Editorial: Lloyd George’s permit to murder

The “Titanic” horror turned attention for a moment to the ocean passenger trade. It threw up in bold relief the profit-hunger of the shipping companies and the small chance the workers had of being rescued when danger came. After the “Titanic” white-washing job—known to lawyers as the “Titanic” Commission’—was over, some meagre alterations in rescue apparatus were foreshadowed, and the world nodded—and slept.

A month before the “Titanic” disaster, however, occurred another of which the world has scarcely heard. Nevertheless it is full of frightful significance, just as terrible, and with even a greater lesson for the working class than that the “Titanic” disaster bore. It showed the fiendish greed of the modern shipowners, and illustrated the murderous methods of the masters of the world. It proved the treachery of all the political parties of our masters, who used the power entrusted to them to drive brave and hardy toilers to their death.

On February 29th last the Cardiff steamship “North Briton” left Sunderland bound for Sulina with a cargo of coal. When the vessel was within twenty-five miles of Ushant she foundered, and every one of her crew except the boatswain was drowned. The black story of the cause of this tragedy of the sea. we will leave to the Ministerial organ, “The Daily News and Leader,” which printed the following in its issue of September 24th :—

“The foundering of the steamship ‘North Briton’ off Ushant last March with the loss of all hands but the boatswain should be the means of compelling the Board of Trade—if sufficient public interest can be aroused—to reconsider the question of the Plimsoll mark.
“Under new rules for assigning a ship’s freeboard—the distance between the main deck and the water line—the Plimsoll line was heightened in March 1906 for ships under the red ensign. . . . Almost unanimously captains, officers, engineers and seamen have declared that the new load line converted a ‘dry’ ship into a ‘wet’ ship, because it destroyed a ship’s reserve buoyancy, and so endangered life and property ; and at last a Court of Enquiry has found in the case of one steamer that the primary cause of her loss and the deaths of 20 of her men was excessive deadweight and an insufficient freeboard.”

The “Daily News” man was informed by the National Union of Masters and Mates that the replacing of the Plimsoll Mark was one of their chief objects.

“When the new rules came into force a large steamer belonging to one of the greatest of our British lines, loaded railway iron and coal for Bombay down to her new mark. On her arrival it was found that she was structurally strained—her beams and bulkheads had given. Within six months she and her two sister ships had to be stiffened to allow for the extra loads. But do you think that the owrers of all the tramp steamers did the same when their vessels sagged through too much cargo ?”

A master mariner told a “Daily News and Leader” representative that he himself had nearly lost a steamer from the same cause that sunk the “North Briton.” He said : —

“My ship was usually a ‘dry’ ship in bad weather, but after her load line was altered she had to carry 200 tons more, and she became lifeless in heavy seas and her deck was always full up. Only on a recent voyage the continual breaking inboard of heavy seas because of her want of life and buoyancy got her hatches adrift before we were clear of the Channel. Something of that sort happened in the case of the ‘North Briton.’ We were two hours getting her watertight again, and but for sheer good luck—for this business happened at night—we should have become a missing ship.”

On Saturday, September 21st, the Board of Trade enquiry into the loss of the “North Briton” was held at Cardiff. The magistrate who presided over it summed up thus :

“For some time before the vessel foundered, and when her condition was hopeless, the crew—those 20 brave men of that brave class, the British Mercantile Marine—stood together on the deck with their pipes in their mouths, silently, calmly, dauntlessly facing death. Without a murmur or a cry they perished in the sea. THEIR LIVES WERE SACRIFICED TO THE 130 TONS OF ADDITIONAL FREIGHT.”

He pointed out that “according to law she was not overladen, but the Court is satisfied that consistent with safety the loading was excessive,” and “the primary cause of her loss.”

The Court put the Board of Trade the following question for urgent consideration :

“Do the disasters of vessels that have occurred since March 1906, when the rules for assigning a ship’s freeboard were revised, and whereby numerous vessels had their freeboard reduced, call for further immediate revision of such rules ?”

Those who expect real action to be taken will soon have their hopes quenched if they read the record of the Liberal Party in this matter.

