Editorial: “Our Wonderful Prosperity”
A Board of Trade return issued in support of Free Trade and giving figures showing the phenomenal amount of wealth that is created by those who do not enjoy it, was recently seized upon by the Dally Chronicle in an endeavour to convince the working man that he is prosperous. The figures, however, to the seeing eye show how fundamental is the great class antagonism ; and although the “national wealth” is spoken of and the amount per head calculated, it is seen that there are not one but two nations—those who live by labour and those who live upon those who labour—and that the hirelings who live by labour stand without the pale of this wonderful prosperity.
In reviewing the figures the Daily Chronicle did not refer to the significant increase in pauperism, lunacy, degeneration and unemployment that has been apparent during the past decade. It referred, it is true, to the fact that the cost of pauperism had nearly doubled since 1861, but tried to minimise this by stating that the proportion of paupers had decreased from 364 per 1,000 in 1861 to 249 per 1,000 in 1906. These figures, however, by no means show that the conditions of the working class have improved even compared with such an unfavourable period as 1861, for it is evident to all who have any knowledge of the history of the Poor Laws that the decline in pauperism has been due (as Ashcroft and Preston Thomas point out in “The English Poor Law System”), to the progressive imposition of more onerous conditions of relief and more rigorous tests, to the compulsory stay of vagrants and to the rigorous restriction of outdoor relief.
These facts however, are carefully hidden by the capitalist statistician, and he will complacently point to the decline in pauperism until recently as proof of a decline in poverty, while in reality it shows no nuch thing, for it is the result of the golden rule of capitalist poor “relief,” to make conditions of “relief” so onerous that the workers will—as indeed they do—rather starve than accept of it. It is most eloquent, of the workers’ condition, that in spite of this the past few years have seen an actual increase in pauperism.
Work and Wages
All who have studied working-class conditions know that the poverty and unemployment of that class is terrible indeed, and that figures drawn from returns made from a few “aristocrats of labour” are utterly inadequate to convey the depth of the poverty or the extent of unemployment among the toilers as a whole, many of whom sink yearly into the hopeless and increasing mass of slumdom through the pressure of economic circumstances. Rates of wages are also used by many to give a totally inaccurate impression, for no allowance is usually made for unemployment, “short time” or sickness, it being so arranged that if a workman gets for six months a wage of 30/- weekly and is compelled to be idle for the rest of the year, his wages are nevertheless represented not as 15/- but as 30/- per week.
One or two items of working-class consumption are given that show a decline in price, but no allowance whatever is made for the adulteration and reduction in quality which are daily more apparent in all things consumed by the workers ; while the fact that house room and many household necessities and provisions have increased in price is rarely mentioned.
The figures given by the Liberal M.P. for Paddington are, indeed, significant enough in themselves, for they show that one million people possess nearly one half of the income of the country. Yet Liberal organs parade the growing “wealth of the country” before the impoverished and worn-out toiler as proof to him that he is prosperous.
The “prosperity of the country” means the prosperity of those who own the country, not of the working class, and those who deny the class antagonism should endeavour to explain how it is that while the so-called national wealth increases by leaps and bounds the condition of those who produce this wealth shows no improvement, but that their employment grows less secure and their toil more intense.