Sunday, 21 June 2020

Workers, Study Marxism (From Inqaba No.1, January 1981)

Workers, Study Marxism!

Nowhere in the world does the proletariat (working class) face a more viciously reactionary, hardened and entrenched enemy than in South Africa. To enslave us in exploitation, capitalism has built here a racial fortress of immense power, armed with the most efficient weapons of repression and destruction, fuelled and fortified by the class-allies of the bosses abroad.

Our movement has laid siege to this fortress. Through organisation, through sacrifice, through stubborn resistance and firmness of will, we have begun to wear away at its foundations and crack its social walls. The tide of battle has begun to turn. Here and internationally it is our forces - the forces of the proletariat - which are rising, while theirs are falling into disarray.

Yet least of all in South Africa does any easy victory offer itself before us. By far the hardest struggles are still ahead. The cornered enemy will lose no opportunity to turn any weakness on our side to advantage, to buy time with deception, to send agents of division and confusion into our ranks, to rain savage blows when least expected on any exposed flank.

Against the 'total strategy' of the enemy, our movement requires its own total strategy for the conquest of power. To organise and arm the mass movement of the black proletariat for revolution is the great task of this period. But the condition for the success of that task is clarity of understanding - a scientific theory to guide our work.

Ideas

The class struggle against the bosses and their state is also a struggle of ideas. Throughout history the ruling classes have made their own ideas, their own view of the world, their own distorted 'science', the ruling ideas of society. Every revolutionary movement has required revolutionary ideas, expressing the interests and outlook of the rising revolutionary class, and breaking the hold of the stifling ideas of the old order.

Our class, the proletariat, has a long history of struggle in many countries, and a long history of fighting for the clarity and supremacy of its own ideas. For 135 years the world proletariat has possessed a scientific theory, expressing its own experience of life, its own general interests, and its own historic task of conquering power. That theory is scientific socialism  - or Marxism.

Science

Because the proletariat is without property and cannot exploit any other class; because in its struggle for power it must consistently champion the democratic interests of all oppressed people against tyranny and exploitation - the proletariat alone of all classes can look reality squarely in the face. The proletariat alone has no interest either in deceiving itself or in deceiving society. Thus it is the authentic class ideas of the proletariat alone which can have a truly scientific character.

Marxism - the revolutionary science of the world proletariat - for the first time laid bare the real material causes of historical development, and explained the socialist and communist future towards which society is advancing.

But the ideas of Marxism did not fall from the skies. They are drawn from the whole body of knowledge gained by mankind in its laborious progress from the most primitive to the most advanced modes of production. The towering accomplishment of Marx was to penetrate the scientific kernels in previous philosophical, historical and economic thinking, while completely discarding the mystifying shells which encased them.

Fighters

Nor could Marx, despite his genius, arrive at scientific conclusions apart from the proletariat itself. The ideas of Marxism are not the simple product of the library or the study, but were formed in the very midst of the awakening working-class movement.

Itis no accident that all the great teachers of this revolutionary science - notably Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky -were active political organisers and revolutionary fighters in the. workers' movement. Today it is just as impossible to genuinely master Marxism without the will for revolutionary action

Experience

The ideas of Marxism are ideas of the workers' movement - not ideas brought to it from outside. Marxism articulates what workers experience in daily life under the bosses' heel. At the same time Marxism generalises this experience, draws it together internationally, examines its development over time, and so defines the lessons and charts the course for the whole movement.

In periods when the proletarian movement has surged forward world-wide and confronted the ruling class with a revolutionary challenge, the active layers of the workers have turned overwhelmingly towards Marxist ideas. All the mass workers' Internationals - the First, the Second and the Third - arose on a consciously Marxist programme.

But in periods when capitalism has advanced strongly, when the class struggle has ebbed, or when workers' revolutions have been defeated and the bourgeoisie for a time has strengthened its grip - the ideas of Marxism have ceased to be mass ideas, becoming confined instead to narrowing circles of the remaining conscious cadres.

Preserved

In such a period Marx and Engels found it necessary to wind up the First International, to prevent the staining of its banner by the resurgence of pre-Marxist and reactionary ideas.

In such a period the Second International decayed into reformism and national chauvinism, while many of its most prominent leaders contrived to apply the label of 'Marxism' to anti-working-class policies. The great achievement of the Bolsheviks was to preserve the method of Marxism against this corruption, building a cadre which could lead the next tide of the revolution on the right course.

The Russian Revolution of October 1917, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, brought Marxism once again to unequalled authority within the international proletarian movement and led to the formation of the Third International.

But a period of great defeats of the proletarian revolution in other countries followed. The Russian Revolution was isolated, and itself degenerated, leading to the dictatorship of the bureaucracy under Stalin. The Third International succumbed to the same process of decay, abandoning Marxism for nationalism and reformism. Its Stalinist leaders falsely labelled their anti-Marxist ideas with the name of 'Leninism'.

In fact, after the death of Lenin the authentic method of Marxism was carried forward by the cadres of the Bolshevik Left Opposition, whose international leader was Trotsky. It is to this chain of revolutionary tradition, from Marx and Engels to Lenin and Trotsky, that the Marxists of today must look for political guidance and authority.

Slender

For a whole historical period, the mass of the proletariat world-wide has been without Marxism. Marxist ideas have been defended and developed for well over a generation by only a slender cadre within the workers' movement.

A great flowering of pseudo-Marxist ideas and tendencies has taken place, especially among intellectuals divorced from the workers' life. Endless varieties of reformist, nationalist and other unscientific ideas continue to flourish under the guise of 'Marxism', as off-shoots of old distortions. This has clouded the path with confusion, and now confronts the fresh generation of revolutionary youth and workers with time-consuming difficulties.

Nevertheless, the real tradition of Marxism has been preserved, and today is raising an unmistakable voice within the mass organisations of labour in a growing number of countries. In South Africa we must urgently strive to recover this tradition for our movement, to master it critically, and to test it and deepen it in the light of our own experience.

The surest route to an independent understanding of Marxism is to study over and over again the original works of the great teachers.

