An Employer’s View of the Beveridge Plan
Labour Party supporters of the Beveridge Plan say they believe it will cut into the power and wealth of the capitalist class and help towards undermining the capitalist system. They say the same about other demands that feature in their present programme. It is interesting therefore to read the remarks made by Mr. Samuel Courtauld, millionaire chairman of the great rayon firm. Speaking at the Manchester Rotary Club on February 18th, he declared himself “strongly in favour of the principles and almost all the proposals of the Beveridge Report ” (Manchester Guardian, February 19th). “I have not the faintest doubt,” he said, “that if we can survive the first severe business contraction which arises after the war, social security of this nature will be about the most profitable long-term investment the country could make. It will not undermine the moral of the nation’s workers: it will ultimately lead to higher efficiency among them and a lowering of production costs ” (italics ours).
This last remark incidentally is very much like one made by Beveridge himself in a broadcast reported in the Sunday Despatch (January 17th, 1943).
He said then that his proposal of compulsory insurance “is ensuring that people have the necessary means of keeping healthy and efficient producers.”
Mr. Samuel Courtauld sees nothing to fear in Beveridge. Likewise he supports various other Labour Party demands. In an article in the Economic Journal (April, 1942) he declared, speaking personally and not necessarily putting the views of his company, that he is favourably disposed towards the nationalisation of the railways, and if not nationalisation, then further State control of road transport and various other industries. One proposal was that the Government should appoint directors to the boards of all companies above a certain size, and at the same time the trade unions should have the right to appoint a director. This, he thought, would keep the workers’ interests well in sight and make the rising generation feel that they had a personal interest and “were not mere cogs in someone else’s soulless machine.” (Manchester Guardian, February 19th.)
Among other views he expressed in the Economic Journal was that he, as a manufacturer, thinks that bankers, landlords, merchants, and the Stock Exchange are greatly overpaid, and he wants all speculation in industrial stocks and shares eliminated. Here, of course, he voices the interest of the manufacturing capitalist against other sections of the owning class, but beyond that he has an interest in common with the other sections in safeguarding capitalism. In the speech at Manchester he warns them not to disregard the signs of the times. It is a fact, he says,—
That the majority of the electorate are hostile to the present capitalist system. This hostility may or may not be justified; the important and dangerous fact is that it exists. The masses now realise that it is in their power to introduce any changes which they desire. There is no putting the clock back: and some changes they are certainly going to have. (Manchester Guardian, February 19th.)
In short, his warning to his fellow capitalists is that if they are stiff-necked they will be risking everything:—
Now some of the experiments which I would suggest may be risky, but it is infinitely more dangerous for employers to dig in their toes and resist every radical change.
It will be noticed that if all of Mr. Courtauld’s proposals are carried out the working class will still be a propertyless class, working “with higher efficiency” and with “a lowering of production costs” to produce profit for the owners. The workers may have been made to feel that they are not mere cogs in someone else’s soulless machine, but the machine will still be someone else’s. The Manchester Guardian may (April 11th, 1942) describe Mr. Courtauld’s plans as “Socialism,” but it will still be the capitalist system.