Our Amazing Prosperity

Flaring headlines in the Press and busy politicians on the platform have been drawing attention to the fact that British Trade during the first eight months of 1910 showed an increase of 83 millions compared with 1909. The report of the Inland Revenue Commissioners (C.D. 5308) stating that the amount assessed to Income Tax rose from 980 millions in 1908 to 1,010 millions in 1909 has also been widely boomed. This evidence of capitalist prosperity has led to great exultation amongst the Free Traders in the Liberal and Labour parties.

The income upon which the capitalists pay taxes has advanced from 833 millions in 1901 to 1,010,000 in 1909, yet during this period (the Report upon Changes in the rate of wages [CD 5324] tells us) the workers lost over five million pounds in wages, and in the “Abstract of Labour Statistics,” the Board of Trade states that the prices of the necessaries of life have risen greatly in the last decade. Unemployment, too, has been very much felt by the workers. In the August issue of the SOCIALIST STANDARD were given the returns of the Government’s Labour Exchanges from their opening till the end of May. Below are the figures (from the “Board of Trade Labour Gazette”) since.

During No. of applications for work Vacancies
June 151,556 41,650
July 118,588 33,813
August 124,085 31,257
394,229 106,720

It must be understood also that even the vacancies filled largely represent temporary employment. During June 2,325 persons were supplied with casual work at the Liverpool Agricultural Show. Fruit and pea pickers were sent to Stourbridge and Worcester for a short time. Some of the cloth porters who applied at the special labour exchange in Manchester were given makeshift jobs at the neighbouring warehouses—amounting to eight days during the month ! The holiday traffic on the railways, too, occasioned a little extra assistance. In July 2,500 raspberry pickers were engaged at Blairgowrie, 500 strawberry gatherers at Crossford (Lanark), and some at Ipswich, Cork and Worcester. In August 2,022 persons were taken on for fruit picking. Unemployment still remains widespread, and when the temporary and seasonal work gives out the discarded workers will have nothing but the bitterest prospects for the winter. Letters have appeared in the Press from numerous applicants whose names have been on the Exchange register for months, but who could get no work of any description. Many applicants have also made public the dastardly treatment received upon going to situations the Exchange officials recommended. People have been sent to distant places where they found the employment far different to that promised, and they have had to submit owing to being stranded far from help. The Exchanges have brought together a vast mass of labour and provided the masters with the opportunity of getting cheaper hands, which recent events have shown they have been quick to take advantage of.

According to an interview with the Fabian director of Labour Exchanges (Mr. W. H. Beveridge) published in the Daily Express (16.8.10) a system of co-operation between the Army Council and the Board of Trade is being arranged for the purpose of making the Exchanges recruiting centres for the Army. Captivating illustrated posters and alluring leaflets are to be on hand, so that when the applicants come for work they may be prevailed upon to enlist.
The Free Trade Press have been to the fore lately with the old “decline of pauperism” cry. (The Manchester Guardian of Sept. 30th, for instance, says that “Pauperism is at a lower ebb than has been known in modern experience.” This is a deliberate lie.) A study of the Government’s own publications shows how deceiving a cry it is. The ruling class, being anxious, of course, to hide the real results of this system, do not usually publish figures giving the total number of persons receiving Poor Law relief during the year. They merely tell us how many get relief on a particular day. But they made an exception once. In the “Board of Trade Labour Gazette” for Feb. 1909 they stated that 2.076,316 persons had received Poor Law relief during the past year. Besides this, there were 117,157 pauper lunatics and, in the metropolis alone, 199,145 casual paupers.

The half-yearly statement of the Local Government Board (No. 242) says that the total number of paupers (excluding lunatics and casuals) relieved on Jan. 1, 1910 was 17,011 less than on Jan. 1, 1909. But the number of indoor paupers has almost doubled since 1872, and was 4,698 higher than for the previous year. The 1909 figure is the highest on record. The total for indoor and outdoor together, the report tells us, is with one exception greater than in any year since 1872. The number of pauper lunatics has increased by 1,632, casual paupers by 7,981, compared with Jan. 1, 1909. The pauper children rose in number from 242,546 on July 1 of last year, to 254,411 on Jan. 1 of the current year. In the L.G.B. 1910 report (CD 5260) John Burns points out that “the number of adult able-bodied paupers was higher than in any previous year.” The latest figures for this year are giyen in the “Labour Gazette” for Sept., which states that compared with July the number of paupers in August increased by 3,321. Compared with the previous August there were 987 more indoor and 4,738 less outdoor paupers. The report of the L.G.B. for Scotland shows that the total number of paupers increased by 2,054 last year. Figures for Ireland are not to hand.