Study

In this and future supplements, INQABA will reprint extracts from these works - works which are mostly suppressed by the regime or which are otherwise not readily available to workers in South Africa. In this way we hope to assist the many study circles which have sprung up among young workers and students, and so shorten the journey of self-education which comrades have to travel in order to grasp the essence of the Marxist method.

Today the racist fortress of the bosses is crumbling. If the cadre of our class masters revolutionary theory and succeeds in popularising it among the masses, our movement can become a conscious fortress of workers' power against which every reactionary wave will break and fail.

And with its ranks fortified in this way, the ANC will the more surely and swiftly rise as a mass force within South Africa and conquer. 


Thursday, 26 March 2020

The Revolution Betrayed


I made a post in November 2019 elsewhere on this blog sharing the text of the presentation that I delivered at 'Socialism 2019' entitled "The Revolution Betrayed - what happened in the Soviet Union?",  

The contents are now available as a youtube video for use in discussion groups or for individual use. 

I hope this is helpful to others and that there are no glitches in the commentary!


Friday, 28 February 2020

Poplarism: - Lessons for Today (early 1980s)

This  video is based on a recording of a speech by Tony Saunois at a Militant education event in the early 1980s (in turn, preparing for the struggle launched by Liverpool Council a few years later). 

It contains an explanation of the struggle of the Poplar Councillors in the 1920s from which we can still learn many valuable lessons for the struggles of today:

* What is the role of an elected Councillor as part of the Labour movement?
* How can a successful struggle be organised to oppose council cuts?
* What really helps makes Labour 'electable' and increases its support?


Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Pat Wall on 'Any Questions' (1987)

The 1987 General Election resulted in the third successive election victory for Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government.

Just as now, the media 'experts', echoed by the Labour Party right-wing, argued that Labour's defeat was down to the manifesto having been too 'left-wing'. Yet, as 'Militant' explained, those arguments did not stand up to the facts that in the four constituencies where Marxist candidates had stood, supporting a Militant socialist programme, there were clear swings to Labour.

The recording below is of some excerpts from a recording of one of those MPs, Pat Wall, newly-elected Labour MP for Bradford North when on the panel of the BBC's 'Any Questions' show, alongside Tory Minister Kenneth Clarke.

The show was recorded in Liverpool in October 1987.






Monday, 24 February 2020

A Fighting Programme for Print Workers (1976)


  • Originally published in March 1976 
  • Printed by Cambridge Heath Press 
  • Reprinted with some minor alterations February 2020
  • This issue Printed and Published by members of the former NGA Chapel Cambridge Health Press


A Fighting Programme for Print Workers



Written by Militant Supporters in the Printing Industry - March 1976

The printing industry is undergoing enormous changes. Computerisation, high speed printing machines, the concentration into central areas of expensive printing plant, are creating greater upheavals in the industry at the present time than has been experienced for three quarters of a century.

These changes are set against a background of recession within the British economy and on a world scale. The closures of individual factories, the rationalisation policies of the big monopolies like Reed International and Lamson Enterprises have resulted in thousands of print workers being made redundant.

Within the national newspaper industry the employers, in their desperation for profit are investing in highly sophisticated equipment which has as its main objective the reduction in the labour force, to the extent of one third. This means some 10,000 print workers being thrown out of work on Fleet Street alone if the employers' intentions are carried out.

Unemployment in the industry has reached proportions which have not existed since the 1930's. At the end of 1975 SOGAT reported that they were currently paying out more cash in unemployment benefits than they were receiving in subscriptions.

Several incidents have occurred during which the employers have bared their claws. In the dispute with Sharmans which was an attempt to smash the unions in order that new techniques could be introduced on the employers' terms, police acted brutally against picketing print workers who were acting to preserve their livelihood.

As well as these industrial problems the print workers also have the policy of the Government to contend with. The policy of wage restraint is eating into the amount of take-home pay, while inflation undermines its value. A report from the Central Statistical Office showed that in the first nine months of 1975 living standards dropped by the largest amount for ten years. The Labour Government is also adopting the 'lame duck' policy for which they rightly criticised their predecessors, and allowing firms in financial crisis to go to the wall.

In individual disputes when employers have attempted to crush the Trade Union organisation the unions have responded with varying degrees of success. However, on Fleet Street, although some Chapels have put up a fight to resist redundancies, the unions are prepared to cooperate in the cutting of the labour force, which indicates a lack of overall policy by the unions to deal with the problem.

In the face of the attacks and problems which are besetting print workers from many quarters it is vital that a policy should be hammered out which will unite the unions in the industry. Thus allowing a united body to work out a programme which will provide a solution to the crisis which print workers face at the present time.

Closures, Redundancies and Employment in the Industry

Printing, which historically has been a labour-intensive industry, is becoming increasingly capital-intensive, requiring even greater investment in plant with proportionally less capital expended on labour. Two consequences flow from this:-
(a) As higher expenditure on labour-saving plant and machinery occurs, less labour is required as employers seek to cut down the amount of labour-power.
(b) The larger amounts of capital needed for investment in new equipment forces amalgamations and take-overs with resulting "rationalisations," i.e. reductions in the labour force.

For the print bosses the question is posed more sharply almost daily: modernise, cut costs, cut down on labour force or face ruin. To the Trig bosses in print, the ones with the real power, like IPC (now Reed International), British Printing Corporation, Universal Printers, and News International, the question is one of swallowing up rivals, driving the smaller competitors off the map, and wielding mightier and mightier amounts of capital with which to command the labour of the workers in the industry. The consequences to these workers is increasing unemployment and less and less security. For example, the Visual Display Unit and the Optical Character Recognition methods of composition can cut the traditional operations of the composing room.

The application of these new methods in America and the continent have resulted in reductions of the work force in various plants on the scale of seventy five per cent.

A Pira report on OCR said: "As the objective of installing the system (OCR) and VDU might well be the elimination of conventional composition keyboarding, it must be accepted that the OCR and VDU systems are an attack upon 'craft'. If a prospective user is unprepared to face this problem he is unlikely to reap the major benefits."

