The “Hungry Forties” and Now
Liberals, when discussing the present condition of the working class, or upholding their social reform legislation, are very prone to point to the “hungry forties,” and the condition of the working class under Protection.
While admitting the badness of the condition at that period, we might also ask ourselves: “Are we so much improved since then ?”
The so-called saviours of the working class— the Liberals to wit— have held the reins of Government for the major portion of the last sixty years, and the Conservatives have been in power for the remainder of the period. Starvation and misery were rife in the forties, no doubt, but are they appreciably less in evidence to-day?
Do not forget that wealth is produced twenty times as fast as it was in 1840, owing to the development of machinery. Yet where do the workers stand?
Let us take a few statements from capitalist economists and statesmen.
Mr. Chas. Booth “There are 32 per cent. of the population of London living on 6d. per day.”
Mr. Seebohm Rowntree:—“8.5 per cent, of the families of York have incomes of less than 21s. per week ; average family, six persons.”
Mr. D. Lloyd George, M.P.:—“ You have got, side by side with most extravagant wealth, multitudes of people who cannot consider even a bare subsistence as assured to them. What do I mean by a bare subsistence? I don’t mean luxuries. I exclude even comforts. I mean that minimum of food, raiment, shelter, and practically the care which is essential to keep human life in its tenement of clay. The wolves of hunger prowl constantly round millions of doors in the land.”
Mr. C. F„ Masterman “What was the use of building cathedrals and great central halls of worship when under their very shadow life was being upreared under conditions more intolerable than the world had ever seen.”
Mr. L. G. Chiozza Money .—“I do not think it is generally realised that during the last 15 years the wages of the British workman have fallen. The Board of Trade knows nothing of a certain class of boot workers who earn twelve shillings in a seventy hour week.”
30,000,000 people of the United Kingdom own no land.
Seven London landlords draw £14,640,000 per annum in ground rent.
Can anything be worse than this? Are Free Trade and Protection worth talking about? Is not there some deeper cause of the workers’ poverty? Is it not time that the working class awoke to the fact ?
Our duty is plain. Why are we poor? Because we are robbed by the capitalist—whether by a rack-renting landlord or a sweating company. We are robbed of a large portion of the wealth we produce.
Britain, with all its vast resources, belongs to a few people. These few own our jobs; owning these they own our lives.
We, the workers, provide the finest of clothes and wear the shoddy. We build the palaces and live in the slum. How long will we stand this producing for profit instead of for use? A baker does not produce bread to feed people— be produces it for profit. Profit is his incentive, not use.
The working man or woman who depends from week to week upon wages is face to face with hunger and misery as soon as employment ceases. Why should there be starving people in a land of plenty?
When our masters talk upon wages or work they speak not as Liberals or Tories, but as exploiters. The workers send the masters or their representatives to Parliament, where they control the armed forces which shoot you down when on strike for better conditions. Remember what Liberals and Tories have done at Peterloo, Belfast, Featherstone, Llanelly, Liverpool, and Mitchelstown. Give up your blind faith in the Liberal and the Tory; use your political power for the benefit of your wives and your children, yourselves and your class. Study Socialism and find out what it is, not from your masters’ hirelings, but from the Socialists.