Here and There

The Belgian national strike has passed away quite tamely. The strikers have had to accept something less—a good deal less—than the ful­filment of their demands. Like tke trade unionists of this and every other country, their inability to hold out compels them to compromise. The Belgians, if they were affected with Syndicalism, did not act according to its tenet—that the working class can effect their emancipation by “economic action.” If they really possessed the Syndicalist faith they would not have taken action on the industrial field to make the political weapon or means more effective.

A significant factor of the movement is the assistance that has been given by the capitalist class : “The list of subscriptions being notable for the numerous amounts which are over a thousand francs.” Some Belgian workers may imagine they are participating in a revolution­ary movement ; it would, however, be nearer the truth to say that they are being used by the manufacturing and trading sections of the capitalist class for their purposes against the Catholic extreme right and the so-called reactionaries.

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The German “Socialist” Party are just as considerate of their jobs in the Reichstag as are the Labour Members in the British Parliament. Charged with being antagonistic to religion, they dare not admit the impeachment, nor could they afford to ignore it. Knowing they were not the representatives of class-conscious workers, whose conceptions are materialistic, they could only shuffle. They declared that the Chancellor had absolutely no authority for such a statement.

There is no difference or distinction between the German and the English labour leaders, except, perhaps, that the latter anticipate the needs of the ruling class by encouraging reli­gious beliefs at P.S.A. meetings, and by striking off the demand for secular education from the T.U.C. annual farce.

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According to Mr. Samuels the “Savings Bank indicates general national well being, the deposits amounting to five and a half millions.”

Spread over the whole working class this sum would give about 5s. 6d. per head—our share of the great boom in trade over and above the cost of living. Truly we have much to be thankful for, and if there were no Post Office to take charge of this enormous wealth, no dread­noughts, soldiers, and police to protect our five and a tanner, what a temptation for burglars and foreigners !

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Co-partnership is the curative syrup for all capitalist ills just now. Fabians recommend it, Liberal and Tory newspapers have given it their blessing, and business men who have tried it are loud in their praises. It has a double effect in its application—it increases profits and stifles labour “unrest.”

Some sociological and political experts, in­deed, regard it as the solution, par excellence, for the labour troubles. The hard-headed, unscien­tific capitalist, who has “no soul above immedi­ate profits,” is, however, somewhat sceptical, and not without reason. For profit-sharing in at least one case was productive of labour trouble.

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The instance in question was recounted at a fashionable gathering of co-partnership apostles, at Lord and Lady Brassey’s, in Park Lane—a meeting arranged for the purpose of devising ways and means of sharing profits with the workers—something eminently desirable from the Park Lane point of view. One speaker said that he offered shares to his employees, one of whom took up a hundred. Next day in the workshop he remonstrated with a fellow work­man for wasting the gas. The reply was : “Oh, there are too many blooming policemen about this business !” (just what we say) and the following day the whole of the employees struck work.

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At this same fashionable mothers’ meeting Sir William Lever pointed out that it was an essential of success that the profit to be divided must first be created by better working, greater saving of waste, and increased output. But what a generous and philanthropic arrangement for the workers ! They increase their exertions until the foreman or manager comes to the conclusion that some of them are not wanted. The wages of the latter are then shared, the share­holders and managers, of course, getting the lion’s share, while those who are squeezed out ask plaintively: “What are you going to do with us ?”

It is very poor consolation to these that their fellow workers, who are sharing a fraction of what they once received as wages, will the sooner come to grief on the industrial scrap-heap—because of their increased exertions and the excessive competition that co-partnership sets up.

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The Taxi-drivers claimed a complete victory in their recent fight with the owners, because their resistance for the time being achieved its immediate object. They resumed work in a triumphant frame of mind, claiming victory, notwithstanding that they had still to submit to the capitalist yoke. Apart, of course, from the fact that the struggle is necessary under present conditions, what is the real value of all such victories ? A mere skirmish for a paltry concession won by a small section of the workers, and which must in the near future be fought over again. The class war continues, and the working class are bluffed and beaten all along its front, because they can see no other weapons than those of the industrial field. Encouraged and cajoled by labour leaders and capitalist politicians to concentrate their attention on trifling additions to their wages, which they only achieve occasionally ; accepting the injunctions of the enemy as to how they shall fight the class war, they fall easy victims to the class whose very development has educated them in the game of smothering essentials by haggling over the trifling and petty details of their system. A system of society based on the class ownership of the means of life and the merchandise nature of labour power is a healthy, vigorous system, from the point of view of the capitalist economist, while such friction goes on—a system scarcely past its prime. That is why a paltry rise in the screw of some little section is referred to as a “practical advance”; an example for the rest of the working class to follow.

Capitalists and their agents will only encourage the workers in action that does not threaten their supremacy—for while they have that they know their profits are secure.

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Correspondents in the “Daily Citizen” have been warning the workers against raising their wages too high (would they possessed the power to do so !) for, they inform us, such action only adds to the cost of production and so increases the cost of living. An increase in wages that never rise above the cost of living is the very last thing to influence prices. Instances which could be quoted to show the frequency with which prices have declined with rising wages show only too plainly that there are other factors responsible for the mercury-like fluctuations of the capitalist price list, that operate with asto­nishing rapidity, and submerge questions of wages as if their temporary fluctuations did not exist.

The capitalist himself stands in superstitious horror before these forces. As Mr. Balfour once said when discoursing on the instability of prices : “There are these great oscillations in trade. We have always said, and said truly, that any variation in the price of living which could, by any conceivable possibility, follow upon the sort of duties contemplated by Tariff Reformers, would be lost, drowned, submerged—would altogether vanish in comparison with the national oscillations to which we are all ac­customed and to which we all have to submit.”

If the fiscal system of a country is of so little moment that its effects are thus completely submerged by the forces they know of but do not understand or control, what chance is there for the workers, often half starved before they commence their struggle, and handicapped by the treachery of their leaders, to cause even a shudder to pass over the capitalist price list ?

The introduction of labour-saving machinery or methods that eliminate so much of the labour that was previously necessary in the production of a commodity will, of course, bring about a rapid fall in price.

If gold is produced with a less expenditure of labour-power, its value falls in comparison with other commoditits, and the latter, as measured by a fixed amount of gold, shrink in quantity in comparison.

Here are two factors which are constantly at work upsetting and re arranging prices.

Agreements and monopolies are responsible for the temporary holding up, or even raising of prices, but such operations receive far more at­tention than they deserve, largely because of the opposition of small traders. Trusts and com­bines have never sustained prices for long above the cost of production The most effective, and at the same time the most uncertain and spas­modic of all the forces that play “Aunt Sally” with prices is supply and demand. The workers themselves know this quite well from their ex­perience of their own particular commodity—labour power. For they seldom try to force up their price on a declining market. The demand for the goods which they are engaged in pro­ducing is then already attracting capital, the effect of which will be increased production. Supply treads on the heels of demand, and the owners of capital, totally unable to regulate their own enterprise, flood the market till prices fall. That is why prices, instead of rising after a rise in wages, so frequently take the opposite course.

F. F.

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