Monday, May 8, 2017

The Strike and its Lessons (1912)

Editorial from the April 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

A million miners are out on strike. From the ferment around us one might think they were asking for the mines. Every foul epithet and calumny is being hurled at them by the hireling Press. It is they who are unpatriotic; it is they who are ruining the trade of the country; it is they who are bringing the people to starvation. No one suggests that the mine-owners, who cling so tightly to the last atom of profit which they can screw out of those who go down into the pits, are culpable.

Of course not. Is it not only fair and just that capital should have its reward? and who can say that the mine-owner is any too well recompensed for his risk and his labour? Not the capitalist papers, certainly.

These drew many fancy pictures of the fabulous wages and astonishing luxury of the miners, and marvelled that there was anything left for the owners at all. Yet within a week of the men ceasing work the Press rang with the cries of the miners starving wives and children, and Mr. Chiozza Money, M.P., showed from the Income Tax returns that in the last nine years the owners had made over 200 million pounds out of the unpaid labour of the workers!

It is stated that the granting of the minimum wage would only cost £50,000 a year, which is less than ¼ per cent. of the profit the masters take, and a very minute fraction of one per cent, on their capital. It is a pregnant demonstration of what the meaning of the word "patriotism” is on the masters’ lips, when they plunge the country into such misery for the sake of so insignificant a morsel of dividend.

Another lesson taught with irresistible force is the utter uselessness of the master class, for no sooner do the workers lay down their tools than production comes to a standstill. After this no one should have any doubt as to who produces the wealth of society, or should urge that we cannot get on without the capitalists.

Asquith and the Liberal Government have followed the usual course, hut so far without the usual success. He has called conferences at which he has paraded the true Asquithian bluff. But he had rather a difficult row to hoe this time, for the miners have not forgotten bow the railwaymen were "Lloyd Georged” into going hack to work with empty hands. After the conferences Asquith tried his trump card: Compulsory Arbitration in spite of the fact Mr. J. M. Robertson had told the House that countries which had Compulsory Arbitration suffered severely from “labour unrest.”

The next move on Asquith’s part was to bring in his Coal Bill. This was an audacious attempt to dish the miners by a fraudulent, hypocritical measure framed by lawyers to look a lot and give nothing.

It was a measure to legalise the “principle” of the Minimum Wage without stating the minimum. It provided for district conferences with a Board of Trade Chairman who would have the casting vote, and who was to decide the minimum if both sides failed to agree—a bright look-out indeed for the miners.

The trade union leaders—the Labour Party—voted for the Second reading of the Bill, simply asking the Government to give them some semblance of minimum figures on which they could lure the men back to work.

Mr. Ramsay Macdonald said they agreed with the principle of the Bill and would do all they could to get it through. But the Bill was a measure that called for the fiercest opposition of any workmen’s representative.

It was simply a dodge to get the men back to the mines with depleted funds, and therefore in a much worse position than before. That accomplished, it offered them nothing but delay, —the machinery for the fight for the minimum, with all the weapons in the masters’ hands.

Every loophole, every safeguard, was provided for the masters. So much so was this that Mr. Macdonald was able to point out to the Government that they need not be afraid to put the figures 5s. and 2s. in the Bill because there were safeguards in it by which the minimum could be reduced. According to the “Daily News" (March 23) he said: “Does the House understand what it is doing? It can put on the 5s. and 2s. and make these figures subject to sub section 4 of clause 2 of the Bill.”

This acceptance by the Labour Party of a minimum that was not a minimum was seized upon by the Government, and they immediately proposed another conference upon it.

It is easy to see the game both the mine-owners and the Government are playing, indeed, it has been hinted at in these words by the “Daily News” :
  “The owners are convinced that if the strike goes on . . labour as a whole will be bled white, and utter exhaustion will be the beginning of a long peace.”
The Government have been dallying and delaying in order to let starvation do its work. They know how slender are the trade unions’ resources, and that the masters can afford to sit in calm confidence amidst their luxury while the men stumble on to surrender.

The miners’ leaders, such as Brace, Edwards, “Mabon,” Harvey, and Stanley, are imbued , with the ideas of the master class. Above all , they want peace, peace at any price. Their security of their jobs and their position is their first and last consideration. Every device to humble the men and to weaken their position has been tried during this strike.

How treacherous they are the 1910 South Wales Miners’ strike showed. When the South Wales Federation ran out of funds the English Federation reluctantly came to their aid, but after five months the men’s strike pay was stopped, and Mr. Thomas Ashton, the secretary, bitterly denounced the strikers and helped to drive them back under a worthless agreement with the masters.

The majority of trade unionists, unfortunately, do not yet understand the bitter conflict of interests between the owners and the toilers — the Class Struggle. They, like their leaders, do not yet see the only remedy for them and theirs. They have to look beyond the details of the present system and take an intelligent part in that great struggle in which they are the unconscious participants. They must understand clearly that while the master class control the political machine they control their lives. They have possession of that power which orders the armed forces to butcher them when they attempt to take the wealth they have produced.

The workers must capture that political machine in order to take over the means of life for themselves to be owned in common, and used in the common interest. Surely the hardships and misery that strikes involve, so terribly out of proportion with what is gained by them, and so hopeless, must drive the toilers to seek a better way. The saner, surer method for a real and permanent triumph is for the workers to no longer submit to be “leadered,” but to learn their own politics, understand their own interests, realise their own destiny, and rely upon their own courage and strength and intelligence to bear them on to that destiny—their emancipation through Socialism.

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