A study in guarantees
This is, seemingly, an age of guarantees. A bewildering number of commodities are guaranteed for some thing, or for some time ; a few, in fact, are even guaranteed for ever !
At first glance this would seem a remarkable illustration of the genuineness of that claim for supreme reliability, which is put forward on behalf of the goods of every up-to-date manufacturer. But the unsophisticated purchaser of a watch—elaborately guaranteed for twelve months—or more—has a sudden and painful disillusionment when the mainspring snaps. On his hopeful return to the salesman with his precious certificate, he usually finds to his stupefaction that he has broken most of the terms of the warranty, as well as the spring, by using the watch ; and must therefore pay heavily for the repair.
His disgust makes him suddenly realise that until then he had mistaken the rightful use of that piece of paper with the many flourishes.
A closer acquaintance with the guarantee fraud completes his disillusionment, for he finds the purpose of the guarantee to be—not the proud assumption, on the part of the maker, of full responsibility for the article—but precisely the denial of that responsibility. The guarantee is not to protect the purchaser, but to limit the responsibility of the maker, and protect him from liability for consequential damage, for which he would be actionable at law in the absence of that specific disclaimer he has the cheek to call a Guarantee ! That blessed word, to be sure, is always printed on the document in bold capitals, but it is followed by serried ranks of microscopic type which often runs—to quote an actual and common specimen—”This guarantee is given instead of, and expressly excluding, any kind of implied guarantee (statutary or otherwise) and the damages for which we make ourselves responsible are limited to . . . . etc. It does not apply to any defects caused by wear and tear,” and so on, ad nauseam.
It is, however, characteristic of the capitalists to give their profit-making devices every appearance of charity and self-sacrifice They take Hamlet’s advice and assume a virtue though they have it not. Thus, for example, the last few days have seen yet another form of these specious guarantees pass before the public eye.
In the “Daily Telegraph” of April 23rd, Mr. George Pragnell, chairman of the Employers’ Territorial Association, gave a list of recommendations to aid recruiting. No. 10 of these urged: “That all employers be compelled to guarantee reinstatement to men who leave their present situations to join the colours or to assist in making munitions of war.”
Surely, from the point of view of the capitalist class itself, nothing could be more reasonable than this. Working men who are sacrificing themselves and their dependents to uphold the country, wealth and profits of their masters, would certainly seem to deserve to have their posts of slavery preserved for them. But is this, then, to be done ? Not at all. The self-sacrifice of the master class to those who have the privilege of defending it so bravely, would be overstrained. Such a definite pledge may appear quite reasonable to us workmen, but the capitalist knows that it is utterly impracticable. It might reduce profits. Let profits be maintained, though the heavens fall, say our masters. Therefore, instead of, and expressly excluding, any kind of implied guarantee (statutory or otherwise) the employers of this country are signing the following pledge:
“In view of the great sacrifices made by most of the men who have enlisted (including loss of situation), and in order to further stimulate recruiting, we wish it to be known that, when filling up positions after the war, we intend to give preference to those who have served their country under arms or in making munitions of war.
SIGNATURE OF EMPLOYER…….
TOWN AND COUNTY………”
(“Daily Telegraph,” 23.4.1915.)
This is the actual form that is being signed by employers all over the country. Its superiority to Mr. Pragnell’s suggestion is at once apparent. The Patriotic Pledge takes the wind out of the sails of any attempt to get the Government to re-instate men. Moreover, it fulfils its great purpose of stimulating recruiting, and leaves the employee without excuse—unless he dares to doubt the intention and good faith of his employer! Most wonderful of all, however, is the fact that this pledge does not menace profits, nor bind the employer in any way. It is entirely of a piece with the commercial guarantees already referred to.
Even if the pledge gave a definite undertaking, the head of the firm always escapes responsibility. His departmental foremen have to make their sections show good results, and these foremen, who take on hands, have to crush down all sentiment and take only the most profitable, irrespective of past services, or see themselves supplanted by less scrupulous men. In these circumstances the war-worn warrior stands a very slender chance.
