The Carpenter and the Walrus

The Carpenters, in common with the rest of the building trade, are having a bad time. The promised trade boom seems to have missed its way. At one time all the economic ills that flesh is heir to were ascribed to the South African war, and looked upon as its inevitable aftermath. Later, as things refused to “look up,” the continuance of the Tories in office was the undoubted source of the chronic depression which hung like a cloud over industry. Out they went like a land-slide, and, plastered with platitudes promises and perfidy, in went the “friends of the people,” the Liberals.

Now, thought the Carpenter (and nearly everybody else), something is going to happen. It has happened. If anything, unemployment is worse now than after the war. Now, one hears that “things are always bad when the Liberals are in.”

The Carpenter has been mentioned. Perpend !

The unemployment among the hewers of wood has reached such an acute stage that some genius among them has elaborated the highly original device known as “getting up a concert.” To those unacquainted with the details of this startling innovation it may be explained that it resolves itself into a scheme whereby everyone spends a shilling or so to witness a more or less varied exhibition of “talent,” in the fervent hope that at least three ha’pence will reach the poor devils whom it is designed, and advertised, to benefit. All credit to the Carpenters and Joiners.

Among the individuals circularised was Mr. Howard Colls, one of the firm known and loved as “Trollopes.” Mr. Colls being what the elect style “wide,” beamed one of his broadest and most affable smiles (in private) and came down handsomely to the tune of £10 (in public).

That is not all Mr. Colls did. He improved the ever shining hour by composing a little homily addressed to his enlightened workers, his ”friends of half a century,” had it nicely printed, and presented a copy to each man as he drew his wages.

It is an interesting document. Not, mind you, because it contains anything fresh and ecintillant, but because in answer to the possible query of an indignant carpenter—”What do you take me for ?” Mr. Colls leaves the reply pretty evident. After the inevitable batrachian tear over the appalling, etc., distress, as a prelude, Mr. Colls gets to business with the following. “You must agree with me, I think, in seeing that the working men cannot live on one another, neither can builders like myself. The work that has to be done by you and me has to be paid for by people who have the money to spend, and directly you arouse in them the feeling of insecurity, they naturally refrain from spending this money.”
Now that’s very dreadful, isn’t it ? One begins to wonder how these people obtain the necessaries of life, when the dreadful feeling of insecurity gets hold of them and prevents them buying anything. But Mr. Colls, as we have said, is “wide.” He has anticipated the objection, and meets it by asserting that “the building trade suffers more than any other in this respect, because certainly more than half of the work done by the builder is not a necessity, but a luxury.” And when we gaze at the crowd of hungry, homeless men freezing on the Embankment, we are inclined to agree with him. Shelter, a mere animal necessity, possessed even by primitive man, is at present a luxury to thousands of his civilised descendants ! Of course, that is not quite what Mr. Colls means. He wishes to infer that, over 50 per cent. of .the work done by the building trade being purely a luxury, this dreadful feeling of insecurity means a less expenditure on luxury. Let us see.

You will observe there is no mention of the origin of the money these kind but easily frightened people spend. It is assumed that the whole of industry is kept going by a chosen few people who act as spenders or disbursers of money to the nation. The source of their ceaseless stream is variously spoken of as Land, Stocks, Shares, etc. In reality they hold a lien upon the labour of a certain group of the workers. Those rusty, fusty old bundles of deeds, mortgages, stocks, shares and bonds are really shackles to fit various kinds of labourers. Mortgages are the shackles that bind the farmer and the small speculating builder to the capitalist establishment. Snares are a remarkably elastic shackle that may be adjusted to fit frail women and children in cotton factories or brawny men digging for coal in the recesses of the earth’s crust. All are cunningly designed slave-irons, whereby the masses, male and female, young and aged, broken and tamed by the threat of hunger and privation, are chained in the galleys of the capitalists. When, therefore, Mr. Colls addresses you thusly : “you must agree with me that the working men cannot live on one another,” you can, at least, argue that they do not, and point out, forcibly if need be, that there appears to be a small and useless crowd of insatiable parasites who are certainly making a fat living out of working men—and women, of course.

Refuse to be hooked by the “people-who-spend-the-money” bait. It is not the wealth spent that matters so much—it is its source. And this is found in the unpaid labour of the working class.

Mr. Colls is not worth all this good ink and paper, but there may be a few otherwise intelligent people who have been taken in by this and similar twaddle. Whatever microscopical value the argument (!) may have had, Mr. Colls deliberately flings away, for even he does not contend that the timid spenders lock their money up in old oak chests. No ! The same interesting document informs us that they prefer to “invest in securities which are more simple, easily realisable, and, in their opinion, now more secure.”

Such as what, sir ? Such as what ? With capital leaving the country, and foreign capital coming in, and capital doing ditto in every other country and the whole industrial universe in general going to pot, there must be many who would be grateful to learn where these simple, easily realisable, etc. securities may be found. There is, of course, the possible alternative that Mr. Colls is talking through his hat.

The document concludes in a truly touching and paternal manner. The writer says “I assure you I write this as a friend of those with whom for nearly half a century I have been working, a friendship which will, I think, be generally acknowledged.

Those of you who remember the old Building Trades Federation, and the friendly part played by Trollopes towards it, will take this in the spirit in which it is given. Grasp the paternal hand extended in your direction, grasp anything else that may be handy, and then go out and buy a copy of the new edition of our Manifesto.


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