1920s >> 1922 >> no-220-december-1922

Sunlight.

You know, fellow-workers, that we live in a democratic age. The great ones of the earth walk without ceremony amongst men. You have perhaps heard, and in part believed, how the Prince of Wales at the Royal Garden Party did not wear, but merely carried his gloves ; how the Queen permitted two amateurs to take her photograph, and Prince George laughed at a Punch and Judy show. It may be, too, that at your annual beano you have rubbed shoulders with that aristocracy of wealth which, except at these hallowed seasons, you apprehend but dimly as the beneficent power that feeds, clothes, and shelters you —sometimes; have been privileged to return a respectful answer to a man-to-man query, and to cheer when the gentry departed in its car. But with all this I wonder if you quite realise how democratic we have grown? Do you know that several thousands of our brothers in toil, by the scheme of co-partnership which operates at Port Sunlight, are knit with both the plutocracy and the royal family—united in the exalted purpose of serving human need and a pressing need at that—soap! Well, they are.

“The Marquis of Carisbrooke” (the Star told us one evening), “eldest son of Princess Beatrice and cousin to the King, has joined the Board of Lever Brothers, Limited. . . It is not generally known that many members of the Royal Family have very substantial holdings in Lever Brothers.” Now then !

See what advantage there is in being born in the era of capitalism. Formerly you might as well have sought admission to the circle of seraphim as to the royal circle. There are records of such things, of course, but the terms were much harder: wounds, hunger, and more than a sporting chance of death. You remember Henry the Fifth’s words to his army :

“For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition.”

But nowadays, bless you, you have only to get a job at Port Sunlight, and you automatically become a partaker in glory, although, as our friend Uriah would say, “only a very ‘umble one.”

Oh, the ennobled ones appreciate the honour ! Indeed yes ; and some other things even more than the honour. For example, there was an enthusiastic meeting in July of the ‘umble partners of Lever Bros., to hear presented by Lord Leverhulme a new scheme of benefits intended to be introduced on October 1st. The arrangement, briefly, provides half-pay when there is no work, the same during four weeks of sickness or longer at the discretion of the company, and a free life insurance. And the Star, reporting, and rubbing its hands over the excellence of the scheme, declared: “Labour and capital together can produce the means for these and greater benefits if we can once eliminate the theory that they are antagonistic. Pulling together they could make the whole world one huge Port Sunlight.”

Be sure they could ! One slight alteration will render the Star quite correct. For “eliminate the theory” you must read “disguise the fact”; for the theory of the class-war has a way of realising itself in everyday experience. With this reservation, its truth is evident. Given the present great and potential greater productivity of labour; if the capitalist will only be a little patient for his dividends, and the worker will overcome his foolish prejudice against going on half-rations during sickness and slack trade, the thing is done. You can have a docile and industrious proletariat, a rich and unharassed master-class, an absence of trade disputes, a smoothly, running industrial machine; in short, an ideal capitalist world—a huge Port Sunlight.

And if that is what you want, fellow-workers, well and good. But—I wonder just why you should select for yourselves a life of labour and for your co-partners a life of ease: for yourselves a modest level of comfort and culture, for them the utmost of luxury: for you the cheap cap and the ready-made suit, for them the silk hat and the coronet. In what does Leverhulme or Carisbrooke differ from you? They look much like you; sleeker, perhaps, but not so handsome as many a workman at Port Sunlight. Can they be more brainy than the men who planned the factories and designed the plant? Put them down in the wilderness : could they any better than you preserve and provide for themselves? Only by virtue of one advantage do they enjoy the best of what the partnership produces: they are the owners of the factories, of the machines, of the product. Such acollaboration resembles that of the fox and the wolf. You recall the wolf’s daily chant? “Red Fox, get me something to eat, or I will eat you.” But the fox had an eye to his own interest. When the opportunity came he took it—and good-bye wolf; whereas Lord Leverhulme’s scheme, the Evening Standard tells us, was “enthusiastically adopted.” Ah, but the wolf was less wise than Leverhulme. Instead of “Get me something to eat or I will eat you,” he should have said: “Brother fox, little partner, to provide you with meals is the first aim of our enterprise. I am the director of it. Feed me well, therefore, that I may the better discharge my beneficent mission.” He might then have been able, like Leverhulme, to say: “I have always had the good fortune to be supported.”

Here the prince of soap, candles, margarine, fish, and several other things, may certainly congratulate himself: for without: the support of the employees of his many companies, he would stand no higher than they stand themselves. Their support it is that has lifted him above them, placed him in luxury and increased his power. “I was supported,” he tells us, “by a sweet lady who consented to be my wife . . . all through her life she supported me. I am now supported by my son and my colleagues on the board.”

Excellent, my lord: and you, your amiable wife, your son, and your colleagues (royalty included), have all been supported by whom? . . . The pillars of the glittering edifice are they from whose profitable labour your fortunes are drawn. Fifty years ago you were able to gather your father’s whole staff in the room above his grocery shop in Bolton. From that gathering to this at Port Sunlight in July last, your career is a business romance ; and what has been your rôle in it all ? You have been the bringer together of human labour power and means of production: you have also been the appropriator of the product. To your employees you have allotted, first, the cost of their keep and reproduction, that you may have a plentiful supply of workers always at call; second, a fraction of your profits, that they may have an interest in keeping them high; and now such provisions as, making away to some extent with the insecurity of their modest livelihood, shall further bind them to you in content and loyalty. The first for your own sake you must do; for the two last the resulting high level of production amply recompenses you. In this you are the type of the far-seeing capitalist.

In so far as you have personally directed’ your concerns, you have done useful work, you have produced value: but you will not pretend that your fortune represents the value of your services alone. It has been built by the unpaid labour of those whom you employ. The worker may not blame you. So long as we leave the organisation of production in private hands, we can look for no other kind of co-partnership. But we are slowly learning that the “captain of industry” can do nothing which we cannot do better ourselves. A little while now, and “Sceptre and crown will tumble down,” and many an immaculate “topper” with them. When that day comes, my lord, directive genius will be used in the service of the people, and rewarded by the people, not allowed as yours is to-day, to reward itself. Make the most of your time !

A.

(Socialist Standard, December 1922)

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