A Diary of Labour Government
Here in Great Britain, about twenty-seven years ago, there was a sharp difference of opinion. There were those who held that there was but one cause of working-class poverty, and one only, and but one way to end it. These formed the Socialist Party of Great Britain, with the aim and object of capturing political power and achieving Socialism. There were others who denounced this as a dream, too far removed from present needs to be practicable. What was wanted, they said, was something now, something tangible, something realisable, something which we could see in our time. These supported immediate reforms, palliatives, and the Labour Party. They have been wonderfully fortunate. In a mere twenty-five years they have achieved their practical object and seated a Labour Government in Parliament. That Government has been there nearly two years, and we think we may be doing posterity a service by setting down a rough diary of what life for the workers means under a Labour Government. Something now was their object; this is the something.
On January 1st, 1931, two and a half millions of working men were unable to find a master. On this day, also, 161,300 miners were locked out in South Wales.
On January 2nd the railways of the country announced they contemplated spending £30,000,000 on improvements. Meanwhile, they were negotiating with their employees to slice £11,000,000 off their wages.
About this time, some thousands of cotton workers were locked out because they protested against an intensification of their work, and more thousands of boot and shoe operatives and agricultural workers were threatened with wage cuts. Labour was still in power.
A man named Lansbury, a high Labour official, wrote to the Press suggesting that what was really needed was more prayers and Christian spirit.
A feeble-witted Christian, known as Jix, hurried to assure the people that Mr. Lansbury was quite wrong, and that Christianity had nothing to do with politics.
On January 12th the Daily Herald, Labour’s own newspaper, announced that “business men realised that the Daily Herald is a magnificent business-building power.”
On January 13th the papers announced that 27,000 tinplate workers were to be thrown out of work. Labour was still in power.
On January 16th, such was the poverty of the nation, ground down with the burden of taxation, and such the need for national economy, that the two Royal Princes started out with a shipload of accessories on an 18,000 miles tour.
January 19th.—The official attack on the railwaymen opened. Official figures of unemployed, 2,608,406. Labour still in power.
January 20th.—Miss Ellen Wilkinson, one of the Labour Government, hard at work solving the workers’ problems by touring America, writes that she is astonished at the bread-lines in New York. What says the Bible: “The fool has his eyes on the ends of the earth.”
Speaking of the Bible recalls that on January 20th an article in the News Chronicle records the appalling poverty of the clergy. It seems that their average salary is only £350 per annum—nearly £7 per week. How do they live, poor men? The railway companies suggest 38s. per week for their rapacious hirelings. Yes! Labour is still in power.
There was a tremendous happening about this time. The Labour Government was defeated. In the midst of this poverty, unemployment and slaughter of working-class wages, they made a determined stand on one phase of the question of religion in schools. The Roman Catholics, perhaps the most fanatical opposers of Socialism in existence, represented that the Government’s Education Bill would cost them £1,000,000, and wanted a guarantee that it would not come out of their own pockets. Labour members rallied to the Catholic standard and defeated their own Government by 33 votes. Did the Government resign? Of course not; they must continue the good work of getting something now.
January 20th.—Ramsay MacDonald (re Princess Royal) “moved a humble address to assure His Majesty that this House will ever participate with the most affectionate and dutiful attachment in whatever may concern the feelings and interests of His Majesty.”
January 23rd.—Another determined stand made on the Trades Disputes Bill. The great question was, whether the Labour Party shall have the power to grab the coppers of uninterested trade unionists or not. A Second Reading was obtained with a majority of 27. They breathe again. The poor remained poor, the unemployed remained workless, and the victims of wage cuts remained cut. The Labour Government was still in office.
On January 26th the Labour Government, friends of the poor, the downtrodden and the helpless, released an agitator named Gandhi (whom they had held in prison very much like Capitalist Governments do), but overlooked 60,000 of his pals who had been awaiting trial since May 5th.
January 30th.—Whitehaven pit disaster; 26 miners killed. The News Chronicle suggests, in view of frequent mishaps at this pit, that an enquiry be instituted. They are twenty years late. We commented upon a worse happening in the same pit as long ago as that. Those in favour of “something now,” please note.
Just to wind up the month, on January 31st Mr. Graham indicated (according to the News Chronicle) that the Government accepted the Liberal proposals for unemployment. He is credited with saying: “The simple truth is that the industrial problem is now so grave that the old division of parties becomes’ meaningless.” An equally simple truth is that the old division referred to has never been more than simple eyewash. Mr. Graham is thirty years behind the times. He should give his newsagent an order for the regular delivery of The Socialist Standard.
However, this has not been an entirely dull month. There were 300 guests at the Hunt Ball held at Newnham Abbey, and Lady Houston offered £100,000 so that Great Britain should be able to compete for the Schneider Cup. She gave this to implement her belief that one Englishman was still worth three foreigners. Our engineers —also worth three foreigners—were told that their wages—average 58s. 1½d.—were too high, and would have to come down to a level that would enable us to beat the foreigner. No! not altogether a dull month. The poor remain poor, the unemployed remain workless, and wage cuts are as regular as a bacon-slicer.
Of course, space is too precious in our little Standard for diaries of this description, but—unless one takes a tragic view of poverty and unemployment—they can be quite amusing. For instance, on February 3rd the House of Commons engrossed itself in the Representation of the People Bill. The question of the City of London retaining special representation was discussed. Mr. Clynes, a Labour man, said “ it was inconceivable that it should not be represented in the House.”
Inconceivable, mark you! Those who are still looking for “something now” will be relieved to hear that under the heading, “Business Done,” for this day appears “A Bill for the better protection of trout in Scotland, read a first time.” No doubt this is the Bill that caused a drop of 27,000 in the unemployed this week. On February 4th it was stated there were only 2,592,650 without a master in the week ending January 26th. This was before the Trout Bill was passed.
On February 5th Mr. Lansbury, ever practical, ever a realist, brought us back to the facts of working-class life by intimating that he had finally approved of the Haig statue. The Engineering Employers; somewhat more out of touch with reality, delivered their ultimatum to their workers, worsening hours, wages and conditions, and threatening “if you or your members fail to make your contribution . . . to take what steps they consider necessary.”
“Something now” is a curious policy, isn’t it! Why not try the other way? Socialism, next year, if we can’t get it before, but—nothing less!
W. T. Hopley