Anarchy 44/From the step of a bus

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From the step
of a bus


There are certain areas of pub­lic and so­cial activ­ity that every man con­siders him­self qual­if­ied not only to com­ment, ad­vise or ponti­fic­ate about, but to lay down dog­matic­ally im­mut­able laws, state plans of action and an­nounce fu­ture poli­cies that if fol­lowed would (he will as­sure the saloon bar reg­u­lars) pro­duce profit for all and vic­tory for some vauge and ill de­fined tar­get. Men who gaze into the in­ternal work­ings of an open pocket watch with the fas­cin­ated hor­ror of an hyp­not­ized rabbit will, with the aid of a pen­cil and a cap­tive audi­ence, re­site atomic plants, lay out huge indus­trial town­ships, trans­fer tens of thou­sands of their un­for­tunate fel­low coun­try­men half way around the world for the greater good of in­dus­trial pro­duc­tiv­ity and de­vise trans­port hells that not only would span the world even to the ut­most lim­its of the bar room counter, but would pop­u­late de­serts and jun­gles though at the same time turn­ing the hab­it­able parts of this earth over to the beasts and the birds. There are such men who would hesit­ate to switch on a tele­vi­sion set without the super­vi­sion of some qual­if­ied woman, yet left to them­selves would out-Napo­leon Napo­leon by send­ing armies flat foot­ing across Europe, fleets of planes into other people’s broad blue yonders, and navies across oceans, up rivers and down canals to win un­dec­lared wars for un­dec­lared ob­jects. Yet such is the fun­da­mental sim­pli­city of most of our human prob­lems that in most part they are cor­rect in their as­sump­tions. For un­like the ex­perts they ap­proach these prob­lems not from the ex­perts’ wet-eyed view-point but from that of the so­cial user and suf­ferer. Time and time again the Unit One of the human race has been sac­ri­ficed without apo­logy for a draw­ing board mis­take; and mil­lions of men, women and chil­dren have lived out their short and miser­able lives to en­able an in­dus­trial­ist or a pol­it­i­cian to prove a thesis or show the share­hold­ers a pro­fit and when the second gen­er­a­tion ex­perts have arisen to lay their dry dead hands on new “facts”, or with the wis­dom of hind­sight burn­ing bright within the rims of their rim­less spec­tacles, proven that all pre­vi­ous theor­ies were the in­tel­lec­tual dross of their dear old dad, then they in their turn will ex­pound heresy. Un­less they ac­cept the sim­ple and fun­da­mental truth that in­di­vidual man must not be sac­ri­ficed for a myth­ical fu­ture for pos­ter­ity and that the key and the test of all human activ­it­ies is the well being of each and every in­di­vidual. It is at this point that the saloon bar dreamer and the ex­pert make com­mon cause and reach a com­mon fail­ure. For what­ever plans they con­ceive, whether drawn in beer or
typed in tri­pli­cate, they are geared to their own par­tic­u­lar so­cial group­ing and can only be put into oper­a­tion at the ex­pense of less for­tun­ate people. But of all fields of so­cial activ­ity none oc­cupy the user more than that of mass human trans­port. Here is the one so­cial func­tion to which they are forced by cir­cum­stance of em­ploy­ment or pleas­ure to be the daily vic­tim. Each day in every town and city they stand in their queues wait­ing and wait­ing for the bus that never seems to come. They will crowd, in con­di­tions that rightly we would not allow anim­als to suf­fer, into the Under­ground sys­tems of the ma­jor cities of the world and they will vent their hate and anger on the lone and solit­ary bus con­duc­tor in the prison/warder re­la­tion­ship that this mobile Kafka cir­cus cre­ates. For here is the one person who can be forced by eco­nomic im­prison­ment to stand and ac­cept their whines, their in­so­lence, their bit­ter con­tempt, their intel­li­gent ob­ser­va­tions or their stark bab­bling luna­cies. Yet of all men the bus con­duc­tor is the least able to help them for like them he is the vic­tim of a so­ciety that holds that pro­fit and not so­cial ser­vice must be the key-stone of every com­munal en­deav­our, for it is a sys­tem that pan­ders to the bully among the pas­sen­gers and the whin­ing gut­less syco­phant among the em­ployed staff. And men will stand in rain-swept queues and prove to their damp and in­dif­fer­ent neigh­bours that if such and such a plan were fol­lowed and put into im­medi­ate oper­a­tion they would have a trans­port serv­ice that would carry them with ease and swift­ness to their des­tin­a­tions. And they will hud­dle in the sway­ing bus search­ing for the small sliver of their fare wor­ry­ing and won­der­ing if they will reach their place of em­ploy­ment on time and what ex­cuse they can offer for their late­ness.   And the ob­ject of their con­tained hat­red for­ces his way through the bus as ir­ri­ta­ted as the tra­vel­ler and hat­ing the col­lec­tive for its slow­ness and its in­so­lence and the stu­pid­ity and the ar­ro­gance of the small but vo­cal min­or­ity. As the pas­sen­ger is the pri­soner of those who plan our so­ci­ety for their own min­or­ity well-being, so the con­duc­tor in his turn is the vic­tim of this same ab­stract au­thor­ity. Be­hind him stand an array of uni­formed and plain-clothed of­fi­cials that de­mand that he shall be held re­spon­sible for every single un­col­lec­ted fare and even for the tra­vel­ler who would, by ac­ci­dent or de­sign, ride a hun­dred yards passed his paid jour­ney. For London Trans­port obey the oldest of bad em­ploy­ers’ weap­ons: to gov­ern by fear and threats. Let a child of three be found on a crowded bus with­out a ticket and the bus con­duc­tor will be re­ported for an of­fi­cial inter­view with the Chief Depot In­spec­tor. Let any person, by ac­ci­dent or de­sign, travel beyond his paid jour­ney and the con­duc­tor will be held re­spon­sible and asked to ex­plain why he al­lowed such an in­ci­dent to hap­pen on “his bus”. That it is liter­ally im­pos­sible for any man to know what ticket each per­son on a crowded bus is hold­ing or where each per­son has booked to should be self-evi­dent and a simple test could prove it. A crowded bus holds sixty-one people, ignor­ing the fact that people are con­tinu­ally board­ing and alight­ing, and the cold and clin­ical test is to have sixty-one people stand­ing in a line. Let an of­fi­cial walk along that line and then let each in­di­vidual name a fare of his own choos­ing. Then let that same of­fi­cial again walk
along that line and cor­rectly re­name each and every one of the sixty-one named fares. It is, of course, a men­tally im­pos­sible feat and London Trans­port, as every other em­ployer knows, is aware that this fact is self-evi­dent, but they work on the an­cient and his­tor­ic­ally tested thesis that fear is the eas­i­est weap­on to con­trol those you hire and that tar­gets of work should always be pitched beyond the work­man’s cap­abi­lit­ies. Its out­come is that a man works like a rat in a Pavlov trap with­out any ap­par­ent super­vi­sion yet always with the know­ledge that at any mo­ment a uni­formed of­fi­cial will check the bus or that at any time of the day and night he is under the un­known super­vi­sion of plain clothed of­fi­cials tra­vel­ling on these self same buses as fare pay­ing pas­sen­gers. It could be held that this is but the trivia of any dis­con­ten­ted staff, were it not that within our present so­ci­ety a whole organ­iza­tion is built upon men and women doing what is a com­pletely time-wast­ing func­tion. For it is on the basis of what the con­duc­tor col­lects in fares that our trans­port ser­vice is planned or cut.

