Partial online archive of the magazine of libertarian socialist group Solidarity's Aberdeen local group from the 1960s and 70s.
Solidarity: for workers' power (Aberdeen)
Solidarity: for workers' power (Aberdeen) #01
Solidarity for workers’ power– Aberdeen - Number 1 – July 1969
Mill workers fight by I.M.
Thoughts on the French revolt by K.N.
Trawl strike and the fishing industry by N.F.R.
As we see it
Solidarity: for workers' power (Aberdeen) #02
Solidarity for workers’ power– Aberdeen - Number 2
The G.E.C. "Soviet" by I.M.
Workers councils in the German revolution, an discussion between Rudi Dutschke and Bernhard Reichenbach
Alienation and workers control by C.A.
Trawl strike : victory or defeat by N.R.
Workers councils in the German revolution, an discussion between Rudi Dutschke and Bernhard Reichenbach
Discussion and analysis with a member of the KAPD on the party and its activity.
in the German Revolution
The Kommunistische Arbeiter Party Deutschland (KAPD) originated in a split in the German Communist Party at the second congress in Heidelberg in October 1919. The majority of the Communist party were expelled for their opposition to parliamentary and Trade Union activity, and founded a new party the KAPD.
The interview below is with a founder member of the KAPD, who was active in the German revolution, and is part of the material we plan to us in the [unreadable] a pamphlet on the struggles for WORKERS COUNCILS in the German revolution.
The relevance of the struggle in Germany in 1918-23 has been heightened by the rise of SDS and the recent wave of unofficial strikes in the coal, steel and ship building industries. As in France and Italy the question of workers councils is now being debated.
AN ACTIVIST SPEAKS
This discussion between Rudi Dutschke and Bernhard Reichenbach took place in June 1969.
Rudi: Assuming your analysis of society was valid at the time, where do you locate your failures?
B.R: A valid social analysis is one thing, implementing it in reality is another matter. One should distinguish between the theories of the KAPD and the practise through which it attempted to implement them, although the two are obviously interrelated. Up to 1923 we based ourselves on the revolutionary activity of the working class which was widespread throughout Germany in the wake of the collapse of the Kaiser regime, its political, social, economic and ideological institutions, but from the defeat of the March 1921 and later 1923 insurrections it became evident that whereas during periods of political collapse, and economic misery the working class exhibits independent revolutionary initiative and readiness to sacrifice a lot for the creation of a new social order it does not sustain this type of activity during the prolonged periods between one political/economic crisis to the next.
Rudi: You said you had certain doubts concerning Marx’s theory, could you elaborate?
B.R.: We, who considered ourselves as Marxists at the time, laid too much stress on the “objective conditions” as well as on the role of material misery. We underestimated the role of the individuals, which in certain conditions – can become the decisive factor. I think that Marx’s stress on the main motivation for revolutionary activity is not always and everywhere valid, whereas his sociological insights still are.
Rudi: At the time you acted as an extra parliamentary opposition, do you consider this essential?
B.R.: Yes, because this educates people to act on their own political initiative, independently of any representative.
Rudi: For you at the time, this expressed itself not merely as extra-parliamentary opposition but as anti-parliamentary opposition. Did you consider it essential that the working class should struggle against the parliamentary institutions?
B.R.: Definitely. You must remember that during 1918 there was an actual revolutionary situation in Germany. Any partaking in parliamentary activity was considered as betrayal, because that parliament, amongst other things, was held responsible for the war. During 1919 almost all the left politics took place within the workers councils, not in the trade unions or parliament. These were consciously, extra and anti-parliamentary institutions. The trouble was that in those councils the Social Democrats were in the majority. This was very much due to their insistence on economistic rather than political, and reformistic rather than revolutionary demands. It is those factors that made us doubt the independent revolutionary initiative of the class. The Social Democrats did not impose their views, their majority reflected the will of the broad mass of workers inside the councils, and that even during such a revolutionary situation.
The conditions in Germany differed considerably from those of Russia. Russia emerged from centuries of autocratic rule and the whole social atmosphere was ripe for a fundamental change of political institutions, a tradition of government by elected representatives. Germany had a tradition of government by elected representatives, in such circumstances it is much harder to accomplish a political revolution because it appears as coercion against democratic representatives. Moreover, after all the years of a Rightist majority in parliament the victory of the Social Democrats appeared as a decisive victory for the left. It is true that the decisive arena of the struggle for political power was within the workers councils but, the reasons mentioned earlier, any action against the elected government was out of the question especially while those in government had a majority inside the councils.
Rudi: How many revolutionary parties existed then?
B.R.: In 1920 there were five parties aspiring to achieve socialism by revolution, all of them defining themselves as Marxist. Apart from this there were various Anarchist groups. The working class was torn by the mutual strife between those organisations and did not exhibit unified action vis-à-vis the Bourgeoisie.
Rudi: What could you tell us about the 1921 insurrection?
B.R.: At the time I was in Russia, as an observer on behalf of the KAPD in the session of the Third International. The German Communist party came out openly against that insurrection whereas our party actively supported it. Lenin declared the insurrection “Adventurist”, yet afterwards Paul Levi, the secretary of the party who was responsible for its policy was dismissed for his failure to support it. He was replaced by Clara Zetkin, who incidentally continued to carry out the political line of Paul Levi. A person was dismissed, the policies remained. Moreover, both Lenin and Trotsky endorsed Zetkins policies.
Rudi: Do you believe that there was any connection between the New Economic Policy of Lenin in 1921 and the policy of the Third International towards the March 1921 insurrection.
B.R.: There was no direct connection. However, one can discern some common underlying factors. The NEP was considered by Lenin as a fortification of the political revolution in Russia; he considered that revolution as a process which had already terminated. The Bolsheviks expected a revolution in Western Europe. This failed to occur. This created an ambiguous relationship between them, as a ruling party and the capitalist regime in Europe; on the one hand they wanted normal inter-state relations which would ensure peaceful borders on the west, on the other hand the revolutionary struggle inside those countries weakened those regimes. Once the disillusion with the revolution in the west sunk in they began to consider the revolutionary movements in the west mainly as an auxiliary tool of Russian foreign politics. This attitude of the Bolshevik politicians towards the revolutionary movements in the west did not start with Stalin, but with Lenin and Trotsky back in 1921.
Rudi: Could you describe the actual activity of the councils vis-à-vis the Unions and parties looked like?
B.R.: Independent councils based on factories rather then trades, as was common earlier, appeared spontaneously all over Germany. This was to a considerable extent a result of the economic chaos. When a factory came to a standstill due to the lack of fuel or raw materials there was no one to turn to help. Government, parties, unions, capitalists could do nothing to solve the basic problems of transportation, raw materials, fuel etc. Resolutions, orders, declarations, even paper money, were of little use. Under such circumstances the factory workers would form a factory council and set out to solve those basic problems by themselves. We of the KAPD believed that the traditional Trade-Unions were an obstacle to the creation of a new society, and that the main thing was to encourage direct action, independent of the unions.
Rudi: Why did the KAPD disband in 1923?
B.R: When the March 1921 insurrection failed, and later also the one in 1923, only a few hundred activists remained in the party. Originally we were a party of industrial militants, with only very few paid functionaries. When the direct activity of the industrial militants died down our party simply ceased to exist. It was not a matter of taking political resolution; when our militant workers ceased to be active all that was left to do was to acknowledge that fact and draw the conclusion. We the younger activists, decided to enter other political parties, simply because this was the only place where we could meet politically minded workers and try to win them over.
