The true meaning of Welfare Supervision

Signs are not wanting that at the cessation of hostilities on the Continent and the other fronts a return of the old industrial struggles will once again lie the order of the day. Even now politicians and the Press vie with each other in an endeavour to gloss over the struggle of the classes, and here and there ladle out to both employers and employees the need for a “give-and-take” policy.

The old wheezes of “co-partnery” and “profit-sharing,” which have been tried in certain businesses, have not worked out as satisfactorily as was anticipated, owing to the flood of light shed thereon by Socialist thought and criticism. And so to-day we find an agitation springing up on every hand for “Welfare Supervisors.” It is somewhat significant how fresh devices are introduced one after another in order to give a new lease of life to capitalist production and to further rivet the chains of wage-slavery around the workers.

With the institution of the ministry of munitions further official notice was given to this question of “Welfare Supervisors,” and at the same period “The Times” newspaper pointed out how, in the German workshops, this ministering to the inner man and attendance to the congenial conditions of workshop life greatly facilitated the method of production. The Health of Munition Workers Committee which was appointed issued a report in which they stated : “The provision of facilities for obtaining a hot meal at the factory are often inadequate, especially for night workers. Frequently the arrangements made for heating carried food are also wholly insufficient. Yet the munition worker, like the soldier, requires good rations to enable him to do good work.” The last clause of the report goes on to say : “The rapid growth of commercial undertakings, and in particular of munition works, makes it difficult or impracticable for the management to deal, unless by special arrangement, with the numerous problems of labour efficiency, and the personal welfare of the employee. Yet without some such special arrangement there cannot fail to be “diminished output, discontent, and unsmooth working.” Thus we see that ” Welfare Supervisors” are necessary in order to ensure that the workers shall at certain intervals, take in just sufficient fuel and oil to keep the machine running smoothly !

In this connection also “The Stratford Express” for August 12th and 19th published two articles entitled “The Human Element in Factories” by B. Secbohm Rowntree. To reverse the order of things, I venture to quote the concluding paragraph first. It says : “After more than 20 years experience of welfare supervision in my own factory, I am thoroughly convinced of the wisdom of appointing welfare supervisors where large numbers of girls are employed. They not only promote the well-being, the health and efficiency of the girls, but they save the management an enormous amount of trouble. And it must be remembered that an increase of efficiency is important, not only to employers, but also to the workers, for there cannot be progressive improvement in wages unless there is progressive improvement in methods of production.” Here we have the frank confession of a member of the employing class who freely admits that it pays to look after and improve the general conditions of factory life. The phase “it must be remembered that an increase of efficiency is important, not only to employers, but also to the workers, for there cannot be progressive, improvement in wages unless there is progressive improvement in methods of production,” merely demonstrates the fact that the more efficient the workers become, combined with the elimination of wasted energy and better conditions of labour, the greater is the surplus-value produced for the employer with a lesser number of wage-slaves required to produce a given quantity of commodities. The sop offered as an inducement to greater effort on the part of the workers—that they will get a “progressive improvement in wages”—further emphasises the measure of their exploitation.

Our author in his opening remarks tells his readers that “Welfare supervision is simply the creation in a factory of those conditions which enable each individual worker to be and to do his best.” He then goes on to say that so long as factories were small there was no need of any special organisation to secure this end, for with the close relationship of master and employee every worker could be put to the work best fitted for him ; but as factories grew larger and larger this personal relation was crowded out. “The employer no longer knew his workers even by name. They came to be impersonal ‘factory hands’ to him, who were treated in the mass, without individual consideration.” To most of our readers this will be commonplace.

Moreover, Mr. Rowntree says “some employers may think that welfare supervision is merely a fad. This is quite a mistaken view. It is not only good . . . but it is thoroughly sound business from the standpoint of the employer ;” and “it is stupid to treat workers in the mass.” Then, he goes on to ask : “What should we think of an employer who treated his machinery in the mass ? As a matter of fact he watches his mechanical equipment with extraordinary care. It is continually tested to find out if there is any overstrain. A man goes round with an oil can all day long to see that there is no unnecessary friction anywhere.” After pointing out the care and attention which is paid to the machinery the writer suggests that a similar method should be applied to the human beings who are infinitely more complex and delicate, and adds : “If only employers would treat their employees with as much consideration as they do their machines, they would have less difficulty in getting satisfactory output.” With regard to the hours of labour for girls and women a suggestion of a 48 hour week is put forward, and we are informed that the employer “is wise who adopts this course.” A little later one observes the following remark : “I question whether it ever pays to keep on working girls for more than 54 hours a week.” With regard to the question of workers partaking of lunch it is put forward with all seriousness that “a short break of, say, ten minutes in the middle of the morning is a distinct advantage.” On the subject of canteens the writer is equally emphatic, and he goes on to say that the Americans recognise “much more fuJly than we do the advantages of good canteen arrangements in the works, adding that unless girls (and the same is equally true regarding men) in a factory can get a comfortable midday meal and a restful dinner hour, they cannot be expected to do a good afternoon’s work. He also mentions that some employers look upon comfortable mess rooms and canteens as luxuries and an expense which brings in no return. “Nothing is further from the truth,” is his rejoinder to these people. Even such things as lighting, heating, and ventilation are touched upon, with the further remark that we (the bosses) are quite alive to the importance of these things in our own offices.

The method of engaging the newcomer to the factory is next dealt with at great length, it being suggested that the applicant should be engaged by the “welfare supervisor” instead of by the foreman. The supervisor would then have a talk with the applicant and ascertain her qualifications, and having decided to recommend her for employment would “try to interest her in it, making her feel both that the firm intends to do the ‘square thing’ by her, and that she must do the ‘square thing’ by the firm.” This reminds one of the old idea depicted on Trade Union banners showing the two hands clasped representing Capital and Labour ; and strange to say, these relics of the earlier days of trade union activity are still to be seen dragged through the streets on occasions when there is no possibility whatever of obscuring the class struggle ! The identity of interests, forsooth ! The robbed and the robbers doing “the square thing” ! What balderdash !

One could go on and quote more extensively from these articles, but I think sufficient has been culled to show that the whole purpose underlying them is simply an object lesson to the employing class on how, under the pretence of an interest in the welfare of their slaves, they can better exploit them. Fellow-workers, let it be an object lesson to you also.


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