Tuesday, June 26, 2018

More hard labour (1979)

From the January 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Originally the ideals and aspirations of the Labour Party were lofty. It claimed to be anti-Liberal and anti-Tory, opposed to war, in favour of higher wages and trade union demands, and in the forefront of pressure for social reform. But what has happened in reality when the Labour Party has found itself in power?

Firstly it has supported two world wars in coalition with the Tories and the Liberals and has been an active party to other localised conflicts like Biafra and Vietnam. After preaching disarmament it has supported the building and testing of nuclear weapons and imposed conscription in peacetime.

Secondly, on the wages front, it has consistently practiced policies of “wage restraint” while unemployment has grown steadily (reaching its post-war maximum with the present administration) and prices have risen rapidly. In 1949 and 1967 Labour deliberately raised prices by devaluing the currency. Four months before the 1967 devaluation the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan, had said in Parliament that such a measure was unthinkable as it would necessarily cause “a reduction in the wage levels and real wage standards of every member of the working class of this country” (Hansard, 24 July 1969 Cols. 99- 100). To efforts by workers to defend their living standards the Labour Party has replied with the use of troops (docks and fire services) and in 1950 even went as far as to put on trial gas workers and dockers striking in defiance of an old Act of Parliament.

Thirdly, on social reform, the Labour Party, after setting up the National Health Service as envisaged by the coalition government during the war, passed an Act of Parliament levying prescription charges and in 1951 imposed charges for the supply of health service dentures and spectacles. (Harold Wilson resigned over this issue by the way, then later as Prime Minister endorsed the charges and increased them). At the beginning of their immediate post-war administration Labour had also promised to solve the housing problem. Aneurin Bevan made the hopelessly optimistic claim that “when the next election occurs there will be no housing problem in Great Britain for the British working class” (Hansard, Vol. 453, Col 1202, 1946). Over 20 years later they were still at it when the then Labour Secretary of State for Wales (now speaker of the House of Commons), George Thomas, said of the 1968 Rent Act: “Within 10 years of this Act no one in Wales should be living in an unfit house”. (The Times, 31 Jan. 1969).

To all these charges the Labour Party would reply that they couldn’t help themselves. They didn’t want to support wars, keep down wages, see prices and unemployment rising and not be able to house people. Everything that happened, and still happens, is due to circumstances beyond their control — the state of world trade, the actions of other governments, and so on. Quite true, but the point is that when a Party, whatever label it gives itself, takes power with a mandate to administer capitalism, it will have very little choice about how it does the job. It will be subject to the fluctuating economic conditions of a world governed by impersonal market forces and divided into separate states, each one competing with the other to earn profits for its business interests. What seems “sensible”, therefore, and in the general interest in a Party’s pre-election manifesto, will soon fall by the way side if found to be contrary to the imperatives of production for profit.

And any of the early illusions the Labour Party had about “taking the profit out of capitalism” have long since been dispelled. It found that even nationalised industries had to be run on profit-making or cost-benefit lines and that its aim to transfer wealth from the rich to the poor had to be abandoned. It proved impossible to impose egalitarian principles on a system which, by its very nature, dictates that the vast majority of the wealth will be owned by a small minority of the population.

So it is not for their good intentions that we have disagreed with Labour supporters, but for their false presupposition that once in power their Party could and would reshape the capitalist system to their heart’s content. Now, however, with the Labour Party so much in power in recent years and having so little to show for it, even among the keenest Labourites this belief is beginning to wane. How much longer for them to see that, instead of the Labour Party gradually changing capitalism, capitalism has gradually changed the Labour Party?

What then is our alternative to voting Labour (or Tory or Liberal for that matter) in the next election? A vote for the set-up Labour (and the other big political parties) stand for is a vote to remain enslaved. Enslaved by the wages system and the world market which, regardless of government action, decree unemployment, slumps, trade wars sometimes leading to real wars, destruction of food “surpluses”, mental anxiety, wreckage of the environment, adulterated food, shoddy houses and ugly cities. The only worthwhile vote is for a political party having as its sole aim the replacement of this system by another, one which we call Socialism and define as a world of common ownership, democratic control, production for use and free access. In this country this means voting for the Socialist Party of Great Britain where it presents candidates and, where not, registering your view by writing the words WORLD SOCIALISM — SPGB across your ballot paper.

Labourites may say that the kind of world we propose is what they themselves favour in the long term and what, bit by bit, successive Labour governments, if given a chance, will move towards. Meanwhile, however, they must deal with real immediate issues.

Let it be said unequivocally that Socialism will not arise naturally “bit-by-bit” through the policies of parties elected on a programme of reforming capitalism. It will only be introduced when the majority of people turn their backs on the inevitably vain attempts of the capitalist parties to tinker with the present system and cast votes for a world of real democracy, real equality and real cooperative human activity.

Communist Welcome to King and Queen (1938)

From the August 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

L'Humanité  (July 19th) comments on the visit to Paris of the King and Queen of England as follows:—
   King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who acceded to the Throne following an attempt to gain personal power by Edward VIII—an attempt thwarted by British democracy—will to-day be the guests of Paris.
   We communists rejoice whole-heartedly at the manifestation of Franco-British understanding of which this visit is the occasion. Peace, we believe, can and must be preserved by the union of democratic nations. England has her place—an essential place—in this circle of peaceful peoples.
    . . . We remember that it was England who, after 1871, generously welcomed Camélinat and the exiles of the Commune. And when we go to London our steps naturally turn to the cemetery which shelters the remains of Karl Marx, founder of Scientific Socialism.
    But, above all, we keep in our memory the programme of “Mein Kampf": that is to ''Isolate France," that is to say to separate her from Great Britain, such is the dream of the leaders of the III Reich. The interests of Peace demand that this scheme must be prevented. We applaud the visit of these rulers in the measure in which it is devoted to this end.
     But it is not to this reactionary England that our sympathy and good feeling is extended during these festival days;.  . . .
       . . . Our good feeling is extended to that England which fights on the front of Collective Security; that England in the name of whom leading bourgeois such as Lord Cecil, Churchill, Lloyd George, and prelates like the Dean of Canterbury, pronounce regularly such grave warnings          Long live an Entente of the Democracies! Long live a circle of Peace.
Anyone that knows anything about the present fomenting struggle between the capitalists of Europe knows that the visit of the King and Queen to Paris was a piece of Anglo-French (democratic) big- fist shaking at (Nazi) Germany, and only distinguished in degree from the methods of the latter.
W. A. T.

