Co-partnership and the Strike

The coal strike has occupied the attention of our masters during the past month, and “remedies” galore have been propounded.

Liberal and Tory Press alike have agreed that the action of the miners in their attempt to obtain a living wage is to be condemned, and that the Government “would be justified in taking any measures to secure industrial peace.”

Among the many “remedies” proposed to “end the strike” is one that requires consideration from the Socialist—not because it is worthy of support, but because it is most likely to mislead the working class into the belief that the struggle between “master and man” can be avoided.

I refer to the scheme, now in operation in many industrial concerns, known as co-partnership, or profit-sharing.

The aim of co-partnership is two-fold, but in the main the object is to prevent strikes by suggesting that the workers are interested in the concern they jeopardise by “downing tools.”

The attitude of the miner in the recent upheaval denotes a recognition, on the part of the toilers, that they have interests directly opposed to those of their employers. It shows that, while not conscious of their class position, they realise something of the never-ending struggle which goes on in all branches of industry where capitalism rules—based as it is upon the robbery of one section of the people, who produce all the wealth, by another section, who merely assist in the consumption of that wealth.

Co-partnership promises to abolish this antagonism by introducing a scheme whereby the employee can, by an accumulative bonus, obtain shares in, and so be part proprietor of, the business in which he is employed.

Now the Socialist does not object to the abolition of strife (unless it be to replace war with massacre). He is, however, compelled to oppose a scheme that proposes to merely deaden the realisation by the working class of the existence of conflicting interests in society.


Because the scheme, like all other capitalist schemes, cannot abolish the class war ; cannot in any way alter the actual relationship between robber and robbed.

Co-partnership must be opposed because it is introduced to cajole the employee into quiescence by an apparent dole or bonus. Because it does not act in reality as a benefit at all when considered from the standpoint of the workers as a class.

Why is there a class war ?

Class wars are not made by agitators, as the “Daily Express” would have us believe. Agitators merely give voice, more or less correctly, to the inarticulate resistance of the labourer. The struggle of the wealth producers is a struggle for a share of the world’s wealth, as against the masters, who desire a greater share than they already obtain.

The capitalist in any concern requires his dividend every half year, some part of which is capitalised, and required to bear further dividend the next half year. Constantly increasing capital demands constantly increasing profit, and in order to get that profit constantly expanding markets are necessary. Markets can only be captured by cheapening production. Commodities must be cheaply produced.

Now the average price of all commodities (measured over a period sufficient to negate the fluctuations) is determined essentially by the amount of labour contained within them, hence to produce a cheaper article the labour-power expended in its production must be reduced.

It is not essential to the cheaper production of commodities, that the individual workman must be “poorly” paid, for, as has been shown in these columns, the “highly priced” cotton operative of Lancashire can produce more cheaply than the “cheap” cotton worker of Japan. Wages are lower in Lancashire, relative to the amount of wealth produced, than in Japan.

In the production of a given amount of commodities it matters little whether the number of employees remain the same and the individual wage is reduced, or the numbers are reduced at the same individual wage. The cost of the article (measured by wages) has been reduced in both instances, and in the bulk the workers have suffered a reduction.

The wage to the individual may even increase (either by a “rise,” a “bonus,” or by interest on a real or fictitious share), yet if such an increase is accompanied by a reduction in the staff relative to the total output, then the working class is in a worse position than before, and the benefits accrue to the masters only.

The essence of co-partnership then is : to give a sense of proprietorship to its slaves and so minimise the danger of constantly recurring strikes and, further, to encourage the employee to produce more wealth by the offer of a modicum of the increased product.

The greater productivity of labour, no matter how caused, necessarily implies an increase in unemployment. The speeding-up that is going on in the firms that have introduced “profit-sharing,” without a relative increase in the purchasing-power of the employees, must mean a worsening of conditions.

By what means are wages determined ? Essentially by the cost of living. When the price of necessaries rise (as they are doing to-day, in spite of cheap production), the workers have to struggle for increased wages to meet the extra cost of living. The army of unemployed is the chief force those in employ have to contend with when seeking an advance of wages, and co partnership, by providing additional unemployed, strengthens the force which keeps wages down. And it further disarms the poor slave by kidding him to kill himself more quickly in order to obtain a bonus which is eventually knocked off his wage, and to refrain from striking for fear of damaging “his own business.”

A recent report, taken from the “Daily Telegraph” of March 7th, 1912, of the “profit-sharing ” mine of Montceau-les-Mines, France, is a typical example of how well co partnership works-for the mine-owners.

