Showing posts with label victor vanni. Show all posts
Showing posts with label victor vanni. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Turning the screw

From the February 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Three years ago the company I worked for announced it was closing. It was part of an ailing industrial giant which was itself finally sunk soon after when the banks withdrew their support. During the three month run-down period rumours that a "consortium" of managerial staff was trying to buy the place kept our hopes alive. Those of us who had been kept on to finish outstanding work knew that if the consortium didn't employ us then we would have little chance of a job anywhere else so we worked like we've never worked before. That deal fell through but an American multi-national moved in and bought the company. We soon learned that not everyone still working there would be employed by the new owners so each of us redoubled his efforts in the hope of being offered one of the available jobs.

A week after the old company finally closed some of us, the lucky ones, started work for the new company. A few days earlier we had been interviewed and the terms of employment had been spelled out to us. The wages would be increased by a few pounds but there would have to be "flexibility" which meant doing work previously done by other workers, and although there was to be no anti-trade union policy there would be no closed shop either. This last part didn't bother me, for workers who have to be forced to join a union are no asset to it and may actually be a source of weakness.

None of us will ever forget the first few months of working for the new owners. If we had been going like the hammers of hell before then it was nothing compared to what we now had to go through. The management, obviously wishing to impress their bosses, hounded us from clocking on till clocking off. No longer did we dare linger over our newspapers for another minute after starting time, take an unofficial cup of tea in the afternoon or wash up five minutes early. Some of us, even though we had a job, were applying for every job we saw advertised in the press, even if it meant working away from home. Nothing, we felt , could be worse than this.

Around this time government ministers were crowing about how the growth of unemployment had produced a different climate in industrial relations. "There is a new sense of realism among workers today" they said, and added that because of this productivity in Britain was rising. If what was happening to us was typical of the rest of the country then no wonder!

Frequent reminders of what job prospects were like outside were provided by former workmates whenever we met them. "It's hopeless" they told us. "I've been everywhere and there's nothing doing". On top of this we were hearing of other places in our line of work having redundancies or even closing and so increasing the supply of labour on an already glutted market. In the circumstances the management could walk all over us and we just had to take it, even when the heating was left off as an "economy measure" during the bitter cold at the end of 1981.

As time passed the pace became less frantic and gradually conditions changed to something approaching sanity, although we still had to work harder than any of us had been used to. At the end of the first year we had a 10 per cent rise without any haggling and the order book, we were told, was full enough. More men were being taken on and extra machinery installed, so the future was looking more secure. We should have known better.

Then last month came the visit from "the Yanks". The place was spruced up for these representatives of the parent company and they duly paraded through the factory wearing safety helmets, protective ear-muffs and big smiles. It was noticeable that the works management who accompanied them weren't smiling. All week we heard stories that the visitors were less than impressed with how things were going and that harsh words were being spoken.

On the following Monday afternoon the shop stewards were sent for. When they returned they called a meeting of all the hourly-paid employees and broke the news that there would be ten redundancies. The men were stunned. How could this be?, they asked. There was plenty of work now and for some time in the future. No matter, the visitors had decreed that the work must be done with less employees. The factory, they had said, was still only breaking even and would have to become profitable by mid-1984 when the situation would be reviewed. The ten men to go (plus one from the office) would be told next day and everyone at the meeting began to look around and calculate how much better or worse his chances were compared to the others.

Inevitably, the usual divisions between the workers emerged. The factory personnel raged because only one office staff was to go. "Bloody ridiculous" they said, "we're producers, not them". National prejudices also had an airing. It was the greed of those "Yankee bastards" that was to blame, as if British employers would have acted any differently in the same situation. My workmates, like most other workers, haven't begun to understand that their jobs are only provided on the basis that they will produce a surplus over and above their wages. Some of them even claimed that they have "a right to a job" which also must mean that employers have a duty to employ them whether they need them or not. Investors put their cash in order to make a profit, not to keep workers in jobs. There is no other way in which capitalism can operate. Next day at two o'clock the foremen broke the news to the chosen ten and told them to collect their money and go. Within twenty minutes they had gone with two weeks plus two days pay. The rest of us were shocked at this treatment but there wasn't a lot we could do about it.

