From the February 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard
Lessons from Australia
The Socialist Review, organ of the I.L.P., has been publishing articles on the Australian Labour Movement by one of its supporters, Mr. L. Ross.
Mr. Ross gives evidence which supports our repeated assertion that the administration of capitalism by the Labour Party, whether in Great Britain or Australia, or anywhere else, is of no material advantage to the working-class, and is not a change which brings Socialism nearer.
Mr. Ross points out (Socialist Review, December, 1928) that the taking over of various industries by the Labour Governments helps to reduce prices, but since the general level of wages under capitalism is influenced directly by the cost of living of the workers, the effect of lowered prices under Labour Governments is just the same as elsewhere—wages fall correspondingly and the capitalist class are the gainers; “as prices fall, all wages, settled by the arbitration courts . . . . fall automatically."
Labour Government and Big Profits.
Mr. Ross goes on to show that the effect of “Labour" administration and the extension of nationalisation is to increase production and the employers' profits.
“Premier Lang (Labour) presided at the opening of new factories and expressed gratification because he found that most of the manufacturing and other industries were paying dividends of 10 per cent, or over.”
Again he says that the chief electioneering propaganda of the New South Wales Labour Party at the last election was “a long list of the dividends the capitalist firms were paying in order to show that Labour brought prosperity and no one suffered.”
“Labour legislation,” says Mr. Ross, “has brought higher profits, a more unequal division of the wealth of the country.” He quotes from a work by Labour Minister Lacombe, of Queensland (Labour's Ten Years' Progress) that after their experience of Labour rule, investors “have absolute confidence in the Labour Government.” When trade is bad, Labour Governments treat their employees in the nationalised industries in just the same way as the private capitalists treat theirs. "Men are retrenched or given the alternative of shorter hours and decreased pay . . . . the State employees are the first to suffer."
These State industries are, of course, set up by means of Government loans. The capitalist invests his money in Government loans instead of in private companies. He thus gives up the chance of fluctuating dividends which may be high or may disappear, and gets a fixed rate of interest with absolute security. Under Labour Governments, like other Governments, it is the workers whose wages are cut when trade declines: “The money-lenders, of course, suffer no reduction whatever in their interest receipts."
At this point, Mr. Ross plaintively asks:
“What is the good of a Labour Government if it can find no way out except the way of capitalism?"
The Living Wage and Family Allowances.
Mr. Ross goes on to describe the effect of the introduction of Family Allowances in New South Wales. This is of particular interest, because it is from New South Wales that the I.L.P. borrow the scheme of Family Allowances which is an integral part of its Living Wage programme. The I.L.P. proposes that the State should give an allowance of 5s. a week to working-class mothers in respect of each child. The I.L.P. are, of course, aware that this scheme has been used on the Continent as a means of reducing the wages of single men, so that, in effect, the married men’s children are supported at the expense of childless workers, which costs the employers nothing.
It is instructive therefore to learn from Mr. Ross that this is precisely what has happened as a result of the introduction of Family Allowances by the New South Wales Labour Government.
The New South Wales scheme, instead of redistributing wealth, actually meant a reshuffling of wages between single and married men. Much of the Labour legislation has had this characteristic that it has so little harmed the capitalists that the non-Labour Governments have taken it over and left the Labour parties without a distinctive policy. ”
Labour Governments and Strikers.
Mr. Ross tells us also about the suppression of strikes by Labour Governments in Australia.
In 1926, Queensland railway workers decided, to help striking sugar mill employees by refusing to handle goods produced by "blacklegs.” The Labour Premier, McCormack, promptly dismissed the strikers. The Labour newspaper, The Daily Standard, criticised his action, and the Labour Government then struck a severe blow at the paper’s finances by withdrawing all Government advertisements from it.
In South Australia, the Labour Government employs "vigilance men” to act as "private detectives” in the State industries to see that the workers do their work properly. In general, says Mr. Ross, the treatment of their employees by Labour Governments has been "less progressive than enlightened American capitalism.” He sums up by saying that "I think that Queensland is further away from Socialism as a result of Labour Rule.”
After demonstrating once more that capitalism works in just the same way, as far as the workers are concerned, whether administered by Conservatives or Labourites or anyone else, Mr. Ross produces his "remedy.” It is a demand for "sincerity” and "unselfishness ”! He fails completely to realise that the factor which dominates the Australian situation is the factor which dominates the situation in Europe, America and elsewhere.
That is the lack of Socialists. The great mass of Australian workers, like the workers generally, do not understand Socialism and do not want it. Until there are sufficient Socialists, organised in a Socialist Party, there will not be Socialism, "sincerity” and "unselfishness” notwithstanding.
The way to increase the number of Socialists is to support the Socialist Party, financially or by joining actively in its work.