The letter given below is a copy of one sent to the secretary of Ipswich Branch of the Operative Bricklayers’ Society in reply to an invitation to speak at an engineers’ meeting to be held in that town on May 25th, with Mr. G. N. Barnes as chief speaker.
While thanking both Bro. Batchelor for suggesting and yourself for asking me to attend the Meeting of Engineers, there are certain important reasons why I could not appear on a platform with Mr. Barnes, to support him or his views and position in any way. As a Socialist I hold that the working-class can only get out of the slough of misery and degradation in which they exist to day by their consciously organising for the overthrow of the system that produces these conditions—namely, the capitalist system of Society. Until this is done the bad effects which our class suffers under, equally here in London as it does in Ipswich, and, in fact, everywhere that capitalism reigns, will, apart from some temporary fluctuations, tend to become worse. When the working class recognises this fact then it will organise itself into the political and economic organisations, having for their object the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.
Meanwhile, until the workers arrive at that stage in the development of their knowledge of their own position in Society, which we Socialists term “class-consciousness,” the Socialists must carry on the work of education and agitation, to help in producing that knowledge or consciousness of the fact that their misery and poverty is due to one class in Society owning all the means of life—as the land, machinery, factories, railways, etc., and the wealth when it is produced—while the working class owns only the energy, ability or power to work—inseparable from the workers themselves—which they have to sell day by day or week by week, in order to obtain the necessaries of life.
With every improvement in machinery, with every fresh application of chemistry and science to industry,—as for example the introduction of concrete-steel construction with relation to our own trade the number of workers required to produce a given amount of wealth, or number of articles, continually decreases. We thus get the apparent paradox that while the amount of wealth produced increases the amount of unemployment increases also.
This antagonism of material interests causes a struggle to arise over the share which each is endeavouring to obtain of the wealth produced. And the only way out of this vicious circle is for the working-class to recognise this opposition of interest between themselves the producers—and the capitalist class the appropriators and to end this intolerable system by taking bold of the means of life to be owned and controlled by the workers in their social capacity.
There can be no crying of peace where only the conditions of war exist, and any assistance given to the capitalist class, either politically or economically, is a direct injury to the working class.
When Mr. Barnes assisted the employers on the Clyde in driving the men back to work by refusing strike pay and threatening expulsion from the A.S.E. although the men had twice voted for a strike to enforce their demands—then he showed that either from ignorance or intention he was helping to perpetuate capitalism, and therefore the evil effects, to our class, that it produces.
When Mr. Barnes and his Executive accepted the proposition of the employers on the East Coast that piece-work should be introduced—merely another name for intensified sweating—another direct injury was inflicted upon the workers for the benefit of the employers.
When running for the Blackfriars division of Glasgow, Mr. Barnes played for and obtained Liberal capitalist support at the last General Election, although the constitution of the L.R.C. forbids these alliances and bargains, thus deceiving the working class by joining hands with their enemy. Although he is quite aware that the average age at which the workers die is 29 to 30 years, yet he proposed in the House of Commons to give the workers Old Age Pensions of 5/- per week at 65 years of age—that is, sufficient to buy bread and butter, but not clothing and shelter, 35 years after most of them are dead!
To appear upon any platform with this person —except to denounce him for the misleader he is—would be nauseating to any man acquainted with the facts and understanding the Socialist position, unless he were out playing the same game.
These are my reasons for refusing to speak at the Engineers’ Meeting at Ipswich, which, except as stated above, could have only acted to the injury of our members and the working class in general.—Yours fraternally,