue with the aim of the Tories to de-nationalise key sectors, or rather very profitable sectors under state ownership. Thus big business in the electronics industry is eagerly eyeing the telecommunications section of the Post Office. This is making big profits and is regarded as a growth industry of the future. Consequently they would like to hive it off for the benefit of the monopolies. Of course the postal services which make a loss they will generously leave to the state! Now the government is suggesting the de-nationalisation of Cooks, the travel agents, which is a subsidiary of the railways and makes a profit of over £1 million a year.

The government is trying to hand over lucrative routes of BOAC and BEA airways now that they have become profitable. Routes making £6 million a year are to be handed over to the former bankrupt Caledonian Airways and the concern which under these conditions would be willing graciously to take it over. £6 million and not a penny in compensation to the state! That is the attitude of the Tory government whose members are always screaming about “fair compensation” to vested interests.

The reason for this looting of the state was explained by the “Committee on Civil Aviation” under professor Sir Ronald Edwards which found

“…that the Air Corporations had a fairly creditable record, though this did not prevent it from going on to advocate that part of their operations should be handed over to private operators without compensation, so important was it to foster private enterprise” (British air transport in the seventies).

Thus under a previous Tory government road transport which was profitable was hived off, leaving the unprofitable railways in the hands of the state. Steel too when making a profit was de-nationalised. The Labour government’s re-nationalisation put further profits in their pockets by over-compensation.

These examples show how the tycoons are always on the lookout for further profits at the expense of the state. Thus two thirds of research and development in industry is paid for by the state. Private industry reaps the benefit without shelling out a single penny!

Nationalised industry more efficient

At the same time the capitalist press and the mass media generally carry on an insidious campaign against nationalised industry picturing them as inefficient and an immense burden on the economy and on the people. Thus price rises of coal, electricity, gas or transport are headlined, though private industry has increased its prices much more in proportion since the war. This gets no mention in the “popular” press. A campaign which has lasted more than a quarter of a century has had some effects, especially on the more uncritical and unthinking sections of the population, particularly middle class people and the more politically backward section of the workers who vote for their class enemy, the Conservatives.

The facts show, however, that in spite of inefficiency, red tape, and bureaucratism inevitable in the large scale industries which have been nationalised where there is no participation and control by the workers in the industry, or general workers’ management by the trade unions as a whole, which would be a really socialist form of nationalisation: nevertheless state ownership is more efficient than private industry. “Private”—in reality monopoly—big business has all the faults, sometimes in worse measure of state industry, without its virtues. There is no public accountability for the monopolies and their inefficiencies and even gross mismanagement are concealed by the press. Their anti-social aspects and their lust for profits at the expense of the economy and of the workers are not publicised.

Unfortunately, the myth of the inefficiency of state ownership in comparison with private enterprise has crept even into the ranks of active trade unionists and Labour Party members in the constituency organisations. The responsibility for this must rest with the Labour leadership which has not conducted a regular and systematic campaign giving the facts to the membership and to the working class as a whole.

Now professor R. W. S. Pryke has given some of the facts in the Moorgate and Wall Street journal of Spring 1970, a journal hardly read by the mass of the population!

“Between 1958 and 1968 output per man-hour rose by nearly 2.5 times in the Air Corporation…Electricity 114 percent…gas output per man hour rose by 71 percent…In British road services by 62 percent, in coal by 57 percent and railways by 52 percent…”

The overall rise of the nationalised industries was two-thirds.

“Productivity of all the public sector heavyweights has increased much faster since 1948, and especially since 1958, than it did between the wars. In gas, output per man-year was no higher in 1935 than it had been in 1924. On the railways, productivity increased by 1.2 percent per annum between 1924 and 1935 compared with a rise of 2.3 percent between 1948 and 1958, and of 4.3 percent between 1958 and 1968. Coal increased 1.9 percent per man-shift between 1934 and 1938. Between 1948 and 1968 3.1 percent; a 5 percent average between 1958 and 1968. Electricity between 1924 and 1935 output per man rose 5.5 percent per annum. Between 1948 and 1958 6.2 percent. Between 1958 and 1968 7.9 percent.

“During the second decade of nationalisation, however, output per man-hour increased considerably faster within the public enterprise sector than in manufacturing. Between 1958 and 1968 the nationalised industries productivity rose by 5.3 percent each year compared with 3.7 percent in manufacturing, which means that the public enterprise rate was about 40 percent faster.”

Imagine if the figures were reversed the big headlines there would be in the Beaverbrook, Rothermere and other kept organs of the millionaire press. It is up to the advanced workers in the labour movement to conduct a campaign of mass education explaining the real facts to the working class and to the people generally, to support the resistance of the airport workers to any extension of de-nationalisation, to fight for the extension of nationalisation to the profitable industries and not only to the industries ruined by big business.