In other words this equipment can only become a profitable proposition to the employer if it is based on the exclusion of the conventional composing staff.

In Britain a revolution is being witnessed in newspaper production. The Guardian, The Daily Mirror Group and the Daily Telegraph are proposing to shut down their composing, block making and makeup operations in Manchester and to centralise operations on Fleet Street. The Telegraph say that the labour force should be cut by between 35 and 40% over a period of time. This would mean between 560 and 572 jobs disappearing on the Telegraph alone out of the present labour force of 1,600. This is symptomatic of the general trend on Fleet Street where the employers are demanding a cut of at least a third in the labour force with the introduction of new techniques.

After a long strike against redundancy arising out of the introduction of new techniques at the New York Times, the unions have been virtually forced to accept an agreement which means that on the basis of voluntary redundancy and natural wastage the unions will gradually disappear save for a small group of specialists, and the production of the paper will be almost completely automated.

According to the December 1971 Department of Employment Gazette, 30,000 jobs connected with paper, printing and publishing disappeared between October 1970 and October 1971. Since then and June 1975 a further 27,000 jobs disappeared. In the four years up to February 1972, 209 printing firms closed in Britain. The situation was further aggravated by the closure of Southwark Offset and the Baynard Press which resulted in 800 redundancies. These two firms were part of IPL, the general printing division of the International Printing Corporation which has been incorporated into Reed International, the largest printing monopoly in the capitalist world, which recently recorded both an enormous increase in profits and a reduction in the size of the labour force. In 1971 Reed made a pre-tax profit of nearly £20 million with a work force of 72,000. In 1975 profits had risen to a pre-tax level of £85,800,000 and the number of workers employed dropped to 62,000. Thus a workforce reduced by 14% produced an increase in profit of 400% over a four-year period.

SOGAT workers at the Alacra Company in Skelmersdale, a subsidiary of Reed conducted a sit-in against an attempt by the company to reduce the workforce by 30%. A split between the unions isolated the struggle and it eventually collapsed, resulting in further defeat for the workforce.

On the Merseyside area in 1975 included in a whole series of closures and redundancies were the firms of Tinling [1973] Ltd. who went into liquidation with the loss of 370 jobs after an injection of £600,000 of Government noney, and of the Birkenhead operations of the Lamson Paragon international combine, with 170 jobs lost. The latter closed for reasons of rationalisation and the desire to increase overall profitability, after the unions had taken industrial action which proved insufficient for the firm to change their policy in relation to Birkenhead. Although the action did result in a retreat by Lamson in other areas of the combine.

In the North West Region which includes Merseyside the numbers engaged in the industry in general printing between 1970 and 1973 declined from 22,000 to 10,800, and in newspaper and periodical production from 18,000 to 12,700 during the same period. An overall decline in three years from about 42,000 to 23,500 workers.

Binart Colour, the previous Briant Colour Printing which had been bought by a private concern after a nine-month work-in by the Briant Colour workers, was closed by the new owners after some sixteen weeks without any of the workers receiving any notice that this was going to happen. Thus the tremendous fight of these workers came to nothing precisely because the same criterion of maximising profit applied to the new owners as it did to the old.

Greater profit could be made from closing the plant and selling the property than carrying on as a printing plant. Hence the closure, irrespective of the social consequences.

Threat to jobs must be stopped

In the face of such threats it is necessary that the print unions should make a stand against the present anarchy in production which arises out of the private ownership of the major sectors of the industry, where the policy-making decisions of small groups of men determine the future of huge complexes like Reed International and BPC decisions which result in the livelihood of hundreds of workers being "rationalised" out of existence.

A united leadership of the print unions must pose the alternative of reorganising the printing industry so that its resources and new techniques can be planned and used for the benefit of the workers and the community as a whole. This can only be done on the basis of the nationalisation of the printing industry under workers, control and management.

Sliding Scale of hours and a shorter Working Week 

Print workers must demand an end to redundancy. Likewise productivity deals which "sell" jobs must be opposed. No agreements must be concluded allowing for what is euphemistically termed "natural wastage". For once a job is lost it is gone for good.

A thousand jobs less will mean eventually a thousand more people without work.

The policy of attempting to solve the problem of unemployment by reducing the intake of apprentices into the industry—which is a bad policy as it shifts the unemployment to youth in general—is no longer a weapon in the hands of the unions. The employers are practising it themselves by not taking up all the apprentice places available to them. The policy is now one of not replacing apprentices when they have finished their apprenticeships.

Unemployment must be fought by the attainment of a thirty five hour week initially, leading to a 30 hour week, and by the establishment of a sliding scale of hours without loss of pay.

The latter demand means that when there is insufficient work to keep all workers employed on a 40 hour week, rather than redundancies being implemented, the available work should be shared out amongst all workers employed in the plant and the working week reduced without loss of pay. In other words this is a demand to make the employer suffer tor the shortcomings of his economic system instead of the workers.

For a Living Wage

Throughout the whole of the post-war period the Press, and later TV, disseminated the myth of the supposed affluence of the working class. Yet most workers had to depend on overtime, bonus schemes and wives working, etc., in order to maintain this precarious "affluence". The majority of print workers had to work an average of 10 to 12 hours overtime weekly. Many worked longer hours than this. In reality the mythical "40 hour week" was more likely, to be a 50 hour week. The falseness of this position is clearly revealed during the recession which the economy and the industry has been going through in the '70's. The employers do not in all cases have to resort to short time working. A reduction to the official 40 hours is enough to bring down the wage bill to an acceptable level for the employer, but this at the same time savagely undermines the living standards of the average print worker. This situation is developing rapidly at the present time, and is a harsh reminder to workers of the mistake of relying on overtime to maintain decent living standards. Print workers, like many other workers, should not have to sacrifice their leisure hours on overtime to draw a living wage. The facts are that the share of the national cake taken by the working people of Britain has not altered since the turn of the century, and between the months of April and October 1975 consumption of goods in the high street dropped by at least 4½ %

The double scourge: long hours and a low basic rate, must be fought. Our first aim should be to fight for a living wage, without having to rely on overtime. The present basic rate is totally inadequate.

