A Look Round
At the National Anti-sweating Conference held recently at the Guildhall, and opened by the Lord Mayor, Mr. Stephen Walsh, M.P., declared that, despite their powerful organisation, the Lancashire miners are in a worse condition to-day than they were in eighteen years ago !
During the Conference Mr. D. J. Shackleton, M.P., vigorously defended child labour, and appealed to the delegates to let Socialism alone and concentrate their energies upon “something practical.”
Mr. Shackleton is vice-chairman of the Labour Party in the House of Commons, lately called the L.R.C. Under its auspices various members of the S.D.F. and I.L.P. have run as “Labour” candidates, in order to get the financial support of affiliated trade unionists.
The Workmen’s National Housing Council, judging by its Seventh Annual Report, seems to be in a juibilant mood. There are affiliated sixty trade unions, without counting branches, forty-three trades councils, with a few other bodies. During the general election it issued a simple test question to all candidates and received a very large harvest of replies, many of them being very encouraging. Still more encouraging, we are told, is the fact that after persistent attention from the Council lavished on those members who promised to get financial aid for housing from the Imperial Exchequer, and the constant stirring up of ministers, the Government are now committed to the principle, and promise for rural England, Scotland, and Wales, something similar to the Irish Labourers’ Bill— cheap money and plenty of it—4¼ millions at 3¼ per cent. for inclusive money charges. This will be of great assistance when it is fulfilled, and the Council are on the point of asking far the moral support of every affiliated body to keep the Government up to the scratch next session ! That’s progress !
It will take something more than “moral pressure” to induce the capitalist class to do the only thing that will benefit the working class, viz., get off the workers’ backs.
The “test questions for candidates” is a favorite game of the reform politicians. Obviously if any body of men submit certain questions to candidates they must support the candidates who reply favorably and oppose those who do not. Thus we have the S.D.F. and I.L.P., through their affiliation to the National Workmen’s Housing Council, supporting capitalist candidates, whilst “in another place” declaring those candidates to be working class enemies.
The S.P.G.B. is out for the abolition of the capitalist system, not its patching up. It therefore wastes no time on so-called reforms, but aims straight for revolution.
In dealing with a complaint that tramway men often found their day of ten hours was spread over fifteen, Captain Hemphill at the L.C.C. said the facts were not as stated, but that the question was receiving the very careful attention of the Committee, who hoped to bring up a report at an early date. This really means, reading between the lines, that the “ten hours’ day” for tramway employees is another Progressive lie.
Captain Hemphill also said that the Council had recently spent a sum of £1,500 a year more than had been spent by the old companies, with a view of reducing inconvenience to the men.
Improvements in the means of transit tend to increase the ratio of exploitation of the workers, whether employed by the private trust, or the public monopoly form of capitalism. Drivers and conductors of modern electric tramcars are subject to a very much greater menial and physical strain than were those of the old horse cars, but their wages are practically the same, and even when higher, the increase is in no sense proportionate to their extra wear and tear. The same applies to motor bus and railway workers.
Mr. R. Bell, M.P., emphasised this in his Annual Report to the recently held Congress at Cardiff. During 1905, he said, the goods train mileage decreased by 400,000 miles in spite of an increase of 11,300,000 tons in goods carried. To have carried the goods traffic of 1905 under the conditions of 1900 would have required over 2,500 more engines and sets of men. Calculating four men to each engine—driver, fireman, cleaner, and guard—this would have meant an increased staff of at least 10,000 men in the running department alone. Instead of this he calculates that this increase in the volume of traffic has been conveyed with some 1,200 less engines and sets of men, for, as different railway chairmen have stated at half-yearly meetings, they have been enabled to take many of their older locomotives out of traffic, and the full number shown to be owned by the companies were not actually working. Thus the mental and physical responsibilities of the men generally have been vastly increased, and the firemen particularly, who have to shovel nearly double the quantity of coal on the large engines without any extra pay at all.
There was another paragraph in the Report which should be interesting to readers of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD. It relates to the men employed on the North Eastern Railway, and reads as follows:
“This movement on behalf of all grades was sanctioned by the Executive Committee in September, 1903, and the programme adopted by the men at a conference held at Darlington was duly forwarded to the company. Not much progress was made, however, until 1905, when as a result of interviews in March and July a few concessions were obtained for men working large engines and with heavy trains, together with an increased bonus for the East Coast men.