While, therefore, there has been an unparalleled increase in indoor pauperism, the number of outdoor paupers relieved on a certain day has declined by a few thousand compared with the year before.

For many years the ruling class have done their best to prevent people from having any relief whatever by refusing outdoor relief and directing applicants to seek admission to the “house.” The application of this workhouse test has proved a good deterrent; the brutal conditions in the workhouse coupled with the almost instinctive hatred of the toilers for it have helped the capitalists to prevent the figures rising proportionately to the growth of destitution. That the figures for indoor paupers have so greatly increased despite this shows how awful becomes the lot of the workers as this system developes. This cunning scheme for keeping down pauperism is made plain in the 1909 Report of the L.G.B. (CD 4786). To quote one of many admissions, the Board’s inspector for the Eastern counties says : “I can confidently affirm that a large number of those now on out-relief would have departed empty had the workhouse test been applied.”

When dealing with the comparative statistics of pauperism, we must also consider the fact that on March 31, 1910 (so the L.G.B. Report for that year says) there were 647,494 old age pensioners. Many of these had previously had Poor Law relief. Yet taking the most optimistic figures the number of paupers dropped but a few thousand. Remember, too, that pauper disqualification for pensions (i.e., relief since 1908) kept very many from applying for Poor Law relief ; this aspect is also treated in the Report for last year which says (p. 45):

“The decrease of pauperism in the small towns and rural districts is partly due to the Old Age Pensions Act ; although it did not come into force till Jan. 1 1909, it was the desire of the Guardians to try and keep old people above 70 years of age from coming under the Poor Law so that they might not be debarred from receiving pensions,”

and on p. 51 :

“The decrease in pauperism generally is doubtless due to a partial extent to the passage of the Old Age Pensions Act. Those persons verging on the age of 70 are doing every thing possible to preserve their qualification for pensions, and the sons and daughters having in view the hope that the old folks will be able to stand alone, are now making some effort to keep their parents going until they are qualified by age.”

The Old Age Pensions Act (with, the abolition of the pauper disqualification from Jan. 1 next) was passed because a general re-organisation of the machinery of the Poor Law made that necessary. Relief based on the Act of 1834 had become too expensive for our lords and masters. Economic pressure is now forcing wage-slaves to fling their horror of the workhouse to the winds and apply for relief. On the one band if the Guardians grant a family out-door relief its small extent makes it possible that they would have to give some measure of in-relief as well. How meagre the out-door relief often is may be gauged by the statement in the last Report that several of the persons who died from starvation during the year were in receipt of out-door relief. If, on the other hand, the Guardians grant indoor relief, they are faced with, an expenditure of 13s. per head. The lack of workhouse accommodation is well known, and on this the Report says (p. 92)

“As regards the Poor Law, the most common problem with which Guardians have had to deal during these periods of distress has been that of workhouse accommodation. Each day disclosed grave defects in this respect with our larger workhouses.”

By paying these veterans of industry a maximum of 5s. per week, the Government have acted well in the capitalist interest, and with an eye to the future, which looked ill for them in the steadily mounting figures of indoor paiiperism.

That it was a question of cost actuating them in removing the pauper disqualificaion is shown by this from a Liberal journal:

“A letter from the L.G.B. read at most Boards of Guardians yesterday foreshadows an important Government step in reference to the Old Age Pensions Act. The department applied for a list of inmates and other paupers over 70 years of age and their cost to the union” (Lloyd’s, 2.1.’10).

The poor outlook for the recipients of the much-belauded dollar has been testified to in the refusal in many parts of paupers to apply for pensions. They allege greater hardship if they exchange Poor Law relief for a pension.

