By the Way
In turning over some newspapers that are several weeks old we have come across one which informs us that the annual meeting of John Brown & Co., Ltd., of Sheffield, was recently held, and that “a spirited defence of the position of armament firms in relation to the war” was made by Lord Aberconway. He says :
“The shareholders might think that the balance sheet was a war balance sheet, but it was not so. The so-called war profits that they read so much about in the papers formed only a very small percentage of the total. The company had taken advantage of low prices to supply themselves with what they wanted, and the result was that they were now able to show the largest absolute profit ever earned in the history of the Company. If munitions were short in this country it was not the fault of the armament firms. They had all done their duty, and none more so than John Brown’s. Like all business men and men connected with the political world, they foresaw that a great crisis in Europe was coming, and determined to make every preparation to meet it. Now all their resources were at the disposal of the Government, and the only difficulty was shortage of men.”—(“Manchester Guardian,” 30.6.5. Italics mine.)
The report omits to state whether the noble Lord thereupon rolled up his shirt sleeves and donned the overalls to help make up for the “shortage of men,” and likewise enjoined his fellow shareholders to fall in and follow him. However, he flatly contradicts Mr. Lloyd George, who stated that “we at any rate did not organise for war.”
The speaker goes on to say that, “It was wholly untrue that British firms had encouraged war propaganda. No doubt that was true of Krupps. They did live and work for the war, but what the English firms had done was to try to ‘checkmate’ the efforts of firms like Krupps, and they hoped to go on doing so.”
Those workers who have pinned their faith to the specious promises of the glib-tongued Liberal orator, Lloyd George, who prior to the war was engaged in dangling before the eyes of the working class the Liberal pill for all our ills, must recently have suffered a slight shock. The much talked of “hotels” that were to be brought into existence for those workers who had been smitten with the scourge of consumption must be deferred for awhile, for at present our masters are more concerned in the slaughter of the physically fit. The announcement with regard to these said “hotels” is as follows :
“The Treasury refused to consent to the expenditure by the Metropolitan Asylums Board on three new Sanitoria for Consumptives.”—”Reynolds’s,” 8.8.15.
In almost every direction at the present time we are hearing of the dearth of wage-slaves, and our good, patriotic bosses, who are ever on the prowl for the cheapest variety of labour-power, are more persistent than ever in their clamour for the children. A short while ago they desired boys of tender years for the coal mines—and be it remembered that they are boys of our class ! Perish the thought that Lord and Lady Never-Work’s sons should be called upon to do such ignoble work—now it is for the cotton trade. We read that a conference was recently held between the employers and workmen at Manchester to consider the “serious situation” which has arisen from the shortage of labour in the mills, and that little hope was entertained of an increase in the number of women workers.
“The suggestion was made that for the period of the war half-timers should be allowed in the mills at the age of eleven instead of twelve, and full-timers at twelve instead of thirteen.”—”Reynolds’s,” 8.8.15.
This desire for children in the factory hells at an age when they ought to be receiving their education and plenty of healthy recreation recalls to our mind the early days of capitalist development, and, perhaps, a short extract would not be amiss. Let me quote :
“In stench, in heated rooms, amid the constant whirling of a thousand wheels, little fingers and little feet were kept in ceaseless action, forced into unnatural activity by blows from the heavy hands and feet of the merciless over-looker, and the infliction of bodily pain by instruments of punishment invented by the sharpened ingenuity of insatiable selfishness.” —”Industrial History of England,” p. 180.
This in many respects is what our good, benevolent, Christian masters seek to again impose upon the children of the working class under the cloak of national emergency.
On the question of Trade Unions and Munitions of War we have lately heard a great deal. One remembers quite well how the “Labour Leaders” in the House handed over the workers to the Government when the Munitions of War Bill was being rushed through the House of Commons. Mr. Hodge was highly indignant with the tramwaymen in London for striking and said: “It was a disgrace to the tramwaymen that, in this great crisis in their country’s history, they should have made it impossible for workmen to get to Woolwich for the purpose of making shells and other munitions of war.” He was even prepared to advocate all trades coming under the special powers of the Minister of Munitions. Whilst various groups of workers have been “swanked” into putting on one side their rules and working agreements we find that the employers are not so ready to place the “needs of the nation” in front of profit. A good illustration of this is brought to light in an article by J. O’Grady, M.P., wherein he says :
“Let me, in conclusion, cite a case I have in my mind. A dispute in a controlled establishment was submitted to arbitration. The Court decided in favour of the workmen, but the employer positively refused to carry out the terms of the award and to pay the increased wages determined upon. The employees struck work, they were hauled before the Munitions Court and fined. … If many of these instances occur in the working of the Munitions Act, the confidence of the workmen in the Act, and in the safeguards their trade union leaders have had incorporated in the Act will be destroyed.”— “Reynolds’s,” 15.8.15.
One wonders where the “safeguards” for the workmen are to bn found in this particular Act which these trade union “leaders” helped to foist upon their dupes. We read of plenty of fines for the workers, ranging according to their wages, and in the case referred to, while the Court decided in favour of the men, here we have a trade union official and an M.P. to boot, stating that “the employer positively refused to carry out the terms of the award” ; and he further suggests that the Government should compel employers to abide by the award of Arbitration Courts by imposing penalties. One is led to hope that “the confidence of the work¬men” both in their mis-leaders and the Act will continue to be undermined.
Yet another instance is to hand of large wages offered in the columns of the Press for certain work, but which, as usual, is falsified afterwards. A clerk to a Board of Guardians stated that several women inmates of the workhouse had obtained employment as strawberry pickers and certain information as to their treatment had come to his knowledge.
“He instanced the case of a girl who had answered an advertisement which stated that pickers were able to earn from 15s. to 25s. per week, everything to be provided for them. Where that girl, with others, was employed there was nothing but a stable and some straw for them to sleep in. This particular girl only-had three half-day’s work in one week and she-earned 3s. 10d.”—”Reynolds’s,” 15.8.15.
Even the chairman of the Board was constrained to admit that “such a state of affairs, was too bad for a ‘Christian’ country.” What hypocrisy ! Doubtless our unfortunate sisters, are now sadder and wiser women and have profited much by their bitter experience of patriotism and Christian charity.