I find I have been brought into dubious notoriety through the columns of tTHE SOCIALIST STANDRD. We read, under the sub-title of “Simplicity” : “A Mr. Easton took up the point, and was apparently so staggered at the suggested duplicity of his ‘honourable leader,’ wrote Macdonald.”
Well, I am just “a Mr. Easton,” an ordinary comrade in the ranks of the ONE Socialist Party, which kept its international faith during the Great War when others beat the big drum and made munitions in their “simplicity.”
I was not “staggered” at the charge of duplicity levelled against a comrade of mine; for we are past being “staggered” at West Green Corner, Tottenham, by any charges made by the orators of the S.P.G.B.
The SIMPLICITY is seen by quoting Frank Rose, who voted against a Socialist resolution in the House of Commons which my comrade, Ramsay Macdonald, supported.
Knowing Macdonald’s faithful career, and his persistent refusal of honours, wealth, and position, so that he could fight for the workers, I naturally endeavoured to defend him. I have done so to the consternation of a noisy group of S.P.G.-ers at West Green Corner during this summer’s I.L.P. Campaign.
I knew his consistent attitude on Education, and I was certain that these charges were unfounded. I asked my comrade to meet the charge “that he backed Sir J. Brunner’s Bill to INCREASE child slavery.”
He asked me to accept his attitude on education and child labour as proof of his statement, “that whatever Bill he backed was to protect children from the capitalist and give to the children a BETTER CHANCE of education.”
Then, to my surprise, those two letters were published without permission in THE SOCIALIST STANDARD , and certain quotations were printed from the Bill of 17 years ago.
When I saw that the names of genuine educationalists like my friend the late Sir George White, Mr. Yoxall, and Mr. Crooks (apart from Macdonald) were behind the Bill, I felt certain that it was not a retrograde step.
When I read the clauses I at once saw that this Bill of 1906 was a noble attempt to kill for ever the damnable curse of half-time.
All thinkers know the baneful effect of half-time working; yet the workers of the North stood out to exploit their own children in the mills. So Macdonald, White, and other educationalists endeavoured to make one step forward in the emancipation of the child life of this country. No one imagines that this was a Socialist measure; but every fresh opportunity given for the mental development of our children is a help towards Social Democracy.
Suffice to state that all the child exploiters were against the Bill.
The little capitalists who found half-time work much cheaper were against the Bill.
The millowners and, alas! the mill-workers were against the Bill.
In the realm of practical politics you cannot legislate far in advance of the people.
Macdonald and myself stand by the fine ideals of the I.L.P. quoted on page 28 of your last issue :—
‘The raising of the age of child labour with a view to its ultimate extinction.”
What, then, we desire to know is : Was this Bill of 190C a step forward? Did it attempt to clear the road for the children? Was it a move up or down?
Let us see the provisions.
In 1906 school-leaving age governed by provisions of “Robson’s Act” of 1899, which laid down a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 14, with exceptions for agriculture and half-time.
With regard to agricultural children, they allowed to work half-time after the age of 11, provided :—
(1) They had attained the standard fixed for partial exemption ;
(2) That they attended school half-time 13.
The 1906 Bill, if passed, would have improved the position in the following ways : —
1) The minimum age for total exemption would have become 13 instead of 12.
2) That exemption at the age of 13 was conditional of the attendance of children so exempted at continuation schools for three evenings per week until 16.
3) That as regards agriculture the minimum exemption age was raised from 11 to 12, though after this age continuation school attendance two nights per week was substituted for half-time school attendance.
The improvement would have been more than appears from the mere provisions of :he Bill, for according to Mr. A. J. Mundella, the authority on Education Law, the half-time provisions of “Robson’s Act ” never worked. Therefore, if the 1906 Bill had been passed, the agricultural child would have got full-time education till 12, instead of 11, continuation schools till 16, instead of an illusory half-time education till 13.
Here, then, we see that this was a great attempt. Macdonald struck at the half-time system. For that he is called a “hypocrite.” Macdonald’s case is completely justified in the splendid endeavour of 17 years ago.
The S.P.G.B. contains some very sincere and enthusiastic comrades, but they have a very bad example set by their leaders, who waste their time in fighting their own comrades when they should come into our ranks and face the common enemy.
Men, like myself, of the rank and file, who have sacrificed for Socialism for over twenty years, and preached it in the days when it was dangerous, are called “fakers” by the Plymouth Brethren of the Socialist Movement.
They malign every noble endeavour, and suggest the worst motives for every action. They alone have the Truth. They alone have the key of Salvation.
I have often given my best for the cause of Socialism from the platform of the I.L.P. I have seen the workers coming towards the Light, and I have seen them tripped by the wreckers of the S.P.G.B., and converts have been lost for Socialism.
This sort of thing makes me sad.
“A. Mr. Easton.”
