What price reform?

Many a social reform since embodied in legislation became law not because the ruling class or its political representatives were moved by the plight of certain sections of the population, but primarily because advantages accrued to capitalism. Not benevolence but the profit consideration was the motive.

A great deal of evidence is available to substantiate this view, and that it actually accumulates almost daily is evident from what follows. In two days’ issues of the Manchester Guardian were found the following three examples.

One: Speaking of the position of young widows with children and the inadequacy of their Widows’ Allowances so that “they simply had not enough money to live on” and were being forced to put their children in nurseries and go out to work, Dr. J. C. Heenan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool, commented: “It need hardly be said that it costs the country more to maintain nurseries than it would do to give widows adequate allowances.” (March 27th, 1958.)

Two: On the 25th of March the Maintenance Orders Bill was before the House of Commons. Now, this Bill is ostensibly designed to ensure that any man who deserts his wife and has had a Court Order for maintenance made out against him will not be able to bilk payment by simply moving about from place to place. The method by which it is hoped to ensure this is by an attachment of the man’s earnings, a form of P.A.Y.E. The essential point here is not the advantage that there may be for the women, but again the L.S.D. motive. Mr. Renton, Joint Under-Secretary to the Home Office, moving the third reading of the Bill, stated that the Bill dealt with the problem of a woman who could not get maintenance and a man who drifted into prison because he had failed to keep up regular payments more by incompetence than by malice. Continuing, he said: “More than 3,000 prisoners were now sleeping three in a cell. Prisoners are costing us (sic) nearly £6 per week per head and we ought to try and avoid sending thousands of men a year to prison for defaulting payment.” (March 26th, 1958.)

And, three: In 1955 a Committee was appointed by the Minister of Labour to investigate “industrial health.” The Report of this Committee’s first survey was published on the 26th of March, and it was given some prominence by the Manchester Guardian devoting an editorial to it, headed, “ Keeping Well at Work.” Among other things, the editorial informed us that in over one in four of nearly 800 workplaces visited in Halifax (employing some 7,700 people) washing facilities and general cleanliness were considered unsatisfactory. And Halifax was chosen not because it’s regarded as particularly unhealthy in any way but because it is “a concise industrial town with a fair diversity of industries.” The editorial’s summing-up paragraph is a little masterpiece of simple, lucid Guardian language. “It is both more profitable and more sensible to spend money on keeping people well than to grant sick leave; and the best work is usually done in the best-kept places.” (March 26th, 1958.)

And there you have the Holiest of all Holy Trinitys— Church, State, and Press—lamenting the plight of young widows, deserted wives, and the working-class in general; yet withal their reforming zeal and burning fervour against injustices never leaving out monetary calculations, but all the time carefully weighing the price of one reform against another.


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