1940s >> 1941 >> no-449-december-1941

Post-War Unemployment: An Inconvenient Question in the House of Lords

The Daily Telegraph of November 19th records an amusing conversation in the House of Lords the previous day. Lord Sempill asked a rather inconvenient question about what the Government were doing to give practical effect to the fifth and sixth principles of the Atlantic Charter.

 The fifth principle, he recalled, advocated the fullest collaboration between all nations in securing improved labour standards and social security, while the sixth hoped for a peace which would secure freedom from fear and want.
The fifth principle could not be realised, he declared, so long as unemployment remained unsolved.
Viscount Cranborne, replying for the Government, said it was clearly desirable that we should begin to look forward into the future.
“Wars of attrition, and this is becoming a war of attrition, are like tugs-of-war,” he said. ” Suddenly one side begins to weaken, and after that the end is not far off.
“It is clearly right we should take thought for the future now, so that as soon as German morale begins to weaken we shall be in a position to go straight on to the next phase—the rebuilding of a shattered world.”
The practical application of the principles of the Atlantic charter depended on the collaboration of all nations and the joint consideration of all those concerned in making the peace.
The Allied Governments on September 24 adhered to the Atlantic Charter and passed a resolution dealing with the distribution of food to the occupied countries after the war, and the United States Government had informed the other Governments of their readiness to co-operate at the appropriate moment.
In the meantime, the Government had set up their own organisation to consider post-war problems, under the guidance of the Minister Without Portfolio in collaboration with the other Government departments concerned.
“I can assure Lord Sempill that no matter is engaging the attention of the Government more than that of unemployment,” he said. “A Government such as this, which is composed of all the parties in the State, should be particularly qualified to deal with it.”

It would be sacriligious to suggest that Viscount Cranbome was speaking .with his tongue in his cheek when he said that the Government were giving as much attention to the question of unemployment as to any other question (and the Government have some important questions on their mind at the moment), but it does not seem to quite square with the wonderful new world promised us by Mr. Herbert Morrison. If there is going to be a wonderful new world (and quite a lot of one’s fellow-workers seem to be firmly convinced of this), why bother about unemployment? But if there is going to be unemployment, and if it is actually occupying the serious attention of the Government, then it seems that the post-war world won’t be so vastly different from the pre-war world. So many Governments during the past century have given serious consideration to the question of unemployment, but its solution has so far so completely eluded them that, instead of decreasing, unemployment has increased in geometrical rather than in arithmetical proportion. Unemployment is a fact which is grounded rather too deeply in capitalist society for it to be remedied by the superficial thinking of ministers who are only too interested in the preservation of capitalism, itself the root cause of unemployment.


Incidentally, it is worth noting what a neat little get-away is given by the “proviso” clause. The practical application depends on the “collaboration of all nations.” And if they don’t collaborate?


Viscount Cranborne’s neat little gibe against the Labour Party will also be noticed. A Government composed of “all the parties in the State” should be “particularly qualified” to deal with the question of unemployment. This recalls the heydays of Ramsay Macdonald and the Labour Party and their promise to solve the unemployment question. But it ignores the existence of at least one party—the Socialist Party—which roundly repudiates any suggestion that it forms part of or is in any way associated with the executive section of the British ruling class.