Solidarity: for workers' power (Aberdeen) #03
Issue 3 of the magazine of Solidarity (Aberdeen) with articles on Consolidated Pneumatic, the KAPD and the German revolution, housing in Aberdeen, technology and workers' control. From around 1968.
In the late sixties, there has been an upsurge in revolutionary politics which has resulted in many more publications of a socialist nature being put on sale at factories and colleges. Solidarity differs fundamentally from all other socialist magazines as Solidarity politics differs from all other “socialist” politics. It is often said by Solidarists that Marxists call us anarchists and anarchists call us Marxists. This paradox is a result of the inability of traditional revolutionaries to understand anything which falls out of their own outdated categories. This organisation of and function of a Solidarity group and those of other left wing political groupings.
The anarchist movement in Britain has, in the last ten years, consistently failed to make any significant contribution in the communication of revolutionary ideas. “Freedom”, the anarchist weekly, throws its pages open to anyone who cares to contribute. The good articles which do occasionally appear in “Freedom” are completely lost in a forum of views ranging from individualism to syndicalism and from pacifism to political terrorism.
A worker buying a “Freedom” is faced with a mystifying morass of differing views, all of which are printed in London, a long way from Aberdeen.
On the other hand, the Trotskist publications do present some unanimity of opinion within the different journals. The tone and content of these journals is completely different from that of Solidarity. The writers for Socialist Worker and Newsletter find it possible to separate principles from tactics, they advocate continual struggles for “transitional demands” which cannot be achieved without the collapse of capitalism. Their confused logic is that once the working class realises the uselessness of fighting for these concessions within capitalism, they will support the revolutionary party to overthrow the system. Once supporting the revolutionary party, the workers will find themselves once more on a bureaucratic structure very similar to capitalism.
In this structure the ordinary supporter has very little control. Again the Trotskyist publications are produced centrally by people who have no idea of the local conditions and attitudes.
Solidarity never hides its politics, we are Revolutionary socialists and we do not believe that struggles for sixpence an hour or for left-wing trade union officials will bring socialism and we say so. We fight anything which obscures from the working class their revolutionary role. We do not intend the membership of Solidarity to become immense, we urge workers to form their own organisations within the factories to fight for self-management. We believe that individuals should have control over the decisions that daily effect their lives.
Solidarity magazines area reflection of our views and organisation. They are, for the most part, produced and sold locally by people who have shared the experiences of and know the conditions of other workers in their own areas. We see the role of the magazine as that of an interchange of experiences in struggle and descriptions of work between workers. We do not see the area covered by the magazine being expanded as there is a definite need for all our energies and resources being used to serve the workers in the Aberdeen area. We print what is most relevant to this function, occasionally articles will appear from other parts of the country when the lessons from these other struggles are relevant to Aberdeen workers. We welcome letters from workers in Aberdeen describing their struggles and conditions or work or merely commenting on the magazine.
INSIDE CONSOLIDATED PNEUMATIC
“The humanity of the wage-earner is more and more attacked by the nature and conditions of modern work, by the oppression and alienation the worker undergoes in production. In this field there can be no lasting reform, there can only be a constant struggle” (Paul Cardan, in Modern Capitalism and Revolution).
THE COMPANY AND THE FACTORY
The Consolidated Pneumatic Tool Company, a division of Chicago Pneumatic, is an American owned firm of compressor manufacturers with factories in America, Britain, and Europe. As the result of a merger they recently became linked with the Caterpillar group, also American owned.
The firm in Britain has its headquarters in London, and three factories; one in Woolwich, the others in Aberdeen, and Fraserburgh, 40 miles to the north. The actual compressors are made in Fraserburgh, and the attachments, eg, drills, wrenches, rivitters as well as concrete vibrators, are made in the Aberdeen factory, which also does contract work for I.B.M. and Cummins. Over 1,100 are employed in Fraserburgh, while there are about 600 workers in Aberdeen.
The factory is situated in an industrial estate to the south if the city, and was opened in 1952, in the great flood of American capital which poured into this country after the last war. Many traditional revolutionaries seem to have a pet hate for American capitalism; for us whether the boss is American or Russian for that matter, is only important in that some may be more advanced in exploitation techniques than others.
C.P.T. is a closed shop, with the manual workers mainly in the A.E.F. The place is well-organised at shop steward level, and the stewards do good work. The management co-operate closely with the Union, trying to maintain good relations, and there have been cases in the past of militant shop stewards getting a 'shift up'. There were big strikes in the Peterburgh plant in 1964 and 1967 but apart from token sympathy action, no comparable struggle in Aberdeen as yet,
One marked thing about the factory is the insistence of the management in retaining complete control. For example, pilfering, tolerated in other places, is a crime in C.P.T. They clamp down hard on anyone stealing any tools, and recently notices appeared in the toilets threatening anyone who stole soap with instant dismissal.
C.P.T. AND ENGINEERING IN ABERDEEN
Engineering has always been a fairly important industry in Aberdeen, with about 3,000 workers employed. The industry has certain differences from engineering in any other city of a comparable size in three ways.
Firstly, the enterprises are small-scale, the largest apart from C.P.T. employing 300, the average 100-150. Secondly, the plant and techniques used are very backward, and thirdly a very high proportion of skilled labour is employed, time-served men doing work in small batches.
In C.P.T. however, this is not the case. It is now twice the size of the next biggest works, having grown from 400-600 in 4 years, and further expansion being certain. Also many of the smaller places do contract work for the C.P.T. Secondly, the vast majority of workers in the factory are semi-skilled, working one machine-tool and doing a limited range of work. Many have no previous experience of engineering. Finally, the machines in C.P.T. are modern; I don't want to exaggerate, there are machines in the place falling to bits, but generally they are fairly modern and some are ultra-modern.
WAGES AND CONDITIONS
Conditions in the factory are fairly good, and very good for Aberdeen. The place is regularly cleaned and kept at a constant 60 degree temperature. Milk and coffee machines line the wall. Hot water is always available for washing, the canteen provides a cheap midday meal. These are not only in the workers interest, the more intelligent managers today realise that workers will work harder under these conditions than in the cold and dirt.
Wages are the highest in the city for semi-skilled engineers, many C.P.T. workers earning more than skilled men on other shops. The basic rate of over £13 is brought up by various supplements to a guaranteed £15, and on top of this the average bonus is £2 18s (a management figure which many workers would dispute). This means that machinists in the factory are earning between £17 and £18 for a 40-hour week, and about £22 for the night shift.
Recently we put in for a wage rise of about 30/- a week after the inspectors got a rise of about 22/-.
The management offered 15/-, and the bringing forward of a new bonus scheme which gives an allowance of ½ hour for a tool change previously this came off your bonus time. The men were in a pretty militant mood, and a strong position, but in the end accepted the offer.
In C.P.T. 'production' is worshipped above all else; many of the machines are working from 19-22 hours a day, there are no tea-breaks, and drinks must be taken at the machine, standing up. Most workers are on a production bonus apart from certain categories, eg. the platers who get average shop bonus each week. The whole bonus system is unfair and is the main wedge the management uses to divide workers.
It is easier to make bonus is some sections than on others, where times are harder. Also within the sections themselves-grinders, lathes, mills-times vary enormously from job to job; sometimes you can make a good bonus taking it easy, at other times you have to slave to even make time. Finally there is a tendency for the good jobs to always go to the same people; this is not only the gaffers pals, but also those who don't complain. If you shout, you might get a time changed, or on to another job. If you sit quietly they just heap the shite onto you.
