Behind the “Labour Unrest”


In England, after 66 years of Free Trade, a century of Trade Unionism and of Social Reform, strikes and lock-outs are the order of the day. Cotton operatives, printers, seamen, railwaymen, carmen, miners, tailors, dockers and transport workers, are all struggling for betterment.

The “labour unrest” is “explained” by various politicians in various ways. Lloyd George tells the “Daily News” man that the cause is the low wage of agricultural labourers ; Bonar Law says it is the want of Tariff walls ; the Anti-Socialist Union hirelings fix the blame on the Socialists.

The first, playing the Cobden game of turning attention on the


—the landowner—in working-class robbery, is effectively answered by (Chiozza Money (“The Star,” May 29) when he shows that agricultural workers’ real wages have suffered less than the town workers’ during the rise in prices. Mr. Bonar Law is silenced by the growing labour upheaval in Protectionist countries. Finally, the Anti Socialist Union may be reminded that the majority of those striking are, unfortunately, anti-Socialists.

Is it want of trade, Messrs. T. Reformer and F. Trader ? The Board of Trade returns show an enormous increase ! Is it want of wealth and power to produce, Mr. Malthusian ? Lloyd George told you during the “unrest” debate in the Commons that the wealth produced and the ability to make it was unparalleled in human history. Income Tax. returns have risen rapidly and recent wills prove that it is distribution, not production, at fault.

The two brothers Coats left 3½ millions ; the Duke of Fife a million, and it is reported in the “Telegraph ” that Rockefeller’s income one year alone was


Mr. H. G. Wells may talk of the need for “high pressure service,” and Balfour babble of seeking “greater command over nature” : the one cause of the ferment around us is the growing pressure of poverty amidst stupendous wealth.

Said Lloyd George at Cardiff, December 2th 1911: “To-day you have greater poverty in the aggregate in the land than you have ever had. You have oppression of the weak by the strong. You have a more severe economic bondage than you probably have ever had ; for grinding labour to-day does not always guarantee sustenance or security. At any rate, that condition of things was foreign to the barbaric regime of the darker ages.” He had a few minutes before reminded us that “this is the richest empire under the sun. If there is poverty, misery and wretchedness it is not because the land is sterile and bare and does not provide enough for all.”

On the other side Mr. Bonner Law told us (Manchester Nov. 16, 1911) that: “During the last ten years there has been a considerable increase in the total wealth of the country, but in that time the condition of the working class has not improved. It has actually deteriorated. From information supplied by the Board of Trade we know that during that period


has gone up 10 per cent. and wages remained stationary.”

Then at the National Conference on the Prevention of Destitution (Caxton Hall, May 31st, 1911) the Lord Mayor informed us that a hundred millions were spent on poor law relief and charity, and he asked : “Are we as a community getting the best return for that huge expenditure ? Are we making destitution any less? Are we stopping the perpetual creation of new clestitutition ? In spite of greatly improved Poor Law administration, in spite of momentary good trade, there was on the 1st of January, actually a larger number of people in the workhouses than at any previous period of our history. Moreover, the plague of vagrancy seemed to be actually increasing.”

Mark the words of the mental specialist, Sir J. Crichton Browne, at Tottenham Hospital on November 16, 1911: “We have in many of our industries adopted a policy of “speeding up,” whereby men do their work in less time than formerly, and with fewer intervals of rest allowed them in the workshops and therefore with more exacting and exhausting calls on their nerves, which probably in some measure accounts for the great increase of reputed injuries to workpeople which we have to deplore. We have been


on anything but mother’s milk, and by the employment of women in factories and by giving them an unrestricted sphere of activity, have curtailed that family life in which the young nervous system thrives best.”

The result of this hustle is seen in the 65th Annual Report of the Lunacy Commissioners, which shows the number of inmates of lunatic Asylums to be 133,157, an increase of 2,604 in a year. The meaning of these terrible figures is driven home in the table showing that in 1859 the number of lunatics was only 36,762. Thus while the population increased but 85.8 per cent., the number of lunatics increased in the period 262.2 per cent.! How capitalism crushes the working class becomes plain from the fact that 121,172, or 91 per cent., of the total lunatics in 1911 were


This was an increase of 2,271 over 1910, nearly all the year’s increase being pauper inmates !

Our teetotal fanatics often think the cause of increased lunacy is drink, but Sir J. Crichton Browne exploded that idea. He said : “Drinking is admittedly on the decrease. Sir Thomas Wittaker pointed out last year that £46,000,000 had been saved in the national drink bill, but it did not bring any diminution in the number of the mentally afflicted.” In the same speech he said that whereas in 1890 the number of suicides was 2,205, in 1910 there were 3,577, and he blames the stress of modern society. was 2,205, in 1910 there were 3,577, and he blames the stress of modern society.

The worsening of the workers’ lot is shown by the fact that the children of the toilers are driven, into the factories to a greater extent in order to “make both ends meet at home.” The Board of Education in their report quoted by Mr. Chiozza Money in the “Daily News” on May 29th, says that out of a total of 691,000 children aged 14, only 155,682, or 22 per cent., attend day school. As Mr. Money remarks, this system “compels two persons, and sometimes three persons, to work for the wage which


Schemes of social reform do not help matters. Says the Chairman of the West Ham Board of Guardians in the Annual Report just issued : “Although a large number of out relief recipients have been transferred to the Old Age Pension list, the number of applicants for out relief has been steadily ascending. One of the principal causes is said to be the disinclination of employers to engage or retain persons of advanced years or suspected of infimity.” As to indoor pauperism, the “Daily Chronicle” (Nov. llth, 1911) said : “Indoor relief in London has risen enormously. For the year 1886-7 the average number of indoor paupers (excluding casuals) was 54,861, or 13.7 per 1,000 of the population; last year it was 78,114, or 17.3 per thousand.”

Millions never reach the Poor Law portals, but are murdered in the cradle. The National Liberal Federation says, in “A. Nation Insured” : “We have many large towns . . where 200 out of each 1,000 die within 12 months of birth. . . The wholesale sacrifice of infants is followed by the robbery of a great part of the life of those who survive. . . It is not pretended that the National Health Insurance can dispose of


Of course it cannot. The only remedy is our remedy—the institution of a new social system, not fiddling with the effects of the present one. The evils which give rise to the “labour unrest” which convulses society is a necessary concomitant of the present social system. They arise inevitably from its competitive institutions, and will continue to arise as long as those competitive conditions remain.

It is futile, therefore, for the master class to look for any cure for the “labour unrest,” or for the workers to seek industrial peace. Under the system the fight must go on, and battle follow battle. Let us prepare, then, to end the strife by ending the system.


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