(The above letter arrived too late for insertion in November “S.S.” Ed. Com.).
I will deal with the central points at issue first: the trimmings can be left until afterwards.
The “Factory and Workshops Act” of 1901 laid it down that no child might be employed full time in factories or workshops, either in such factories and workshops, or on work that was given out to be done at home. This Act defined a child as follows :—
“The expression ‘child’ means a person who is under the age of fourteen years and who has not, being of the age of thirteen years, obtained the certificate of proficiency or attendance at school mentioned in Part III. of the Act.”-Sect. 156, p. 99.
When a child became a “young person,” then such a person could be employed as a full-timer. A “young person ” is defined as follows :—
“When a child of the age of thirteen years has obtained from a person authorised by the Board of Education a certificate of having attained such standard of proficiency in reading, writing and arithmetic, or such standard of previous due attendance at a certified efficient school as is mentioned in this section, that child shall be deemed to be a young person for the purposes of this Act.”—Sect. 71, p. 52.
The total exemption age, therefore, was fourteen, and under this age (that is, thirteen or over) children could not be employed as full-timers in factories or workshops, except under special circumstances—that they had obtained an educational certificate of proficiency.
Under the Bill Macdonald backed, all children were allowed total exemption from school at thirteen, providing’ they were forced to attend evening continuation classes.
By fixing thirteen in place of fourteen as the age at which children in general might be employed in factories and workshops, Macdonald proposed handing them over to the capitalist to be fully exploited at an earlier age than formerly.
The 1899 Act was an amendment to the “Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act” of 1893. This amending Act provided :—
“that the local authority for any district may, by byelaw for any parish within their district, fix thirteen years as the minimum age for exemption from school attendance in the case of children employed in agriculture.”
The Bill Macdonald backed fixed twelve as the minimum age for total exemption of children employed in agriculture. Here again, Macdonald proposed handing children over to the capitalist for full-time exploitation at an earlier age than formerly.
Mr. Easton is eloquent on the subject of the half-timers. He states that he has read the clauses of the Brunner Bill, and “at once saw this Bill of 1906 was a noble attempt to kill forever the damnable curse of half-time.” Mr. Easton has wonderful sight. There is not a single statement, in the Bill under Review, that deals with half-timers except by converting them into full-timers ! If the Brunner Bill had been passed, children could still have been employed half-time in agriculture after the age of eleven. There is nothing whatever in the Bill against such procedure.
Macdonald did not strike at the evil of the half-time system.
The position remains exactly as we stated it in the October “S.S.” The Brunner Bill (backed by Macdonald) would have increased child slavery. For the provisions of the Bill, and a consideration of the effect of driving children to evening classes after a day’s work, I refer readers to that issue.
Mr. Easton states that under the 1899 Act agricultural children were allowed to work half-time after the age of 11, and that the Brunner Bill raised the exemption age from 11 to 12.
Here are the facts.
The “Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act,” 1893, made the following regulation :—
” 1. The age at which a child may, in pursuance of any byelaw made under the Elementary-Education Acts, 1870 to 1891, obtain total or partial exemption from the obligation to attend school on obtaining a certificate as to the standard of examination which he has reached, shall be raised to eleven, and every such byelaw, so far as it provides for such exemption, shall be construed and have effect as if a “reference to eleven years of age were substituted therein for a reference to a lower age, and in section seventy-four of the Elementary Education Act, 1870, eleven shall be substituted for ten.”
The 1899 Act amended this section, raising the age of partial exemption to twelve :
“I. On and after the first day of January, one thousand nine hundred, the Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act, 1893, shall have effect as if ‘twelve’ were substituted therein for ‘eleven.’ ”
The ages at which children might be partially and fully employed and the limitations of such employment are covered by the following Acts along with those already mentioned :—
Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, 1901;
Employment of Children Act, 1903.
As to the statement about the provisions of an Act not working : such an argument would have applied with equal force to the provisions of the Brunner Bill. Where capitalists are hindered by the provisions of an Act they usually find means of getting round such provisions.
The anti-working-class actions of Crooks and other backers of the Brunner Bill have been frequently dealt with in these columns. The recruiting activities of members of the I.L. P. (including Macdonald) during the late war have also been frequently dealt with in these columns. On such points there is ample information, for those who desire it, in our Party Manifesto.
The attitude of the I.L.P. “as a party” during the war is described by the “Labour Year Book,” 1916, as follows:—
“Throughout, the official organ of the party has been highly critical of the diplomacy preceding the war, and has sought to take up the international Socialist attitude without directly demanding the cessation of hostilities.”—p. 347.
Mr. Easton gives us an unsolicited testimonial of himself. I know nothing of him outside the correspondence we have published, and we were assured that he was agreeable to the publication of the letters in question. Whether he has been misled or is crooked, I leave the reader to judge.
(Socialist Standard, December 1923)