1920s >> 1921 >> no-200-april-1921

The Housing Scheme

During the war building ceased in order that all available man-power could be placed for war purposes. Consequently there is now a shortage of houses. Many housing schemes are delayed because of the scarcity of building mechanics. The Government suggests to the building trade unions that they should receive 50,000 dilutees and help train them, and offers £5 per head if the unions will receive the dilutees with open arms.

It naturally follows that the majority of the trade unionists would be against the scheme, for the reason, above all, that they fear the trade would be flooded. Those in the building trade know from bitter experience the casual employment of pre-war days, the weary tramp seeking work, sometimes weeks and months on end. Can it, then, be wondered at that the trade unionists look with suspicion on all schemes for introducing a host of men to be trained for house-building ?

Workers should know that all the results of capitalist production spell trouble and conflict of interests between worker and worker.

What could be easier than for the masters to tell the would-be building workers that the building trade unions were against them ? In the great war the German worker was shown up to the British worker as his greatest competitor, and the upholder of Prussian militarism. It should easily be seen that the enmity of foreign competitors can be switched on to the home field of production with no less brutality and narrow-mindedness. The Government can, if it chooses train as many men as it thinks fit for the building of houses, irrespective of whether or not the unions are agreeable. But it seems to be the purpose of all government administrative bodies to talk business and appear to be co-partners with the workmen for managing the affairs of the country.

Behind all this confering with the trade union leaders is the power the Government has as the executive committee of the capitalist class, a power that was upheld at the last election by the votes of the working class. With that power, and with interests opposed to those of the working class, our masters’ executive can build as many houses as it likes, how it likes, and where it likes. Yes, the style of house, quality of material, size of rooms, gardens, etc., is in their hands. Well we know the quality of working-class dug-outs, slums before they are inhabited, cheap in appearance, and a shoddy blight on a fair countryside.

Mr. G. D. H. Cole writes an article in the “Labour Leader” of December 30th last, entitled : “The Government and the Builders.” After reading the article the Socialist is surprised that Mr. Cole—who claims to be a Socialist—should write of a capitalist problem and omit to put the Socialist position. Not a word does he use to point out to the workers the difficulties and anomalies of the capitalist system of wealth production. He writes against the Government, and favours the trade unions, as though the unions could, if they wish, build all the houses necessary with a judicious recruiting of dilutees. He thinks also that the workers would do well to support such organisations as the Building Guild. If working-class conditions could be improved by such methods there is not much wrong with the world.

The capitalist mills that grind not slowly, but ever more quickly, have already made the Government building scheme out of date : it is not so much shortage of houses that troubles the working class at present as shortage of work and wages. In fact, many who wished for more house-room six months ago, are now compelled to let much-needed space.

Much will be made of the ex service men who “fought to make this country free” ! But that will not soften the bitter competition that will ensue if the Government are determined to train 50,000 men for building. A year or two of building shoddy working-class houses, and then unemployment ! Then will be seen the spectacle of more than 50,000 workers tramping the streets looking for work— and it is to be hoped they will realise the folly of supporting any scheme that purports to prolong the capitalist system.

We Socialists understand that the workers are wage-slaves, and that their position in society must necessarily be a servile one. That being the Socialist’s conception of the working class, nothing can be done to permanently better their condition. Economic freedom can only be realised when the workers organise and capture political control.

In the meantime gentlemen of Mr. Cole’s calibre can fool about, trying to make out that bosses can be bossed, while leaving them in political supremacy. The Trade Union officials, who have made the union business their life-work, and will do their best to make out that the Unions can improve the workers’ lot, are a hindrance to working-class enlightenment. It is doubly difficult to point the way to the workers’ emancipation. The Coles, the Clynes, the Barnes, criticise the Government of the day, but do nothing to point out the hopelessness of reforming a system of society that is rotten at the base.

By the way, The Chequers is a decent roomy house.

S.W.