1910s >> 1919 >> no-183-november-1919
Editorial: Coal and Cant
On the 9th October the Prime Minister met a deputation representing the Trades Unions Congress and the Miners’ Federation, who presented a demand for the nationalisation of the coal mines on the lines laid down by the Sankey Report. Mr. Stuart-Bunning, representing the T.U.C., said the demand was made not on the views of the miners alone, but of the large number of organised workers affiliated to the T.U.C. The fact that the representatives of 5½ millions of workers should fancy that the nostrum of Nationalisation would be of use or benefit to their class is good reason for examining the proposition in detail.
According to the report of the interview given in the “Daily News” (11.10.19) Mr. Smillie, representing the miners, put forward two main reasons why the mines should be nationalised. The first was that “the mines are largely unsafe because they are working for private profit.” In what way Nationalisation would make them safer we are left to guess. There is no evidence that the railways have become safer for the railway workers since they have been under government control, nor has it ever been put forward that the Admiralty Dockyards are safer than private ones. Until evidence of this character is forthcoming the hope that the mines would be safer if nationalised remains purely a hope. The Government’s treatment of its broken tools—the disabled soldiers and sailors—shows how much the “hope” is worth.
Mr. Smillie’s second point is given as follows:
“I want the mines nationalised in order that by the fullest possible development on intelligent lines, with the assistance of the engineering power we know we possess, we might hereby develop the mines and increase the output and so reduce the price of coal.”
Coming at this moment, after a certain bitter experience by the miners, the last suggestion in this statement is simply staggering. Coal is under government control now, and a few months ago, without any economic reason, the price was raised by 6s a ton. Despite this swindle, perpetrated on his own members so recently, Mr. Smillie still calls for increased production. Yet increase of output by itself does not mean a reduction in price, and, as the above example showed, it may be accompanied by a rise in price. For the purpose of playing political tricks and misleading the workers the Government would be quite prepared to repeat and extend these swindles. An illustration from a branch of industry that is practically a trust will show the absurdity of this claim that increased output necessarily means reduced prices. The capitalists in this industry are urging the worker to “produce more,” and the surplus above the requirements of the home market is exported. But note the situation. Prices are kept up or even raised at home while the exported articles are sold below cost—or to use a well known phrase, are “dumped”—to beat the foreigner in hie own market. (See Report of Committee on Trusts.)
Neither is it certain that Nationalisation would result in “the fullest possible development of the industry.” While this is possible it is far from probable, as experience of the Government departments during the war— and since—have shown only too well. Corruption and incompetence have been rampant in those departments, and there is no reason to suppose there would be any improvement in the case of coal.
But these points are not the important ones. The ignorance of the organised workers and lack of knowledge—or lack of honesty—of their leaders is shown in this demand made upon a capitalist government to nationalise an industry. It should be clear to any worker that the control of an industry by such a Government means that the business will be run on capitalist lines—that is on profit-making lines. Though it may not be run for individual profit, it will be run for the collective profit of the capitalist class. Nationalised industries are expected to show as good a result as—or a better than—the private business, as, for instance, in the case of the Admiralty Dockyards. As a consequence of this fact the workers in Government departments are so badly paid as to have to struggle as hard to lift up their wages, or to improve their conditions, as the workers employed by private capitalists. The Post Office and Government dockyards are good examples of this truth. But there is one important difference. When an industry is nationalised there is only one employer—the Government. If for any reason a worker is discharged from such an industry he is compelled to seek a living in another calling, as there is no one else in his old business to give him a job. In this respect the worker is worse off under Nationalisation than under private employment.
The fundamental fallacy underlying the T.U.C and Miners’ demands for Nationalisation of Coal Mines—and it applies with equal force to the nationalisation of any other industry—is their failure to recognise the slave character and position of the workers. Denied all access to the means of production, except by the permission of the master class, the workers are unable to produce the necessities of life for themselves. As their means of life are controlled by the master class, it necessarily follows that their life itself is under the same control. When one’s life is under the control of another person, one is a slave to this person. The working class are therefore SLAVES to the master class.
This great fundamental fact remains whether the masters split up the control of the means of production among the individuals or groups of their class, or whether they decide to collectively control them, or any part of them, through their executive committee called the Government.
The workers will remain wage slaves while capitalism lasts, even though every industry were nationalised.
Not until the working class grasp this simple fact will they organise correctly for the overthrow of capitalism and the real control by the workers of their means of life. Nationalisation is one of the red-herrings the agents of the master class are always ready to trail across the path to divert the workers from the course their interests demands that they should follow. Its failure to fulfil expectations will help to disillusion many of those workers who are urging it forward now. When the workers realise this they will begin to examine and study the right course to follow—which is to fight for Socialism.