“A Living Wage.” I.L.P. Moonshine
Now and again our opponents forget themselves and tell the truth, but they do not point out the harm that has been done by their previous deviations from the truth.
The Independent Labour Party has kept the workers’ attention fixed upon questions of Taxation, Credit Banks, Nationalisation, and a thousand and one other things in which the remedies proposed would bring no appreciable improvement in the general position of the workers.
In the course of the Editorial Article (New Leader, 17/4/25) dealing with the I.L.P. Conference, the editor writes :
“On this broad problem we propose to concentrate the mind and will of the Labour movement. Men, if they are to fight in a solid phalanx, must fix their thoughts on a simple issue. You cannot rally the masses for a banking policy or an elaborate scheme of industrial re-organisation. You can rally them to the simple demand for a living wage.”
The writer goes on to state that he knows the demand is an impossible one but that the move is a strategical one “to require every industry which fails to pay wages on this basis to submit to reorganisation and control.”
Let us first of all take note of the proposed change in the I.L.P. policy. It, also, has fallen a victim to the “United Front” and “Strategy” fevers. Previously, as mentioned above, the traditional policy of the I.L.P. has been the backing of all kinds of schemes as part of the “step by step progress to Socialism “; now it is waking up to the fact that a simple single issue is better than an assortment of complex issues. But what an issue has been chosen ! A Living Wage ! The idea is almost a century old and the I.L.P. has not got beyond it yet. What is the objection to “Socialism” as the single simple issue? Surely that would be an issue worth fighting on. Why, then, is it not proposed? The answer is simple. The I.L.P.’s idea of “Socialism” is a vast and complicated system of state ownership, in which credit banks, money, and other trading impedimenta would flourish. The members of the I.L.P. are too hide-bound by their own “step by step” ideas to grasp what Socialism really signifies—wealth produced, distributed, and enjoyed communally, without the intervention of money, credit instruments or any of the other rubbish essential to a trading world.
The editor of the New Leader would have people believe that the reorganisation of industries to guarantee a living wage to the workers in such industries would be a relatively simple matter. But would it? First of all there would be committees and conferences to define a living wage; after which there would be interminable discussions as to what was a living wage in a particular industry and in a particular district, and so on. The net result of which would be the provision of fat jobs for unemployed labour leaders like Hodges and opportunities for “statesmanlike” speeches from decoy ducks like Thomas.
Surely the workers have had enough of “controlled industries” during the last ten years or so to knock all such balderdash out of their heads for ever. But then the I.L.P., the Labour Party, and similar organisations do so love committees and conferences with the masters—it is such a nice gentlemanly-way of proceeding, it develops social intercourse and breaks down class barriers between masters and leaders, and, above all, there is no immediate fear of anything really serious happening to disturb the peaceful, placid step by step progress down the incline to the grave of all hopes.
However, the final and sufficient answer to all who propose such remedies is that capitalism itself nullifies whatever advantages might accrue by worsening the general condition of the workers. It is not suggested that all who live should have a living wage, but that the workers should have a living wage; in other words that those in employment should have a living wage. Let us see how the business would work out assuming that the point were conceded.
First of all we take it that, broadly-speaking, a living wage means a wage on which people could live with a certain amount of comfort: pay the average rent demanded, get a sufficiency of nourishing food, have the small luxuries necessary to make life worth living, be able to give their children the necessary education and leisure, and be able to take an annual holiday to freshen and rebuild a jaded physique.
Once such a wage was conceded the employers would immediately receive an extra impetus to look around for ways and means to lower production costs. Machinery that low wages now render unnecessary would be introduced, fresh machinery invented, waste as far as possible eliminated, industries amalgamated to cut out waste connected with competition. The result of this process (a process that is always going on but receives an extra push now and again) would be a reduction in the numbers of workers employed and an increase in the already huge quantity of unemployed. A small group of workers would be more comfortable at the expense of greater misery for the mass.
In other words attempts at bettering the conditions of the workers, while retaining the wage system, act, as a rule, as incentives to the capitalists to lower production costs by methods that worsen the general conditions of the workers. The only, and the simple, solution is the introduction of Socialism.