Peace & Poverty

At this time of the year meally-mouthed apologists of capitalist society vomit piffle anent the goodwill they bear toward men and women, and, shutting their eyes to the misery around them, prate of “peace on earth.” Bells ring their welcome to the New Year, and the parson unctiously intones his twaddle of the peaceful doctrine of the meek and lowly carpenter—twaddle understood by none of his congregation so well as by us, who recognise the priestly role as a bulwark of capitalism. Peace is desirable to those who own, for when the worker ceases to turn the other cheek, but gives blow for blow instead, the day of the capitalist, and the occupation of the parson, will be gone.

A happy and prosperous New Year ! What mockery on the lips of working people while they starve in thousands amid plethora ! Peace on earth, while the class-war rages unceasingly from pole to pole !—and must do while classes exist.

We who produce all this profusion of wealth which flaunts us at this season of the year—we starve amid it all. And the jackals who heap poverty on the producers of all that they enjoy, put their tongues in their cheeks and wish us the happiness in the changing season that they know full well can never be ours while they have power to despoil us.

Years ago statisticians showed how impossible it was for the great mass of the people to live in any sort of comfort on the miserable pittance they earned. Rowntree said that for 28 per cent. of the population of York City, to spend a few pence on any “luxury” meant penalising themselves. A penny spent on a paper or a postage stamp meant a pennyworth of food short !

H. Bagster Wilson (member Royal College of Surgeons) showed in “The Poor Law Crisis” (1910) that such conditions are not confined to London and York. Poverty is ably defined in his opening chapter. “By poverty we do not mean that absence of income only, but also the shortage of means, opportunities and healthful environment which leads to the failure of any individual or any class to reach those physical, intellectual and ethical standards practically possible for him. . . . The poverty we shall especially deal with is that deprivation of means, ideals and opportunities which produces a three-fold shortage of physique, intellect and morale ; which bars the “poor” man, the “poor” child, the “poor” woman from fulfilling himself or herself … a poverty which is therefore a happiness destroyer.” (Italics mine.)

He then takes the average family, who will, he says, have to pay for rent 4s. per week, and goes on: “Personal investigations, confirmed by a medical officer of health, prove that the average total income of such a family is at the very outside 19s. 3d. per week, and in 46% of cases only 15s. 9d. The general average cannot ever be higher than 18s. per week.”

Rowntree demands 21s. 6d. for barest physical efficiency. So, after paying rent, the family is left with 14s. while 17s. 8d. is requsite for their barest needs !

Mr. Rowntree allows 10s. per week for food (for a family of five !) while out of the remaining 4s., 1s. is required for cooking and heating, 4d. for light, 2s. 3d. for clothes, 2d. for soap, “leaving 3d. to carry forward for what remains to be enumerated.” That which “remains to be enumerated” includes bedding, crockery, cooking utensils, beer, tobacco, medical aid, etc., etc.

On page 18 we find the following : “There is without doubt much semi-starvation in every great city : no medical man needs figures to prove it. Men, women and children only eat enough for bare existence, not nearly enough or sufficient variety to maintain physical efficiency, still less to meet the demands of children’s growth and of the child-bearing period. This is serious in winter. Just when most food is needed, expenses are heavier and most kinds o£ work are less easily obtainable. Hence undue precocity and excitability, hence lack of mental power, control and balance, hence repeated and costly breakdowns.”

While dealing with facts our investigator is intelligible, but when he suggests causes and a remedy he is hopelessly confused. He rails at the “Socialistic” tendencies of those who would “break up the Poor Law,” and who signed the Minority Report. “The Poor Law,” he says, “must be retained. . . We will not jettison the beautiful title of Guardian of the Poor.” Pugh ! The Poor Law must be retained because capitalism needs it, for, as the Majority Report says : “No country, however rich, can permanently hold its own in the international race for competition, if hampered by an increasing load of this dead weight, or can successfully perform the role of sovereignty beyond the seas, if a portion of its own folk at home is sinking below the civilization and aspirations of its subject races abroad.” Nor are prospects better in agricultural districts. A recent return issued by the Board of Trade (14.12.1910) shows that the rate of wages of agricultural workers has increased 2d. in five years ! Including all allowances in kind, such as lodging, food, etc., their average weekly wagea in 1907 were as folloys :

England 18s. 4d.
Wales and Monmouth 18s. 0d.
Scotland 19s. 7d.
Ireland 11s. 3d.

The Daily News, commenting on the Report, says (15.12.10):

“In summer ordinary (agricultural) labourers work on the average 11 or 12 hours, “with intervals of from 1½ to 2 hours for meals, shorter hours on Saturdays not being the rule. In general, horsemen, cattlemen, and shepherds work still longer hours, and are paid a rather higher wage. Compared with 1898, the year of the Board of Trade’s first enquiry, the average wage shows an increase in England of 5 per cent., and in Scotland of 8 per cent. Since the date of the second enquiry (1902) very little difference is shown. . . An average increase of 5 per cent. in a decade is little in itself ; it is practically nothing when allowance is made for the upward tendency in the price of necessaries. We are bound, therefore, to conclude that there is nothing in these returns calculated to suggest that wages in the country are checking the drift to the towns—except that the figures are three years old.”

So, in town and country the outlook for this new-born year is gloomy indeed. Things have not improved during our boom year—and a boom is always portentious of a slump to come. To talk to us of peace and happiness under such conditions is merely to invite us to continue to suffer quietly. Our answer is “not peace but war ; war to the knife until we have swept away every vestige of the foul system that, for the workers, blackens every New Years’ morning.”


Leave a Reply