1900s >> 1908 >> no-49-september-1908

Editorial: Volume V.

With this issue THE SOCIALIST STANDARD enters upon its fifth volume, and each volume represents twelve issues containing more real information of Socialism and the Socialist Movement than any paper of whatever size appearing in this country. For four years THE SOCIALIST STANDARD has appeared with regularity each month, notwithstanding that our death as a party after three month’s existence was foretold by the quidnuncs; and notwithstanding the opposition of those who sought to silence us by the operation of the law of libel.

For four years the Party Organ has maintained consistently the attitude of hostility to all the forces seeking the maintenance of capitalism, palliated or otherwise; and for a like period the claims of Socialism as the one subject of real interest to the working class have been maintained against those who, on the one side, while persistently calling themselves Socialists, are busy following the will-o-the-wisp of the “practical” politicians into the bogs of reform, and against those who err on the other side and would sacrifice the Socialist Movement to their own horror of the temptations of political action, by relinquishing the strongest weapon the working class ever can have in its struggle for emancipation—the political weapon—because that weapon, corroded by its long connexion with the oppressing class, corrupts some of those who attempt to grasp it for their own selfish or misguided ends.

For a party such as ours, dependent entirely on the voluntary work of its members, without a single individual financially interested in either the Party or its Organ, the existence and the appearance of our paper is something of which the Party membership may well be proud. Written by workmen in the brief intervals between toil and sleep, its articles are always, we believe, easy of understanding by those who, like the writers, have first-hand experience of the conditions of the problem with which they treat.

While, however, our paper is justifiably a source of pride, it is so, we would remind you, only because it is our paper, and being ours, we, the Party, are responsible for it. Let the Party, then, remember its responsibilities. Anything which can provide a point for the further explanation of Socialism, in anything they may be reading, members should make a note of, cut it out if possible, and send it to the Head Office clearly marked.

Our paper is a very important item in the work of the Party, and the energies of every member are needed to ensure its success. Everyone can do something, if it is only selling it, and if the members will remember the claims of their Party Organ, Volume V. will probably show them developments and improvements which will make it of even greater service than it has been in the past.

The first three volumes, bound together, had a good sale and are even yet obtainable from the
Head Office. It may be that the four volumes now completed will be obtainable similarly bound together. If so, they will represent such a collection of Socialist literature as to provide a valuable addition to the bookshelves of the studentof this importantand interesting subject.

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The Eight Hour Day

The speeding up of the workman, the evergrowing intensity of the labour exacted from him, renders imperative a longer repose so that he may recuperate his working strength and maintain his maximum productivity. Hence flows the modern tendency toward shorter hours so that the profitableness of the worker to the capitalist may increase. It is the necessary and inevitable outcome of modern industrial conditions even from the capitalist point of view, and is by no means a sign of victory over the ruling class.

If the champions of the eight hour day were to confine themselves to stating the truth about their pet reform there would be little need to quarrel with them, but when they claim as one of the virtues of the eight hour day that it will abolish or greatly reduce unemployment, we join issue. It is rankest charlatanism to foist a piece of some necessary capitalistic patchwork upon the slow-minded as the remedy for the workers’ greatest ill, yet, unfortunately, it is the characteristic procedure of the labour leader.

In the present instance, if the reduction of working hours is to bring about more employment, it could only be by decreasing the output per man, and providing more work by causing the employment of more men to produce the same amount as before. But would it have any such effect ? So far as positive evidence goes it is directly against any presumption of a lessening of the output per man. Even past masters in the art of red-herring trailing give themselves away at times. Thus Sidney Webb and Harold Cox in their book, “The Eight Hour Day,” state in considering the result of a general reduction of the hours of labour in all trades that—

“The successive reductions of the hours of labour which this century has witnessed have been attended, after a very short interval, by a positive general increase in individual productivity. In many cases it has been found that the workers did more in ten hours than their predecessors in twelve. The effort to get more than a certain amount of work out of a man defeats itselt.”

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The question that matters

Instance after instance is given of the increase in efficiency and output that follows the reduction of the working day, showing how chimerical is the idea that a slight reduction in hours will put the unemployed in work.

Even as recently as the opening of the Mining Exhibition at Olympia on July 11th evidence was given of the normal result of a shortening of hours. Thus Lord Airedale of Gledhow: —

“In regard to the question of an Eight Hour Day, and of the consequent restriction of the hours of labour in mines, and the question of the increased cost that they were threatened with by mine owners, owing to the difficulties arising from the limitation of hours, he ventured to think that from what they saw that day of coal machinery, the mining engineers of that country would rise to the situation, and by the application of technical knowledge, he believed the threatened crisis would really not arise. It was cheering to note by such exhibitions that mechanical invention knew no end, and if it paid to use machinery when increased cost of labour came in, they might be assured that the difficulty would be successfully dealt with.”

It should be clear, then, that however necessary to capitalist development the reduction of the hours of labour may be, and however useful it may be in other respects, yet it most certainly is not the panacea for the great and growing evil of unemployment that its champions would have us believe. Besides, the question which overshadows all others in the eyes of the worker conscious of his position is not the paltry juggle with hours of labour, but rather the vital question of to whom shall the product of these working hours go ?

The workers, indeed, instead of wasting precious time and energy discussing and petitioning as to the particular sauce with which they are to be eaten, should at last awaken to the fact that it is not necessary that they should be eaten at all, and should take their stand with us accordingly.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, September 1908)

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