Weather, Water and Borders (2018)

From the June 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Maybe it's all about perception, but how do the many and various facts and fabrications impact on any one individual's view of, or attitude towards, the numerous factors surrounding the great climate debate? As it is debate, rather than serious decisions as to exactly what steps should be taken (should actually have already been taken), that is all that is happening currently.

Our planet, Earth, was inhabited over millennia by humankind as it developed in a long slow series of settlement and movement, more settlement, more movement, developing and leaving social groupings all along the way over century after century, all the while spreading DNA and long-recognised and easily-proved similarities of peoples as far apart as NE Asia and South America. It's what we call migration. Something humankind has been doing quite naturally since its earliest existence. There's nothing new about it in a million years but currently, in so-called 'developed' countries, especially of the north and west, it's causing all kinds of hoo-ha, most of which is based on false premises and nationalism.

In the 21st century the global population has the means to be aware of the planet's geography and demography and can make decisions based on knowledge gathered from serious news sources including the internet. And they can do it quickly rather than over generations. For migrants focused on escaping increasingly insurmountable threats – of war, of starvation, or a need to earn a living time which is probably the priority factor. For those already living in the host areas, decisions as to the best way to accept the immigrants, some temporarily if they choose to move on, others more permanently, should surely be more inclusive than is experienced now.

Since the creation of national borders in relatively recent history there has become a gradually more strident call in Europe, North America and Australia from politicians of various stripes filtering down to sections of the general populace, persuaded by nationalist protectionists for stricter border control. Scare tactics, terrorist threats, divide and rule – the media amplifies political rhetoric over and over, louder and louder until the message is meekly or keenly accepted and repeated by many. Opinion rules whilst evidence is there to show that there is little, if anything, to back up such claims that migrants are any more a threat than local residents in relation to crime. However, opinion has decided. Year on year there are more walls, fences, barricades, security zones, checkpoints, more militarised, hostile and dangerous borders. Having managed the situation so badly in these early days, how can such countries be expected to cope better with the inevitability of the increasing numbers expected and noted by climate scientists for the years ahead?

Changing weather conditions
When taken in context it becomes apparent that much of more recent migration is firmly linked to local weather problems associated with overall global climate change, not unlike, but way more urgent by a huge factor, some of the historical migrations of our ancestors who followed their animals or moved seasonally as necessary in pursuit of food. Today's migrations are a steady build up in response to facts on the ground in various regions. One clue is water. Globally water is being mismanaged on a serious level. Water tables are falling at a dangerous rate and non-replenishable aquifers are at crucially low levels, while decaying infrastructure in many developed countries is wasting billions of gallons of water annually. Businesses continue to have access to water without restrictions, for manufacturing unnecessary products and private companies control water supplies and profit from what comes out of the tap. Both business and industrial agriculture consistently foul water systems making them not fit for consumption. All of these factors are depriving more populations in both the developing and developed world of clean water, with obvious serious consequences.

Changing weather patterns globally are affecting populations in different ways. Some are water scarce, expected rains having failed to deliver season after season causing ongoing crop failure, loss of food and remuneration, and unmanageable hunger. This has meant several years of mass migration to the edges of already overpopulated towns and cities in their country of origin – with little to offer newcomers needing work to meet life's necessities. This was one of the little discussed problems facing Syria before 2011 when all hell broke loose.

Similar scenarios are occurring in much of the continent of Africa where, for one reason or another, huge migrations are taking place, the vast majority of the migrants travel to neighbouring or other African destinations. Reasons are various but the footprints of the colonialists are there. Big companies commit pillage in many African countries, for resources of all kinds. Compliant governments benefit financially from deals which force millions of Africans into penury and often early death from poisoning or fatal work accidents. Blame is not considered. When war breaks out, as in Mali, Congo, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Libya etc., it has been about competition for resources.

The aftermath of such terrible conflicts, people fleeing in huge numbers, does not register as being connected to the cause.

Then, the opposite scenario – too much water, and generally the 'too much' effect happens in a short space of time. Hurricanes, floods, total inundation –again causing crop failures, loss of top soil, salination of low lying areas. And, as a result of melting ice caps and subsequent sea level rise this has also become a fast-increasing problem. There are many areas in and around the Philippines and the wider Pacific Ocean, small but inhabited islands, which are becoming less viable as each year goes round. Houses and once productive land is washed away by slowly encroaching seas. Whole villages have to up sticks and move to higher ground and start again from nothing, or decamp, with little or nothing to one of the bigger cities elsewhere. Other island communities are seeking agreements for the future with friendly nations to grant them permanent residence when the ocean finally makes living conditions impossible.

Similarly, in the Caribbean last year hurricane Irma struck the island of Barbuda fiercely, destroying almost everything along with the terrible toll of human life. The total population of about 20,000 was forbidden to return to live, having been evacuated en masse, except to attempt to salvage their possessions. Meanwhile Robert de Niro and his company, with the support of the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, continues to pursue his plans for a super-hotel complex for the super-rich on one of the beaches. How many tourism seasons before the problems begin to eat into the profits too much, one wonders. How many decades of profit before abandonment?