All this means that some men are making a regular £6 a week bonus, while others are scraping in 30/-. The bonus also acts as an invisible gaffer, they can always tell how hard you're working by what you're making, there is no need for close supervision. Also, you tend to make yourself work, since you feel you can earn more by this. Most folk work hard, hurrying to the toilet and back to work (perhaps this is the reason that in the C.P.T. there is hardly a scrap of graffiti on the bog walls). However, it puts a weapon in the men's hands; in any struggle a simple refusal to work the bonus system would cost the management a fortune, and the workers little, all that is needed is to work time.
“I get so bored here I don't know where to look. I've seen it all, every face, every machine, every brick in the bloody wall. I say to myself, I can't bear it, so I clench my teeth and clutch a spanner and stick it out. I couldn't manage any other way” (Peter C Brown 'Smallcreeps Day')
An article in the last issue of Aberdeen 'Solidarity', 'Alienation and Workers Control' suggested that the main factor causing alienation under capitalism was not the nature of work itself, but more the authority relations of capitalist industry and the relationship of the worker to his product.
Undoubtedly the factors mentioned in this article are important, but as soon as you go into the nature of work in modern production is the prime cause of alienation, ie, the feeling of meaningless and lack of control over your own life.
The well ordered rows of machine-tools, each with its operator beside it, and his job, usually piles of castings beside him; the fierce din of compressed air guns and the machines immediately suggest that it is the work itself which is alienating.
In C.P.T. most components are so standardised, and produced in such numbers, that there is usually little skill in any job. The only opportunity for initiative is is “setting-up”, but here you are usually working with jigs, and a setter does this for you. Once you have done this you perform the same operation on a batch of components usually 200 or 300, sometimes 500 or even 1,000, time after time. No variety, no initiative, just steady monotonous work requiring constant attention, and lulling you into a semi-stupor. This steady work, and standing all day, means that you are pretty tired by the end of your eight hours work. You can fight the monotony of turning the same job, or milling the same slot, or boring the same hole by going for tea, to the toilet, up to the next machine; some people add to the din by singing.
Related to this question of alienation is that of 'capitalist technology', which in C.P.T. takes on real meaning. The trend towards simpler machines doing a limited range of work is general throughout industry, and in C.P.T. you can see this is machine-tool design. There are automatic lathes and capstans, limited purpose mills, semi-automatic grinders. All these are even more unsatisfying to work and add to the boredom. And the trend is towards even more simple machines, ones which are tape-controlled and self-regulating, and of which a man could easily supervise six have been designed.
But there is a choice in machine design; these machines are designed because it is cheaper for the bosses to run them. But is is possible to design modern versatile machines, on which people could be trained to do a wide variety of interesting work. But the capitalists will not introduce these, since they are interested only in production and profit.
The nature of the work and the methods of exploitation at C.P.T. means that we may see big struggles there in the future. Militants should prepare for them now, and press for elected works committees to run them, not the union officials. These struggles can be the link between immediate issues and the struggle for workers power.
An under worker power, not only would the factory be run by a democratic factory committee, which would change the boss-worker relationship, but also the techniques of production would be gradually altered to make the work more interesting and satisfying.
The article above was written for us by a C.P.T. worker. Comments on it, and further articles from the factory are invited. Anonymity is guaranteed.
K.a.p.d. and the german revolution
The interview in the last issue of Aberdeen “Solidarity” with a founder member of the K.A.P.D. threw interesting light on the policy of the Bolsheviks and the K.P.D. during the German Revolution, and also opened the way for a discussion of the reasons for its failure.
However, simply because the K.A.P.D broke away from the K.P.D. Over the latter favourable policy towards participating in Trades Union and Parliamentary activity, it would be wring to automatically assume that it is an organization with which Solidarists should retrospectively identify themselves.
In the first place, as is evident from the interview, the K.A.P.D. held an extremely mechanical conception of the socialist revolution, which was held to be possible only in times of economic collapse and misery. Socialist consciousness is the grumbling of an empty belly. This conception gripped the minds of the most libertarian of those who broke with German Social Democracy, eg, Luxembourg and Pannekoek, who in other respects such as insistence on the rule of Workers Councils and proletarian democracy we would endorse.
Similarly, the K.A.P.D. was permeated with elitist thinking. As Gorter, their leading thinker stated in his “Reply to Lenin”, '...most proletarians are ignoramuses. They repeatedly make mistakes.” From this he concluded that an elite party, based on quality was necessary to educate the masses and expose the reformist leaderships. There was always an ambiguity in the K.A.P.D. over whether they or the Workers Councils should rule, and they never fully identified themselves as the future dictatorship. In this respect, as in others we can possibly see resemblances between the K.A.P.D. and the “Workers Opposition” group in the Bolshevik Party. It is more than an accident that it was a K.A.P.D. member who brought Kollontai's text to the west.
Thirdly, it would be wrong to overestimate the hostility of the K.A.P.D. to the Third Internationl to which they adhered in a special status until they ceased to be a viable force in the German left after 1923 or so. Although Trotsky accused them, in the “First Five Years of the Communist International” of intending to establish a Fourth International, there is no real evidence for this. The K.A.P.D. even, on the instructions of Lenin, or 'advice', got rid of Ruehle, Laufenberg and others who were originally party members, but whose implacable hostility to Bolshevism Lenin could not tolerate.
If we are to look for historical progenitors in the area of ideology, the ideas of Ruhle need to be further examined. Ruehle voted as early as 1915 with Liebknecht against War Credits in the Reichstag, and maintained a consistent anti-war attitude afterwards. Almost alone of the ex-social democrats he broke with elitist thinking, holding the profoundly true idea that if the working class was too weak and stupid to achieve socialism by its own efforts, then no leadership can remedy this- the only alternative is permanent class society.
Similarly, at a time when socialism was held to be nationalisation and planning and a social democrat government, Ruehle developed his ideas on the meaning of socialism in advance of this. In 1924 he said: “ the nationalisation of the means of production which remains the programme of the social democracy as well as the communists, is not socialisation. Through nationalisation it will be possible to attain a strongly centralised State capitalism, which will perhaps have some superiority to private capitalism, but which none the less will be capitalism.”
Ruehle's brilliant critique of the entire Trades Union apparatus, published as the article “On German Trades Union” in Solidarity Scotland Vol.2 No.2. from his book 'From the bourgeois to the proletarian revolutions' (which still awaits translation), is one which all Solidarists would endorse. In it he stated: “The Trades unions … develop into auxiliary organs of capitalist organs of capitalist economic interest, exploitation and profit making. They have become the bourgeoisie's most loyal shield bearer … always and everywhere the unions stood at the side of capital ready to help; a praetorian guard always prepared to carry out the most common and revolting crimes, always against the emancipation and autonomy of the working class”.
As early as 1921, Ruehle, and the federation of factory organizations, AAUD-E (which eventually linked to the Syndicalist International), to which he belonged criticised the bureacratisation of the Russian Revolution and the suppression of the Kronstaft sailors. The refused to participate in the Central German rising of 1821 on the grounds that it was an attempt by the K.P.D. to cover up events in Kronsdadt at the same time.
Ruehle accused the K.A.P.D. of being only distinguishable from the K.P.D. by its rejection of the parliamentary activity, and its subsequent history confirmed his analysis.
