Guild “Socialism.” A Good Thing for Capitalist Ratepayers

The “London Building Guild” commenced its existence in July, 1920, by promising to show government officials and builders how to build houses more cheaply and at the same time pay their workers for loss of time through sickness or inclement weather.

An offspring of the “Guild Socialist” movement, it endorsed the principles and promises of Guild Socialism, claiming that the workers themselves would control, and that by the growth and extension of their movement the workers would gradually gain control over the whole of industry and be enabled thereby to set up a new order of society in which the capitalist would be entirely eliminated.

Because of the demand for workers’ dwellings the Building Guild rapidly outstripped the guilds of other industries. Their contracts., according to the “Building Guildsman,” May, 1922, spread over 70 Guild committees, amount to £3,000,000. Notwithstanding this rapid growth, however, it is questionable whether the Guild is financially sound. The Co-operative Wholesale Society, concerned about the competition between their building department and the Guilds, have declined to finance them further, and the Guilds have retaliated by placing their insurance business elsewhere. The Federation of Building Trade Operatives have come to the rescue of the Guild for the time being, but the latter is evidently in a tight corner financially as they are making desperate appeals for loans. The June number of the “Building Guildsman,” displays on its cover in bold type the words, “Lend promptly or the Guild can’t develop.” Before doing so, however, the trade unionist, at any rate, will do well to critically examine the need for its development.

What, in the first place, would the workers say of a builder, or any other capitalist, who, while constantly boasting of the extension of his business, appealed to them for loans in order to carry out the work? Yet this is what the Guild does; because under it the workers organise themselves merely to give service. The capitalist is eliminated but the Guild does not get the profit, while the local authorities get their houses at the bare cost of labour and materials. The Guild contract, according to Mr. Ernest Selley, writing in the “Building Guild in London,” is described as follows :—

“The Guild form of contract, as Approved by the Ministry of Health for Municipal Housing Schemes, provides that the price paid by the local authorities shall be the prime cost of material and labour at standard rates. To this sum, 6 per cent. is added to cover head office administration, plant, insurance, and, if necessary, interest on borrowed capital. In addition, there is an allowance of £40 a house to enable the Guild to guarantee continuous pay to its workmen in all contingencies. Thus, with full publicity as to costs, the Guild removes all doubt as to the existence of invisible margins and hidden profits.”

In the London District Area committees are set up consisting of delegates from trade unions and there is also a board of directors elected by the trade unions affiliated to the National Federation of Building Trade Operatives. The board is responsible for the appointment of managers and headquarters staff while the local committees make arrangements for the supply of labour. Members of the committees can be selected by the committee itself, to fill the best jobs without reference to their qualifications, and the way is open for wire pulling and jobbery. It is easy to see that whatever line the committees adopt there is bound to be friction over this question. Where jobs are concerned there is always competition and jealousy, together with numerous charges of corruption, true or untrue.

The business of the Guilds is carried on by means of borrowed capital, the interest on which is a portion of the surplus value produced by the Guild workers. Whether the Guild obtains a share of this surplus value for the extension of their business, or for any other purpose, does not transpire. In building working-class dwellings, however, they profess to be prompted by a desire to keep the cost of building low in order that the rents may be low; but the corporations they build for are under no obligation in this respect, and whatever profits are made by them on the letting go to the relief of capitalist ratepayers. Neither corporations nor guildsmen can any longer pretend that the workers are affected by reductions in rates, when every reduction in the cost of living—even where sliding scales are not in operation—is a signal for a reduction in wages.

Maintenance during sickness and inclement weather is made the most of by Guild propagandists. Really it is their only asset, though such payment is not confined to the Guilds nor does it represent a big slice out of profits. In itself it is certainly not worth the tremendous propaganda of confusion carried on by Guild Socialists. As an immediate benefit it is small compensation for the extra amount of unemployment likely to be caused by the general adoption of Guild methods—if all the Guild tales of quantitative results are true. Moreover, the Guilds can only guarantee employment while they obtain contracts; to do this they must be cheaper than capitalist firms.

They must enter the competitive market with the ordinary capitalist—who only differs from them in that he does not promise a millenium when he has captured all the trade—adopting all his methods for intensive exploitation of their wage slaves.

In fact they have already arrived at this, point and the need for coercing and hustling their workers is not only admitted but is seriously discussed in the May issue of the “Building Guildsman,” by Mr. S. G. Hobson, who. Says :—

”If we succeed in making Labour the first charge upon the industry and in consequence establish industrial maintenance; and if, as a result, production falls to an uneconomic level, one of the pillars of the Guild edifice would be seriously shaken. No use blinking that !

“As a matter of fact, it is not true. Guild production, generally stated, is in excess of capitalist production, whilst there can be no question of Guild quality. But it is true that there are men working on Guild contracts who are without conviction of any kind, and who regard the Guild very much as they would regard an employer. Let us be quite frank: these men are a danger to Guild development. Whatever the cost, they must be dealt with.

”There still remains, however, the broad question : Must Guild discipline be maintained by the usual Capitalist methods of dismissal, driving, threats, and (wherever possible) Taylorism, piecework, and bonus? Or is there a better way? “

We see, therefore, that it is merely a question of the method, there is no doubt about the necessity of getting more out of the workers even though “Guild production, generally stated, is in excess of capitalist production.”

The capitalist nature of the Guild is fully demonstrated in the above quotation; particularly in the assertion that production must be kept at an economic level. The cry of the capitalist everywhere and always.

The quality of Guild work, too, is always stressed by their advocates; but this is a doubtful advantage from the workers standpoint. Many workers owe their jobs to the fact that capitalists, as a rule, pay more attention to cheapness and quantity than they do to quality, with the result that expenditure on repairs and maintenance becomes necessary.

Again, why should the employee of the Guild regard it as anything else but an employer? What else is it? Is he not exploited by the Guild? The Guild committee may give their services free. Their customers may obtain a better and cheaper commodity; but all that only proves the Guild worker’s more intensive exploitation, because, after all, he only gets wages; no more and no less than other capitalist employees.

Guild Socialism is a fraud on the workers, because it promises to eliminate the capitalist while it retains capitalism. It patches up the wages system with maintenance, instead of showing that wages, or the price of labour power, must always be but a mere fraction of the wealth produced by the workers.

Guild Socialists promise betterment for the workers here and now, and an easy transition from Capitalism to Socialism. Already their chief concern is for the financial success of their business contracts and not at all for the education of the workers in Socialism, without which there can be no transition, easy or otherwise.

F. F.

(Socialist Standard, September 1922)

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