1940s >> 1942 >> no-451-march-1942

Notes by the Way: The Changes and Chances of War

The Changes and Chances of War
The course of war is always unpredictable, not least in the new associations of old antagonists it brings about. Who would have predicted a few years ago that Prime Minister Churchill would be receiving an official “Trade Union delegation” sent by the Russian Government, and that the delegation would be accompanied by the British Foreign Secretary? Hardly less remarkable, in view of recent relationships, was the fact that the Russians were welcomed and sponsored not merely by the Communists but by Sir W. Citrine for the Trades Union Congress.


Under recent Emergency Orders the Government has power to remove directors and others about whose efficiency complaint is made, and in cases reported in the News-Chronicle (October 7th, 1941) workers in one factory were called in to give evidence which led to the removal.


In the sphere of Imperial relationship we have seen the Australian Prime Minister calling on U.S.A. to give aid against the Japs, and saying:—


 Without inhibitions of any kind, Australia looks to America, free from any pangs about her traditional links of kinship with Britain.—“News Chronicle,” December 29th, 1941.


Another incident, also no doubt attributable to the war, was the action of a Conservative newspaper quoting extensively from Marx in an editorial. This was the Evening Standard (December 3rd, 1941), and the point of the quotation was to show how closely the Vichy clique in France resemble their predecessors under Louis Napoleon, described by Marx in his work, “The Eighteenth Brumaire.” The Evening Standard was gracious enough to attribute the quotation to “a great historian,” but they softened the blow for their readers by omitting to mention that it was K. Marx.


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One Nation Should Learn from Others
That “one nation can and should learn from others” is unexceptionable doctrine. (For the benefit of the Evening Standard that, too, is a quotation from their “great historian.”) It is, however, important to pick and choose what to learn. There was a time when, according to the Conservative Press, there was nothing to be learned from Russia, but in recent months many people have been asking that the authorities here should take an example from the way pilfering and rationing offences are treated in that country. A typical example is the following from the Sunday Express (February 8th, 1942): —


   Every dishonesty, small or great, is a sabotage of the war effort, and a nail in the nation’s coffin.
In Moscow they shoot men or women where we fine them. In Moscow they mean business.
If the civil courts are too gentle why not have military courts for all offences against the State at war? They at least would make the punishments really fit the crimes.


Many workers, exasperated by the way in which certain people can evade the rationing regulations, may sympathise with the call for the firing-squad. It should, however, be remembered that when the accepted standards in a country are lowered and brutalised the consequences in the long run are not going to be confined to a handful of black marketeers.


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The Workers are Stretched to the Limit
As the war goes on there is more talk about the alleged slackness of the workers—what more natural than that the higher-ups should look for other shoulders on which to lay the responsibility for their own shortcomings? It is interesting, therefore, to see two statements by men in a position to form a useful opinion.


One is the view expressed by the Managing Director of what is described as “a huge factory which is concentrating on production of a heavy bomber”: —

  The staff is fine. I get hot under the collar when I hear the general accusation that workers in war factories are slacking. When the history of this war comes to be written, you will find that British factories turned out more machines, and finer machines, than any other country in the world.—“Daily Telegraph,” August 29th, 1941.

Recently, too, Sir Andrew Duncan, former President of the Board of Trade, now Minister of Supply, gave his view to Mr. Frank Owen. The latter, writing in the Evening Standard, says: —


  Andrew Duncan, who is a hard-headed, man and the best President of the Board of Trade for twenty years, told me the other day that he reckoned that British work, people were just about stretched to the limit. The Industrial Health Board confirms that view. So what’s the good of exhorting the workers to “Work Harder” ? It is like advising your wife, “Cook harder!” It has nothing to do with making the meal.—February 11th, 1942.


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War and the Child Pottery Workers
By 20 votes to 17 the House of Lords (February 11th, 1942) voted in favour of an Order extending the hours of labour for children, below 16, in the pottery industry from 48 to 53 a week. It is argued that this extension is necessary in order to maintain output in face of a shortage of labour, the children being required to fit their hours in with those of the adult workers. But what does it mean to the children? A view was given to the News-Chronicle by Miss Miriam Pease, formerly a Superintendent Inspector of Factories :—


  Mould-running is the most dangerous to health of trades in which children are employed. The mould-runner is well named because he runs back and forth between the moulders’ bench and the drying stove or bay.
He never stops running while on the job.
The child actually goes into the stove. It is hot and humid, and the shop itself it hot and dusty.—”News Chronicle,” February ,13th, 1942.


The Times said: —

  No one will question the patriotic intention of the trade union and the manufacturers’ association in agreeing to an extension of working hours. But it is highly doubtful whether the nation (not merely the industry) has any right to demand from young growing children, even in a time of acute emergency, such long hours of work, especially under the conditions which obtain generally in the pottery factories. The industry is scheduled as a dangerous trade on account of both silicosis and lead-poisoning. The children who assist the moulders work, at piecework pressure, in a hot, humid atmosphere heavy with silica. Many of the factories are said to be old-fashioned, ill-lit, and badly ventilated. It is blind-alley employment, and the work yields no training for other occupations.— “Times” February 13th, 1942.


