Are You Satisfied with Your Pay?

Ask any body of workers if they think they are getting enough pay, the pay they think they are worth, and it is safe to say that nine out of every ten would answer No! They nearly all think they ought to get more, and would get more if things were run properly. They nearly all have a vague feeling that things aren’t run properly. They are annoyed that nobody—this includes the trade unions, the employers, the political parties and the Government—does anything about it and they all have some notion about what ought to be done. Some point to the impossibility of keeping themselves and their families “decently” in face of the cost of living—in their view it ought to be the duty of the employers or the Government to see that everybody has enough to maintain this “decent” standard of living.

Some think that things would be all right if wages were raised and their employers’ profits lowered. But if they happen to work in a firm or an industry where sales are falling and profits are small or non-existent they look to the Government to give subsidies or do something to improve the sales of the article they produce. Lots of workers blame or envy other workers. The labourers envy the craftsmen, while the craftsmen and foremen complain that they do not receive wages sufficiently above the labourer’s rate to compensate for their skill and responsibility. Many teachers have a special resentment because, as they allege, they receive no more than do dustmen. University graduates think that a proper wages policy would recognise more the importance of having a degree, and scientific workers think that the scales are unjustly weighted in favour of administrative workers. Feminists clamour for the male “rate for the job” and provoke some of their male colleagues into demanding “justice” for the married man with dependents. The queue of the disgruntled stretches indefinitely and encircles the globe.

They are all there, the bank clerks and postal clerks, the parsons, the lawyers, the doctors, the dentists and nurses. The shopkeepers, too, have their grievances against the manufacturers and are looking with envy now at the furore created in France by the shopkeepers’ dingy saint M. Poujade. Then there are the pensioners, the police the soldiers, the prison warders—and the Red Dean’s revolting choristers at Canterbury. At the end of the line are the non-workers the small unhappy band of surtax payers and millionaires who swear that high taxation compels them, if they are to live the lives of conspicuous wastefulness fitting to their station, to overspend their incomes and eat up their capital; a practice as loathsome to a Capitalist as is cannibalism to a missionary.

And for every group of complainants there is an aspiring trade union official, politician, or economist with a glib solution. The solutions are too numerous to list here. They are seemingly as varied as the occupational groups from which they spring but they all have one thing in common. They all assume that there is, or could be, in the world of Capitalism a defensible social principle by which wages could be fixed at a “proper” level. They all ignore the facts of Capitalist life. As practical solutions they are all so much trash.

The Law of the Jungle
Capitalism knows no social principle of distribution according to need, or responsibility, or skill, or training, or risk, or so-called “value of work,” or “usefulness to the community.” If Capitalism has anything that’ approaches a principle it is that income shall be in inverse proportion to work. If you own capital in sufficient amount you never need work at all, and the more you avoid work in order to enjoy luxurious living the greater the esteem and attention you will have bestowed upon you.

The Socialist knows why this is and how the system works. Society’s means of living are owned by the propertied class, the Capitalists who are in business to provide themselves with their kind of income, profits. They employ the working class in order to make profit out of them, a proceeding the working-class are forced to accept because they are propertyless. The Capitalist pays as little as he can for the kind of worker he needs. All the worker can do is to bargain and struggle to get as much out of the employer as circumstances permit and what circumstances permit depends on whether the Capitalist needs the kind of skill the worker has to offer. If the employer needs a certain kind of skill and if the number of workers having that skill is limited the employer will1 have to pay accordingly for it, he will have to pay more to the skilled than to the unskilled worker. But if owing to the decline of a given trade, or the invention of a machine, which replaces craftsmanship, skilled operatives are not in demand their wages will fall.

In the depression of the nineteen thirties apprenticed engineering craftsmen, skilled coal miners, university graduates, and agricultural labourers, were a drag on the market. Capitalism had no need for all there were of them and their wages fell. During the war Capitalism had need of coal and food, of engineering and chemical products, and all these groups had their chance to push up wages beyond the rise of the cost of living. “Merit” and “human needs” and “usefulness to the community” and all the other fine-sounding phrases, have nothing to do with it. What counts is whether the worker is useful to the Capitalist, and the only usefulness the Capitalist knows is usefulness in making profit. The only argument he has to listen to is the fact of inability to get sufficient of the workers he needs, and the amount of strike pressure trade union organisation can bring to bear to prevent him getting enough workers at the wage he offers.

Is it crude, callous and inhuman? Of course it is. It is the law of the jungle, the only law Capitalism knows.

And has Socialism any alternative to offer? Indeed it has, but by Socialism we mean the Socialism of Socialists, not the spurious State Capitalist nostrums offered by the Attlees and Bevans and the clique who run Capitalism in Russia.

All over the world the cut throat Capitalist wages system operates and only Socialists have as their aim the replacement of Capitalism by a Socialist system of society in which there will be no wages system, no propertied class and working class, the one living on income from property and the other on wages. Under Socialism people will work cooperatively to produce what all need and all will freely take what they need out of the products and services cooperative effort achieves.

Of course the pseudo-Socialists named above all pay lip-service to the ideal of abolishing Capitalism and the wages system but whether or not they understand what they are talking about they show by their actions and programmes that they do not intend to seek that solution. They all in their time bleat about the need for bold, far-reaching action but all with one accord recoil from the Socialist objective they profess to desire.

For the working class of the world the choice is simple, either to take the organised political action necessary to introduce Socialism or to continue with Capitalism. The one thing that cannot be had is to impose on the Capitalist jungle some socially acceptable and satisfying wages policy.


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