1950s >> 1954 >> no-596-april-1954

Work, Welfare and Wages

There is a glossy and expensive technical magazine called “Mass Production.” Probably you don’t read it—which is a pity, because there is a lot written in it about you. But you may not appreciate this at first, because you are referred to as “it,” and “it” is human labour.


In the March issue of “Mass Production” is an article by “Commentus ” entitled “Work, Welfare and Wages,” which deals with problems of incentives and labour-management relationships. It is written (as, indeed, is the whole publication) from the point of view of management, and when “Commentus” writes “we” he means those who are looking after the employers’ interests. He questions “the value of attempts to foster the family spirit in the families.” The homely phrase “human-touch personnel technique” is used in connection with this family spirit, and it is really not surprising that “Commentus” finds that such calculated bonhomie doesn’t fool anyone. Plaintively he asks “Even if the managing director condescends to wear a carnival hat at the get-together party, does it really encourage the chaps in the factory to greater effort?”


   “Then there it the alleged subtle attempt at production boosting by giving people the line that their work it of social significance. No doubt it is—but most people will go on thinking (if they think about it at all) that the firm is in business to make money and not for the benefit of the community. That the community does in fact benefit is not relevant unless the firm was started from purely altruistic motives—which is highly improbable! Likewise, talk about their part in the firms’ achievements makes very few of the workers swell with pride. They have a rooted idea that the firm is in business to make money —the actual product is in a sense only a by-product”


And so we see that the much-discussed theories of harmonious relationships in industry have failed to measure up to the realities of capitalist production. Despite the lines that are given them, workers can’t get rid of the “rooted” idea that the firm is in business to make money. Perhaps the roots of this idea lie in the fact that firms do make money. In any case, wage claims are being pressed, and it seems that false substitutes are less and less likely to be accepted.


Comparisons with American productivity are becoming more frequent, and talk of high-wage paying Capitalism in this country is increasing in technical circles. If higher wages are to be paid then the employers will do all they can to ensure that no appreciable inroads will be made into profits. To achieve this more mechanisation will be carried out; fewer operatives but more technicians will be employed. “Commentus” writes:

   “It should provide both cheaper products and higher wages—not to mention profits! But will the mere button-pushers, although in clean, comfortable surroundings, then complain of the monotony of their effortless task ?”


It would be a very disturbing thing indeed if the “mere button-pushers” did not do very much more than just complain. It would indicate that they had been fully transformed into appendanges of machines and instruments of capital. If this is the price to pay for higher wages, then workers may well reconsider whether they are aiming at the right target. All the family spirit, hygiene and welfare measures that could be devised could not compensate for such loss of humanity.


Are these the sort of “improved” conditions that can be expected from Capitalism? If they are, then socialists want no part of them. People are not instruments for purposes outside themselves—they are less than human to the extent that they submit to being just another commodity in the world of capital. Only Socialism will abolish their commodity status and make them whole men and women.


Stan Parker