Editorial: The Wages of War

Now that the glamour of glory and the frenzy of patriotism have evaporated somewhat and the east wind of Imperialism is becoming less satisfying, the workers may well pause to consider the serious problem of impending starvation.

The price of food and fuel rises, and the wages bill falls. It is an anxious question, too, for our masters, and one that becomes more serious as the cost of living mounts higher and the volume of jingoism declines.

That our masters will voluntarily deal with the matter only the politically blind will for one moment imagine. The Government will rush to the assistance of the shipping shareholders, who have taken advantage of the crisis more, perhaps, than any others; they will recompense owners for the destruction of their interest producing property, if destroyed by enemy warships; they will stand by the big banks and the vested interest generally; but the workers, hit the hardest because they have no reserve to fall back upon—they get short shrift indeed.

If ever adequate steps be taken to restore the standard of living to the normal, they will not be taken until it is feared that the hungry populace will become dangerous and threaten internal trouble.

With all the optimism of the Press and the glib assurance that “our” food supply is safe while Britain rules the waves the facts point clearly to a period of starvation in store for those who, in the best of times, are always short of the necessaries of life.

The August returns showed a drop in the aggregate of wages of 30.5 per cent., and a further fall of 11.4 percent. was recorded in Sept. October returns a recovery of 6 per cent., while November wages are still 5.5 per cent. higher.

Mr. J. A. Hobson (“Fortnightly Review,” 1.1.15) records it as a serious fact that “the aggregate of wages at the end of November stood at 11.4 per cent. less than a year ago” The aggregate of wages is a far more important measure than either the figures of unemployment or the returns of rates of wages in a question of the standard of living, and in conjunction with this serious falling off in the average income of the worker must be taken the enormous increase in the cost of living.
The same writer says:

   “After the sharp rise in the early days of August prices of fool fell until by Sept. 12th they are found to reach a level of about 10 per cent. above July. Since then prices have been again rising, being. at the beginning of December, 17 per cent. higher than the July level in towns and 15 per cent in the country.”

Since then prices have mounted higher and higher, the most conservative figure being given by the “Board of Trade Gazette” (Jan., 1915) as 18 per cent. increase for December over the July (pre-war) prices.
The greater part of the workers’ expenditure is upon food, but a large item is fuel. All kinds of fuel have increased in price. According to a circular issued by the South Metropolitan Gas Co., the contractors’ charges on the transport of coal is equivalent to an increase of 10s. per ton, and whether your beverage be tea or beer, that too will “cost you more.”
To that “third of the population continually on the verge of hunger” the conditions implied by these figures mean privations undreamed of by fair and foolish females who slobber over the horrors of war and help save a parsimonious government’s expenditure, and incidentally starve some working girl by sewing shirts for soldiers in the trenches. If the pinch is felt now, while the “war trades” are booming, and the price of bread rises so readily while we are assured that there is more than sufficient wheat gathered and growing to supply the wants of the world, what will happen when the inevitable slump arrives, caused by the slackening in the production of war material and by a real scarcity of the crops to be gathered? The workers of the world will then receive in full measure the reward of war.