Editorial: The Labour Party Betrays The Unemployed
None of the three parties, Liberal, Labour, Conservative, has solved or can solve the problem of unemployment. All three stand for capitalism, with only minor disagreements on policy and administration, and unemployment cannot be abolished while capitalism remains. But in addition to making promises which they could not fulfil, each has also promised to make the condition of the unemployed ‘‘tolerable.” This they could do, and have all failed to do. The Labour Party was, and is, particularly forward in parading its sympathy with the innocent victims of capitalism, and in the present House of Commons some Labour M.P.’s have attacked a new regulation which will deny unemployment pay to many who have been out of work the longest. To their protests on this, as on nearly every other matter, the Conservatives are able to reply by pointing out that they are only continuing the policy of the Labour Party when it was in office. As Ellen Wilkinson remarks (“Lansbury’s Labour Weekly,” Feb. 28, 1925):—
It is, of course, distinctly aggravating for the female Labour Member to be referred to the actions of her own Government last year as a justification for anything that she objects to the Conservatives doing.
But, aggravating or not, it happens to be true.
Thus Brailsford, in the “New Leader” (March 13th), says of the new Circular:—
Even before this tightening process began, 120,000 persons were deprived of benefit since August. last year, and to this total about 30,000 will now be added.
The Labour Party, through whose action the dole has been stopped from 120,000 persons, cannot very well throw stones at their successors, who have not yet reached a quarter of that total.
Mr. George Lansbury contributed, among others, to the unemployment debates (Hansard, March 9th, 1925). His proposal was to give every young man between 18 and 25 the choice between starvation and working on the land. If they refused to work at a “fair wage,” he would not let them have a farthing. At present agricultural wages are, many of them, in the neighbourhood of 30s. for a man of 21, with lower rates for those below that age. Two years ago, when Mr. J. R. MacDonald “settled” a strike of Norfolk land workers, he obtained for them a “fair wage” of 25s. Mr. Lansbury is apparently satisfied that a man ought to be allowed to starve who refuses exhausting work for long hours on the land, work, too, for which most of the unemployed are, quite unfitted both by training and through semi-starvation if they have been long out of work. Yet with the Communists and other so-called “left-wingers” Lansbury passes as a Socialist.
But the proposal is foolish as well as being anti-working-class. There are already land workers unemployed. If, therefore, more agricultural produce is to be grown and thrown on the market, prices will fall and still more land will go out of cultivation, and men at present working will lose their jobs. A possible alternative is that the produce be used to maintain the unemployed instead of being sold. This, however, immediately raises the question of cost. As it happens, the capitalist class have so far been of the opinion, and probably correctly, that the system of doles and relief is the cheapest possible one for them.
The unemployed have to he kept from sheer starvation, and the capitalists have to foot the bill. They may pay a man 18s. to do nothing, or set him to work on the land, but if they do the latter it costs them much more than 18s. A man working hard eats more, wears out more clothes, and must have better clothes and boots, as well as tools, machinery, etc. Rent would need to be paid and, in short, it is fairly certain that the dole is cheaper and that the capitalists do know more about this aspect of capitalism than do the Labour amateurs who are so anxious to administer the system for them. This is but one of the many brilliant futilities offered by the Labour Party to solve what is within capitalism insoluble.