The Western Socialist
Vol. 28 - No. 224
No. 6, 1961
The problem of increasing unemployment has reached a stage where it can no longer be downgraded by the media of capitalist propaganda. The "lords of the press," the political and sociological soothsayers of status-quo politics, even the man in the street (both employed and unemployed) all have opinions to offer for the causes and "remedies" for the cure of unemployment. The fact that these opinions and these "remedies" have been rehashed a thousand times before, to no avail, is no deterrent to those who offer them today. It is certainly easier to rehash surface manifestations than to rack one's brains on the problem — not only easier but less dangerous to the tranquillity of the capitalist social system. Socialists, however, are concerned with facts, not opinions, and insist upon a different approach.
In order to gain a clear picture of unemployment in Canada, a comparison should be made with unemployment figures for the United States of America and for Great Britain. Figures, of course, can be cold and harsh. They do not take into account the suffering, the starvation, degradation and insecurity that is felt by the humans they represent. They do not show the hungry children, the anxious parents, the fear that exists in the minds and hearts of the unemployed. It must be remembered, then, when dealing with such figures, that they relate to our fellow man, to his oft-time frustrated needs and desires and to the anxieties which sometimes drive him to the final act of the destitute, suicide. There have been many in the past, there will be many more in the future until the basic problem is solved.
The following figures will show the relationship that exists between the unemployed in Canada and in other parts of the world: The Canadian labour force, as of the week ending November 12, 1960, was estimated to have been 6,458,000 of which 6,029,000 were employed for all or part of the week and 429,000 were unemployed for the entire week. For the whole month of November the labour force was 41,000 lower than for October, the employed having decreased by 102,000 and the unemployed having increased by 61,000. Expressed as a percentage of the labour force, the unemployment rate was 6.6% in November of 1960, 5.7% in October of 1960 and 5.1% in November of 1959, showing an increase over the year of 1.5 % (Dominion Bureau of Statistics, Ottawa, November 1960).
The registered unemployed in Great Britain for November 14, 1960, according to H.M. Stationery Office, London, Central Statistics Office, was 475.2 thousands or 2.2% of the labour force. In December of 1958 there were 531.7 thousand or 2.4%, while in December of 1957 the figure was 420.9 thousand, or 1.9%.
The following figures are of interest because they represent persons receiving national assistance in Great Britain who were unable to exist on the unemployment pay, sickness, retirement pension benefits and other payments. They were in receipt of these payment during a socalled boom period and for 1954 the figure was 1,796,000 and through the years to 1960 it fluctuated by approximately 100,000 more or less until in October of 1960 there were 1,823,000 persons receiving this national assistance.
As for the United States, in September of 1960 the labour force was 73,672,000 while the unemployed for the month was 3,388,000. (U. S. Dept. of Labor, Monthly Labor Review, Nov. 1960, Vol. 83). It is now past history that the unemployment figure for the United States exceeded the 5,500,000 mark by the end of the winter 1960/1961.
Unemployment, however, is not peculiar to Canada, the United States and Great Britain. In Belgium, unemployment for the twelve - year period between 1948 and 1959 averaged 6.6%; in Western Germany, although now at a low level, there were well over a million unemployed from 1949 to 1954 and the average for the post-war years was over 6%; in Italy the years between '47 and '48 saw 10% of the work force out of work; in Denmark it has averaged nearly 9½% for the 12 years between 1947 and 1959; while in Austria, in Ireland and in India there has also been relatively high unemployment at different periods according to the International Labour Office and United Nations statistics.
OPINIONS vs FACTS
It will be seen, therefore, that unemployment is not an individual but a social problem that springs from the way in which our society is operated. This is a fact, not an opinion. Opinions are usually a dime a dozen and as a rule illuminate only the ignorance and misinformation of those who offer them. There is, for example, the statement of Reeve Goodhead in Toronto: "The unemployed are fat and lazy, afraid to use pick and shovel" (Daily Star, Sept. 1960), which pearl of wisdom received support from numerous (employed) workers. The fact that the major part of pick and shovel work has been taken over by bulldozers, steam hammers and other mechanized equipment seems lost to the Reeve and his supporters. They must truly be sleep-walking not to have noticed the revolution in construction machinery in the past generation.
Or there is the oft-stated opinion that unemployment is, for the most part, confined to the unskilled. Too many workers left school too soon and are not equipped with a proper education. The fact is, however, that need for a particular type of labour-power, not education or skill, determines whether the worker works or loafs. During the depression of the 1930s, experienced engineering craftsmen, skilled coal miners, agricultural workers and university graduates glutted the labour market. They were not needed and the wages of the working class fell or workers were pushed into the ranks of the unemployed. During the 1939-1945 war, however, there was a great demand for coal and food, engineering and chemical products and members of these groups had a chance to push up wages beyond the rise of the cost of living. But once again a large percentage of skilled and highly educated workers are finding that their particular skills are not needed and they help to swell the army of the unemployed, the redundant, "useless" human being.
"EDUCATED" OPINIONS NOT FACTS
But opinions are not confined to the mis-informed worker and the political wizards. Nor are the capitalists lacking in more "reliable" experts to serve their cause. Economist Walter L. Gordon proposes that income taxes should be cut, interest rates lowered and the Canadian dollar at par. (Since this last suggestion the Canadian dollar has been deflated to below par and a reduction in the real wages of the working class in Canada has been achieved without the workers apparently becoming aware of it.) Mr. Gordon's suggestions were made to "help our primary resource industries, which depend to a great extent on exports, stimulate domestic manufacturing industries in a much sounder and more lasting way and greatly assist the tourist industry and small business of all kinds."
