Editorial: The Rent Strike Stunt
The Independent Labour Party, like all reform parties, is constantly faced with the need to discover a new programme to hide the failure of all the old ones. Family Allowances and the Living Wage Scheme are already fading from the picture and going the way of nationalisation, bulk purchase, housing schemes, rationalisation, trade boards and all the rest of the junk that has served the purpose temporarily of keeping alive the illusion that the I.L.P. is doing something and getting somewhere. At the moment the nationalisation of the banks is sharing the honours with public utility corporations and with the latest stunt, a “rent strike.”
The I.L.P. are backing the London and Manchester Trades Councils in a demand that, wages having fallen, rents should be reduced. The I.L.P. has, time after time, pointed to Vienna as a city where their ideal of low rents has operated to perfection, and they have talked of the millions of pounds supposed to have been saved to the workers by the Rent Restriction Acts in this and other countries. The whole of it is based on illusion.
Rents were kept low here and in every European country at the instigation of the employers. They knew that high rents would raise the workers’ cost of living and leave the employers to face either lowered efficiency among their wage-slaves or the alternative of paying a larger wage. Rent restriction has lowered the average cost of living, and wages on the whole have fallen proportionately, leaving the workers just where they were before. Even where this policy of plundering landlords to help industrial capitalists has been carried to its furthest point, as in Vienna, the workers were not the gainers, but their employers. In 1925 the International Labour Office published the results of an inquiry into rents, wages, etc., under the title “The Workers’ Standard of Life in Countries with Depreciated Currency.” The Report dealt especially with the effects of rent restriction. Writing of Germany, it says:—
Since wages no longer had to cover rent, the cost of labour was correspondingly reduced. (P. 37).
In other words, the employers reaped the advantage. In Austria the same thing was found by the investigators:—
Most of the workers were in the same position as those in Germany; they had practically no liabilities under the heading of rent, but the corresponding amount was not included in their wages. The actual gain was thus nil. (P. 97).
The Report continues:—
Industry, on the other hand, benefited, as in Germany, by the reduction in the cost of most labour by the full amount which rent represented in wages before the war. (P. 97).
In Great Britain the policy of rent restriction has had the further defect that it has badly hit the section of workers who have had to get into houses whose rents have been “decontrolled.” The average wage has not allowed for the exceptionally high rents in decontrolled houses, and these individuals have been the sufferers.
The only sound policy for the working class under capitalism is to use whatever strength their economic organisation can give them to press for higher pay from the employers, not to lend themselves to stunt campaigns whose only result will be to make reputations for a few Labour leaders, and help the industrial capitalists to secure more profit. The workers should, however, face up to the limits of Trade Union action. Socialism is the only remedy for the workers’ poverty problem, and Trade Union action cannot bring about Socialism.
Returning to this latest I.L.P. stunt, we read in Forward (December 26th) an amusing account of what happened some years ago in the last Clydeside rent strike. Mr. David Kirkwood, M.P., made a fighting speech in which he said that there would be no evictions in Clydebank “except over my dead body.” In spite of this, as his local critics complain, the evictions took place, but the “dead body” goes about—talking as usual.