Socialist Worker

'We made it, so it's ours'

Issue No. 1691

In my view

'We made it, so it's ours'

By Mike Rosen

HAVE YOU ever wondered how it is we learn that two completely opposite things are both true? On the one hand, Tony Blair keeps telling us that the NHS or the teachers can't have more money unless they change.

Meanwhile there's a whole lot of other stuff that we learn can't change, won't change and it would be very dangerous to attempt to change. So take Rover. What has to happen, we are told, is sale and closure. It's the rule of nature that says that if you are a big businessman and you buy up a firm that doesn't do very well you can flog it on to someone else. When this kind of thing happens, sometimes the people in that firm start to ask questions.

When hundreds or thousands of people look like losing their livelihoods, they can begin to look at who owns what and why. And if you start asking questions like this, sometimes people find that the best thing to do is simply to go into work and stay put. In other words-occupy. In the 1970s I got involved in the occupation at the Triumph works. There, at Meriden, were a few hundred men who knew how to make motorbikes. A millionaire who knew nothing about making anything bought the factory and immediately made plans to close it. Piled up just inside the perimeter fence was crate upon crate of finished bikes. For years the men at Triumph had watched those crates go out through the gates and had quietly gone down to the cashiers to collect their wages.

Now they did something that had never occurred to them to do before. They locked the gates and walked about repeating over and over again, "We made the bikes, so we own the bikes." At that moment they were challenging the very roots of our society. Everything that we are told can't change was up for grabs. They were challenging what Karl Marx called "the relations of production"- how we relate to each other around that matter of making things. They were challenging who had the right to own the factory itself. They could see that if the people who made the bikes had made all the profits, then it was that work which had paid for the factory and all the machines in it many times over.

From there, some people in some occupations have started to imagine something else-a world geared up to making things for use and not for profit. So the workers at Lucas Aerospace in the 1970s started to imagine how their skills could be used to make safer public transport and much better invalid cars. Now, looking back over past occupations, it's dead easy to wag the finger and say they don't work, can't work and never have worked. But to say that misses the point. We never say that this kind of big change in the relations of production is going to be easy, or that it will happen overnight.

One of the things that happens is that people at crunch moments come to see how the world doesn't have to be set up in the way that we are told that it must be. They glimpse a change. They imagine another way in which things could be run, where production could be under the control and ownership of the real producers, and how in such a world we wouldn't be planning how to compete against, beat and destroy the people in the next town or country. We would be working out the best ways to feed, house, clothe and provide for all of us.

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Article information

Sat 8 Apr 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1691
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