That the evolution of capitalism means added poverty and pauperisation to the workers even the Government admit in their Blue Book in dealing with the results of legislation which that evolution has prompted (L G.B. Beport, 1910, p. 59).

“The effect of the Wages Boards may be to do away to a great extent with the wretched practice of sweating. But from the strictly Poor Law point of view it is probable that a larger number may have to resort to workhouses. The reason is that employers will only engage those persons who are able to earn the minimum wage, the less capable ones who do not come up to this standard will drift to the Poor Law for support.”

We may well look around us at some other instances o£ proletarian life in this age of “wonderful prosperity.” The very issue of that Free Trade, organ that gloated over “our booming trade,” gave a typical instance of the murder of the toilers’ children by modern capitalism.

“At the Stoke Newington Coroner’s Court Dr. Wynn Westcolt invoked the aid of the Press to assist a starving family. He said that on the previous Wednesday he held an inquest on the three weeks old child of parents living at 7 White Hart Court, High St., Stoke Newington. It was an extremely hard case of honest poverty, as the father had had no work for a long time and only casual work for three years. Consequently the baby was starved and died and the mother was half-starved too. On the Tuesday before the child died, she had a crust of bread to sustain her the whole day while she did nine and a half hours washing to assist the home and it was only natural that the child could not get much nourishment out of that. The week before the child died the father earned 6s., out of which 5s. had to be paid for rent and it was paid ; therefore it left a family of seven 1s, to live upon. He was informed that the home was clean and tidy but there was hardly a stick of furniture.” (Reynolds’ September 18, ’10.)

The awful condition of the workers is illustrated by the case of the Cradley Heath chain makers. They spent much time and energy in getting the Trade Board’s Act applied to their trade, and then found the Act gave the masters six months grace before the new terms began. During this time some of the employers tried to got their “hands” to agree to the old terms, but many large masters saw an opportunity of beating their smaller rivals out of the trade and so backed up the women financially. They urged the strikers to carry on the campaign against the “sweaters” and magnanimously declared they were willing to concede the wage fixed, namely, 2½d, per hour ! This, too, is the same wage as is being demanded by the organised agricultural labourers on strike in Norfolk, who get about 12s. for a week of 70 hours. The members of the Amal. Soc. of Railway Servants on strike in County Clare are also in receipt of this princely stipend. The terrible state of the workers in the “loyal” North of Ireland was depicted in the report of Dr. Baillie, the Medical Officer for Belfast, recently issued. The facts, denied by the prosperous mill-owners, were confirmed by the Public Health Committee after independent inquiry.

Most of the home workers are mothers, and although the trade has rapidly increased the workers have not felt any good effects from it. Many instances of the terribly low prices are given, such as embroidering 384 dots on cushion covers for a penny, it being difficult to finish 6 covers in a day. Making shirts at 6d. a dozen, pinafores 4½d., chemises 7½d., aprons 2½d. per dozen are other examples.

“From these very low rates of pay” says Dr. Baillie, “must be deducted the time spent visiting the warehouses for work, the price of the thread and the necessary upkeep of the sewing machines. After these deductions are made the amount left to the workers is so small as to make one wonder whether they are benefited by the work at all.”

The departmental Committee appointed by the Home Secretary to enquire into the dangers arising from the use of lead, state in their report (CD 5219) that under the modern commercial system it would not be profitable to stop using lead in pottery ; and the murderous results of this rush for profits are thus stated :

“In the first place the danger to the workers of handling raw lead, whether from lead poisoning or from general deterioration of health is very real. The danger to women workers” (who are quite as numerous as men, the report says) “in lead processes, whether it shows itself in lead poisoning or in increased liability to miscarriage, should be greatly mitigated.”

The way to mitigate it they say (not abolish it), is by increased inspection ! In an appendix to the report. Dr. G. Reid (Stafford) says that the mortality from phthisis among male potters is more than three times that among males otherwise engaged.

