1930s >> 1930 >> no-311-july-1930
Mr. J.H. Thomas and the Unemployed
Mr. Thomas has proved himself once more the friend of the employers. How grateful they must feel to good old Jimmy.
The “Daily News” of May 5th, 1930, reports a part of a speech given by him to his constituents at Derby. Speaking of rationalisation, he says; “It will temporarily result in unemployment, but if I am satisfied that it is a remedy, and that the ultimate effects will be of lasting benefit, then my policy is not to refuse anything that is temporarily unpopular or unpleasant. I am prepared to risk the unpopularity, knowing | it must succeed.” Furthermore he says:
“We have to have a drastic process of rationalisation,” and then, “Protection has been suggested as a remedy for unemployment, but protectionist countries were suffering the same trouble. Regard must be had to the conditions of employment in competing countries.” “French, German, and Belgian workers could not be allowed to be exploited for our benefit.” And. finally, he remarks; “If women abolished short skirts, they would make the greatest possible contribution to the revival of the Lancashire cotton trade.”
What a noble and pathetic picture he makes as he prepares to sacrifice his popularity for an ideal, the ideal of rationalisation. How ignorant, or wilfully blind to the true facts he must be, when he insists that only temporary unemployment will result. Better and speedier methods of production mean that less labour is required, and if Mr. Thomas grants this, but says that the cheapening of the product will mean a bigger demand and the reabsorption of the displaced labour, then he must have forgotten, in the strenuous duties as a Minister, his experiences as a trade union leader. His dealing with the employers must have shown him how, when the cost of living decreases, wages fall. If wages fall, then the purchasing power of the workers in employment is no greater, and again, there is the fact of those thrown out by the rationalisation process, have their spending powers considerably decreased. Hence the increased demand is a myth, and Mr. Thomas has simply helped the bosses to displace labour and produce more cheaply, not temporarily, but permanently. The improvements that are made are never lost, but are the stepping stones to greater efficiency. His argument on Protection can, with the same reasoning, be applied to rationalisation. “Protection is no cure, because protectionist countries are suffering the same trouble.” Rationalisation is shown to be no cure, because rationalised countries are suffering just the same trouble. Rationalisation has gone on extensively in America, and on this the “Daily News” of January 14th, 1930, makes interesting reading. Two columns are devoted to unemployment in America, but just a short quotation will suffice:—
The causes of this huge displacement of workers (nearly 4,000,000) are declared to be (1) Improvements in machinery, (2) the extension of cheap electric power, (3) the invention of labour- saving devices, (4) the processes described in Gt. Britain under the name of Rationalisation. Hundreds of thousands of these dispossesed men and women have found work in new and growing industries, but the new industries have not been sufficient to absorb the displaced labour. The situation is one that has a marked significance for Great Britain, because similar developments in the use of labour-saving machines and Rationalisation are, in the opinion of many, bound to have similar consequences. The problem of what to do with men and women “scrapped” by the relentless new machines, is baffling the best brains in American industry. It is like a gaunt spectre in the richest country in the world, and distinguished economists say that the situation must inevitably grow more acute as time goes on.
What does Mr. Thomas say in the face of these facts? He just owlishly blinks and turns to the ladies. If we do what he asks, our frantic endeavours to free our legs from our petticoats should melt a heart of stone, and perhaps Mr. Thomas will excuse us from being the saviours of the Lancashire cotton trade. The cotton traders, however, put the trade depression down to something more serious than short skirts. The day after the article on unemployment in America, our useful little guide, the “Daily News” of January 13th, 1930, reports the following opinion of those interested in cotton:—
We have too much machinery. This carries with it a capacity for producing more than the market will take, and a consequent readiness of makers to sell their yarn and cloth at uneconomic prices in order to keep a foothold in the market.
Then since in this report they are not concerned with the workers, they go on to suggest that rationalisation, the elimination of small trading concerns, and the combining together of all the cotton interests so as to eliminate waste, etc., is the method by which the capitalists can save their industries. The “Manchester Guardian” of 25th April, 1930, reports that the National Union of Shop Assistants were discussing the dismissal of elderly assistants through the amalgamation of firms, i.e., rationalisation. The amount of labour affected assumes gigantic proportions, and cannot be dismissed so lightheartedly as Mr. Thomas would dismiss it. This rationalisation, upon which Mr. Thomas confers his blessing so assiduously, means that industry will become centred in fewer and fewer hands. The spoils will be less divided. The most efficient methods of production will be utilised, reducing labour to a minimum. Commodities must be produced cheaply if they are to compete with foreign rivals, and if British capitalists are going to secure overseas trade. Whether or no foreign workers are exploited more than British workers, only concerns Mr. Thomason so far that it means that foreign capitalists will prosper at the expense of British capitalists, and make Mr. Thomas’ position more precarious. A point, however, in all this that Mr. Thomas never mentions, and which we must perforce bring to his notice, is his lack of concern over the position of the workers who are not unemployed. The vast majority are certainly not living in the lap of luxury, or does Mr. Thomas think that to have a job even at two pounds ten is the pinnacle of ambition realised? The workers employed and unemployed are in a position of poverty and insecurity. Knowledge and skill do not count now as they did formerly, and robots are more and more displacing higher paid labour.
Is Mr. Thomas concerned? Not in the least. He just smilingly prates about unpopular temporary effects, and urges the workers to support the employers in dismissing them.
Mr. Thomas himself is in a singularly happy position, and no doubt this it is which enables him to bear up so blithely under other people’s miseries. After failing for a year to carry out his promise of reducing unemployment, and seeing it in fact increase stupendously, Mr. Thomas leaves one Cabinet job for another equally highly paid. Workers who lose their jobs are not so fortunate.