Society and Morals. Part VIII. The Outlook of the Proletariat (Continued)

Re-Birth of Unrest
The revival of trade union militancy which has taken place in recent years has its causes in those developments of capitalism we have previously outlined. The intense competition in the world markets which has supplanted the old-time “monopoly of Britain” made the employing class of all countries increasingly reluctant to concede even the least advances in wages. On the contrary, it stimulated the more general adoption of speeding-up methods and the wider use of the most perfect machinery. By depreciating the need for skill and increasing unemployment these factors led to a sharper competition for employment and tended to depress wages. The growth of trusts and of employers’ federations has enabled the capitalists to offer a more effective resistance to the unions, while on the other hand a progressive increase in the coat of living has proved a spur to working class unrest and organised activity, in spite of which real wages have continuously fallen.

In the last thirty years or so the strike policy has come again into favour, first among the newer and so-called unskilled unious, but later generally. Especially has this been so in the years immediately proceeding the outbreak of the war, during which period a continually growing unrest manifested itself among the workers in every part of the world. And it is probable also, that after the war militarism and capitalist “efficiency” will prove a further stimulant to working-class revolt, although, of course, the master class will make strenuous efforts to avoid industrial strife and suppress revolutionary propaganda.

To a certain extent a somewhat new outlook has been realised. The obvious dislike of the old-type officials and leaders to a militant policy and their love for the practice of “conferring” with the employers ; their compromising attitude and frequently proven treachery, have also led to much unfavourable criticism and to a decided weakening of their prestige. As a result many strikes have taken place in opposition to the desires of a compromising executive.

Moreover, the strong co-operation manifested among the masters in their determined efforts to resist and to break strikes, and particularly also the growing frequency with which they used their class weapon—the armed forces—to brutally coerce strikers into submission, brought about a decided tendency toward closer solidarity among the workers themselves. This is evidenced in the consolidation of various unions in the same field of production, in the spread of “sympathetic” strikes, and in the voluntary raising of funds by organised workers in support of disputes in which they themselves were not directly concerned.

Furthermore, the gradual decline of the industrial value of personal skill on the part of the employees, together with the need for “fighting” efficiency, has compelled the older “aristocratic” craft unions to recognise that their old-time method of conserving the strength of the unions by insisting upon special qualifications, including the prior serving of long apprenticeships, is both obsolete and futile. They have been forced more and more to adopt the method of the later “unskilled” unions who aim at including all those of a particular trade or industry within the organisation Consequently, “non-unionism” has become almost as great a crime in the eyes of the unionist as “blacklegging”—the worst delinquency in his moral code.

The same causes which fermented this revival in industrial strife also stimulated among the workers a livelier interest in politics which led to the formation of the Labour Party. The trade unions supported the project, and their leaders saw the possibility of political influence and office. The capitalist parties were cute enough to meet this new interest in political affairs by formulating delusive schemes of social reform to pacify and mislead the workers.

Moreover, having found the Labour Party leaders willing to play the same game, the bourgeoisie, especially the petty capitalist element, have given it no little amount of support. The Labour Party, dominated as it is by the reactionary leaders of trades unionism and men of the srme stamp, to all of whom the notion of a class struggle is obnoxious, has consistently upheld capitalist principles, and is in reality only a bourgeois party with a “labour” label. Having achieved nothing of value for the workers it has beceme the butt of adverse criticism from the same elements as have shown independence and militancy on the industrial field.

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Thus far none of the movements mentioned above show any indication of being promoted by a full consciousness of proletarian interests. They register but the first stages of such a conception. The general mass of those who built up the strength both of the Chartist and of the trade union movement, saw and felt only their immediate sufferings and disabilities. The deep social causes from which these arose were mostly quite unrecognised. Consequently, no definite principles in opposition to capitalism were adopted by these movements, and no general code of proletarian ethics grew out of or with them.

Much the same applies to-day. The majority of the workers still accept the main dogmas of bourgeois orthodoxy. No doubt the trade unionist regards black-legging and non-unionism as bad and criminal whereas to the capitalist they are good and justifiable. Likewise extreme exploitation or “sweating” is abhorrent to the workers. Yet with regard to the existence of the wages system and of a profit-reaping class, the need for “national solidarity” in defence ol “national interests,” and the like, the working-class mind is a faithful reflection of that bourgeois outlook which we considered in a previous section. Even where the workers do show a divergence of opinion upon Free Trade or Protection, Pacifism or Imperialism, these are manifestly but the effect of similar differences among the employing class and its retainers. That these contentions are correct is abundantly proven by the attitude the workers of every belligerent nation adopted upon the outbreak of the European War.

Nevertheless there does exist a school of thought and action which accurately reflects proletarian needs and interests, and therefore presents a true working-class system of morality, and this is the Socialist movement. Originating in, but toward the climax and close of the first period of working-class revolt, Socialism persisted and grew up, as it had to, independently of the several reformist and palliating movements, receiving a fresh impetus with the coming of the second period of activity now growing surely year by year among the workers of the world.

Our next and final consideration, therefore, will be Socialism in its relation to morality.

(To be Continued.)


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