But the pledge guarantees nothing. After the war the heroes, or what is left of them, will present themselves for re-engagement. Then the employer “when filling up positions after the war” will, if men otherwise equal in profit-making capacity offer themselves, give “preference” to the man who has fought for him. The employer, therefore, is under no obligation whatever to re-instate the man, or even to pay the same wages as before the war, or to dispense with the cheap woman or child labour that he has put in the place of the hero. He is not pledged to forego one jot or tittle of profit or convenience. He has merely when “taking on” to give “preference.” As the soldier will remark, the generosity of the employers pledge is simply paralysing.
Of what value, indeed, is any such “preference” when, after the debilitating privations and nerve-shattering experiences of war, added to the loss of skill due to long absence from his craft, the disadvantages of the ex-soldier are so obvious ? Clearly the real economic preference, the preference that has first call on the generosity of the employer, will nearly always be against the brave fighter for his master’s cause.
What is the lesson of the past ? Says the “Daily Telegraph” in the same issue, “Some men of military age . . . responsible for the welfare of others . . . still hesitate . . . Remembering the experience of ex-soldiers who, after the South African war, sought employment in vain for many months, they hang back.” This, indeed, is common knowledge. But wherein does the present pledge improve the prospect ? If the employing class were willing to sacrifice a millionth part of what the workers are sacrificing for them, they would freely and frankly guarantee re-instatement as the least they could do. Yet their present pledge is a fraud on the fighter and an insult to the workers’ intelligence. Its sole purpose is to give a fillip to recruiting while safeguarding the pockets of the employer.
What evidence have we, indeed, of any sacrifice on the part of the employing class ? If all of them went to the front they would only be doing their duty, for they have something to fight for. It is, in fact, their fight. But where are they not endeavouring to screw the uttermost farthing of profit out of the war ? Flour is a prime necessity of life, yet here is a sample, from the same issue of the paper, of the facts which leak out about “sacrifices” made by the employing class.
“The annual report of Messrs. Spillers and Bakers (Ltd.), millers and flour merchants, issued yesterday, shows a profit for the year ended February of £367,865, against £89,352 in the previous year. The directors propose an increased bonus of 5 per cent., making a distribution of 20 per cent. for the year, against 15 per cent. in the three previous years, placing £100,000 to reserve for special contingencies, £50,000 to general reserve fund, and carrying forward £258,111, or £100,000 more than last year. The highset previous year’s profit was £196,517 in 1912.”
On the other hand, however, what a howl of outraged patriotism was vented by the Press when a body of engineers, to meet some of the increased cost of living, demanded a little more in wages ! It is abundantly clear that the whole sacrifice must be on one side. And of this, indeed, the Great Patriotic Pledge is itself an example.
Many thousands of women and young persons are taking, at a considerably smaller wage, the jobs vacated by the warriors. And this, of course, is all to the profit of the capitalist, for there is neither pledge nor prospect that these women will ever be discharged to make room for ex-soldiers. Indeed, what would become of them in that event ?Women have surely as much right to a livelihood as men. Bat capitalism continually creates problems it cannot solve, and which can never be solved short of Socialism. Suffice to say, the prospects for the labour market after the war are by no means rosy. The employer, however, can rub his hands with glee, for he, as usual, is playing the good old game of heads I win and tails you lose.
It is evident that the conclusion of the war will find labour driven to the wall, and engaged in its keenest and most bitter struggle. It will, moreover, find capitalism hoping to have obtained a fresh lease of life from the destruction of the wealth of a generation.
Peace under capitalism, therefore, can but be synonymous with class warfare—hardly less deadly, and no less widespread, than the national-plus-class warfare of the present moment.
Would that one could be consoled in the midst of the squalid industrial slavery of capitalism, and its decimation of the manhood of the world on the altars of patriotism, with the certain knowledge that at long last the workers have read their hard lesson aright ; so that the end of this war were the beginning of the end of all war !
In that event the joy of contemplating the end of wage-slavery and the birth of a possibility for a full, healthy and peaceful life for all, would amply compensate the miseries and atrocities of the day.
How long, indeed, will the toilers endure the wretched system which transforms a super-abundant wealth-production into a reason for poverty, for over-work, and for a human shambles more awful than any ever known in the long history of the world, and in which, as a final commentary on the unselfish patriotism of the robber class, even the supreme sacrifice of their defenders is being purchased by employers with false coin !
F. C. W.