We hear doleful tales of the ruin coming when workers protest against wage cuts. The “poverty” of our masters in these times of trouble is gloomily dilated upon. “Somebody,” however, is not doing badly, as witness the following quotation from the Daily News (18/10/22) :—
“300 PER CENT. DIVIDEND.
PLAN FOR FIVE-FOLD INCREASE IN
VACUUM OIL STOCK.
New York, Tuesday.
The directors of the Vacuum Oil Company, one of the Standard Oil group, have voted to increase the company’s stock from 15,000,000 dollars to 75,000,000 dollars.
The shareholders will be asked at a meeting on December 2nd to approve the plan.
The proposal is the result of the declaration of a dividend of 300 per cent.“—Reuter.
300 per cent. ! That means to say that the shareholders have received their money back three times over, and still have the original amount invested in the company. Oil is booming!
In their issue for May 31st, 1921, the Daily News published an article entitled “World Rivalry for Oil,” by their New York correspondent. Some of the figures in that article are somewhat startling. For example, he states :—
“In 1914-15 the profits of the Mexican Eagle Oil Company were 5,900,000 dollars. In 1919-20 they had risen to 59,000,000 dollars, an increase of 1,000 per cent. In 1914 the Burmah Oil Company had a profit of £971.278. Five years later that profit was £2,849,000.
In eight years the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey increased its earnings from 35 millions dollars to 101 millions, and in 1918 paid 44 millions in income tax.“
Such are the people who complain that “industry” will not bear the burden of present wages!
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While the unemployed are demanding work, the scientists, at the behest of the capitalists, are pursuing exhaustive enquiries and experiments to reduce work as much as possible. To put the point an other way, the application of science to industry is being speeded up with a view to increasing the amount of wealth a worker can produce without using up more energy. We have frequently given evidence in these columns of the increasing use of machinery; the providing of better surroundings— such as those existing at Port Sunlight and similar places; the increase in volume and simplification of effort by means of mass production; the reduction in the number of operations an individual worker performs; the introduction in certain factories of frequent rest periods; and the introduction of music into others ; and hosts of other things. The latest idea, however, is set forth in the Daily News (18/10/22) in an article dealing with the experiments being carried on by the Department of Applied Physiology at the Medical Research Institute, Hampstead. From this article we learn that :—
“Part of the work of this Research Institute consists of measuring the amount of effort which a man expends under certain conditions of labour.“
The article then goes on to describe an experiment that took place. A man got on to a stationary bicycle wearing a mask with two valves. He cycled for five minutes, and the result of his effort is estimated accurately by delicately balanced instruments attached to the bicycle, and also certain apparatus attached to the mask.
The article then goes on as follows :—
“By these measurements we can find out,” said Professor Hill, “how much fuel has been burnt by the human furnace, and how much energy has been expended during those five minutes’ work.”
The Department has converted a disused corridor into a wind tunnel. A bracing wind is generated by a huge fan at one end of the tunnel, and in this breezy atmosphere the spell of work on the bicycle-ergometer is repeated.
It is found that in these conditions the work is performed with far greater ease and freedom from fatigue than in the air of an ordinary room.“
With the use of a little imagination, we can picture the wage worker of the future turning up at the factory gate to be “weighed in,” his energy measured, put into room with a whirlwind, and tearing through the work like a tornado ! Not much chance of “dodging’ the foreman“ then ! His capacity and his performance will be measured with delicate instruments !
The point in the business is that, whereas the capitalists of all countries try to convince us that unemployment is due to falling markets, they are all employing the methods that must of necessity increase the relative volume of the wealth produced, and at the same time choke the markets. Thus the forces of capitalism inevitably tend to increase unemployment.
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Lloyd George defined his political outlook in a speech he made at the opening of the new offices of the Port of London Authority on Tower Hill. The treasure is worth preserving. He said :—
“I am very pleased to see something which represents the spirit of compromise characteristic of our people—something which represents no principle of any sort or kind, but is an outrage on every principle you can lay down. And yet it works. “—Daily News, 18/10/22.
Such is the outlook of the man who has proved himself to be, in many ways, an admirable tool to carry out the wishes of the master class. Ambitious, unscrupulous and deceitful, he has a glib tongue that could sway crowds, and flattery and cajolery that could turn the heads of “Labour leaders” and hoodwink workers’ deputations. He steered the helm of State successfully for a time on behalf of those whose interests he served. Why did his “lack of principle ” work ? Because at the back of compromise, and apparent lack of principle there was, after all, a principle that governed his actions. That principle was the advancement of the interests of the capitalist class.
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The Communist for 21st October, 1922, contains the election policy of the Communist Party for the Local Government Elections. An examination of this document reveals the value of this wild and woolly gang of compromisers.
The final solution of the workers’ troubles, they contend, can only be arrived at by “the workers taking over control of the affairs of the community through their own machinery of government — the Soviets”. But in the meantime (blessed word !) there are many points on which there is agreement and on which all could combine; and it considers it “its duty to the working class … to join in with the rest in making the. attempt to see what can be done with the existing forms of local government.” This is very interesting— and so like the conciliatory spirit pervading the recent religious conferences on unity !
Now let us examine some of the matters upon which there can be general agreement.
These are some items from the programme :—
“2.—The absorption of the excess workers in each locality, as far as possible, by the extension of useful public enterprise.“
What is “useful public enterprise?” Obviously doing work that, in general, would otherwise be done by private enterprise. In other words, throwing out of work the workers in one direction to employ less of them in another—because, as a rule, the work of a public body takes the place of the work of several private bodies, eliminating overlapping and waste. Over lapping and waste usually mean more work for workers. What a truly brilliant method of absorbing excess workers ? In any case why “useful public enterprise?” What does it matter to the starving unemployed whether the work is useful or useless, so long as it enables them to get bread ? Digging holes and filling them up again will cost the capitalist some of his wealth, but will not hurt the workers The Communist Party is evidently concerned about assisting the capitalist to “save the rates.” This is borne out by the following : —
“20.—Pooling of rates in all populous centres to avoid distinction between rich and poor areas. “
The Communist Party is concerned about the rates—a matter which we have frequently demonstrated affects the capitalist class alone.
Item 3 demands nationalisation of land— that old bogey and well-worn labour shibboleth. It is an excellent means of increasing unemployment and assisting the capitalists. The Communists are really very much concerned about the interests of the capitalists.
There are many other fat-headed items in the programme, but I had better finish up, or the Editorial Committee will be hitting me over the head for using up too many of the valuable columns in this paper.
(Socialist Standard¸ November 1922)