Contrast those caught in extreme climate events with those of the fraction of 1 percent, Richard Branson for example, who just look to their own personal way of living, their own island for their own use – do they even consider the consequences for the others?

This topic of climate change/global warming isn't going to go away while it is still the elephant in the room. It impacts on so many things but things about which many are in denial because 'business as usual' remains the priority. The movements of millions in the global south demanding 'System Change Not Climate Change' are hitting the right button, but what is sorely needed is that those who are opposing and haranguing the powers-that-be around the world to 'do something' about it come to the realisation that nothing is going to change, or change at only a snail's pace, whilst the capitalist system remains in place. If not, then it is just pontificating while Rome burns.
Janet Surman

If They Knew! (1906)

From the June 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

A letter describing certain grievances of Railway Workers has been sent to a writer in the daily Press in the hope that the directors of the railway company may see it. The journalist re-echoes the hope because the reason “why all that is best in human nature is so often eliminated in the relations of shareholders, directors, and workers” is “that they don't know each other.” In one sense the remark is certainly true. Shareholders often hold shares in industrial undertakings without even knowing where the work is being carried on or the conditions under which the workers labour. Even directors seldom know much of the details of the operations they are supposed to superintend, and have to rely upon their managers and foremen for both information and suggestions as to the carrying on and improvement of the business, showing the truth of the Socialists' contention that the capitalist class to-day perform no useful function in Society, and, so far from being "captains of industry,” have to depend upon the working class for the actual direction and manipulation of the various processes of wealth production.

But the gist of the remark lies in the railway worker's simple faith that if the directors knew of the conditions under which he and his fellow wage slaves are so vilely sweated they would at once alter—if not abolish those conditions. While this faith of the worker is largely due to ignorance, we could not dare to insult the journalist by crediting him with the same fault. Reports of Sweating, Children's Employment, Labour and other Royal Commissions of enquiry are at his command, or within his reach as well as the works of Chas. Booth, Mr. Rowntree, R. Sherard, R. Hunter, etc., giving details of the conditions under which the workers exist and obtain the means of existence. He must also be aware—even if the writer of the letter is not—that directors are put into position by shareholders for one purpose, that is, to extract or get extracted, as large an amount of surplus value out of their employees as possible. The shareholders are only concerned with obtaining the largest amount in dividends that they possibly can. The conditions under which, or the means whereby, this is obtained, concerns them not at all. They are just as willing to destroy life as to maintain it; just as willing to invest their money in gun or poison factories as in bakeries or butchers' shops; just as willing to supply the enemy with whom their country may be at war with money or munitions as they are to swindle their own governments in the matter of supplies; in fact, only let the business promise profit with any reasonable degree of probability, and, no matter what it is money will be forthcoming to secure that profit.

When the disclosures were being published of the conditions of the match makers in the East End of London suffering from "phossy jaw" etc. —it was shown that a large number of the shareholders in Bryant & May's Match Co. (one of the worst offenders) were clergymen, and Messrs. Rowntree and Sherwell give figures in their book “The Temperance Problem" showing the large number of clergymen holding shares in brewery companies.

Men, women, and children may drown in rotten ships sent to sea, or be murdered in mines that are known to be dangerous to life, for the sake of the profit accruing from the transactions. 

Then why do they who are aware of these facts preach the absurd idea that it is only because the shareholders are unaware of the conditions under which their profit is made that such conditions are allowed to continue? Because they are employed for the purpose of perpetuating the ignorance of the working class by fostering all the simple, stupid, and erroneous ideas held by that class, and to mislead any who may lie waking up to the fact that the capitalist class is concerned only with its own material interests, by encouraging the superstition that it is a question of “good” capitalists or “bad” capitalists, instead of it being the question of capitalism itself.

Interest, dividends and profits can only be procured by robbing the workers of the wealth they alone have produced. It therefore cannot be a question as to whether the robbery is carried out under “good” or “bad” conditions. The workers’ only concern should be how to end the robbery. Tricky, therefore, as the attempt may be to foster the idea that it is largely a question of bringing the matters to the knowledge of the directors or shareholders, it can at best only have a temporary effect. The gigantic competition—generally ending in monopoly— of the present day increases the gulf between the capitalist class and the working class. This gulf is unbridgeable while private ownership in the means of life continues to exist.

With the increasing combination among capitalists there is an increasing economy in the production of wealth by the elimination of waste and useless labour, introduction of new and larger machinery and the increasing application of scientific discoveries to industry. This results in fewer workers being required to produce a given quantity of wealth, or a larger amount being produced by the same number in the same time as were employed before. The increase in the number of workers rendered relatively redundant by these means will bring home to the workers themselves the absurdity of imagining that the capitalist could—if he would or would if he could—alter things in any material way while allowing the present basis to remain. Only by altering the system, by overthrowing and abolishing the capitalist class and establishing Socialism in its stead can the workers get rid of the bad conditions they exist under to-day.
Jack Fitzgerald

Nationalisation. Its Futility Exposed. (1919)

From the June 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Freak Show.
Due, in part at any rate, to the demand of the Miners' Federation for the nationalisation of the mines, there has grown up lately an extension of the old demands for nationalising various properties and industries. The old unsupported assertions are trotted out with all the acclamation attaching to new discoveries, while a new organisation has been added to the list of those advocating these policies.

By far the most favourite subject for nationalisation has been the "land." Prominent among the organisations having the nationalisation of the land for their object are the Land Nationalisation Society, which proposes a form of purchase of the land, and the Society for the taxation of Land values, which advocates the the taxation of Land Values ultimately up to 20s. in the £. Now a new organisation has been formed called "The Commonwealth League," having for its object—
   "The Foundation of a Commonwealth based on the establishment of the common right to the land by the payment by each landholder of the economic rent, which is the commercial value of the site he holds."
By the Company They Keep.
As there is no practical difference between taxing land values and calling upon the landholders to pay "economic rent" to the State, it is somewhat curious that the two prominent Liberals who are respectively President and Secretary of the new league—Mr. R. C. Lambert and Mr. R. L. Outhwaite—should have formed the new organisation. Moreover, in their paper, The Commonweal, they are full of praise for the Independent Labour Party and the resolution that body's Conference passed at Huddersfield at Easter, that "demands the socialisation of the land as the very foundation of the co-operative commonwealth, and calls upon the Government to make it the permanent and inalienable possession of the community."

