1930s >> 1932 >> no-336-august-1932

Unemployment and the Remedy

An article in “John Bull” (May 1932), written by an unnamed managing director, states that, in answer to an advertisement for a clerk at £3 10s. per week, no less than 100,000 men applied for the job. The writer appeals to our sympathy for these unfortunates, and appears greatly troubled about it. In the softness of his heart and possibly his head, he would have liked to have written a sympathising reply in rejecting the 99,999 applicants, but an unsympathetic board will not allow the expense. He reveals the cause of the trouble. It is that office machinery can now do the work of a considerable number of men, and that cheaper female labour can be used to operate them. That is as far as the writer goes and “John Bull,” too, for that matter. It appears that on realising these painful facts one should shake one’s head, murmur dear, dear, or something else appropriate, and speedily forget it.

But we do not forget it. We also remember a few more things, and we know the remedy.

The “Daily Herald” (January 15th, 1932), quoting from a report given to the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, states that 100,000 men and 3,000 women are continually unemployed, that this is the standing figure of unemployed insured persons. There are also, roughly, seven million people for whom employment is intermittent, although only serious among 10 per cent. We. gather from this that there is serious unemployment and non-serious. Ordinary poverty and extraordinary poverty. One has ordinary poverty in work and extraordinary out of work. The “News-Chronicle” (June 13th, 1932), reports that there are nearly one and a fifth million people in receipt of Poor Law relief, which means acute poverty for them; so that’s a third degree of poverty we can have. The “Daily Herald” (February 6th, 1932) quotes Mr. Smith, of the National Federation of Professional Workers, as saying :— “Non-manual workers receiving over £250 per year do not come under the Unemployment Insurance Acts and the plight of these people when thrown idle is often tragic.” These are not included in the “Daily Herald’s” figures, and there must be hundreds suffering privation of which nothing is heard except when we read the reports in the papers of suicides directly due to financial worries. Harassed mothers of families die miserable deaths in the ever-handy gas oven rather than go on facing the day-to-day strain and worry of trying to close the gap between the ends that won’t meet. Bankrupt business men throw themselves in front of the train that should have borne them home and which gives them instead the freedom from the worry that their overwrought nerves can no longer endure. Young lovers who should have been able to look forward to long years of happiness together end their lives rather than face the dreary vista of life living apart through lack of means to marry. These are facts taken from the daily newspapers quite recently and to which, one and all, the coroner monotonously chants, “Suicide whilst of unsound mind, ” instead of “Suicide owing to living in a system of society which puts profit before mankind’s happiness.”

Shall we also murmur “Dear, dear, how dreadful!” and forget, or shall we emulate the slogan-loving Prince of Wales and persuade everybody to buy and sell British, in the absurd belief that Britain can escape the general depression? Unfortunately the slogan is as ineffective as the ejaculation,, because the cause of all this poverty and unhappiness, which is world-wide, is capitalism, which is also world-wide.

Capitalism is a system of society in which goods are produced in the first place solely for profit. A few people, the master class, own and control the land, factories, mines and everything which is used to produce wealth. The mass of the people, the workers, are property less and have to work for a master in order to get enough money to buy back from the owners the amount of goods which their earnings will cover. They are paid just enough to enable them to live according to the standard of life in which it has pleased God, etc. Thus a clerk’s standard of comfort is different from a manager’s, and from a farm labourer’s; but all are workers, and all must sell their labour power in order to live. Even when the worker is in work he must be constantly fighting against reductions in pay. The “dole” is about the lowest amount that can be paid to a person to keep him alive, and employed workers must always be on the alert against being pushed nearer to that amount. Hence, even when a job is obtained it does not mean freedom from worry and anxiety. Machinery has been developed to such an extent that goods can be produced much faster and in considerably greater quantities than they were years ago, when practically every available worker was used. The workers who have jobs have only sufficient to purchase little more than the actual necessities of life, and the unemployed have considerably less, so that their spending power is restricted, and we have the ridiculous position arising of millions of commodities having been produced which cannot be sold because millions of people haven’t sufficient money to buy them. Quantities of goods which people need are destroyed so as not to flood the market. Factories remain idle, when there are men and women willing and anxious to work them, and prating fools preach false doctrines ot economy when there is an abundance of everything. The economic evils of to-day are unnecessary, and those who talk of reforms, and expedients for alleviating those evils are either babes or charlatans.

There is not one reform or measure, free trade, tariffs, shorter hours, birth control, that will get the workers out of their main difficulty or make capitalism a satisfactory system. The conditions are ripe for a change, and all that is lacking is the workers’ understanding of the position and their determination to alter it. Socialism, the common ownership of the means and instruments for producing everything we need, is the only solution to the economic ills, and many others which are the outcome of these deeper troubles and which beset us on all sides. Socialism can only be brought about by Socialists, and our job is to make Socialists, so that we may put an end to this poverty in the midst of plenty and get the very best out of the few years of life that is our heritage in the aeons of time that have gone and are yet to come.

May Otway