A lesson from 1932

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I recently came across an article in the July 4 , 1932 edition of the Penistone Express, (p12) entitled: “Iron and Steel. A Stocksbridge Resolution. Private Enterprise Condemned.

This stated that: “Coun. P Schofield presided at the Stocksbridge Cinema on Sunday night, when a public meeting arranged by the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation took place.

Those present included Mr Rennie Smith, MP, Mr W Dodgson, JP, Mr WH Powis, JP, Mr R Clark, local branch secretary; and Mr S Henderson, local branch chairman.

The speakers addressed the meeting on “What’s wrong with the iron and steel trade?”

Mr Rennie Smith said they had neither in the Federation of British Industries nor the Employers Federation a programme which would solve the grave problems now before them.

The resolution which they were asked to support that night had the backing of 10years’ work behind it.

Private enterprise was not doing its job, and had not been doing it for the last 10 years.

The programme advocated by the Confederation was the only programme likely to lead from the present state of decay in which the iron and steel industry found itself today.

Penistone was a picture in miniature of the iron and steel industry of the nation.

Stocksbridge at present was living a very precarious existence.

There were three large firms interested in the industry in his constituency.

One was completely knocked out, and another was receiving blow after blow.

The other one was possibly faring better.

They had now come to the conclusion that the methods of private enterprise were doomed.

That opinion was shared by the Balfour Committee. To continue on present lines was to go from one disaster to another.

Private enterprise would not feed the workers of this country.

Socialism had not broken down, but the methods adopted by private enterprise had, and they had every evidence in their midst that it had broken down.

It was their duty to move away from a system which had proved its (inefficiency?)

The mining and textile industries had been facing the same kind of problem.

They had by now regional organisation in the mining industry.

They had to mobilise the best brains and techniques for the solution of this grave problem.

There had been a great revolution in the iron and steel industry during the past 25 years.

Private enterprise had gone straight out of existence at Penistone, and it was a public enterprise which was helping them to carry on.

Was it a right and proper thing for a private individual or group of individuals to put a whole town out of action?

The meeting was addressed by Mr Dodgson and Mr Powis.

The resolution, which was put and agreed to without dissent, was as follows: “That this meeting regards the serious position of the iron and steel industry as a matter of fundamental national importance.

“The extent to which it enters into economic life of the country, the communities which have developed around its activities, the large number of workpeople dependent on its position in relation to our export trade, make it imperative in the national interest that immediate steps be taken to secure the necessary conscious planning, organised control, and the financial means for its rehabilitation and progressive development.

“As it now appears that the attainment of these essential conditions and objectives is being prevented by the obstacle arising from the conflicting interests of private enterprise, we commend the proposals of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation to Parliament as the only practical alternative means of dealing with the situation.”

Reading this in the light of prevailing problems within the world economy in general and the remaining rump of the UK steel industry in particular, thus begs the question as to whether or not the conclusions drawn by some in 1932, can act as a lesson for the politicians and their acolytes who worship at the altar of the free market today?

Michael Parker

Robertshaw Crescent, Deepcar, Sheffield, S36