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Skill – why it matters

Transforming nature through labour is the source of all wealth. Skilled labour combines comprehension with technique. Animals survive mainly through the use of habit and instinct; humans must above all use intelligence and learning. Without the ability to develop the knowledge and practice that is essential to production, humanity would perish.

In pre-industrial times, skill was essential to survival: often quite high level skill, yet survival for many was harsh.

In contrast, modern civilisation depends upon socially organised production, sophisticated technology and high levels of human skill. As an industrial people we are a vast organism of skills and knowledge in which each part is of vital importance to the whole. We have the capacity to create great wealth.

Capitalism despises skill but it cannot do without it. Instead it seeks to restrict it, abuse it, distort it and tailor it purely to make a profit. Hence capitalism’s encouragement of the “free” movement of labour, allowing employers to cherry pick from a rootless, unorganised workforce with no regard to the destructive impact that this has on the skill base of the countries of origin or destination.

Capitalism wishes skill to be instantly available without paying for its development or maintenance. Instead of providing apprenticeships, it prefers to import skilled labour, and is always reluctant to pay a higher rate for skilled labour.

Workers, on the other hand, are for skill, fighting for its recognition, development, and maintenance. We’ve recently seen oil refinery workers take a stand against the deliberate destruction of their skills. The British working class has always fought for its skills. The skilled rate was established and protected through bitter struggle. Our forebears fought for universal education, proper training and apprenticeship. Skill leads to power at the workplace and strengthens class-consciousness.

Skill has moved from being a tool for survival to one of liberation. The industrial revolution unlocked the way to the defeat of misery, ignorance and disease and also the way to the advancement of science and potential abundance. Capitalism now stands in the way.