Wrights and Wrongs

An ancient occupation, that of a shipwright. According to a gospel-grinding chippy of the writer’s acquaintance, it dates from one Noah, who is supposed to have built an ark to keep a menagerie from getting wet feet. An obstin­ately bigoted and reactionary body of men, the Ship-constructors and Shipwrights Association. Much the same as other craft unions, of course, no better and no worse. Officered by such Labour jackals as Alex. Wilkie, M.P. ; John Jenkins, ex-M.P., and other equally ignorant shepherds of two-legged sheep, it is not to be wondered at that these one time aristocrats of Labour find their economic position as bad as that of the docker, whom they secretly despise.

Modern developments in the ship-building industry enable the shipwright to see his skill gradually leaving his conceited carcase and inhabiting various machines, while our ultra respectable mechanic, when not pawning the few remaining tools he needs, perforce becomes a fixer of machine made parts. This not only applies to shipwrights, but to all other artisans. It is the capitalist method of production, and is therefore inevitable.

But what would you ? Shipwrights, generally speaking, equally with the mass of our class, do not recognise the existing antagonism of interests between their class and the capitalist class. Let us look at the Preamble to the Constitution and Rules of their society, and we shall get an inkling regarding the mental state of a member­ship who can tolerate such balderdash and not complain.

Paragraph 1 reads : “According to the expe­rience and testimony of high authorities in commercial circles, there have been and always will be periods of prosperity and periods of depression in trade. That this is so many craftsmen can verify from sad experience.”

Now the compilers of this specious nonsense are “pulling the leg” of their followers, or else parading their own ignorance. To say that periods of trade fluctuation—which are pheno­mena peculiar to capitalist society alone—have always existed is to give the lie to history and the science of economics, as well as to deny evolution ; while to assert that such phenomena “always will be” is to place oneself in the ranks of the prophets. Indeed, these misleaders ad­mit with charming naiveté in paragraph 6 that “union must be maintained with increasing efficiency, to meet the ever-changing require­ments of the age” thereby unconsciously affirm­ing the existence of the evolution they deny in paragraph 1.

Paragraph 6, moreover, is a monument of contradiction that would hardly deceive a devo­tee of Homer’s Penny Stories. Let us have the whole paragraph in order that we may be fair both to ourselves and to those we would flog into the path of working-class political righte­ousness. Here it is:

“Until recent years trade societies laboured under legal disabilities, but which have been removed by the legislature, and all now complying can secure the Registrar’s certificate, which has had the effect of causing many of our former antagonists to consider these institutions necessary (especially in the altered conditions of Labour and Capital), as the only guard of the workmen against the great power of the capitalists, and which union must be maintained with increasing efficiency, to meet the ever-changing requirements of the age, until such time as some higher effort of productive co-operation between Capital and Labour has been inaugurated, or some other method which shall secure to workmen a more equitable share of the wealth produced by their labour.”

No, no ! Do not laugh, gentle reader ! Rather grieve that such absurd drivel should be disseminated by a union which has as one of several mottos the hackneyed adage: “Knowledge is Power.”

Let us do a little analysis of this paragraph from a working-class standpoint. It is suggested first that certain legal disabilities have been removed by legislation ; in other words by Parliament—which is the instrument of our exploiters, the capitalist class.

Now the capitalist class, who will cheerfully starve, smash, declare martial law against, and murder their slaves in an industrial struggle over a half penny an hour ; whose whole system of government, from political to executive, is framed and arranged in order to keep the work­ing class in economic servitude, will certainly not relieve any workmen’s organisation of any disability whatsoever, the removal of which would lessen the power of their class over ours. Hence the so-called relief which this union so fondly fancies it has obtained has only proved to be a change to other forms of legal control calculated to enmesh Trade Unionism still tighter in the toils of capitalism.

If this is not so, what need is there for “maintenance of the Union with increasing efficiency” ?

Further, the paragraph admits “the great power of the capitalists,” and suggests that these institutions (Trade Unions) are the only guard against that power. This is an admis­sion that a conflict of interests exists between the capitalist class and the working class. But what do this damn fool crowd advise further on ? The prosecution of the class struggle to its logical and inevitable conclusion—the Social Revolution ? Oh, no ! That would mean the abolition of parasitic labour fakirs ; so they hope for the time when “some higher effort of pro­ductive co-operation between Capital and Labour has been inaugurated” ! How nice ! Make a great effort, ye oakum thumpers ! Work harder and produce more profit for your masters and more unemployment for yourselves, but what­ever else you do, don’t forget to pay your subs. regularly, because Wilkie & Co. want their comfortable salaries—by the sweat of your brows, not their own.

Again, these blind leaders of the blind, being rather doubtful of the results of “some higher effort of productive co-operation between Capital and Labour” to their followers and themselves, add, as a kind of saving clause, the concluding gem of this Preamble of Positive Piffle : “or some other method which shall secure to work men a more equitable share of the wealth pro­duced by their labour.” Probably this latter excerpt relates to that chimera of a diseased imagination, the “Fair Wage,” but it is vague enough to mean anything—or nothing.

But assume, for the opportunity of explaining, that the “Fair Wage” is at the back of the minds of these shufflers. A wage is a price—a term used to denote the amount paid to the worker in exchange for his labour-power. That transaction—the sale of the commodity labour-power by the worker to his employer, while proving again the presence of two classes in society with antagonistic interests, also precludes the possibility of any “fairness” existing, for the simple reason that the bargainers do not stand equally independent of each other—which is absolutely necessary for a price fair to both—in this case a “fair wage.” The worker is forced to sell his labour-power to live, and being forced to do so, it is ridiculous to talk of fair­ness entering into the matter at all.

There can be no talk of an “equitable share” of the wealth produced by the working class. To suggest such a thing is tantamount to the assumption that the robber can share equitably with his victim the proceeds of the robbery.

Shipwrights, like all other workers, have to learn that they are only tolerated at all upon the earth because they are useful in the wealth pro­ducing prosesses of their masters When, by the development of machine production, their slight remaining skill is absorbed by the machine, shipwrights will be things of memory only, their tasks divided and sub divided among machine operatives.

The outstanding feature of the capitalist method of production is the machine, which has the effect of slowly but surely reducing nil mechanical trades to a dead level, with its corollary the rise of wage rates of so called unskilled labour and the sinking of the price of so called skilled labour until they meet at the uniform rate of—the machine minder’s wage.

Haughty mechanics who with curling lips tell us that Socialism would mean the “dead level,” should observe that capitalism in resulting in that for them—a dead level of international poverty more terrible than any yet known to history.

The way out for shipwrights is through a recognition of the fact that they are of the work­ing class, and are fighting in a class war that cannot cease until the workers, having organised themselves upon the basis of CLASS, not craft, for the purpose of gaining control of the politi­cal powers of the capitalist State, and having captured those political powers, have used them to abolish capitalism for ever—until they have put a period to the production of wealth for the profit and indulgence of a parasitic capitalist class, and have established in its place a system of production and distribution for their own USE.

This means the Social Revolution. Fear it not, fellow working-men and -women, for it is inevitable. Organised on the lines of the Socialist Party of Great Britain our class will rise triumphant from its age-old servitude and oppression.

Meanwhile, one of the wrights that is very much wrong is the Associated Shipwrights. Get right quickly !


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