Editorial: Who Pays?
The advocates of Nationalisation of the Mines proceed from folly to folly. According to Mr. Vernon Hartshorn, M.P. (writing in “Lloyd’s Sunday Newspaper,” June13,) the policy of the Miners is to force Nationalisation by demanding such wages as will leave such a small margin of profit that the owners will be glad to have their mines Nationalised, and—for there is a second side to the business—deluding the people into believing that they pay the piper, and so inducing them to call for the Nationalisation tune. This is what Mr. Hartshorn writes:
“The miners will make a wage demand whenever the price of coal is raised, and increased wages will follow increased prices ad infinitum, and the public will pay.”
And lest there be any doubt as to his meaning we give this further quotation from Mr. Hart horn’s article:
“We say if the public are so foolish as to countenance private control of the industry they must pay for their folly.”
As to the merits and demerits of Nationalisation in general, and as applied to the Coal Mines in particular, we have dealt with that many times in the past, and undoubtedly in the course of our opposition we shall deal with it many times in the future. But we do not propose to do so now.
Mr. Hartshorn may give what fancy designation he likes to the miners’ policy as declared by him, but through the thin disguise it is easy enough to see our old acquaintance of a few months ago—”Direct Action.” The only new feature acquired is a sort of false nose by way of disguise—the attempt to delude the public into the belief that they pay for the rises of wages. We shall see presently that it is hardly likely that this trick will win many adherents to Nationalisation, but for the moment we are concerned in another direction.
Not long ago capitalist agents were thundering from every platform the imperative need for every worker to turn out more wealth as the only means of reducing prices, and the first to rush to their aid were the labour leaders. The workers, however, little as they understood of economics, could see as far as the end of their noses, and they preferred to fight for higher wages in order to meet the enhanced prices. Now along come the labour leaders with the tale that it is the consumers who must pay for the wages increase— in other words that is high wages that cause high prices, and not high prices that cause high wages.
This, of course, is just the identical illusion that the capitalists would give untold wealth to have the workers believe. And Mr. Hartshorn’s treachery is not the less because he tries to disguise it in contradiction.
“The miners will make a wage demand whenever the price of coal is raised,” says Mr. Hartshorn, “and increased wages will follow increased prices ad infinitum, and the public will pay.” The contradiction in this is that if the wage advance follows the increased price, then the public do not have to pay the wage advance ; but if the public do have to pay the wage advance, then it is the increased price that follows the increased wage, and not vice versa.
We are not, however, to take our choice of these contradictions. The miners, it seems, under the guidance of their misleaders, have adopted a policy based upon the theory that wage movements affect the consumer—that what the workers gain in wages they lose by increased prices. They are going to force the people (which means the workers in this case) to demand Nationalisation in order to escape from having to pay for endless increases of wages. There is no other construction to be placed on Mr. Hartshorn’s words.
So these labour leaders are now telling the workers that the result of their struggle for higher wages is to bring about the nullification of their efforts through higher prices—exactly the view their natural enemies, the masters, so much desire them to take, for the simple reason that the logical deduction is that the struggle for higher wages is futile.
As to whether Mr. Hartshorn and those who mislead with him are right in their estimate of the effect of their policy upon the public, is a matter for argument. It will need a lot of assurance to convince them that, given Nationalisation, the miners wage demands would cease. Perhaps Mr. Hartshorn would like to suggest such an outcome to the miners themselves.
Apart from any backing they might get from the public, the miners are in exactly the same position as regards their strength as they were before this shallow and even clumsy “policy” was conceived. It was always open to them to strike for higher wages, or for Nationalisation. It was never necessary for them to wait for a rise of prices before making a wage demand. On the other hand it was always open to the masters to resist the demand. The result did not lay in the price the masters got for their coal. The situation is unchanged, except that if the masters think that the wage concessions are going to bring Nationalisation nearer that is in itself an additional incentive for them to resist commensurate to their estimate of the danger to their interest, while if the public think that they have got to pay the piper, they can safely be counted on to render the miners no support.
(Editorial, Socialist Standard, June 1920)