Next day our foreman gave us a little talk. What it boiled down to was that the arm and leg we had given the new owners still wasn't enough and we would have to do even better in future. Apparently, the company have a factory in America which makes the same product as ourselves and the visitors claimed that the American workers are making it faster than we do. The implication was obvious enough but it doesn't stretch the imagination too much to picture those American workers being told that it is we who are the danger to their jobs because we get paid a lot less.

What about my workmates, what are their ideas and how have they been affected by all these experiences? Like most other workers they aren't in the least interested in politics. In fact some of them don't even have a reasonable trade union consciousness and blame nearly all their problems not on the capitalist system, but on other workers. A few weeks before the redundancy I overheard one of them saying "What I'd like to see is a wee bit more money for us and a wee bit less for them". Curious, I asked him who "them" was. "The unemployed" he said. When I asked him why, he replied "because there's not a big enough differential between what I get and what they get". He shared the widely-heard belief that people on the dole receive huge payments, although this didn't prevent him being terrified later on when he thought he was to be one of the ten. Luckily for him he wasn't.

Almost all of my workmates buy tabloid newspapers like the Sun which reflect, rather than mould their generally reactionary ideas. The talk at tea and lunch breaks, besides being about the usual subjects like football and gambling, often resolves around pet hates like the English, "poofs" and blacks. Our shop steward even refers to the latter as "jungle bunnies". They have experienced living under Labour governments and they know what life is like in the "communist" countries, so none of them sees any hope that things could ever be different. They imagine that the present social order has always been and always must be. I do my best, but where else do they ever hear anyone arguing the case for a world of production for use, without wages, prices, pensions, privileges and bosses? Because I am on my own I can be dismissed as a political flat-earther.

And yet, I know that they, like me, felt anger and humiliation at having to scramble for a job. Nor do they enjoy the feat of the sack whenever we hit a "quiet patch" or having to jump if the foreman or one of the "big shots" appears. And they worry, not only about their own futures, but of those of their children. The only thing wrong with the socialist case is that is has too few adherents and because of this socialists are unable to take advantage of the massive working-class discontent which exists.
Vic Vanni
Glasgow Branch

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Brief history of Glasgow branch

To say times were hard when Glasgow branch was formed in 1924 would be a serious understatement. The branch consisted of working men, only some of whom had jobs, and money was so scarce that in the early days branch meetings were sometimes held in the open because members couldn’t afford to rent a hall.

If funds were lacking then energy and commitment were not, so members threw themselves into making the party known in the city. John Higgins, the first branch secretary, was particularly effective at this and his meetings Glasgow Green gave many Glaswegians their first introduction to the party’s case.

To branch members knowledge meant everything and they were determined to have as much of it as they could, so classes on Marxist theory, logic, etc, were an essential feature, but the main activity was always indoor and, especially, outdoor meetings. Glasgow branch always had a reputation for having first-class speakers and even our opponents, whatever else they thought of us, conceded that.

Two outstanding examples of this were Alex Shaw* and Tony Mulheron. Shaw was an old-time street corner orator with an ability to have his audiences in stitches – his lampooning of some of Glasgow’s left-wing folk heroes, especially the “Red Clydesiders”, was hilarious. Mulheron, by contrast, was in his element on the indoor platform. Tony was extremely articulate and had a witty, flamboyant speaking style that could turn even the driest-sounding theoretical subject into an entertainment.

During the war activities were stepped up. Ever more meetings were held and new, younger speakers came forward. The wartime scene was brightened by visits from London speakers taking a break from the Blitz and, later on, doodlebugs and V2 rockets.

After “peace” was declared the momentum was maintained and the branch’s biggest ever audiences attended meetings at the St. Andrew’s Halls and the Cosmo cinema. Membership increased and the branch even acquired its own premises. In 1949 a second branch was formed in the city and this lasted until 1961.

In the late 1950s an influx of younger members revitalised activities, and in the 1960s candidates were fielded in three parliamentary and five municipal elections. More outdoor speaking stances were opened and there were public debates aplenty with Labourites, Leninists and others.

Added to all this was a winter programme of Sunday evening indoor meetings which ran from October to April and continued for many years. This meant that members had to wrack their brains to come up with titles for around 30 meetings every winter!

Today the old propaganda methods, which were the branch’s strength, are all but finished. People will no longer come to indoor meetings or stop and listen to those held outdoors, and this means that the branch has had to adapt to the new situation. Now we organize day schools, discussion groups, hand out leaflets at demos, provide speakers and other assistance for party activities elsewhere in the country etc.

