“About it and about”

Again “our” trade is up. “Our” exports to British possessions and foreign countries for the year 1911 is £556,878,432 as compared with £517,977,167 in 1907. That is according to the “Daily Telegraph” (23.8.12). And, “turning to ‘our’ import side the figures are again expanding, having increased by over 34 millions during the same period.”

Ah ! these millions. They take one’s breath away. But where is our prosperity ? What does it mean when “trade is so brisk ?” By the expenditure of our muscle and the skill of our brain we are producing vaster and ever vaster stores of wealth. In all branches of industry men, women, and children are being maimed and sweated to draw more wealth from nature. On every hand machines are introduced to wring from mother earth still more and more good things. And for whom and for what are these good things ? Are these multitudinous machines lightening the labours of a single worker ? Do they give the toiler one iota more of his product ? Not a bit of it. Such is not the purpose of wealth production to-day.

Machinery is used to compel the women and children to go into the factory in order to enable the factory-owner to exploit the whole family instead of, as at one time, the male adult only. Machinery is used to speed up the producer, and is set up alongside of him in a horrible race. The toiler must keep up with it or die. About a hundred and fifty years ago the factory system started on its destined path. It was pushed forward with terrible determination. During the time that has elapsed since then more mechanical contrivances have been invented than ever before. In this period wealth has sprung from mother earth like water from a spring. Every day sees many improvements—the completion of many contrivances the purpose of which is, not to save the exhausting toil of the workers, but to speed them up the more. The faster the machine goes the faster the hand must go, and when he is unable to keep the pace he must go outside.

The “New York Tribune” last May recorded the introduction of “a magnet that can lift five and a half tons. This contrivance is dropped with great force on scrap metal to be broken up for remelting.” It breaks the metal into convenient small pieces, which are lifted up and down by the magnet until the scrap is reduced to the proper size. Then the invisible fingers of the magnet gather up the pieces and carry them to the melting furnace. The entire operation is performed in one hundredth of the time formerly required by manual labour. A single machine of this character will displace half a hundred workmen.”

What has the introduction of such machines done for the toilers ? Has their load been lightened ? Not a little bit; in fact, it is the competition of the “iron worker” that has forced the flesh and blood “hand” to work for lower wages, and compelled his wife and children to enter the factory in a vain attempt to increase the family income. Some may try to make it appear as a good thing. Children can work the machine and get wages, and so increase the standard of living, they will say. But this is not so. Capital does not work for the toiler in that way, and any advantage from improved machinery goes to the owners of that machinery. It is a well-known fact that children become a burden to the average working-class parents after a certain age. The wage paid is not sufficient to keep a number of adults. They must be forced into the factory. The wage paid is just sufficient to maintain the worker and enable him to reproduce future wage-earners, and their economic position forces them on the market.

While 99 per cent. of children attend day-school (England and Wales) at the age of 11, at the age of 14 years the figures drop to 22 per cent., and at 16 years to 6 per cent. It is because the income is so low that the child is forced to go to work at an early age. The speeding up of wealth production calls for it. Capital requires profit and capital must have profit.

Is there any need to dwell upon the subject ? Is it not obvious that all this talk about “our volume of trade” and “increasing productivity” is a matter of importance only to those own the land and the instruments of wealth production ? While trade booms the workers starve. It was ever so under the present system. The horrors perpetrated by the early capitalists of 1750 onward continue now in different form. As Gibbins points out in his “Industrial History of England” : “The manufacturers wanted cheap labour and they got it by some means or another.” They got it by sweating little children purchased as slaves from the workhouses of this country. Many a noble industrial concern is built upon the bloody profits wrung from these pauper children, who were worked sixteen hours a day, day and night, Sundays included. The manufacturers want cheap labour now, and the manufacturers will get it somehow or other—they are getting it.

According to Gibbins and others children were sold in those clays under the condition that the manufacturer took one idiot with twenty sane children. From the “Daily Chronicle” we get the information that the children at the Strand Union School are in a deplorable condition. “One child, a boy thirteen years old, had been in the schools for over four years. He was 4ft 1in. high, and weighed 3st 13lbs.” One of the guardians remarked that “the longer they stayed the worse they got.” No doubt the Strand and other Unions would be glad to palm off some of their defectives as job lots since it takes such a time to kill them !

Dr. A. E. Thomas, Medical Officer of Health for Finsbury, refers to the home workers in that district in his annual report, and it seems that while “two or three who were entirely dependent on this kind of employment received about 12/6 per week, the average wage is 4/6 per week.” Thus do we derive the benefits of the boom in trade. Dr. Bailie, Medical Superintendant of Health for Belfast, in his report says :—

“It is to be regretted that no improvement has been noted in the rate of payment given to outworkers in the city . . , which is far too low. In the last week of December, for instance, a woman was observed embroidering small dots on cushion covers : there were 300 dots on each cushion, and for sewing these by hand she received the sum of one penny. She said that for a day’s work of this kind she would have difficulty in making 6d. Nor is this an exceptional case. Quite recently our inspector was shown handkerchiefs which were ornamented by a design in dots : these dots were counted, and it was found that the workers had to sew 384 dots for a penny. . . . One penny per hour is the ordinary rate, and in many cases it falls below this.”—”Daily Chronicle,” 29.4.12.

From this and other reports it is plain that the hand workers of Belfast, in their competitive fight with the gaint machine, are suffering hellish conditions. Day after day of toil for a mere pittance that simply allows for an occasional “meal” of bread and tea.

Dr. J. C. Thrash, Medical Officer for Essex, says (“Daily Chronicle” 24.8.12) :—

“The dearth of decent cottages is reducing the marriage rate, and increasing attention given to the sanitary condition of cottages is causing cottage owners to object to tenants with large families. Many cottages are barely fit for human habitation. . . . Overcrowding occurs, immorality is fostered, and infectious diseases spread.”

On all hands we find the toiler crushed both by the privately owned machine and the privately owned wealth of an idle class, held by that class to the detriment of those who toil year by year to produce it. The disease is so dread yet the remedy is so plain. Charity is futile, for it pays the wage of the sweating employer. Reforms of all sorts are found to act in the same way. The workers of Belfast know that their lot will not be one whit the better because of the passing of the Home Rule Bill. The private ownership of the tools we use ; the private ownership of the machines that grind us ; the private ownership of the food we want and the land we must have : these are the causes. Politicians may talk of war in Ulster and Belfast. They can set worker against worker in a sham religious or political fight, but all the time profits are being ground out of the working class, and men, women, and children are being slaughtered in the interest of the profit-seeking capitalist.

Let the workers wake to their true interest leave taxation and the rest of the robber business to be fought out by the robbers themselves and see to it that you understand why you are poor, how you are robbed, and then organise to stop the robbery. Cease to be fools; capture the political power and turn out the rogues.


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