The employers have used overtime working as a method of keeping down the basic rate. To deter them from this practice, and to compensate workers for having to sacrifice leisure time, stiff premiums must be imposed on the employers: time and a half for evening work, double time for Saturday mornings and treble time plus call money for Sunday working. Furthermore, overtime hours should be strictly limited by rule. In this age of technological advance overtime should be totally unnecessary to meet the needs of production. On all counts it should be abolished.

Protection Against Inflation

With inflation running between 18 and 26% over the past two years the need for a built-in cost of living escalator to maintain the value of wages between wage agreements has never been more clearly demonstrated. Even the Threshold Agreement of the Tory Government proved that unless a safety factor was built in to wages workers were continually in a loss-making situation. The loss of the cost of living bonus in 1967 in return for a thirty shilling increase spread over two years was a real set-back for the membership.

An official report from the Central Statistics Office showed that in the first nine months of 1975 real disposable income fell by as much as 3.5p in the £. And this does not really reflect the true situation as far as workers are concerned. The union leaderships must fight for the restoration of the cost of living escalator. But based on a more realistic yardstick than the Retail Price Index, which cannot be regarded as a reliable cost of living index. For example the RPI does not include statutory income deductions such as income tax, National Insurance contributions and superannuation, all of which have been increasing as a proportion of workers' wages; also, it does not include the cost of borrowing money, e.g. for hire purchase or mortgages and so the crushing interest charges on mortgages that some young couples have to pay, taking a big proportion of their income, does not show up. The fact that changing interest charges do not find a mention in the index means that the cost of hire purchase or mortgages, which have doubled in only a few years, are ignored.

But the commission of tax, superannuation and National Insurance contributions from the RPI is really serious. Norman Atkinson MP, in a Tribune pamphlet, "Whatever Happened to out Wages", in 1969, worked out what the increases in the cost of living would have been between 1938 and 1968, if taxes, superannuation and National Insurance were taken into account as well. This showed a 'cost of living’ increase of 371% whereas the RPI for the same period showed an increase of 186% - only half the increase of the real costs to a worker.

Index compiled by labour and trade union movement


In order to guarantee a genuine Retail Price Index which accurately reflects the increase in living costs the unions must demand that it b>e researched and compiled by the trade union movement itself. No faith can be placed in any bureaucratic apparatus of the State, or any so-called Price Commission composed of a few over-paid civil servants. Only the organisations of the working class itself can provide a true indication of workers expenditure.

Apprentices and Training

Conditions of work and degrees of training vary enormously among apprentices, ranging from the lucky few who are given every facility including block release for full technical courses to those at the other end of the scale who are left to flounder, being treated as can-lads and general dog-bodies who are somehow expected to pick up their trade as best they can.

The best way of training apprentices (and eventually ALL youth within the industry) would be for the unions to be directly responsible for their training. Instead of apprentices being tied down to one job and one firm the indenture system should be scrapped and a laid down training schedule should apply to every apprentice. This would enable apprentices to work for varying periods in different sections of printing, in different firms, in order to gain industry-wide experience. Wages would be paid from a common pool levied on the employers.

Shorter Apprenticeships 

The agreement reached between the employers and the unions on the shortening of the apprenticeship period to four years is clearly a move in the correct direction. Although the qualifications on the issue of competency at the end of the four years needs to be looked at again. Otherwise lads in small badly equipped houses who would not have the same degree of practical experience as an apprentice who serves his time in a well-equipped shop, could well serve a longer period of apprenticeship than four years.

The technological developments taking place in the industry, resulting in the breaking down of the old craft system, mean that an even more reduced apprenticeship period to three years is now an objective which the unions should set themselves.

One of the reasons why the apprenticeship period was so long and why it took many years of discussion before it was reduced is the fear that this would mean an increase in the labour force of the industry. In order to safeguard against the industry becoming a buyers' market for the employers and thus weakening the unions' bargaining strength, not only the training but also the intake of labour should be under union control. If these safeguards were rigidly applied a further reduction in the apprentice period could be speedily implemented.

Schooling

Block release should be compulsory for all, and the methods of teaching drastically revised in order to abolish the present "system" of cramming for exams involving memorising large amounts of material. In order that a more fair share assessment of an apprentice's progress can be assessed the present City and Guild examinations should be abolished, a process of gradual periodic assessment should be introduced.

The syllabuses must be made to fit the needs of the apprentices - the reverse of the present situation. The syllabus should be drawn up by a joint committee of college staff, unions and elected apprentices. Full facilities should also be made available for young workers in the industry to pursue academic subjects and social studies to allow full cultural development for those who desire it.

Improved rates for apprentices - full pay at 18

Progress has been made during the past couple of years restructuring apprentice wages to a more realistic level. They need to be improved even further. Apprentices, some of whom are married, are subject to the same general price rises and economic commitments as journeymen. In many cases apprentices are subsidised by their parents until they have completed their apprenticeship. Thus apprentices are compelled to rely on their parents far longer than they should have to, and on the other hand their parents are landed with this financial burden and are in effect subsidising the employers. The situation should be put right immediately. The unions should insist on full pay at 18 (a demand which the National Union of Mineworkers secured in 1972), there should also be higher pay for the lower ages, say 80% at sixteen and 90% at seventeen.

The ensuing benefit would be twofold. First, the employers would be forced to cease regarding apprentices merely as cheap labour and, secondly, it would act as a spur for the employers to give thorough, adequate training in the shortest possible time.

Apprentices and the Trade Unions


Apprentices should be given full rights in ALL spheres of union activity at 18 as a first step. These rights should then be extended until all apprentices are covered, so that complete union participation is open to every apprentice after an initial period of qualification of six months. Apprentices should have representatives on chapel, branch and national committees.

In order to encourage more young workers to become active in their trade unions, a national Youth Officer should be appointed with the responsibility for setting up and developing a national Youth Section, through which apprentices and young workers could formulate policies and proposals at all levels. One of the failings of the old guilds was that they were usually talking shops and social clubs, ineffective as far as instruments through which the apprentices' grievances could be raised and solutions proposed.

