The Cry of the Workless

In the November issue of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD we showed that the unemployed problem could be solved only by the getting rid of the capitalist system of society, and that any attempt to solve this problem within the limits of the prevailing system of industrialism was so much wasted labour.

We offer no apology for again reverting to this question. The whole course of events since our article was written has more than borne out the strength of our contentions, and we are more than ever convinced of the uselessness of trying to combat the economic forces which make for an increase in the number of the unemployed by seeking the assistance of a capitalist government.

Unfortunately for the development of our views on this matter there exists a large number of men who, while admitting the cause of unemployment which we have adduced, viz., the development of machinery and the consequent concentration of capital in fewer hands, yet think that they can secure some amelioration of the life-condition of the workless working-men by trusting to the Government of the time.

With us they are aware that the introduction of more highly specialised machinery is permitting within the factory the liberation of many men formerly employed, and the substitution of women’s labour for men’s labour. Such a result is viewed as highly desirable by the capitalist who constantly scrutinises his wage-bill with the idea of reducing it, but for the worker the result is less desirable. For the latter it means a curtailment of his supply of food and of the other necessaries of life ot himself and his family. His wages being, on the average, limited by the cost of maintaining himself and his family, any stoppage of his wages means a stoppage in his maintenance.

The extent to which the machine has ousted the worker may be ascertained by a glance at the census returns. Comparing the figures of 1891 with those for 1901 we find that there has been a great reduction of those employed in the textile industries at the same time that there has been a great increase in output. In the cotton trade there has been a great reduction both of men and women ; so also in woollen and worsted, linen, silk; while in the lace industry an increase in the number of women has been nearly compensated by a reduction in the number of men employed. Again we must remember that, in the various trades, not only has the number of those employed diminished, but the work of those employed has become more intermittent; out-of-work and short-time workers being on the increase.

These results arise naturally from the conditions of employment to-day. The owners of property are ever on the look-out for means of augmenting their possessions. They employ their capital in industrial operations simply for the purpose of deriving from its use profit or interest. So long as they get their profits increased they care little for the conditions under which the work in their factory, in their mine, or on their railway is carried on. They never seek to know whether those working for them are living happy and contented lives. For them the worker is an abstraction—the materialisation of some portion of their capital in exactly the same way as another portion of their capital shows itself as raw material, as auxiliary material, as factory building, or as finished product. He sees the worker figuring on his periodical balance-sheet as “Wages,” and cares nothing that “Wages” means so many sentient human beings capable of thinking, loving, functioning even as he does.

Why then should he hesitate, when the markets are glutted, when his wages have been transformed into more goods than the market can consume, when goods cannot be sold because hungry men and women have not the wherewithal to buy food, when ill-clad children cannot have clothing provided for them because there is too much in the shops, to turn adrift those he no longer wishes to employ because they are no longer profitable ?

And the result is invariably that, during periods when the markets are teeming with food and clothing, the workers are sent adrift and cannot purchase the things of which they are so sorely in need.

The only solution to this state of affairs is to abolish Capitalism. The whole trend of events is in the direction of Collectivist production and the inquirer into things political and economic can see that the capitalist, having ceased to be useful, is using the whole governmental machinery to safeguard the interests of his class.

The worker must learn that he has to look to himself and his fellows to work out the emancipation of the working-class. Only by combining to capture the political machinery and to use the power thus acquired for the overthrow of Capitalism can he hope to obtain, once and for all, a full and complete solution to the unemployed problem.

What then are we to think of those who admit these facts and yet inveigh against the Government for not dealing with the unemployed ? The fact that the Government, and the class represented by the Government, have everything to gain from the existence of the unemployed ought to have prevented those people from begging for an autumn session to deal with the unemployed. By such an action they lead people to think that the unemployed problem may find its solution by trusting to parliaments composed of members of the middle-class.

This is the charge we make against those who, while pretending to lead, to organise, to direct the unemployed, believe that no solution of the problem is possible within capitalist society. They lead the workers to think that a solution is to be found without the change from Capitalism to Socialism which we have shown to be necessary. They lead them to think that Government, by holding autumn sessions to discuss the question, can take steps towards its solution. They befog the class-issue in which they pretend to believe. Mr. Keir Hardie refuses to raise the issue in the House of Commons because the Government have decided to shelve the matter by including a pious phrase in the King’s Speech.

We can only believe that those who are engaged in this so-called organisation of the unemployed are doing so in order to make political capital out of it. They have no hope or belief that the unemployed workers themselves will prove valuable recruits to their movement but they think that there are others among the employed who will mistake their efforts for the genuine zeal of those who are in earnest, and who will join their party in consequence.

We have no faith in those beliefs. We do not think the efforts for the unemployed are sincere, and we believe the efforts now made will prove as futile to-day as they have always hitherto done. The unemployed will not be converted by them. The employed will not be befooled by them. They will not gain their political capital.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain stands out as the only party which has not tried to make the unemployed believe that they must trust to parties outside themselves. The unemployed—and every worker is every day more likely to fall within that category—must look to themselves and to their fellow-workers for the redress of their ills.

The poverty of their lives, the misery in which they dwell, can only be removed by a steady effort in the direction of proving to them that the unemployed question is but a phase of the social problem, and that the social problem is to be solved by removing the cause of the poverty and the misery, and the degradation of the working-class —the class-ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth.

Workers, employed and unemployed ! Rally round The Socialist Party of Great Britain and make it your party through which the change is to be brought about which shall secure to you and yours the guarantee of health and comfort and plenty.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, April 1905)

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