  Within the last few years there has been a large in­flux of co­loured and casual labour and it is thanks to them that much of the child­ish dis­cipline of London Trans­port has had to be aban­doned.

  The pre-war bus crews were men who loved the lash. Highly paid, and cocks within their own work­ing class areas, they took a per­verse pride in their sub­servi­ence. They were the men who loved to stand to at­ten­tion, wear their gleam­ing white coats on the cor­rect day of the year and who knew their well-paid place within their semi-mili­tary organ­iza­tion. But un­dis­ciplined labour from over­seas has made a for­tun­ate havoc of many stu­pid rules. The bare headed men and women, the co­loured scarves, open necked shirts, brown shoes, the oc­ca­sional punch­ing of a pas­sen­ger, skirts of their own choos­ing in­stead of the of­fi­cial uni­form-wear, are small com­forts that have been won against the em­ployer and with­out any as­sist­ance from the of­fi­cial union by people who are in­dif­fer­ent to the prized hu­mil­ity of the old guard bus­men. For the con­stant break­ing of drear little rules have forced the em­ployer to shrug off with an ill grace their im­pos­sible en­force­ment. That there is a lesson there for the union of­fi­cials to learn is but wasted ef­fort, for though the casu­ally em­ployed co­loured work­men and women have done more to lighten the dis­ciplin­ary bur­den within the last five years than the old time bus-men and the of­fi­cial union have achieved within the last fifty years, it would be idle to sug­gest that this debt is ac­know­leged. The old guard is still there, though in smal­ler num­bers every year, for­ever seek­ing an of­fi­cial ear to whine into about the good old days when men knew their place, and when one had to col­lect fares look­ing like a bus­man. And they will tell old nostal­gic tales of how, so many years ago, Old Piss-the-Bed was sent home for not wear­ing a white shirt or of how they beat a re­port by the quot­ing of an ob­scure regu­la­tion and how the gov­ernor winked at them as they marched smartly out of the office.

