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Andrew Price

The Water Crisis

Who is to Blame?

(September 1976)

From Militant, No. 20, 3 September 1976, p. 4.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On the same day as the official unemployment figures for Wales showed 84,750 on the dole, a prospect of a massive increase in these figures is proposed as a result of the water shortage in Britain. South East Wales is the worst affected part of Britain with most households in the area at the moment having supplies cut off from 2 p.m. to 8 a.m. In order to prevent the appalling prospect of the water supplies running out completely by October, it has been proposed that industry in the Heads of the Valley area (Ebbw Vale, Tredegar, Rhymney) will have water supplies cut by half from September 1st.

According to John Collins, Assistant Secretary of the Welsh CBI, this move could lead to a two day week for workers in the area. Collins also warned ominously that if some firms were to close down as a result of the drought, they might remain permanently closed. In short, the working class of the South East Wales area face a massive reduction in take-home pay, increased unemployment and gross inconvenience for their children as many schools are threatened with closure.


Although it is obviously true to point out that the drought is the worst Britain has experienced for centuries, the responsibility for the crisis faced in areas like ours must rest fairly and squarely with the owners of industry and the water authorities for not having organised sufficient permanent reserves for such an occurrence. It must surely be the ultimate condemnation of British capitalism that it cannot even plan for continued supplies of water, and that industry should be grinding to a halt now. Although nobody is justified in using water irresponsibly the appeals by both Len Murray and Dennis Howell, the newly appointed ‘Minister For Drought’, to domestic customers to save, really miss the point. It is part and parcel of the failure of big business to invest and plan properly that this situation has arisen. Even at the final hour more and more evidence is coming out on this.

Emlyn Jenkins, EC member of the South Wales NUM, pointed out on August 24th that a disused iron ore plant at Llanuarry can provide 4½ million gallons of water per day. This water is being pumped into a reservoir and is fit for consumption. Incredibly the contract between the Water Authority and the British Steel Corporation (who own the mine) runs out on November 5th. The excuse for this, and the fact that none of this or the 38 million gallons available in a nearby reservoir are to be used, according to the authority, is that it is “too costly”. Obviously the water authorities and the CBI would prefer to see workers and their families suffer than foot the bill to supply this water.

In reality this one example provided by a local trade unionists could be multiplied throughout the area, without even considering the plentiful supply of sea water on the South Wales coast that could be purified for both consumption and industrial use. Instead of placing the responsibility on consumers the labour leaders should draw up their own plans for maintaining existing and producing new forms of water supplies. If industry refuses to produce the funds for such projects then a cast iron case for public ownership without compensation exists.


Unless such a plan is produced workers and their families in many parts of Britain will face misery over the next period. As always the bosses will expect the workers to shoulder the burden of this crisis. Firstly unemployment followed quickly by exorbitant price rises as big business uses the drought as an excuse to jack up prices.

In the day to day struggles that result from this policy, the labour movement should throw the ball back firmly in the bosses’ court and demand work or full pay in industries threatened with shut down, and for the books of the food monopolies to be opened for inspection to trade unionists and housewives to see exactly how much of these increases is due to the drought and how much due to profiteering.

Above all else the crisis has shown that the planning of an essential commodity like water cannot be left to the likes of Lord Nugent and the unelected, unanswerable bureaucrats of the National Water Authority. Nobody can cause rain, but the chaos caused by this drought has yet again demonstrated the burning need for workers’ management of the economy and socialist planning.

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Last updated: 24 February 2020