Working Harder for the Capitalist

Two articles on a similar subject appeared in the “Daily News” for Jan. 31st that deserve attention from the working class, though the standpoint should be different from that proposed by the writers.

In one case a gentleman of the good old British name of Sir Felix Schuster, presiding at a meeting of shareholders of the Union of London and Smith’s Bank, told the meeting that “The country would have to produce more and buy less.” The reasons behind Mr. Schuster’s claims are fairly easy to see. After the war large sums will be needed to pay the interest on the enormous war loans. A good deal of this interest will be sent to America and neutral countries that have taken up shares in these loans and will be used in the intensified competition following the war, against the British capitalists. Clearly these payments will reduce the amount of capital that would otherwise be available for investment. While the banks will obtain the ordinary profits of their business from these interest transactions, they would make far larger profits from manipulating the finances for the numerous “reconstruction” schemes that will be proposed after the war.

To obtain the extra capital required for these schemes a larger volume of trade and commerce must be developed, so “the country” is urged to “produce more and buy less.”

Further on Sir Felix remarked : “Everyone would have to work harder than ever before.” Probably this gave a fearful shock to some of the careless listeners by suggesting that they would have to go to work ! But careful reading will show that the statement only refers to those who work now, as they are the only ones who can be asked to work harder than before. This is confirmed a little later on, when Sir Felix said : “Every effort must be made for increased output of individual effort and national production.”

The only people engaged in “output” and “national production” at present, are the working class, and they, therefore, are the ones called upon to “increase” output. Once this was understood the shareholders could breathe a sigh of relief and find strength to shout “hear, hear!” A dreadful prospect had faded away.

Some details as to how this increased output on the part of the workers may be carried out is given in the second article—an interview with one of the Lever brothers, of “Sunlight Soap” fame, known as Lord Leverhulme. He said :

“My proposals for an after-the-war industrial policy go into a nutshell. They amount to this—increase wages, shorten hours, cheapen production.”

At first sight this looks like a contradiction to Mr. Schuster’s statement. On examination, however, it will be found to agree with it. For Mr. Schuster’s call to “produce more” is exactly paralleled by Lord Leverhulme’s “cheapen production.”

Now production can be cheapened even though nominal wages rise, and Lord “Sunlight” gives some facts to prove this. In one instance he quoted the case of Mr. Ford, the owner of the great motor car works at Detroit, who, he tells us—

“made a rule that no one was to be employed in his factory at less than £1 a day. At the end of the year he found that instead of having made less profit he had made rather more.” Soapy Lever quite forgot to mention a couple of additional facts. One was that a huge crowd of workmen beseiged the works, lured there by the relatively high pay, thus enabling Mr. Ford’s foremen to pick the most suitable men for their purpose ; and secondly, the existence of such a crowd, practically always available, enables “speeding-up” and “drive” to be carried to the highest possible point in the works, as any worker failing to keep up the fearful pace can be instantly dismissed and replaced with one of the crowd outside. Thus Mr. Ford is able to squeeze larger profits from his work-people, despite the increased wage.

Lord Lever’em, of course, agrees with this system, and says he would lay it down that “every capitalist should pay the full trade union rate of wages. And to this I would add that I think that, wherever possible, he would find it not only a brotherly thing, but a profitable thing, to pay more than the full rate.” The naivete of “wherever possible” cannot be missed. It means, of course, that it would be brotherly where it were profitable. Further on this scion of the ancient nobility says :

“Closely associated with these proposals is the pressing need of securing after the war a greater general productivity in the best class of goods.”

And then adds :

“The workman will have to grasp the fact that the shorter hours and higher wages he desires can only be obtained in the long run by a lowered cost of production.” Here the mask is put aside. How can this “lowered cost of production” be achieved, particularly if wages are higher and hours of work are less ?

There is only one way. A larger amount of goods must be produced in a given time or, what is the same thing, less time must be taken to produce a given quantity of goods.

