What Price Nationalisation?

The “Pampered” Civil Service.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always opposed Nationalisation or State capitalism. The Labour Party, the I.L.P., and the Communists are at one in supporting it. The following facts and figures will show what Nationalisation means in practice, and show how little difference there is from the workers’ point of view between State capitalism and private capitalism, whether under a Conservative or a Labour Government.

Low Pay and No Pension.
The figures given below relating to pay and pensions are taken from leaflets issued by the Staff Side of the Civil Service National Whitley Council. They are all based directly upon information given in the j House of Commons by Ministers of the Crown. 150,000 Civil Servants, representing 50 per cent. of the non-industrial staff, receive less than £3 a week inclusive of cost of living bonus.

225,000 (75 per cent.) receive less than £4. Only 8 per cent. receive £7 a week or more.

Only half of the Civil Servants are pensionable. Out of 300,000 “non-industrial” Civil Servants 110,000 are not eligible for pension. Out of 120,000 “industrial” civil servants (Post Office engineers, dockyard workers, etc.) only 30,000 are pensionable.

Mr. Lees-Smith, Postmaster-General, stated in the House of Commons on July 22nd, 1929, that out of 180,000 full-time Post Office employees, only 60,000 receive more than 70s.; 81,000 receive between 50s. and 70s. ; and 21,000 receive between 40s. and 50s. The remainder receive less than 40s. A basis for comparison with the pay in a non-State concern is afforded by the Underground Electric Railway Company. At the 1929 Annual General Meeting, the Chairman, Lord Ashfield, stated that out of a total staff of 43,500, only 1,400 adults (about 3 per cent.) received less than £3 a week. (Economist, March 9th, 1929; and State Service, March, 1929.)

Even after allowing for the fact that the Post Office figures include a proportion of juveniles in the group below 40s. a week, and allowing for certain other factors which have to be taken into account, it is evident that Post Office pay is certainly not higher than that of the Underground Railway staffs, and is in all probability appreciably lower.

Temporary and Part-Time Workers.
The Post Office employs over 3,000 temporary full-time employees as telegraphists, counter-clerks, telephonists, etc. None of these employees are paid more than 57s. a week. A temporary postman’s rate in London is 49s. or 51s.; porters get 49s.; and telephonists (women) from 39s. 6d. to 43s. 6d.

In the Provinces men sorting clerks and telegraphists are paid at rates varying from 46s. to 57s., and postmen from 44s. to 49s.; women sorting clerks and telegraphists are paid from 37s. 6d. to 47s. 6d. (See Year Book of the Union of Post Office Workers, pages 390-393.)

The Post Office employs about 13,000 auxiliary postmen for a varying number of hours not exceeding 36 per week. Before the war it used to be said in defence of the low pay of these men that they were expected to have other employment. Now this pretence has been dropped, and it is admitted officially that many of them are known to be fully dependent on their Post Office pay owing to their inability to obtain other work. Even if unemployment were not as widespread as it is, men bound down to Post Office hours of attendance would find it difficult to fit in other employment.

For a 36-hour week an auxiliary postman receives from 43s. 5d. to 47s. 8d. in London, and from 35s. 9d. to 40s. 10d. in the Provinces. Those who are not given the full 36 hours’ work, receive correspondingly less. The majority work between 18 and 30 hours. (See pages 144-151. Award 1325, of the Industrial Court, July, 1927.)

“Skilled” Work at Labourer’s Pay.

The Journal of the Post Office Engineering Union (February 21st, 1930), in an editorial, states that Post Office engineering labourers are employed on skilled and semi-skilled work, without being correspondingly paid:—

Post Office engineering labourers do work which, in outside trades, would be allotted to mates and paid for at something between the skilled and unskilled rates. . . . A great many labourers are employed on skilled duties for long periods; . . . the labourer’s staff was, in fact, a staff trained by the Post Office to get skilled and semi-skilled work done at a price below a fair rate for such work.

The labourers are not pensioned or permanent, and have just been refused an increase in pay.

Profit the Only Consideration.

The Labour Postmaster-General, Mr. Lees-Smith, M.P., in a letter to the P.O. Engineering Union (see P.O.E.U. Journal, February 7th, 1930), defends the dismissals of engineering staff in the following terms:

The need for a reduction of costs is, however, paramount; and so long as this can be effected by reorganisation and the introduction of improved methods of working, the Postmaster-General feels compelled to pursue the policy which has been initiated. . . . As there would be no justification for retaining men for whom no work is available, reductions in staff have been inevitable.

The Union’s only suggested remedy was that the Post Office should do certain work itself which is now put out to contractors. In other words, it proposed to solve the problem of unemployed Post Office engineers by increasing the unemployment among engineers employed by the private companies!

No Politics.

Finally, it is interesting to notice that the Labour Government does not intend to abolish the restrictions which have been imposed by earlier governments on the political activities of civil servants. The following question and. answer are taken from Hansard of January 27th, 1930 (Column 644).

Mr. Freeman asked the Prime Minister whether he will consider the desirability of introducing legislation removing the present disabilities of free speech and action on political matters at present imposed, on civil servants?
Mr. P. Snowden: His Majesty’s Government endorse the well-established rule of the Civil Service that civil servants should take no overt part in public political affairs, and I am not prepared to introduce legislation which would be inconsistent with the maintenance of this general principle of conduct.

Presumably if the Labour Party had their way, and introduced State capitalism throughout the chief manufacturing and transport industries, we should all be civil servants and all debarred from active political work.


(Socialist Standard, April 1930)