1920s >> 1920 >> no-185-january-1920

Comparisons

Discharged and demobilised soldiers are starving and homeless in the country they “defended”; officers who cannot find work here are being sent abroad to cultivate the wilderness ; Field Marshal Haig is appealing to employers “on behalf of the unemployed ex-officers and men, who number between 300,000 and 400,000” (“Daily News,” 11.11.19); workers throughout the country are continually striking in order to try and keep up with the increasing cost of living; employment is becoming relatively scarcer, and, among the workers, the struggle to live is becoming fiercer.

 

Dr. Saleeby, giving evidence at the meeting of the National British Rate Commission on 7th November last stated that he estimated the cost of feeding a small baby properly to day to be 30s. per week (“Daily News,” 8.11.16). What chance has the average member of the working class of feeding his babies properly? It would take his whole wages to feed twins, according to Dr. Saleeby’s estimate.

 

Such is the position the working class finds itself faced with twelve months after the ending of the war that was to work so many miracles.

 

And what of the masters ?

 

Lord Leverhulme, Lady Rhondda, and such folk are spending millions acquiring new companies; undertaking after undertaking is combining and vast new companies are being floated, the shares being subscribed for in a twinkling of the eye—in fact, among the capitalists there is literally money to burn at the present moment. Commenting on this fact the City Editor of the “Daily News” (3.11.19) makes the following observations:

 

  Not since the rubber boom of 1910 has such a flood of company prospectuses appeared asking for subscriptions. . . .
Many important industries have drawn together so that for several years there has been a continuous absorption of smaller concerns by bigger neighbours . . .
Over and above these special considerations, it must be remembered that the higher range of prices for commodities and of values in the country, which has accompanied the inflation of credit produced by the expenditure connected with the war, has played a great part in assisting the boom in business under takings during the past few years. . . . Profits, represented in the new money now circulating, are much larger, while fixed charges on Debenture and Preference capitals have often remained unchanged, with the result that the divisible profits of these under takings have been largely increased.

 

In the “Daily News” (10.11.19) there appears an article by their Special Commissioner on the Lancashire cotton boom, from which I take the following extracts:

 

 Never, I suppose, in the world’s industrial history has there been a parallel to the cotton boom in Lancashire to-day. It dazzles the imagination like a new goldfield. . . . Lancashire is in a position to squeeze humanity. And to be brutal, Lancashire fully intends to squeeze. . . .
Humanity is crying out for cotton as it has never cried before. Not only its chest of drawers, but its hack is bare. Africa, India, China, Australia, South America—all those populous regions where cotton goods are the chief clothing material—need cotton, after five years of short supply, with an unexampled urgency, and the demand of the colder countries is only less eager. They are willing to pay from three to four times as much as five years ago, and the quantity they are prepared to take at this price has no limit that can yet be fixed.

 

Further on he says the mill owners are “piling up mountainous fortunes.”

 

In the same paper for 13.11.19 the same writer says, referring to Yorkshire :

 

  It is hardly necessary for me to tell you that there is only one boom that approaches the Lancashire cotton boom, of which I wrote recently, and that is the Yorkshire wool boom. Indeed the manufacturers of woollen goods are, if anything, better pleased than those of cotton goods, because their supply of raw material is more certain, both as to quantity and quality. Profits in some branches of the wool trade rule, too, a good deal higher than in any section of the cotton trade.

 

Compare the above quotations  with the following:

 

  A case of poverty so distressing that the police officer who went to the house to make an arrest himself offered money to buy food and firing was before the Guildhall magistrate yesterday. . . .
When Detective Bryant visited the house there was no furniture, food, fire, or light, and Mrs. Page, her husband and five children were absolutely destitute. The husband, crippled with rheumatism, had been unable to find work. ” (“Daily News,” 21.11.19.)

 

Or take another example—the case of an ex-service man, demobilised last February after three years’ service, out-of-work since leaving the Army in spite of “weary journeys round the labour exchanges”:

 

  The man’s wife was nearly blind and partly deaf, and he had eight children, whose ages ranged from six months to 16 years. The furniture in the house, said Mr. Biner, consisted of beds, four chairs, and a table— nothing else. Ten were sleeping in one room. The children had poor clothing and boots and were under-led, and there was no coal in the house. ” (“Daily News,” 11.11.19.)

 

And they who, though “piling up mountainous fortunes,” will not even care for the shattered living, insulted the memory of our deluded dead with “two minutes in which the wheels ceased to revolve while all mourned the loving dead”! Yes, a two minutes’ stoppage of work cost the hypocrites comparatively nothing, but it was cold comfort for the bereaved.

 

The quotations relating to Lancashire and Yorkshire show what was behind the crusade for increased production. Increased production (other things remaining the same) means a cheapening of the cost of the labour-power, and consequently an increase in the already enormous profits. The propaganda for increased production illustrates to what depths of callousness our masters are prepared to sink in order to extract more surplus-value—callous of working-class misery, and oblivious of the cant in which they have lately indulged when driving the budding manhood of the working class to the European shambles.

 

Yorkshire and Lancashire are standing examples, all through the last century, of the way the industrial magnates have built up their vast wealth out of the sweat and misery of working men, women, and even children. The following extracts, which have been taken from an article headed “The Decay of Lancashire,” which appeared in the “Penny Magazine” for June 28, 1919, give an idea of the condition of the workers where the “boom” is on :

 

  There are long hours of work under unhealthy conditions, the exploitation of female and child labour, and Lancashire’s methods of screwing out the last ounce of production at the lowest possible price by speeding up machinery and by actual robbery of the operatives. Add to these the recurring periods of unemployment, low wages, often bad housing, and you have the explanation of the high death rate . .
The work has to be carried on amidst the ceaseless roar of machinery in artificially heated and often humidified room. It is monotonous and enervating. As to its monotony, it is sufficient to point out that mechanical invention has reached such a pitch of perfection that the machine is almost human and the human is little more than a machine. . . .
The temperature of the mill is often from 80 to 90 degrees. In such an atmosphere youths and girls are forced into maturity before their time, like plants in a hothouse. And they pay the penalty by becoming old before their time. They also pay for the contrast between the heat of the mill and the inclemency of the Lancashire climate by a great burden of sickness. They are, many of them, pallid, stunted, and narrow-chested, easy victims of consumption and bronchial affections.
It may be said that the great masses of the industrial population of Lancashire are ailing from the cradle to the grave. Nowhere do the quack doctors, the herbalists, and the venders of pills and patent medicines reap such a rich harvest as in the cotton towns.

 

The leopard cannot change his spots nor the appropriator of unpaid labour his methods. The capitalist class in the early days filched from the workers the product of their labour and kept them at their toil with the whip of starvation. In its old age it spreads misery, want, and desolation among the working class to an increasing extent. The only hope for the toiler is lo work for the overthrow of the system that is rooted in the servitude of the wage-worker.

 

Gilmac.