If, for example, it takes 400 hours to manufacture a ton of soap now, the production can only be cheapened by turning out that ton of soap in less than 400 hours. That this reduction in the time taken to produce a ton of soap can be carried out is quite accepted by his Lordship when he says : “It is certain that a six-hour-day staff will turn out more than an eight-hour-day staff.”

Here is the centre of the question. The workers are to work shorter hours and yet produce more in the shorter periods. There may be an increase of nominal wages but profits will be greater than before.

This is easily proved. The only members of society who carry on production of wealth are the working class, Out of the wealth they have produced the workers receive an amount estimated by capitalist authorities at about one-third of the total. The remaining two-thirds are left in the hands of the masters, who, out of this remainder, pay the expenses of government, the cost of maintaining the armed forces, the horde of persons engaged in ministering to the luxury and amusement of the master class, and the agents who mislead the workers as to the facts of their social conditions. Even then a surplus is left for extension of business and commerce. This is invested either in new businesses or in the development of old ones.

Now the workers are to be driven harder to produce more in even less time than before. The “six-hour-day staff will turn out more than an eight-hour-day staff.”

“Ah, yes ! But wages will be increased.” Maybe ! But certainly not equivalent to the increased production, or else there would be no extra profit and the transaction might be a “brotherly” one, it clearly would not be a “profitable thing.”

This policy will certainly increase production, but with what result to the workers ? In the first place, unless the increased production is carried beyond a certain point, it will mean that a smaller number of workers will be employed to produce even a larger amount of wealth than was previously turned out, because each one will be working harder and turning out more per individual. Even if production is increased to the point where the same number will be employed as before the change, this will still leave a margin of unemployed as before, though, due to war slaughter, this margin may be smaller than previously.

Here, however, we reach a phase of the problem ignored by both Sir Felix Schuster and Lord Leverhulme.

Every worker knows quite well—even though he does not always apply the knowledge—that the employer only engages him on production so long as he can sell the products. Where are the increased number of articles to be sold ?

For a short time after the war a sort of boom will no doubt develop, particularly in the rebuilding of businesses allowed to drop behind during the war. But this will be met partly by the large number of workers released from the fighting forces, and partly by the extra speeding-up that will prevail. The other advanced capitalist nations of the world will be faced with the same problem—that is, the necessity of selling larger quantities of goods than before in order to meet increased expenditure, or to take up capital seeking investment—while the conditions of production will be similar to those existing here.

Thus all the great capitalist nations will be competing with each other for both inside and outside markets. The slaughter of millions of working men by the operations of war, while reducing the number seeking employment, also reduces the demand for goods these millions would have made upon the markets had they been alive. The speeding-up and improvements in both methods and machinery will rapidly overtake the boom, with the result that the workers will be faced with the old problem of unremployment on a largely increased scale, with all the extra want and misery such conditions mean for them.

Neither the growth of population nor the opening up of new markets can proceed at anything like the rate of the increased powers of production. Hence the problem of unemployment must grow worse and working-class misery increase as a result of following capitalist advice, whether uttered in the gloomy tones of Mr. Schuster or embodied in the “Dream” of Lord Leverhulme.

Increased production means increased misery for the workers, as we have shown above, while the capitalist system of society exists.

Shorter hours, under the conditions laid down by the above spokesmen of their class, result in greater expenditure of human energy during the shorter hours than took place in the longer periods. This means not only shorter lives for the workers, but also that constitutions weakened by the strain become more susceptable to disease and less able to beat off attacks.

The huge increase in accidents to the workers resulting from this speeding-up shows how the murder and maiming of our class is increased by these methods.

There is no escape from these conditions that are the inevitable results of the private ownership of the means of life and of production for profit, except by the abolition of the capitalist system of society. The workers must first study their conditions under capitalism, and, once they grasp the fact that they are slaves to the master class, organise to seize control of political power for the purpose of wiping out a system of stupendous civil and military horrors and replacing it with one where production will be carried on for the use and happiness of mankind as a whole.


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