1920s >> 1921 >> no-198-february-1921

Saving The Rates

It is often stated that Labour representatives busy themselves with affairs that are of no concern to the class they are elected to represent. Indeed, they appear to go out of their way in order to give effective support to measures that are calculated to serve the interests of the class which exploits labour. A superficial examination of the workings of any municipal authority will show that its function is usually confined to matters of supervising the running of profit-making trams, gas-works, or any old thing which can be utilised for the purpose of producing a profit in order that the rate-payers (that is, the property holders) shall not be unduly pressed. Any worker, if he be candid, will tell you that he doesn’t care a rap whether the streets are paved or not so long as his job is secure and a wage coming in. That is where he is chiefly interested. Consequently, whether the rates be high or low it cannot be of any concern to the worker. Being a propertyless person and a wage slave into the bargain, it cannot be held that he possesses any assessable property. Living, at the best of times, virtually from hand to mouth, his chief concern is the getting of the wherewithal to fill his mouth. If Labour received all the wealth it produces— that is, all wealth—then the story would be different. All of which is a sufficient reason why the doings of the Labour men on the various municipal bodies should be condemned, since they all appear to go the same way. A recent instance at Lambeth is a case in point.

The Borough Council formerly put out all its refuse collecting to contract. Due to pressure by the labour members it was decided to introduce a scheme of “direct municipal enterprise.” To use a less fanciful term, it was resolved that they shift their own muck. The borough engineer’s estimate worked out at something like £9,600 for six months. After working the scheme the actual cost proved to be nearly £1,000 less, which made a total saving in four wards of £3,235 on the lowest tender for contract work. This is an instance of “saving the rates” in which Labour representatives excell.

It might be argued that since Labour doesn’t benefit either way, what’s the odds? But it matters a great deal, because if these men were to devote the time, energy, and money spent on easing the “burden” of the master class to a different purpose—that of getting to understand the real interests of the workers and then getting others to understand—then the odds would be in our favour. As it is, the work of these individuals only redounds to the credit of the capitalist class: being the dominant class in the present system of society it follows that only its welfare is worthy of consideration. If these people are not doing their duty to the class they pretend to represent, then obviously the thing to do is to repudiate them and expose their work on every possible occasion. This applies especially to those who hold good and lucrative jobs both in the House of Commons and in the various trade unions. They believe the workers to be sheep that require to be led, whereas they are asses—for allowing it. It is time the game of “follow my leader” was played out. What is needed is not leadership, but knowledge—in large doses. This is easily accessible to the worker if he will not be side tracked by any such rubbish as benefiting by the saving of rates.

A last pointer: which is troubling the workers most at the present moment—rising rates or falling wages ?

Tom Sala