The Press

The democratic function of the Press is a vital issue to print workers, both from the point of view of continued employment and the availability of resources for the production of newspapers - an essential means of communication.

In this section of the industry the tendency is for the labour force to be reduced and for the number of national newspapers to decrease as a result of takeovers, mergers and closures. Thus the threat is twofold: redundancy and private monopolisation of the Press.

Ownership and control

Lord Thompson of Fleet and the International Printing Corporation [IPC] - part of Reed International - control 60% of the circulation of the National Press.

Thompson controls The Times, Sunday Times, Belfast Telegraph, The Scotsman and The Western Mail besides a host of smaller papers and trade journals.

IPC controls the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and The People. They also control Odhams Newspapers, Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail, West of England Newspapers, as well as many other sections of the industry

Rupert Murdoch's organisation, News International, owns the Sun and the News of the World. The subsidiaries they control range over a wide-ranging field covering provincial newspapers TV companies and numerous publications.

Sir Max Aitken of Beaverbrook Newspapers controls the Daily Express, Sunday Express and the Evening Standard. Sir Max had this to say in an annual report in relation to 'overmanning' and 'industrial unrest': "....the solution to these twin problems is the first priority of our management". Thus in one sentence revealing his attitude to workers' jobs and strong trade union organisation.

Press freedom

The much vaunted British "Freedom of the Press" rests on a very flimsy basis. The extent of such freedom is determined by a small group of men. In reality the whole of society is organised to produce maximum profit for the capitalist class. In Britain today some 250 monopolies control 80% of the nation's wealth, while they in turn are owned by 7% of the population who own and control 84% of the nation's wealth. The propaganda of the Press is used by the employing class generally, to maintain and improve their position at the expense of the working class.

This is demonstrated by the consistent attacks on sections of workers who find themselves in struggle against their employers. In the recent past scurrilous campaigns have been waged against the power workers, the railwaymen, the miners, and the Fleet Street workers themselves have not been free from attack in the columns of the Press.

In connection with the now dead Industrial Relations Act, the Sun had actually printed 30,000 copies with an editorial criticising the Bill, when it was withdrawn on orders from above. The unanimous support of the press for the Social Contract, which only serves to underline in whose interests such a policy operates, clearly demonstrates which class it represents.

During the February 1974 General Election Campaign the Press, with the exception of one, the Daily Mirror, took up the Tory cry of 'Who rules the country'. They carried out a campaign of highlighting the presence of 'militants' and 'communists', etc., who dominate key sections of industry, hoping to stampede the middle class and politically unaware workers into returning the Tories with a massive victory. In spite of this campaign of distortion and a very low key campaign by Labour, the working people of Britain gave Heath his marching orders.

The Daily Mirror supported Labour in an opportunist way because they are conscious of their mass working class readership. It is also true to say that the newspaper owners themselves agree that it is necessary that at least one of the mass newspapers should support Labour in order to give credence to the concept of the "democratic press". If all the papers supported the Tories openly in a General Election the political affiliation of the Press would then be too obvious.

On past occasions when workers in Fleet Street have protested against slanderous statements being made in the Press and demanded their withdrawal, or insisted on printing their answer on the same page, as in the case of the answer to the Aims of Industry advert, which depicted the trade unions as being controlled by Stalinists, the Press editorials have unleashed howls of anguish about the violation of "freedom of the Press”.

The sustained attack on Michael Foot because he was the Labour Minister responsible for the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill which restored the position which existed prior to the introduction of the Industrial Relations Act, which culminated in the Times calling him a fascist, arose out of the clause which made it legal for the NUJ to negotiate a closed shop on a newspaper which would include the Editor. The Press depicted this as the beginning of tyranny. They tripped over themselves in the rush to support the amendment of Lord Goodmen, chairman of the Newspaper Publishers Association, which if accepted would give editors the very dictatorial freedom to put what he liked in the paper which apparently had been their main fear during their campaign for 'Press Freedom".This was exemplified in a key clause which read "....The right of editors to commission and to publish or to refuse to publish any material.”

The owners themselves have no doubts at all about their 'right' to interfere with the "freedom of the Press.”!

In a speech reported in the Times of November 1972, Rupert Murdoch who owns the Sun and the News of the World referred to the independence of editors and whether or not they had complete freedom. He said, "Do I intervene? Yes of course I intervene. It is nonsense to say that the man who is going to be held responsible physically, financially...must not be seen or known to exercise that responsibility.”

In the Australian General Election of 1975 Journalists on Murdoch's Australian newspapers went on strike in protest at the vicious treatment which was meted out to Labour during the campaign.

Lord Beaverbrook once said that newspaper owners have the perfect right to support any party they wish and use their newspaper to make propaganda.

These statements straight from the horses' mouth underline the hypocrisy that surrounds the question of freedom of the Press.

Reliance on advertising for revenue also influences editorial policy. According to a report on the Press by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Financial Times and Sunday Times derive over 70% of their income from advertising. The old axiom that he who pays the piper calls the tune is extremely relevant. An example of the influence of advertisers on the Press was the threat of Marks and Spencers to withdraw their advertisements from the Guardian which supported the Arabs in the Six Day War with Israel in 1967.

Papers like the Daily Mirror from time to time, conscious of its working class readership, give accounts of terrible housing conditions, unemployment and areas of absolute poverty in Britain. But these reports are given without the posing of any permanent solutions because permanent solutions to the problems touched on by the Daily Mirror can only be obtained by reorganising society along socialist lines and thus would be against the very interests that the Mirror represents. The fact that sections of the Press gave a measure of support to the miners in their titanic struggle in 1972 was because they recognised, unlike Heath and co., the strength of the miners and the sympathy which existed for them within the Labour Movement. But an overall view of the propaganda expressed by the Press dispels this cloak of democracy. Under the present circumstances of the private ownership of the Press it is not possible to guarantee the adequate expression of all points of view.

