The Lowdown on Industrial Welfare

Of all the mouthpieces of capitalist interests, nobody can deny that the Financial Times is one of the most tried and trusted. We have perused its columns many times, but the only thing we have noticed about it that might lead anybody to believe it has anything remotely to do with Socialism is the fact that its pages, for some strange reason, are coloured a most delicate shade of pink.


The Financial Times, in fact, stands four-square for Capitalism—for the system as a whole, and for the British capitalist class in particular—and it makes no pretence of denying it. For this reason we can always rely on it that whatever it does publish is tied up with capitalist interests somewhere. Take, for example, the special supplement it put out with the issue of the 30th January, on the subject of “industrial welfare.”


Apart from knowing that it had something to do with methods of keeping the worker fit and happy at his work we had little idea of what was meant by “industrial welfare” until we read the supplement. Apparently, it is another of those “portmanteau phrases” with which our planners and reformers love to plague us these days. Locked up in the portmanteau are the following items: the provision of good working conditions, e.g., improved lighting, adequate ventilation, comfortable heating, etc.; health and first’ aid facilities at work, including accident prevention; canteens; industrial education and training; sick, pension, and benevolent funds; social and recreational facilities; and various other odds and ends. Some of the “experts” would also include joint consultation between workers and employers, but others are not so sure. In any case, it can quite easily be left out as it raises other issues with which we are not at present concerned.


Now, without going to the absurd extreme of admitting that all these things are unmixed blessings to the working class, nobody can deny that workers may derive benefit from some of them. For example, under this system of Capitalism where a worker has to go to work to make a profit for his employer, it is obviously better that he should be able to work, say, a machine, with comparative safety rather than be in constant fear and risk of having a limb amputated—or worse. Nor, going to the other extreme, is there any reason why a worker should refuse to join the works football team and take advantage of the playing fields and other equipment provided by his employers. The main issue is not that workers should refuse these things, but that they should be under no illusion about what they are provided for.


Have workers these illusions? Are they taken in by the employer’s concern for their working conditions? Or by the idea that they are all, workers and employers, just one big happy family, working together for the good of all? Do workers fall for these things as easily as they fall for the reforms and soothing syrup they get at election-times on the political field? No definite answer can be given to these questions, but the fact that employers are paying more and more attention to these ideas of “industrial welfare,” and the very fact that an out-and-out capitalist paper like the Financial Times can publish a document in favour of such schemes is an indication that considerable numbers of workers are taken in by them.


Why have the capitalist class been paying so much interest to “industrial welfare” during recent years? For two main reasons. First, for the sake of efficiency, and, second, to increase productivity. Socialists have been pointing this out ever since the early days of the Cadbury’s, with their schemes at Bournville, and Lord Leverhulme’s at Port Sunlight. Now, along comes the Financial Times, a source no defender of the capitalist system can question, and puts it in a nutshell for us.


First of all it provides us with Mr. R. R. Hyde, founder of the Industrial Welfare Society, an organisation set up during the First World War, now with 2,000 firms as active members. This is his contribution:


  “. . . the dividing line between what is done in the name of welfare and what is done in the name of efficiency is often very hard to draw; sometimes, in fact, it is impossible. One type of service or facility can only be looked on alternatively either as a contribution to welfare or as a contribution to efficiency. . . .”


After this comes Dr. L. Norman, President of the Association of Industrial Medical Officers, to deal with the medical angle. After expressing his surprise that “so little attention has been paid until recently to the health of the factory worker . . . the producer upon whom the success of all industry depends,” he goes on to review the various services provided by industrial doctors. On the need for giving all applicants for jobs a preliminary medical examination, he says:


  “. . . Correct placing of applicants . . . leads to a contented staff, fewer labour troubles, a reduced labour turnover, and a lowered sickness absence rate, all factors which indicate the morale—or lack of it—of a working group.” (Page 2.)


And on the subject of accidents,


  “. . . An efficient accident service to deal promptly and effectively with accidents occurring at any time of day is essential, and the knowledge that this service is efficient promotes confidence in the workers.” (Page 2.)

He ends his contribution on the following note:


  “. . . There was a feeling not so long ago that employees were indebted to the employer for providing the job; now managements are realising the fundamental debt owing to all workers who pull their weight in advancing the firm towards its objectives. Employees are entitled to the best possible in working conditions; a good medical department is not only something which firms owe their employees, but a profitable investment in human relations.” (Page 2.)


The next article deals with canteens, and it is quite apparent that this aspect of the question has been tied up to the satisfaction of the employer, also. This is the “expert’s” opinion (Page 3):


  “. . . It is acknowledged to-day that a debit balance on the canteen profit-and-loss account is not necessarily a sign of failure. The unseen profits of a satisfactory canteen are in the health and efficiency of the workers as well as in the pleasant atmosphere and good reputation of the factory.”


Finally, we, are treated to the opinions of a Managing Director, the most frank and outspoken of the lot. To the question, “Does it pay?” he answers:


  “I am always sceptical of claims that the introduction of this or that change has resulted in a phenomenal increase in productivity, but, during the four post-war years, the productivity of my factory (administrative staff included) has increased by about 28 per cent. above the figure for 1937-38, our best previous year. This increased productivity has not been due to new machinery because we have not yet been able to instal any of consequence. The one big change to account for the improvement has been the steady intensification of our welfare activities. I think that 28 per cent. increase in productivity is a fair answer to the question, ‘ Does it pay? ’ As a business man I think that this is the first answer. We do not find it difficult to get new workers (usually relations and friends) and we don’t tend to lose them. Wilful absenteeism and bad timekeeping are negligible. The people work hard and do good work. In every material sense we are better off than we should be if we didn’t devote so much time and effort to welfare work.” (Page 7.)


It will be noticed that our Managing Director, although he mentions the “spiritual” aspect in the next (and smaller) paragraph, answers, true to form, as a “business man first.” And he gives us the lowdown on industrial welfare when he says at the end of the article (our italics):


“And welfare is not merely a means to an end—it is also an end in itself.”


Stan Hampson