The “Bootless” boom

“Those who wish to understand the phenomenon of working-class discontent should give their attention to the table of food prices just furnished by the Board of Trade. It covers the exact period of the present Government’s official life, and is therefore a dramatic comment on the theory that the secret of Cheap Food lies in the maintenance of Free Trade. There is scarcely an article of diet in which these seven years have not recorded rising prices. Bread is higher by only 4 per cent. in the ordinary retail trade ; but, as contract supplies show an increase of 9 per cent., and flour is up 13 per cent., it is impossible not to suspect that the figure is steadied by a reduction of quality. Beef has risen by 14 per cent.—counterbalanced, if one likes to think so, by a cheapening of ‘second quality’ and ‘inferior’ mutton. Sugar is slightly above the level of seven years ago, despite the reduction of the duty, and the great tendency of the markets is shown by an advance of 19 per cent. on potatoes, 16 per cent. on eggs, 14 per cent. on butter, 17 per cent. on milk, 21 per cent. on oatmeal, 22 per cent. on bacon, and 25 per cent. on cheese.”

“The wholesale value of certain imported foodstuffs shows a still more startling discrepancy, the rise in tea being 21 per cent., rice 32 per cent., coffee 46 per cent., and tapioca 89 per cent. Taking the facts as a whole, they mean that the cost of living has exceeded any gain that the working classes have secured in the means of facing it. All that has been effected in the way of raising wages, whether by trade unions or by other methods, has been nullified by the trend of prices, and at the end of seven years marked by strenuous agitation and political effort the wage-earner finds himself worse off than before. The causes of this tragic conclusion may be complex, but one fact is plain—that the parties which have dominated legislation for these seven years as the self-appointed champions of the working man are completely off the track. Whatever nominal concessions they may have gained for him are fruitless, because they have persisted in ignoring the essentials of their position. Free Trade can neither check the clearness of living nor advance the remuneration of labour, in good times it only allows the worker to make ends meet, and in bad times it throws him on to the brink, or into the gulf, of destitution. While the wealth of the country is increasing and Mr. Burns talks of “striding the world like a Colossus,”the producers of wealth only see that life is made harder for them than ever. Under the operation, of Cobdenism the rich are growiny richcr and the poor poorer, and under these conditions we have no title to be surprised if a spirit of social revolution should exhibit itself in extending areas and with ever-increasing menace.”

Italics ours.

The above has not been written for the SOCIALIST STANDARD, but is culled from the columns of the “Pall Mail Gazette” (14.2.13). In it we are not only reminded of the paradox (if such it can be called under the operation of the anar­chical system of production for profit instead of for use) that “booming trade” and “wealth striding the world like a Colossus” do not neces­sarily mean “boots for all,” but, what is more, our ever-challenged contention of the worsening trend of working-class conditions under capi­talism is once again substantiated and admitted by capitalist authority. It will be remembered that only a little over a year ago that other worthy agent of slave-holders, Mr. Lloyd George, reminded a more or less interested world that “to-day you have greater poverty in the land and a more severe economic bondage than you ever had before.”

Although the scribe of the “Pall Mall Ga­zette” criticises the “self-appointed champions of the working class” for “ignoring the essen­tials of the workers’ position,” and fails himself to state these essentials, yet anyone who knows for what section of the master class Mr. Garvin and his co-workers on the “Pall Mall Gazette” have to write, and what interests they have to serve, will be familiar with what constitutes for the said organ “essentials,” and the alternative policy to “arrest” the worsening tendency. And even “Labour leaders”—who are too blinded by their own selfish interests to perceive the utter futility of (and, in fact, mostly support) the petty quack measures advocated in the daily Press, which are merely destined to enable the present system of exploitation to continue working smoothly, in other words to consolidate the system—I say even those who thus use the ignorance of the workers for their own aggrandisement, will not fear, ia the case of the “P.M.G,” any essential deviation from its old policy or suspect it of adopting the revolutionary attitude.