Redundancies and closures

Since 1960 the following papers have closed: News Chronicle, Empire News, Sunday Dispatch, Sunday Citizen, the Daily Sketch, and more recently Beaverbrook’s Evening Citizen and Scottish Daily Express. The closure of the Express alone meant the loss of 2,000 jobs. The newspaper owners on Fleet Street are now demanding a cut of 30% in the labour force in order to ensure that production can be continued. Already the Observer's workforce has been reduced by this amount, and the Financial Times, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Telegraph are being actively considered for the same treatment.

Beaverbrook's report to the shareholders of November 1975 showed that there has been an overall cut in the group's labour force of 30%. It also boasted that the group's wage bill was lower than it was last year.

The Daily Mirror Group (Reed International) is planning to transfer composing, block-making and make-up of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror and Sunday People from Manchester to London. The revolutionary changes taking place in the industry are a classic example of the way in which technological change under capitalism results in redundancy and unemployment.

Scottish Daily News

In an attempt to halt the assault on the newspaper industry and to defend jobs the workers previously employed by Beaverbrook in Glasgow launched the Scottish Daily News. This attempt to establish a workers' co-operative newspaper was a historic struggle by these workers whose self-sacrifice was an example to the whole Trade Union Movement. In campaigning for funds to set up the SDN the main support came from rank and file level and, with one or two honourable exceptions, none from the leading bodies of the Trade Union Movement. With the lack of any lead from the trade union leadership the paper attempted to appeal to everyone. To produce a paper which fought openly in the interests of working people and the Trade Union Movement would have alienated the big business interests who supply the advertising. So, especially when Robert Maxwell was in control, the priority was given to ‘stories which can help advertising and circulation.’

Within a newspaper industry controlled by giant capitalist monopolies, the 'News' had no chance of competing on a commercial basis alone. Only if the TUC had taken it under its wing and provided the finance to establish the SDN as a workers' paper could it have succeeded. One of its main roles could then have been to campaign for the nationalisation of the Press, under workers' control and management.

In spite of the failure of the cooperative, the experience of the workers involved in the struggle and the lessons learned can be extremely valuable to the Trade Union Movement.

What is the answer?


The reason for newspaper closures are purely economic. The needs of society for newspapers, as with all capitalist production, takes second place to making profit. At the same time it is not a dying industry. The Printing and Kindred Trades Federation Report of 1970-71 points out that the total number of newspaper pages published per year has risen by about 27% from 1958 to 1963, and by 3% from then until 1968. A continuation of that trend would mean that an expanding industry is being controlled by fewer and fewer people.

In Britain today eight corporations control nearly 90% of all newspapers, daily evening and Sunday, national and regional; and three corporations control 90% of the national popular newspapers. The present rate of takeover and closure means that within a decade the Press could be effectively controlled by two or three giant corporations.

Nationalise - under workers’ control and management

The loss of jobs, declining Press facilities, and the private control of the media by a tiny minority, should be answered by the launching of a campaign by the Trade Union and labour Movement for the Nationalisation of the Press under the collective control of the Trade Unions, Co-operative societies, Tenants associations and all sections of the Labour Movement.

Only if newspapers are taken out of the market place of capitalism and the presses made available to all sections of society, can a truly democratic press be achieved and the jobs of newspaper workers guaranteed.

In the recent Royal Commission on the Press the power of this small group of monopolies in their control of the Press was quite clearly demonstrated. The National Association of Local Government Officers (NALGO) affectionately termed a "moderate" trade union by the Press, themselves recommended that the Press be nationalised in order to ensure its democratic control. This, needless to say, wasn't blazed across its pages.

Compensation to the present owners should not be on the lavish scale paid by the previous Labour Governments like, for instance the £650 million paid to the steel owners in 1966, but should be paid on the basis of need.

Management and control?

The demand for the nationalisation of the Press is usually met with the charge that it would be an instrument of any government that happens to be in power. In private hands the Press is permanently an instrument of capitalism and therefore the Tory Party, in any case. But this charge misses the point. Nationalisation of the Press does not mean that the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror etc., would be controlled by the Government of the day in their present form. Nationalisation means that instead of the overwhelming majority of paper, ink and printing facilities being in the hands of the capitalist class, they would be under the democratic control of the Trade Union, Cooperative and Labour Movement, which represents the great mass of working people in Britain who have no vested interest in defending privilege and profit and so could be made available to all parties and groups within society. The extent of such facilities to be based on the amount of support enjoyed by such parties.

To ensure the democratic administration of a nationalised Press the controlling board would be comprised of one third appointed by the print unions, one third by the TUC and one third by the government.

The only organisation to be barred from using the facilities of a nationalised Press would be fascist organisations like the British Movement and the National Front. Some workers may ask if it is a free, democratic Press why bar any organisation from using it? The answer is that these organisations who express the kind of filth used by Hitler have as their historic task the destruction of the organisations of the working class. They use the racialist methods of Hitler in making racial groupings within society responsible for all the problems facing society.

In Germany in the thirties German Capitalism was in such a state of crisis that they turned to Hitler and authorised him to smash the German Labour Movement. When he came to power without a pane of glass being broken he did precisely this and paved the way for the holocaust of World War 2 and the systematic massacre of six million Jews.

The British Labour Movement must learn the lessons of that terrible experience and provide no platform for Fascists.

Part of constitution

Most major unions whose members are employed in the commanding heights of industry have a clause in their constitutions which call for the public ownership of their particular industry. This demand is generalised in Clause 4 Part 4 of the Labour Party Constitution which calls for the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. The Print Unions must adopt this policy.

The establishment of a nationalised, truly free, democratic Press would be a tremendous step forward in the fight for a socialist society.

Democratise the Unions

If the policies contained in the earlier part of this pamphlet are to be realised then it is necessary that the unions organised within the industry are alert, vigorous organisations capable of giving a lead to the members. The unions in print are regarded by the trade union movement generally as being the best organised in industry. But is merely being the best organised sufficient?

The result of wage negotiations in recent years demonstrates that the officials are out of touch with the needs of the general membership, and the failure to give leadership has had the effect of damping down rank and file militancy rather than encouraging it.

