The Wages of Agricultural Workers
April 22nd, 1939.
To The Editor,
THE SOCIALIST STANDARD.
As one who has been a District Organising Secretary for the National Union of Agricultural Workers for twenty-one years, and have served as a Workers’ representative (officially) on Agricultural Wages Committees covering thirteen counties, I can assure your contributor, T. R. V. Andrews, that your statement that, as many as twenty-five per cent. of all the 580,000 who work for wages are paid less than the minimum wage legally applicable to them, is more than correct. If your statement errs at all, it more of an understatement of the real actual position than an overstatement. My experience, and I have since 1924, when the present Agricultural Wages Board Act operated, recovered 1,000 pounds of underpayment per year myself on behalf of members of our Union. And if one takes into account the number of hours actually worked by the agricultural wage-workers, there are quite fifty per cent. of all the wage-workers who do not get ALL that is legally payable under the Board’s orders. And for every farmer prosecuted by the Ministry of Agriculture there are five more cases which the Ministry do not get hold of. And the Ministry, even in those cases where a prosecution takes place, do not recover more than one-half of the underpayments due in those particular cases. Remembering that the local courts are packed with land¬owner and farmer magistrates, the Ministry only prosecute in straightforward cases, and will not press underpayments of overtime at all.
It is quite true that wage-workers who are not members of their Union will not report underpayments because, in addition to losing their jobs, and being turned out of the tied cottages, they are boycotted by all farmers for fifty miles around. The farmers, as far as their wages-slaves are concerned, are 100 per cent. class-conscious.
All this proves that legislation is of no use unless it is applied. And no matter what legislation may be placed upon the Statute book, it is not worth the paper it is printed on unless those whom it should benefit have the power, through a Trade Union, to enforce its application. And whenever a “Socialist Government,” with a majority, establishes Socialism by legislation, it will require the most perfect Industrial Organisation of the wage-workers in the big key industries in order to give practical effect to that Socialist legislation. So that the wage-workers must not only organise themselves politically for Socialism but must consciously build up class-conscious Industrial Organisation also, that has as its object the taking over, in practice, of the Land, and all other means of Production and Distribution. That means Daniel De Leon’s “Organisation by Industry,” or Industrial Unionism.
W. T. FIELDING.
[We are obliged to Mr. Fielding for his further information about the wages of agricultural workers, but we differ from the conclusion he draws in his last paragraph. The value of trade union organisation under capitalism as a weapon of defence against the employers is agreed, but after the workers have conquered the powers of Government it will be through their control of the machinery of Government, including the armed forces, that the workers will be enabled to bring to an end the capitalist ownership and control of the means of production and distribution.—ED. COMM.]
[We have also received a letter from Mr. J. Gill, Editor of The Record, organ of the Transport & General Workers’ Union. Mr. Gill writes : “While it is difficult to say what percentage of farm workers are not being paid the legal minimum rate (it may be more than twenty-five per cent.) there is no doubt that some thousands are being underpaid.” Mr. Gill draws attention to the refusal of the Minister of Agriculture, in the House of Commons on February 13th, 1939, to appoint more inspectors. The Government has persistently taken up this attitude, though the existing number of inspectors “is totally inadequate to cover all the farms in England and Wales.”]