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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Making things for ourselves

The recent revelation that £123 million has been spent air-freighting essential personal protection equipment (PPE) from the People’s Republic of China to Britain since the beginning of the pandemic is a damning reflection of the state of the British manufacturing industry. Whilst this might gladden the hearts of Richard Branson and the shareholders of British Airways despairing over the empty seats on their aeroplanes, this demonstrates a remarkable weakness in the British economy in that such vital items cannot be easily manufactured at home. (We shall leave the question of stockpiling for emergencies for another day.)

The World War Two Air Raid Precautions first aid kit sitting near the Editor’s desk is composed entirely of British-made items, albeit from raw materials from around the globe.

The need to rebuild British manufacturing is not based on nostalgia for those days however, nor for the more distant industrial revolution era when the British textile industry swamped the world with its machine-made products that caused misery to hand producers in Britain and India. Now that Saville Row and similar products are more or less all that is left of the British textile industry, it is not surprising that there was no switch in production from glad rags to PPE. (That is not to deny the continued existence of sweatshops in Britain, of course.)

Protectionism is of course no cure for the ills of the British economy. If we want the Chinese to drink our malt whisky we have to buy something of theirs, and there is no good reason to deprive ourselves of a decent washing machine because it was made abroad.

Protectionism would be unpopular with most people. Car workers might like restrictions on car imports for a while, but when they do their weekend shopping, they would not be pleased at being denied the chance to purchase a Chinese mobile phone, which are now are the best in the world. These devices are now based on research carried out in Chinese universities and research institutes, not copied legally or otherwise from Silicon Valley products, so we have nothing to gain by denying ourselves access to them. There is very little evidence that the British working class is ready for leading a high-minded life of Tolstoy-like simplicity.

That said, there are undesirable environmental costs in many foreign trade transactions, particularly for time-sensitive products that need air and road transport. Manufacturing basic products would do much to create jobs for those not overburdened with paper qualifications and spare them from a life of unemployment and precarious employment in those service industries that only flourish when people have spare money to spend on holidays and meals out.

It defeats much of the purpose of recycling if discarded goods are transported across the globe. Such enterprises are urgently needed but because they tend not to generate huge profits for shareholders, they remain on the drawing board. Despite the fantasies of the Greenies, an environmentally secure future does not depend on people making scented candles on their kitchen tables or flower-flavoured gin in their bathtubs, but on large factories that make solid durable goods in a sustainable manner, which give economies of scale in energy use.

Our departure from the European Union (EU) has made it possible for Britain to ignore instructions about how the British economy should be run in the interests of Franco-German imperialism. Of course, the Withdrawal Agreement was drawn up in the interests of the City of London and not of the working class, who have other interests.

That does not mean we should wring our hands in despair about the small print of the agreement. Working-class struggle must up its games to a point where the red flag, not company logos, flutter from the factories, and that production of both essential and not so essential goods is controlled by the working class in its own interests and not in those of shareholders from home or abroad