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From The Socialist newspaper, 28 September 2011

Metal thefts - The hidden crime of capitalism

Paul Gerrard

16-year old Ryan Woolams was electrocuted this July trying to steal copper cable from the disused Skelton Grange power station in Leeds. His body was found the next day. Days later a gas explosion demolished one terraced house and severely damaged five others in nearby Castleford, leaving a family homeless.

What links these two incidents? Copper at £5,000 a tonne. Britain is suffering from an epidemic of metal theft. Huge lengths of railway cable, manhole covers and, in London, entire bus shelters have disappeared. Thieves even climb electricity pylons to get their hands on copper-rich cable - six people have already died this year in the attempt.

DI Andrea Rainey of the British Transport Police says this is a market-driven crime. "There's direct correlation between the prices of these metals going up and the fact that we are seeing more thefts' (FT 10 September). World metal prices have boomed, fuelled by rising demand from China and India.

Over the last two years copper prices rose 38% and iron ore has doubled. Thieves can quickly sell stolen metal to unscrupulous scrap metal dealers. Burning off the plastic coating of cable makes it hard to identify as stolen.

Copper prices

Railway cable thefts rose 65% between 2008 and 2009, mirroring the rise in world copper prices. On 6 September, 65 metres of cable was cut and removed in south London, causing 146 trains to be cancelled, 129 other services curtailed and 840 trains delayed. In another incident at Wigan, theft of just £100 worth of cable cost the network operator £8.5 million in repairs and fines for delays to the train operating companies.

Now Brian Souter, boss of Stagecoach, has called for action including licensing of scrap metal dealers as his trains, among others, are getting delayed.

Licensing won't stop the thefts. And would a government such as Cameron's, so deeply wedded to deregulation, contemplate it? Will cash-strapped councils take on the issuing of licences, inspections etc? Or maybe a new quango? Unlikely.

This is really just one more hidden cost of 'free enterprise'. Capitalism creates 'boom and bust' - wild oscillations in prices, super-profits one minute, bankruptcy the next.

If we had an international plan of production, there would be no world markets where speculators could operate. Instead, copper-mining countries could see planned growth in the prices they earn, enabling improvements in copper miners' wages and conditions.

A state monopoly of foreign trade would ensure that no international 'black market' in copper could spring up. The scrap metal industry would be in public hands, with workers' management and control of any dodgy former owners, not least because a socialist government would want to manage all aspects of recycling for the sake of future generations.

So next time someone tells you 'socialism wouldn't work' or is 'inefficient', point out the deaths, thefts, losses, repair bills and disruption that we have to contend with under 'free enterprise'.

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In The Socialist 28 September 2011:

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Join the Jarrow marchers on their 330 mile journey!

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Why are you supporting the march?

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The Socialist's editorials

World economy in meltdown - we won't pay for capitalist crisis

Pro-business Labour offers crumbs and promises cuts

Socialist history

1911 - Bermondsey women's uprising

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£6,000 uni fees? An offer we can refuse!

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Youth demand a future in Tottenham

What I spent my EMA on

Socialist Party news and analysis

As Murdochgate scandal goes on - release Tommy Sheridan!

Scotland: SNP do the Con-Dems' dirty work

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Metal thefts - The hidden crime of capitalism

Socialism 2011: A weekend of discussion and debate

News in brief

International socialist news and analysis

As debt crisis deepens... Greek workers and youth in revolt

Socialist Party workplace news

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Workplace news in brief

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