Is Trade Unionism Sound ? By J. H. Bunting. Published by Benn Bros. 2s. 6d.
Sir Peter Rylands, who writes one of the prefaces to this book, J. R. Clynes being its other sponsor, is Past President of the Federation of British Industries. He is also Chairman of Rylands Bros., Ltd., Vice-Chairman of Pearson, Knowles Coal and Iron Co., Ltd., and director of several companies including the London and Lancashire Fire Insurance Co., Ltd., Moss Hall Coal Co., Ltd., Partington Steel and Iron Co. Ltd; quite a captain of industry, in fact, eking out a meagre existence on what our author calls “wages of superintendence.” When therefore he closes his blessing on the book with the remark that “some of Mr. Bunting’s premises may require further examination before they are completely acceptable,” I suspect him of cynicism. Sir Peter must know enough about industry, even if he is a director, to be aware that the less they are examined the more liable are Mr. Bunting’s premises to be accepted as the truth. Examination damns the book from first page to last as a mass of economic untruths, confusions, and contradictions. In style and matter it resembles those “Pay-day talks” which nowadays bulk larger and larger in pay envelopes. It extends to about 100 pages, each one more puerile than the last.
Before dealing with a few of the points it raises there is one small criticism I have to make. The book is entitled “Is Trade Unionism Sound?” Now in a book with this title the reader expects to find something about trade unionism. He expects to have the author’s definition of the term set before him, with a survey of trade unionism in the past, and lessons to be drawn from that survey. All this the reader expects reasonably enough, and yet nowhere in this book, save on the flyleaf, do the actual words “trade unionism” occur. Without counting I cannot say how often the phrase “trade union” is used, but certainly not half a dozen times. The author ignores the subject he is supposed to be writing on. He leaves it without apology or excuse and plunges at once into his world of dreams, to preach of brotherhood and good feeling between employers and employees. But let us turn to the material Mr. Bunting offers. From so much that is false it is difficult to chose items for comment. And to show briefly what in Mr. Bunting’s opinion is wrong with the world is equally difficult, for he does not definitely tell us. The one thing that certainly is not wrong with it in his opinion is capitalism. As well as I am able to make out Mr. Bunting’s case it is this :—
“The total production of industry is the gross production of the workers who out of it have to pay (1) so much for the use of capital ; (2) so much for the use of land; (3) so much for the employers’ services.” (Page 25.) The balance they keep for themselves. This constitutes their wages fund. Now “if the amount of production could be increased, prices would be reduced accordingly, more capital could be conserved, and it would follow that it would be at the disposal of the workers at a lower rate. This would mean that capita lists would receive a smaller proportion of the total production, leaving a larger proportion of the increased production to be shared between the workers.” (Page 35.) And how to increase production? Why work for whatever wage an employer will offer? Don’t insist on 70s. when only 66s. is tendered. Take 66s., and then you create a demand for 66s. worth of commodities, and thus for workers to produce them, and these workers in their turn create fresh demand for labour and so “ad infinitum.” Everyone is employed, prices fall, real wages rise, the workers continue to pay less and less for the use of capital, until finally “they enjoy its use practically free of charge.” (Pages 18 and 29.) What a lovely dream ! Only unfortunately it is only a dream, and does not stand examination, Sir Peter !
Even the dreamer himself seems to have doubts about the efficacy of his scheme, for he shows us how it would work if applied on Mars, where, for illustration, he assumes “conditions to be very similar to those which prevail here.” Yes; they may be “very similar,” but they are not the same, and because of that the scheme will fail here. Even judged by Mr. Bunting’s own premises it can be shown to be impossible and illogical.
If the demand for commodities increases to such an enormous extent, why should their prices fall rather than rise, and why should the price of capital (i.e., interest) fall with an increased demand?
But, of course, our author is wrong in his fundamentals. Workers do not “employ capital.” The owners of capital employ them. To-day the working class possesses nothing but its power to labour, which, in order to live, it sells to the capitalist class, the owners of the machinery, the raw material—in short, all the means of production. And the capitalist is willing to buy labour power because it brings forth surplus value, because it produces more than is necessary for the workers’ subsistence, because he can appropriate to himself this surplus. When a surplus cannot be obtained production ceases, unemployment ensues. The profits of capital, while undoubtedly produced by the workers, are not paid by them to the capitalists for the use of their capital, but are extorted out of them by the present system of legalised robbery.
Until he realises this, our author will continue to contradict himself and argue in circles. And when he does realise it, he will not be so hazy concerning wages, prices, and profits.
Another statement given without the sorely needed proof is the old one that high wages result in high prices. If it is possible for a producer to raise prices at will, if prices are fixed quite arbitrarily, why is any strike ever contested ? Why do employers organise to prevent wage increases ? It would be cheaper and easier to pay any wage demanded and raise the price of the product. Capitalists and workers alike are subject to the economic forces which, not individual wishes, determine the prices at which commodities sell. To recount all the other fallacies and sentimentalities contained in the book would take too long, and serve little useful purpose. When an author says that half the reward of a miner “is the vision of the comfort that is being brought to the homes of the people, the power that is being supplied for the production of wealth” ; and that capitalists “if they choose to retire from the commercial arena, could obtain sufficient income from their capital without entrenching on their capital or employing labour for commercial purposes” (Marx in “Capital” has already asked : If all capitalists were to do this, where would they find their commodities in the market?)—to quote but two passages typical of many, he is not worthy of serious attention.
But books like these which, whilst ostensibly stating new truths are in reality only propounding new ways of defending capitalism, are becoming more and more common as the rottenness of the present system of production obtrudes itself more on its victims, and unless such attempts are recognised for what they are, still more enquiring workers will be gulled into meek acceptance of their present misery. Knowledge of their position in society will, however, give the workers the power to resist the influence of these pipings, and that knowledge can only be obtained by the reading of Socialist literature and a grasp of the Socialist position.
W. J. R.