Once again the parasitic pandemonium known as the Loudon Season is with us, and London is overflowing with wealthy and titled savages with their painted and bejewelled squaws. In the morning those who are able to shake off the effects of the previous night’s debauch may be seen taking a canter in Rotten Row, in order to prepare themselves for the revels of the day and the orgies of the coming night. And so they go on till Ascot, Goodwood, Eton and Harrow, and Henley are past—and then to the moors to recoup.
All this is so well known to the average working man and woman as to be scarcely worth the mentioning by a Socialist were it not for the fact that the crowding of the great metropolis by these savages veneered and French polished, is an additional source of misery and anxiety to thousands of men, women and children of the working class. While thousands are harder driven, sweated, and over worked in ministering to the whims and fancies of these idle, good-for-nothings, thousands of others are thrown out of employment throughout the whole of June and July as a result of it.
Notable among the last are the men engaged in the building trade, especially the painters and decorators. Woe betide the luckless skib who finds himself in London after Whitsuntide without a job, for little short of a miracle will save him two months fruitless search. Indeed, these summer months are often worse than the dead of winter for the painter. Thousands of unthinking people are totally at a loss to understand this. Yet the explanation is very simple.
During the early spring the wealthy have been away at their country residences whilst the painter has been busy cleansing and renovating the London haunts of these lice of the social system, and now their return to town makes the painter workless for two mouths. His only chance is to get away into the country.
But this must be speedily done, or the luckless wight will find himself crowded out.
Unionist or non-unionist it makes no difference. Though he does right to organise to keep up the price of his labour power, all the trade-union organisation in the world is powerless to create an efficient demand for his commodity. In the words of Mr. Haldane, when deputations from Enfield and Woolwich waited upon him to remind him of the promise he gave before the election that discharges should not take place below a certain minimum : “If the work is not there for you we cannot create it.”
Though as a rule the painter is very slow to recognise economic law, he, nevertheless, conforms to it, and seeing there is no demand for his services in London, he betakes himself to where he thinks there is a chance of a job. But there is little certainty about it, as he finds to his cost. Hence he is forced to lower the price of his commodity.
Suppose he goes to Bournemouth. The trade union rate there is 7½d., but our friend takes less by reason of the good old Free Trade fact that his cost of living has gone up. For he has his railway fare to pay, and probably two homes to keep. This goes to show that these annual migrations of workers increase the profits of the master class, while the workmen sacrifice their home comforts and at the same time get a lower wage.
If these were the only circumstances in which the painter's wages can be reduced it might pass, but let us look closer and see what reason he has got to support the capitalist system.
The trade union rate in London is 9d. per hour, but does he get it? Not a bit of it! Everyone in the trade knows that the period in the year over which men are employed has been decreasing for some years until to-day he is a lucky man who gets seven or eight months work in the year. Nominally wages are 9d. Actually they are about 4½d. by reason of the ever-decreasing period of time over which the men are employed. So notorious has this state of things become that when seeking apartments the wives of the men in many instances are compelled to conceal the occupation of their husbands, since to tell the truth would result in refusal of shelter.
The machine, in spite of many attempts, has failed to work the havoc in this trade that it has in many, but where the machine has failed the clock has succeeded. Scamping methods and the insidious inducements held out to the men in charge by the masters, quicken the pace. Preparative work is a thing of the past; pumice, once so prominent in the trade, is now only brought on the job from force of habit, and is seldom used.
Thus it is not necessary for the master class to attack a standard rate of wages in order to reduce wages. This can be done quite as effectively by other means.
One of the saddest features of the whole sad business is the position of the older men. Craftsmen of the old school, their skill, acquired by years of patient toil, is to-day worth as little to them as their indentures are.
For years they jogged along fairly comfortably, until the Taff Vale and Quinn v. Leathern decision, when many of the unions went in for political action. This paved the way to pelf and place for a gang of the vilest traitors that ever worked their nefarious ends on an unsuspecting body of workers. One of the first acts of treachery perpetrated by these jackals of the capitalist class was their support of the Workmen’s Compensation Bill. This rascally measure had the effect of killing two birds with one stone. The masters could not insure the old men and therefore would not employ them, and being so much out of work the veterans soon dropped behind in their contributions, and the unions got rid of them.
The Workmen’s Compensation Act has done all that the Liberal politicians and their friends the “Labour” men ever intended it should do. It lined the pockets of the lawyers, filled to overflowing the coffers of the insurance companies, and relieved the employers of their final shred of responsibility, making them more careless than ever of the lives of their wage slaves.
It is sad to reflect, after a century of trade union effort, that the worker is to day in a worse plight, compared with the vast increase in wealth production, than at any period of industrial history. It is sad to reflect that all the valiant fights trade unionism has made, many of them stamped out in blood and tears, have ended in martyrdom, never in victory. The whole course has been movement in a circle. Its only consistency is that of adhering to the principle on which the trade union movement was founded—the principle of acceptance of and acquiescence in the present social system.
Emancipation lies not this way. When the men of the painting trade realise their position in society, as portion of a subject class whose interest is opposed at all points to that of the master class, they will organise along with their fellows upon the political field, in the Socialist Party—the only party that stands for human emancipation.
Socialism is a means to put an end to the third and final form in which the principle of subjection can be enshrined and only when the working class are organised to this end can they be said to be in a position to labour for their emancipation.
F. G. Thompson