Editorial: Pledges and Pie Crust


In our previous article under the above heading we asked the question : “What does the master class offer in return for this increased slavery ?” That offer we shall now proceed to deal with.

After discussing the notion of a “sham restoration,” which he imagines will be very fascinating to the bureaucratic mind, but which he thinks is doomed to failure, the “Times” contributor says:

“We want a new settlement of industry on a basis that will secure to the wage-earners, honestly and effectively, what they have really at heart; and at the same time allow to the managers of industry that freedom of initiative and power of direction which is indispensable to industrial progress.” (18.1.1917.)

That is all. Just draw up this simple little scheme and all will go merry as a marriage bell.

So we are introduced next to a “New Industrial Charter” that contains five heads. We will deal with each in turn.

Number one is : “The Prevention of Unemployment,” and we are told that “We cannot, as a nation have the shameful audacity to refuse to restore these conditions without offering an equivalent guarantee against unemployment.” {19.1.1917.)

Why not ? “The nation,” by which the writer means the master class, has done far too many more shameful things than this while the war has been on to feel any qualms about an action more or less along the lines suggested. Bully Barnes’ cowardly and scandalous declaration as to how the men discharged as unfit from the Army have been treated is but a fresh instance of the masters’ “shameful audacity.”

Seeing also that none of the trade union rules or regulations are any guarantee against unemployment, and that the unions under present conditions cannot devise any such guarantee, it is easy to state what such a “national” guarantee would be worth. However, we are told that it will be necessary—

“that the government shall undertake to prevent the occurrence of unemployment in the same sense that it prevents the occurrence of cholera.” (Ibid.)

Seemingly unemployment is due to a germ that enters the blood and throws the victim out of work. And all the while the poor victim thought it was his employer giving him the sack that made him unemployed. But our author descends to some details, so we will give his own words:

“This can be done, as soon as the Government chooses, by nothing more recondite than such a systematic rearrangement of the necessary works and orders of the Government departments and local authorities over each decade as will maintain approximately level from year to year (including the fluctuating wages bill of capitalist employers) the aggregate wage-total of the kingdom.” (Ibid.)

What a brain-wave ! How bright and penetrating must be the intellect which is capable of finding such a solution to the sphinx-riddle of capitalism ! Just compare it with the facts of normal conditions and see how its brilliance dazzles.

In ordinary circumstances Commerce and Industry move in a vicious cycle of bad trade, improvement, and boom. The actual length of the cycle or its parts may vary, since they depend mainly upon the speed with which the improvements in the instruments of production take place, but it often takes about ten years to run through one cycle—and then it begins again.

Even during the biggest “booms,” however, there is always a margin of unemployed seeking work. This margin increases as trade grows worse, and becomes very large when a “slump” takes place.

How would the brilliant remedy of the “Times” contributor meet this fact ? By taking some of the orders that go to form the “boom” periods and placing them in the periods of the “slump.” Assuming, for the moment, that this could be done successfully with a minimum of friction, what would be its effect ? As any schoolboy can see, it would merely level out approximately the work over the period of the cycle and so maintain what now forms the middle number of unemployed between the “boom” and the “slump” as a constant feature of the whole cycle ! The “problem” of unemployment would not be touched in the slightest degree, though its effects might to some extent be worsened. Instead of the number of the unemployed varying according to the state of trade, though existing all the time, we would have an approximately constant number—not necessarily the same persons all the time— continuing all through the period.

What a beautiful solution ! One result would be that the workers would lose those few opportunities of “good trade” or “boom” that occur in the old circumstances, to lift up their wages or restore them to a former level. The relatively constant and large army of unemployed would render such attempts increasingly difficult to carry out.

The second point of the “New Charter” is called “Maintenance of Standard Rates.” One statement made in this section is worth quoting because it flatly contradicts the usual rubbish trotted out in the daily Press on the question of trade union rates of wages. The statement is as follows :

“The standard rate, it must be remembered, is never anything but a minimum. No employer is prevented from paying more and, in fact, there are always some who do pay more, whilst no workman is prevented from asking for more.”(19.1.1917.)

This, of course, is the usual argument of the trade unions, though it is always misrepresented by the capitalist Press.

To safeguard the standard rate it is suggested that the Trade Boards Act should be applied to those industries in which “the great bulk of the operatives get leas than 30s. per week,” while for the “skilled and well-organised men” in certain other industries “a joint board of employers and employed” should be formed to ascertain definitely what the rates are. In the event of failure of the Board to agree upon an issue of fact, the bare issue should be decided by Sir George Askwith.

