The Position in Lancashire

When dealing with the condition of any section of the working class the primary question always is, what are their wages? What is their cost of living ? A Government enquiry was commenced in October 1906 into various matters dealing with the wages of, and the prices paid by, the working class in Burnley, and the result was .published in the Burnley Gazette of February 12 1908. Compared with London prices, which are taken as 100, the prices index number for Burnley for all commodities was 95. The index number of rent and prices combined in Burnley was 87 compared with 100 in London. Taking the London rate of wages as 100, the Burnley index number for the building trades was 85, in the engineering the same, in the printing it was 81, in the furnishing trades 81. In the cotton trades the earnings of the male and female weavers are the same—for a four loom weaver it is given as from 22s. to 28s. per week. This, it must be remembered, is when working full time and when work is of good quality. It is absurd to claim these figures as a fair indication of the average wage of the weavers. In the Manchester Guardian of July 29th, 1908 it was stated in a special article that “If we go back for 34 or 35 years it will be seen that rates of wages are no higher to-day in the textile trades (including operative cotton spinners and weavers and jute and linen operatives) than they were in 1874.” Another fact worthy of note was thus stated by Mr. Philip Snowden in a speech in the House of Commons on January 30th, 1908, “In the most important of our industries, particularly in the textile trades, the actual number of persons employed was less than it was at some former decade.” The recent blue book “Public Health and Social Conditions,” gives the number employed in the textile trades in 1851 and 1901 as 1,671,681 and 1,301,685 respectively. Every fundamental industry wherein machinery is well established shows the same feature; this in spite of the much larger amount of raw material handled.

The wages received by the male workers are thus really inadequate to rear a family upon a “civilised” standard. Often a whole family are to be found working in the mills—man and wife, and children full and half time. Pretty fairy tales are in circulation in “middle-class” circles anent the earnings of these families when all are merrily working. One would imagine that the Income Tax assessors are missing a fertile source of revenue. But, alas, this state of financial felicity is temporary: the children marry and set up wigwams of their own, and pass through the old struggle and suffering.

Our readers know well the wage conditions in those trades where the wives of the workers work side by side with men. And for years the proportion of women to men workers has been steadily increasing. Many of the older mills are terrible from a hygenie point of view; the clouds of artificially formed vapour floating in the air do not add to their salubrity. And women toiling in such holes to within a few weeks of child-birth does not tend to produce a race of Spartans, even with the help of municipal milk depots, lady inspectors, and, let us say also, state feeding of children. We cannot wonder that such districts are notorious for their enormous infantile death-rate. Baden Powell’s boy scouts, in this part of the country at any rate, would not make ideal advertisements for a beef extract. Imagine the long ten hours of toil, every day producing miles of shoddy, adulterated cottons, every yard of which is a replica of every other yard ; stuff which would be disdainfully refused, often, by our slum proletariat, and intended ultimately for a far distant market. And our women folk up North have been so perverted by spending half their living hours under such noxious and tense conditions that it is said many of them actually prefer it to the alternative of domestic drudgery. Perhaps under capitalism there is little to choose twixt the two desolations.

There is, I understand, a legend in existence, well believed, holding that in the Lancashire textile towns a large number of the workers own the houses wherein they live. Now it is certain that to only a very small proportion does this apply. A certain number of houses are purchased by the workers with the aid of money borrowed from building and co-operative societies. It is well known that in very many cases married women, where possible, go to work in the mills to help eke out the earnings of the husband. In some instances the attempt is made to lay aside the money earned by the women folk to purchase a house through the co-operative or other societies. This money earned by the women—at an inculcalable injury to health it is sure—is the creator of some miniature working-class fortunes. The hoards are made at this cost; many of the married women actually take out their children at five o’clock in the morning to a pseudo-mother to be nursed until the cessation of work. And when man and wife return “home” after the day’s toil they find a dreary, cold home, and are face to face with that amount of household work which all know to be in itself sufficient to tax the powers of any normal woman. Anti-Socialists and others propagate tales of working-class wealth as expressed in building societies, co-operative societies, penny banks, house property, and so on. But fancy a tradesman calculating his financial position by overlooking his assets alone ! What about working-class liabilities ? I imagine it would be a fairly safe assumption to regard the assets in house property of the Lancashire textile workers as heavily balanced by their liabilities in the form of doctors’ bills, credit drapers’ accounts, money lenders debts, mortgages and other accounts owing to—the capitalist class.