Given its basic ideas, and the decline of the revolutionary wave in Germany after 1923, the return of most K.A.P.D. members to the folds of the S.P.D. or K.P.D., or their decline into inactivity was inevitable.
HOUSING IN ABERDEEN
In Aberdeen, as elsewhere, housing is one of the greatest problems facing ordinary people today. Aberdeen does not seem to have a homeless problem, but the city, after more than a century of exploitation, is loaded down by some of the most archaic housing around. Despite the prosperous looks of the city's granite tenements, behind the façade, almost none of these flats have a bath or a built-in hot-water system, and almost all of them have shared toilets, often out in the backyard. Indeed it is reckoned that only one third of all Aberdeen's houses have a bath, and only one half a private toilet. It's no wonder that a bout of diarrhoea is considered the city's quickest was to pneumonia.
The general shortage of houses in this part of the country makes their buying price the highest outside South England. So it's not surprising that landlords take advantage of the situation to push the rents up and neglect to do repairs, knowing that most tenants are only too glad to get somewhere to live, to think of challenging them.
Of the many horror stories of the exploitation by Aberdeen landlords, here are two I can personally vouch for.
A two-roomed attic flat in Ashvale Place: too small to swing a mouse in let alone a cat; a broken window-frame and leaking skylight; a toilet in the yard four flights down. Rent? £5 per week!
A two-roomed flat in George Street: the front door opens off the street into the bedroom; total furniture- two beds, a wardrobe, a tiny piece of carpet, a small kitchen table and two chairs; and, of course, an outside toilet. Rent? £6-10/- per week.
However, wonder of wonders, the State does offer some protection to the tenant of furnished property, in the form of the Rent Assessment Office, the Rent tribunal, and the 1965 Rent Act.
Any tenant may apply to the Assessment Office (Aberdeen address 47, Holburn Street) for their rent to be reassessed. The Office will inform the landlord and send the Tribunal to see the property. The normal result of their considerations is that the rent is reduced. Here are a few examples:-
The attic flat mentioned above – new rent - £2-10/-.
2-roomed 1st floor flat, Broomhill Road – new rent - £2-10/-.
3-roomed 1st floor flat, Holburn Street – new rent - £4.
2-roomed 2nd floor flat, Park Street – new rent - £1-2/6-.
Landlords are unlikely to be too delighted with tenants who go to the Rent Tribunal, but there is nothing they can do about it. If a landlord threatens eviction on these grounds, the Tribunal will award security of tenure, which can be renewed every six months. In fact, a landlord can only be granted by a magistrate if the landlord can prove that the tenant has committed an offence, such as non-payment of rent or using the property for immoral purposes, which would define him as a “bad tenant”. Unless the landlord can get his court in order the tenant cannot be put out, even if the flat is sold.
There are not many State-blessed ways for the worker to hit back at the capitalist. The Rent Tribunal is one – use it to the full, and take the money back out of the landlords' packet.
For most private tenants, the way out if the morass of grasping landlords, is to get a council house. However, this is much easier said than done, and there is very little distortion in this well known quote by Anderson: “The man who sets about it (getting a house) efficiently would get an essential job, marry young, father a child a year, find himself a slum flat, share it with another family and develop chronic ill health”.
In Aberdeen, with only about 1,000 council houses built each year, and more than 5,000 names on the waiting list, it is clear that patience is a necessary virtue for those wanting a house. In fact, the situation is much worse for most of these new houses actually go to those made homeless by slum clearance etc., or to those in overcrowded conditions, rather than to those on the waiting list.
This situation is perfect for the owners of Aberdeen's slums and due-to-be-redeveloped property. These parasites have been making a fine profit for years by selling their rotten property at vastly inflated prices to people desperate to get a decent place to live.
Not that getting a council house solves all the problems. Local councils can be just as grasping as the private landlord. It is only a year since Aberdeen Town Council voted a whopping 6/- per week increase in rents which raise the average rent by one third to about 24/- per week. This may not seem very much to the more exploited private tenant or to the reader used to English scales of council rates. But it must be remembered that the normal wage in Aberdeen is below the Scottish average which is itself almost £2 per week below the national level. On top of this most food and other consumer good prices are higher here owing to the high transport costs.
However, there is the rent rebate scheme which applies to those with a household income of less than £14 per week. But, a complicated procedure must be gone through before this rebate can be gained. The onus is completely on the tenant to gain; he must fill in a complex form, apply on a given date and get his employer to corroborate his statements concerning his wages. With all these complications and the consequent embarrassments it is not surprising that probably much less than half of those eligible actually claim.
Amongst private tenants there has been little sign of organisations set up to resists the landlords. The one exception top this has been the Tenants' Association in the Holland Street area of the city (see 'Solidarity' Aberdeen No.1). This association has managed to get most of its members rents reduced and has carried out two well supported demonstrations against the victimisation and harassment by the landlord and her agents. Though perhaps it has been rather quiet over the past few weeks, it is to be hoped that this example of tenants' action will encourage other in Aberdeen.
The council estates have been quiet for a year since the increases in rent mentioned above. At the time of those increases it looked for a while that strong tenants' organisations might be developed to fight them, such was the anger and militancy expressed by the tenants to fight well against the council, they were turned into electioneering committees for the good of the C.P. Indeed as far as the C.P. were concerned, the whole rents campaign became a means to fight a council by-election. Thus betrayed by those claiming to have their interests closest to heart, the tenants' militancy was dissipated and the campaign collapsed.
technology and workers' control
I'd like to add two comments to the article I wrote in the last months issue ('Alienation and workers control', Solidarity Aberdeen No. 2)
Alienation and technology
The first is on the question of technology. I stressed the prime importance of transforming the relations of production because in the struggle against alienation, in the struggle of workers to control all aspects of their lives this stage can be reached soonest. However it is only the first step, the entire technology, the mode of production, must also change.
It is wrong to imagine our present technology as being an unchangeable system, in fact it is constantly being refined by capitalism to maximise its profits, to squeeze a bit more out of the worker. This process can be observed over the last few hundred years in the form of dilution of skilled labour and the development of assembly line techniques. This jobs originally performed by craftsman are increasingly split up and fragmented until we reach the logical conclusion in today's totally dehumanised and routinised assembly lines.
In the engineering industry this process is apparent in so far as the machine tools being produced today have a more limited repertoire of performance than they had say 10 years ago so that the degree of control and initiative exercised by the operator is being continually reduced. The worker is being continually pushed towards the automaton or robot that is the ideal of management and industrial capital. The only way in which work can be humanised is for workers to control not only the relations of production but also to control and determine the direction and nature of the means of production as they develop. This is what we mean by workers power.
Workers Control: Will It Work?
I didn't discuss this question or suggest detailed blueprints in last months article, firstly, because plans for workers control and management of any mill or factory can only be drawn up by the workers involved; as to the question of the feasibility of workers control this lies ultimately in individuals belief in their ability to manage their own lives and working conditions rather the being manipulated and dominated by managers and foremen.
An aura of mystery and power surrounds management, especially its upper echelons but this is largely propagated by management itself, anxious to maintain the myth that the 'chosen few' are necessary to control and direct the 'great unwashed', (that is, you, me and all out mates!). However, anyone who has worked for any length of time in a factory or on a building site, can reel off a list of managerial balls-ups which were obvious to the 'great unwashed' and could have been avoided if anybody had asked them. But if anyone on the shop floor should suggest that the managerial gods just might be wrong, they're usually told by the foreman that they're paid to work not to think.
