Labour and Wages

Some Weird Statements dealt with

In the second number of the “Candid, Quarterly Review,” conducted by Mr. Thomas Gibson Bowles, appears an unsigned article with the above title. The writer raises the question of industrial disputes, proclaims the necessity for close and deep investigation, and yet throughout the article never once tackles any essential or goes below the surface.

According to him, “the doubts and difficulties that haunt society to-day are of foreign extraction, and were in danger of destruction when crossing the Channel, but survived.” That there was no necessity for “labour unrest” to cross the Channel is shown in his next paragraph, the customary reference to “England’s immunity from war during the early portion of the nineteenth century, and her consequent growth of manufacture,” conditions which, in themselves, breed the clans struggle. “The indusriial dis­pute threatens England’s supremacy ; yet per­haps a greater glory awaits her. Perhaps, amid a Europe weakened by class hatred and torn by labour convulsions, England may again show the world a way of social peace.” The writer forgets that the conditions that breed class hatred on the Continent exist here in the same degree and from the same cause. The capitalist can only wish that a way may be discovered. His time-server, whether he be economist, labour leader, Salvationist, or scientist, can only grope for a capitalist solution as the alchemist groped for the philosopher’s store. But while they flounder their time grown short. They may shirk the contest with the Marxian theory of value, or refer to the Socialist Party as an insig­nificant minority, but and here we quote from the “Review” : “In economics there is at least this merit about the truth—that, once pro­claimed, it is sure in the end to prevail.”

In order to prove to the workers that the “Socialist claim that they are being exploited is false, they must be taught economics.” No longer can this be denignated the dismal science, for we are assured : “It is a mistake to suppose that the working-men take no interest in economics. It would be more nearly the truth to say that, at this moment they take little interest in anything else.” If “the truth once proclaimed is sure to prevail,” then capitalism is indeed on its last legs, for economic truth is proclaimed in “Capital,” and it in only an interested working class we wait for.

The capilalist and his journalistic hacks will consequently wish and grope in vain for a way out. It is utterly futile, also, to write of the Socialist movement as “the sedulous propaga­tion of economic falsehood,” because a fallacy can be exploded, while this braggart can only dance round the supposed fallacy, and leave a record of his utter inability to even understand the subject.

“The whole industrial system is arraigned. Capitalism is cheating, exploitation,” says he, is the doctrine taught. “It is their business to prove it, yet this is exactly what they never do.” “They,” are, doubtless, the labour leaders who either cannot or will not expose the system that fosters them, being content to mouth beliefs, and empty appeals for “justice” and “fairness.” “What,” asks the writer, “is the fair share of labour in the product of any industry ? if the present wage, then there is no grievance. Then it must be something more. But how much more ? No answer to these questions is ever attempted,” he complains, “except by the full-blooded Socialist.” Of whom else would he expect an answer ?

Wealth, in the economic sense, has no existence until members of the working class have expended their energy on the different sub­stances common to the earth’s crust. That these substances belong to a small class in society, does not necessarily raise the question, “what is a fair wage ?” but rather, why any class or section of society should own the means of life necessary to all ? The “full-blooded Socialist” knows the answer to this; that is why he is politically organised for the establishment of a system of society where the means of wealth production will be owned and democratically controlled by those who use them.

The “Review,” in common with all the anti-Socialist crowd, is particularly concerned that the workers, under Socialism, shall be treated with fairness—even as they are to-day. So they timorously advance certain “insoluble ques­tions.”

“Is the whole product of a factory only to be shared between the workers in that factory ? or is it to be shared by all the workers in the land ? And is each workman to share equally, irrespective of merit, or unequally ? And if the latter, on what principle and by what authority are the shares to be assessed? ”

A five shilling review is dear at the price if it can serve up nothing better than thin in de­fence of the class it caters for.

Ownership being in the hands of the people, there will the authority be, and the common in­terest of all, asserting itself, will speedily put an end to the anomalies of capitalist authority. “Fair” wages and low wages, soft jobs and speeding up, poverty in the midst of plenly, and all the other abuses that belong to capitalism in its normal state, will end when the working class cease to be mere articles of merchandise, picked and kicked about the labour market.

The “Candid” journalist has also many doubts and misgivings on the terms “The right to live” and “A living wage.” He discusses these from many points of view, his perhaps, most brilliant and original remark being, “for happiness and influence in truth, do not depend on gold.” After this and much more irrelevant matter on rights and duties, he delivers himself of the following : “Wages are neither fair nor unfair ; they are fixed either by personal bene­volence or by mercantile bargain.” As he can­not possibly claim benevolence for the employer who pays low wages, it follows that those who receive high wages are the recipients of charity. “Wages are neither fair nor unfair,” is where he should have stopped, for, so far, he had not blundered.

Wage is the name for the price of labour power. Whether the wage be high or low there can be no question of fairness, because the em­ploying class having the power, dictate wages and conditions. They first divorce the workers from the means of life, in order to compel them to sell their energy at the cost of living.

