1900s >> 1906 >> no-24-september-1906

A Look Round

A municipal bye-election has just occurred at Northampton. The Liberals and Conservatives united upon a candidate, who was successful with 1,021 votes. The unsuccessful candidate stood as a Socialist, but polled only 463 votes.

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In the report of the contest appearing in the Northampton Pioneer, a writer says, “The inaction of the workers was most deplorable. Thousands of them refrained from going to the poll. . . Many of the Socialists even abstained from voting. This, I have ascertained, was due in many instances to their belief in the impossibility of Cde. Wright’s success. In one street alone six or seven Socialists would not go to the polling booth, because they thought our candidate was bound to be defeated.”

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Personally, I believe that Socialists, when a definite policy has been decided upon, will pursue that policy, without regard to the prospects of immediate success. When once the workers become class-conscious, understand the one and only cause of their universal poverty, and that nothing but the Social Revolution will effect a change, there will be no occasion to complain of their inaction. But to induce a man to vote for a “Socialist” candidate because his program contains a number of “reforms” which it is hoped the capitalist class may be induced to concede, does not make him class-conscious.

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The fact that a candidate’s program may have a “Socialist objective” does not alter the position. In the canvassing and campaigning generally that usually receives very little reference. It is the “immediate reforms” that are kept to the front, with the object of tickling the ears of the electors sufficiently to induce them to record their votes. One man votes “Socialist” because the candidate favours a minimum wage of 30/- a week; another because he advocates that children should have one free meal a day, and so on ; but it can’t be claimed that they understand the principles of Socialism, and therefore they are an unreliable quantity.

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And often candidates with a “Socialist objective” do not understand the principles of Socialism how to translate those principles into intelligent action. When such are elected they are hampered by lack of knowledge as well as lack of opportunity, and the cause of Socialism thereby suffers.

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As with individuals, so with societies. It is claimed, for instance, that the Gas Workers’ Union and the Engineers’ Society have a “Socialist objective,” but that has not prevented the E.C. of the former sending W. Thorne to support capitalist candidates, thus acting as a decoy duck for the master class, nor the latter subscribing to John Burns’ Wages Fund. Merely having a “Socialist objective” does not make a society,political or industrial, a class-conscious, revolutionary Socialist organisation, whatever high-sounding title may be given to it.

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John Knight & Sons, Ltd., Soap Makers, Silvertown, have just declared the result of the second year’s working of their bonus scheme. The Managing Director pointed out that they had had to face exceedingly severe competition and they could only meet it by trying their very utmost to reduce the cost of manufacture and distribution. “Their idea was to encourage all those associated with them in business to expend all the energy they were capable of in order that they might attain the object they had in view.” The bonus arrangement is that for every one per cent. over six per cent. that the Company earn, the employees in regular employ receive one week’s wages. The bonus this year, as last, was three weeks’ wages.

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It was stated at the meeting that in the works they had 18 different departments, each of which had to show by weekly profit and loss accounts what it was doing. This also enabled them to see how the different employees in the various departments were turning out their work. But for three departments, owing to the severe competition and the high price of raw material, the bonus could not have been paid. With those three departments the workers had really nothing to do.

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The Directors, in their generosity, decided to renew the bonus scheme for another year, and hoped the men would show their appreciation of it in the way that they should.

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It is all so very simple. For twelve months the workers are to “expend all the energy they are capable of.” They are to risk getting squeezed out and thrown on the capitalist scrap heap earlier than usual, with the object of getting two or three weeks’ wages as a bonus at the end of the year, if trade has been sufficiently good to provide them with regular employ. The wages bill must, of course, be kept down, and in busy times the men must work sufficiently hard to keep the unemployed at the gate. At the end of twelve months they may succeed in adding a shilling or so a week to their wages for the whole year, at the expense of a few years of their lives, and, on the other hand, having slaved hard all the year, circumstances over which they have no control, unfavourable markets, competition, and bad management, may prevent profits reaching the necessary percentage, and the reward after all the slaving is—a lecture.

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Sir W. B. Forwood, presiding at the half-yearly meeting of the Liverpool Overhead Railway, gave as one of the reasons for the present unfortunate state of the concern, the concentration of ships and steamers into few hands. The result of this was, he said, that instead of a large number of individual owners, each of whom employed his own stevedore and gang of men, steamers were now worked by staffs attached to a particular dock, and not only was it not necessary for these men to make use of the railway, but a further trouble was that the increasing adoption of mechanical means for loading and unloading vessels had very largely reduced the number of hands employed.

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Economic evolution is the term applied by Socialists to this concentration of capital into fewer hands, the extension and adoption of mechanical appliances, the sub-division of labour, etc. If some of those who are groping about to discover why there is an unemployed problem would study this economic trend they might be enlightened somewhat.

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Last month, for the first time in the history of the Port of London, a cargo of tea was discharged by electricity. On August 1st the “Huntsman,” of the Harrison Line, laden with tea from Calcutta, was unloaded by a system of continuous rollers worked by electricity. The chests were placed on the rollers and conveyed from the ship’s hold to the storage shed, without intervention by men or the existing hydraulic machinery. The new process obviates breakages of the chests, hitherto very numerous, and reduces the number of men employed.

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It is such instances of economic evolution which justify the attitude of the S.P.G.B. to the reform parties. They prove “The Futility of Reform.”

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Mr. Edward Tregear, Secretary for Labour, Department of Labour, New Zealand, writing under date Dec. 14, 1905, said, “Every advantage in wages, etc., gained for the workers by arbitration is being exploited and neutralised by robber rents.”

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It is a far cry from New Zealand to Woolwich, and yet Lord Goschen, a Tory Cabinet minister, declared in the House that whenever the wages of the Arsenal workmen had been raised the landlords had raised rents and left the working class as before.

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It is impossible to get out of the vicious circle of capitalism, excepting by the complete abolition of the capitalist system.

J. KAY

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