There has been some talk recently about compulsory arbitration in the settlement of industrial disputes. Let us examine what is behind the idea.
It should be remembered that the general practice employed in the past has been the so-called “fight to a finish” method: we refer to the “strike” or “lock-out,” the armed forces being kept in readiness, as a government would say, “to maintain law and order” : this, so far as the national life is concerned.
In the international arena of world politics, it is to be noticed that the governments of most of the large States are beginning to realise that there lurk grave dangers in the use of force in the settlement of threir differences. Consequently the League of Nations made its modest bow to a war-weary world a few years ago. Behind the League of Nations is said to be the principle of “compulsory arbitration.” It is the first feeble flicker in the minds of the more astute capitalists of the need for an alternative to “blood and iron.”
Hot on the heels of the League of Nations comes the “Arbitrate First League,” the formation of which was recently reported by the “Daily Herald.”
Naturally enough J. Ramsay MacDonald, political tourist and odd-job man for the capitalist class, gives it his blessing. He hails it as the greatest discovery of the age —next to himself—and the “Red Letter.”
This development in the international relationships of the ruling class has its reflection in the domestic life of the nation. We refer to the recent coal-mining dispute in this country. It will be remembered that a stoppage was averted at the eleventh hour by the intervention of the Government by the granting of a subsidy.
While, therefore, the degree of economic development of the foremost nations of the world permitted, up to within recent years, “a fight to a finish” as between employers and employed (the former generally being the victors and necessarily so by virtue of the political power enjoyed, and ironically enough, bestowed upon them by the workers), the growing interdependence of what are known as “key industries,” raises objection to such methods to-day. Another important factor has also to be considered, i.e., competition for the world’s markets. This is now so keen (owing to the entry of the colonial dependencies, Canada, Australasia, India and again Japan, the most formidable rival in the East, to the age-long supremacy of the Western world) that time lost through “strikes” and “lock-outs” means loss or cancellation of orders and contracts.
Compulsory arbitration in consequence, therefore, may well become the new guiding star—for the ruling class—for the future safeguarding of their economic aspirations.
The sufferings endured in the past by the hungry strikers, the murder of their defenceless dependents, the horrors of infantile mortality, the wholesale butchery of countless millions, occasioned in the last great war, pale into insignificance compared with the one all-absorbing passion of the capitalists, i.e., to maintain their political supremacy and their position of affluence and idleness which this implies. For this all-important reason the workers are being called upon to forget the past, i.e., Germany’s “war guilt.” Therefore, Germany comes into the sacred circle of the League of Nations. The “horrible hun” we were called upon to hate and revile is now to be looked upon as a repentant sinner. The oscillations of world trade, influenced largely by the war, demand new undertakings and agreements between the capitalist highwaymen; or, to use the terminology of the professors, “maintain balance of power.” The League of Nations represents the machinery which they hope will achieve this desirable end.
THE WORKERS’ VIEW-POINT.
Although the majority of the States of the Western world depend upon a very wide and universal suffrage, nevertheless the freedom of any organised section of the workers to sell their services exists only in name. The workers may look forward with cold comfort, therefore, when they are informed by an all-wise and beneficent Arbitration Court, that as from such and such a date they will be permitted to suffer a reduction in their standard of living under the plea, perhaps, that the Empire’s future welfare demands such a sacrifice.
It must be emphasised here that the workers get what they vote for, that is all. The simple economics of the wages system clearly reveal that the workers can only hope, at the best, to receive in wages what it costs to maintain them in a condition to continue working and replace their type. Carrots and labour power are commodities ; the price at which they are sold is determined by the same economic law, i.e., the cost of production, which, of course, fluctuates with the operation of supply and demand.
CAPITALISTS ON THE DEFENSIVE.
Compulsory arbitration, then, if and when it becomes the rule for regulating national and international differences, will simply stand revealed as the great gun of the ruling class.
“But why do we give the arbitrators political power?” asks one, a little less dull-witted than the rest.
The answer is, that the working class fail, as yet, to recognise that their interests, as a class, are diametrically opposed to those who govern or arbitrate for them. That in a class-divided society, Arbitration Courts will be influenced, ultimately, by the economic necessities of the ruling class.
The Socialist seeks to abolish class-divided society. To achieve this, the revolutionary object of the workers must be Socialism.
O. C. I.
(Socialist Standard, February 1926)