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

“The Force of Passing Events.” Reform in the Baking Trade

In Fear of the Awakening

From time to time there have appeared in THE SOCIALIST STANDARD articles descriptive of the horribly inhuman conditions imposed upon bread bakers by our rascally commercial system, and showing how the victims, after floundering about in the Slough of Reform for years, are now turning to the remedy—Socialism. One of these articles has been quoted in full by the official organ of the London master bakers, which now is voicing the fear that unless something is done by way of reform the result will be cataclysmal for the exploiters. In an article headed “White slavery” an appeal is made to the sweater to be a little more merciful than heretofore, and he is reminded of the “laws of reason,” “our common humanity,” “the principle of live and let live,” and such like meaningless twaddle so dear to the heart of the mealy-mouthed and fire-eating reformer alike. Instances known to the Editor are given of men who work 110 hours a week for the “quite inadequate wage of 26s. a week.” That is less than threepence an hour for working in the hot, fetid, smoke, sulphur and steam-laden atmosphere of a bakehouse. The Bakers’ Record, however, recognises that there are two sides to every question, especially now the labourer begins to show his teeth, and it sapiently observes, “Every toiler in a bakehouse, however subordinate his position for the time being may be, always has the prospect before him of being able one day, through the exercise of industry, intelligence, and enterprise, of opening out into life on his own account ; these counteracting considerations notwithstanding, there can be no blinking the transparent fact that much cruelty is exercised here and there, which to a degree throws opprobrium on the whole trade.” It is, no doubt, a regrettable fact that the Socialist at the street corner has for ever made the further blinking of these disagreeable things impossible. It is also a pity that opprobrium should fall on a whole trade. Disgusting and sickening to see the operative turning his face to the rising sun of Socialism as a way out, instead of indulging in the beatific vision of one day becoming a bloodsucker himself as compensation for the loss of his own red corpuscles, and industriously applying himself, with a wet towel around his pate, to the study of the intricacies of high finance that he may be able to successfully float his future Bonanza bakery (the days of the little drum up a side street being over); but the melancholy fact must be recognised, nevertheless, and the operative side-tracked at all costs.

Murder will out

But how ? Not with jeremiads and the gospel according to Samuel Smiles, but with reforms. This much the capitalist has learned. But what reform? Here the difficulty is met. In the baking trade we have had a surfeit of arbitration and conciliation boards, and see them for the frauds they are, although boomed by shaky-knee’d labour leaders in other industries. That we are not taking any more is obvious to the hack writer referred to. He says : “The past history of the Protection Society (masters) reveals the fact that all such efforts have been in vain, that Arbitration Boards on which masters and men have been represented in equal strength have proved utterly futile, and that the intervention and good services of that useful public body, the London Chamber of Commerce, were utterly useless.” O tempora, O mores ! Alas and alack ! the times are indeed out of joint. The working baker scornfully rejecting a proved fraud— Arbitration. He will no longer beg the robber class to rob him a little less, but is audaciously talking of preventing the robbery altogether. The scribe goes on “the masters selfishly look after what they consider their own individual rights and interests.” Of course they do. That is what they are in business for—nothing else. And they buy all their commodities—flour, salt, coal, yeast, and labour-power—at rock bottom prices, and will continue to do so despite the reformers’ pathetic appeals to them to consider the broader interests of capitalism as against individual selfishness as a means of putting off the evil day of the workers’ emancipation; and despite the fact that that narrow selfishness coupled with the economic development is forcing the pace, as the writer points out in the following terms :

“Therein we can clearly see lies the danger of legislative interference, at no distant date, and we are not sure that it would be to the interests of either party when it became necessary by the force of passing events. We do not hesitate to say that it would be distinctly to the disadvantage of the masters.”

The Capitalist “in the Cart”

“The force of passing events” is good, very excellent good. It comprises the driving factors which no individual master or joint-stock company can stay or control. The reformer, then, might just as well throw up the sponge and “cease his damnable faces.” The diabolical system cannot be permanently patched up. The “force of passing events” renders the methods of production in vogue to-day antiquated to-morrow, and the rules of the game obsolete and inoperative. The capitalist cannot observe them if he would. He that would save his trade alive must adapt himself to the new conditions, must toe the commercial line drawn by the most unscrupulous, by the man who has the predatory instinct and a species of low cunning abnormally developed. The inexorable decree of Capital is :—

” ‘Mid the clash of gentler souls and rougher,
Wrong must thou do or wrong must suffer.”

and the survivor is he who has elected to do wrong.

The Futility of “Fakes”

Faced with this position the reformer, who, generally speaking, can skilfully and accurately diagnose the disease, is hard put to it find another quack remedy. “The force of passing events” has rended all the old, fly-blown fakes into things of shreds and patches which cannot be refurbished any more. The position is desperate. The worker must be side-tracked by some means—but alas ! the reformer must either speak truly or fall back on age-worn appeals. He therefore calls for “harmonious action,” “a frank and manly understanding between employer and employed,” and such like “tosh.” But it leads nowhither. “He circling goes who navigates a pond.” It’s no go. The only understanding that will serve is the understanding of our position in the social organism—that we are mere commodities on the labour market; that the sole function of the capitalist is to make profit, which he can only do by robbing the worker; that there can be no “harmonious action” between the exploiter and the exploited, however ignorant capitalist institutions have succeeded in keeping the workers, and that all “understandings” promoted with that end in view can be summed up in the rhyme of our younger days:—

There was a young lady of Niger,
Who went for a ride on a tiger;
They came back from their ride
With the lady inside,
And a smile on the face of the tiger.

That’s the position.

Emancipation via Revolution

There is no getting to the windward of the capitalist while production for profit lasts. Fully aware of this, we are going for no more rides. We are out for the emancipation of the workers by the workers—for emancipation via the social revolution.

W. WATTS

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