Among themselves the management don't seem too sure of their own infallibility as is apparent from the following quotations from business publications.
The 'Business Supplement' of the 'Times' recently (December 30, 1968) published an article Mary Bosticco (When your own staff can solve a problem). In it we find: “Would it surprise you to learn that the best possible management problem solver is available to you free of charge? …. It is of course your own staff: the people who spend every working day selling your goods, making your products, pounding your typewriters. Your salesmen, the people who see your customers; the men at the bench – who come across the same snag day after day; the clerical staff, and everyone whose work is affected every day by faulty communication and poor management.”
In his book 'Modern Automation', David Foster, a former director of several companies, predicts that the boss will soon be made redundant (and not before time, perhaps) by the development of automation. He claims that the secret of management is is “a certain special type of Pandora's Box possessed by top managers and hidden away from the the sight of the hoi-poloi … It consists of three things, namely vital statistics, trend graphs and simplified business formula … If only the workmen in his factory realised how easy its has now become for the chairman to control the business of 10,000 people, they would be very surprised … Computer automation threatens the very existence of top management in all specialities because their Pandora's Boxes are about to become a millisecond routine on a magnetic tape”.
So maybe the boss isn't so important after all.
Solidarity: for workers' power (Aberdeen) #04
Solidarity for workers’ power– Aberdeen - Number 4
The industrial front
The class struggle in Portugal
Review by C.A. : The great Flint sit-down strike against GM 1936-37, a pamphlet by Solidarity North London
Student revolt by K.N.
More from C.P.T.
As we see it
Solidarity: for workers' power (Aberdeen) #05
Solidarity for workers’ power– Aberdeen - Number 5
Stoneywood : beatermen
Joint mills leaflet
C.P.T. and Cummins
Student revolt by L.A.W.
Free schools group by R.A.
As we see it
Solidarity: for workers' power (Aberdeen) #06
Issue 6 of the Aberdeen group of Solidarity's magazine, covering disputes of bus workers, fishermen and others. Probably from 1970.
Scots bus strike & the aberdeen crews
This being the sixth issue of Solidarity (Aberdeen), it is a convenient point at which to evaluate the successes and failures of the magazine so far.
Over the last year since the first issue appeared, the magazine has become the main, if not the sole political activity of the Aberdeen group. Ohis has meant that leafleting has almost ceased, and that a large amount of the time at meetings is occupied with magazine affairs. On the other hand the group performs a collective activity in writing, producing and selling the magazine which develops the ability of its members. For the group itself, the magazine has been a qualified success, and if there is more discussion on articles before they are printed, and the 'slighter' articles revert to leaflet form, we can overcome the disadvantages.
When we come to the content of the magazine we meet other problems. We have tended to rush issue out around a central important industrial article; this has helped to ensure that we have remained centred almost exclusively on industry. In this field our achievements have been considerable, covering fishermen (issues 1, 2, and 6) engineers (issues 3 and 4), paper-mill workers (issues 1, 2, and 5) as well as bus-workers (issue 6). These articles have combined a degree of accurate reportage with attempts to analyse the events in question. And on the basis of our industrial work, our ideas on workers management of industry, with our critique of modern capitalist production and the trades unions have met with a good response. At three or four large factories in the city we sell large numbers of every issue of the magazine, whether its contains material on that factory or not.
We have remained solely concerned with industry and have produced some important material on foreign struggles, on tenant groups, and on students and pupils. But the magazine has shown a marked lack of any theoretical material. Due to our concern with local industry and our predominantly industrial readership (about 60%), we have tended to stick to safe subjects. We would like to see more articles of a 'traditional' theoretical nature, eg on economics, history, bureaucracy etc., as well as debates on those topics which are beginning to become important in modern society:- consumption (page 9), technology, ecology etc. These topics are not esoteric, but related to our task of a total critique of modern society, its ideas and institutions.
Although industry is still the area in which the majority of people spend most of their lives, the percentage of both is decreasing; new areas of struggle are opening up, not only among new layers of society, but also over new issues.
Another failing of the magazine has been in establishing links between people in struggle, in acting as an unofficial means of communication in opposition to the bourgeois press. People have been willing to give us information by word of mouth, or in interviews, but few of the articles in the magazine are written by non-solidarists involved in struggles. A greater balance is needed, if the magazine is to survive, between analyses of struggles from the outside, and reportage of struggles from the inside.
The magazine, then, has been a success insofar as it has provided a continuing collective group activity which has developed the potential of the members, and in its detailed coverage of the industrial front in Aberdeen, which has built up a steady readership on the basis of political content.
On the debit side there has been a minimum of feedback from the industrial readership, and we have failed to apply our critique of society and ideas on self-management to fields other than the industrial to a significant degree. The continuing validity of the magazine in the coming months depends on our ability to tackle these problems in future issues.
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Scots bus strike & the aberdeen crews
The Scottish Bus Strike highlighted some aspects of the present stage of the class struggle. Until fairly recently 'Wildcat' strikes were waged passively, and the employers and trades union officials were often successful when they combined to smash this threat to industrial peace.
But recently we have seen unofficial strikes being waged very actively, and the emergence of strike committees controlled by the workers in dispute. This has necessitated a change in tactics by the management and unions; the unions have more and more been declaring large scale strikes official in the interests of emasculating the strike committees. This has seen the Fords' and Port Talbot strikes last year, and nearer home in the Trawl Strike last summer. In this article we will deal with some aspects of the recent strike, and the failure of the Aberdeen crews to join it.
The striking busmen were employed by the various companies (S.M.T. Alexanders, Eastern Scottish and Highland) which belong to the nationalised Scottish Bus Group. This employs about 12,000 workers, and made £3.4 millions in profit in 1968, about £190 per worker per year, compared with a comparable £150 in England and Wales. Like most Scottish busworkers, the men belong to the T.&.G.W. Union, whose busmen's section has the infamous record of sabotage of bus strikes in London in 1958, and Liverpool in 1968.
The strike began in Kirkcaldy in February, and was initially official. The main demands were for an £18 a week basic wage, and equal pay for drivers and conductresses. But when the T.G.W.U accepted a much lower offer, this was rejected by the men who then carried on the strike unofficially.
The strike spread throughout Central Scotland, and by mid-march there were 10,000 workers involved in the struggle.
WAGING THE STRUGGLE
This struggle was actively waged by the workers involved, who, independent of the Union:-
organised mass demonstrations throughout central scotland
convened a meeting in Larbert attended by over 400 workers from all the strike-bound areas to discuss strategy
arranged trips to Perth which brought crews there into the strike, and prevented Aberdeen buses entering Glasgow and Edinburgh
offered to run buses to hospitals and factories at certain times; this offer was blocked by management and ignored by the press.
The strike committee maintained a hostile attitude towards both the management and the union officials, and helped in the distribution of a Clydeside “Solidarity” leaflet attacking them both.
The final settlement, after 2 weeks of strike, gave the men £17:10s a week and the promise of equal pay for conductresses with 3 years service, and for all conductresses by 1972. A comparison of the struggle in central scotland with what happened in Aberdeen shows that the problems facing workers vary not only from industry to industry, but even in different localities of the same industry.
THE ABERDEEN CREWS
An obvious question to be asked is why the workers in Aberdeen, employed by Alexanders and numbering 200, didn't join the strike, although their sympathy for the strikers was obvious.
