1920s >> 1928 >> no-282-february-1928

Industrial Peace: The Capitalist Utopia.

Once again we are being regaled in the Press and from the platform with unctuous rubbish concerning the desirability of “peace” in industry. The overwhelming fascination which the topic appears to possess for capitalist representatives and labour leaders alike only speaks for their mental bankruptcy and the fatal readiness of the workers to be deceived by promises.

Fifteen to twenty years ago Sir Christopher Furness, with his co-partnership scheme, stood in the limelight of publicity much as Sir Alfred Mond does at the present day. The only novel feature of the situation is the fact that there is now in existence a body which is supposed to stand for the interests of the bulk of the trade unionists in the country, i.e., the General Council of the Trade Union Congress. The contempt which this body has for its supporters, and its utter disregard for their interests, was forcibly illustrated less than two years ago by its conduct of the so-called General Strike. Thanks to the treachery of this body, hundreds of thousands of the workers were victimised for their actions in response to their “leaders'” orders, without any serious attempt having been made to support the miners.

No wonder, then, that these champions of ignominious defeat and surrender, swollen-headed with all the self-importance of ignorance, should fall rapturously into the outspread arms of their class foes. What else can they do? They have neglected the great essential of working-class education, i.e., Socialist propaganda; and have thus climbed to office by exploiting the support of followers who lack the understanding necessary to the prosecution of an intelligent and courageous conflict with the exploiting class. They therefore enter into conference like whipped curs, hoping for conciliatory pats on their heads and a few bones to induce them to go quietly to their kennels.

What is to be the outcome of this hobnobbing of Trade Union officials with the representatives of capital? Can the workers expect to gain anything therefrom?

A few ideas in answer to these questions may be gathered from the “Manchester Guardian” supplement of November 30th, 1927, entitled “Industrial Relations.” It consists of a symposium of the views of a number of prominent members of the master class, such as Sir J. Stamp and Sir A. Mond, and notorious Labour “leaders,” such as MacDonald, Henderson, Clynes, Bevin, Citrine, Cramp, etc.

 Sir Alfred Mond having taken the initiative in the recent conference, his views are of considerable interest. Dealing with what is termed the “rationalisation” of industry, he says :

“The growth of larger industrial units does, however, bring immense problems in its train. For instance, if complete economy is to be effected, it may entail the shutting down of obsolete or unprofitable plant, the scrapping of redundant agencies and departments. Obviously, unless there is an immediate expansion of production, temporary unemployment must follow from this.”

Of course, he goes on to lay stress on the word “temporary.” Improved methods mean an increase in trade, we are told, and that in turn means more employment. The workers were told exactly the same tale over a century ago, when machinery was first introduced, but the nightmare of unemployment still haunts an ever-increasing proportion of workers.

It is obvious that, in order to smother the growing discontent of the workers under such conditions, some form of bluff is necessary, so Brunner, Mond & Co. instituted Works Councils, which have since been elaborated with the growth of the combine. This is supposed to secure the representation of the views and interests of the workers ; but another article in the supplement dealing with Works Councils in Germany throws an interesting light on what actually happens under this arrangement.

Theoretically, the Councils are supposed to be able to appeal to the courts to prevent dismissals “on the grounds of victimisation, injustice, or undue hardship,” but in practice, “the Councils cannot protect the employees against dismissal on the ground of trade depression or lack of work.”

Dealing with the question of improved security and higher status (things we hear a lot about nowadays), Sir A. Mond goes on to say,

“By inaugurating a Workers’ Staff Grade … up to 50 per cent. of all workers of over five years’ service will be eligible for election to the Staff, and once promoted they will enjoy rights similar to those enjoyed by the office staffs, including weekly instead of hourly rates of wages and the right to a month’s termination of employment. The healthy rivalry for promotion . . . should mean greater efficiency.”

A typical capitalist dodge to intensify the competition between the workers, and thus wring more out of them.