An Awkward Question.
The stupidity and ignorance of demanding the "socialisation" of the land while leaving the capitalist system in existence generally is only equalled by the crazy clause calling upon a capitalist government to make the land the possession of the whole community, although, be it said, these things are quite in accord with the confusionist and misleading policy of the I.L.P. Yet if the founders of the Commonwealth League are so strongly in favour of the attitude adopted by the I.L.P. why did they start a new organisation ? Why did they not join the I.L.P. straight away ? Or do they wish to add to the confusion already existing ?

In any case the proposals are worth examining again as many workers believe that the taxation of land values, or the taking of the "economic rent" by the State will benefit their class It sounds very plausible to say that as the land is "the gift of nature it should belong to the community," and many are led to believe that the proposals mentioned would bring about the desired result. Let us examine the matter a little closer.

The Truth Revealed.
Both "economic rent" and "land values" mean the same thing in the proposals of the above-mentioned organisations, though the spokesmen of the Commonwealth League nowhere define their phrase "economic rent." A simple illustration will help one to understand the principle behind this phrase.

When the War Office decided to take over a certain tract of agricultural land at Cippenham, near Slough, for the erection thereon of a motor repair depot, some agricultural experts objected to the action because, they said, the land was the most fertile in the district, while nearer London was land of practically no agricultural value that the War Office could have taken. The decision of the War Office to retain the land at Cippenham is strong evidence that the experts were right, but what was meant by their objection ?

Simply this. That if the same amount of labour-power, machinery, seed, etc., were used upon equal areas of these two pieces of land— say upon an acre of each—the resulting crops the resulting crops would not be equal in quantity or even in quality. If we suppose that under these conditions the land at Cippenham would yield 30 bushels of wheat to the acre, while the other land would only yield 20 bushels, then the Cippenham land would be said to have yielded an "economic rent" of 10 bushels per acre. The same principle applies if the land is required for other purposes—as sites for factories, business offices, or dwelling houses. Thus it is easily seen that a site close to a railway, a river, or a canal will, other things remaining equal, be more suitable and economical for a manufacturer to erect his works upon than a site that would require a large amount of road haulage to and from the works. The saving effected by building the works on the former site would represent the "economic rent" of that site. The "Land Values" that it is proposed to tax are exactly the same portions of wealth covered by the term "economic rent." To put the matter in a phrase, "The economic rent of any piece of land is the difference between the natural properties of that piece, either in fertility or situation, and that of the poorest piece in demand."

How is the amount of this difference arrived at? By competition. To quote the words of one of the Commonwealth League's leaflets, 
  "He [the landholder] will pay what another would be willing to pay for the privilege of using the piece of common property he holds." —"The Vision and the Realisation."
We are told that this method "will throw the land open for all." Quite true—if we add who are able to pay for it, as it will be the highest bidder who will hold the land, exactly as he does now. When a large estate in the country is up for sale it is not the landless agricultural labourer who bids for it. Nor when a town site is sold, as that of Lord Berkeley, it is not a slum-dwelling worker who buys it, but a Sir Marcus Samuel.

In other words, no one will be allowed access to the land under the Commonwealth League's method unless they can pay the market price for its use, under the name of "economic rent."

This is just the situation that prevails to-day, as there is plenty of land available for those able to pay the market price for it. But, it will be objected, at present this price goes into the pockets of private individuals, whereas under the League's scheme it would go into the "common fund." Yes, but what common fund? To this the answer is: The fund required to meet the social expenses of the community. But how are these met now? By the rates and taxes. Thus the final result of the appropriation of "economic rent" or "land values" is to reduce the amount paid for rates and taxes from other sources.

As a class the workers are not concerned with taxation under capitalism. Out of the total wealth, which they produce by applying their labour power to the materials given by nature, they receive on an average about enough to keep them in the working condition that the masters' interests demand. Obviously they have no margin left over out of which to pay either taxes or economic rent. It is thus clear that it is the masters who must pay these expenses in the form of rates and taxes, and it is they who would obtain any benefit that might result from the application of "economic rent" to these expenses.

The method might not please the section of the master class who are solely, or mainly, landholders, but it would undoubtedly be beneficial to the industrial or commercial capitalists, and is really the ideal capitalist form of taxation.

We see, therefore, that the claims of the Commonwealth League with reference to the great benefits and freedoms that will flow to the working class by the taking over by the State of "economic rent" is a sheer figment of the imagination, while the real object lying behind their project—so strongly supported by the I.L.P.—is to shift as much as possible of the burden of taxation on to the shoulders of the landlords, whom the industrial capitalists often look upon as being merely "sleeping partners." So far as the workers are concerned it is another "red herring."

We may deal with other forms of nationalisation in a future article.
Jack Fitzgerald

Rural Poverty. The Situation Reviewed. (1921)

From the February 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just Ask for What You Want.
Under the heading : "How to Overcome Poverty in Rural Districts," the Daily Herald for Saturday, the 18th December, reports a meeting of a Trades Council at Halesworth in Suffolk, at which agricultural workers' representatives supported a resolution requesting an immediate increase in wages. The reason for this request is clear enough. The agricultural workers of Halesworth find that the cost of living continues to increase, and it becomes more and more difficult to live on the wages they get; they therefore ask that the Agricultural Wages Board, a body set up under the Corn Production Act, shall order an increase of the minimum wage at present applicable in Suffolk. So far so good, but the supporters of the resolution do not explain why they expect the Board to order this increase, nor what they propose to do should they refuse. Apparently no explanation is considered necessary.

