Bounteous Bournville

Among the many devices adopted for the purpose of befuddling the minds of the working-class, a strong favourite is the one of loudly advertising the actions of the “good” members of the capitalist class and emphasising what they “do” for the workers. We are told of their contributions to various charitable institutions, their subscriptions to various funds, and of the thought and care they exercise in looking after those in their employ.

A typical instance of the latter point is Messrs. Cadbury’s model village at Bournville. Gallons of good ink and yards of paper have been used in describing the superiority Bournville posesses over the ordinary village or the working-class quarters of our large cities. Let us see how these “advantages” benefit the workers living in this model village.

When one first enters “Cadburytown,” the wide streets planted with trees, the semidetached houses, each pair of different design, with large gardens in the rear and smaller gardens in the front, certainly convey the idea that this is a far healthier and more pleasant place to live in than most villages of the same size. True, the attempt to vary every pair of cottages has resulted in some weird and wonderful specimens of domestic architecture, but we may let that pass. A spacious recreation ground with a fine pavilion and a large allotment ground are also shown with pride to the visitor. He is also carefully informed that inside the large factories everything is clean and bright, and that Mr. Cadbury is himself frequently present to deal with any trouble or complaint that may arise. Inside the factory a gymnasium is fitted up and the younger of the employees partake of exercise, for a fixed period, during working hours. Up to a certain age—18 years I believe—costumes are provided for the girls entering the “gym” ; after that age they must provide such costume themselves.

But the Socialist is still unconverted. He has one or two questions to ask. He has already noticed that every garden is in a certain stage of cultivation. There are differences, of course, but all are cultivated in some degree. Then he learns that prizes are given for the best gardens and, to prevent ignorance of horticulture being advanced as a reason for not competing, two gardeners are employed for the purpose of instructing the tenants in the arts and mysteries of cultivating a small holding. The allotments, too, are ample, and from a cursory inspection it would seem that most of the tenants take up at least one plot.

After working during the day in the factory, the cocoa worker can enjoy the fresh air and the fragrance of Nature by working on his garden or allotment land ; or he may take a turn at cricket or football practice on the recreation ground. He is expected to compete for the garden prizes, for what would be the use of providing professional gardeners to instruct him if he does not take advantage of their services ? Thus between his cottage garden, the allotment plot, and the recreation ground he finds himself under the aegis of Cadbury from the moment he awakes till he retires to his well-earned rest.

Those of the working class who have attempted to follow any regular or systematic course of study, know only too well the serious handicap that working as a wage-slave during the day imposes upon them, and how difficult it is to apportion their scanty spare time to the best advantage. At Bournville the worker is completely safeguarded against any such worries by the simple expedient of filling up his time outside the factory with work—of a different kind, perhaps, to that inside—under the eye of Cadbury. It might be inconvenient for Cadbury and the rest of the capitalist class were he to spend his spare time in studying, say, the source of surplus value, or the cause of unemployment. Therefore he must have something else to do—and he has.

Just before leaving, a question perhaps occurs to the visitor that the array of “good” things done by the capitalist had, up till then, driven into the back-ground. “What are the wages paid here?” he asks, and is surprised to find that no one seems to know. By dint of some enquiries he gradually discovers that most of the employees are paid at piece-work rates. But in addition to this they are expected to turn out a certain quantity in a given time ; in other words, it is not only piece work, but task work.

The tyro in economics may wonder why the employer should trouble about the quantity the worker turns out seeing that the latter is only paid for what he produces. Like other capitalists, however, Cadburys have long learnt that the establishment expenses are going on all the same, and that the larger the quantity of articles this can be spread over, the relatively cheaper is the production.

And now the iron hand inside the velvet glove is beginning to be discerned. If a worker does not keep up to the standard speed set by the employer, he or she is required to give an explanation. Do they not live in a healthy place with plenty of open-air occupations ? Are not the houses fairly roomy and healthy, so different to the crowded town slum ? Is not the gymnasium provided in the works, to be used during the employer’s time, on purpose to keep the worker physically fit ? And the wage-slave at Bournville would be obliged to answer “yes” to all these questions. Then why are you not able to keep up at the pace fit for the highest physical efficiency at present humanly possible? And some plausible excuse must be found, or there is a vacancy soon after.

To do him the barest justice it must be admitted that Cadbury himself admits that it is not philanthropy, but entirely business reasons that lay behind the establishment of Bournville. To obtain the maximum output from the worker he or she must be in the highest state of physical efficiency. This again can only be obtained by supplying the worker with the means of keeping in good health. Hence the detached cottages and large air space at Bournville. Hence also the gymnasium in the factory.

The gardens, allotments, and recreation ground are part of a more general scheme for binding the employees, body and mind, to their employers by keeping them completely under the employers’ control every moment of their lives. Despite their “superior” surroundings, the employees at Bournville are more completely enslaved, and certainly as much exploited, as the workers in the ordinary industrial centres. The form under which the exploitation takes place may differ, but the essence remains. Cadbury, no more than any other capitalist, can get wealth out of the air. It can only be produced by the application of human energy to the nature-given materials. Large subscriptions to various lists and the subsidising of a daily paper can only take place when some section of the working class is being robbed of the results of their applied labour-power. Attempts to “sugar” the pill by building “model” villages and fitting up gymnasiums cannot hide the fact of its being a pill, while, as shown above, the “sugar” is more than compensated for by the increased enslavement of the employees. One does not hear of a union among the workers at Bournville, for, of course, there is no need of such a thing where the worker can speak to his employer personally and place his grievance—or demands—before him first hand ; while, in his isolation, he is wondering what on earth the man working next to him is going to do. Not by misleading the workers into thinking there are “good” and “bad” capitalists, but by showing them that all capitalists and employers can only exist by robbery will the emancipation of the working class be hastened. Only by using their scanty leisure to learn the lesson of Socialism put forward by the S.P.G.B. will they get rid of the superstition that an alteration in the form or methods of exploitation can alter their position. With that lesson learnt the days of Cadbury, Bournville, and Bunkum will be over.


Leave a Reply