The Fraud of Municipal Bakeries


“Bread and Bunkum” is the title of an article in which Mr. R. B. Suthers draws, in the Clarion, a harrowing, soul-rending picture of the last gasp of the petty shop-keeper, particularly the master baker (perhaps the most pious, unctious, psalm-grinding, callous sweater civilisation has produced) who is now being crushed by the newest thing in trusts—the Bread Trust.

Mr. Suthers, out of the fulness of his heart, is moved to prescribe a remedy. What is this precious remedy ? None other than municipalisation, which he imagines is Socialism. He says :

“The only question for the small baker is, ‘Am I to be abolished by the Trust or by Socialism ?’ Allow me to put the problem from a Socialist point of view. Here is a community in which bread is a necessity to life. So much bread is required every day. The question is how to make bread in the cheapest and most expeditious manner. It is plain that in a large town it wouId be cheaper and more efficient to have one or more large bakeries from which bread could be delivered in motor cars direct to the customers, rather than have a number of small shops with a little hand cart or slow horsed cart each overlapping the district of half-a-dozen others. Local depots might be necessary, but they need not be so numerous nor so large as under the wasteful system of to-day.”

If I thought Socialism was anything so monstrous as this glorified capitalism I would fight it for all I was worth.

I have been a victim of this Manchester god of “cheapness” and “expedition” for over twenty years, and during that time have seen many journeymen bakers broken on the wheel of “cheapness,” “expedition,” and “efficiency.” I would ask Mr. Suthers to quit for a while his beloved rate-saving, middle-class view point, and look at the matter from the position as it affects the working class, the only class that matters, or is worth consideration in any way.

Assume that the rate-savers decide to municipalise the bread supply (it won’t be decided by master bakers, Mr. Suthers) what happens ? To ensure expedition and efficiency, cheapness, and other Manchesterisms, it will be necessary to have the newest and most down-to-date machinery operated in the most scientific manner and the latest manner is this: A large bakery is erected on scientific principles, that is, the interior of the structure is divided into two bakeries, exact duplicates, each with its gear of flour sifters, sack shakers, dough mixers, dividers, moulders, provers, ovens and storing racks, with one clock for the use of both. No partition divides them, so that the gangs of nearly naked, emaciated slaves work in full view of each other, each driven by an enslaved slave-driver
At the stroke of the clock the two gangs begin their mad race against time and efficient, untiring machinery. An industrial policeman, called the General Foreman, who is not necessarily a baker, clad in snow white cap and overalls, Stalks majestically from gang to gang, book in hand, recording by the common clock the time each gang takes to finish its “rounds,” not that the most “expeditious” may be decorated with a “Crown of Wild Olive,” but that the laggardg may be called upon to render an account of their stewardship in that capitalist hell of “cheapness, expedition, and efficiency,” and the misfits weeded out and “scrapped.” This mode of procedure brings out the tigrish instincts of the ganger, who is especially selected for his ability to drive and bully, and who is always on his trial, and can only retain his job by keeping time with his “opposite” or by running past him, consequently the “hand ” who slows down or does not hear a shouted order is “woke up” with a torrent of foul abuse and indecent oaths. The hawk-eyed “Pinkerton” looks on and makes a note. Such is a modern bakery !

In one of these efficient infernos I wot of, the most happy human machine is a big and powerful deaf mute, who works by watching the others. He never complains, nor does he hear the ganger’s live and modern English, nor “the roaring loom of time,” as typified by bread-making machinery. Yet he is sometimes pitied as being afflicted !

In a factory of this description the output per man engaged averages about twenty-two sacks of flour per week: in handicraft bakery it averages about twelve sacks. It is obvious, therefore, that as the industry becomes either trustified or municipalised, a large number of bakers will be thrown on the streets, and the market is already overcrowded with this class of merchandise, as a visit to the factory gates at 11 p.m. will testify. After that hour the poor devils who have failed to secure a night’s job may be seen tramping, Christ knows where, while their brilliantly lighted municipal trams, only half filled, glide past them. Perhaps by tramping through the slush and rain in broken boots they can meditate the better on the advantages of municipalising the trams, which Mr. Suthers with ghastly irony, told us a time ago now belongs to all the people. Mr. Suthers does not say what municipalisation will do for these, or for the “outed” master bakers, the redundant carmen, the superfluous shop-girls, millers’ travellers, shop fitters, and a host of others who will go into the ranks of the unemployed, and in the fulness of time become unemployables, wastrels with drooping lips and slouching gait, fit material for the casual ward and the lunatic asylum, if no worse fate awaits them.

Mr. Suthers, in his tender solicitude for the small master (the ever-starving journeymen seem to be an entirely negligible quantity) asks : “Will the trust buy him out ?” and answers : “No ! the trust will freeze him out.” “Will the trust,” he goes on, “find the starving shopkeepers work ? Will it ?” No, Mr. Suthers, it will not, neither will the municipality buy him out, though, certainly, he may secure a job by the influence of his co-religionists on the council. If he be a Freemason he may even become a “Pinkerton.”

Mr. Suthers concludes by asking “Why then should we not organise this business of making bread, and put an end for ever to the degrading condition and struggle for existence between rival bakeries ?” And my answer is because it would be better to eliminate all the “business” out of industry absolutely, and make bread to be eaten, not to lower rates. Municipalities go into business to make profit only, like any other capitalist concern. It does not signify whether the owners absorb the profits in the shape of “reduced prices” or lower rates. If the working class is enabled to buy cheap bread the operation of the “Iron Law of Wages” will secure all the advantage for the capitalists, as it did in the days of the saintly Bright, when the corn laws were repealed. Capital is always the same in its effect on the working class, whether manipulated by an individual capitalist, joint-stock enterprise, municipality or government, and with each step in concentration the working class gets relatively less and the master class gets richer, more corrupt and more bestial, as recent events in Berlin and elsewhere show.

Why should all the bread be made in factories, anyhow ? In a Socialist community the housewife would have the facilities, if she so wished, to make bread and pastries for herself, her mate and her children, and to suit their individual palates. The essence of Socialism is freedom, and if a woman prefers to develope her individuality by making pure and wholesome food she will be at liberty to do so. All healthy humans must expend their energies in some manner, and why not in cooking—who shall say them nay ?

The damnable idea of being marshalled and drilled, or numbered and docketted, like any other merchandise, in a state of glorified capitalism is not the Socialist’s ideal, but its antithesis, no matter what the capitalists and their protagonists, the pseudo-Socialists, choose to name it. We don’t want to be driven to the gate of the municipal or other factory to hustle and elbow our fellows out of the way so that we may catch the official’s eye in the mad and sordid scramble for mere belly food, for a mere animal subsistence, to be thrown on the social scrap-heap the moment we cease to be “expeditious,” there to rot out a living death, the mental agony prolonged by being kept on the brink of Kingdom Come by a “George Barnes” pension, previously deducted from our competition wage. With the advent of Socialism the whole of the capitalist State and its superstructure will collapse, with its cant of living wages, its Brotherhoods of Man, and the rest of its nauseous humbug.

Socialism will enable us to co-operate with our fellows for the production and distribution of all the necessaries and comforts of life, and to further bring under control the forces of nature for the common weal. Then and then only will the humanities have a chance. Then we shall live, stand erect and be men and women. Away with all forms of capitalism ! Speed the Social Revolution !


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