The name of Plimsoll is known wherever the tale of the sea is told. Samuel Plimsoll was struck by the cold-blooded murder of seamen on the high seas, and the records of their butchery by Liberal and Tory shipowners made him take up the battle on their behalf. He carried on an active mission in the seaport towns of England, where he told the terrible story of the dangers of the men sent to sea in “coffin ships,” in ships overloaded but insured up to the hilt, so that if they went down the owners were at no loss.

In 1871 he entered the House of Commons, and in his fight to lessen the death-roll among seamen he was jeered at and mocked by the Liberals and Tories gathered there. He brought in Bills but found no backers. In “Gladstone’s greatest administration,” 1868-74, he was ejected from the House for daring to describe the shipowners as “cold-blooded murderers.” After his four years of bitter struggle the Tory Party were returned, and they seized upon the popular outcry Plimsoll had aroused, and passed the Load Line Bill of 1875, lowering the load line and increasing the freeboard. They did this to dish the Liberals.

Samuel Plimsoll hated Toryism, but the depth of his hatred of Liberal Governments was shown when he said in the House of Commons on May 14 1873 :

“I am a Liberal of the Liberals. I have supported Liberal measures ever since I came into this House, but it has been borne into my mind that the interest of the working classes, when at issue between themselves and capitalists, are safer with the Conservatives than with the Liberals.”

Thirty one years after the load line was lowered ; thirty-one years after the Plimsoll Mark was established, David Lloyd George became President of the Board of Trade, and he wiped out the labours of Plimsoll by issuing new regulations raising the load line. The Plimsoll line—the charter of the seamen—was dead. In its place was substituted the Lloyd George load line. And ever since the sorry story has been told of human life destroyed to increase the profits of the shipowners.

The case of the “North Briton” was no isolated one. In January this year the “Wistow Hall” foundered off the Aberdeenshire coast from the same cause. Fifty-three of our fellow workers went down in her, paying with their lives for their masters’ greed. Last year 1254 of our seamen lost their lives. Already this year this number has been left far behind—an army “sacrificed to additional freight.”

Nor is the murder of the seamen the only evil result of the raising of the line of lading. Mr. Havelock Wilson, the Liberal Secretary of the Seamen’s Union, told the South Shields seamen on Oct. 20, 1910, that thousands of them were out of work because of that very alteration of the load line, for “at one stroke of the pen, by the alteration of the freeboard of ships, we have added to the tonnage of our vessels nearly one million tons of shipping.”

The Board of Trade have issued (L.L. 11) a reprint of the revised load line rules altered in March 1906, and they have been eulogised by the Shipowners’ Parliamentary Council. The reason for the alteration was briefly to save the shipowners building extra vessels. On the same day as they published the matter before quoted the “Daily News” published the shipping returns with the bold headline : “Our Shipping Supremacy.” They told us that in the past year our tonnage had increased by 2½ million. England carried 37 million tons of cargo against 22 millions carried by the combined other nations of the world. Therein is the secret. When in 1906 the Liberal Government was returned, you found in its ranks and among its leading supporters, most of the great shipowners of the world. Lord Pirrie, director of Harland and Wolff’s, the White Star and other shipping companies ; Lord Furness, director of six shipping concerns ; men like Sir Owen Phillips,. Mark Palmer, Lord Joicey, Lord Rendel, Sir Walter Runciman, Sir Willian Bowring, R. D. Holt, Lord Munburnholme and other members of the Wilson family, Russell Ben, Hon. J. A.. Pease, etc., etc. They were amongst the greatest backers of the 1906 campaign, and hence they dictated Liberal policy.

David Lloyd George very kindly looked after their welfare then as he looked after the railway magnates’ interests later on. Hence these tragedies, these murders on the high seas, this sacrafice of brave, useful men to the greed of Capital.

The villainies of Liberalism stand out as a criminal record as black and bloody as ever Tory policy was or could be. The Labour Party, too, have silently watched these atrocities, and organised its members to save the Government from destruction !

Down with capitalism ! Down with Labourism ! Up with Socialism !

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