The Blight of Snobbery

An Organisation of “Respectable” Workers

Notwithstanding our past efforts to point the more excellent way to the Railway Clerks’ Association, that organisation of the more “respectable” railway employees, like the ploughman of the famous Elegy, still continues to pursue its dull and melancholy way. Its latest lucubration makes it clear that although as their watch-word in large capitals informs us “Association is the law of Progress,” it does not follow that progress must accompany association. Intellectual progress (the analogy is intended to be void of offence) would not, for example, result from wooden heads be they never so closely associated. A silk purse is not the outcome of the association of sows’ ears. Two years ago we gently argued with the R.C.A. in an endeavour to show that its position was unhappy and untenable, yet to-day it comes along with pretty much the same sort of fallacious pronouncement. It has had two years of association but that has not connoted progress—of intellect anyhow.

This is its statement of some reasons why railway clerks should combine–preferably in the R.C.A. :—

“On nearly every railway there are evidences of reactionary tendences which will become very detrimental to the welfare of the clerical Staff unless steps are taken to counteract them. Salaries are being kept down, staff reduced, holidays made more difficult to obtain, returns are multiplied, and office work made heavier and more complicated every year. Sunday business increases without any extra remuneration being allowed to clerks who are called upon to sacrifice their Sabbath. Girl clerks are introduced to keep down the standard of the men, and the word “Economy” is abused wherever opportunity allows. Instead of Railway Clerks participating in the general improvement of trade and the increase of National wealth, their condition is either stationary or declining while Railway revenues are steadily advancing. Prospects of promotion diminish every year through the introduction of young men from universities who have undue preference over experienced capable men amongst the general staff.”

Excepting that it seems to be assumed that if railway clerks would but join the R.C.A. they would participate in the increase of National wealth—an absurd assumption of course—this statement, doubtless, fairly represents some of the conditions of railway clerical labour. It is what we should expect to find seeing that railway clerks are in the same position as any other section of the working class—the position of an exploited or robbed class. In common with the rest of the workers they have to sell their labour-power for wages, and any hardening of their conditions simply means that the capitalist class, who buy their labour-power, are endeavouring to squeeze a little extra surplus value out of the deal—whether the exigencies of industrial conflict necessitate such squeezing in order that dividends may be maintained, doesn’t matter for present purposes.

The Roots of Capitalist Philanthropy
The operation may be ill-advised from a capitalist point of view. It might be better business for them to make, for example, the surroundings of their employees more congenial; but they, naturally, would only consider that matter favourably if they could see that it was possible to get greater profits out of the improvement. It is their concern for profits which is the actuating motive, not the increased comfort and happiness of their wage-slaves, and they may be relied upon to make any such alterations in their own interests without any assistance from an organisation of employees.

The R.C.A. or any other such body presumably does not exist for the purpose of informing the master class of the best means of getting larger profits. Seeing that all profit is obtained from the exploitation of the workers, they (the workers) are not concerned with being party to the increase of that robbery—not unless they are very stupid. It is no advantage to them if they are translated into conditions which enable them to speed up their energies to permit of three days’ work being done in two, when, as is inevitable, the speeding-up process results in the production of an earlier state of decrepitude. They are concerned, or should be, in securing, if possible, some real advantage—a benefit which has no counterbalancing loss.

If we are agreed so far, it will at once be seen that such benefit cannot be obtained except at the expense of capitalists’ profits. And the capitalist is not going to relinguish any portion of the profits, upon which his existence depends, without a struggle. Into this struggle the worker, out for increased benefits, must fling himself willy-nilly. There is no other way for him. He cannot achieve his purpose by “blarney,” by pleading the misery of his lot, by appealing to the “higher nature” of his employer. Capitalism knows no higher nature. It only knows higher profits. The worker has got to go into the struggle. And his measure of success will be the measure of his appreciation of the conditions of the conflict.