The Joint Board should also fix the piecework rates on a uniform basis of time-and-a-quarter or time-and-a-third.

“Where the nature of the work forbids a standard list to be made, there should be in all cases a guarantee that no workmen whom the employer chooses to put on piece rates should receive less than time-and-a-quarter or time-and-a-third for each week, deficiencies not being carried forward.”—(19.1.1917.)

The third clause of the Charter deals with “A Constitution for Factory and Industry,” and suggests details of a constitution ranging from the appointment of a Shop Steward to a National Council for the whole Industry, the latter body to consider, among other things, such matters as “Technical Training and Apprenticeship,” and “Publicity.” We can pass over this clause and take up number four, which is: “No Limitation of Output.”

Here we are told that the foregoing heads of the Charter—

“will seem to some employers to represent an enormous concession to labour. Yet they are the very lowest terms on which, if we fail to restore the pre-war network of trade union conditions in accordance with our plighted word, there is any chance of securing the new settlement which is so indispensable to efficient production. And it must be remembered that none of these three concessions reduce by a single penny the margin between cast and price, which is the employer’s profit. On the contrary . . . the aggregate profits of each decade will actually be increased.” (22.1.1917. Italics ours.)

Whether the claim for the three points of the Charter is justified or not, its intention now begins to emerge. Whatever else may happen, sacred profits are not to suffer in any way, but are to increase. How this is to be secured we are told in the following words:

“What is most vital to national efficiency, as it is to the employers’ hope of profit, is to get rid, fully and permanently, of the workman’s tendency silently to restrict his output. . . . We can get rid of it only by really maintaining the Standard Rates and preventing unemployment. Making these two concessions, the Government can legitimately ask for a frank abandonment of a practice which does more harm to British industry than all the strikes and lockouts.” (Ibid.)

Here, then, is one of the methods to be used to safeguard profits. Speeding-up and driving to any degree the employers can enforce upon the workers is to be accepted as the normal method of carrying on production.

What will be the first result of this system ? This practically every worker knows, though the “Times” contributor and Mr. Sidney Webb may pretend to be ignorant of it. Clearly and indisputably it means that orders will be completed in a much shorter time than before. And what follow* the completion of orders ?

Unemployment always.

But if orders are completed more quickly it is obvious that the amount and duration of unemployment will increase. So we reach this comforting situation : On the promise of the Government to prevent unemployment the workers are to accept a system that will increase it ! It beats Gilbert and Sullivan to a frazzle ! And yet it will be put forward seriously and ponderously as the very apex of wisdom by all the employers’ representatives, from the “Times” to Sidney Webb, and from George Barnes to John Hodge.

Clause five and last of the “Charter” has the beautiful title : “Freedom for Every Worker.”

After the results we found following the examination of the preceding clauses, the worker will approach this one with caution. And at the very opening of the section the caution will be justified, for we read :

“Once unemployment is prevented (sic) and an effective guarantee for the maintenance of the standard rate is conceded, . . the claims of the labourers and the women to remain in their new jobs, and of the employers to organise their factories on new principles, becomes tractable. . . . The Government may fairly ask from the trade unions complete freedom for the employer for engaging any person whatever, for any sort of work ; complete freedom for any person to do any task or carry out any process; and complete freedom for the introduction of any machinery or process.” (22.1.1917.)

In fact, so long as the trade unions will give the employer “complete freedom” to do as he likes, the workers can have what is left over. True, there is a nice little sentence inserted in the clause to hide the naked truth of the case, and to swindle the workers into fancying that their side of the bargain is protected. As a matter of fact no such protection is given or intended to be given. The sentence runs as follows :

“What is and will remain indispensable is that whoever is engaged should receive, not what wage the employer may dictate, but the full standard rate for the work, as authoritatively prescribed and enforced.” (Ibid.)

To the novice in industrial warfare the above looks quite good and plausible. Ask, however, any trade unionist with but a moderate experience of disputes what is the chief cause of the numerous so-called demarcation fights, and you will find that it is the attempt on the masters’ put the lesser paid worker to do the work of the higher paid one, for the purpose of using the former to drive down the wages of the latter. What so often appears to the outsider as a senseless fight between two unions is almost invariably the struggle on the part of one of the unions engaged to prevent the other being used to lower the wages of the first.

“But,” it will be objected, “the above clause protects the rate, no matter who does the work.” So it looks on the face. Bitter experience has taught the worker different. He knows that the lesser paid worker will be put at the higher paid job at first “just temporarily; only for the rush,” and as this is not his regular job, his rate, of course, will remain at the lower level. When this has been done a few times the employer can boldly claim that as these men (or women) have done the work so often, their rate should form the rate for the particular job or operation, and no effect a lowering of wages. This method is in common use now, and the only difference would be that it would have unrestricted play under the new “Charter.”