Glasgow branch has for over eighty years played its part in the party’s activities. Its members have, in the past, given generously of their time, effort and abilities, and today’s members, despite very different and difficult conditions, strive to maintain this record.
* see here for a report on Alex Shaw in a 1931 debate with the SLP

Friday, May 11, 2012

UCS Shipyard Occupation - What we said

Former Glasgow shipyard trade unionist Sammy Barr recently passed away.  Alongside Jimmy Reid and Jimmy Airlie and Sammy Gilmore - he was one of the organisers of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders workers occupation in 1971. The shipyard work-in was an alternative to a strike to thwart attempts by the then Conservative government to close the yards by refusing subsidies. The decision meant at least 6,000 of the 8,500 shipyard workers employed by UCS would have to be made redundant. The work-in saw workers manage and operate the UCS shipyards until the government changed its policy. It was intended to prove that the yards were viable. The Heath government finally relented in February 1972 and announced a £35m injection of cash into the yards. Within three years, shipbuilding on the Upper Clyde had received about £101m of public grants and credits, with £20m going to the UCS.

The following is an article written at the time of the UCS work-in.

A Report from the Clyde

At the time of writing the UCS situation is still unresolved. It would appear that the government's plans for Govan and Linthouse may be extended to include Scotstoun with the remaining division, Clydebank, possibly being sold to a private buyer encouraged by favourable government terms. This would give the workers concerned a respite, however temporary, and leave them still hoping - and we shall return to this - that a future Labour government will nationalise the whole Upper Clyde shipbuilding complex. Whatever happens it seems unlikely that the original proposals which meant a reduction of another 6,000 jobs and the closure of the Scotstoun and Clydebank yards will go through. It looks, then, as if the resistance put up by the men has been at least partially successful. Of course their actions have nothing to do with Socialism and fall within the confines of trade union activity, an activity which is and only can be defensive in nature.

Much ink has been spilled over these events and many opinions have been expressed on the "work-in" tactics employed in the struggle. Several alternative courses of action have been suggested, the most popular one being that a "sit-in" would be more productive. This would entail occupation of the yards with no work being done on the ships already under construction in the hope that the delay would force the government to capitulate. However, this would mean finding money to pay the entire workforce instead of, as at present, only the several hundred made redundant. As the weekly wage-bill for UCS amounts to £250,000 then it can be seen that the task of providing even half this sum each week would be a monumental one. Also, it is unlikely that such a tactic would have secured as much popular support as the work-in and doubtless the shop stewards' committee to ok these and other considerations into account. Then there is the possibility that a non-working sit-in would present the government with an excuse to clear the yards on the grounds that the men had no legitimate reason for being there.

It is heartening to see a group of workers refusing to passively accept the sack, but we deplore the repeated promises to work harder and give the fullest cooperation to their employers in future. Of course these promises may only be so many words and were, after all, the product of having had the unemployment gun held to their heads. At least they didn't meekly accept their fate or rely solely on appeals to Labourite and trade union leaders to save them. They took positive action on their own account.

It could be argued that since shipbuilding is, at least at present, unprofitable and is bound to be run-down anyway, then the redundant workers should bow to the inevitable, take their redundancy payments, if any, and get out. This view could be supported by pointing out that even if the UCS workforce could be maintained at its present level then this would probably be at the expense of shipyard workers elsewhere : more orders coming to the Clyde means less orders for Tyneside or Belfast. This, of course, is true but because the industry is declining there is already a high level of unemployment in shipbuilding on Clydeside, so the chances of finding work locally are poor.

For many it would mean uprooting their families to seek work in England or overseas. And it is unreasonable to expect workers who generally think production for sale at a profit (capitalism) is the only way to run society, to put first the interests of the whole working class - that will come when they are socialist minded and not before. They joined a trade union for the limited purpose of combining with their fellow members on a craft basis to protect their own interests. We recognise this and accordingly don't expect revolutionary policies from non-socialist trade unionists.

We also recognise that before men can have any views at all, political or otherwise, they must have access to the necessities of life. They must have sufficient food, cothing, shelter, and all the other things which have come to be regarded as making life tolerable. For most workers nowadays "necessities", or their current standard of living, aren't acquired by dole money. Living standards should rightly be measured in relation to the wealth of society. Despite all the talk about how well-off to-day's workers are, their wages only enable them to live in a state of relative poverty. Nevertheless, these wages at least prevent them sliding into destitution which for many is what dole money means. Besides, there is either the personal experience or the handed-down knowledge of what large scale unemployment can do to men, so they feel that their backs are to the wall and that they must unite to save their jobs.

