1920s >> 1929 >> no-296-april-1929

Editorial: The Labour Party and Unemployment

Writing in the Morning Post (February 18th), Mr. Tom Shaw, M.P., Minister of Labour in the Labour Government, gave a statement of his Party’s policy with regard to unemployment.

The first point to notice is that Mr. Shaw without hesitation accepts the view that unemployment in this country is a national problem to be solved on national lines. His criticism of the captains of industry here is that they have allowed their foreign competitors to out-distance them :—

Rationalisation, standardisation, combination, and centralisation, have made relatively more progress in other countries than our own.

Mr. Shaw blandly assumes that more rationalisation will mean less unemployment, something the very reverse of the truth. These various processes are introduced with the set purpose of securing economy in production; a greater output with the employment of fewer workers; the continual addition of surplus workers to the army of the unemployed. If Mr. Shaw does not believe this, will he show us the capitalist countries where unemployment has been permanently lessened by any or all of the means he enumerates?

Then he goes on to say that it “makes his heartache” to go into country towns and villages and see the shops ” full of Danish products.” He wants British tummies lined with British butter made by British hands from the milk of British cows, reared on British grass. He does not dislike the Danes. He has to be sure a profound admiration for their success as exporters of dairy produce. The whole secret of their success “is that Denmark’s farmers have adopted co-operation and scientific methods.” Mr. Shaw wants British farmers to adopt the same methods and secure the same success. Beautiful; but how will this solve the unemployment problem? Denmark suffers just as much from unemployment as any other capitalist country, and when the promised greater efficiency of British farmers threatens to ruin their Danish competitors, some Danish Mr. Shaw will be telling his compatriots to adopt still more efficient methods, with the object of still further under-cutting the prices of dairy products; and so on in the manner normal to the capitalist system.

Something rotten in the State of Denmark

Mr. Shaw is careful to say that he does not hate the Danes. It is then difficult to see why he discriminates between them and other peoples also unfortunate enough not to have been born British. For although the sight of Danish eggs makes his heart ache, he goes on in the next column to say that “every effort ought to be made to develop trade to a much larger degree” with “China, India, and Russia.” Does Mr. Shaw really believe that trade with China, Russia and India, or with any other country, can be developed on a one-sided basis consisting only of the export of British manufactures without corresponding imports from those countries? Why do Danish eggs make his heart ache, but not Chinese eggs? and Danish butter, but not Russian butter? When Russia buys agricultural machinery, tractors and ploughs and other means of increasing the productivity of Russian agriculture, the effect will be to throw still cheaper Russian wheat on to the British market to undercut British farmers.

Mr. Shaw also wants to develop Empire trade, and says: “We want to see . . . Canadian fruits and Canadian grain far more widely sold in our markets.” And what about British fruit growers and grain growers? Is it any nicer to be ruined by Canadian competitors than by Danes. And again how will this solve the unemployment problem?

Foreign Trade and Unemployment.

Mr. Shaw makes the usual assumption that unemployment can be reduced by the development of export trade and by the development of home manufactures. Let us remind him, therefore, that in 1928 exports were greater than in 1927, and imports were less than in 1927.

The total amount of wealth produced in this country was greater, yet at the end of 1928 the numbers unemployed were 200,000 or more above the level at the end of 1927. More wealth and more exports accompanied by more unemployment!

Lastly, Mr. Shaw speaks of remedying unemployment by reducing the expenditure on armaments. What is going to happen to the thousands of men now withdrawn from the labour market for service in the forces ? What of the ship workers engaged in naval construction and the engineers employed in the manufacture of rifles, ammunition, etc.?

And, lastly, does he not recall that in 1924 the Labour Government incurred some criticism because it laid down 5 new cruisers, and that one of the reasons given by authoritative Labour Ministers for that step was the need for making employment?