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The Communists and Mr. Churchill
Early in 1939 when Mr. Churchill was not in the Government the Communists wanted him in. As soon as he got in they were demanding his removal. Now they are supporting him again. The following statements deserve to be recorded.


At the People’s Convention held in January, 1941, the Communists were demanding a People’s Government and a People’s Peace, and Mr. Harry Pollitt said that he wanted to see “ the victory of the people of this country over its real enemies in the Churchill Government and the policy it is pursuing at the present moment.” He added: —


  When we are united we are powerful. Let us be proud of our power and use it. The Churchill Government will be removed and a Government giving realisation to the programme and policy you are deciding to-day will be brought to power.—Report, page 48.


Just a year later, when a vote of confidence in the Churchill Government was carried in the House of Commons (28th and 29th January), Mr. W. Gallacher, the Communist M.P., was one of the 464 who voted for the vote of confidence. In his speech he particularly condemned some Tory M.P.s because, he said, their desire “is to weaken the Prime Minister.” He ended his speech by saying, “in spite of my opposition to the Municheers and my feeling that there is much that is wrong in the Government, I will give a vote for the Government when the Division takes place ” (Hansard, 28th January, col. 8B9).


The various somersaults of the Communist spokesmen in this country must be considered in relation to the changes of policy of the Russian Government, and it will not have escaped notice that a little earlier the Moscow radio’s official announcer, when sending greetings to Churchill on his birthday, had said: —


  The Soviet people join with the British ally in their good wishes for their leader Winston Churchill. We are glad that England has the right man at the helm in the decisive hour.—“Daily Mail,” December 1st, 1941.


Messrs. Pollitt and Gallacher will claim, of course, that their views are their own, honestly arrived at. We do not question this, but we may be forgiven for remarking that they are so spell-bound by the Russian example that their minds are unable for any length of time to reach or hold any conclusion other than that of Moscow.


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A Social Reform Chicken Comes Home to Roost
For many years the Labour Party imagined it was helping the workers by advocating changes in the method of raising taxes. In particular, the demand was made that the Government should raise all or most of its revenue by direct taxes on income such as income tax, excess profits tax, surtax, and less by “indirect” taxes such as taxes on beer, tobacco, etc. The argument was that indirect taxes raise the prices of the articles taxed and thus reduce the purchasing power of the workers’ wages. Not understanding what are the real factors governing the workers’ standard of living the Labour Party failed to notice that no matter whether prices are higher or lower, wages always tend to fall into line, and a fall in prices brings no material change because wages fall too. Now the chicken has come home to roost because the extension of income tax to lower levels of wages has brought an outcry from the workers affected. Below is an extract from a broadcast by Mr. W. Lawther, President of the Mineworkers’ Federation, dealing with workers’ complaints about income tax.


  When I was a youngster we used to pass resolutions for the abolition of indirect taxation and for the institution of direct taxation. Apparently now that we’ve got what we want, we don’t want it.—”Daily Telegraph,” February 2nd, 1942.


Perhaps after this experience the workers will be less ready to interest themselves in the capitalists’ problem of methods of raising State revenue and will give more thought to their own problem of ending capitalism.


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Gold Mining and the Shortage of Labour
In war-time we are told that all must work in essential industries and no labour must be wasted. Yet capitalism still goes on mining gold, refining it, and stowing it away in bank vaults. The City Editor of the News-Chronicle (February 14th, 1942) quotes from the American journal, Time:—


  “Gold,” says “Time,” “which nobody really needs is being mined at peak rates, while other crucially scarce metals are made even scarcer by the tightening pinch in mine labour, equipment, shipping space.” The British Empire Has over 500,000 workers employed in producing gold; the United States has 55,000. ‘‘Between them they swell the buried treasure at Fort Knox by a round 1,000 tons a year.”


Time says that the 30,000 Canadian miners ought to be put to other work, but adds the cryptic remark that South Africa is a different proposition since to withdraw from the Rand the 400,000 natives engaged in gold production would be to “let loose a pestilence in South Africa.”


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There Is Still Money About
The following is from an account of the auction sale of wines from the cellar of Glyndebourne, the Sussex opera house:—

  I estimate that more than £17,000 was realised by the auction. Of the 1,200 dozens of hocks and moselles offered, the cheapest, a Forster Fleckinger Riesling 1936, sold at 260s. a dozen—21s. 8d. a bottle. A few dozen Forster Ungeheuer Riesling Auslese 1934 fetched 610s. a dozen—50s. 10d. a bottle. Average prices were round about 350s.-400s.
The German wines were the focus of interest among the bidders, but champagnes, ports, sherries and clarets all fetched good prices, even for these days of restricted supplies.
Four bottles of Cognac du Roi, Louis XVIII., 1820, were sold at £5 a bottle. What is believed to -e a record price was paid for 22 large bottles of Yellow Chartreuse at 1,360s. a dozen—£5 13s. 4d. a bottle.—”Daily Telegraph,” January 30th, 1942.


The seller of the wines, Mr. John Christie, was rather gloomy about the prospects of the rich after the war. He fears they will not be able to afford wines. “I feel,” he said, “that the patrons of the Festival after the war will prefer to see, say, iced lager on the tables around them rather than the expensive wines which they used to be able to afford. I regard this sale as a gesture to them.”

Edgar Hardcastle