Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Science and the Social Problem. (1925)

From the November 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

A scientist died the other day while experimenting with gas. The event reminds us of the great amount of work done by numbers of scientists in different directions, and how often such work has brought about the death of those taking part in it, in the effort to control the forces of nature and to weed out disease from amongst us. We are tempted at times to enquire of what use is this vast expenditure of effort to the mass of the world’s population. Much talk there is of modern scientific progress, but the question is seldom asked whether this expenditure of effort is worth while, or whether the need for much of the scientific work is due to causes that can be removed.

The position may be looked at from more than one point of view. One may look at the wonderful results of microbe hunting; the fine buildings that have been put up; the marvellous results of the application of electricity to various purposes; the use and abuse of oil; the wonders of steam ; and so on, and standing appalled before the feats of the human brain, exclaim, “Yes, indeed, there has been progress, wonderful progress !” On the other hand, one may look at the festering slum ; the ill-clad and ill-fed thousands scurrying to work at the sound of the hooter; the lunacies from overwork and the suicides from underwork; the model dwellings that tremble at a blast of wind ; the miseries of the poor and the fatuities of the rich ; and seeing these things one might murmur, “Is this progress?”

Again, we might ask whether marvellous inventions are of any real service when the bulk of the people cannot take advantage of them ; or yet, again, whether discoveries are of any real value when the cause of the evils they deal with can be removed, thereby rendering the discoveries unnecessary.

Generally speaking, all work that involves the training and developing of the faculties has an element of usefulness, but if a similar result can be obtained by employing the faculties on work that is useful to society, then it is foolish to employ them on useless work. For example, the practice of the profession of burglary or company promoting stimulates mental activity and develops considerable manual dexterity, but a similar result could be obtained by taking part in work that was of real use to society.

Now let us examine two aspects of the matter more closely.

Over 90 per cent. of the population of this country does not get more than two weeks’ holiday at a time in one year; the majority of this 90 per cent. gets less than a week at a time. The average wage of this 90 per cent. is, at the best, only sufficient to provide the necessaries of life and a very modest holiday. This is taking an extremely favourable view of the state of affairs. Imagine, therefore, of what little value to such people is, for instance, the luxuriously appointed ocean-going liner, with its wonderful arrangements to meet every need of the traveller; or the marvellous feats of engineering in the Alps, the Andes or the Himalayas; the remarkable gadgets for the comfort and convenience of the owners of £6,000 motor cars; and hosts of similar marvels that are entirely out of the reach of the teeming populations of industrial areas who make up the bulk of the inhabitants of modern countries. It is interesting to know that at banquets of the wealthy, automatic carriers travel round the table, and guests can pick from them tasty morsels to suit their palates, but the information is of little value to a hungry man with a fat appetite and a lean pocket.

Thousands upon thousands of pounds have been expended, and investigators have used up a large part of their lives in the hunt for the microbes that are said to cause such diseases as consumption, typhoid fever, smallpox, and the like. If everybody lived in sanitary dwellings, worked under healthy conditions, ate unadulterated food, and got plenty of fresh air, the bulk of the illnesses would disappear. Flour, jam, and other things are produced for gain, and the goodness of the article is sacrificed for the gainful end. Cheapness of production is thought more of than good quality. If buying and selling were abolished profit would cease to be the incentive for production, and there would be no inducement to produce objects that are of inferior quality and harmful to the consumers.

Substitutes are produced instead of good quality articles for the same reason that food is adulterated.

The wage the average worker receives is small, and the housewife, or family buyer, is compelled to look for things that are cheap. Hence adulterated goods and cheap substitutes are purchased instead of the healthier, more nourishing, and better-quality articles. Much ingenuity is used, and many and wonderful are the inventions in the effort to provide such substitutes. At the moment of writing the papers report the formation of a company for the purpose of producing woolalose, as a substitute for wool. It is composed of 70 per cent. jute and 30 per cent. ordinary recovered wool. If there were a shortage of wool, then the production of a substitute would be a sensible procedure. But there is no shortage of wool, and the sole reason for the production of woolalose is the desire to obtain a cheap substitute that will allow of a good profit to the company and yet be within the purchasing power of those whose purses will not help them to reach the genuine article.

This business of substitutes and shoddy runs right through the heart of present-day society. Investigations have produced startling information of the wonderful things introduced into even the commonest articles to make their sale more profitable. Jam and bread are typical examples.

