1920s >> 1927 >> no-278-october-1927

Capitalism in the Post Office

The Industrial Court has issued its long-awaited award on the wages of post office workers. The Unions asked for considerable increases, and the Postmaster-General opposed this claim with a demand for a general decrease for new entrants. The award of the Court gives certain small increases at the maxima of the scales applicable to certain grades, introduces decreases in several grades at ages about 18 and 19, and leaves other grades unchanged. As the increases awarded are at the maxima, most of the staff will not be affected immediately. In some grades, telephonists, for instance, most of the women will have left the service before they reach the age at which the raised maximum becomes applicable. The nett addition to the wages bill of the Post Office will be probably between £400,000 and £500,000 (including cost of living bonus), in a “full year” (i.e., when the new maximum rates are being paid to the normal proportion of the staff).

Spread over some 150,000 men and women, this amounts to an average of something under 2s. a week. What is of particular interest to us, as opponents of nationalisation, is the frank admission of the Court that wages in State services are based on conditions in outside industry.

“. . the broad principle which should be followed in determining the rates of wages of Post Office Servants, is that of the maintenance of a fair relativity as between their wages and those in outside industries as a whole.”—(Decision of Industrial Court No. 1325, July, 1927, p. 11.)

Here we have the kernel of the case against nationalisation from the workers’ point of view. The wages and conditions of State employees are governed by the conditions of the labour market in general. They, like other workers, live by the sale of their labour power. They are paid, not the value of their work, but the cost of maintaining them and their families as efficient wealth producers. They are exploited just as other wage earners are. During the past 14 years the Post Office has made a profit of’nearly £52,000,000, a direct contribution to the employing class in that the taxation burden which they alone ultimately bear has been reduced by this amount over the period. To nationalise all services would merely reduce all workers to the condition of being still further limited in their power to struggle for better conditions, and would not affect the amount of the income received by the employing class. As the workers find, to their cost, it is harder to fight the State than it is to fight private employers. So hard is it that no civil service union even dare contemplate strikes as part of its programme.

Nationalisation is merely the strengthening and concentration of Capitalism. The interests of all workers, civil servants and non-civil servants, will be served by unqualified opposition to nationalisation as to other forms of Capitalism. Socialism alone is the remedy for our class.


(Socialist Standard, October 1927)

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