But what is the difference between the cost of living of the working class, as represented by wages, and the total wealth produced by them ? Whether wages represent one-third or one-ninth it is obvious that the employing class only pay wages in order to obtain this surplus over the cost of maintenance of the working class. How then can wages be fair or unfair ?

The wages system is one where the workers are threatened with starvation, either if they will not or cannot sell their only possession—the value-creating energy—for a mess of pottage ; and that too, adulterated.

“Let us probe a little more deeply the allega­tion that the workman is being cheated.” The reader need not fear getting out of his depth, Needless to say, the writer of the article merely emphasises certain inconsistencies and peculiarities of the capitalist system, without proving anything except its utter absurdity as a system for intelligent people to live under. Like the hysterical suffragette, he runs away from the question he raises, and flogs something else to hide his cowardice. “A universal proportion of wages to profits.” The wages bill in some industries is, he says, higher than the profits. “Moreover, inequalities exist side by side in the same industries in the amount of profit.” These observations are as old as they are shallow—examples of the poverty of argument against Socialism. The depths are not probed, for the total profits of every concern are not considered ; and this would have been the surest way to ascertain whether the working class is robbed.

It is easy to see that in a competitive system differences in methods and management will produce different results. All that is proved is the inability of the capitalist class—with the assistance of politicians, economists, and scientists—to eliminate anarchy among themselves, and establish for themselves proportionate division of the spoil, by means of an even method of exploitation.

Any article on labour questions would, of course, be incomplete without a reference to co-partnership. The “candid” writer is candid, besides being illuminating and instructive. He says:

“Co-partnership has been universally success­ful in achieving peace . . . and the strik­ing thing is that it has achieved this peace without any great or even any noticeable increase in the wages paid. For it must be remmbered that the income which a workman under such a scheme derives from his share in the prfits is necessarily a very slight part of the whole wage, and that largely owing to the liability of that share to suffer in yield in bad times, his total effective wage is no greater than that of his fellows outside. But he is content because he has been convinced that he is not being robbed. How can he be when he elects a delegate to the board and has some actual voice in the management ? It is clear, therefore, that the achievement of industrial peace is less a matter of raising wages than of convincing the workman that he is not being robbed. But as the workman (quite properly) will never con­sent to share in losses, its application is only possible to steadily successful concerns ; it is never-the-less to be heartily welcomed as a tem­porary expedient of the highest value.”

Quite a long paragraph, by the way, but reduced to simple language, it means that co-partnership workers, besides being robbed of the results of their labour—like other workers—are successfully bluffed as well.

Assuming that he has proved conclusively that the workers are not robbed, because some of them have been persuaded to believe so, the writer of the article next proceeds to show in what an Eldorado the worker really lives, according to his limited knowledge of actual conditions. Our author says :

“It is true that the individual workman with­out savings must sell his labour without undue delay ; he is not bound to sell it to the first bidder. His strength as a bargainer depends partly on his reputation and skill as a crafts­man, but mainly upon that close competition among his possible employers, which will enable him to laugh at one who offers him too low a wage.”

A record of the number of such “laughs” would doubtless be interesting ; but if it is true that occasionally a worker “with savings” can afford to pass by a job, it is equally true that the vast majority cannot, and are compelled to resign themselves to the first situation that is vacant, without bargaining or discusssion—which, to the capitalist, is impudence.

Next we have something that is profound and original. The real cause of strikes is the desire of the trade unionist to get back the money he has paid in contributions. “After wages,” he says, “have ruled high enough for long enough, a strike is nearly inevitable ; since only so can the men retouch their money.” What capacity for the detection of motives !

Then the scribe says : “In spite of all the theories of combination, one is always brought down to the individual workman. Is he or is he not to be forced, by the magistrate and the gaol, to work for wages which he himself does not approve ? If so it is slavery.”

This statement is clear and sweeping. It covers nearly the whole of the working class in every capitalist country on the globe. Discontent is universal. The workers in every occupation are slaves because at the bidding of the master class they must work for a mere subsist­ence—a wage they certainly do not “approve” of.

Throughout his long article the writer in the “Candid Review” has only succeeded in proving the incapacity of the capitalist class, with all their professional assistants, to run society on sane lines. Anarchy and poverty for the wealth producers, luxury and power for the idlers, are the nett result of capitalism. The only brilliant achievement of modern society is its marvellous productive and distributive power, developed by centuries of experi­ment and invention ; and these are due to the working class. It is they who have done everything useful. It is they who use energy and intelligence in the production of all social wealth.

The scribbler in the “Candid Review” says that the workingman should remember that the end of his discontent is not the improvement of wages, but the fall of society, and if at the end of it all society does fall he will be instantly buried in its ruins.

We know different. The intelligence and capacity displayed by the workers on the field of production can be utilised by them for other purposes. When they have added knowledge to their intelligence they will establish a system of society where they will consume what they produce. Production is difficult; to consume is easy. To establish Socialism, it is true, requires an effort, of which, however, an educated working class is easily capable. The fall of (capitalist) society—which cannot take place until the workers are educated—therefore, means the end of their slavery.

F. F.

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