But rain falls on the innocent as well as on the guilty. The effects of adulteration are sometimes felt by the rich as well as the poor. A guide-book to Switzerland, giving advice to tourists, contains the following remarks on wines :—
“Travellers to France are generally advised when they drink vin ordinaire to take the white wine by preference, as from its colour it is less likely to be the subject of adulteration. In Switzerland, however, the adulterator shows great impartiality for colour, and exercises his craft with great liberality and fairness. Plaster of Paris is the principal ingredient, and Swiss wines have hitherto been largely plastered. With us plaster of Paris is used rather by confectioners than by wine merchants, and constitutes the principal adulteration for comfits and all opaque sweeties. The plaster of Paris is cheaper than sugar and does duty for it.”—(J. E. M., “Guide to Switzerland.” Introduction.)
The baneful effects of Plaster of Paris on the human constitution do not need pointing out.

The same writer sent samples of Swiss honey and genuine honey to an analyst for examination. The result showed that the genuine honey contained only 0.94 of cane sugar, whilst the Swiss article contained 30.27 of cane sugar, thus proving that Swiss honey was a manufactured article, and the bees were innocent of the crime.

These illustrations show the lengths to which modern producers will go when putting on the market an article that is produced mainly for sale, and also that the rich are not always sure of being exempt from the evil effects of the system that allows them to accumulate wealth.

The Executive Council of the Food Committee recently reported having had evidence given them that paper-bag manufacturers were being asked for heavier sugar bags, and that when sugar was weighed in these bags the retailers could afford to sell sugar at cost price and make their profit on the bags ! (“Daily News,” 16. 10. 25.)

These are the kind of things that have accompanied the advance of society, and they are the result of much time and ingenuity being spent in fighting preventable diseases, producing makeshift goods, and deceiving people with poisonous products and faulty measures. Are they signs of progress? They each have their source in the same central fact, the modern private ownership of the means of wealth production, with all that such ownership involves.

Taking this as one test of progress, compare modern times with the Middle Ages, swathed in medieval darkness. The peasant and the guildworker produced articles that were at least genuine and free of adulteration. Progress, in this direction anyhow, would appear to have headed backwards nowadays. In spite of the development of sanitation we have little to boast of on the score of disease. Whilst cholera and similar epidemics ravaged the Middle Ages, we are still in the grip of epidemics, as the statistics of smallpox, influenza and syphilis bear eloquent witness.

The problems of disease, shoddy goods, and the like are economic problems. They can only be solved and real progress made when the central economic problem has been solved. Disease and shoddy goods are bound up with poverty, each flows from the same cause. When the cause of poverty has been abolished the effects will cease to exist. Under the heading “A Puzzle for Progress” the “Observer” (16. 8. 25.) printed an article on some slums in Limehouse, the surroundings of which are described as “a soaring temple of gasometers, a railway embankment, and a dead-cat kind of canal.” The slum consists of 9¼ acres, which the Stepney Council has condemned as insanitary. The suggestion to clear the slum has been met by a storm of protest from the occupants. The following description is suggestive of the elevating nature of the circumstances :—
“A century and a half ago fish-curing started there; to-day there are half-a-dozen curing yards in the area supporting, directly and indirectly, probably not far short of a hundred families. The sheds are, literally, in the backyards of some of the houses. In the evening, when stoking-up for the night is going on, you may stand at your back door under a gas attack of acrid deal and oak sawdust fumes, with haddocks hanging before you all arow.”
Plenty of examples parallel to this can be found in dozens of other localities. The description continues with these words : “It may not be ozone, but at least it is livelihood.” There is the crux of the problem. Against the matter of livelihood and low wages sanitary attacks and town-planning schemes are constantly collapsing. Slums are cleared from one locality only to rise and flourish in another. Ideal cottages are built, and look very pretty and inviting until the lodgers in every room convert them into poverty-stricken hovels and withered flowers of slumdom.

We see then that the bulwarks of misery are profit-making, poverty and ignorance. These three in turn bring forth shoddy goods, overwork, disease, and the multitude of other ills that flourish to-day. But profit-making, poverty, and ignorance are themselves the product of the present private property basis of society. To attempt to deal with present evils by part amelioration instead of striking the root of the trouble, and to claim the result achieved as evidence of progress is hypocrisy, the shoddy product of an essentially shoddy society.

People will be free of disease when they can afford to live in well-built, hygienic houses in healthy surroundings, and work under sanitary conditions with plenly of leisure for healthy exercise and rest; they will be free of shoddy goods when the aim of production is to provide the whole of the members of society equally with articles of consumption and adornment that are of the best quality obtainable. They will be free of ignorance when they have leisure to learn and access to the best existing sources of knowledge ; and they will be free of poverty when the means of wealth production are owned by society as a whole and operated for the equal benefit of all.

