Talks in the Train

“Good morning, John.”

“Good morning, William, what do you think of the King’s Speech?”

“I am pleased to see that the Government intends to deal with the question of the unemployed!”

“To ‘deal’ with it!”

“Yes, ‘legislation will be submitted to you for the establishment of authorities to deal with the unemployed’!”

“And you really think the Conservatives will ‘deal’ with it?”

“Is there any reason to doubt it?”

“Yes, the capitalist system, which the House of Commons is elected to support, produces an unemployed problem. If that problem were effectively ‘dealt’ with it would mean the abolition of the capitalist system, and that, as you know, is not ‘practical politics.'”

“But surely you will give the Government credit for good intentions?”

“It is said that the road to Hell is already well-paved with such. Apart from that, both Conservative and Liberal leaders have declared their inability to do anything.”

“When did they make those declarations?”

“Speaking at Watford, in October, 1895, the late Lord Salisbury said ‘we have got as far as we can to make this country more pleasant to live in for the vast majority of those who inhabit it’ and ‘we have no panacea for the evils with which we are afflicted.’ In the following November, at Brighton, he said ‘I am conscious that when the Government has done its best, this would advance but a very small distance in diminishing the suffering which the hand of Providence has inflicted.'”

“But what about Balfour? He is leader now.”

“Yes, and at Manchester, in January, 1895, he said ‘If you ask me whether anything in the power of the Unionist Party or any other party or within the compass of the wit of man to devise can meet the curse of lack of employment, I fear we can look forward to no prospect of that kind.’ He now doubt holds the same opinion now.”

“Then we must turn to the Liberals!”

“Who will give you no more better encouragement. In the House of Commons, in February, 1895, Sir William Harcourt said that with regard to the question of the unemployed, he agreed with the position taken up by Mr. Balfour a few days previously at Manchester. Of Asquith, who responsible for the murder of the Featherstone miners, a cynical indifference could only be expected. At Newcastle, in January, 1895, he referred to the unemployed as the nation’s ‘rubbish!’ And when Campbell Bannerman was asked by the unemployed deputation at Poplar in January last what he would propose as a means of dealing with the problem he merely said he ‘was not in the Government.'”

“But, then, admitting the futility of expecting either Conservative or Liberals will solve the problem, I think that the promised legislation on the alien question will help.”

“In what way?”

“Well, if aliens come over here and drive our own men away and deprive them of work, don’t you think the Government  should prohibit alien immigration?”

“You and I are clerks. A few years ago all clerks were males. But women have entered the field against us. In many departments they have not only lowered men’s wages, but have driven out male labour altogether. Would you ask the Government to prohibit women and girls entering into competition with clerks and other workmen?”

“Ah! but then they are our own flesh and blood; the others are foreigners.”

“But the effect is the same!”

“Still, we must look after our own flesh and blood.”

“Is it the rule of the employers to consider ‘flesh and blood,’ or are they not usually willing to employ any person, irrespective of nationality or creed, who will answer their purpose?”

“But if the aliens were kept out things would be better.”

“I cannot see it. The unemployed problem confronts us because of the increasing power of producing wealth which man, aided by machinery, is securing, a power which is increased every day by the improvement of old methods and machines, and the introduction of new. This would continue, even if we had no aliens. All that is urged against these victims of “man’s inhumanity to man” could be met by strict enforcement of the Sanitary and Housing Acts, and by the enactment of laws fixing a maximum working week and a minimum wage, equal for both sexes when equal work is done.”

“Isn’t that a big order?”

“Not if the alien problem is as important as you urge.”

“You say that even if all aliens were excluded we should still have an unemployed problem. In that case we have our colonies.”

“Where you already have an unemployed problem.”

“But not so intense as here.”

“But you propose to make it so by sending more men to them.”

“Ah! but that’s where Chamberlain’s scheme comes in. Give our colonies more of our trade.”

“That might help for a time; but do not forget there is no cessation of the development of the machine industry, in your colonies as elsewhere. In the near future your colonies will be manufacturing all that they require, and will not them need manufactured goods from Britain. They will be independent of us, as the Continental nations have become. Moreover, by giving your trade to your colonies you take it away from other countries and intensify the unemployed problem in those.”

“Oh, that’s their business.”

“You admit them, that these proposals cannot solve the problem, that at best they would merely improve matters in some parts of the world, and make things worse in others.”

“I quite see now that the problem is an international one.”

“And can only be solved by international action on the part of the wealth-producers. The present demands of the unemployed are unsound.”

“In what way?”

“They are asking for ‘work’ when already far too much ‘work’ is done. What is required is something which involves a change in the basis and organisation of society—the redistribution of work.”

“The redistribution of work!”

“Yes. Let everybody work. Let each do his share of the work before enjoying any of the results of labour.”

“Why, that means—”


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