A Socialist Survey
Mr. F. Townsend Martin, a wealthy member of American society, and a brother of Mr. Bradley Martin, the multi-millionaire, has written a book entitled : “The Passing of the Idle Rich,” in which he says : “I know society, I was born in it and have lived in it all my life both here and in the capitals of Europe.” Further on he tells us that:
“Somewhere there is something wrong. I speak as a rich man. I speak as a representative of the class of which I write and to which, in particular I address myself. We can no longer blind ourselves with idle phrases or drug our consciences with the outworn boast that the working man of America is to-day the highest-paid artizan in the world. We know those lying figures well. Many a time I myself in personal argument, have shown that the American workman receives from one and a half to three times as much as his English cousin at the same trade ; but we know now that it means nothing. . . .
We are learning, too, that what we give our workers is wages we take back from them in the higher cost of necessities, in food, in clothing, in medicine, in insurance—in a hundred devious ways, all with one tendency—to keep the living margin down.”
“O most learned judge,” there is something wrong, and the only curious factor in the above is its source. The determined stand made, for a time, by the workers of different parts of the world, has forced upon the notice of others besides our worthy American, the fact that while the great mass of the working class are prepared to suffer in silence, there is yet a little spirit remaining which may burst into a blaze at some inconvenient moment, to the detriment of that superstructure of society which gives to the “idle rich” so good a living for so little exertion.
Dr. Gore, late Bishop of Birmingham, in a letter to the “clergy and laity” of that city, informs us that “the profound sense of unrest and dissatisfaction among the workers” is genuine.
“We are not justified,” he says, “in tolerating the conditions of life and labour under which the vast mass of our population is living. We have no right to say that these conditions are not remediable. Preventible lack of equipment among the young, and later the insecurity of employment and inadequacy of remuneration, and consequent destitution and semi-starvation among so many of our people, ought to inspire in all Christians a profound and passionate determination to devote themselves to the reform of our industrial system.”
That eminently respectable organ, the “Pall Mall Gazette,” tells us that
“Unrest among large bodies of men is not scientifically explained by ascribing it all to the depravity or agitators, and in the case of the railwaymen, as we have repeatedly affirmed, there are deeper causes in the general economic condition of the country which it is futile to ignore. British working men would not surrender themselves to the irrational and discreditable impulses which have had such free play during the last few weeks, unless there were forces at work to throw them off their balance, and those forces can easily be discerned in the rise of prices and the consequent fall in ‘real’ wages.”
and if the testimony of the “democratic” “Star” can add weight to that of so respectable a witness, it tells us (20.9.11) that we have certain facts to face.
“Just as France and Gerraany, Austria and Spain have got to face them. All over Europe the people are in revolt against the lowness of wages and the dearness of food. It is foolish to imagine that unrest which is caused by permanent and deep-seated economic causes can be allayed by harsh words and stern discipline.
“The Labor problem is a problem of flesh and blood. It is producing riots in France, in Austria, and in Spain. Everywhere the people are in rebellion against the conditions of their existence.”
The “Morning Leader” (same date) says :
“That labor is grossly ill-organised and under-paid ; that the conditions under which great masses of laborers live are a disgrace to our civilisation ; that industrialism, which has opened to the wealthier classes endless sources of pleasure and luxury never dreamt of by their grandfathers, has robbed the worker’s life for the most part even of the little patches of color and brightness it had in slower, easier days, and even where he gets more money has made him pay for it dearly in the drab monotony of his toil—all these things are very well known. No one questions them.”
The cause of the unrest so candidly admitted is that the wage of the worker does not rise in correspondence to the increased price of necessaries, and the increased cost of production of the worker, who, toiling under high pressure and producing more and more rapidly, requires a greater amount of food, both physical and mental, to maintain him in the requisite condition for the modern wage slave.
To again quote Mr, Martin :
“I cannot go down through the crowded tenement settlement sections of our great cities without having it borne in upon me that we, as a nation, pay a fearful price in human blood and tears for our industrial triumphs. For the grim fact stands out beyond denial that the men who are the workers of the nation, and the women and the children dependent upon them, are not to day given the opportunities that are their proper birthright in free America ; and that, struggle as they will, save as they may, lift their voices in protest as they dare, they cannot obtain from our industrial heirarchy much more than a living wage.”
When will the workers recognise that they are but merchandise ? When will they see those stubborn facts with which they are faced ? They can but get a bare sufficiency to enable them to produce wealth for the “idle rich,” who, with all their “good intentions,” are impelled by necessity, in order to maintain their supremacy, to keep down wages and to prevent the toiling masses from raising their standard of comfort. In every branch of industry the same effect is being felt: the necessity on the part of the workers to strike and of the masters to resist their demands. That nationalisation is a cure is easily refuted. Mr. Cheesman, Secretary of the Fawcett Association, seen by a representative of the “Daily News,” said :
“The discontent is very general, and arises primarily from the refusal of the Postmaster General to reopen the question of the improvement of the conditions in regard to wages, especially in view of the increased cost of living and the great length of lime that has elapsed since the wages were last adjusted. The National Committee is forced to take action owing to the general discontent, and not from any desire on their part to take advantage of the present unrest in the labour world.”
These men are working in an industry that has been nationalised, and to add force to the argument that conditions there are at least as bad as in any private concern, Mr. Cheesmsn adds :
“The seriousness of the situation ie emphasised by the speeding-up that has taken place during recent years in the various departments. Indeed, the conditions in many cases have become almost unbearable, and the gieat plague of the postal service, consumption, is being replaced by an even greater evil, nervous breakdown.”
So the postman’s reward—bunions and consumption—is increased by the sporting chance of a padded cell as a rest cure.
The “Daily News” (5.9.11) contains “An Interview with a typical Barman,” who, after describing his daily “life” (which is, according to the scribe, a “dismal, soul-destroying round of duty”) says:
“We want to establish a sixty-hour week and one compulsory day’s holiday in seven. We also demand an increase in the rate of pay, since we receive at present about 1½d. per hour for labour.”
I can fittingly conclude with the final statement of Mr. Martin in the bock above mentioned :
“It cannot be for long. The days of the idle rich in America are as a tale that is told. Idleness is doomed as a vocation. We in America are fast moving toward social revolution. Conflicts between labour and capital are assuming the proportions of civil war. The once powerful middle class, which is the safety of every nation, is to day weak, and is every day declining. Soon, politically it will be a memory, and the battle-field will be cleared for conflict. . . . Instead of being the roof and crown of things, the wealthy class in America to-day has sunk to the level of the parasite. The time has come when the producing classes are about to bring it to judgment.”
Let the workers of Great Britain determine that when that day comes they will not be far behind their American cousins.