All the scientific progress of ages will be of little advantage to the majority of the world’s population unless and until the barriers of capitalist private property are removed and the need for the microbe-hunter vanishes.

It has been said by a philosopher, whose name I have forgotten, that the progress of a society should be judged by the health and the happiness of the men, women and children composing the society. Judged by this standard, the progress of capitalist society is a sham that conceals a weltering mass of misery. Yet it need not be so. There has been a tremendous technical development that enlarges the capacities of modern production to an extent that makes easy the provision of what is necessary to meet the economic needs of all. Once the bulwarks are broken down the forces that exist will be released and the progress of the mass of the population become a reality instead of a fiction.

Fifty years of “Progress”! The economic position of the workers. (1925)

From the November 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have been asked to make a comparison between the present economic position of the working class and their position fifty years ago. Many considerations besides that of space compel us to confine the comparison within fairly narrow limits, and the complexity of the subject, added to the difficulty of obtaining sufficient authoritative statistics, makes it inevitable that the treatment shall be inadequate in many directions for more than a rough approximation to the actual facts. We shall be concerned mainly with the position of workers in this country except where light can be thrown on the general tendencies of advanced capitalism by bringing in illustrations from countries other than Great Britain. It will be desirable at the outset to indicate the numerous difficulties in the way of a full presentation. Statistics are necessarily incomplete even where they do exist, while large parts of our subject are not covered by reliable figures at all. Apart from this it is by no means easy to find even a satisfactory basis of comparison.

Mere changes in money wages mean little indeed. Correction must be made for changing prices, for increases or decreases in hours of work and holidays, for changing customs as to payment for wet weather and for “walking time,” and as to special bonuses like “harvest money” and allowances in kind, and above all, for the increasing intensity of work. It is plainly not sufficient to say that the American workers get higher real wages than those in Europe, unless allowance is made for the fact that the former have often to work much harder than the latter.

We have to allow also for the effect of increasing unemployment on the worker’s standard of living; the hourly rate of wages may show a marked increase, which is, however, more than offset by a reduction in the time of work owing to unemployment. Again, the habits prevalent in 1870 differ considerably from those of 1925. Foods, clothing, recreations have all altered, travelling expenses have to be added to the budget of most wage earners, deductions for health and unemployment insurance need to be reckoned; these and innumerable other favourable or unfavourable changes, some small and some great, have all to be taken into account in any comparison between one period and another nearly two generations later.

There is a further cause of confusion which has to be kept clearly in mind. This has to do with the object of the comparison and the deliberate choice of factors on which to base it. We can say, for instance, that the workers in 1925 are able to purchase with their wages smaller quantities of food, clothing, etc., than they could in 1920, and that they are therefore worse off. This is one way of making a comparison, or we could say that out of the total wealth produced in one year the workers received a smaller proportion than in some previous year. Again, in this instance, we should be correct in describing the workers as worse off, but it should be noted that this means something essentially different from the first statement. It might take place in spite of the fact that real wages were rising; it is a comparison of the position of the workers with that of the non-workers.

Thirdly, we might introduce into our enquiry the development of the powers of production in a somewhat different way. It is, for instance, undeniable that our powers of production in 1925 are enormously greater than in 1875, yet pauperism due to unemployment has also grown. The productive powers are in fact not being used owing to the defective organisation which accompanies capitalism. Here, again, and in a third distinct sense, it could be said that the workers were worse off because of their greater degradation and dependence on the propertied class.

As we are to take as our starting point the years between 1870 and 1880, let us first consider what was the position then.

It just happens that about that year the workers in this country were in a comparatively favourable situation. From 1846 to 1873 there was a phenomenal expansion of production and of foreign trade. Although prices were rising, the demand for labour caused wages to rise even faster. British exports which in 1855-59 averaged only £116,000,000, had by 1873 risen to £266,000,000; and between those dates the improvement in the worker’s standard of living was considerable, and more or less continuous. (See A. L. Bowley, appendix to “Dictionary of Political Economy,” p. 801). Sir William Beveridge (“Economic Journal,” December, 1923), estimates the increase in “real” wages in the ten years preceding 1870 to be no less than 12 per cent.

At the same time unemployment was at a very low level. While the ten-yearly average of unemployment among trade unionists was 5.2 from 1851 to 1870, the average for the next decade fell to 3.8, while in 1872 it was only 0.9 per cent., which is the lowest point it touched during the century (Bowley Elementary Manual of Statistics, p. 156).

On the other hand, the number of persons in receipt of poor-law relief averaged 31 per 1,000 for the years 1871-1879, a high level not reached again until quite recently (The Poor Laws : J. J. Clarke, p. 139.)