The daily Press will still admit that the appalling poverty and misery are confined to the ranks of the working class, but they are far from disappointing our influential “leaders of Labour” by speaking of such things as antagonisms of interests existing between capitalists and wage workers. One might as well expect the Keir Hardies aud Blatchfords themselves to insist on the necessity of understanding that the problem of poverty is essentially one of class, and can only be met by the organisation of the workers on the cardinal principle of the irreconcilable and uncompromising class war.

Thus, although the writer left the reader to draw his own conclusion, the “P.M.G.” has long made it sufficieutly clear that its only alternative to the ravages of Cobdenism is—Tariff Reform ! Presumably the poor scribe thought it desirable, for the holy sake of “expediency” (or for his own sake) to refrain, at this juncture, from mentioning the sacred battle-cry.

The essentials of the working-class position, indeed ! Could it be expected that Mr. Garvin’s paymasters would allow a statement of the real essentials ? or the publication of the result of a scientific investigation ? No. The nature of the essentials of the working-class position is such as to make their propounding utterly incompatible with the respectability of the “P.M.G.” Their nostrums do not only not disturb the peace of the slaveholders, but actually lead a section of them to a better exploitation of, and a tighter grip over, their unfortunate victims. And Tariff Reform, the nostrum of the aforementioned organ, would, of course, not make an exception in this.

We need only look to the Tariff-enjoying countries both on the Continent and in America, to get the lie direct to the rhetorical assurances of those capitalist hacks who claim that tariff walls are a safeguard for the prosperity of the workers. From time to time hostile clamours are heard going up in those countries against the dearness, and the still further rising of the prices, of the necessaries of life, which unmistakably show that there is equally an inadequacy on the part of the workers of those lands “in their means of facing it.”

Such outcries often reach these shores and find prominence in the Press. Who does not remember the reports of the recent upheavals in France and Belgium, the revolt of the housewives in the market places, the chronic protests and popular demonstrations demanding the abolition of import duties on food-stuffs in Austria, Germany, Spain, etc., in the States as well as in South America ?

The following, which appeared in the “Daily News and Leader” for Feb. 28, is typical of these constantly recurring news items :—

“Rio De Janeiro, Feb. 26.”
“The Government has decided to proceed with the revision and reduction of protectionist duties, and has authorised the Minister of Finance to reduce or, if need be, to abolish import duties on necessaries of life. This step has been resolved upon by the Council of Ministers as the result of the popular outcries against the dearness of food.—REUTER.”

In it not also significant that the reduction of import duties formed one of the issues at the last Presidential election in the United States?

For all those workers who still are under the illusion that different fiscal systems can have any influence whatever on the economic position of the working class the present writer has a wish that their “walks of life” might lead them amongst the working population of foreign industrial centres, say, for instance, in Austria. He feels convinced that it would be an eye-opener to them, and that they would speedily find out that what the Welsh Apostle of Free Trade said a little while ago of Britain, namely, that “that condition of things was foreign to the barbarities even of the darker ages,” is perfectly true of Protectionist countries. Unemployment is just as acute. A Budapest daily, the “Neues Pester Journal,” for February 11th which came into the hands of the present writer, dealt editorially with the problem of unemployment in that city. Here is word for word what it said:—

“To day there are in our capital more than 30,000 unemployed, who, with their families, are faced with the most pressing destitution, and are unable to find work. Thereby it must be taken into consideration that these workers, in consequence of the misery in which they find themselves, are willing to take on any work and are only too pleased to earn 60 or 80 heller (6d. or 8d.) for ten and twelve hours labour. Daring the last few weeks the large timber merchants have had hundreds of applications from unemployed offering their services for 20 heller (2d.) a day.”

If we bear in mind that the total number of workers in Budapest is approximately 100,000, it will be clear what an appalling amount of human misery there must exist in this Protection enjoying country.

Instances showing the terrible plight of the workers all over the world, side by side with ever-improving means of wealth production and greater command over natural resources, could be multiplied, but space does not permit.

The truth is that the class interest of the owners of those means of wealth production stand in the way of their manipulation for the common benefit. It is the historic mission of the working class to organise in order to break down the barrier, but so long as they superstitiously believe in the “sacred rights of property” inculcated by their masters, so long will they continue to be the unconscious dupes of the political bunglers.


One Reply to “The “Bootless” boom”

Leave a Reply