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International Socialism, Spring 1963


Notes of the Quarter



From International Socialism, No.12, Spring 1963, pp.1-2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Even Tories showed alarm at the unemployment figures last Winter. Eight hundred thousand odd, 3.6 percent of the labour force at the mid-January count by their own reckoning (and half as much again if the United States sampling method were used) are acid to their image of a classless society and a blow to their electoral prospects. There are three major constituents of this unemployment. The first, which the Tories were prepared to meet, was the expected outcome of an exceptionally hard Winter and of ‘political uncertainties’. The weather exaggerated a regular seasonal drop in construction work and, through power and gas cuts, led to temporary layoffs elsewhere, to the extent, perhaps, of a quarter-of-a-million jobless. De Gaulle’s obstructionism and the threat of a Labour Government induced capital to postpone and. in some cases, scrap plans to invest in new plant and machinery until the outlook cleared. This again meant unemployment and short-time working, particularly in the heavy, capital goods sector, although to what extent it is difficult to say.

Tory plans to meet this part of the unemployment were precise. Its main constituent up to the time, of writing (early February) revolves around welfare payments: In March, 9 million people are to receive ten shillings a week extra in pensions, sickness benefits, unemployment pay and so on. just as a quarter-million or so new vacancies could be expected in building. In May, two million will receive more in National Assistance. Insurance contributions to pay for it will not be raised until June. And in May, with the electorate still enjoying the best of both worlds and warmed, no doubt, by a ‘sunshine’ April Budget, the Tories would be poised for an election. Whether they will actually call one is another matter: other luminaries – de Gaulle, the Ks, even the gremlin ‘Bankers of Basle’ – would also need to be auspicious. But at least the home front will have been prepared.

The plan might have worked but for the two other constituents of current unemployment. One results from the pruning in labour that accompanied British capitalism’s preparations to enter the Common Market and that is now accompanying its preparations to remain outside. Add to this the heavy investments made in recent years in plant and machinery without there having been a corresponding increase in output and the Times’ comment that ‘output may be raised by up to 10 or 15 percent without the need to take on extra workers’ (25 January) is seen as the warning it is: of the inadequacy of Tory pump-priming methods in relation to the size of the problem.

Even if this were not so, the increasing structural and regional nature of unemployment would present them with an intractable problem. Northern Ireland with 9.5 percent out of work (14.25 percent by US reckoning), the North, including the Northeast, with 6.5 percent (nearly 10 percent US), Scotland with 5.9 percent (9) and Wales with 5.7 percent (8) are the special victims which do much to bump up the national average to where it is. Long after Budget tricks and tinkering with welfare payments have secured what Tories would call full employment in the Southeast and the Midlands, the black spots would still be dragging their load of workless; and long before full employment comes to them, the growing regions would have broken out in runaway inflation.

There is little the Tories can do. The structural-regional nature of the problem defeats the forms of planning they are willing to countenance. More fundamentally, capital’s dependence on a permanent arms economy – with its rapid but unplanned and unplannable technological change and its implicit ceiling on arms expenditure – promises to breed more and more regional black spots, more and more areas insensitive to fiscal and monetary cures. America is our warning. The increasingly regional aspect of unemployment is as much a threat to the labour and socialist movements as to the Tories, perhaps more so. Not seeing beyond this aspect. Labour and trade union leaders are prepared to join with capital in seeking purely regional solutions. If this means strikebreaking, as when Fords were invited to expand in Scotland while Ford workers were striking in Merseyside, they will strikebreak. If it means competitive crawling in Whitehall with begging bowls aloft, they will crawl. While the Tory press sports headlines like ‘Lord Hailsham Wins Support From Union Leaders’ (Times 5 February) the fragmentation of the movement grows.

What can be done? Practically, every method of bringing support to the unemployed – demonstrations, meetings, even, if circumstances favour it, industrial action – should be pressed. Labour Parties should be forced out of their electoral nosebags; Trades Councils out of their lethargy. Politically, every opportunity should be taken to demonstrate the roots of the worst unemployment in the instabilities of the arms economy; to show the unity of interest and of theme between the peace and labour movements; to advance a demand for a shorter working week and for comprehensive social planning by, not merely ‘for’, all. It is true we have been doing this all along. But now, while the first shock of unemployment as a major problem still registers and before the figures show improvement as they are bound to do by late Spring, we are less likely than at any time since the War to be smothered in indifference.

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