Modern slavery becomes so intensified that after the age of 35 is passed the chance of getting a job is precarious. At the International Law Association’s Conference at the Guildhall (London) on August 3rd, “Sir John Gray Hill, of Liverpool, dwelt upon the fact that numerous employers refuse to have in their service elderly men and those suffering with a physical defect, and he contended that the state of affairs is worsened by the Workmen’s Compensation Act, which makes employers chary of employing those who have lost the agility of youth.” This attitude, too, has spread to municipalities. Mr. G. M. Gott, a member of the Ilford Urban District Council, is reported by Lloyd’s of Jan. 2 last thus : “When a man is over forty years of age he is not much use to anybody.” He advocated appointing a young man as tramways manager. In a report on the work of the City of Westminster Labour Bureau, the superintendent, stated that “it is increasingly difficult for men over 30 years of age to obtain anything like a permanent situation, It is possible that the Workmen’s Compensation Act is responsible to some extent for the demand for labour under 20 years.”

In the L.G.B. reprrt for last year, the Board’s inspector for the Western Counties says:

“Possibly there will be a revival in trade and correspondingly greater demand for labour, but the question is whether this revival will solve the difficulty of want of employment ? I ask this question because not only has there been trade depression, but other causes have been at work. I refer chiefly to the introduction of machinery and the effects which the Workmen’s Compensation Act has on older workmen ; with regard to the introduction of machinery it may be that new avenues of labour will be opened up thereby. But as things stand at present machinery certainly replaces manual work to an extent, which has not perhaps been fully realised. Thus young men, women and youths can now be seen working machinery and receiving wages considerably less than would be paid to men in former times who performed the work by hand. The general result is increased output and lessened employment of adult labour.”

These admissions in a Government Blue Book are very significant, and evidence of their truth. abounds.

Unemployment is a very real fact in the “skilled” workers’ trade unions. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers in their 59th annual report state that last year out of an income of £339,406, they paid to their members £215,000 in unemployed grants alone. That the capitalist laws are baffled by the facts of proletarian life was shown by the Chief Food and Drugs Inspector of Liverpool, who said at the Sanitary Inspectors’ Conference on Sept. 1st:

“In many parts of the country, unemployment, high rents, low wages, etc., tend towards a depraved social state and a common sequence was domestic overcrowding. Unemployment was one of the strongest foes to the work of the Public Health Department.”

Some of the appliances at the Machinery Exhibition at Olympia in September boded ill for the workers A machine that could plane four sides of woodwork at one time and many other marvels were on view.

The economic trend found a witness in the report of the Home Office enquiry into bronzing in factories (CD 5328). This points out that

“machine work, besides being more cleanly with modern machines, is so much more cheaply and quickly done that hand bronzing cannot compete with it. For this reason some of the smaller printing firms have given up bronzing altogether, and the work has become more concentrated in factories which have installed machines.”

The report also states that many diseases are caused by the conditions of the employment—such as colic, nasal catarrh, total wrist-drop and paralysis.

The fact that improved methods—used by the capitalist class—result in unemployment and misery was shown by the Organising Secretary of the A.S.R.S. (J. H. Thomas, M.P.) in his speech, to railwayman at Newton Heath. According to the Labour Leader, 12.8.10, he said :

“If they took the whole of the railway companies and compared 1899 with 1907 they had carried 56½ million tons more merchandise, and run 23 million train miles less, which meant that though they were handling a greater volume of traffic, there were 10,000 less men employed.”

The consolidation of forces that the workers have to fight is shown by the fact that whereas in 1845 there were 815 separate railway companies, at the end of 1908 there were 51, and some of these fast amalgamating. The speeding up of the toilers on the railways had a tragic commentary in the refurns for the first quarter of this year, which reported 49 more persons killed than in the corresponding period of last year.

Throughout the country at present the workers are in conflict with the masters over arbitration, agreements and wages questions. The attitude of the wage-slaves is not, unfortunately, based upon a consciousness of their class position. The interests of employers and employed being in direct opposition, the policy of the workers must not be one of concilation and arrangement. We must press steadily forward to the conquest of political supremacy, having “No Compromise” for our motto. To-day the workers are industrially organised by the very mechanism of capitalism itself, with its system of division of labour in vast factories, where each detail operation is dovetailed into others. The workers must become supreme politically to the end that they may carry on this industrial process for themselves and enjoy the good things they have made.


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