The Claas Struggle
The conditions of the conflict are simple. He is fighting as a worker against the capitalist whose interests are absolutely and entirely opposed to his own. It is not a fight of individuals either. It is not him versus his employer. If it were he would go under at once because his employer has always the unemployed reserve to fall back upon and all he has to do is to sack his “hand” and get a new one from the hungry crowd clamourously appealing for work outside. It is not even a section of workers against a section of capitalists. Threaten a section of the institution of profit-mongering seriously, and immediately the capitalist section becomes a capitalist class with all the forces that Capital can command hurrying up to the defence of one of its citadels. The sectional struggles of the workers since the rise of capitalism are in evidence as proof of this. A Tory mine-owner (Masham) calls upon a capitalist Liberal Government for help against his striking workers, and in a twinkling we have the soldiery shooting down the workers in revolt. Scores of cases could be cited if space allowed.

The struggle then is between class and class. When the workers recognise that, they will have appreciated the conditions of their battle and will organise their forces on a class basis accordingly. As it is they organise sectionally, enter the fight sectionally, and are beaten in detail by the opposing forces acting in concert, with their economic power buttressed by political power controlling the armaments of the country. The working class in such circumstances are in a condition of pitiable impotence. Under the direction of leaders either fraudulent or ignorant they waste their substance and their strength with a recklessness at once prodigal and imbecile. And if as a result of repeated efforts repeatedly smashed, they fall back hopeless, dispirited, apathetic, what wonder is it ?

But even if any ground existed for the supposition that sectional fights might be productive of good, it would be at once conceded that the larger the section, the better the chances of success. If the railway workers could take sectional action for sectional benefit to themselves as railway workers, it would surely be allowed at once that such action ought to be taken by the whole of the railway workers. The larger the association, the more effective the action— that is always argued by the trade union leaders. And yet we have the Railway Clerks’ Association coming along to railway workers, mouthing “union is strength” and the rest of the inconsequentialities of trade union stock-in-trade, to urge that a section of a section should organise themselves separately—without connection with any other firm in the same street !

How Not to Organise
Here is the acme even of trade union absurdity. Railway clerks must combine separately. In the name of the ten-a-penny gods, why? Because their interests are separate and distinct from the interests of the rest of railway workers ! Really, I hardly know whether this is rant or cant or fustian. The interests of clerks are as distinct from those of engine drivers as the interests of platelayers are distinct from those of porters—neither more nor less. Therefore—a platelayers’ union, and a carriage washers’ union, and a porters’ union, and two or three score other unions in the same industrial section ! Why not ?

The fact is, of course, that the R.C.A. is endeavouring to play up or down to the “respectability” of the clerk. He doesn’t wear corduroys—therefore his interests are different. He wears a black coat —which, perhaps, poor devil, he hasn’t paid for—and therefore his ways are not the ways of the carman who, probably, wouldn’t have a coat at all if the Company in its large-hearted charity didn’t supply him with one. He is a superior person our railway clerk, and must be treated “as sich.”

Of course, this cult of the bob-tailed coat is a live thing with railway clerks or the R.C.A. would be unable to exploit it. But it is none the less a manifestation of clerkly ignorance, not less but more pitiably ludicrous because it is crowned with the stove-pipe hat of caste. Clerks, railway or other, will have to recognise the essential unity of their interests with those of the more horny-handed sons of labour if they are to effect any material change in their condition. As members of the working class themselves there is no progress for them apart from the general advance of their class. Any organisation they may be associated with not based upon this conception of class solidarity coupled with the recognition of the conditions of the conflict they are consciously or unconsciously participating in to-day—conditions briefly set out in the foregoing—is not an organisation at all for their purposes. It is simply a delusion and a snare from which, when wisdom comes, they will flee—after giving it a parting kick as a mark of their esteem.

R.C.A. Fatuity
Does the Railway Clerks’ Association give even a fleeting intimation, of its recogition of the essentials of working-class organisation? To that question we have to answer to-day as we have answered before—not one. On the contrary it seems to lay itself out to shew that more appalling stupidity, more abysmal ignorance can find lodgement in the clerical breast—or that part of their anatomy clerks usually think with—than in the mental fit-up of any other species of proletarian. The public pronouncement previously referred to after detailing some of the reasons for organisation on the part of railway clerks, goes on with sublime fatuity (or stupendous cheek) to say—

“The Association advocates nothing of a character likely to be detrimental to proper discipline or the best interests of the Railway Companies, and one of its aims is to promote a better understanding between Directors, Officers and Staff.”