The first thing to point out is that the country bus-workers in Aberdeen number among themselves a large proportion of workers from non-industrial rural areas; which is not the case in central scotland. The Aberdeen workers thus have less of a tradition of militancy. In addition the majority of the drivers are older men who are pessimistic about the value of struggling. The conductresses tend to work with the company only a few months, and do not form a real base for militant action. An additional factor is that in Alexanders the drivers are under individual contracts, and strike action is in breach of these. The men believe that the management would use a strike to draw up new contracts, meaning the rapid introduction of one-man buses on most routes.
The introduction of these is planned in any case as a gradual measure. The first one-man buses out of Aberdeen should begin to operate soon. The management say that none of the present conductresses will be sacked, but that one man operation will be introduced through 'natural wastage', that is when a 'clippie' leaves or retires, she will not be replaced, and gradually most routes will be one-man operation. The Union is co-operating all the way with this scheme, which will mean greatly increased profits for the management, a poorer service for passengers and much extra work for little extra pay for the drivers. No wonder the management are granting equal pay by 1978, there will be practically no conductresses then.
There will be difficulties of change at the stops for drivers, who will also have to act as parcel and newspaper agents, causing delays etc. In addition there is the complicated system of fares to manage, for example, on the Banchory route (18 miles) there are 28 stages, and the driver will continually have to check fairs.
DIVIDE AND RULE: CONDITIONS
The management have also carefully fostered divisions amongst the workers over a long period. There is an “aristocracy” of drivers who make big money in the summer, on the bus trips into the country around Aberdeen for the tourists, and who do not wish to jeopardise this. With the low wages, overtime is necessary, and some of the workers find themselves able to work a 55-60 hour week.
On the other hand the majority of the drivers can only get a few hours overtime, if any at all. And now drivers often find themselves with 'spiffers', split shifts which mean that you may be away from town 12 hours, but only work 7 and get paid a mere extra hours wages for the split shift.
Conditions are not good; buses being often run without proper heating in winter. Wages before the strike were low at 6/10½d an hour, much lower than lorry drivers, cleansing drivers etc. And the 5-day week has only just been agreed in Aberdeen, previously the men worked 6 days.
Discipline is also strict; and workers can be suspended for thee days for various offenses. A driver may lose half his wages by being suspended for having his jacket unbuttoned on duty, and receive reprimands for long hair, untidiness etc.
Conductresses are reprimanded for jumping off buses and can be suspended for not wearing their hats in warm weather. Before being employed by Alexanders a man is checked to see if he has a police record, and before starting work must undergo at his own expense (£4:4) a medical exam.
These conditions, some of which are specific to Aberdeen, help to explain the lack of militancy among crews, and their fear of taking action. Previous attempts by the younger workers at stirring things up have failed; on one occasion a decision to strike was sabotaged when the first crews to report for work were intimidated into taking out their buses, the rest followed suit.
In present struggle demands were made for a meeting to discuss the strike. Signatures were collected and posted up in the garage demanding a meeting. This was convened for March 21st at midnight, and the crews decided to join in the struggle imposing an overtime ban and work to rule against the advice of the union official at the meeting. In the event, the decision had little effect, since the strike ended a few days later.
The rationalisation of the buses, both rural and municipal to produce greater profits at the workers expense will undoubtedly provoke struggles in the future; the method by which these are to be waged should be discussed now. There are various necessities;
1. Improved liaison between workers at rank and file level and the development of the workers own means of communication, to combat the lies of the press and union officials.
2. Consideration should be given to running the buses without collecting the fares, a direct attack on the bosses that does not inconvenience other workers. Also effective would be a series of one-day rotating lightening strikes between various depots, a maximum inconvenience to the bosses, which limits the mens loss of earnings. A particular need in Aberdeen is for pickets to be out in force to ensure that the fiasco of the last attempted strike is not repeated. It is important that the lessons of the past are learned and remembered.
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I work in a hotel of fairly average size, with about 57 rooms and employing staff of about 24, excluding those employed at functions, etc.
Hotel work can be exceedingly boring, just as other forms of work in today's society are. My particular job involves making about 17 beds a day (that is in the summer season, it is less in winter), cleaning out sinks with abrasive cleansers (no gloves are supplied), and hoovering rooms, all for the princely sum of £6 a week, 36 hours in all.
The management, having decided to economise, have got rid of one of the four housemaids and expect the remaining three to do the work just the same without a penny extra pay.
Also in this economy drive one of the three porters has been sacked (conveniently) and no replacement is to be taken on, which means that when the remaining porters have time off, the waitresses from the dining hall will have to do the porters' work, carrying luggage up three flights of stairs; neither the porters or the waitresses will receive any increase in pay. The porters earn £10 for a 44-hour week and the waitresses 3/9d. the hour.
The cleaners who clean out all the toilets, male and female, get a measley 10/- dirty money bringing up their pay to a total of £6:10s for a 36-hour week, still well below the standard rate for cleaners of this type. In most hotels the only people paid to scale are the chef and the cook, as a walk-out by these people could paralyse the hotel.
The so-called advantages of this type of work is that it is reasonably warm and clean work compared with some forms of industrial work. This is one of the reasons why we are paid such ridiculously low wages.
There is also the 'personal relationship' between management and staff, but this is obviously more of an advantage to the management. When any dispute or complaint arises, the manager can usually brush it aside as a result of this personal relationship. Another so called advantage is tips; the method used where I work is not the commonly used pooled system, but a 10% charge onto the bills of weddings, functions etc., which is distributed among the staff once a month, the amount can vary from £1 to £5. Other tips you get in the rooms of the guests etc. are your own. This causes a lot of strife amongst the staff (a feeling of competition) who try to outdo each other boasting of te tips they get.
There are many factors against the unity of workers in such a small and close establishment. It is hard to get people to forget their differences and decide to act in solidarity. Considering the actions of hotel workers in Paris, May 1968, who took over their hotels and ran them themselves, we can conclude that actions by these sections or workers is most likely to occur when general unrest is rampant throughout the working-class.
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The driving forces of the economic system under which we live is the accumulation of capital; this necessitates continuous production and consumption. Without continuous production and consumption, capital accumulation would be impossible, and the system would not be able to operate. The system is kept going by a small group of people who buy labour and sell goods at a profit to enable them to buy more labour and raw materials to produce more goods.
The whole social system is run for the benefit of this minority who use the weight of the army, politico force and legal system to maintain their privilege to make a profit. This minority neither produce nor consume significantly, and therefore, in order to maintain and increase their profits, the capitalists must persuade the vast majority not only to produce and increase their production, but to consume and increase their consumption.
It is obvious that the system would collapse if the vast majority of the people ceased hitherto to produce or consume. To an extent, the consumption problem is solved by people's constant need for food and shelter, the necessities of life. However, this does not solve the problem, the production of necessities would not create a big enough demand for labour to perpetuate the system. A demand has therefore to be created for non-essential goods.
This demand is created by advertising, which itself provides non-productive employment for consumers. The advertisers use all the means of communication to bombard the producers with pressure to consume. One of the features of modern capitalism is that it can turn its own weaknesses to advantage. People are promised the solution to many of the problems which the current system imposes on them if they consume certain goods. The consumers are promised, in fact, what the society cannot give, and therefore the apparent need to consume is never satisfied. Certain cigarettes, cosmetics and clothes will give you a more satisfying sex life; films, television and magazines increase 'enjoyment' of leisure time, certain types of furniture, domestic appliances etc. will beautify your domestic life- these are the unfulfilled promises. Even advertising at this level is insufficient, as eventually people would have bought all the non-essential goods and would cease to consume. The demand must be maintained.