It might be said that the Corn Production Act was intended to "secure for able bodied men wages which, in the opinion of the Board, are adequate to promote efficiency, and to enable any man in an ordinary case to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such a standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation."

Who are to Decide the Standard ?
That is true, but it is as well to remember that the problem of deciding what is a decent standard was not to be left to the workers themselves to decide. It will be useful here to consider the conditions which necessitated the Corn Production Act, and the motives of its promoters, and to return later to the particular problem of the Suffolk workers.

The capitalist or employing class lives by exploiting the workers ; this means that out of
the whole product of their labour the workers receive only a part, and not a large part. Speaking generally, they get sufficient to enable them to work and to bring children into the world who will carry on when they are worn out—just like horses, with the one great difference that a horse costs money and must be fed and tended even when temporarily not required to work, while men cost nothing and can be stood off when work is slack, because their employer is under no obligation to keep them, and knows that they can be replaced at any time. In any industry, therefore, the employers are primarily interested in the exploitation of their own employees. Their interests are served by having production as high, and wages as low, as possible, even to the extent of injuring the health of the workers. An individual employer does not have to consider the health and fitness of future generations, and in consequence physical deterioration has been the lot of the workers in every land under the present system of society.

The Bespoilers MUST Protect Against Themselves.
However, the more far-sighted capitalists and their advisers realise the necessity of protecting the more helpless workers against a too ruthless exploitation, in order to safeguard the future of the race and in particular so that they can effectively resist the attacks of other countries in time of war.

The rivalry which exists between national groups of capitalists occasionally becomes so acute as to lead to open war. The workers are then called upon to defend the interests of their masters, and if it is desirable to have efficient factory hands it is doubly so to have alert, fit, and capable soldiers to stand the strain of modern warfare. It is,for these reasons that Factory Acts and the statutory limitation of hours and other restrictive measures are introduced, often in face of the bitter opposition of sections of employers who will suffer immediate loss, or who fail to appreciate the need for them. The minimum wage clause of the Corn Production Act was intended to give the agricultural labourer the same amount of protection as had already been granted to town workers.

Why the Act was passed.
The Act itself owed its origin to the famine that threatened the Allies, and this country in particular, in the early years of the war. An acute shortage of shipping, aggravated by the haphazard attacks of the German raiders, and later by the sustained submarine war, had been required to teach our rulers that a larger proportion of our food supply could and must be produced at home. They decided that farmers had to be induced to plough up grass land and in this and other ways to increase considerably their corn acreage, and as corn-growing had been declining for many years owing to the cheapness of imported corn, the inducement took the form of guaranteeing prices at a high level for a number of years. It was, of course, out of the question to compel farmers to assist in smashing Germany without reward ; that was reserved for mere property less workers.

Capitalists "Getting Wise."
The experiences of war had taught our militarists and the Government's agricultural advisers one or two other things as well. The medical examinations had revealed a startlingly low level of fitness among rural workers. Little and poor food, bad housing, and heavy work at too early an age, had had a disastrous effect on a once virile country population. What could not be done for the workers' own benefit had to be done in a hurry when it was a question of "food for the guns" in our masters' war.

Besides this the more wide awake of the agriculturists had made another discovery : that it does not pay to employ unhealthy and undersized workers. Experiments in Hampshire showed that the agricultural workers had sunk to so low a level there that higher wages and piece rates would not lead to greater production. Generations of under-feeding and bad housing had robbed labourers of the Southern counties of the vitality required to enable them to respond to these forms of inducement so successful elsewhere.

Just think how distressed Thomas and Clynes and other pro-capitalist Labour leaders must have felt at the idea of workers who couldn't increase their output and their employers' profits !

So it was done! The Corn Production Act says that the agricultural worker must have a decent standard of life.

What was meant, of course, was that just enough should be given to make it possible to get more profits and better soldiers. Poor Sir Frederick Banbury, gallant old Tory that he is, had a horrible nightmare when he thought this innovation might give the land workers leisure to think, and to be extravagant. "What is necessary," he declared, "is that you should have your labourers content with their position and have their minds intent upon their work," and "I know for a fact . . . there were men doing casual work who earned from their point of view quite enough in four days to enable them to do nothing for the remaining two days."

No Need for Uneasiness.
But he need not have worried. The minimum fixed upon was 25s , which has since been increased with rising prices to 46s !

The Government were soon satisfied that sufficient had been done to meet future military requirements. When Lloyd George, with the assistance of some millions of soldiers, and at the cost of a million workers' lives, had won the war, they recovered from their first panic. They were also satisfied that the agricultural unions, whose rapid growth they had foreseen and desired, could be trusted to see that at least the most hideous features of rural degradation were to some extent removed. As a matter of fact agricultural wages have increased by a greater percentage than those in most industries since pre-war days.

Now that the object of the Act has been considered there comes the question of the working of the machinery it set up to deal with wages. There is in every county a committee composed of equal numbers of representatives of farmers and workers together with some neutral members. These committees are advisory only, and a central board sitting in London alone has the power to make orders, against the wishes of the district committees if necessary.

The Real Object of the Scheme.
These Halesworth workers, like many others, appear to think that their representatives merely have to ask for an increase and explain the justice of their case to get what they want. They think it is just a question of the disposal of votes that settles the amount that shall be paid. The farmers' representatives will be expected to oppose any application just out of cussedness, but if the neutrals do so too it will be ascribed to their anti-labour bias. Both farmers and labourers frequently ask for the removal of some or all of these neutral members. That is because they both fail to understand the idea underlying Trade Boards and Arbitration Courts so much in evidence in recent years. Their real object is to prevent stoppage of work and generally to remove friction and promote the smooth running of the wheels of industry. It is true the method hasn't always been a success either here or in America, or in Australia or other countries where it has been extensively used. That, however, can be put down to some extent to the indiscreet way some Governments have introduced it. It has been so far successful that there is no likelihood of its being abandoned.

