Soap, Socialism and T. P. O’Connor

Port Sunlight has been the subject of comment in our columns before, but there still remains much that can be usefully discussed in connection with the model suburb which graces one bank of the Mersey. One of the most curious facts concerning it is, that people will insist upon regarding the place as the outcome of the bubbling benevolence of Mr. Lever, and this in spite of the frequent disclaimers of the man who should know most about it—Mr. Lever himself. Time and again has he asserted that no feeling of philanthropy prompted his erection of Port Sunlight, but that, on the contrary, the scheme was dictated by sound business principles. That the principles were sound, the commercial success of Lever Bros, renders self-evident. Yet Port Sunlight is not without its lessons.

“Labour and Housing at Port Sunlight” is the title of a newly published book by W. L. George, and those of us who have neither time nor perhaps inclination to pay “Leverton” a visit, can by the aid of Mr. George’s book form some sort of opinion as to its merits and demerits. One need not even waste one’s substance in purchasing the book, for Mr. T. P. O’Connor has obligingly descanted upon it at some length in the issues of his “Weekly” for March 19th and 26th. Apart from the feeling of nausea that T.P.’s own sloppy comment inspires, the articles are worth a perusal. Here is an example of T.P.’s comment. “On almost every window sill you see proof of that inner grace of spirit and of domestic idealism in boxes of flowers.” Lower down in the same column—”the keeping of the gardens is not an individual but a corporate duty. At first they were left to the care of the individual owner, but it was found that the system did not work, and that the plots were diverted to chicken-runs, and even dustbins.” So that it would seem that “grace of spirit” and “domestic idealism” were equal to the circumscribed area of a window box, but when offered the latitude of a garden plot could only find expression in chicken-runs and dustbins ! One is inclined to think that T.P. has sacrificed sense for sonorousness.

Another instance. T.P. laments that the girls he saw in the United States were scraggy, yellow-skinned, mere rags of that being of grace and beauty which a woman ought to be. “It was’nt because the girls didn’t have wages enough to pay for good food ; it was sheer ignorance, the childishness that girls often retain even when they have got to womanhood—above all, the want of organisation and of some fine, kindly, and practical spirit such as he who presides over the destinies of Port Sunlight.” Fine wind-up to that sentence. He speaks of the stupid, childish way in which the hard-worked girls took their food. It consisted of everything that was childish and uunourishing—sweets, ice-creams, puff-tarts and then perhaps pickles. And T.P. opines that this state of things is owing to ignorance—sheer childish ignorance. Not a word about the physical and mental condition of a girl who has done a day on the linotype, in a dressmaker’s den, or in a soap-works. He does not ask why a “fine, kindly spirit” employs girls at all when hundreds of men with families dependent upon them tramp the streets in search of a master. But we know. It is because he is not only “fine and kindly,” but also extremely “practical.” How does Mr. Lever deal with the feeding of his slaves? On the very practical principle of “the better the pasture the better the milk.” A girl can have an excellent meal for fourpence, and can eat to repletion for fivepence in the Hulme Hall, so kindly provided by the “fine, kindly spirit,” etc., Mr. Lever. Dear old T.P. observes, “This hall is run by the firm and it pays its way—which is all that is wanted from the most Gradgrind point of view, for well-fed workpeople are far more productive to their employer than those who are underfed or unhealthily fed. As is so often the case when one considers the problem, the interest of the employer and the employee is identical, though how comparatively few of either class recognise that dominating fact.” After which there does not appear to he much to be said—but one can think a lot.

The interests of the butcher aad the calf are identical because the more the calf eats the sooner will it be killed and the more will the butcher realise on its carcase. Excellent reasoning, Mr. O’Connor.

However, it is interesting to learn that the average death-rate of Port Sunlight is 9 per 1,000 as compared with the adjacent town of Liverpool’s 20. Its birth-rate of 42 per 1,000 compares very favourably with Liverpool’s 30.7, Sussex’s 21.3, andall England and Wales’ 27.5. We are assured that the Sunligliter is very temperate, only one licensed house being allowed on the estate, although thirteen houses of refreshment flourish on the edge of the village. The annals of the sublime suburb are only besmirched by the record of one elopement, and illegitmacy is practically unknown. The infant mortality is 70 per 1,000 as against Liverpool’s 140.