The demand is maintained by selling people the same products again and again. There are two methods of doing this, physically shortening the life of the product, and making people want another style of the same product.
The first method, known and accepted as 'planned obsolescence' involves making goods out of materials that will not last. Examples of this occur in the production of light bulbs, where the manufacturers create only a partial vacuum within the bulb. The bodywork of of cars is made of sheet metal so thin that it soon decays, and in the production of television sets the use of certain materials has shortened the life of a set from about 20 years to 5. All this is physical obsolescence, but the desire to buy again is created in other ways.
The manufacturers of such things as cars, televisions, washing machines, introduce nearly every year some minor modification of style or function to their products. These 'innovations', while scarcely changing the usefulness of the product, have the effect of dating it, and when combined with with large-scale advertising create the idea that last years model has disadvantages over the latest version. This technique is used extensively in the field of clothing, where fashion is dictated by the manufacturer, and constantly changed. A recent example of blatant manipulation of fashion was the “old furniture must go” campaign, in which we were urged to discard old furniture and, implicitly, buy new.
An interesting feature of recent advertising has been the pseudo-reaction against large advertising and planned obsolescence. In the first case, the manufacturers of “Surf” declared that instead of spending vast sums on advertising their product, they were going to include 18% more powder in each packet it sold. In the second, Parkers, the pen manufacturers, produced as advertisement for their pens showing a man wearing a suit and holding one of their pens. The copy said that the pen would still work in 50 years, whereas the clothes would have disintegrated.
Production for waste
From planned obsolescence the logical stop was to the principle of disposability – use once and throw away. Clothes, cutlery, handkerchiefs and containers: all can now be disposable resulting in constant production and constant waste. However in this constant waste there lies a problem; a plastic container after it has served its function is virtually undestructable. Our environment is being rapidly changed into the outpourings of a system geared to consumption and more consumption. While some technologies are becoming worried by the dangers of pollution, the powerful capitalists are seeking new ways to produce consumable waste.
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What is the potential of community action? This article, written by someone involved in the events described, and not by a Solidarity member, puts forward an opinion. We feel the article raises important points, and welcome comments. -eds
HOLLAND-HUTCHEON STREET TENANT' ASSOCIATION
Holland Street, Hutcheon Street and Gerrard Street form a working class in Central Aberdeen which is almost a slum. In 1969 the tenants began to take action against their landlady, Mrs Grant, who can pull in £5000 a year from the workers in this area because her claims to their homes is supported by the police, law and the state. Why pay rent? Nine tenants applied together to the rents tribunal, some went on a rent strike and some went on protest demos with students (Solidarity Aberdeen No.1 for details). As individuals, they were powerless ... now there was a total feeling of security … it was possible now to feel now longer a victim of circumstances but able to effect these circumstances” by collective action (Tenants Assoc. Leaflet).
INSIDE THE COMMUNITY
The rents conflict established something common to all those in the area, it increased mixing among the tenants and initially defined the community but it was internally weak since splits opened when tenants began finding out about their neighbours' financial embarrassments etc. People also have to strengthen a community by internal action : by developing its own abilities. The Tenants Assoc changed to this but the majority of local tennants do not actively participate in it.
SELF-EXPRESSION : ADVENTURE PLAYGROUNDS
In June 1969, members of the Assoc discussed improvement of the area by the community itself. Three tenants visited adventure playgrounds and street parties in England. The other tenants were enthusiastic about such projects but they had to find a site for an adventure playground. The council had tried to keep people quiet when they fenced off a small sanded area in Gerrard Street. Children voted against this playground by not going there but they could now build their own playground with help from local tenants, students and school pupils. The children (5-13 years), all joined into help as much as they could to build the huts, fort swings etc., and gave a few opinions as to how it should look. They don't have the strength to knock in the big posts etc., but since they participated to their fullest and keenly watched and tested every development, it was their past that was built into their playground. They are absolutely daft on experimenting and learning with wood tools tyres ropes etc., there are few accidents – they can become confident in themselves by entering and learning new worlds of experience. This is self-expression – the children are beginning to and modify their environment instead of it controlling them. They work or play with helpers in a new equal relationship they are free to do as they like in their playground and, for once, with the approval of adults
Compare this Libertarian form of education with formal state education where authority asserts itself over the children by the rigid environment – rooms, teachers and the tag etc. Here education is repression by those elements of society which drum obedience into your heads and excludes from you the freedom of self-expression as a group or individually, by stuffing your head with irrelevencies. No wonder children rebel at school, or students sit in or workers strike.
INDOOR PLAGROUPS AND PUBLICITY
The scope of action by a community isn't limited. Parents are now holding indoor playgroups on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday evenings at nearby St. Katherine's Hall and using the nearby Lad's Club premises. The children have a great chance of a gym, 5 a-side football, netball et., there is also informal dancing, drama and singing groups. About 70 children have come along; 31 played at the new Ann Street adventure playground only ten days after it was started. All together about 135 children are saying “YES!”. The Assoc brings out “Tenants News” and “Action” to spread information about its activities.
PARTICIPATION OF THE COMMUNITY
Extra helpers came from colleges and Grammar schools; tenants may feel this association doesn't make the projects theirs, but about ten to twelve working class tenants are regularly involved. This indicates a week community since everybody's activities are needed to develop the community as a whole. However there was an enthusiastic response to two bonfire parties held in late 1969 when about 30 parents came for a chat, with their children. The elder children are even old enough to run the indoor playground themselves. These ex-students who have been tenement neighbours for 1 to 3 years act as a resource for advice. Working people have drawn on isolated resources to tie them together for grassroots action, eg. Education, parks departments, waste land, free timber, church halls etc.
NEW TENANTS GROUPS
WORKERS SELF MANAGEMENT
People cannot themselves into a community just by united action against outsiders; both the fight against Capitalism and the internal construction of a community are needed. The tenants Assoc is a small group acting for a large number of tenants who have no say in the Assoc since they are not involved, but action involving all tenants may bring it within their control – a few council tenants, formerly in the Assoc, have formed a tenants Assoc in Froghall council estate; both have cooperated to hand over a joint petition to their councillors as a first stops towards forcing the council to repair their homes.
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The following article was written as a follow-up to those in SOLIDARITY (Aberdeen) nos 1 and 2, on the long Trawl Strike of last summer. The intention is to show the effects that the settlement has has on the conditions at sea.
The author, a young trawlerman, meant to write an account of a full fishing trip, but as can be seen, the story tails off after six days of a ten day trip. The reason for this is simple; after a certain period at sea, fatigue makes any activity outside work and sleep virtually impossible. We decided to let the article stand as it is rather than have the author add to it from memory, since we believe that even as it stands, it gives a vivid picture of a trawlerman's working life.
The boat was due to leave at 9:30 this morning, and we were all down on time, since the last trip two deckies had been put on short pay for being twenty minutes late. There was a lot of bad feeling about this since an official warning was supposed to be sent before this happens and they did not get one. The owners, however, say they did send warnings and there's no doubt who the Union/Management disciplinary committee would believe. The end result was that the men had their pay taken down from £3 a day to £2.13/- a day, for a week, and the whole crew was on time this morning: another feather in the owners' cap.
One of the annoying things about this is that I've never yet known a boat sail on time, and this morning was no exception since we had to hang about waiting for provisions and then the harbour was closed to outgoing traffic until 11.45.
On top of all this there was some more trouble before we sailed. One of the deckies refused to sail because of personal differences between him and the mate. He finally ended up going ashore and the skipper phoned for the owner who in turn called the police. This is typical of the fishing industry; the owners have the law and the police on their side while the fisher men had fuck-all. After a while the police brought the deckie back and he came aboard after being told by the owner that it was either that or face a fine of up to £100 under the Mercantile Sea Act. Seeing one of your mates dragged back by the police and more or less being forced to sail isn't very pleasant; in fact its kind of reminiscent of the press-gangs of a couple of centuries ago. Finally we sailed at 11.45 and from 1.20-6.20pm, I did my stint on watch.
This morning we were called out at 3.45am and were on deck until 5.15am after which I was on watch with the second fisherman until 7.30am, followed by a stint hauling and shooting the nets and gutting fish until breakfast at 8.45am. At breakfast everybody was complaining about the gear they had got, most of which was substandard as usual. Any orders for gear such as oil-skins, rubber-boots etc., are given to the ship's runner who gets them from the store in Aberdeen and the cost is then deducted from our pay (in Hull such gear is provided free). I've been pretty lucky this trip since both my boots are the same size; the only thing is that the left one is made by Dunlop and the other by Pirelli.
One thing that really gets me down is that we have to provide our own bedding and I've seen deckies sleeping on life-jackets. These are never kept in the same place but are rammed into any spare locker at the start of the trip and indeed all life-saving gear tends to be pretty haphazard on the trawlers.
After breakfast we were called out at 10.45 and hauled, mended and shot nets by 11.45. We got five minutes for tea and then gutted what fish there was until 12.45. Dinner was from 1pm till 1.30p, and during that time conversation swung round to the Hull strike.
Apparently the trawlermen down there are asking a £20 basic wage all the year around and 100% union membership as a condition of employment – just as it is in the merchant navy. The employers have offered a new basic of £19.4/- for deckhands while they are at sea and have rejected absolutely the demand for what would be a closed shop. All the men felt sympathetic towards these demands and yet there was no string feeling of support. Many of us had felt a bit let down when the Hull and Grimsby trawlermen failed to come out in sympathy during last year's Aberdeen strike.
Personally though, I'm completely in support of their demands especially the one for shop stewards aboard each boat. One of the main purposes of having stewards would be to allow crews' views to be put to the skipper at sea without fear of penalty under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, which makes any misbehaviour or disobedience at sea, however trivial, punishable by imprisonment, including representatives on behalf of the crew, who would be treated as members of a conspiracy. There was a suggestion by the union that the 2nd fisherman on each boat represent men while at sea which seems bloody stupid, since 2nd could be a skippers' boy who did not give a fuck about the men. What we really need is a shop steward elected directly by the men on each boat.
After dinner we ere called out at 2.30pm and hauled, shot and gutted until 4.50. We were called at 5.30 and did the same until 6.25, when we had tea and a couple of hours kip till 8.45. One man slept in, but most of the crew aren't showing signs of being knackered yet. Most of the fish caught were thrown back this time and we came off deck at 9.45pm.
One of the deckies has just been having an argument with the 2nd engineer and no-one seems very sure how it all blew up. I suppose its understandable that the engineers are bad tempered bastards at times, since the new agreement after the strike they've lost their third engineer and are doing 5 hours on and 5 hours off which in the heat and noise down below would get anyone down: I don't suppose working hours like that can do much for the boat's safety either.
I was called out on watch last night at 11.45pm and was on bridge till 4.45am, then I managed a couple of hours sleep until 7.10 when we were called on deck, and by this time most of the crew were knackered. We were on deck till 8am, and then were called out fro 10.20am till 12.30pm, from 3pm till 4pm, from 6.45 till 7.55pm and from 9.40 till 10.55pm. Most of the time we were soaking wet and bloody freezing. The thing is that although the deckies have a guaranteed day rate, the skipper and mate are paid purely on results so its to their advantage to push us as hard as they can. This is what causes the big division between officers and crew.
We were called out on deck at 1.20am, this morning and were off deck at 2am; this was followed at 5.15 with another spell until 7.20am and then I was on watch with the 2nd fisherman until 10.30. After this we mended the nets and gutted the fish until 12.30. Just before going below for dinner one of the deckies got his head split open by a steel door but he's been bandaged up and the cut doesn't seem too bad. About four trips ago one of the deckie-learners got bashed in the guts by one of these steel doors and ended up in hospital in the Faroes. I met him last spell ashore and he still hasn't got any money from the penny-a-day insurance scheme since he didn't fill in the relevant forms, which is hardly surprising seeing as he was stretched out on his back in hospital at the time. Many trawlers are ignorant of the intricacies of red-tape, so when anything happens to them they are left without everything. This bloke didn't even anything from the owners.
We had dinner at 1pm, and then 40 minutes sleep before going on deck from 2.10 till 4.20. After tea, we hauled, shot and gutted from 5.30 till 7.15pm, and from 9 till 10 pm. I've just been sitting thinking about all the hours we put in on each trip; even parliament has recommended fishermen work less days, and yet during last year's strike, one of the owners stated that for him the ideal situation would be when his boats could stay out all the time and be served by supply ships. In other words they would never see port at all except for repairs. It seems almost traditional that trawlermen be treated like dirt by the owners. One of the big Sunday newspapers recently quoted a Hull owner describing the Hull trawlermen as 'gutter rats and bums'.
We were called out this morning at midnight until 1.30 followed by a couple of hours sleep and then another stint from 4 till 5.45am, then after another few hours sleep we were back on the deck from 7.30 till 9.45 and I had to continue on watch till 11.20. We finally got below at 12.20. After dinner we were called out at 2.40 and mended nets until 4.25pm by which time we were really bloody freezing. After tea we were up on deck at 7.25, hauled the gear, set the watch and steamed to new grounds.
By now I am finding it very difficult to concentrate on what I'm writing and the boy have just finished telling me I'm mad for writing what they call 'commie propaganda' instead of getting some sleep. One of the most frustrating things for a militant trawlerman out to improve conditions is that many of his mates seem proud of the fact that their job is one of the toughest and most dangerous on the go, and although they often grumble they seem reluctant to improve to their situation or 'stir the shit' as they call it. Anyone who does show signs of militancy is branded as a 'commie'. One example of this characteristic is the scorn which many trawlermen heap on fishmarket porters who get cold money in the winter. Some of the men believe that to demand this would somehow be an insult to their manhood, and yet God knows we deserve it as the cold in deck is almost unbearable at times.
We were called out at 4.50am until 5.50 this morning then I was on watch with the 2nd fisherman until 8.45 and finally got below at 10.45am. After some sleep we were on deck from 12.30 to 1.30 followed by a dinner and then bed. After this we were working again from 3.45 till 5.15pm and then from 7.30 till 9.45 we have been mending the nets and gutting etc....
Solidarity: for workers' power (Aberdeen) #07
Solidarity for workers’ power– Aberdeen - Number 7
Trawlermen versus the rest
The 1970 strike by N.R.
Alexander’s buses by C.P.
The role of the unions by C.A.
Book review by R.D. : The irrational in politics, a new Solidarity pamphlet from North London