“The programme was still pressed, but further delay arose in consequence of changes in the chairmanship and managership. In April and May, however, the committee of the movement and myself had a ten days’ conference with the general manager and chief officials, and .also another day’s discussion with the general superintendent. The programme was fully discussed, in addition to a large number of grievances, resulting in substantial concessions being obtained for the men. The men’s delegate meeting, however, would not take the responsibility of accepting the terms offered, and decided to refer the matter to the branches concerned. The Executive Committee, therefore, requested the branches to arrange special meetings at which the North Eastern members should vote for or against accepting the terms. The result showed a majority of 802 against the terms, but as only a very small proportion of the men had voted the Executive Committee decided to accept the terms for the men, and to suggest to the company that, a conciliation board be formed. The company have this proposal under consideration at the present time.”
The italics are ours.
In the November issue of the “Journeymen Bakers’ Magazine” Mr. L. A. Hill returns to the subject of the Union’s 48 Hours Bill, which was dealt with in our October number. He said it was most essential that this Bill should be passed into law. Machinery had displaced and would continue to displace large numbers of men. Whereas there would be before the introduction of machinery work for five men, there was now only work for three. If the Bill was passed he estimated that it would find employment for some 5,000 men, and that it would be in a measure, a way of solving the unemployed question in the baking trade.
As we pointed out in October, the effect of a compulsory 8 hours’ day for bakers, however secured, would be to kill the small bakers and drive the trade into the machine bakeries, where the 8 hours’ day already obtains. It would thus tend to displace 2 men out of every 5, to use Mr. Hill’s figures, and would intensify instead of solving the unemployed question in the baking trade.
The “Daily Express” continues to expose the Fraud of Capitalism. In connection with Mr. Lever’s Soap Trust (I beg pardon—”economic amalgamation”) it said,
“The grocer of to-day is almost as much ‘tied’ as the publican who is managing a ‘tied’ house for a firm of brewers.
“He has practically ceased to be a free agent, and is becoming more and more of an automaton who is forced to hand out over the counter the ready weighed articles supplied by great trusts and powerful owners of proprietary articles.
“He has little or no share in the selection of the articles he is to sell, and can control neither the price he pays for them nor the price to the customer. He does not even have a chance to see the quality of the goods he sells or to weigh them. Certain sealed packets come to him and automatically he hands them over the counter.
“Acting on the instructions of one or other of the great firms who have selected him to sell their goods, he has occasionally to say that a certain article is ‘just as good’ as a different one desired by a customer, and to see that a customer does not buy the goods he first wanted.
“Twenty years ago a grocer was able to give his customers all they required, but now certain goods are pushed on him, and he in his turn has to force them on the public.”
Coming back to the “Daily Express,” this organ of Tariff Reform, which recently declared that the American workers, owing to protection, were exceedingly prosperous, made the following admissions in its issue of November 12, last:
“In spite of the wonderful surface prosperity, America is seething with discontent, and the party of the ‘have nots’ is a very real danger.
“The power of the trusts and the great business combinations has been growing rapidly. The small business man has been driven into the Bankruptcy Court in ever increasing numbers, and has considered himself lucky if he could secure a place as a salaried employee of the trust which absorbed his business. A generation ago most of the dwellers in American cities owned their own homes or looked forward to owning them. Now, they would laugh at tf suggestion, and they bitterly resent the prospect of a lifetime as a rent-payer to some millionaire or real estate corporation.
“The working men, in spite of their nominally high wages, are bitterly discontented. Wages are not so high as they seem. The bricklayer who earns 24s. a day cannot depend on more than six months work in the year, as there are periods of two or three months in New York when no building can be done on account of the severe weather. The same rule applies to all the building trades, and to the lake and river transportation trades, and to those employed on the railways fed by the lakes and rivers.
“In spite of all the nominal prosperity, New York has its unemployed problem every winter—not so acute as London’s problem, perhaps, but still a very serious problem.”
As we have so often pointed out, the working class is poor and the master class is rich all over the world, no matter what fiscal or other conditions obtain.