Then, for the information of the workers, a monthly magazine is to be issued. In Germany, however, things are further advanced.

“The Councils are empowered by the Act to nominate one or two of their members with full voting rights, on to the control boards of all companies, and, in the larger firms, to have submitted to them a balance sheet and profit and loss account for the establishment for which they are elected. The Councils may also demand verbal explanations from the employer as to the significance and composition of any of the items so submitted.

In practice these provisions of the Act have largely remained on paper. Even if the usual education and the experience of the Works Councillors were sufficiently good to enable them to understand the information which they are entitled to receive—they would have derived little benefit owing to the effective methods taken by most employers to prevent the Works Councils from using their rights to obtain any information that might be regarded as confidential. It is notorious that balance sheets are rarely self-explanatory, and it is usually impossible for the members of the Councils to check the accuracy of any additional data supplied.”

The above is an illuminating reply to both Mond and the Trade Union officials who talk large about increased control of industry by the workers.

MacDonald opposes any application of what he calls book logic to capitalism. He criticises any attempt to apply the lessons of history to this notion of industrial peace.

He pays “unqualified tribute” to the railway companies’ conciliatory attitude; and is only worried about the coalfields because some of his political supporters have been boycotted by the managers.

Citrine is all for the unions

“actively participating in a concerted effort to raise industry to its highest efficiency by developing the most scientific methods of production, eliminating waste and harmful restrictions, removing causes of friction and avoidable conflict, and promoting the largest possible output so as to provide a rising standard of life and continuously improving conditions of employment.”

His objection to such systems as “Taylorism” is not the effects of the system, but the fact that they are “automatically introduced without consultation with the workers’ representatives.” He is quite prepared to support the exploitation of labour-power so long as he and his ilk supervise the sale thereof.

The other workers’ (?) “representatives” follow in similar strain. So long as the trade unions officials are recognised and allowed to bold place and honour in the councils of the thieves, they are all in favour of peace. The testimonies of numerous capitalist apologists, statisticians and politicians, that the workers are relatively poorer than ever before, in spite of the accumulated powers of production, highly-developed efficiency, and all the rest of it, is simply ignored. Years ago, Seebohm Rowntree, Sir Charles Booth and others compiled the evidence showing the downward trend of the workers’ conditions of living. Political hacks like Lloyd George and Chamberlain broadcast it to gain votes for their policies of reform.

Yet these alleged leaders of labour, these misleaders, can think of nothing more original as a solution of the evils that afflict the class that carries them on their backs than to support the employers’ cry for “peace” and increased output.

The subject of the industrial conflict is the exact amount of blood, nerve and sinew that shall be sucked dry of energy in order that a small class of idlers may feast and frolic. The cause of the conflict is the fact that the idlers own the means by which alone the blood, nerve and sinew of the workers can be re-energised. Every increase in efficiency in the blood, nerve and sinew, every corresponding increase in its output, only heaps higher the wealth that the idlers waste. The sooner their maws are glutted, the sooner their wardrobes are crammed, the sooner their “ladies” are surfeited with cocktails and jewels — the sooner will the workers be “transferred” to the labour exchange or the Relieving Officer to feel the pinch of want.

Never has any capitalist, never has any labour leader produced a shred of evidence to conflict with this simple obvious fact. Similarly, not one of them dare deal with the only remedy. If the workers are to enjoy the fruits of their labour, they must own and control the means by which they produce them. The land, factories, railways, etc., must be made the common property of all to meet the needs of all.

That is what we mean by Socialism. It is to accomplish that which has led us to organise a Socialist Party. Forsake your masters and leaders and study the history and condition of your class for yourselves. You will then see that there has been no industrial peace since capitalism has existed
—that your class has been compelled, from the day of its origin, to struggle for its existence, and that the struggle will go on until you discover the way to end it—by throwing the wealthy idlers from your backs—by using the political power which is yours whenever you choose to organise
with us for Socialism.

E. B.

(Socialist Standard, February 1928)

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