Several weeks ago, “The Smiler” rollercoaster at the Alton Towers theme park crashed leaving 14 people injured. The cause of the accident hasn’t been made public yet; but even if the investigations point the finger at individual members of staff, there will be one root cause that will not be mentioned: profit.
Several weeks ago, “The Smiler” rollercoaster at the Alton Towers theme park crashed leaving 14 people injured, with four of them being seriously injured. Several of the victims have suffered life changing injuries and no doubt many others will have suffered severe psychological damage as a result of witnessing the crash. The cause of the accident hasn’t been made public yet and investigations are ongoing, but there have been confirmed reports that the ride had broken down prior to the incident. Even if the investigations point the finger at individual members of staff there will be one root cause that will not be mentioned: profit.
Not just a bad apple, but a rotten system
The Alton Towers theme park, as with all theme parks, is owned by a private company, Merlin Entertainments, whose sole purpose is to make as much profit as possible. Now, whilst the cause of the incident will no doubt be written about in much detail and Merlin may even be portrayed as a rogue company – just a “bad apple” within an otherwise wholesome entertainment industry – who took a gamble to increase their profits, this kind of incident always carries the risk of occurring within the profit system that exists. Necessity expresses itself through accident. A company such as Merlin must chose between safety and increased profit: these two aims are contradictory and cannot both exist.
Private companies are under an obligation to maximise their profit to shareholders so will of course only have the minimum amount of safety that they feel that they can get away with. As with all industries, the bosses will weigh up in a cold, calculating, emotionless way, the costs of increased safety measures against the costs of any compensation resulting from an accident. This may seem like a horrific thing to do, but under the capitalist system it isn’t – it’s perfectly logical.
Big business: profiteering from fun
Merlin Entertainments Plc is one of the biggest theme park and entertainment companies in the UK. Not only does it own Alton Towers, it owns other well known attractions such as Thorpe Park, The London Eye and Madame Tussauds. Last year it made a huge profit of almost £250 million from its attractions. The miniscule sums that it will be made to pay as compensation to the victims are insignificant compared to the amount of money the fat-cat owners make preying on those in need of a break from the everyday pressures of work under capitalism.
Many people will have visited a theme park and will know the common problems associated with a visit there. The entry prices are only beaten by the extortionate food and drink prices (so much for the efficiency of the “free market”!); there are always huge queues to prevent visitors from going on too many rides (and thus denting the park owners’ profits); poorly paid and exploited staff who are not provided with adequate training for the jobs they are asked to do; and the whole day, rather than being about having fun, is a constant barrage of corporate messages to try to make you part with more hard earned cash. Rather than the fun that a visit to a theme park should be, it is instead a giant event aimed to abstract maximum profit for the owners of the park.
(Incidentally, the new Jurassic World film portrays a similar message about the rampant pursuit of profit that drives the theme park industry, albeit whilst contradictorily being packed with its very own big business product placement and trying to paint the billionaire theme park owner as a benevolent hero who is taken taken for a ride by evil scientists and military chiefs.)
No room for leisure under capitalism
As previously above, the frequent problems at theme parks are not just those faced by the visitors. Staff members at theme parks are often students and young people who struggle to find work elsewhere, and so are ripe for exploitation by the bosses of the parks. A culture of low wages and pressure from management to do more work for less pay is normal within the sector, and this will almost certainly have played a role in the horrific crash at Alton Towers. Theme parks may look like places of endless fun for all; but, especially for staff, this is far from the truth.
The main reason that most people decide to have a day out at a theme park is the need to have a break from the constant pressures of work or studying. The capitalist system forces the majority of people to have to work extremely long hours for basic levels of pay, and, for many, the only break from this is relaxing days out with their family. Three of the four seriously injured victims of the Alton Towers crash were students, under great pressure from the capitalist system to achieve top grades to compete with fellow students in order to gain access to the limited number of decent jobs available. A simple day out to have fun should be just that: fun. However, the capitalist system has even turned the concept of ‘having fun’ into a commodity to be bought.
Nationalise the entertainment industry!
The idea of ‘having fun’ is of course subjective, and different people will have different preferences. Some prefer theme parks; some prefer sport; and others may prefer art. But there is one thing that all these have in common: they have been turned into a commodity by the capitalist system.
Even if ordinary working class people can afford to ‘have fun’, the main issue facing people who simply want – and need – a break is the total lack of spare time given by the capitalist system. Many are forced to work for 50 or 60 hours per week, or take on two jobs, just to get by; students, meanwhile, have to study for large periods of time and work in the remaining spare hours they have in order to avoid even larger debts than they already face. Many working class people do not have any leisure time, which would seem to be the most basic of demands; but not according to the capitalist system.
The alternative to this unfair system is a socialist society. By nationalising the biggest entertainment companies and putting them under democratic control, we could put an end to the commodification and profiteering of entertainment, and instead ensure that safety is greatly improved to prevent a repeat of accidents like the horrific crash at Alton Towers. And by abolishing the system of profit – that is, by putting an end to capitalism – we could dramatically reduce the length of the working week, provide ordinary people with ample leisure time, and allow working class families the time needed to genuinely have fun.