This, then, is the position. The majority of Lancashire workers do not, and never expect to, own their houses. A minority attempt to, and after a few years’ struggle (wife working at mill, etc.) give up the fight in disgust. Another minority, with the help of luck and the gift of the “money sense,” sometimes even manage to get hold of a few houses, rise out of their class, and become object lessons in thrift and parsimony to the rest of the proletariat. But “one swallow does not make a summer,” and the fact that a few lucky, financially acute working men rise out of their class is no more a proof that the whole working class as a class could so be saved than the fact that a few Roman slaves were manumitted was a proof that Roman chattel slavery would be abolished in that manner.

The co-operative society is natural to Lancashire. It is its stronghold and if anywhere it has benefited the workers, Lancashire should be that place. When these societies originated they had only the small grocer possessed of little capital to fight, and a certain progress was made. But now the company shops are in the field, and it remains to be seen whether the co-operatives can survive in competion with these monster concerns. It would be of interest if some of the co-operative leaders would give us their ideas as to the origin of the precious “divi.” It is extracted, of course, from the unpaid labour of the shopmen, but co-operators seem vague as to its source. Many experiments in co-partnership have been made in Lancashire, and the village of Haggate, near Burnley, is the stock example of successful thrift, providence and foresight. Though a few working men have risen out of their class, the majority are really unable to rise above the economic, mental and moral limits which capitalism has created. The Wholesale Co-operative Society had a turnover of ten millions in 1895 ; at the end of the next decade, 1905, it was twenty millions. So that even if the movement were economically sound it is not keeping pace at all with the development of capitalism.

Lancashire is looked upon as a stronghold of trade unionism, and most of the large towns boast a trades council. These councils have not the least influence upon working-class conditions, and do not make the difference of a pipeful of tobacco to the worker. They will send a resolution on the housing question to the local M.P., pass a vigorous one condemning the Russian atrocities, then the painters will propose resolutions condemning the park-keepers for painting railings to occupy their time during the winter months. It is all petty and ephemeral. “Practical” politics and so-called bread-and-buttter questions tax the energies of the Lancashire trades councils.

Certainly the cotton operatives possess leaders ! Some of them are credited with the possession of “Socialistic” ideas, but

“Lo, there are many ways and many traps
And many guides, and which of them is lord ?
For verily Mahomet has the sword,
And he may have the truth—perhaps ! Perhaps !”

So speaks the Oriental poet. Substitute for “Mahomet” “the capitalist” and the truth is out. Justly do we honour pioneers ! We see so many obsequious camp-followers, so many fakirs negotiating and arbitrating and conciliating, so many “leaders” merely reflecting the opinions of orthodoxy and only too ready to become “revolutionaries” when it pays them, that it is not surprising what an amount of inert opposition the S.P.G.B. has to face. Our Shackletons and Gills are typical of the minor “leaders” in the textile world ; as Meredith put it, “unimpressionable English, who won’t believe in the existence of aims that don’t drop on the ground before your eyes, and squat and stare at you.” Such men are really illiterate. Their education has been a continued accretion of ill-digested, ephemeral facts collided with in everyday life. They are mediocre and pious, that is, they hold certain theological views by virtue of hereditary and environmental influences ; they are temperance agitators because Bill Jones was a drunkard and ill-treated his family ; they are Liberals because Chapel folks are Liberals and Churchmen are Conservatives. Their religion, politics and ethics have a common source in capitalist literature and capitalist journalism. The textile union leaders, then, are hopeless. As Mr. Pickwick said : “It is always best on those occasions to do what the mob do.” “But suppose there are two mobs ?” suggested Mr. Snodgrass. “Shout with the largest,” replied Mr. Pickwick. Our textile leaders are Mr. Pickwick glorified. As we say, they know on which side their bread is buttered.

The only Socialism the bulk of the Lancashire people know of is that of the I.L.P. and S.D.P. —pseudo-Socialism. I.L.P. is, of course, a synonym for Labourism in Lancashire as in other parts of Great Britain. It is safe to assert that every Labour M.P. sent from a Lancashire constituency was elected by Liberal votes. At this moment the S.D.P. in Shackleton’s constituency are threatening opposition because he is shaky in regard to some of their reforms. Not because he is not a Socialist, forsooth ! No. If he would but shout at capitalists as whited sepulchres and advocate state maintenance he would be as acceptable as Irving, and blessed by them. There is no question but the S.D.P. in Lancashire is swamped by the Labour Party ; a reform party outflanked by another reform party, but one asking for fewer reforms. Simply that and nothing more. Politically the Lancashire artizan must be converted from Labourism; industrially he must be converted from the sick-aud-burial-society, thrifty, provident kind of industrial organisation dubbed Trade Unionism.


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