From the August 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard
Amongst the official workers' leaders there is developing a serious difference of opinion about a serious issue. The Margate Conference decided that the Government should take a hand in “the guiding process of fixing wages in different industries instead of leaving them, as in the past, to be fought out between the employers and the Unions,” so says Mr. Ian Mikardo, M.P., writing in support in Picture Post (21/6/47). In the same paper Mr. George Brown, M.P., trade union leader, puts forward the opposing point of view.
Despite the Prime Minister's proclamations, the present way in which society is organised is not undergoing any revolutionary change. It is still class-divided. Some millionaires are dying, others are being born. Profits are as lively as ever, those of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company having risen by a cool four million during the past year. Wages too are still here, buying for wage-earners the usual amount of food, clothing and shelter, mostly crude, mostly nasty. The Government is to fix all this; to fix profits; to fix wages; to fix everything good and proper. In the workers' world of insecurity and fear it is not surprising that the idea of somebody fixing something catches on.
Mr. Mikardo's economics are very simple. The problem, he maintains, is that the less essential trades are bleeding our basic industries of their man-power. The solution is a wages-policy which "remains the most effective way of getting the men where they are needed.” "Nobody,” he continues, ”envisages wage-cuts in the less essential industries; what a national wages policy means is that wages (barring a few anomalous cases) are kept steady, whilst wages in the under-manned industries are pushed up.” In countering, Mr. Brown states that he took the trouble to investigate the wages of the so-called less essential trades and discovered that nearly 200 out of 216 such wages were below £5 per week. These lucky people are going to enjoy the charm of the guiding hand which is to keep their pay-packets sweet and low. Not being in their ranks, Mr. Mikardo looks like missing all the fun.
One hazards the question as to what happens to the increased profits resulting from more efficient machinery and more production per man per hour? One thing is certain; it won’t go to the wage earners sheltering under the shadow of the Government’s guiding hand which keeps their low wages low. When the purchasing power of wages falls, when £4 will only buy what say £3 had bought previously, does the guiding, steadying hand toll on? The more Mr. Mikardo's idea is examined the more it reveals itself as the answer to the Capitalists’ prayer.
Mr. Brown makes the obvious query as to what is to decide which trade is essential and which is not, and comes to the conclusion that it is a question impossible to answer. We agree. What, for example, are miners? They’re very essential, comes the ready answer. Well as far as the working-class is concerned even thousands of miners are not very essential, because thousands of miners are to-day toiling and sweating to produce the coal to produce the steel to produce the luxury liners,’ Rolls-Royces, and other such novelties definitely not for the enjoyment of a working-class which does not include, to complete the cycle, compensated ex-mine-owners.
The fixed-wage idea is easy meat for Mr. Brown, but after the fireworks he follows with a pathetic justification for leaving workers to bargain through the Unions with employers for their wage, their slave-price. “How patriotic,” he says. "have been the negotiating machinery and the Trade Unions in avoiding a real inflationary spiral.” In other words the Trade Union leaders are doing O.K.. keeping wages steady, so why not leave well alone. Since it is Mr. Brown who points out the pittance earned by the workers in so-called luxury trades, it can only be assumed that he includes these low wages in his tragic boast. The Socialist approach to the economic problems confronting society is scientific. Unfortunately for Mr. Brown it disposes of his “inflationary spiral." An increase in wages does not, of itself, result in an increase in prices. Several factors influence the price of a commodity There is the supply of it and the demand for it. There is the productivity of labour continually increasing due to the introduction of quicker machinery. There is competition between manufacturers. In the case of food there is the climatic element, good weather producing a bumper harvest and bringing down the price, or bad weather and low crops sometimes increasing the price. As a matter of fact a study of the history of wages and prices shows that on many occasions wages have risen and prices, far from rising, have fallen considerably. After a recent flying trip to America, the editor of the News Chronicle (25/6/47) reported that prices were being trimmed whilst at the same time wages were rising.
Both the Picture Post contestants have no quarrel with the existence of such social animals as Capitalists and wage-slaves. They have no quarrel with the bitter struggle which is bound to go on so long as the two classes exist. They have no quarrel with profits. They are both concerned with what to do with these things. Opposing the party both represent, the S.P.G.B. is concerned about getting rid of the stupid things they would plan. The wages-system must end. The division of man into class compartments must end. There is to-day no relation between the people's needs and what the people are capable of producing; markets and profits stand like mountains, in the way. Markets and profits must end. In other words, Capitalism must end if humanity is to survive.