The Apostles of Lower Wages

Once again we turn the searchlight upon the nefarious traffic of those who, styling themselves labour leaders, support the character by leading Labour, like a lamb, to the slaughter. The latest instance of the treachery of these odorous hirelings of the capitalist class, while of no importance as an historical event, since it indicates no new phase in the record of this unspeakable band of fratricides, is of moment as showing once again, to those who have eyes to see, the face of the old enemy beneath the mask of the new friend. Mr. D. J. Shackleton, M.P., member of the Parliamentary Labour Group, president of the Trade Unions Congress, is reported to have delivered himself of the following sentiments at the Mechanics’ Institute, Nottingham, on November 30th :—

“Supporters of the Bill recently rejected were hoping that it would have enabled them to deal with the drink traffic in such a manner as to put the country on a more equal footing with its industrial competitors in other countries. So long as they spent, as at present, far and away more than Germany and America per head of the population on intoxicating liquors, so long would they be liable to be beaten in industrial competition.”—Daily Chronicle, 1.12.08.

There is, indeed, food for reflection in this message from the chief of the purveyors of soporifics to the working class of this country. In the first place it may be noticed with what a deft turn of capitalist sophistry this hireling shepherd removes the fight from the “class” field to that of race. It is not, be it observed, the filching from the worker of the greater part of the product of his toil that claims the attention of Mr. D. J. Shackleton and his cannibal pack of vampires. No ! the enemy of labour is not capital; the despoiler of the worker is not that class which stand between him and the fulness of the earth the fruit of his painful drudgery ; the evil is not, mark you, rooted in the system of class domination, class possession of all that is necessary and good under the sun. No ! all this is mythology, the vain vapouring of well-meaning visionaries, or the calculated seduction of far-seeing panderers to the popular aspiration to better conditions. Labour has but one foe, we are told, and that is—himself.

Oh ! coals of fire upon those of us who dared to dream of the “brotherhood of man,” and those others of us who asserted nothing higher than the oneness of the material interests of the wage-workers the whole world—over the enemy of Labour in one country is himself in all other countries. The workers of Germany and of America have taken us by the throat in the strife of industrial competition, and we must clutch at their vitals in self defence.

Alas ! for our dream of emancipation without distinction of race or sex.

Oh ! sackcloth and ashes for those of us who aspired to the capture of political power for the overthrow of the capitalist system, the bill is to be filled by the abolition of the House of Lords to the end that a measure shall be passed to make the British worker become more abstemious and so put “the country on a more equal footing with its industrial competitors in other countries.”

Overwhelming shame on those of us who, in our visionary frenzy, declared for “the whole product to the producer,”—the trouble is that the workers already get too much ! They must be legislated into temperance—not for temperance sake, but to “put the country on a more equal footing with its industrial competitors in other countries.”

Repentance at leisure for those fools who sent Mr. D. J. Henderson and his gang of shameless harpies to the House of Commons to forward the interests of Labour—the only interest of Labour they have made any attempt to forward is thia abortive effort to reduce the workers’ “drink bill” so that a corresponding deduction may be made from their wages bill “to put the country on a more equal footing with its industrial competitors of other countries.”

These men stand now in the broad light of day, self confessed—by the lips of their leader—apostles of lower wages for the class who aree fools enough to allow them access to their pockets in the vain hope that they will do something for them.

For how else can they pretend that the realisation of their desire to “deal with the drink traffic” can save their working-class dupes from being “beaten in industrial competition,” except on the ground that lower wages would rule, and enable the manufacturer to throw commodities into the foreign market at a lower price ? Mr. Shackleton may be quite correct in his economics so far. It is admitted that, notwithstanding the broad law ruling the world of commodities, making them exchange one with another according to the labour time necessary to their production, the manufacturer who secures the cheapest labour-power is certainly in a position to sell below value “to secure the business.” But to argue therefrom that the workers of this country, as a result of having learnt to live cheaper, and therefore to work, as these labour leeches wish them to, for smaller wages, are going to reap the benefit in the form of less unemployment, is to present a view as chimerical as it is pleasing and plausible.

If there is any truth in Mr. Shackleton’s argument that the lower wages due to the lessened consumption of intoxicating liquors will enable British commodities to find a larger sale in foreign markets, it equally true that the rise in British wages which would follow upon the more general demand for labour-power in the home labour market will have a counterbalancing effect. For the rest, as has been recently shown in these columns, any rise of the price of labour-power at once handicaps it against its incessant competitor, machinery, the extended adoption of which throws men out of employment until the relative proportion of out-o’-works to in-works stands at that particular level that best suits the production of profit.

So, the object of these instruments of working-class betrayal resolves itself merely into a reduction of the working-class standard of living, lessening of the portion of wealth produced which falls to the lot of the producer, ostensibly “to put the country on a more equal footing with its industrial competitors in other countries,” but in reality in order that a larger share of the wealth produced may be left for those who do not produce it.

A high aim, friends and fellow workers of the S.D.P. and I.L.P., who bruised your shoulders against the wheel to trundle these men into the “House.” A lofty and noble aspiration, brother workers of the trade unions, of whose Congress this particular individual is the presis, to direct your anxious efforts toward. Lower wages is the only message he has for you, for all the hundreds of golden pieces you pour into his capacious maw, year in and year out. A lower standard of living, a cheaper existence, is the only hope he can see for you, who produce all the wealth of the community and enjoy so little of it. A labour leader, and the only enemy he can find to lead you against is your fellow workers of Germany and America. The paid declarant of your poverty and suffering, he insults and mocks you with the suggestion that you have yourselves to blame for wasting your substance in riotous living—as your abstemious masters have told you for so many years without charging you anything for the information.

Fellow members of the working class, how long will you continue to put your faith in these damnable, sneering rascals who, imbuing you with the fallacious idea that they are nearer to you than your masters are, become the valued instruments of those masters by leading you around the industrial Desert of Gobi ? The present remedy for your deplorable condition is to reduce your standard of living to that of your German co-workers ; but how when international capital opens up the great Chinese labour market, and you are face to face with the products of 500,000,000 people who can each, we are told, live on a handful of rice ? It is logical to presume that your salvation will then lie in reducing your standard of living to meet the new conditions.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain do not offer you economic salvation at so low a cost as temperance or even total abstinence, do not promise you safety in citizen armies, or surcease of sorrow in pensions for the old and meals for the young, do not urge you to take arms against the militarism of the German Emperor or to tighten the belt and forego pipe and pewter in the endeavour to outstarve the “industrial competitors in other countries.” All we can offer you
are the irresistible weapons of the class struggle and a place in the forefront of the battle; continued and increasing poverty and suffering until the day of victory,—but victory at last. They lie who promise you more; they betray who would have you burn your brains out in the search for palliatives. There is no balm in capitalist Gilead, therefore—the World for the Workers. Only possession of whole means of production can give you any amelioration of your lot. Unemployment and starvation, ay, and even drunkenness too, and other degradation, are, the necessary concomitants, or, it is better said, necessary results of your status as wage-slaves. That status must be altered ; and it is because these men who claim to represent Labour in Parliament, with their fostering of race hatred, their advocacy of cheaper existence, their thousand and one acts and “words that weary and perplex and pander and conceal,” are one of the chief bulwarks of capitalist domination that we denounce them for what they are—tools of the master class, betrayers of their own.


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