Burnley benevolence—and the sequel

There have recently come before the notice of the present writer two very useful and suggestive documents with reference to the Feeding of Children by the Education Authorities.

They are useful as a further proof that the attitude of the Socialist Party of Great Britain with regard to this question is the only logical one, and are suggestive in giving some idea of the utter brutality and meanness of capitalism and its hirelings.

As is well known, the S.D.P. and the I.L.P., as well as that mixture of Machiavelism called the Labour Party, are advocates and supporters of the feeding of necessitous children by the local and national authorities. This much-vaunted “palliative” is now, to a certain extent, in force, and we can see what benefits have really accrued to the working class by its installation.

The first of the above-mentioned documents (beautifully typewritten and signed by the Clerk to the Education Committee himself) is from the Education Department of the County Borough of Burnley, and runs as follows :

“Dear Sir or Madam,
“I enclose account for meals supplied to
your child………under the above Act, and I
shall be obliged if you will arrange to pay the same on or before the 31st March, 1911.
“The Act imposes upon the Authority in the first instance, the duty of making a charge to the parent of every child in respect of every meal supplied, but I am to say that if you can satisfy the Education Authority that during the period when the meals were supplied you were unable, by reason of circumstances other than your own default, to pay the amount charged, the Authority will take no further steps to enforce payment.” (Italics mine.)

The second document is the account, which was enclosed with the letter, for 18 breakfasts and 7 dinners at 2d. each. These were supplied to a child in the Infants Department of one of the schools in Burnley during a period comprising in all 35 days in January and February this year.

We may imagine, in passing, the joy that must have filled the parents’ hearts when they knew that, at any rate, their child was being scrumptuously regaled 7 dinner-times out of 35 on this “tuppenny” meal, to say nothing of the 18 breakfasts, all given, of course (does not the I.L.P. say so ?) out of pure benevolence by the Educational Authority.

I understand that these demands for repayment have been sent out indiscriminately to parents. In some instances the amount demanded has been pounds, in other cases as little as 2d. It will be remembered that in and about Burnley a strike among the miners has recently ended, and that the hardships suffered during the strike by these affected have been almost unprecedented in their severity.

Now that the miners have returned to work (having been defeated at practically every point) they find themselves confronted with this demand. In their present position it is, of course, quite impossible to pay. Undoubtedly the Education Authority is aware of this, and it is very probable that the screw is being put on in this way to prevent any further outbreak for some time to come on the part of the late strikers.

In the copy of the circular given above I have emphasised the phrase “by reason of circumstances other than your own default.” This appears to be a touch of Pecksniffian humour on the part of the Education Authority, and is presumably intended to “rub in” the enormity of the offence of going out on strike against the friends and masters of the Committee. Far be it from me to deal too harshly with the gentlemen who sit upon this Committee. (A humane man does not trample upon worms.) I may say, however, that the methods of reproof given by these masters of delicious irony are such as should really make that reproof almost acceptable to its recipients. I doubt, however, if the parents of the children will see the matter quite in this light. They may even begin to wonder whether this great “feeding” reform, so dear to the heart of the reform parties, works out quite so beneficially to the workers as was anticipated.

This Provision of Meals Act is used, and will continue to be used, to impoverish still further the already impoverished members of the working class. It is but another instrument available to the capitalist class, useful either to bend the workers to the will of the masters, or to break them if they attempt resistance. I ask the workers of Burnley (and of every other town) in all seriousness to consider why they—the producers of the world’s wealth—should be compelled to send their children to a callous Education Committee to be fed. Why their children, brought into the world and reared at the cost of so much pain and so many hardships, should be used to grind the faces of the poor still deeper into the dust. Why, above all, there should be poor. These are pertinent questions, and when the workers, not only of Burnley, but of the world, set themselves seriously to answer them, the end of this hateful system of capitalism will be very close at hand, and the time will be near when Education Committees such as the above, who, under the guise of benevolence, subject both parents and children of the working class to these insults and indignities, will vanish for ever along with the other unclean things of capitalism.


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