The People You Meet: No. 4 – George

Every morning you’ll see old George on the 8.45 from Ilford to Liverpool Street, with his neatly rolled umbrella and Daily Express. The affairs of the world are decided in his compartment. Lately they have come to the conclusion that the workers are very lazy, impudent in insisting on wage increases, and in need of the “big stick” of unemployment.

“But didn’t you say George came from Ilford where one pawnbroker alone left a million pounds? They’ve got branches of Woolworths’, Montague Burton’s and every other chain store. They’ve even got a labour exchange.”

Yes, George’s district has all those things, and George is a worker too; but never tell him I said so. He’d throw a fit. You see, George has got on in the world. His old man was only a factory hand but he’s “something in the city.” Where poor old Dad only produces the goods, George has the job of adding up the profits their common master makes on them. He’s got his own house in Ilford, or a least will have in ten years’ time when he’s finished thirty years’ mortgage repayment; his own car, only a Ford, but still a car, and his boy is at a fifth-rate public school.

Wage slave? Not at all, says George. George gets a salary cheque. He’s very proud of that. Of course, he doesn’t realise what this constitutes. Far from being the value of his services, it is no more than the cost of his production. In other words, enough to provide him and his wife and child with food, clothing and shelter with just a little over for entertainment. Of course, he gets more than Dad. He has required more training and it costs more for his upkeep. Imagine the look on the boss’s face of George bowled up to work in dungarees; he must wear black coat and striped trousers, well pressed and neat. He must live somewhere respectable. It enhances the good name of the firm.

Yet George knows poverty—an insidious genteel poverty. In Stepney the kid tells the insurance agent that “Mum says she’s out.” In Ilford George’s wife tells him she hasn’t cashed his pay cheque. In slumland the poverty is constant and open, in Ilford it hides behind the curtains and a shining door knocker. And George knows other features of capitalism too. Several hundred of his kind recently were axed from the civil service. As the conditions of capitalism grow tighter the administrative workers are the first to be pruned. What then?—addressing envelopes for football pools or going from door to door trying to sell vacuum cleaners on the never-never to workers as poor as himself.

Yet in spite of it all George still won’t have it that he’s a worker. And it pays the capitalist to foster this belief, to persuade George that he is a member of the mythical “middle class.” The squabbles between “officers and employees,” “staff and hands,” “black coat and dungarees” all tend to hide the real struggle between capitalist and wage-slave, irrespective of the form his slavery may take.

But he’s in for a shock. The breeze of economic troubles is fact becoming a tornado, and what will he do then? Maybe the shock will do him good, clear the mist from his eyes, and show him his correct alignment—in the ranks of the workers striving for Socialism.


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