News In Review: Pay Rise
History repeals itself.
One of the first acts of the 1945 Labour government, while admonishing us all to tighten our belts, was to agree to increase the pay of Members of Parliament.
One of the first acts of the 1964 Labour government was . . .
Perhaps it is true that some M.P.s have a hard time trying to do their job on the old pay; rising prices have hit them just as they have hit everyone else. But every M.P. belongs to a party which has promised to halt rising prices, and most of them belong to the two parties which have failed miserably to fulfill that promise. Have the M.P.s, then, only themselves to blame for their plight ?
Apart from that, many members do not have a hard time. Several Tory ex-Ministers have recently taken lucrative jobs on the boards of big companies, and on the same day as the increases in pay were announced a Labour member was involved in a traffic case which happened while he was driving his Rolls Royce.
The M.P.’s case is in fact no stronger than that of the dockers and a great deal less pressing than that of nurses, busmen and railwaymen.
But these people, just like the rest of the working class, are not in the fortunate situation of being able to argue their case with themselves, and of being able to vote themselves a rise in pay.
They have to struggle for their rises—with their employers, through arbitration, sometimes before a Court of Inquiry into the conditions of their industry. The arguments used against them rarely question their claim as such; they usually attack it on the grounds of increased production costs, and its effects upon the employers’ profit margins.
If in the end a rise is granted it often comes grudgingly, with associated promises from the workers to relax demarcation rules, or to step up productivity, or to forego any further claims for some years.
All of this is looked upon with approval by the Members of Parliament, all of whom support wage restraint in one shape or another. But apparently all the arguments they have used, about what they called the national interest and other claptrap, do not apply when they sit in judgement on themselves.
There is one argument the M.P.s could not have used to support their claim and that is that there is a shortage of men for the job. Although the M.P. is supposed to be badly paid, there are always at least two men for every vacancy. If that condition held good in industry at large, employers would no longer be bothered by the problem of wage claims.
Perhaps the only consistent case the M.P.s could make out was that they have always done a good job, have always served their masters faithfully, have always trooped into the right lobby at the right time and generally have always done everything they could to keep capitalism comfortable for the people who own it and live off it and who pay out the rises.
One of the more humiliating aspects of an old age pensioner’s life is the cloud of hypocrisy which covers every discussion of their plight.
In the last election, all the capitalist parties bid for votes on a promise of an increase in pensions in the near future. It was only when the M.P.s had been returned, pledged to do something about the pensioners’ difficulties, that we saw what the promises were worth.
From the fuss which was kicked up about the rise, it almost seemed as if pensions were to go up by several pounds a week. In fact, the increase will be twelve shillings and sixpence.
Even more, this meagre increase will not be payable until next April which means that the pensioners have to face— and some of them perhaps not survive— the winter on the present scale of payment.
Nobody will begrudge the pensioners anything they can get. But it is sickening that the Labour Party should talk about abolishing poverty when all they are doing is handing out so mean an increase, which cannot hope to stave off even the extremes of an old person’s destitution.
And it is equally sickening that Labour M.P.s should be in revolt over the delay in paying the bigger pensions. The government’s reasons for the delay are consistent enough; they are, after all in power to run capitalism without any old nonsense about humane considerations.
In this, the Labour M.P.s support their government. They support it in its power at Westminster, and they support it in its administration of capitalism.
For the pensioners, this is just too bad. The roots of their troubles do not lie in the size of their pension. That has gone up several times over the pre-war figure, without having any effect on the pensioners’ situation.
Old people are in desperate straits because they are retired members of the working class. Once they depended on their wage for a living but now they are too old to be of any use to an employer.
But to leave them without any sort of an income would create an enormous social problem. So the old people receive a derisory sum — just enough to keep them in some sort of living condition. They may not have a very comfortable home, and they may not be able to afford adequate food or heating. But they survive—just.
In human terms, this is deplorable, but it is an inevitable result of capitalism’s social structure. And where do the Labour Party stand on that ?
They may want to alter one or two of the system’s superficial features. They may feel strongly enough about some of them to stage a short and feeble revolt against their leaders.
But on the only issue that matters—the abolition of capitalism—they are one united, determined party. Capitalism, with its restrictions and anomalies, will continue. No back bencher will ever revolt over that.
One of the persistent fallacies which help to keep capitalism ticking over is the notion that things are better, or anyway different, abroad.
The British worker, chafing under his own burdens, looks enviously upon what he imagines to be the gaiety, or the freedom, or the affluence of his counterpart in other countries. Workers abroad harbour the same sort of misconceptions about life over here.
Sometimes they put their theories to the test, by emigrating. Then they discover that basically workers lives are the same in every country in the world.
In France, which is so often misconceived as a country of gay and ardent wine swiggers, the workers’ lives are subject to the same sort of restrictions as in this country. The French government recently announced their new economic and social plan which will try, among other things, to hold wages increases to three per cent for the next five years.
In Holland, popularly thought of as a land of simple, sunny peasants, the government, like other governments elsewhere, are wrestling with a housing problem. Their latest palliative is a familiar one — a system of subsidies. The Dutch Minister of Housing recently said that he hopes to end the housing shortage by 1970, which is about the year that British Housing Ministers will mention when they are promising to solve our housing difficulties.
In Australia, where everyone is supposed to be a tough, bronzed individualist, the government is imposing their first-ever peace time military conscription. Against the opposition to this, the Australian government pleads that the situation in South Fast Asia demands that tough-guy Australians forego some of their individualism.
All over the world the disputes and the problems of capitalism take their toll. All over the world useful, creative human beings are exploited and degraded into varying degrees and types of poverty and suppression. Capitalism is international and so are its evils.
International, too, is capitalisms hypocrisy. This month sees the opening of International Cooperation Year, sponsored by Prince Phillip, Mr. Wilson. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Mr. Grimond, and supported by £10,000 from the Foreign Office.
The Year will dabble its foolish fingers in all manner of futile projects. The one thing it will not sponsor will be the international cooperation of the working class to abolish the social system which causes all their problems.