What Does Matter.
The workers suffer when they strike, but this doesn't matter in the least to their employers if it were not for the fact that the latter suffer too. The employers have the State behind them and all the chances are in their favour, but even if they were certain of victory they would still prefer a less expensive way of settling disputes. A stoppage of work means no profits, idle machinery, unfulfilled contracts, and the loss of markets to home and foreign competitors.

The ability of the workers at any given time to get a larger share of what they produce depends, not upon the eloquence of their representatives, but on their powers to demand it. A whole intellectual armoury of moral arguments will fail to convince an employer of the justice of a claim if the labour market is overcrowded. If he knows that there are a dozen men willing to take the place of each of his employees for the same or less wages, he will also know that he can reduce wages with impunity. Well organised workers will take advantage of every favourable opportunity to get higher wages, and will fight to prevent any reduction. These are the occasions when strikes are likely to occur, and Arbitration Boards and similar bodies aim at eliminating that risk.

A Useful Function.
In agriculture the District Wages Committees serve to gather information about the strength of feeling on any particular question. The representatives of farmers and labourers themselves are in a position to know what action their members will be prepared to take. When one side makes a demand on the Central Board it will almost certainly be opposed by the other. The neutral members, under the skilful guidance of the independent chairman, and acting oil reports from the District Committees, will then endeavour to effect a compromise. They must decide on a figure sufficiently high to take the backbone out of the discontent of the workers, and sufficiently low to be accepted under protest by the employers. Both sides then report their "victory" to those they represent, and everything goes more or less smoothly until further increase in prices produces more discontent.

A Bad Outlook.
Just now there is commercial stagnation everywhere. Expectations of the break in prices which, was, according to the Daily Herald, to be the beginning of the new world for the workers, and rumours on every hand of impending bankruptcies, are adding thousands to the already immense army of unemployed. Seasonal unemployment, which meant the standing off of older men and boys at this time of the year, has been a constant feature of rural life, but this has now been aggravated by the competition of unemployed town workers, many of whom, of course, will only recently have left the land for better paid factory jobs.

The Nett Result.
The net result is that agricultural workers are not now in a position to demand more money, and the land workers at Halesworth, like those in almost every country, like the workers in every industry, must remain discontented. The most closely organised and highly skilled trades will fight hard, but their success can only be moderate indeed. In the capitalist system repeated unemployment and continual poverty and insecurity are the lot of the workers, and no sectional struggles against its effects can be of lasting benefit while the mass of them support the system through their failure to understand their position in it.

The immediate task of the workers is to study the structure and origin of capitalism, and to learn that there are no short cuts to emancipation ; that the solution of the problem of poverty in every industry and in every continent is the same—the abolition of the system of society which requires that the great majority shall be poor in order that a favoured few may live idle and luxurious lives.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Woman's Place. The Situation Reviewed. (1921)

Reprinted front cover from 1984.
From the March 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Research Department recently published the report of an enquiry made by a joint committee of that organisation and the Fabian Women's Group. The subject of the enquiry was "Women in Trade Unions," and the writer Barbara Drake, chairman of the Joint Committee. The report embodies much useful historical information, mainly drawn, we are told, from "the early reports and journals of the Women's Trade Union League [founded under the name of the Women's Protection and Provident League in 1874], and of some of the older trade unions."

The Problem Stated.

During the present period of widespread unemployment, the minds of men trade unionists are much exercised upon the problem raised by the presence of women in industry, and a few words on the subject of this report may not be amiss.

The problem is not a new one and it may be summarised thus: Experience of capitalist industry shows that the entrance of women into a department of production formerly filled by men alone endangers the men's standard of wages and threatens to drive them from employment. How shall men protect their livelihood ?

Male Camouflage.

True they have from time to time given their concern a moral or humane disguise, but always "the voice is the voice of Jacob"—"unfair female competition" is what they fear. Thus as long ago as 1811 the Journeymen Tailors' Society complained that women had been "unfairly driven from their sphere in the social scale, unfeelingly torn from the maternal duties of a parent and unjustly encouraged to compete with men in ruining the money-value of labour." (p. 4). In the eighties, when women, long employed in the cotton mill as "piecers," were introduced as spinners at a lower rate of wages than the men received, the local spinners' union declared that "the surroundings were totally unsuited to maintaining that feminine modesty of thought and behaviour which it is the duty of everyone to encourage and protect" (p. 23). So also at the Trade Union Congress held at Leicester in 1877, Mr. Broadhurst (secretary of the Parliamentary Committee,) said in moving a resolution to extend the restrictions on female labour: 
    "They [the men]had the future of their country and their children to consider, and it was their duty as men and husbands to use their utmost efforts to bring about a condition of things where their wives should be in their proper sphere at home, instead of being dragged into competition against the great and strong men of the world." (p. 16).
The Common Rule.

This gentleman's resolution was carried, according to the report, "by an overwhelming majority of men delegates," and indicates one method (the more popular) by which organised men have endeavoured to solve their problem —that of excluding women as far as possible from all but traditional women's trades. The report reminds us that "Trade union restrictions on female labour are the common rule in organised trades. According as the men's trade unions are strong, female labour is entirely prohibited—any future, if not the present generation of workers—or women are restricted to certain inferior branches of the industry, or to certain unorganised districts. . . A genuine indifference to lines of sex demarcation is practically confined to cotton weavers" (p. 229)
Now women workers have always, for obvious reasons, resisted movements to confine them, to domestic work and needlecrafts; indeed, on the demobilisatian of male workers in 1919, and the discharge of "substituted" women, "the strongest pressure brought to bear by the Employment Exchanges, even to the extent of withdrawing unemployment benefit, failed to drive any large number of women back to domestic service, and the uncongenial conditions of 'living in' " (p. 108).