In past wage negotiations there has been what has amounted to token measures of industrial action being taken which have not produced any fundamental changes in the employers offer. The general membership has at times been reluctant to take industrial action because they feel that the leadership lacks determination in carrying such action through. In the 1975 negotiations there was chaos in some areas when instructions were sent out from the head office of the NGA. These instructions were faithfully carried out by the FOCs. Within the two days following there was verbal reinterpretation of what the instructions actually meant. They were subsequently watered down because of what must have been pressure from the employers.

On Fleet Street some of the unions have publicly stated that there is overmanning on Fleet Street and are discussing with the employers the best method of reducing the labour force, For instance the proposals being discussed by the unions with the Financial Times. Here the idea is to cut out at least a third of the labour force while the employer pays the union dues of the missing members. It thus appears that the union leaders are more interested in maintaining income than saving the jobs of their members. The role of the leadership in this situation should have been to say that if in fact less hours are required to produce a newspaper then let us implement union policy of introducing the shorter working week!

In the historic Parrett and Neves dispute of 1969, which must rank as one of the greatest defeats for the print unions, a real lesson was learned.

While a tremendous amount of cash was spent in attempting to win this dispute, there was never any real attempt by the leadership to extend the dispute. Apart from the demonstration organised in Chatham, which was very good in and of itself, no attempt was made to involve the rest of the members in industrial action in order to bring the necessary pressure on the company.

This attitude flows from the system itself which results in a readiness for compromise rather than involving the rank and file in any large scale militant action.

Re-election of full-time officials


In the areas concerning questions of fundamental importance to the rank and file on wages, job security, etc., it is true that the executive bodies of the unions make the decisions. But a vital element in the formulation of policy and the implementation of decisions is the attitude of the full-time officials. An energetic and conscientious approach to the needs and aspirations of the members by officials is indispensable in a trade union.

What is the position regarding the full-time officials? Elected in most cases for life, they can become isolated from the problems of the members on the shop floor. Being on steady salaries and not being directly accountable to the membership by re-election, tends to make them remote from the everyday realities of job insecurity and of attempting to earn a living wage.

In order that they are kept in touch with the feelings of the members on the shop floor and as an important factor in involving the rank and file in union affairs, the periodic re-election of full-time officials is essential. With the pressures that exist in the system from the employers and from the media, etc., plus the tendency for the trade union movement to be regarded as a career structure for their own personal advancement, by certain individuals, the democratic checks of the membership through a system of re-election is an important factor in establishing a responsive, alert union. No individual can be immune to the pressures of the system, no matter how deep his sincerity or how strong his character.

Average wage of the industry

Another important factor in keeping the full time officials in touch with the shop-floor is the question of salaries. All salaries should be based on the average wage paid in the industry plus, of course, strictly controlled expenses that are incurred in the pursuance of trade union business.

Annual Conference

The policy of periodic re-election of officials on an average wage would be only part of the process. Our eventual aim must be for the re-election of officials annually, subject to re-call. For this it would be necessary for all unions to have annual conferences. In this period of change taking place, with the enormous problems facing print workers, it is vital that rank and file delegates meet more frequently in order to keep abreast with and be more constantly involved in discussion to ensure that the policy of the unions correspond to the rapidly developing events.

Annual conference would be the governing body to which paid officials were answerable. Conference would be the Policy-making body of the union(s). Officials carrying out the decisions and instructions of conference would be in a tremendously strengthened position. Those who did not carry out Conference decisions would have to give good reasons for their action. Officials flouting decisions could be dealt with by Conference.

In this way the unions could be transformed into lively, active organs and the conditions laid for a leadership that would be in contact with the needs of the rank and file, and which would really be prepared to give a bold, positive lead.

One Union for the Industry 

The growing number of problems facing print workers brought about by technological change, redundancies, closures, etc., plus the need for a united front against the employers on the question of wages negotiations means that the bringing together of print workers into one big union for the industry can no longer be postponed.

During the course of the last two sets of wage negotiations the two biggest unions, the NGA and SOGAT have pursued different policies which have resulted in one or the other being completely isolated and having to retreat in face of the refusal of the Employers organisations to concede the full claim.

In the 1973 negotiations all unions with the exception of SOGAT had accepted the employers' offer. SOGAT urged their members to reject the offer. They duly obliged the EC. However settlement was reached with virtually no alteration in the terms which had previously been rejected by the members. To justify their refusal to increase the offer, the employers’ usual arguments about being broke and not being able to afford the union's claims are reinforced enormously by the argument that "all the other unions have settled, why shouldn't you?"

Also the effect on the rank and file's morale who find themselves in this position leads to the question being raised of "what's the use of us taking action on our own?" The wages negotiations of 1975 produced a similar situation but this time with the NGA being isolated. The other unions had settled, but the NGA leadership had declared its dissatisfaction with the employers offer—quite correctly. It then proceeded to instruct the members of the union to take industrial action—a ban on overtime and forms of working to rule. This dragged on for seven weeks with all unions with the exception of the NGA working normally. Under these circumstances it was no surprise that the NGA rank and file rejected the National Council's recommendation to reject the employers offer and to escalate the industrial action. The isolation of the NGA undoubtedly played a major part in determining the attitude of the rank and file. Thus the NGA settled on virtually the same offer that the employers made before the start of the industrial action.

On Fleet Street in 1974 the scenario was repeated with one union taking industrial action for the maintenance of differentials after settlement with the other unions and the Newspaper Publishers Association. This situation had its roots in the fact that the NGA had been excluded from the initial agreement between the unions on the type of claim which was to be made. Thus the NPA agreed to a claim after negotiation, about which the NGA had had no say. Thus the skilled men angry at seeing their differentials in pay eroded demanded a restoration of the differential on a percentage basis. After a period of industrial action, during which the employers threatened to sack all NGA members involved in the action, the members were balloted with a recommendation from the leadership to escalate the industrial action. This was rejected by a narrow majority. 

