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The Fictitious Commodity

Andy Cumbers writes in Variant:

“The question is not how men and women can be fitted to the needs of the system – but how the system can be fitted to the needs of men and women.”

When Tony Benn, Minister for Industry, turned the valve to allow the first oil from the North Sea to come ashore on the 18th June 1975, few would have predicted the shape the industry would take over the next three decades. In economic terms, it was obvious, even at this early stage, that the oil revenues would provide a much needed boost to the UK’s broader economic fortunes and its flagging Balance of Payments position. In the political climate of the mid 1970s – with a strong and growing trade union movement – optimism abounded, that oil might provide the impetus for broader social change. Certainly, for Benn and many on the left of the labour movement, even the young Gordon Brown – who was then making his way as an emerging socialist politician – there was much debate about the prospects for
economic democracy and public ownership. One of the key elements of this transformation was the establishment on a nationalised oil company, the British National Oil Corporation, to ensure that the benefits of oil were shared with workers and communities, rather than lining the pockets of the oil companies and their financial backers in the City.

…In the wake of the election of the Conservatives in 1979, the issue of workers’ rights and union representation in the North Sea disappeared from the agenda. As is now well known, the result was an employment environment driven by the interests of multinational corporations, which coincided with the desire of the Government to
pump oil out of the seas as fast as possible to prop up the ailing public finances. The broader context of the time was rising unemployment, the haemorrhaging of British industry and a deeply unpopular government.

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Categories: Economics, Europe
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