There is no question that the Gordon suggestions will be profitable to the manufacturer and investor. An article in the Toronto Daily Star for Oct. 17th, 1960 shows that sales for the first six months rose from $11.5 billion in 1959 to $11.7 billion in 1960 and profits, following the downward trend, were reduced from $414 million in 1959 to a "miserable" $383 million in the first half of 1960. And so, the $55.00 per week worker or the recipient of unemployment "benefits" must be cheered at the thought that the suggested cuts in taxes, lower interest rates, etc., made by Walter Gordon would prove very beneficial to the manufacturer, to use the approach of the Toronto Daily Star. Remembering, however, that in the 1930s when income tax in England and America was relatively low and unemployment high (over 2 million in England and nearly 12 million in the U. S.), it would appear that high or low taxes bear very little relationship to the numbers of unemployed. The suggestions of Mr. Gordon may be "educated" opinions but they are still opinions, not facts.
And, of course, there is that other favorite opinion, "overproduction." The socialist states that there is really no such thing as over-production in the world today. The food that lies stored and even rotting in the warehouses and silos of Canada and the U. S.; the mountains of clothing, shoes, furniture, etc., that remain unused and wasted are unsold because the have been produced for just one reason —to be sold at a profit. The unemployed in Canada and the U.S.A. the hungry people of the East, of Africa and of Europe could all consume these goods if they were freely available to them. The glib suggestion that overproduction is the cause of unemployment does not answer the problem of want amidst plenty.
The fact is, that unemployment in Canada was consistently high during the years 1928 to just prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 when a decline in unemployment became manifest. This situation also existed in the United States and Great Britain — grim comment on our social organization that permits one section of the working class to obtain unemployment in order to sustain their lives only when another section is to be engaged in the activity of killing other members of the human race.
UNEMPLOYMENT NORMAL TO CAPITALISM
Unemployment, then, is not a new phenomenon. It is a part of the social scene and since socialists are basically students of the social scene we feel competent to analyze the problem and present the solution. Unlike the university professors and the capitalist politicians, we have no reason to defend the present arrangement of society. Having no reason to offer mere opinions we will proceed to present facts.
The basic contradiction in capitalism is the fact that while the means and instruments of wealth production are privately, corporatively, or state owned, production itself is social. A lead pencil, for example, is not the product of the effort or labour of one person — it is the result of a whole field of human endeavour; the paint that is mixed to spray it, the rubber from the East which has been used for the eraser, the metal which attaches the eraser to the wood has been mined, the graphite for the lead and the wood pulp are all the products of other industries and have been brought together to be combined into a single product and sold on the market as a lead pencil.
Now the problem is that the people who have combined to produce the pencil do not own the tools and instruments and raw materials which are needed to turn it into a finished product. In fact, they, in common with the working class of the world in general, own nothing but their ability to labor and must sell this ability to those who do own the means of wealth production by the clock for a wage or a salary. And because the ability to labor is also a commodity, its value is determined by the cost of producing and reproducing the laborer. He must get, on the average, sufficient to keep him on an "adequate" standard to produce, to marry and raise children who will in turn take their places at the machines and so forth.
But only a part of the working day is required to reproduce the value of these wages and salaries, so the remaining part of the day belongs to the owners — the workers continue to produce, but on a gratis basis and the rest of the value they turn out becomes surplus value, the property of the capitalist class.
Now another problem enters the picture. There is not just one manufacturer of pencils. Our owner must compete for markets among his fellow capitalists in the same business. And there is only so much market to begin with because the workers can only spend the totality of their wages while the capitalists are relatively too few in number to consume all of the pencils produced. And so we find a situation developing where the pencil manufacturer must call a halt to production, or slow it down because he has more pencils than he can dispose of and they are of no use to him unless he can dispose of them, and at a profit. In following the trend, he will introduce new methods and techniques by means of which he can produce more pencils at a lower cost with fewer workers. So workers get laid off and the army of the unemployed, which is a normal part of capitalism, from time to time increases in numbers, creating a problem of which the capitalists must take heed.
And so we live in a society in which a continual struggle goes on between workers and capitalists over wages and working conditions and between capitalists and capitalists for markets and sources of raw materials. And because we have such a society, unemployment must always be a part of it. An army of unemployed workers is a factor in preventing wage rates from getting "out of hand" and serves as an invisible club to keep the workers from too great a show of militancy. A recent statement by Metropolitan Toronto bears this out in no uncertain terms:
"The proposed strike, in the opinion of the Civic Administration is illegal and any employee scheduled to work Monday, November 28th, 1960, who absents himself from work that day shall be deemed to be voluntarily separating himself from employment with this corporation." (Toronto Daily Star, Nov. 25, 1960).
This threat to fire all Metro employees was possible because of the large army of unemployed in Toronto today.
Unemployment, then, is a normal part of capitalism and will remain as long as we are willing to support this society. Only by the working class organizing for socialism, a society in which the means and instruments of wealth production are the common property of all mankind, can this problem and all the other capitalist-hatched problems be eliminated. When goods and services are produced for use rather than for sale on a market, every man, woman and child in the world will have free right of access to what is produced and mankind will enter a new and higher life than has been hitherto possible.
G. CATT, Canada