Thus a return to normal working took place based on the agreement that existed before the start of the industrial action. The NGA's initial exclusion from the talks with the other unions prior to the claim being made arose from the NGA's exclusion from the TUC, and therefore the affiliated unions' policy of refusing to cooperate with non-affiliated unions.

The dire need for a single printing union covering the whole industry is illustrated by the manning situation in the national newspapers where also only the NGA member can rise to top man on the presses and the NATSOPA man can only rise to second in command, the NGA man in Charge is not allowed to start or stop the presses (the situation is somewhat different on the Sun).

Furthermore, where the NGA man who eventually gets a job on a national daily (never less than eight years in the trade), because he has never operated one of these presses before, he has to rely on the NATSOPA man who is nominally under his command, but who in reality has been trained on the job. This is galling to the NGA man who has served a long apprenticeship and frustrating for the NATSOPA man who has been trained on the job. The main point emerging from these experiences, and many more examples could be given, is that in the final analysis, notwithstanding all the apparent intricacies and complex manoeuvring by the various union leading bodies, it is the man on the shop floor who suffers in the end.

Natsopa and Sogat 

The merger of NUBPW and NATSOPA into SOGAT appeared as an encouraging sign. But after several months of incompatibility among the leading officials a separation was arranged splitting SOGAT Division 1 from Division A. The cause of the split was in no way due to the rank and file, who had welcomed the fusion and were confused by the news of the split.

The lesson to be learned from this exercise was how not to amalgamate. During the period of the amalgamation the two sections continued to conduct their business as separate organisations: From NEC level down to branch level. This went as far as the union submitting two separate wage claims to the employers, formulated by two separate Executive Committees.

Effects of technological change

The Financial Times is to spend £2 million on computer typesetting to be introduced in the second half of 1976. To allow this to happen the paper want to "slim" its labour force from 1,329 to 796, setting up a new technology section for those who remain. Under the proposed plan, although workers would continue to pay their normal subscriptions each of the seven unions involved would receive an amount equivalent to subscriptions from the entire group, the deficit being made up by the company. The introduction of the new technology would be overseen by a joint supervisory board made up of management and union leaders. That body would decide on recruitment to the new jobs, pay, training and financial compensation for workers displaced by the new processes. Here we have the employer actually offering to subsidise the funds of the unions in exchange for their co-operation in decimating the labour force!

A united force of the workers regardless of union is imperative if these attacks are to be fought effectively. In the present situation of separate unions those least affected will be least likely to fight. 

Against this background the arguments for the retention of pure craft and non-craft unions breaks down. Because from this set-up flows inter-union rivalries, demarcation and pay differential disputes. Such differences in a period of technological revolution such as that which is taking place on Fleet Street, can lead to a situation where each individual union, rather than engaging in a common struggle for the retention of all workers, will concentrate their energies in protecting its own particular section, possibly at the expense of other workers. 

The fratricidal strife can only be solved by the unions first of all drawing closer together in co-operation and organisation on a common platform with the direct aim of full and complete integration in one union. This is the major step which must be taken to prevent trade unionists from cutting each other up in inter-union rivalry. 

Problems such as equal pay for women, equal training opportunities for females, adequate re-training facilities for all workers affected by technological changes within the industry, etc., could also be more easily resolved on the basis of one printing union.

Determination needed

The recent merger between the Scottish Graphical Association and SOGAT, and the lead shown by the NGA in merging with the Stereotypers and Lithographers, plus many other small unions, has shown the way for the rest of the industry. The Society of Lithographic Artists, Designers and Engravers, SLADE, have held discussion with other print unions on the question of merging. It is now time to make a determined effort to bring about a genuine amalgamation of all the unions in print. In order to meet the threat and to effectively pursue the objectives sketched out in this pamphlet a united organisation with a common policy will be imperative.

Conclusion

This pamphlet has outlined the main problems facing print workers at the present time. The solutions to these problems have been posed. But these solutions cannot be fully realised unless they are linked to the broader political questions. There can be no question of print workers, or indeed any other section of the working class, solving their problems within the framework of their own industry alone.

The economic crisis of Britain has compelled the various Governments to encroach on trade union activities in order to restrain wage-levels. This was the purpose of the Industrial Relations Act, Phases 1, 2 and 3 under the Heath Government, and of the 'Social Contract' under the Labour Government.

This intervention by the state into trade union activities explodes the myth that trade unionism and politics can be separated. The deepening crisis of the economy will undoubtedly result in the private owners of the means of production, the capitalist class, calling for even greater cut-backs in living standards by lowering wages, and for the labour force generally to be reduced in order that the profits of industry can be increased.

The failure of the 1974 Labour Government to carry out its election programme, and the introduction of wage restraint indicates that the economic domination by the big monopolies and the finance houses in the City of London still ensures that policies opposed to the interest of working people will prevail. A permanent solution to the problems facing print workers, and all workers in general, can only be provided when society is planned and organised on a sane rational basis. To achieve this it will be necessary to take the means of life out of the hands of irresponsible groups and individuals. This can be done by nationalising the banks, insurance companies and monopolies which control 85% of the economy. In order to avoid the red tape and inefficiency of the present nationalised industries, which are used to provide a cheap service to private industry, they should be run under workers' control and management. And to ensure democratic management the managing boards could be comprised of one third elected from the trade unions in the industry, one third elected by the TUC and one third appointed by the Government. This would ensure the representation of the overwhelming majority in society.

The basis would then be laid for the establishment of a truly socialist workers' democracy which would then set about eliminating all of the problems facing working people.

Militant 
  • Drawing together of Print Unions into one industrial Union
  • Transform the Unions into more democratic and Fighting Organisations
  • Re-election of Officials subject to recall
  • Official wages based on average pay in Industry 
  • Annual Conference (The Governing Body)
  • For a living wage
  • The 35 hour week, leading to a 30 hour week
  • No Redundancies
  • A sliding scale of hours
  • Full rights for young workers
  • Full pay at 18
  • Compulsory block release courses to be drawn up by college staff, apprentices and Unions
  • Training and intake of labour under union control
  • Nationalisation of Press and general printing industry under workers’ control and management
See also: