How well is the “Welfare State”?

(Continued from July SOCIALIST STANDARD

Working hours and traffic accidents
Traffic accidents in Austria are relatively of the same terrible frequency as in other countries. 30-40 people are on an average killed every week and a thousand injured.

A shocking accident occurred on a winding mountain road near Bolzano (Northern Italy) when, late in the night, an Austrian bus with 42 people aboard fell over a ravine into a narrow river, killing 19 persons and severely injuring most of the others; another case was that of a motor truck running into the Danube near Vienna, which brought to light the conditions under which drivers have to work. Overtime is the regular thing, especially during the tourist season, and it is encouraged by extremely low wages and much unemployment in the winter months. The average wage for drivers is under S.300 for a 48-hour week (about £4 10s.), which many drivers make up to 100 hours or more. One driver worked 48 normal hours and 59 hours overtime. In the goods transport business drivers work on the average a 66-hour week. For the driver who drove his truck into the Danube it was proved that he had been 40 hours behind the wheel, on a tour from Innsbruck to Vienna and back. On a recent tour through Switzerland, Italy and France, this writer personally travelled such distances as Venice-Vienna (400 miles) in a 14-hour day. This after the driver had for nine days been on the road every day, without a single rest day.

It should here be pointed out that when Socialists speak of exploitation of the workers, this term rightly applies to the “normal,” mostly legally fixed working week, say, 40 to 48 hours, in which the employer’s profit must be made—hence it is a process of exploitation. Working 60 or more hours per week must then be described as sweated labour, with, of course, correspondingly increased profit for the employer. But one cannot repeat often enough that working a normal, legally fixed working day of eight hours for wages is a process of EXPLOITATION, since the workers have to produce not only the value of their wages, but the employer’s profit as well. This profit is pocketed by the employer WITHOUT payment to the worker.

As a matter of fact it is this UNPAID labour only that interests the employing class and their managers, and induces them to have the instruments of production under their control operated at all. If there is no profit or no prospect of profit, there is no production, however great or urgent the want and need may be and regardless of people starving and freezing. The employer, the man of business, is by no means a philanthropist. Even if he had sentimental feelings towards the worker and his family, the dictates of his system do not allow him to consider them. Without exploiting the workers the capitalist cannot employ him.

Even relatively good and favourable conditions of work in hygienic installations, with good air, in light and modern workshops and plants, with social service arrangements, family allowances, health insurance, unemployment insurance, old age pensions, etc.—all things that make people talk of a Welfare State—cannot alter the fact of EXPLOITATION and humiliating dependency and worrying insecurity of the worker. The word worker remains even in the most beautiful factories and garden cities synonymous with poverty, and all fine words about security, the nobility and dignity of work cannot remove the stigma of social inferiority and dependency. The reality makes a mockery of all fine phrases.

To remedy this state of affairs the “Socialists” of the type of the “Socialist Party of Austria,” of Scandinavia, of the English Labour Party, the Communist Parties, far from attributing social evils to capitalism, with its profit motive, and far from advocating its abolition, openly stand for the continuance of exploitation through the wages system.

On the question of the hours of labour in the transport industry, the party are now clamouring for more legislation, regulations and restraints, which, even if enacted, will leave things very much where they were before. Similarly, writing of the effects of automation, the Arbeiter Zeitung vaguely proposes a general internationally agreed reduction of working hours to prevent the blessings of automation turning into its opposite. As if any reforms that have in the past been advocated by the “Socialist” Party of Austria and their brother parties elsewhere had ever altered the status of the workers as a propertyless and exploited class. It never occurs to these scribes that what matters to the workers of the world is not what kind of machines are used to turn out goods, but who owns the machines. If they continue to be private or State property, as now, goods can only be produced as commodities; i.e., for sale and profit, and labour-power will also continue to remain a commodity, exposed to all the vicissitudes of the labour market

Decades of labour movements, alleged “Socialist” and “Communist” governments in a number of countries large and small (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia. China and their satellite countries behind the iron curtain) have left Socialism as far away as ever. Nay, there if not even the suggestion there of aiming at the abolition of the profit motive in production. Indeed, the abolition of the wages system and the establishment of a classics, moneyless, frontierless system of society wherein the means of life would be produced for the sole purpose of use, is looked upon as a utopia in those “Socialist” circles as much as in the avowed capitalist quarters. In fostering confusion on the issue, the “Socialist” Party of Austria is hard to beat Here is an example:—

Among the 101 items on their recent election programme was what the Arbeiter Zeitung called “A remarkable aim, opening up far-reaching prospects for the future.” Was it the abolition of exploitation of man by man, with its resultant evils of poverty, insecurity, class conflict and war? Was this “remarkable aim” the establishment of a classless, moneyless, propertyless and povertyless system of society based on common ownership of the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution?

Not on your life! In their own words, the “remarkable aim” is: “To bring Austria in line with the highly developed industrial countries of Western and Northern Europe, to bring “our” country to the level of Denmark or Holland, not to speak of Sweden and Switzerland.” What the conditions in these highly developed industrial countries are was described in an article in the Socialist Standard for July. Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, have social democratic governments, and it speaks volumes for the “Socialist” education these “Socialist” parties provide, that the opium of nationalism and religion, the hoary traditions and superstitions supporting and perpetuating the privileges of a small class of about 10 per cent., including the royal families, can continue to be inculcated into the brain of the young generation, whilst the remaining 90 per cent. of the people consider as unalterable their miserable status of a propertyless class of wage-slaves dependent for their means of livelihood on securing a job with some employer. Was it not Denmark where only recently a 100,000 workers had to go on strike for weeks in order not to allow their wretched standard of living sinking still deeper? Was it not Denmark where police armed with batons and police dogs were sent against the strikers—an episode that prompted a Vienna newspaper to the remark that the “Socialism” of the Danish social democratic party had now literally gone before the dogs! Today it is line-up with the Scandinavian kingdoms, yesterday a former “great Austrian Socialist” recommended Anschluss and voted for Hitler Germany, described the British and the Bolshevik empires—the decisive part of the world—as being under the leadership of the working-class, to-morrow it will be something else, but never Socialism. (The millions of workers in Eastern slave-labour camps and the poverty stricken wage-slaves still outside would no doubt be amazed if told that they are the masters of one-sixth of the earth.)


(To be continued)

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