In their fight to change the government's mind the men have an unrecognised ally - the fact that governments cannot simply ignore political, economic and social pressures. For example, the Tories must have been dismayed at the general response to the proposed sackings and closures; they cannot afford to lose too many votes between now and the next general election. Also, the consequences of such severe unemployment might well result in increased social problems like the break-up of families or a steep increase in the crime rate, and there have been local warnings to this effect. So factors like these could account in part for the softening of the government's attitude.

The whole UCS episode has once more thrown into relief the utter hopelessness of the "left-wing". They have offered every solution under the sun but the real one; they will talk about absolutely anything except production for use and the abolition of exchange relationships. Some of their utterances have been simply ridiculous. The Communist Party actually called for an "end to redundancies and the nationalisation of shipbuilding". As if nationalisation ever meant anything less than the rationalisation of the labour force involving, as with British Rail and the Coal Board, large scale redundancies. Hugh Scanlon of the Engineers claimed that success for the UCS could mean the abolition of unemployment in Britain. Small wonder if workers remain convinced that their problems can be solved within capitalism. Scanlon should know that while production for profit remains, then so must unemployment in one degree or another. The "Militant" Trotskyists were outraged that the government sbould grant Yarrow's, which is outside the UCS,$4.5 million of "taxpayer's money". Apparently the taxes wbich are a burden on the capitalist class alone should be spent in a way Trotskyists approve of. We also bad the usual "appeals" for "soviets" plus howls that the imagined revolutionary situation was being betrayed by traitors, etc., etc.

Whatever the outcome on Clydeside the unpleasant fact remains that the production for profit system will still be with us. Even if the UCS workers realised their dearest wish to see the four yards remain as an integrated whole, production there as elsewhere must be subject to capitalism's economic laws - it must be profitable or, if under nationalisation, at least make the minimum of loss. This means that the process of removing as much unnecessary labour as possible must continue. Indeed, J. Reid, the men's spokesman, recognises this when he argues that by remaining together the yards would be "more viable" through a "lack of duplication in terms of marketing, design, research and many other factors" (Glasgow News 11 October). The avoidance of duplication is only achieved by sacking some of the workers concerned. So in order to be "more viable" the realities of capitalism - the need to produce cheaper ships to meet competition - must result in future sackings whether by the hand of the government or even by a shop steward's committee.

There is no way out of this. The fact is that in shipbuilding, just as in every other industry, the productive forces have outstripped the demand. True, there will be a continuing growth in the amount of tonnage required to meet the increasing volurne of world trade, but even a considerable increase in the demand for ships could not satisfy the present world capacity to produce them, so the contenders will still have to fight for a share in the market.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain will continue to urge workers everywhere to resist attacks made on their living standards by their employers. This is a basic necessity so long as capitalism lasts. At the same time we recognise such action to be purely defensive, besides never-ending, and which still leaves the factories, mines, shipyards, land, transportation systems, and the other places where wealth is produced, in the hands of the owning class. We therefore have organised politically to work to bring nearer the day when capitalism's inhumanity, waste and chaos will be swept away by the democratic action of the majority of the world's working class - the useful people.

Vic Vanni
(Socialist Standard, December 1971)

Saturday, January 16, 2010


The newspaper reads "The number of middle-class homeowners in Scotland who are declaring themselves bankrupt is rising dramatically...The trend is being blamed on the well-off no longer being able to use rising equity in their homes to finance their lifestyles and pay off debts.."

Oh , how often we come across the expression "middle class" , as if those people are somehow different from the working class. This article from the archives of the Socialist Standard explains why there is no such thing as middle class and that we are all members of the working class.

Getting the blues in suburbia

There aren't many factory workers like me in the area where I live - a pleasant suburb called Giffnock which lies just over the south side of the Glasgow boundary. I moved there about five years ago and when my workmates heard where I was moving to they were amazed. Al­most all of them live in council flats or houses (Scotland has a much higher percentage of council and other rented housing than England) and they seemed to place Giffnock in the same wealth bracket as Beverley Hills or Mayfair. "They've all got money up there" I was told.

