Editorial from the March 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard
“The Labour Party stands pledged to the Right to Work as a fundamental principle, and every member is in honour bound to do all he can to fulfil the pledge.”
So says the official organ of the Independent Labour Party on Feb. 17th, in the midst of a wail that only thirty of the Labour M.P.s (including the tellers) supported the Right to Work amendment, while one of them actually voted against it.
Why did the Labour members hesitate to support their “fundamental principle”? Why did they not dare move an amendment to the Address, nor introduce their “fundamental principle” in the last Parliament?
It is because the Labour Party in the House only exists by permission of the Liberals, as the last three general elections have proved. Any suspicion of a vote of censure upon the capitalist Government (however necessary such bluff may be to quiet the murmuring rank and file) is consequently fraught with grave danger to Labour M.P.s.
We know how these adjuncts of Liberalism obtained their votes. And Mr. Russell Williams, in a communication to the Labour Leader (Feb. 17th), states in reply to a Labour Conference denunciation of traitors who took Tory gold:
"Why a distinction between Tory gold and Liberal gold? There are members of the Labour Party in the House of Commons who make no secret of having received Liberal gold with which to fight their elections—and from Liberals who were fighting Labour men, fully endorsed by the Labour Party. Do these men come under the category of cowards and traitors? ”
We pause for a reply.
The need for making at least a show of independent existence caused the Right to Work amendment to be moved this year; but how apologetic were mover and seconder, how they cringed before the Government! Their amendment "humbly" regretted that no promise of a Bill had been made. Said Mr. O'Grady in moving (we quote from the official report):
"Had we not been unlucky in the ballot probably this amendment would not be moved. . . . I know that every single member of this House is as sympathetic towards the unemployed as we are ourselves, and I am sure that this motion will be considered not merely with sympathy but with fairness’’
And he also said that there is
". . upon the Statute Book one of the finest pieces of legislation in any civilised community in the world, and if it were put into operation it would effect the purposes contained in our motion. I speak of the Development Act. That Act contains every proposal of the Labour and Socialist movement for the last 25 year, proposals about afforestation, erosion of the coast, light railways, and reclamation of land."
Thus do the decoy ducks of Labour repay the Liberal support they obtain, and demonstrate their identity with Liberalism. Nearly every subsequent speaker complimented them on their “moderation” and “fairness.” Mr H. Harcourt particularly referred to Mr. O'Grady’s “moderate and friendly speech.”
But no "statement of the barest truth” can be “moderate” in capitalist ears; no champion of the working class can be friendly to the capitalist class. The fulsome capitalist flattery of Mr. O'Grady sets the seal upon his utter worthlessness to our class. But what of the Bill in question ?—is it any good?
Except that, owing to the hostility of local bodies, the State is to be made mainly responsible for its working, it is the Bill brought before Parliament by the Labour Party three years ago. Then even Labour members admitted that no effective remedy for unemployment is possible under capitalism, yet they claim that their Bill would deal effectively with that question. Such is the "logic” of their position.
To really provide reasonable work or maintenance for all workers would make the wage-labourer master of the labour-market and disrupt capitalism. How childish it would be, then, to beg the capitalist class to be so kind as to commit suicide!
If effective and useful, therefore, the passing of the Labour Party’s Bill would require a social revolution; but it is neither.
In spite of denial, it seems no more than systematic relief works. Its principle is that of the workhouse stone-yard. And there is nothing to prevent men being engaged, as in the post, at exceedingly low “relief" rates to do work which would otherwise occupy the same men at full rates of pay.
It is true, as Mr. Forster said in the House during the recent debate, that it ”must cause more unemployment.” . And he went on to say, with equal truth:
"I am verified in that view by a statement contained in the report of the Poor Low Commission. They say that work and wages provided by local authorities is in practice either diverted from the ordinary employees in the localities, or extracted from what would otherwise have gone to regular workers, with the result in either case of creating, sooner or later, larger unemployment ”.
And what are the other essentials of the Bill? Its clause 3 is sometimes held to provide work at standard rates, but its wording is fraudulent. As Mr. J. R. Macdonald confessed in the Commons when the Bill was brought forward, the clause "may be badly worded," but “it did not mean that the local employment authority must provide work at, trade union rate of wages". No, the rate is only such as the capitalists may consider "reasonable,” and that means hell for the workers.
And if a man refused the hellish conditions that may be offered to him?
The authority is empowered under clause 7 to get an order "to enforce control of the person named in the order for a period not exceeding six months, which period must be passed in the performance of reasonable work under the control of the local employment authority.”
Now you have it. The capitalists as a class hardly dared go so far. It means that you must accept any conditions, however bad, in the labour market. If you cannot get even this, then the employment authority will give you work under still worse conditions. If, however, you decline to be still further degraded, they may give you six months penal labour!
This they call the Right to Work!
It is superfluous for Messrs. Clynes and O'Grady to say, as they did, that they are not defenders of the "won’t workers." This Bill speaks for itself. But their talk about loafers at both ends of the scale is shown to be the veriest clap trap, because they would allow the well-to-do loafer to go free, but would provide a further punishment for the poor one.
No, the most unhappy victim of capitalism finds no defenders among the Labour Members. On the contrary, they would all one more scorpipa to the scourge of scorpions inflicted by capitalism upon the most miserable and unfortunate of men.
It is not the Right to Work that is needed by the workers, but the opportunity to live; and Socialism alone can grant them this. The legal Right to Work imposed upon the proletariat would only emphasise the “right” of the non-working class to be idle. The "Right to Work,” indeed, excludes the right to live. It means only our "right” to our chains! And the Labour Party, in its characteristic work of legalising the right of the slave to his slavery, at the same time consecrates, to the greater glory of capitalism, the "right” of the wealthy parasite above to his ill-gotten gains and his laziness.