1960s >> 1963 >> no-705-may-1963

50 Years Ago: Profits Before Life

“The profits will not allow it.”

Rarely has the plain, tragic truth been so bluntly stated by a capitalist as on April 28th in the Westminster Coroner’s Court.

The Coroner was holding an inquiry into the “accident” that took place upon a building in course of erection in High Holborn.

Two and a half tons of iron was being hoisted by a crane “made to take three tons.” “Everything was brand new.”

Henry James Matthews a lad of 18, acting as a crane signalman, was killed as the result of the chain of the crane breaking.

After the poor lad’s brother had given evidence, the Coroner called a member of the firm that made the chain.

After great difficulty the Coroner got the makers to give evidence. The secretary of the company that supplied it offered the Coroner some certificates, but said that he knew nothing about the chain itself.

The Coroner was forced to remark that “it seems a very casual way of doing things when a man’s life is at stake.”

Finally a member of the manufacturing firm told the Coroner that he had been asked to attend “to listen to the evidence.” He was asked by the Coroner: “After testing do you go over the chain to see if there are any cracks?”

The answer was a remarkable indictment of this cursed system of society, for he said:


“ I am not talking about profits,” retorted the Coroner, “ I am talking about the safety of human life.”

After some further questions the Coroner was led to say: “You are perfectly well aware of what you are talking about. It is no use trying to befool me. You are trying to ride round the subject.”

A link of the chain was handed to the witness and he was asked why, although the link had snapped, it showed no signs of fracture. All he could say to the point was: “It shows no signs of fracture.”

The Coroner said that “looking at the surface of the link you can see it is not a fracture, and that the metal had never been properly welded.”

Frederick John Parkes, Factory Inspector, said that the quality of the workmanship of the link was very bad indeed and that the metal was defective. It had not been properly welded.

Even the representative of the building company had to confess that he “found the rest of the chain not perfect.”

(from the May 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard)