Brain Workers and—Brains

It is generally assumed by most people that the different professions are quite distinct from the rest of the working class, that they occupy a favourable position, both with regard to their pecuniary returns and their freedom from that sense of insecurity which, through unemployment, haunts the lives of the workers.

That this assumption is wide of the truth is constantly being demonstrated, both by statistics published from time to time, and by private records of the personal experience of members of the professions.

That competition in all professions is keen and grows in intensity is notorious. Every profession, has its unemployed, a struggling mass of “brain workers” and experts striving to emulate those who have already secured the plums of the professional world. The “stars” of the music halls attract large numbers of amateurs and young people, who speedily find out that high salaries are only paid to the “stars.” Their entry into the profession only increases the competition and tends to still further reduce the remuneration of those who possess only average talent.

What is true of the music hall world is true of all the professions, and it is safe to assert that there is at present no section of the workers without a percentage of unemployed. As far back as 1909—and the tendency has certainly not decreased since then—a leading daily newspaper said : “A return of the average income of the professional artist of to day would furnish a tragic story of wasted and unrewarded labour.”

Dr. Warriner, at the Trinity College, about the same time, gave some startling figures as to the professional musicians competing for a living in London and added : “The profession is over-crowded ; the musical world is hopelessly congested and the struggle for existence is bitter and disappointing.”

The recent discussions ou the Insurance Bill have revealed the unenviable position of many doctors, especially in working-class districts. The January number of “The Clerk” says in a leading article : “For the want of organisation our profession has fallen as low as any skilled trade.” While admitting their worsened condition they ignore the factors that have produced it—all of which are common knowledge. The introduction of simplified methods of bookkeeping, automatic appliances, typewriters, and the employment of female and juvenile substitutes wherever possible. And above all, the wholesale manufacture of clerks by “evening commercial classes.”

One of the easiest lessons learned by the capitalist has been how to encourage an over-supply of the different kinds of labour-power that were high-priced—and for what purpose is made clear by an elementary understanding of the nature of capitalism and a record of the events that immediately follow such overcrowding.

A typical instance is that of the teachers. Some ten or twelve years ago they were in demand. An agitation was commenced, chiefly by Progressives, for giving greater facilities to the workers’ children to qualify for the profession. The acting teachers examination was instituted, and the barriers to the teaching profession went down like the walls of Jericho—with the teachers underneath.

Henceforth the latter occupy the same position as the rest of the working class. The “law” of supply and demand operates against them because their numbers are in excess of the demand. A number of educational authorities soon availed themselves of the opportunity thus afforded them to reduce the salaries of newly appointed teachers. An ever-increasing number were unable to obtain appointments, and were forced to accept jobs as warehousemen, clerks, shop-assistants, waitresses, etc.

In October 1910 their unemployed numbered 4,000, and the teachers thought that—something should be done.

Naturally we should expect them to deal with the situation with rare sagacity and intelligence. A record of their actions, however, proves that they wear capitalist blinkers quite as unconsciously as mechanics and labourers. Their protests and resolutions to the authorities have been slavish copies of the trade union protests of twenty years ago.

At the Annual Conference of the N.U.T. held at Plymouth in 1910, a resolution was passed in favour of abolishing the acting teachers examination and regulating the number of entrants to training colleges. Only those should be allowed to enter the profession who were college-trained certificated teachers. Parallel action to that taken by trade unionists in trying to enforce apprenticeship laws.

The passing of resolutions incorporating demands is in itself an energy-wasting operation, and is perfectly useless unless action is taken, or at least threatened.

At the protest meeting in October at Holborn Town Hall, Sir George Kekewitch told the assembled teachers that the Board of Education thought it necessary to have a reserve of teachers to meet future requirements, and, surely, this overcrowding would lead to a dearth of teachers, which would lead to an increase of their pittances. In other words—wait while the economic wheel turns round.

Sir John Gorst at the same meeting said they must aim at smaller classes in order that their unemployed might be absorbed—obviously a useless procedure, even if they were successful, while the manufacture of teachers still proceeds at the new pace that had been set—a pace that will not be slackened, as Mr. Pease intimated in the House of Commons recently.

In 1912 we find the teachers still tinkering with the effects, protesting against the compulsory promotion of children through the various classes in order to economise space—a new method discovered by the authorities for maintaining their reserve army of teachers. The latter protest, as usual, but claim that they are disinterested in their motives. Their chief concern, they state, is for the welfare of the children, whose education is being scamped. This, however, is a subterfuge we can easily see through when we know how their material interests are affected by these labour saving methods.

Ultimately, of course, the teachers, together with all professionals, will have to admit their identity with the rest of the wage-workers. Every year makes them more helplessly subject to capital, increases their insecurity and worsens their general conditions. The evils from which they suffer—incessant toil, insecurity, and low wages tending still lower—must finally drive them to admit the truth of our principles, and to see in our methods the only way to relief. They must force them to attempt with us the removal of the effects by the overthrow and abolition of the system and the establishment of Socialism. The sooner they take up this attitude the sooner shall we be convinced of their possession of intelligence and sagacity and—brains that can think.

F. F.

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