Employers  Support  Women's  Right to be Exploited.

Equally determined opposition is raised by employers. These gentlemen are staunch champions of the right of working women to compete with their husbands and brothers, and welcome the invention of any new process which brings an industrial operation within the capacity of women. That women command lower wages influences them not at all, you will understand. Lest you suspect mercenary motives in their gallantry, they have two excellent arguments in support of a double standard of wages.

There is a great difference, they will tell you, between the needs of men and those of women. Should the single woman, they ask, be paid at the same rate as the family man? Now at the very first glance there appears something amiss with this argument; for as pointed out by Miss Drake,
  "a system of wages which merely distinguishes between one sex and another, fails in its express object of providing for the separate needs of different groups of workers. Between the family man and the bachelor, the widow with dependents and the wife or daughter partially supported at home, needs must vary at least as much in degree as between one sex and another. The fact should not be overlooked that there are actually more bachelors than spinsters employed in industry" (p. 228).
The Economic Aspect.

In point of fact, human labour power is bought by the capitalist in the open market like any other commodity which he intends to use in production. A commodity's value is determined by the labour-time socially necessary to reproduce it—in this case to produce such food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, and so on, as constitute the normal standard of living for a working-man, a wife, and an average family. The latter are inevitably taken into the calculation, because without them there would be no reproduction of the species and therefore no continued reproduction of human labour power. Wages are the price of labour power, which, like the price of all commodities does not always coincide with value, but oscillates about it, rising above when demand is great in relation to supply, and falling below when the reverse is the case. As the former case is so rare as to be almost unknown in modern industry, the perpetual tendency is for wages to fall. The object of trade union organisation is to check this tendency by strengthening the worker in his bargaining with his master. In brief, as Barbara Drake naively says :
   "Even a Government Department cannot afford to neglect ordinary commercial considerations ; whilst private employers, exposed to the keen competition of rival firms, are practically obliged to ignore all others, and to buy their labour [a careful economist would have said "labour-power"] if not in the cheapest market, at least to their own best advantage" (p. 228).
Bearing this in mind, it is easy to understand the fine impartiality which forbids the employer to pay to women, comparatively ill organised, the same standard of wages as men have by organised struggle obtained.

It will Suit the Bosses.

Miss Drake gives a kind of cautious approval to the principle of State allowances for mothers and children, advocated by feminists— a matter with which we need not concern ourselves here. If trade unionists are willing to have their wages reduced to the cost of their own subsistence, and to accept State relief in respect of dependents, we may be confident that enlightened employers will raise no obstacle.

So much for the plea of different needs : let us hear the alternative defence. Women's smaller output, capitalists explain, merits a lower wage. Are all men, then, equal in output, or all women? Individual output varies with physical or mental capacity, application, and other factors. In consenting to any standard, be it "single" or "double," the employer renounces the principle of payment by output. In labourious work the output of young, strong women often exceeds that of old or ailing men ; in brain work a brilliant woman would compare favourably with a man of merely average intelligence, and if the capitalist were true to his professed principle, would be entitled to a higher wage. In the engineering and aircraft industries during the war, women workers were pointed out as surpassing men in light repetition work; yet employers in these trades, far from offering a higher female standard, strenuously opposed agitation for equal pay.

"What Master Likes so much."

The oddest circumstance, however, in view of such an argument, is this very promptness of employers to introduce women where possible. If the difference in male and female rates of wages were proportionate to the difference in output, then the capitalist would be at least as willing to employ a man as a woman ; indeed, more willing, since it is a frequent assertion of his that illness and domestic affairs render her a comparatively irregular, and therefore inferior, wage-servant. Yet no: none so chivalrous as he. Witness the rebuke administered in Glasgow in 1914 by the master printers to the trade unionists in their employ who prohibited the engagement of female compositors at roughly half the men's rate of pay :
   "Even if it should be held that a woman does not accomplish as much work in an hour as a man does, it is without question that the extra cost to the employer owing to the exclusion of female labour is very great" (p. 33).
A Thing to Note.

Mark the disinterested sentiments of Mr. Boddam, who represented the pottery masters in the arbitration case in 1891 : "With regard to cup-makers, they are gradually being driven out of the market by women labour, and if they don't care to take our terms we can supply their places with women and apprentices" (p. 37). "At least one employer, in giving evidence before the Committee on Combinations of Workmen in 1838, boasted of using females as strikebreakers" (p. 4). What divine philanthropy is this, which permits such unprofitable female servants to share the milk and honey of capitalist bounty!

The Capitalist has Choice.

The truth is, this apology for a double standard of wages is based upon an economic misrepresentation. The price of a commodity is the approximate manifestation of its exchange-value—a totally different thing from its value in use. How the former was measured we saw above : the latter is incommensurable. The values in use to the purchaser of a typewriter and a pair of scientific balances, for instance, cannot be compared. But their exchange values can and are, by the process already mentioned. If they demand the equal expenditures of labour power for their reproduction, their market value is equal. Similarly with the commodity human labour power. Suppose an employer buys female labour power, proceeds to use it (put it in action), and is then dissatisfied with the result. He may refrain in the future from purchasing any more of the same brand of this commodity ; in other words, he may employ men instead of women. This he can do without smirching his capitalist honour: he is buying, as his code permits, nay encourages, him to do, "to his own best advantage." But while he employs women he must, if he be an honest exploiter, either pay the same wages as to men, or confess that he buys labour power at not its value but its market price, which the competition of unorganised women forces far down below value.