On the piece-work schemes the swindle is easier to see through. Workers would be put on an operation at piece-work rates—which, it will be remembered, are to be at time-and-a-quarter or time-and-a third of time rates—and driven up to the highest speed attainable in the circumstances. When this had been run for awhile and the average output found, the workers will be put on time rates, and as no restriction on output is allowed, the workers will be turning out the maximum quantity for the time-wage. That will mean an actual reduction of one quarter or one fifth of their previous—piece-work—wage. This is even a more common practice than the one given above.

There is no protection at all for the worker under this charter, and all he will have with which to console himself for his more complete enslavement will be the phrases that look so nice in print and are so fraudulent in practice. The whole scheme promises a Saturnalia for the master class, and its agents will be busy.

The women workers will find the fine ladies of the Suffrage movement, who have lacked nothing of their flaunting luxuries during this time of stress and want among the working class, howling for “the freedom of women” to continue working at exhausting tasks for pittances that merely suffice for existence. The trade unionists will find the employers using both the women and the new male munition workers against any attempt that they (the trade unionists) may make to restore pre-war conditions. In addition there will be the large number of men demobilised from the Army—some of whom, however, are trade unionists—who will furnish further material to break any strike or struggle on the part of the organised workers.

Now the cry “We must win the war” is used to cover up the dastardly actions of the employer’s and the treachery of the Labour Party, the Trade Union Congress, and the men’s leaders generally. After the war it will be : “We must capture and hold the markets” that will be used as a slogan to drive the workers to accept the worsened conditions of employment. But, as we have so often pointed out, the masters will use any cry or any lie, however foul or scandalous, to gull their dupes the workers. Much stronger than any cry, however, will be their power then to maintain the conditions now established.

It is quite certain that a much larger standing Army will be maintained after the war than existed here before. Already preparations are being made to establish conscription permanently, and Labour “leaders” like Mr. Appleton have stated that “some form of military training” [a sugar-coated name for conscription] will be established as a permanent feature of our social system after the war. With a larger Army, or with conscription, existing, the master class, controlling these huge forces through their possession of the political machinery, will be in a far more favourable position to run business on the lines they wish than they have ever been before.

What can the workers do to meet this extended power ? Let them take a leaf out of the masters’ book. We are promised certain extensions and modifications of the Franchise in the near future. Every extension of the Franchise among the working class means increased opportunities for the workers to take control of political power.

Then first, as the masters are organising now the methods they wish to adopt after the war, let the workers organise now the methods they should adopt in their own interest. The first step they must take is to acquire knowledge of their class position ; of the clear and simple fact, still far from being understood by most of them, that they are slaves to the master class and must remain slaves so long as they allow the master class to own those things which are essential to the existence of mankind—the land, factories, tools, machinery, means of transport, and so on, and, above all, the things included under the general term “Wealth,” which are produced by the working class using the above named means of production on the nature-given materials.

Secondly, as that enormous instrument of oppression called “The Defence of the Realm Act,” and the numerous orders made under it, show with remarkable clearness, it is by their control of the political powers that the master class are able to run society—or have it run—in their own interests, enrol millions into the Army and Navy, send hundreds of thousands to slaughter and maiming, and, as was shown again recently in Ireland, turn the very men taken from a given place against those left behind and shoot them down in the masters’ interest.

Then the workers should ask “Who places this political power in the masters’ hands?” And with grim irony the answer rolls back—You, the workers, every time you vote for any supporter of capitalism, whether Tory, Liberal, or “Labour.” When the workers return a member of the Tariff Reform League or the Free Trade Association, of the Labour Party or the I.L.P., of the B.S.P. or the N.S.P., or of the “Peace by Negotiation” organisation, for any constituency, they are helping to place this immense instrument of control in the hands of their masters.

The deduction to be drawn is obvious. The workers must build up the political organisation necessary for taking possession of the political powers, for getting them under their own control, bending them to their own policy, and using them for their own objective—the abolition of wage-slavery.

The beginning of such an organisation already exists in the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Let the workers study the Principles and Policy of that party, and if they can find any error therein let us know. If unable to find any flaw, then their own interests call aloud to them to join up and fight to put an end to this social system, with its appalling hypocrises and stupendous lies, its rotten shams and colossal conceits, its waste of wealth and destruction of life and heavy burden of working-class misery, and to build up in its place a system where there will be plenty for all, and where happiness will be the common lot—the system called Socialism.

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