Co-partnership in gas works

At the annual meeting of the Labour Co-partnership Association, held at Westminster in March and reported in the columns of the “Gas World” (April 1st.), the president, Mr. Corbett Woodall, said there was evidence of “a revolt against the attempted classification of human flesh and blood with raw material, or fuel, as a contributory to the supposed need of capital in the way of profitable employment.” The “attempt,” we are told, was an error, even from an economic point of view, as riper experience had abundantly demonstrated. Meanwhile labour organised for its own deliverance.”

It may be noted in passing, that such elastic logic on the part of Mr. Woodall permits him to declare first, that the attempted classification is economically unsound, and then to show trade union and labour organisation as a desire on the part of the workers for deliverance. This tempts one to ask, what do they wish to be delivered from ?—especially as the platform of the Co-partnership Association has resounded to the tread of such considerate friends of the workers as Alexander Henderson, Arthur J. Balfour, and others.

Since the workers’ very existence is determined by the economic basis of present society, it is fatuous for Mr. Woodall to say no one can possibly object to “defensive” action on the part of the wage-earner. If the workers’ premisses are unsound, then the defensive, action falls and constitutes the objection in itself.

Corbett Woodall mouths effusions as to a fair minimum wage. He might just as reasonably talk of an honest, burglary. He says the workers must not be aggressive, because co-partnership spells salvation to them. They must not pin their official faith to Socialism.

The speaker knew, and had great respect for, many labour leaders, and it surprised him that “so many of them should profess themselves Socialists. Mr. Woodhall must, realise that when labour men are Socialists they will not seek his society or respect, or pat him on the back on Co-partnership platforms. They will, instead, be educating the trustful and misguided “co-partners” in the scence of revolt, and not in leading them to the shambles.

“What is wanted,” Mr. Woodall went on to declare, “is an appeal to the soul of man, who has never been satisfied with bread alone.” We require inducement to the improvement of man and of the fruits of his toil. The hope of mankind lies in his power of self-sacrifice.

But what self sacrifice has Mr. Woodall and his like, unblushing mouthers of “altruism” as they are, ever subjected themselves to ? The various agreements drawn up for “co-partners” to sign certainly show nothing on the masters’ part of self-sacrifice, no tendency except to perpetuate the wages system. Their actions are as materialistic even as Mr. Woodall declares Socialism to be, and conceived on class lines narrower than that of the trade union policy he girds at—narrower if only because the capitalist class is smaller. They recognise to-day that it is cheaper to bribe the worker than to fight him, more so as the wages have gradually decreased since the introduction of profit-sharing by gas companies, not to mention the speeding-up, the introduction of wage saving machinery, and the miserable system of espionage, inseparable from the profit-sharing, as apparently, an appeal to the soul of man.

The present writer, at all events, cannot disagree with Mr. Woodall’s claim that the world is ripe for another step upward and onward in social progress. It its not only capitalism, however, that is “growing weary of wages settlements that do not settle anything, and of bargains that bear no more strain than wet paper.” But the way does not lie through copartnership, and it is hopeless to think of agreements to obtain finality when a growing number of the working class absolutely deny the right of existence to a master class, and declare that nothing short of the overthrow of the existing social form can eradicate the hostility which exists between employers and employed.

A table was submitted showing that in all 28 companies with 19,613 co-partner employers have paid £726,126 in a period of 21 years. The highest percentage was paid by the South Metropolitan Gas Co.—8¼ per cent. This, on a wage of 25s. a week would be less than 2s. On the other hand, where wages were 35s., they are now 25s., so that to reduce wages 10s. at a cost of 2s. in the guise of divided profit, certainly warrants all the enthusiasm for co-partnership which the masters lavish upon it.

Further confirmation of this point was contained in the statement that the late Sir George Livesay “would relate how he once inquired of another large employer of labour, whether a workman with a real interest in saving time and materials and stopping waste, might not be worth an extra 5 per cent. on his wages. ‘Say 20 per cent.’ was the answer.”

Although this was a “co”-partnership meeting, only the “profit” payable to the workers was dealt with. The very fact that masters show such animated interest in forcing a share of their profits (?) upon those from whom, in other times and places, they just as enthusiastically wring that profit, is a sufficiently illuminating circumstance to put co-partnery in its proper place, among the many swindles the capitalists and their henchmen, the labour “leaders,” have together devised for the benefit of their credulous dupes.


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