When I hear of the master class advocating better conditions and higher wages for the worker, as a Socialist I am naturally suspicious. For instance : “If we are to have trade and commerce we must look upon the worker as a brother” savours of a consummation much desired by certain (mis)leaders of the working class.
The above quotation is from a speech delivered by Sir W. H. Lever, on the occasion of his presentation of Rivington Hall to the town of Bolton recently.
Personally, Sir William may have great faith in the efficacy of soap — for more reasons than one — but his partiality for the “soft” variety is easily seen. He has employed it on various occasions with more or less success.
“A man who has worked all through the day at an employment which, compared with ours as employers, is monotonous and wearing, wants more opportunities of elevating himself, and if he doesn’t get them sinks to the level of a machine . . . Low wages mean insufficient food and clothing, child labour and low intelligence, and with a low intelligence we can never have the power to withstand the competition of other nations.“
There you have it! The cat is out!
It is the fear of foreign competition that alarms him ; fear that some brother shark might snatch some of the trade that he is “entitled to.” For after all it is a case of big robber and little robber. The bigger the trade the bigger the spoils. It is himself and his shareholders he is thinking about, and not the condition of the workers — at least, only to the extent that their “bettered” condition will be of benefit to himself. As a capitalist he seeks slaves who are productive, for is it not cheaper to have a worker who is “fit” than one who is underfed and worn out? Mr. Lever has probably discovered that “well paid” workers pay the best.
But what is it that prevents the worker from having “more opportunities of elevating himself”? What factor is it that tends to push the worker below the level of a machine?
Simply this. That the means of producing the necessaries of life are held by the class of which Mr. Lever is a representative. Whether the worker is engaged in making soap or shrouds he is dominated by the machine. It is the control of the machine, and therefore of the product, that is responsible for the modern capitalist: and the robbery of the workers is its inevitable result.
It means that Mr. Lever and his class stand in the way. When the workers acquire sufficient sense to kick them out, then they will have a chance to “elevate” themselves. That’s all.