Editorial: The Greater War. The National Thrift Campaign and the Workers
One notable feature of the campaign of thrift that is being curried on is that it is directed almost exclusively at the working class. A National Thrift Conference is held, but who are the invited ? Are they the society dames whose vanity and extravagance deprive of health and sunlight the wives and children of workers ( Are they men of wealth and leisure whose harems have branches in the various fashionable resorts, whose town and country residences are filled with domestics and luxury, whose high-powered motors maim and kill the workers’ children, and whose whole wealth is a toll levied on the labour and happiness of wage workers ? These are not the invited. It .is they who invite the trade union executives and officials to confer with ministers of State in order to farther the campaign of thrift among the have-nots !
Readers of the daily Press are treated to ridiculous stories of workers in one-room tenements who instal pianos therein, of workers who spend large sums on beer or jewellery ; and one journal, with unconscious humour, gives as evidence of the unprecedented prosperity of the labouring class, the great demand for second-hand clothing that is caused by thousands being able for the first time to purchase complete suits of cast-off clothes ! So grave does the Government profess to consider this extravagance that it is even proposed to make thrift among the working class compulsory.
All this, it should be noted, is because a number of war workers are toiling overtime, and undergoing thereby a wastage of muscle and brain and life that the increase in pay and total lack of leisure entirely fail to enable them to replace.
The increase in cost of necessities has been variously estimated by capitalist authorities at from 43 to 50 per cent., and they are careful not to overestimate. In most cases during the same period wages have not increased at all ; in many cases they have seriously decreased ; while in those industries in which more wages are paid the average amount of the increase by no means equals the increase in the price of living.
In normal times the remuneration of the workers leaves not the slightest justifiable margin for either waste or saving. Theirs is a life-long training in economy. It is a profound truth that man cannot live by bread alone, yet too often the workers lack even this ; and we know that one-third of the population of these islands exists upon a remuneration that is insufficient to provide bare physical efficiency. As Mr. Chiozza Money states in his “Riches and Poverty,”
“When we realise that 38,000,000 out of our 43,000,000 are poor, the statistics of Booth and Rowntree cease to surprise us. In analysis, the United Kingdom is seen to contain a great multitude of poor people, veneered with a thin layer of the comfortable and the rich.”
How, then, can the workers be expected to save ? Why is there this attempt to get blood out of a stone ? Is there not the strongest presumption that it is to ascertain if possible the lowest limit upon which the workers can subsist, in order to adjust wages to the lower level in the masters’ interest ?
The campaign with regard to the well-to-do seems to take a different form. It is largely evidenced in the advertisements that fill the journals read by the comfortable class. Thus under the heading of “War Economies” there are displayed “war bargains” in fur cloaks and the like at 30 guineas upward, special bargains in mansions and new automobiles, war bargains in highly profitable investments, or there are announcements of luxurious and costly hotel and restaurant fare made still more palatable by the efforts of celebrated artistes and musicians.
But the indulgence of the workers in such “war economies” would be an utterly unheard-of thing. The bare possibility of it would shake the foundations of capitalist society.
Why is this ?
The ruling class cannot give the true answer without condemning their whole regime. Yet they, who enjoy all good things and produce none, brand as extravagant those who produce all but are not able to enjoy, and whose reason for not saving is simply that they cannot.
The capitalists, indeed, always have done and are still doing their utmost to make it totally impossible for the workers to save. Those who can are taking advantage of the war-time restriction of supply or increase in demand to realise, temporarily, at least, abnormal profits. A man could go stone blind, in fact, trying to see evidences of sacrifice on the part of the employing class.
The sudden expansion in the demand for house-room all around every munition area is taken full advantage of to extort more rent, and magistrates support the sacred principles of capitalist political economy by granting ejectment orders. So glaring has this “wide-spread brigandage” become that even an M.P., Mr. Alfred Yeo, says in the “Daily Chronicle” of Nov. 5th :
“The noblest of our sons are giving their life’s blood to defend from German horrors not only their own hearths and homes, their own wives and children, but the hearths and homes, the wives and children, even the sacred persons, of the landlords themselves.
And what thanks do they get ?
‘We are proud of you,’ is what in effect these landlords say. ‘You are fighting to keep a German invasion from us, and to show our appreciation of what you are doing at the front, we have decided in your absence to raise your rent one shilling a week or turn your dependents into the streets.’ ”
A Bill to deal with this is spoken of at the time of writing, and its provisions as now outlined entirely miss the tenements which are the chief source of complaint, while the nature of the Bill may be safely judged by the fact that the great London Property Owners Association has given it its blessing. As with other such Bills of recent memory, it can be little else than a legal sanction of the daylight robbery that is already going on.
So it is all round. Coal is still rising in price, yet we find an item like the following in the “Daily News and Leader” of Nov. 17th :
A meeting of the South Wales Coal Conciliation Board was held at Cardiff yesterday, when Earl St. Aldwyn, independent chairman, presided, and the owners’ application for a five per cent. reduction in the general wage rate was granted.”
The profits of shipping companies are up on an average over 50 per cent. Factories connected in any way with war work are making admittedly large profits, though the true extent of these is hidden by the outlay on new machinery and improvements in the works, or other well-known dodges. The restriction of supply upsets the balance of the market price at, the labour cost of production, and enables dealers, for the time being, to raise prices wholesale. These give as their excuse in most cases (despite the greater employment of cheap woman and child labour) the lying statement that the higher price is due to the greater cost of labour. Flour millers and the like are also increasing their dividends—and their reserves—so that a decrease in the price of wheat has come to mean an increase in the price of bread !
The contrast between the position of the employers and that of the workmen is significant; and though the employees are full of patriotism, it may be noticed how clearly their patriotism has the accent on the pay !
That, in fact, is the essence of the whole po¬sition. The workers are called upon to sacrifice their remnants of liberty, their health, their limbs, their lives—for what ? They are threatened with starvation in order to make them save a voluntary system that is voluntary only to the idle class. Newspapers display notices that “in the national interest” advertisers must not give employment to workmen of military age. But though the worker has to sacrifice all he possesses, the capitalist only offers his wealth against the highest security and for a thumping interest! The worker’s sacrifice is dead loss to him : that of the wealthy is all profit. That is the difference.
These facts are incontrovertible. The class cleavage in society must, to use a common expression, hit every thinking man in the eye. Yet the workers in the main appear to be hypnotised into vacuous acquiescence in this class tyranny by the tireless mendacity of capitalist Press, platform, and pulpit. The workers have brains, though the fact might sometimes be doubted ; but they prostitute their brains to their masters’ interests. They run the industries, do the work—and get the kicks. Is it not, therefore, about time they started in dead earnest to use their brains on behalf of their own families, their own work-fellows, their own too humble selves ? The future of humanity depends upon their doing so, for it is a profoundly true saying that “militant, the workers’ cause is identical with class ; triumphant, with hu¬manity.” In sober truth, indeed, despite the fearful European shambles, a true perspective will show that the greater war is the class war.