It is impossible in an article of this size to analyse all the facts and to deal with them in extenso, but one moral we might deduce from the foregoing appears to be that even a very moderate betterment of the conditions of existence results in the development of individuals capable of greater productivity; possessed of greater power of resistance to disease; better men and women generally. Whilst admitting that the statistics quoted show Port Sunlight in a very rosy light, compared with the Paradise Allies and courts of Liverpool and London, we do not hesitate to point out that that condition of things is intimately connected with and dependent upon the primal factor—it pays. As we have said, Mr. Lever has disclaimed philanthropy of motive, but it would seem that he is by no means adverse to that impression being current, as witness the following. T.P. says the purpose of Port Sunlight is, as its founder and master spirit put it, “to socialise and Christianise business relations, and get back again in the office, factory and workshop, to that close family brotherhood that existed in the good old days of hand-labour.” We will now see how he does it.

The Birkenhead News for March 13th prints an account of the 15th annual meeting of the shareholders of Lever Bros Mr. Lever in the course of his report made the following statement. Referring to the village institutions he said

“The schools continued to flourish and they had instituted a departure with reference to higher education. They certainly felt that they were justified in making a rule which they had made that every employee between the ages of 14 and 18 inclusive must attend continuation classes, and that otherwise they would not take them to work. … He thought the maintenance of a high standard of intelligence and efficiency was involved in this question of continuation classes. (Applause.) Many of their young people, if they were not forced into taking these classes, would very likely be forced out of their service later on by inefficiency, when they were shoulder to shoulder with the pick of the men the Company ware able to get from all over the country.”

Here you observe the process of “Christianising” in full swing. The employees are forced to attend the classes and attain a high standard of efficiency or they are forced into being invested with that eminently Christian institution—the Order of the Sack. Another instance of the plastic and accommodating nature of Christianity.

Mr. Lever then explained briefly another ennobling influence which had been brought to bear upon the Sunlighters—the co-partnership scheme.

“No words of his would be sufficiently weighty to express the great importance of the scheme on the future of the business. They would then have what they had always looked forward to—a feeling of brotherhood and partnership in that great undertaking. It was not enough to have benefit funds, and nice houses. They wanted the direct personal responsibility which this scheme gave. He had always been opposed to profit-sharing, and was yet, but he felt that in giving certificates which would be perfectly valueless unless the business continued to prosper and to make more than 5 per cent. to the ordinary shareholder, in putting it on that footing and in making a man realise that the value of the certificates depended upon his own efforts and the united efforts of all the employees—he felt that they had been able to link loss-sharing with profit-sharing, and it seemed to him that it was past the wit of man to adopt any other scheme with their employees. He commended the scheme most strongly to their favourable consideration (applause.)”

Comment is almost superfluous.

Co-partnership was dealt with in a recent issue of this paper, and was effectually shown to be a hollow sham from the point of view of the worker. Note in the above that the certificates are valueless unless the business makes over 5 per cent. to the ordinary shareholders, and that their value depends upon the strenuousness of the individual undergoing the Christianising process. Are we to gather that when the Sunlighter has been educated up to the highest possible efficiency, strenuousness, and productivity (to his employer) then has he, or she, got back to the “close family brotherhood that existed in the good old days of hand labour” ? Are we to understand that the effort to Christianise business relations has then been successful ? If so we are inclined to think the claims of paganism have been neglected. If this represents the family brotherhood of the good old days of hand labour, then we cease to wonder why Columbus went in search of a new world.

It is just as true of Port Sunlight as it was shown to be of Bournville in a recent issue that the benevolence of the capitalist is akin to the “hail, fellow, well met !” of the professional sharper, who heartily grips you with his right hand while he goes through your pockets with his left. The Daily Chronicle representative who visited Krupp’s model village at Essen was no less struck with the beauty and order prevailing there than with the fact that all their apparent advantages were so many chains binding the employees to the firm—chains wrapped in cotton wool. The pension funds, privilege tickets, cheap houses, co-operative stores, etc. of the railways have the same object in view, besides incidentally cheapening the cost of living of the worker, and thus enabling him to exist on a comparatively small wage.

However, the lesson is there : it remains for the proletariat to learn it—and act. Do not lose sight of the inevitable consequences of efficiency and strenuousness—the much-belauded capitalist virtues. Remember that even if a single capitalist controlled the soap market, or any other market of the world, his production will always be limited by the capacity of that market. The more efficient you are the greater the amount of wealth you will be able to produce. The more strenuous you become the sooner you flood the market. The harder you work the quicker you get the sack and the sooner do your energies fail and you become too old. Simple reasoning, isn’t it ? If you think it is sound, join our Party and tell your friends. If you don’t, keep out and tell us.


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