How To Attract Workers . . . By a Steel Magnate

Steel and tinplate manufacturing in S. Wales has travelled a long way from those early times when the densely wooded valleys resounded with the blow of the hammering forges busily flattening iron into plates to the continuous strip rolling mill of today. Then the industry was in the hands of small private owners, today it has emerged into a mammoth combine employing tens of thousands of workers. Through it all, the role of the worker has remained the same. Despite changes in processes—from charcoal to coke; Bessemer to Semens; hammer to rolls; dipping to electrolytic tinning —the workers status is still that of one who owns no part in this enterprise; remaining, as of old, a seller of labour power.

On the outskirts of Llanelli there is to be seen an old school house—1850—built by the owners of a local tinplate works for the tuition of employees’ children. We can well imagine that the curriculum was “well laced” with admonitions, such as submissiveness and respect for the “master” and, of course, the parson. Today, of course, as in industry, education has been centralized and otherwise “nationalized” so that both the old school and the old steel and tinplate works have had their day.

Nowadays, Llanelli boasts the most modern tinplate strip mill in Europe, if not in the world; built by the Steel Co. of Wales, an amalgamation of a number of smaller companies. The circle, it seems, is now complete. Beginning with the introduction of the tinning process brought to this country by Yarranton, who spied on the German method; having a second great phase with the laying of the foundations of the Margam Works in 1915 (this time with the aid of German prisoners of war—forced labour?). Today, the Steel Company of Wales is a giant of the tinplate world.

Nevertheless, the worker has still to be reckoned with and so we find that the Steel Company of Wales is as keen to educate the working class as were its predecessors in the little school house not five miles away from where the present magnificent factory now stands.

A typical example has come our way recently.

Sir Ernest Lever, Chairman of the mammoth Steel Co. of Wales, some time ago, delivered a speech to the Cardiff branch of the Institute of Industrial Administration, which was considered (presumably by Sir Ernest and his fellow executives) to be so good, that copies were distributed free to employees of the Company. We have read the document and feel that it deserves to be answered.

Sir Ernest, in a text of 10 pages, does not mention “Capitalism” or “Capitalists,” though he does state that individuals “should . . . be able to make a little financial profit for themselves.” This appears to be a masterly understatement to say the least, from a man whose undertaking has assets of £99 million, with a profit of £14.3 millions.

Sir Ernest begins by expounding the necessity for good management and illustrates it by giving homely examples such as that of the housewife. In this way he discusses the subject on familiar grounds with the reader as a preliminary to leading him along to a more ‘‘academic” plane. Having, he hopes, achieved some measure of agreement first he goes on to say that though Administration is not an “occult art” managers are “born and not made” (page 1). Throughout the pamphlet he plugs the necessity for leadership and the glorious rewards that lie in store for those who, like himself presumably, are born to lead (not forgetting the implication that you, too, the reader, may possess these hidden qualities).

It appears that Capitalist Administration, together with its attendant industrial methods such as “speed ups,” etc., have been grossly maligned by workers and the well known “Time and Motion” study is really nothing more than what the dear old lady meant when she referred to “using her head to save her legs.” We, of course, know that whereas the old lady meant her head, and her legs. Sir Ernest means your head and legs and the Steel Co.’s profits.

He then dips into history and refers to the Craft Guild System to show the rewards won by the apprentice by obeying implicitly his master’s wishes and instructions and bemoans the fact that the modern worker has lost such humility (p. 10 and 11). Sir Ernest should be told that under the Guild System the apprentice hoped—and usually did—become a Master Craftsman himself; that the Master did indeed command some respect by being a “Master of his Craft” from whom one learned; that today the worker, by and large, does not and cannot hope to became the master: that masters are not masters in the sense that they are “master craftsmen” or are otherwise imbued with extraordinary talents—occult or otherwise: that they exist as masters simply by their control over the means of life with power to employ members of the working class in the laboratory, office, and workshop as happens in his, and every other industrial concern.

Perhaps the biggest “whopper” in a speech that is full of them is the statement that once a worker becomes a charge-hand or foreman, he is on his way to becoming a member of the Capitalist Class! “If you ask me when the employee becomes an employer . . . I suppose the answer is when he reaches the top grade in the employee scale” (page 4). We notice that such a staggering statement demands a careful “suppose” from an otherwise authoritative spokesman of Capitalism. For our part, we are staggered to think that the “rags to riches” view is still held to be true together with the view that an employee—even a highly paid one—is tantamount to being a Capitalist.

Sir Ernest, drawing to the end of his speech, goes on to say that “in a properly conducted industry there should be no antagonism between workers and employer” (page 6). Of course this is the situation earnestly desired by the Capitalist Class and if the workers follow Sir Ernest’s advice this is the situation they will find themselves in (providing that in the meantime they lose their sanity, self respect and sense of logic). We, of course, cannot see it happening because in a system of society where there exists an antagonism of interests—on the one hand exploitation for profit and on the other the sale of labour power, strife is inevitable and willy-nilly, the Capitalist Class must wield the big stick now as they have always done if they are to remain in business even though Sir Ernest implies that though Capitalists were once bad. they are no longer so (page 6).

As we said at the beginning, Sir Ernest nowhere mentions “Capitalists” or “Capitalism.” so we have had to do it for him. He confines the whole of his argument to “workers” and “management” His great aim appears to be to prove the necessity for “Leadership.”

We know that the time has come when men can conduct their lives—socially and economically—without boards of directors. We know because we see the Capitalist Class running industry by purchasing the brains and muscle of the working class. When Sir Ernest says “our survival is at stake” he means, of course, the survival of the Capitalist System. We are not in the least interested in its survival, rather the opposite. Under his system our survival is always “at stake.” He cannot point out any period when it was not so.

We suggest that Sir Ernest or any other spokesman for Capitalism, when next they decide to write “homilies for homely working men” really get down to it and tell us what, in their view, are the benefits of Capitalism for the working class.

And we don’t want to be told that the answer lies in the steel company’s recent offer of shares on special terms for their workers. This, an editorial in the Western Mail, says, is intended to give them the idea that they “will have a real stake in the company” (4/3/57). The real purpose—and cheap at the price—is to make the workers more docile wage slaves.

W. Brain