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Andrew Glyn

Fewer and Bigger

(January 1979)

From Militant, No. 438, 12 January 1979, p. 7.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Andrew Glyn shows the increasing control of the British economy by a few large firms

Two articles published in the government magazine Trade and Industry (17 November 1978) present much new information on the extent to which the British economy is dominated by the monopolies.

One entitled How Many and How Big should really be subtitled Few and Huge. From an analysis of company accounts it shows that in 1975 the biggest 20 companies controlled 33%; the biggest 50 controlled 48%; the biggest 100 controlled 62%; and the biggest 250 controlled 79% of the assets of the biggest 1,500 UK companies.

Another table shows how these companies dominate the various sectors of the economy. (see below)


Share of the assets by sector
of the top 1,500 controlled
by the top 250 companies

Number of
companies in
top 250

Food, drink and tobacco






Metal manufacture






Textiles, leather, clothing



Total manufacturing









Transport and communication












Oil and gas



These figures do leave out the 15% or so of the assets of companies which are held by companies smaller than the top 1,500 and in this way slightly exaggerates the dominance of the top 1,500. These smaller companies are especially important in such sectors as engineering, construction and distribution, but it is impossible to adjust the figures to take proper account of this.

Another point is that many of the giants have very extensive overseas assets. Forty-two of the top 250 are said to operate “wholly or mainly overseas” which means they have at least half their assets abroad. These include huge oil, mining and plantation companies, as well as a few manufacturing companies whose overseas subsidiaries are now more important than their home operations.

In fact, of the top 250 only 63 are estimated by the Department to have less than 10% of their assets overseas. The article does not provide detailed estimates, but it can be deduced from their figures that around 30% of the total assets of the top 1,500 companies registered in Britain are held overseas.

As far as the top 20 are concerned, however, the figure could be as high as one half – a staggering indication of the extent to which big capital in the UK has expanded overseas.

Whilst many of the operations overseas of UK companies do directly affect the functioning of the UK economy (through supplying fuel and raw materials or assembling components made in the UK), it is also useful to have an indication of how far the major monopolies actually dominate the controls of assets inside the UK.

Indirect control

Based on the information in the article we can make the following rough estimates for 1975: the biggest 20 companies controlled about 21%; the top 50 controlled 33%; the biggest 100 about 44%; and the top 250 firms about 59% of the total UK assets of all companies operating in the UK.

Even these figures enormously underestimate the influence these companies really have since they take no account of their indirect control over a host of smaller companies which rely on them as buyers of their output or as suppliers of their basic inputs of materials, machinery etc.

In terms of research and development, too, the top 106 manufacturing companies account for 72% of research on all manufacturing products, and half of manufactured exports (Economic Trends, August 1976).


A second article, called How Much by How Few, looks at another aspect of the centralisation and concentration of capital – the extent to which the supply of individual products is dominated by a few suppliers. It reports on the findings of a highly detailed study of 4,000 products, ranging from margarine to aircraft.

It found that the top 5 producers supplied at least 90% of the market in the case of 602 products: 80–90% in the case of 470 products; 60–80% in the case of 613; less than 60% in the case of 396.

In comparing these results for 1975 with 1963 the Department found that there was a rise of 7% in the proportion of product groups in which 80–90% was supplied by the biggest 5 firms, and a corresponding fall in the proportion where less than 60% was supplied by the biggest 5.

But their detailed results only cover slightly over one half of the nearly 4,000 commodities surveyed. In the other cases information could not be published because “fewer than 5 enterprises contribute to the heading, or there exists the possibility of disclosing data about one or more of the enterprises producing the product concerned”.

What a farce! The capitalists will only supply information to the government about sales figures for particular commodities on the understanding that they will not be published if they give too much away! What is more, there is no information published on the name of the big 5 firms in each market, which would show just how many products each monopoly is involved in.

The labour movement should demand that all this information be published so that it would be possible to construct an accurate picture of precisely how the tentacles of the major monopolies range over all the different products and industries.

Open the books

Such a complete opening of the books will require the action of all the trade union branches and shop stewards committees in the giant firms, including of course the white collar workers whose everyday work involves collecting the facts and figures. Such information on the detailed activities of the monopolies will be indispensable for the construction and implementation of a real socialist plan of production.

One thing which comes out clearly even from the inadequate data in these articles is that they have been misnamed. They should have been called How Few by How Many – how few firms need to be taken over by the millions strong labour movement as a basis for eliminating the chaos of monopoly capitalism.

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