Master and Worker
How often has it been proclaimed that the planning of constitutions and the founding of leagues of nations have been for the purpose of establishing equality among all men. Yet, as long as capitalism exists, the equality of men can be nothing more than a Utopia, or, at best, just a fancied reality. Laws may propose that employer and worker have equal rights; that just as employers have the right to employ or not to employ, so have the workers the right to work for whomsoever they please. But do these rights exist in fact?
On the employers’ side, there exists not only the “right,” but the power. This may not apply to those who, by their own desperate struggle and long hours of work, manage to run small businesses with a return hardly higher than the wages paid to an outside worker. These are not capitalists, but men forced to work, very often more arduously than most other workers. They may delude themselves that they are “ upper class,” but actually they are of that vast army which must toil in order to live.
When Socialists speak of the employing or the capitalist class they refer to that small class in current society which, enabled to employ and to exploit the workers by its ownership of the land, factories, mines, railways, etc., is, if necessary, able to live without working upon the proceeds.
This, then, is the capitalist class: the class of employers, of masters. At the sweet will of this class men can be employed. exploited, dismissed. And in each of these eventualities the right and the power of the capitalist are plainly visible.
From the very first appearance of a working-class applicant for employment the whip-hand is held by the capitalist. He is seeking a worker whose energy, applied to the tools and material which he, the capitalist, has made available, will create a mass of commodity values and. in due course, blessed and well-loved PROFIT.
This is the sole purpose for which a capitalist employs workers. But, yearned for though they are, profits are not essential in the preservation of life. Their diminution or failure to rise above a certain level may mean for capitalists a check upon expansion, and a drop in interest, even a curb upon luxurious living. But that is all. Only profits are at stake—not the essentials of life itself.
For the working-class applicant for employment the case is very different. Dependent upon his success or failure is the problem of whether or not he will be able to provide for himself, his wife and family without recourse to assistance boards and the like. Should he fail, will the matter of the new clothes he had promised the children have to be forgotten? Will his wife have to go out to work? Will they have to cut down on the food bill—have marge instead of butter, buy cheaper milk? Must the washing be done by his wife instead of being sent to the laundry? Must he cut out his daily pint and smoke fewer cigarettes? Will he have to take the telly back?
Thus does the encounter between prospective employer and prospective employee show the inequality in the “master and man” relationship. It is further shown when the new worker is absorbed into industry. The “governor” himself is seldom seen in the factory for there is no real need for the presence of one who takes no part in production, and who possibly knows nothing of the working side of the industry. But ever present are the works manager, the supervisor, the foreman, the progress chaser those members of the working class who, for somewhat higher wages must see, on behalf of “the governor,” that production is carried on speedily, conscientiously, and as profitably as possible. This overseership, whether tyrannous or not, reveals the existence of someone at the top; of an individual or group with something to gain from working-class exploitation.
And where is equality when capitalists, in depressed trade conditions, are unable to sell their commodities? Where is the evidence, then, that working men may work for whomsoever they please — that they need even be employed at all? Where is the “right” to work when the introduction of machinery renders certain workers redundant? Experience shows that wholesale sackings and dismissals are the accepted order of the day as soon as the employment of workers is not profitable enough. It matters not that these dismissals might mean for the workers involved long spells of unemployment, a depression of living standards already far from satisfying, and minor—or even major—domestic tragedies. For such is the accepted pattern of master-class behaviour in capitalist society. That it is accepted—and not least by those who suffer most therefrom —is the most pitiful feature of modern life.