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The case for socialist nationalisation
WITH ONE stroke of Corus chairman Brian Moffat's pen, over 12,000 workers will lose their livelihoods once the knock-on effects of last week's steel closures work their way through the local economy.
The cutbacks aim to slash capacity as the demand for steel in the world capitalist economy slows down. This doesn't mean that there's not a need for steel production. The decrepit state of Britain's railways, schools and other infrastructure requires massive investment which could boost steel output.
But this is of little significance to Corus, which isn't concerned about making steel. The Corus board is only interested in the upward trajectory of its profit graph to its corporate shareholders.
Even Tony Blair, normally subservient to big business, the government, the Welsh Assembly and the union leaders were all treated with contempt by Corus.
In desperation, the ISTC steel union, in the absence of putting forward a clear strategy for action, have proposed a £650 million buyout of Llanwern. This will not provide a solution, but Corus rejected this from the outset saying it would hardly allow its most productive plant to be set up in competition with its remaining plants.
There is widespread support in South Wales for the idea raised by Socialist Party Wales of renationalising Corus with no compensation to the fat cats. These shareholders received a £750 million payout when the company was formed in 1998 and have seen share values jump by 10% since the announcement.
But the one word the union leaders have not allowed to cross their lips in recent weeks was the n-word, nationalisation.
Neither, predictably, has there been a whisper of nationalisation from New Labour. Tony Blair went out of his way last week to restate the safe pro-capitalist credentials of New Labour in a way Thatcher would have been proud of. He said: "The purpose of this government has been not to turn the clock back on the enterprise agenda; but to deepen it and then to correct the instability and under-investment."
But how does Labour plan to do this while there is private ownership of the means of production - capitalism?
Labour's ideologically driven, privatisation policies for the tube, air traffic control, local government and education are in turmoil. The problem for Labour is that this pro-capitalist ideology isn't working anywhere from London to Moscow to California.
The strike by London Underground workers and the threatened strike by 1,800 air traffic controllers has captured public support because privatisation is so hated.
The chaos and fat cat culture surrounding privatisation has produced a massive shift in public opinion back towards public ownership - nationalisation - of major industries. Compare the crisis-ridden privatised utilities in Britain with their state-owned counterparts in Europe, where for example train travel is cheaper, faster and safer because of massive public investment.
Public ownership, even in only one industry with all its limitations, is a step forward over private ownership. It means that production is generally planned for society's needs rather than for the profit-driven interests of the fat cat shareholders of private companies.
Amongst steel workers there is a belief that renationalisation of steel would be best but they are not yet convinced that it is a practical option to fight for it, given that neither the union leaders nor the Labour government back it.
But a mass campaign led by the organised workers in the threatened communities, linking up with the other workers who are striking against privatisation, can force this government to retreat.
But, while The Socialist opposes privatisation of public services and calls for nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy we believe this should not be the old-style capitalist nationalisation of the past, where isolated state-controlled industries became milch cows for capitalism.
Instead, we argue for socialist nationalisation with workers' control and management and a proper plan of production based on need not profit. This would guarantee sufficient investment to protect jobs and ensure modern working conditions. That is the only way working-class people can end the "instability and under-investment" of the capitalist market.
In The Socialist 9 February 2001: