Editorial: The Coalition Government and its Work
Had some bold prophet two years ago forecast a coalition Cabinet, including Asquith and Carson, George and galloper Smith ; had he asserted that these men, then so fiercely denouncing each other, would be united to carry on the government of the country, he would have been laughed at by the politicians, the “economists.” and the reformers alike—by all, in fact, except the So¬cialist.
The Socialist is excepted because he knew that the “fierce fight,” the “struggle” against the Law, the frenzied battle of tongues and pens, was all so much clap-trap ; because he knew that the “great” Home Rule issue was but a political cry upon which to rally either side of place-hunters. Ireland was again the red-herring that was to draw to the theatrical conflict the paid puppets of the political pantomime.
The Socialist has all along sneered at the heroic figures struck by “King” Carson and his troupe of paste-board pirates. We have always said that the Liberal and Tory, the Home Rider and the Unionist, the Tariff Reformer and the Free Trader were all of the same gang ; were all ready to unite immediately their economic interests were really threatened. Our understanding of the class struggle gave us that knowledge. Our recognition of the vital issues underlying the political sham fight gave us that assurance. When we said that Liberal and Tory would drop their child’s play and unite as one solid party when their common interests us capitalists were at stake we were called fools and dreamers. But we spoke truth and the Coalition Government is present to bear testimony to the fact.
Then the Liberals grew angry, on public platforms, at the antics of Carson’s gun-runners ; then Carson and his crowd could find no expression strong enough to denounce such “traitors” as Lloyd George, Churchill and Asquith. But now these “traitors” are placed in charge of the most important departments of the country attacked by a vigorous enemy, and the “law breakers” are in high places at the head of English law, with the approval and consent and at the instigation of the very men who previously denounced them.
Unable to face criticism of their criminal incapacity which had plunged them into a war totally unprepared ; which had sent soldiers to fight without arms ; which had caused them to talk of victory instead of defence ; and to gas about marching to Berlin instead of taking steps to prevent the enemy marching to London ; the late unlamented Liberal Government gave up the ghost, to re-form in the company and with the assistance of those otherwise most likely to denounce their previous delinquencies.
And that is practically all it amounts to. The great things we were to expect have not yet arrived. The few attempts that have been made have developed into what is, from the workers’ point of view, not so much tragedy as farce.
Agitated at the increasing power of the organised workers in certain industries amid the abnormal conditions created by the withdrawal of the reserve army of unemployed ; recognising that the ordinary methods of strike breaking by starvation and lead are difficult of application when labour is necessary for the continuation of war, the Coalition Government introduced a “Munitions Bill” which makes striking a criminal offence. This bill, with its vague promises of restricted profits, was expected, with the assistance of the working man’s patriotism, to keep the toilers at work. How inoperative it is evidenced by the miners’ dispute, in which dispute it is only the foolish idea of saving the bosses country that prevents the men from ob¬taining their demands.
In the past the miners have been defeated by the lock-out : that weapon cannot now be used against them.
Compulsory arbitration, however, is of no more use to the masters now than it would have been to the miners then. In normal times it leaves the advantage with the masters who have the power to starve the workers into submission to their terms. In times of war, when it is in the interests of the capitalists of this country that production shall continue without, interruption, the workers hold the whip hand.
The Registration Act, too, is typical of a coalition government composed of both voluntarists and advocates of conscription. It promises the results of a Conscription Bill without the name. It attempts by underhand methods to force the unwilling into the trenches. The workers are to give the name and address of their employers to some local board, who will choose from among them those who are to be dragooned by a “recruiting committee” into the army by pressure brought to bear upon the individual and the employer.
A suggestion of one prominent writer is that
“In every parish or group of parishes a Recruiting Committee should be chosen . . . The names of men who should go to the front should be submitted to this body. . . He should be compelled to present himself before them. … If it should be found that there is no valid reason why the man should not go the chairman should address him in this fashion. “We have no legal power to send you to the front. We are, however, strongly of the opinion that you are not doing your duty, and we therefore give you ten days in which to settle your affairs and enlist. If at the end of that time we have not proof that you have done so we shall be compelled to print your name in the blacklist of those who have failed their country during this crisis. This list will hang outside the church and outside the public buildings of this parish.” A similar speech would be made to the employer who held back his men, and his business would certainly not be improved by the appearance of his name in such a list.”
This is the statement of one who opens his article with, the words : “I have always been an opponent of compulsion in military service,” and these are the methods by which “our glorious voluntary system” of recruiting is to maintained. The “pink form” is a preliminary to something like the above.
The absolute incapacity of the present Government was never shown more clearly than in the discussion on the miscalled “Limitation of Prices Bill.” It was admitted on all hands that the bill was ineffective to control the price of coal to the consumer. And the limit was reached when the Government accepted an amendment to wipe out the penalty if the accused could show “that he had reasonable grounds to believe that he was not committing an offence.”
It is, of course, to be expected that the men who draw up and pass such Acts would see to it that profits were secured. They are the men to whom the profits go. They are of the class who live by profit and they are safe-guarding their interests by passing the measures.
In “the house” they belittle the real cause of high prices and show how little economic knowledge they possess. They talk of drunkenness as the cause of scarcity of supplies, and gasp at the magnitude of the workers’ weekly screw (one unconscious humourist described how working men used pound notes as pipe-lights).
The increased price of materials is the CAUSE, not the, RESULT of increased wages.
The increased money wage, amounting as it does to something less than 3s. per week more for a similar output, is in reality a reduction in real wages as the cost of living since the outbreak of war has risen by something like 35 per cent.
It is true that a slight advance in prices is rendered necessary by the increased risk in transport, but beyond that the vast upward movement in prices is due to the greed of the capitalists who are taking advantage of the unique position they find themselves in to hold supplies and take advantage of every local shortage to sell old stock at huge profits. Even where supply is restricted nothing other than enhanced profits explains the huge rise in price. Bread is dear but corn is plentiful !
We are now told that the wheat crop for this year is “estimated to exceed that of last year by 51,958,000 quarters. This, too, does not include the Canadian crop, which is estimated to be 25 per cent, greater than that of last year.” But will the price of bread fall to its normal ? Not while the financiers have the opportunity of holding up supplies and of reaping huge profits thereby. The Coalition Government, like the late Liberal Government, will mark time while their friends make profits on the sale of murder machines and inferior food and clothing.
Meantime they will use the vastly distended horror, the German bogie man, to frighten the workers into working hard and working cheaply in their masters’ factories, and to fight fiercely, and also cheaply, in the defence of the masters’ country.