1900s >> 1909 >> no-54-february-1909

Wolf and Lamb. A Queer Partnership.

“In the chair was Mr. Shackleton, M.P., one of the most conspicuous Labour members in the present House of Commons; the chief address was delivered by Mr. A. J. Balfour, in his capacity as president; and the vote of thanks to the ex-Premier was presented to a crowded audience by three gentlemen representative of widely apart walks of life, namely, Sir Christopher Furness, M.P., one of the great captains of industry in the country ; Professor A. C. Pigou, Lecturer in Economics at Cambridge University; and Mr. Amos Mann, who has for years been associated with the Labour Co-Partnership movement, particularly in the Midlands. Hardly less notable than the group of speakers was the numerous company of ladies and gentlemen who supported them on the platform – employers and employed. Labour men and co-operators, philanthropists and Parliamentarians. Of members of the House of Commons there must have been at least three-score present, representing practically every shade of opinion in that Assembly. Mr. Maddison, M.P., put this unpolitical character of the gathering in a nutshell when, in speaking to one of the business resolutions towards the close of the proceedings, be declared that the annual meeting of the association furnished one of the few occasions when it was possible, without the risk of subsequent criticism, to stand on the same platform with men with whom one might disagree on every other conceivable subject but the one that had brought them together.”Daily Telegraph</em>, 2.12.08.

And what is the object of this rare occasion when it is possible for this collection of such seemingly bitter and irreconcilable foes to stand upon the same platform ? Let Mr. Balfour, the chief spokesman, answer: –

“He advocated the movement, he said, not simply because it might minimise strikes, and incite to a larger output of work, but rather because it would give the workman a wider and deeper interest in his work and give him greater knowledge of the difficulties of the employer. ‘Nothing can be better for the country, he added, ‘than that the artisan classes of the community should have the closest and most intimate knowledge possible of business methods, business difficulties, and business risks, as well as business profits.’ “Ibid.

Here, then, is the description of the movement, gently named Labour Co-Partnership, by one of the prominent official representatives of the employing class. The occasion is when arrangements are to be made – or attempted to be made – not only for minimising strikes and inciting to larger output (matters of great importance from the view-point of the employers’interests), but also for initiating the workers into knowledge of business difficulties and business risks.

What are business risks ? Properly speaking, of course, the reference is to business man’s risk in the commercial competition.

Not only in the home market, but also in the foreign and neutral markets of the world, the “business men” of England find themselves face to face with the ever-growing competition of their foreign rivals. To hold their own in the markets or to increase their share of these markets it is necessary that they sell cheaper than their competitors. But to sell cheaper they must produce, or have produced for them, cheaper than before.

How may this be done ?

Here the truth of Marx’s analysis of capitalism is at once admitted in practice, if denied in theory.

According to Marx the value of an article is fixed by the average time taken under the prevailing conditions of society to produce it. And every representative of capitalism, from the Trust magnate to the Co-Partner, agrees with this. Hence the incitement to a larger output of work and a minimising of strikes. Hence, also, the other statement of Mr. Balfour’s, that “Every arrangement which softened or obliterated the division between employer and employed, between owner and occupier, was to them welcome.” In other words, the employers adopt various methods for reducing the time required to produce articles, admitting that this is a reduction in the value of these articles, which can then be sold at a lower price.

But certain difficulties present themselves.

When trade is “booming,” and the employer is making larger profits than usual, the “ungrateful” workman, despite the fact that be may be enjoying “plenty of work,” sometimes takes it into his head that he would like a slightly larger share of the wealth he has produced so abundantly, and taking a “mean advantage” of the employer, he threatens to strike unless his demands are granted. To have a strike to contend with means stoppage of production, and therefore the losing of the opportunity of making those larger profits. The employer grates his teeth. Under his breath he curses the “wicked workers” who were not content – despite all the P.S.A. addresses delivered by various “Labour” leaders – to remain in the position in which capitalism had placed them. For the time being the master may yield to the men’s demands, but always with the intention of finding some way out of the difficulty in the future. This, however, is no easy task, far, as Sir Christopher Furness said in a speech at the meeting mentioned above, “Knowing how thoroughly the strike habit was ingrained in the artizan classes, Business co-partnery would have bad no chance whatever unless the possibility of striking had been entirely removed.”

Here, then, are the two difficulties facing the capitalist – to get the “lazy” worker to speed up, and to prevent strikes taking place at awkward moments – awkward, that is, for the capitalist’s profits. Labour Co-Partnership meets both these points in a splendid way for the exploiter.

The employee is compulsorily “allowed” to take up shares in the business. Sometimes, When the employer has been seized with an extra acute attack of “regard for the worker,” the latter is even allowed to be present at some of the Directors – Meetings, where he may listen with bated breath and awe-struck mien while the “superman” Directors wrestle with the “business difficulties and business risks, as well as the business profits,” and tell him how the concern should be run. It is pointed out to the worker that unless he strains every nerve and muscle to produce as cheaply as possible, his rivals will get the trade and the workers in the Co-Partnership concern will not only lose their dividends (often amounting to fabulous sums), but may even lose their jobs, in spite of the fact that they are co-partners. And thus one point is gained.

Then as for striking, why, that would be absurd. Are not they “interested” in the firm ? Are they not “part owners” ? And would you expect a man to strike against his own interests and property ? Certainly not. Then hurrah ! for what is probably the most successful of the detail swindles perpetrated upon the working class. And cheer for the Labourite, Lib-Lab, and philanthropists who graced this meeting with their presence. Whether Shackleton (late chairman of the Labour Party), Maddison (member of the Liberal Party), H. Vivian (member of the T.U. Group), Balfour (late Tory Prime Minister) or Furness (Liberal steelmaster and shipowner), they all agree upon this fundamental point – that the workers must be driven harder, bound in still tighter servitude, exploited more ruthlessly than ever, for the benefit of the employing class. “Birds of a feather flock together,” and the fact, so often pointed out in our columns, that these so-called Labour Leaders are merely the agents of the employers, receives additional and overwhelming evidence from the gathering under notice.

“Nonsense !” we will be told. “Do not the men share in the profits ? Are not huge sums disbursed yearly among, for instance, the employees in the South Metropolitan Gas Works ?” Our answer is NO ! The workers not only do not share in the profits, but they have produced increased profits for the employers while suffering an actual decrease of wages. For it is the fact that since the inauguration of this scheme at the South Metropolitan Gas Works, profits have gone up by leaps and bounds, and the cost of producing gas has considerably decreased. While under the old system the men worked eight hours a day, under the new they work twelve ! Not only this, but even with the longer hours the speed has been increased to such an extent that more in produced now per man per hour than under the old scheme. The few shillings “dividend” the worker annually receives is based upon the fact that production must be brought to a certain level before any “dividend” is awarded. Thus the work is increased in intensity and the working day in length, and out of the vast surplus thus created the worker receives a miserable mite, far below what his ordinary wages, taken over the increased time of his toil, would have amounted to.

The much lauded Co-Partnership scheme is thus seen to be but another contrivance and a most excellent and successful one from any but a working-class point of view – whereby the capitalist is enabled to pick cleaner the bones of the worker lamb, and it is interesting to note with what accord the “Labour” leaders lend themselves to the machination.

J.FITZGERALD

(Socialist Standard, February 1909)