Books and Booklets

[By Mr. George Barnes, Secretary to the Amalgamated Society of Engineers.]

In view of the fact that the average age of the working-class at death is about 30 years, the possibility of attaining to the opulence represented in the sum of 5s. per week 35 years after they have on the average shuffled off this mortal coil, would not, at the first glance, appear to be a matter of vital concern to ordinary wage slaves. Closer examination, however, shows that through some incomprehensible oversight of a beneficent capitalist providence, a considerable number of workers do manage to escape death in mine, factory, or workshop, or by starvation and other “natural causes,” and arrive at the stage of the sere and yellow with vitality sufficient to pump a thin stream of thinner blood through the channels at 65 years of hard living have not entirely clogged or shrivelled, and to maintain that flicker of energy necessary to hold the various portions of their bodies in something approaching their original form.

The precise number who achieve this great age is very uncertain, but Mr. Barnes feels justified in putting it down in round figures as one million. For these he proposes, with that “mystic insight” into, and “fine judgment” of, the requirements of the aged worker which his biographer (in the same pamphlet,) so highly applauds as elements most needed in a labour aspirant to a decrepid legislature, that the State should provide a pension of 5s. per week. As the cost of the keep of a pauper in a workhouse averages 9s. to 10s. per week in the country, and much more than that in London, it will be seen that the proposal does not err on the side of extravagance.

How the worker is expected to live upon such a munificent stipend, at an age when he is unable to wrestle with the scrag-of-mutton diet of his more vigorous days, Mr. Barnes does not explain. That they cannot live upon it he, parenthetically, appears to recognise. That they cannot augment the sum by thrift during their earlier years, for the very sufficient reason that any margin that they may have had in the course of their history was invariably on the wrong side—he admits. Then how are they to live, except indeed, in the way that Mr. Barnes appears to suggest, viz., by their children (if they have any) taking their pensioned parents in and catering for them at cheap rates—a fatuous suggestion, Surely, in view of the general inability of the children to keep themselves.

Indeed and indeed, these “Labour leaders” in travail give birth to some of the most petty-fogging and inconsequential schemes that mind of man ever conceived. And to get his old age starvation allowance Mr. Barnes, says will necessitate the thorough organisation of labour upon a political basis. By that means alone he holds, can the essential steam be got up behind the demand. The folly of it! To get the working-class to concentrate upon a measure that not one in thirty will ever live to be affected by in the hope that those who do may secure a reward of 5s. a week upon which to starve ! “As through a glass darkly” Mr. Barnes seems to see that only by fighting can the working-class achieve anything at all. Does he not understand that this implies that the capitalist-class will concede nothing except through fear ? Does he not see, therefore, that the concession will be in proportion to the demand ? Then why does he endeavour to fritter away the energies of the working-class upon a tuppenny-ha’penny old age pension scheme, when the workers can be just as easily organised upon the basis of their class interests and their energies directed to the demand for the full results of their labour? Educate the workers to a knowledge of their position and the reasons for it; to a recognition of the complete and irreconcilable opposition of interest existing between them and the capitalist-class, and to the extent that they grow in class-consciousness, to the extent that their forces are welded into an intelligent whole, to the extent to which they thereby develope into a formidable menace to capitalist interests, to that extent will the fear of the capitalist grow, to that extent will old age pensions and similar sops be offered by affrighted capitalism in an endeavour to stay working-class progress towards the Co-operative Commonwealth. As it is, Mr. Barnes is simply playing the capitalists’ game by keeping the working-class mind occupied with non-essentials.

A. J. M. GRAY.

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