1940s >> 1948 >> no-523-march-1948

The Labour Government Gets Tough with the Workers

The Capitalist Press bus found a new hero in Sir Stafford Cripps. They congratulate him on having taken firm control of Government economic policy and on standing up manfully to the trade unions on the wages issue. In his recent speeches and in the Government declaration, “Statement on Personal Incomes, Costs and Prices,” he announced plans to avoid increases of prices and profits and, if possible, to reduce them and told the trade unions there must be no more wage increases unless accompanied by a substantial increase in production, or for the purpose of attracting workers to undermanned industries, or in the event of a future marked rise in the cost of living. And if we do not obey (Sir Stafford warns us) we face ”a serious and prolonged set-back in our economic reconstruction accompanied by a persistent low standard of living.” He follows it up with the threat of dictatorship.

“We must all subordinate our own interests to those of the nation. Otherwise someone will be called upon to force us to comply as the only alternative to disaster.” (Speech at Edinburgh, Observer, 8/2/48)

A typical Press comment on the Government’s new statement of policy was that in the Daily Mail (6/23/48). Under the heading “The Truth at Last” the Mail wrote : “The Government have taken their courage in both hands. . . Not only have they for the first time made far-reaching economic proposals without the prior permission of the T.U.C., but they are facing up to the hard facts of our economic situation. This is a refreshing change from the weak and hesitant attitude we have come to expect. It is .not difficult to trace in the new departure the hand and purpose of Sir Stafford Cripps.”

Sir Stafford Cripps’ rise to power deserves a little examination. He made his name in politics (and, thus earned the grave disapproval of the Daily Mail) as a critic of the official Labour Party policy. He attacked the monarchy, wanted disarmament and an anti-war policy, urged a United Front of the Labour Party and other so-called “left wing” parties, and constantly urged the Labour Party to be bolder and more aggressive in its programme of “soaking the rich” to aid the workers. Above all, he became known for his belief that when Labour got power ordinary Parliamentary methods of carrying out their programme against capitalist opposition would be slow and ineffective and must be helped out by the use of Orders in Council and other devices for coercing the opposition and speeding up legislation. Sir Stafford, after many years at loggerheads with the Labour Party, found his chance during the war and is now, in all but name, Prime Minister of the Labour Government. What a chance for him to see the realisation of his early hopes and plans, and how zealously this puritanical lawyer-politician tackles the job. One thing only has gone awry, Sir Stafford has turned right round: his belligerency and his demand for emergency measures, speed and urgency, are now directed against the workers in the trade unions. Here then is the reason why the capitalist writers praise the man they used to spurn.

He and his colleagues are also now being praised in the same quarters for being frank to the workers and telling them the grim truth about the crisis. The Labour Government deserves no such praise. If they were really being frank and truthful their message would go something like this:

“In 1945 we got your votes under false pretences. We pretended that a Labour Government would be able to bring about continuous improvements of your standard of living with more pay, shorter hours, plenty of goods at lower prices, plenty of houses, etc. We also promised you peace with all the world, especially Russia. We pretended that our aim was Socialism and that we would lead you towards that goal. Those things were not true. We were muddled about it ourselves and only partly understood what problems capitalism would produce, but beyond that we were just making empty promises to get your votes and hoping, Micawber-like, that something would turn up before the next election. What we were really doing was to take on the job of putting British capitalism on its feet again and some of us knew that this would mean imposing further great hardships on the workers. We promised ‘full employment’ but we quite overlooked the fact that capitalism needs unemployment in order to keep wages down and safeguard profits. As we can’t do without capitalism we are now compelled to urge yon not to press for higher wages though we have been raising prices by withdrawing subsidies. If yon don’t heed our warning we shall have to use wholesale direction of labour or some other compulsion to make you adjust your demands to the requirements of capitalism. We are, now finding ourselves compelled by capitalism to carry out much the same policy as the Tories and Liberals imposed on you after the First World War. After this crisis there will be other crises, and we shan’t be able to do anything about them except tell you to be patient, pull in your belts and work harder. If you want to escape all these evils the only way is to abolish capitalism and introduce socialism. But if you are, content to put up with capitalism we shall stay in office as long as you will let us. Why should we leave the sweets of ministerial office to the Tories or some other party?”

That is what they would say if they were candid. What they will say is quite another story. As they fall into line with traditional Tory and Liberal policies for dealing with capitalist crises they may be expected more and more to defend their failure to “deliver the goods” by putting the blame on those who put them in power – the working class.

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