1920s >> 1922 >> no-218-october-1922

The Optimists.

It has been said that in Shakespeare’s works there can be found lines to describe any type of man. This may or may not be so, but many of his descriptions of man in the bulk or individually fit the types we observe to-day.

After reading Mr. Herbert Smith’s address to the Miners’ Conference delegates at Blackpool, the thought that occurred to the writer was the one expressed so satirically in “Twelfth night.”

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Mr. Smith has not displayed much originality or acumen during his career as a trade union official, especially since he has been President of the M.F.G.B.

During the lock-out of last year he cut a very sorry figure, rushing into No. 10, Downing Street appealingly exclaiming to Lloyd George, “You have got to offer us something !”

Without a great stretch of imagination we could see the effect of these words and the cringing of the E.C. of the Miners in stiffening the attitude of Lloyd George and the coal owners behind him. Smith is not renowned for mental alertness, and cannot be considered an improvement on former presidents, so that we can only conclude his “greatness has been thrust upon him.” We need not go into the squabble between Smillie and Hodges over the job of leadership, but it might have some bearing on the fact that Smith is now President of the M.F.G.B.

As an example of what Shakespeare called “chop logic,” his speech will take some beating, for he says, “It will take years to wipe out the consequences of decontrolling the industry,” and immediately contradicts that by adding, “I am not a pessimist. I am certain we will come out of the present position within the next year.” He also told the Conference: “While we have private enterprise the prosperity of owners and workmen are linked up,” and later quotes : “He that owns the means whereby I live owns my life.”

Labour power is bought and sold on the market at a price which has for its basis the socially necessary labour required for its production. The price of labour power is arrived at by bargaining, and as the capitalist is in possession of the means of production, it is obvious that he is enabled to dictate, within limits, to the seller of labour-power.

But Smith, who says the prosperity of the workers is linked up with that of the capitalists, would have the workers give up the struggle, suggesting the fallacy that the employers would pay on a generous scale in accordance with their prosperity. Smith tries to make the best of a bad business, but not having the lawyerlike mentality of his colleague Hodges, his efforts are too apparent; he reminds one of the old man who had discussed everything from a doleful standpoint, explaining finally to his listener that “he was not a pessimist because he could not see anything to be optimistic about.”

Smith goes one better. He tells the doleful tale, but tells it cheerfully, defying all logic and correct conclusions. He congratulates the Federation on its position, although there are more than one hundred thousand drawing unemployment pay, in addition to the large number wrong-fully disqualified from benefits. The disqualified are the victimised men whom the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain have not been able to get reinstated since the “settlement” by the precious “agreement” which the E.C. of the Miners’ Federation made for the miners.

Still looking for the bright side, Mr. Smith remarks, “Had it not been for the clause in the agreement which provides that a wage of 20 per cent. in excess ‘of wages paid in July, 1914, many of the districts would have been still worse off.” His optimism knows no limits, for though the 20 per cent. may be given, the cost of living is 80 per cent. above July, 1914.

That the coal owners refuse to recognise the clause in the agreement, as every district agent and the E.C. of the Miners’ Federation must know, for those men who ask for the “minimum wage” risk the sack; their places can be filled by others outside the gates. This deters many, as they, quite naturally, desire to handle some wages in preference to unemployment benefit or Poor Law relief.

That the owners dodge the clause is borne out by Hodges in the Daily News, June 9th, 1922

“Many instances are occurring where employers, presumably (italics mine) unable to pay the district rates, are stopping the collieries and intimating to the workmen that they can resume employment if they accept lesser wages than their neighbours. “

Hodges is always ready to “presume” that the employers are unable to make their collieries pay, for during the lock-out of last year he was more concerned in devising schemes for the employers, and side-tracking the workers from the real issue, which was a question of wages.

The miners have spent money on giving Hodges an education which they thought would be useful to them in their struggles with their masters. It is money that has been badly spent if the only use of the knowledge he is credited with is to “presume” what the capitalist class want the workers to think, that is, employers are “unable to pay the district rates,” and the only way to employment is for the workers to “accept lesser wages than their neighbours.”

To return to Mr. Smith. He must know that the employers have treated every plea which as been made to them with contempt, for they knew that the miners were not able to contest another struggle for some time. They have refused to re-employ those they thought undesirable, and refused to make the men’s wages up to the minimum when asked by the workers. There seems to be but one object throughout the whole of his speech, that is to make it appear that the so-called agreement is working out favourably to the miners, but these know that, in the words of Hodges, “the British famine has begun,” for hundreds of thousands have felt its worst effects during the months after the “settlement.”

After some platitudes on the “great boon and blessing of the seven-hour day” (a boon and blessing which has not injured the coal owners, in so far as output is maintained). Smith urges the miners to greater efforts.

“It is now known that providing we had the trade we could, with proper internal organisation and a more extensive use of scientific methods, not only maintain the pre-war output per man, but increase the aggregate output produced in 1913.”

Here we find him playing the role of all “leaders,” assuring the capitalists that they will get the workers to produce more so that the British capitalists will be able, more effectually, to compete in the scramble for trade. Their most formidable competitor, America, is now engaged in capturing the coal markets of the world. Dr. H. M. Payne, in the Colliery Guardian, December 2nd, 1921, stated that the productive capacity of the coal miners of the United States was 700,000,000 tons per year, and the normal consumption 500,000,000 tons per year; thus a well regulated market would provide an outlet for a surplus of 200,000,000. The Colliery Guardian, in reporting Dr. Payne’s address, says: “He spoke of a remarkable analogy between the position here and in America regarding railway rates and other factors,” and continuing : “They must above all concentrate on the labour factor both on the railways and in the mines.” The American capitalists are concentrating on the “labour factor,” as can be seen by the struggle now taking place between the miners and their employers; the latter with the help of the prototypes of Smith and Hodges will soon be in an even better position than before to compete for trade, for the intention is to bring lower still the cost of production of coal.

The Socialist is continually pointing out to the working class that the interests their leaders serve when they tell us to produce more are the capitalists interests, whether advocated in ignorance or with full knowledge of the effect does not matter, for as a rule the more the workers produce the sooner are they unemployed.

Apparently Smith is ignorant of this, but it is very difficult to believe that is the case, since he. tells us : “The American miner has never been fully employed ; even last year they had to play 139 days out of a possible 308, owing to the output being in excess of the demand.”

Fellow miners, it can be seen that greater output is not for your benefit, and is not your problem, for in America the miners produce a surplus which is nearly as much as the total amount of coal produced in this country, and yet are out of work 139 days in the year.

More than 100,000 miners are unemployed in England. “A more extensive use of scientific methods” will increase their numbers, and those employed will be worn out more quickly, all in order that our masters may reap trade and profits.

Is it not time you looked into the condition under which you live? Only when you do so, will you be on the way towards understanding your present function in society, and the outcome of such knowledge will be a revolutionary attitude towards your exploiters and their system. You will no longer look to leaders; it will be clear that your interests and the capitalist’s can never be reconciled.

Under capitalism every improvement in the methods of production tends to worsen the workers conditions ; the tools producing wealth in abundance become a menace and a terror to them.

Within capitalism there is no remedy. When the workers understand the position they will capture the political machine and use it as an agent of their emancipation, and make all the means whereby society has to live the property of the whole of society.

The machines that to-day are a menace to the happiness of countless millions will then be the means by which all shall attain leisure and happiness.

J. M. D.

(Socialist Standard, October 1922)

Leave a Reply