A place of your own

One of the prime necessities of life is shelter. A lot of people make a living by letting rooms whilst others augment their weekly wage by doing the same thing. Here in Britain at the moment quite a number of people because of their poverty are living in furnished rooms. This can be dear enough but they have got to pay up and like it. The same also goes for the people who are “lucky” enough to find unfurnished accommodation.


There are also the Council houses and flats built specially for workers. Surely the nice newness and smarter surroundings of a modern self-contained flat with all amenities should have been the means of bringing about a happy carefree attitude among those tenants? But the struggle over the St. Pancras council flats, the Kenistoun House barricading shemozzle, along with the other unhappy incidents up and down the country speak for themselves.


Another side to this housing tragedy is revealed by those who find themselves in the position of having a bit of surplus space in their houses and who, instead of utilizing the roominess for their own comfort, are stricken with a kindness of thought and let their rooms to the more unfortunates at two, three or four pounds a go. The kind of room in which you can clearly walk around the table is classified as a “double room”, compared with the one in which, when you open the door, you trip over the bed. This obviously becomes a “single bedsitter”, and it’s amazing the number of people who cook, eat, sleep, wash, read and attempt to entertain in such quarters. Yes! 1961 and all that.


The Guardian recently told of a Londoner walking through Berkeley Square with one of the African delegates from the Rhodesian Conference, listening to him talk about the problem of low wages in so many parts of Africa. Wages are so low the Guardian  reported the African as saying, that in his own territory the African worker had to have subsidised housing, as in so many cases the bread-winner earned only £6 per .month.


After they had parted the Londoner made his way across the Square. Something in the window of an estate agent’s office caught his eye. It was a modest sign advertising a mews cottage in Knightsbridge at150 guineas. He found on enquiry that it contained two maids’ bedrooms and a dressing room as well as two ordinary bedrooms and was furnished in antiques of impeccable pedigree. The rent—£150—per week. The figure, the girl agreed, was high but it broke no record.


But remember this. Even if the worker were to live rent free in one of the Stately Homes with its own approach and the forecourt framed with iron wrought gates, and surrounded by North, South, East and West lawns—if he still had to work for a living he would be no better off. As Engels said so long ago,


    Let us assume that in a given industrial area it has become the rule that each worker owns his own little house. In that case the working class of that area lives rent free, housing expenses no longer enter into the value of its labour-power. Every reduction in the cost of production of labour-power, that is to say, every permanent price reduction in the worker’s necessities of life is equivalent “on the basis of the iron laws of the doctrine of national economy” to a depression of the value of labour-power and will therefore finally result in a corresponding drop in wages. Wages would thus fall on an average as much as the average sum saved on rent, that is, the worker would pay rent for his own house, but not, as formerly, in money to the house-owner, but in unpaid labour to the factory owner for whom he works. In this way the savings of the worker invested in his little house would in a certain sense become capital, however not capital for him but for the capitalist employing him.


Joe McGuinness