Of course, when I moved into the place I found the reality to be just as I expected. Nearly every household is de­pendent on at least one wage or salary earner and so far I haven't met or even heard of a single millionaire. On the other hand, I have met people who have equally strange notions about factory workers. They presumably get their ideas (preju­dices would be a better word) from the media and are quick to condemn strikes and wage demands which they imagine industrial workers indulge in every five minutes, just for the fun of it.
Obviously, different sections of the working class have false ideas about the others, but it only needs a look beneath the surface to see the essential sameness of all their lives.

Every morning from Monday to Friday, excluding holidays, I leave home at three minutes to seven. I buy my news­paper in the newsagent round the corner and stand in a shop doorway waiting for my lift to work. I get picked up about five minutes past seven and we are on our way. The streets are deserted and as we approach Eastwood Toll we, pass the big houses and the tall blocks of luxury flats which sell for around £80,000. All of them are in, darkness so the occupants must still be in bed, and' it's the same with the bungalows just along the road.
In the next ten minutes we pass through the massive Pollok council estate. There's plenty of lights burning in the houses here and lots of activity, with people walking along the streets, standing at bus stops or waiting at corners for their lifts. Most of them probably feel, like me, that it's tough having to start so early, but in an hour's time the Fenwick and Kilmarnock roads will be jammed with the cars of the salary-slaves from Newton Mearns, Whitecraigs, Williamwood and Giffnock all heading into. the city. For despite what my workmates may think, most of those who live in the big houses, luxury flats and bungalows are employees too, and the fact that they start around nine changes nothing-except that they get home in the evening an hour or two later than we do.

So there are superficial differences between these owner-occupiers and council tenants but the things they have in common are much more important. Like problems, for instance. When we read about all those redundancies in factories, shipyards and steelworks, does anyone imagine that only the shopfloor workers are involved? "White-collar" workers, right up to the highest levels of management, get the push, too. They are not immune to this (nobody is these days) and many of them live in places like Giffnock.

Just recently we noticed that Ian, one of near neighbours, was home a lot during the day and, his car was usually parked outside his house. Eventually we learned what had happened. He worked as some kind of executive (he sometimes talked about his "staff" ) in a big whiskey com­pany, and as the trade is in the middle of its biggest slump in over fifty years his employers had "let him go".
Ian's problem now is to find a new employer. Naturally, a man in his position will look up the situations vacant columns in so-called "quality" news­papers like the Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald rather than the more "popular" Daily Record. There was a time when he could have made an appointment at the impressively titled Executive Register, but not now. The Register was closed as part of the government's economy drive so instead of a private interview in a posh office with a fitted carpet, Ian may have to go to the local Job Centre the same as anyone else.

It cannot be denied that the in­habitants of Giffnock are generally a bit better off than those in, say, Pollok. Here and there you can see an extension being built onto the back of a house or maybe double glazing being installed, but they feel the pinch just the same as workers in industry. Another neighbour, Colin, hasn't taken his family on holiday for two years. "Can't afford it", he tells me; the high interest rates which mortgage payers currently face could be the reason. There must be lots like him in Giffnock.

So some of them try to earn a bit extra just as electricians, plumbers, painters, joiners, and other workers do by taking on "homers" in their spare time. The local newsagents have some cards in their windows which demonstrate this. For example, a local man who is probably an architect will draw up plans for your new extension or garage; an accountant offers his services and someone who is "fully qualified" will provide English tuition in the evenings. In the next street there is a woman who does part-time market research. They need more cash, too.
The classified ads in the newspapers also tell a story. Some years ago the dis­covery of oil in the North Sea encouraged speculation that the fuel would cost next to nothing, so people in places like Giff­nock rushed to have oil-fired central heating systems installed. Nowadays the rush is to convert to cheaper gas and the ads are filled with unwanted oil burners and tanks but you can't give them away. I know, I had to pay the local dustmen to get rid of mine.

The fact that many people in places like Giffnock live in better houses, do different work or earn more money than some others does not elevate them out of the working class. They still have to work for a living, worry about making ends meet, face the indignity of the sack and in one degree or another, suffer the prob­lems created by capitalist society. This is what places them firmly in the ranks of the workers whether or not they like it or my workmates know it, and the passing of time makes it more and more evident.

Socialist Standard January 1981