Which brings us to the consideration of the second means by which organised working men have tried to defend themselves from female competition. This is the endeavour to organise women in trade unions, and to use the power of their own societies to enforce higher female rates. In early campaigns they aimed only at decreasing the discrepancy between women's rates and their own, but in agreeing to dilution during the war of 1914-18, they endeavoured to stipulate for equal standards, and enjoyed instructive experience of capitalist resource. By successive devices employers maintained so well their privilege of buying women's labour power cheaply, that "generally speaking, it is true to say that 'substituted' women received wages which worked out at about half way between the men's standard and that of other women belonging to the same industry" (p. 89).

Suppose, however, trade unionism to have extended as far among women as among men. What is the position? Only that a woman is now no more formidable a competitor than a fellow-man. But the competition continues. Workers fight each other for leave to wear the yoke of a master ; capitalists still use the desperate need of the unemployed to force wages down. The life of capitalist industry requires it. Production for sale must needs be cheap production, and the evils it entails will live as long as the system lives.

The Remedy.

Where find the remedy, then? Where but in the down-throw of capitalism; in the organisation of productive forces, not privately for profit, but socially, to the sole end of furnishing everything of use and delight which the heart of man can desire? This is Socialism, and within it will be room for all to enter the field of labour. Then every achievement of mind and arm will be a gain to us, and a part in the enjoyment of that rich store will be our common right.

Let each man, therefore, see in every fellow-worker, skilled or unskilled, man or woman, one bound with the same chain as he; whose emancipation is to be won, not at the price of his own, but with and in his own. Together let them hasten the inevitable end of capitalism and build in its place the Socialist Commonwealth.

Oughts and Crosses (1921)

From the August 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

We often hear Parliamentary election derided as a "game of oughts and crosses," and indeed Parliamentary action does not find much favour among the so-called working-class movement at the present time. Very few of those who espouse the cause of Direct Action know that there are fashions in theories of tactics, and that they are but victims of the latest craze.

The history of the modern working-class movement is the history of the alternation of opinion and feeling—especially the latter—between Direct Action and Parliamentary Action. After the repeal of the Combination Laws in 1824 trade unions sprang up like mushrooms. The high hopes raised among the working class by the Reform Bill agitation were dashed to the ground on that Bill becoming law. The disappointment and discontent arising from the failure of the benefits promised by the Reform Party to materialise found expression in trade union organisation and a series of strikes. "The legislature was too slow for the people. The adults in factories must by unions among themselves make a Short Time Bill for themselves." (Craik: Short History of the Modern Working Class Movement. p. 29.) A number of unsuccessful strikes and successful lock-outs caused the collapse of the "Grand National Union;" and so brought to a close a period of Direct Action.

Direct Action having failed, the way was prepared for the political movement known as Chartism, which came to an end with the great array of military force massed against it on 10th April 1848. Then followed the period in which the principal trade unions were formed. The A.S.E. in 1851; the Carpenters' and Joiners' union in 1860; the Miners in 1863, etc.

The Taff Vale judgement, which decided that a trade union could be sued in its collective capacity for the act of a member or official, gave a fillip to the movement for labour representation in the House of Commons, and extravagant hopes were raised by the relative success of the Labour Party in 1906.

The present wave of Direct Actionism is the result of disappointment with the Labour Party. The writer is of opinion that the decline of the prevailing "fashion" will date from the Black Friday fiasco.

One of the illusions on which the master class depend for their retention of power is that the Government is an independent, neutral body mediating impartially between the different sections of society. Had the strike taken place conflicts on a larger scale than any hitherto were certain to have happened. When the Government is compelled to use the armed forces it reveals its true nature as the executive committee of the capitalist class. The more it shows its teeth, the more extensive the scale upon which the armed forces are used, the clearer becomes this fact. Therefore the capitalist class, as represented in the House of Commons, were prepared to sacrifice the immediate interests of the coalowners in order to safeguard the interests of their class as a whole. Another lesson to be drawn is that to the extent that the working class shows a united front the capitalist class tends to disunity. Although a Triple Alliance strike could have been suppressed quite easily, as soon as one was threatened the capitalist class was divided into those who were in favour of the vigorous use of the armed forces and those who feared its ultimate consequences. If this was the effect of a mere strike over wages on the capitalist class, what would be the effect on them of the return to Parliament of an increasing number of real working-class delegates, returned by Socialist votes?

According to a Communist speaker who I heard, the capitalist class have a very simple expedient to prevent the return of a Socialist majority. In the event of the growth in Parliament of such a strong Socialist minority as to make the return at a general election of a Socialist majority probable, the capitalist government would carry a resolution extending the life of Parliament, as was done during the war. This certainly appears very simple. The assumption is that things would run just as smoothly after the act as before. But would they?

No. The international system of capitalist production is dependent for its smooth working upon credit and confidence, and those upon social stability. The indicator of the stability of social relations is Parliament. As soon as Parliament removes itself from contact with the electorate confidence and credit go, and all the symptoms of an acute trade crisis manifest themselves. Cash payment is demanded, stocks and shares fall, and large numbers of the smaller capitalists are precipitated into the ranks of the proletariat. The capitalist class itself is rent asunder and the loudest demand for a general election comes from its own ranks.

In a recent issue of the SOCIALIST STANDARD, an article appeared on "Communist Consistency," wherein was given glaring examples of inconsistency on the part of the Communists. Not the least of their inconsistencies is that on the one hand they depreciate the power of the capitalist class to the extent of claiming that they can be expropriated by a minority taking advantage of a big strike and a wave of discontent, and on the other hand elevate it into a powerful organisation capable of resisting the expressed will of the majority of the people.

The capitalist class are neither all-powerful nor such fools as to be caught napping by minorities. Our weakness is their strength. While but a small proportion of the working-class understand their slave position in society, and are organised for the purpose of ending it, the capitalist class are strong. But when the working class wake up to the fact that their masters live in riotous luxury on the proceeds of their, the workers', exploitation, and manifest a determination to end the system, the vaunted power of the capitalist class will melt and vanish like margarine in the July sun. 
G. D.