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International Socialism, Spring 1962


Notes of the Quarter

2. Planning


From International Socialism (1st series), No.8, Spring 1962, pp.1-2.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Control of wages is ultimately the secret of competitive power between heavily industrialised nations which are roughly balanced in other respects. The German metal workers are learning again this lesson. In Britain, the National Economic Development Council and the tactics of wage pause and restraint represent the same lesson, sharpened here as preparation for entry to the Common Market. Neddy has a long ancestry, being the traditional Labour-Conservative response to industrial class struggle, Joint Production Councils, linked to the idea of national planning. The record of Ned’s still-born predecessors is long – projects designed by such motley company as the Webbs, Churchill, Archbishop Temple, Macmillan (of the thirties) and Cripps. The Mond-Turner talks summed up the ideology of collaboration – if the Trade Unions can be persuaded to participate in economic decisions, they become responsible for those decisions, and ultimately responsible for capitalism. If this can be achieved, the trade unions are well on the way to becoming instruments of labour control rather than defence. If at the same time, the basic economic targets are set privately within the bureaucracy, growth can be married to peace.

In practice, co-partnership has been less elegant. The employers dragged their feet under Cripps; only by guaranteeing the status quo, could the Labour Government achieve a minimal level of co-ordination, and in the process had to utilise clumsy and grossly inefficient controls of economic activity. On the other side, the unions have alternated between suspicion and a love too great to carry their rank-and-file. Under a Labour Government, some of the suspicion was dissipated, but, although wage rates were restrained to only a 10 per cent increase between 1947 and 1950, earnings were chivvied along on the factory floor to a 24 per cent rise. Now at last, under a Conservative Government, the TUC has joined Neddy – the strain this is likely to impose on the unions’ link with the Labour Party is not hard to see. The pretext on which they have joined is not collaboration but planning. The appointment of Sir Robert Shone as Director General of Neddy’s staff shows the sort of planning envisaged in the back-room, while Neddy performs the propaganda in the front. Shone has directed planning in the steel industry for a long time – ‘planning’ here means controlled cartelisation, production to meet a given demand at maximum price, quota production between firms so that profit margins remain steady for efficient and inefficient producers alike – which in turn means supply cannot be increased with any ease, and the technological standards of the industry remain low by international standards. All of which adds up to stagnation.

Planning here means merely a negative control – a control constantly working in favour of the largest units. Economic strains and change are borne by, given what was said earlier, the working-class and small business. In addition to coordinating their plans for investment, Neddy can provide a coherent channel for business to tell the Government what taxation level it requires, what level of nationalised industry pricing it needs, what section of workers are to carry the current strain. Of course, there are dangers, as the Financial Times noted: ‘If wages become fully planned – assuming this can be effectively done in a fully-employed democratic society – it would be a logical step to planning the whole economy. This, one can assume would be anathema both to industry and the Government’ (24 Oct. 1961). But the dangers are small when no coherent socialist alternative exists nationally.

The one decisive flaw is that the greater the integration of the trade union leadership into the ruling-class, the greater the necessity becomes of the rank-and-file acting independently. For socialists, this is the key element – as the trade union leadership becomes more and more part of the official machinery for the organisation of labour, the more will workers find their own direct forms of struggle. The link between unions and independent political challenge, until now precariously maintained by the Labour Party, must weaken, and so make steadily more ineffective official Reformism. It will be replaced by direct reformism – the workers in immediate conflict with the centres of economic power, not directed to work though the fine mesh net of Parliamentary politics. Our task must be to speed that transition, to help in breaking the ideology of class collaboration and embody the ideas and reality of class struggle in organisations that can never be wholly absorbed within the new administered economy. Shop steward committees, union branches, rank-and-file movements are the badly policed, imperfectly ‘pacified’ areas of capitalism. Increasingly they should become our weapons as traditional spearheads get lost in the blanc-mange of capitalist planning.

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