“The Compagnie de Blanzy, which owns all the mines in the district over a radius of some fifteen miles, and covering ten parishes, got into trouble with its miners in 1906. After stormy proceedings, the company at last settled the disputes with the miners by promising to let them have a share in the profits. The share of the miners amounted, in the first year, to 300,000f. Then it rose to 600,000f, and it has increased in the same, progression ever since, until to-day it is l,500,000f. There are now 7,905 miners entitled to share in the profits, making about 190f which each of them receives. So far the miners are content, but on the other hand they also complain that, as their share is in proportion to wages they are able to earn, and these, again, are proportioned to their work, they are really not any better off than they were before. They complain, too, that they have to work more. There are in consequence 300 more accidents a year, and whereas, fourteen years ago, there were nearly 10,000 miners, there are to-day some 2,000 fewer. Yet the mines have to produce the same quantity or more to obtain the necessary profit.
“This also throws some light on the wages earned by French miners. The French miners in the Northern Departments and in the Pas de Calais earn on an average only 5f 34c a day, equivalent to about 4s. 3½d. This is but an average, and is not the minimum so much spoken of latterly, which can hardly be fixed from any reliable statistics. The miners of Montceau-les-Mines, however, counting their profit-sharing receipts into the bargain, do not earn as much as the miners in the North. Their average earnings are only 5f 30c a day”

Just so with all schemes introduced with so much bluster by business men. The English capitalist gives nothing away. He merely invests, and if profit can be obtained from co-partnership he is there—every time.

Corbet Woodhall, the “governor” of the Gas, Light and Coke Co., introducing the “Co-partner’s Magazine” (Jan. 1911), states that the scheme has given a shadow of the old personal relations between employer and employed, “which had in a large part disappeared.” This strengthened sense of comradeship, he says, “appears to me to be amongst the best boons of Co-partnership,” while “he [the employee] takes on the dual responsibility of the proprietor and workman and has the best of reasons for realising that his interest is one with the whole investment.”

This is the sort of cant that is spouted by the directors and managers to the employees, who, since the introduction of “co-partnery,” have been made to work at a speed that few of them would have tolerated prior to the introduction of the scheme, and which will necessitate the expense of lunatic asylums for many of the co¬partners on the staff.

The result of the speeding-up has been that at the quarterly meeting on Aug. 4th, 1911, it was reported that “more business is being done at a less standing expense.” In reducing the price of gas to 2s. 6d. per 1,000 ft. it was hoped that “under the existing prudent administration the revenue will be elastic enough to support this further relinquishment of £100,000 a year.”

A further £100,000 to be squeezed out of the employees, who are asked to rejoice thereat because another 1 per cent. or so is to be paid to their “shares.”

About 30 gas companies in England have entered into the scheme, and as, by Act of Parliament, they cannot increase dividends without decreasing the price of gas ; and as the price of gas is going down, no more need be said as to whether or not the scheme pays—-from the shareholders’ point of view !

Earl Gray, in an interview with a “Daily Chronicle” representative (28.2.12), tells us :—

“Co-partnership is a kind of Socialism—a Socialism applied piecemeal, a Socialism plus common sense and the ten Commandments. When we have brain enough and conscience enough we may be able to nationalise everything. But for that the time is not ripe. Whereas Co-partnership can be adopted to¬morrow.”

We can let it pass at that. Socialism and Co-partnership are as two poles. The latter has as its object the sharing of the profits, produced by the workers, with the shirkers, giving the biggest share to the stockholders, who produce nothing. The object of the former, on the other hand, is to abolish profit.

When asked the inevitable question : “Will it pay ?” the noble earl replied :

“Sir George Livesey told me that there never was a prouder moment in his life than when he was able to stand up before his shareholders and tell them that, as the result of Co-partnership and the spirit of brotherhood it engendered, the company had been able (1) to pay their employees higher wages than were paid to any other gas workers in the kingdom, (2) to pay the shareholders a higher dividend, and (3) to sell gas at a lower price.”

The old wheeze—”a benefit to all.” They lose sight of the fact that all profit is produced by the worker and that the extra profits have been wrung out of the gas worker for the benefit of the consumer and the stock-holder.

As was pointed out in the “Bystander” by one of our comrades, in reply to another advocate of Co-partnership, the cause of the “labour unrest” is not touched by profit-sharing. He says (“Bystander” 13.3.12):—

“The cause of the labour ‘unrest’ existing is but the struggle of the subject section to lift up their share of the wealth produced to the level of the increased cost of living due to the rise in prices.”

The only solutionn to the problem lies in the abolition of the cause of the misery—that is, the private ownership in the means of life.

The forces of production are growing more social day by day, both in character and operation. To restore harmony there must be social ownership both of the means, and of the product, of social labour—a labour based upon the needs of Society, not the profit of a class.

And that is Socialism.


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