Is there any “Labour” organisation maintaining itself leech-like upon working-ignorance anywhere, that can beat that for folly ? Here are workmen acquiescing in the announcement made by their leaders with an air of authoritative wisdom to the effect that on the one hand out of their own pence the men are voluntarily creating an organisation for the purpose of looking after the best interests of their employers, while on the other they assert they have entered into association to protect themselves against their employers ! Apparently the R.C.A. is of opinion that the best way to fight the employer is to kill him with kindness—a method for which, perhaps, something might be said if the employer under such treatment did not take so unconscionable a time in dying.

And this is the organisation which railway clerks are strongly pressed to join ; an organisation without a glimmer of understanding of the working class position ; an organisation whose idea of association is to sub-divide the working class into as many sections and sub-sections as the numerical strength will allow ; an organisation that conducts its campaign against capitalism by studying the best interests of capitalism and modifying its own action to conform to the requirements of those best interests ! How the board-rooms must ring with the laughter of the great-hearted Directors when the news comes in of the steps their clerical workers are taking to secure some amelioration in their hard condition. Small wonder that Directors of Companies sat at one time—whether they do or not, now, does not appear in the document under notice—in the presidential and vice-presidential chairs of the R.C.A.—it was most excellent good business for them.

And small wonder also that such an organisation should have as its most prominent fugleman, the nominee of a person of so malodorous a reputation as the President of the Local Government Board. Alderman W. J. West, J.P., the nominee referred to, is the President of the R.C.A. and under the aegis of Burns stood as L.C.C. candidate for Battersea, vice Burns himself, (who had been called to higher things by his too satisfied capitalist paymasters). We had the satisfaction of doing something toward the defeat of Mr. West’s pseudo-Progressive and confusionist candidature, just as we hope to have the satisfaction of doing something toward defeating the work of Mr. West’s pseudo-labour confusionist organisation.

The Duty o£ the S.P.G.B.
That is our business in life as a Socialist Party. We are out to combat working-class error, and invincible though the error seems when manifested in such appalling pronouncements as the one quoted from above, we are by no means dismayed. To some number we who form the S.P.G.B. are clerks ourselves and have some intimate knowledge of the forces which operate to produce in the clerk that sense of snobbish superiority which is so pitiable because based upon such slender ground—as the clerks themselves make patent every time they “spread” themselves to achieve dialectical effects in political or economic discussion. As the Emerald Islander would put it, “they can never open their mouth without putting their foot in it.” Break down the fancy line of caste, however, let in upon him the light of the Socialist philosophy that raises (or reduces) the man with the hoe to the level of the man with the pen, and the clerk takes his place with the rest of the working class and may be relied upon to do his share in the work of breaking down the society forms behind which the forces of capitalism lie entrenched, and setting to utter rout those forms thus unmasked.

The Only Hope
We despair neither of the clerk nor the navvy. Pressure of economic forces will compel him to cast about for the, means of economic salvation, as in fact it is doing to-day, and although his untutored efforts may be temporarily arrested by charlatan or fool and his energies switched off and wasted in absurd organisations of the type of the R.C.A., it must occur that, in the result, for the very simple reason that the Socialist Party alone holds the solution of the industrial problem, he must turn to the Socialist Party for the way of escape. The Socialist Party alone can explain the phenomena of economic cataclysm. The Socialist Party alone can unravel the tangled skein of working-class hardship and poverty and insecurity. And in the Socialism they advocate can adequate and final remedy be found. “There is no other name given under Heaven whereby we may he saved” except Socialism.

Our appeal to the clerks of the R.C.A. and to every other memher of the exploited working class is that they should concentrate their mental energies upon a fair and full consideration of the Socialist position. The result will be sure. It will he death to the Railway Clerks’ Association and all other such causes of working-class confusion, but it will mean life to the railway clerk and to the rest of the proletariat.


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