  And they gaze with open con­tempt at their co­loured work­ers and won­der in loud voices when all this riff-raff will be kicked off the job, and the job get back to nor­mal, and the of­fi­cial lean­ing through the
cubby hole will nod his head in sage agree­ment and talk of the need for dis­cipline. The London Trans­port sys­tem is always re­ferred to as pub­lic trans­port and by the con­tin­ual use of that simple title people have come to ac­cept it as a pub­lic serv­ice and to judge its fail­ings ac­cord­ingly. This is one of those abys­mal jokes that even old Unit One stand­ing on a wind­swept, rain­swept street wait­ing for a non-run­ning bus can­not drain out of his men­tal back­ground. Yet the London buses are there, as is every other busi­ness big or small, for no other pur­pose than to sell to those who can af­ford to pay, and when there is no pro­fit to be made they do the same as every other busi­ness clique does: they close shop. Like the small shop­keeper they close down their busi­ness when or where trade is slack and like the mult­iple stores they close bran­ches or routes that are no longer con­sid­ered pro­fit­able. Old Unit One stand­ing at his sub­urban and use­less bus-stop will grip his mem­ber­ship card of his local Con­serv­ative Ass. and tell the world, in a low and re­spec­table rage, that the London Trans­port Ex­ec­utive have no con­sider­a­tion for the gen­eral pub­lic and Unit One is so right. Yet in a so­ci­ety that ac­cepts the pro­fit motive as its only dyn­amic and cares for its old and sick under duress, bus­less Unit One never asks him­self the obvi­ous ques­tion of why any­one in the so­cial set-up which he ap­proves for others, should waste time and energy run­ning a bus for his pal­try fare.

  The small child with­out the price of a bus fare will have to walk and the old men and women will drag them­selves on their ach­ing legs for the lux­ury of pub­lic trans­port is not for them, no mat­ter how many buses clog the road. For with­out a hand­ful of cop­per coins the phrase pub­lic trans­port is a dis­mal mock­ery. It is in­deed a mock­ery to label any in­dus­try that oper­ates on a pro­fit basis a pub­lic ser­vice. One can have little sym­pathy with the broader mass of the lower-middle-class who on one single day of every fifth year pledge their al­le­giance to the prin­ciples of per­sonal pro­fit, cut-throat com­peti­tion for others, and the ab­ro­ga­tion of any so­cial ser­vice that does not bene­fit them di­rectly, then spend the in­ter­ven­ing four years and three-hundred-and-sixty-four days de­mand­ing that their means of trans­port should oper­ate in their par­tic­u­lar sub­urb as a pub­licly-sub­sid­ised so­cial ser­vice along with their pub­lic lava­tory, lib­rary, church and sewer­age sys­tem.

  One can have little sym­pathy with old Unit One but no mat­ter how much one may dis­like him and all he stands for with his per­sonal greed and anti-so­cial at­ti­tudes, ex­cept where his own per­sonal com­forts are in­volved, one can­not plan any so­cial enter­prise on a basis of hate or con­tempt. For no mat­ter how much others may abuse or de­ride what one has at­tempted or achieved one must still plan for bet­ter so­cial ser­vices not as a single and reach­able goal but as links in a chain that alters with the new so­cial con­di­tions that each new so­cial change will cre­ate. It was a su­preme tra­gedy that the Labour gov­ern­ment of 1945 failed to measure up to the task and the op­por­tun­ity that his­tory thrust upon them. It was not be­cause they were the in­com­pet­ents of the tory press, or the trait­ors of the com­mun­ist press, that they failed; but that the whole of their back­ground and train­ing blinded them to their des­tiny
and these nice middle-class Fabian in­tel­lec­tu­als threw away a cen­tury of work­ing class ideal­ism in a worth­less ef­fort to prove that they could run a <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: State-capit­al­ist">State-capit­al­ist so­ciety as pro­fit­ably as the in­di­vid­ual in­dus­trial­ists whose broken and bank­rupt in­dus­tries they took over.

  Yet already they held in their hands an in­dus­try that could have been the show piece of pub­lic owner­ship and pub­lic ser­vice and this was the London Trans­port sys­tem. This sys­tem could have been the cor­ner­stone for the whole of pub­lic owner­ship as en­vis­aged by the John-the-Baptists of the mil­it­ant work­ing class for the Labour Party could have poin­ted to its London trans­port sys­tem and said “here is the blue print for a new way of living”. With a Machia­vel­lian use of cap­ital in their first year of of­fice they could have abo­lished the fares sys­tem and in­sti­tuted a real­istic scheme of work­ers con­trol and man­age­ment that others would have ac­cepted as the fount of all other so­cial en­deav­ours

  Here was an in­dus­try free of the dead hand of middle-class con­trol for all con­trol was al­ready in the hands of men with work­ing class back­grounds, and though there is no virtue in this fact it meant that as every of­fi­cial was a minor career man al­ready bro­ken to the ac­cept­ance of work­ing without chal­len­ging those who formu­la­ted policy, the in­dus­try would not have had to fight the black­mail that the med­ical polit­icoes did not hesit­ate to use in their battle against Bevan. A trans­port sys­tem oper­at­ing for need not pro­fit with only the cost of wage/main­ten­ance to find.

  Without its hoards of para­sitic of­fi­cials, as free to use or re­ject as the water in a pub­lic foun­tain. Oper­ated by the men them­selves and an­swer­able to each local coun­cil. Owned and con­trolled by the com­mun­ity it would be re­garded not as the harlot among our pseudo so­cial ser­vices but an ac­cepted and in­dis­pens­able part of our so­cial fabric.