There is therefore no reasonable ground to doubt that, on the whole, the workers were much better off in 1870 than they had been during the prolonged depression after 1815 or in the ‘forties.

In 1873 a great change came over the scene. Trade depression set in, prices fell, business failures mounted rapidly and unemployment rose continuously year by year until in 1879 it reached 11.4 per cent. It declined to 2.3 per cent. in 1882, rose again to 10.2 per cent. in 1886, and averaged 5.6 per cent. during the ‘eighties, and 4.4 per cent. during the ‘nineties (Bowley : Manual, p. 156). Although prices were, with slight fluctuations, falling from 1873 right up to 1897, wages fell too, owing to the pressure of unemployment. Nevertheless, those workers who had more or less regular employment (after a period of 6 years to 1879 during which “real” wages were nearly stationary), again enjoyed a long period of general improvement which lasted to 1900 (“Manual,” 148).

Sir William Beveridge (Economic Journal, December, 1923) estimates the percentage increase of “real” wages over the thirty years from 1870 to 1900 at approximately 50 per cent. From 1897 the downward movement of prices was reversed, and factors causing prices to rise have been continuous right up to date. During the war years and immediately afterwards, abnormal conditions led to a great acceleration of the upward movement, but while these conditions have now practically ceased to operate, the more permanent movement has continued, and presumably would have had its effect had there been no war. Wages, as is usual during such periods, did not keep pace with prices. Bowley considers that the purchasing power of wages was declining from 1900-1910, and possibly stationary from 1910 to the outbreak of war. Sir William Beveridge estimates “real” wages to have been at best stationary over the period. According to the Board of Trade “Report on Changes in Rates of Wages, etc.” (1913, Cd. 7080) prices rose by 13.7 per cent. from 1905 to 1912, whereas wages rose only between 2 per cent. and 5½ per cent. Leaving aside the period of the war when other complicated factors make comparison still more difficult, we come to the present year. It is worth while noting here that it is habitual to compare the position now with what it was in 1914. Thus, the International Labour Office (see Ministry of Labour Gazette, June, 1925, p. 217) describes the present “real” wages of the British worker as being just a shade (1 per cent.) better than in 1914. This, however, obscures the important fact that wages in 1914 were at a level reached after 14 years more or less steady decline. A comparison with 1900 would give an opposite and materially different result.

Sir Leo Chiozza Money (People’s Year Book, 1924) writes as follows :—
“In the middle of 1923 it is probably true that a considerable proportion of wage earners are earning less, money’s worth for money’s worth, than they did in 1913.”
This guarded statement serves to correct the optimism of the International Labour Office, for they found that “real” wages have not risen but have slightly fallen since 1923.

The degree of unemployment is sufficiently illustrated by the following yearly average percentages among trade unionists. The years selected are the series of highest and lowest years from 1900—
1900 2.5 per cent.
1904 6.0
1906 3.6
1908 7.8
1913 2.1
1914 3.3
1916 0.4
1922 15.4
At present the percentage is about 11. Since 1920 the degree of unemployment has been greater than at any time before the war, and the depression has lingered without any signs of lifting ; as has been candidly admitted by Dr. Macnamara, M.P. (“The Times,” September 11th, 1923) the permanent unemployed army in this country can be anticipated to remain at a level
“three or four times as big as in pre-war times. … In those days … in times of trade prosperity, there were always, at best, round about 200,000 persons out of regular employment. ”
The effect of this unemployment on the workers’ standard of living must not be overlooked. As was pointed out above, it is one thing to say that the rate of wages in 1925 for an employed man is equal to that in 1914; it is quite another thing to say that the workers as a whole receive during a year a “real” wage as large as before. If the loss of time due to unemployment is equal to three months each year, then the “rate” of wages requires to be reduced by 25 per cent. to show the real position. A useful attempt in this direction has been made by the Labour Research Department (L.R.D. Monthly Circular, October, 1925. Their conclusions are published in pamphlet form.)

By combining the yearly figures of rates of wages with the percentages of unemployment, and making a correction on account of the movement of retail prices of food (full cost of living figures are unobtainable for pre-war years) a result is obtained which shows approximately what “real” wages were worth from year to year after allowing for loss of time through unemployment. The table is given in full for the 23 years to 1923, accepting 1900 as a base year represented by 100 :—
1900 100 1908 89.8 1916 69.9
1901 97.8 1909 88.2 1917 62.0
1902 95.3 1910 88.2 1918 78.2
1903 92.5 1911 91.8 1919 93.2
1904 91.3 1912 89.7 1920 92.4
1905 92.1 1913 93.1 1921 94.6
1906 95.7 1914 90.7 1922 81.2
1907 95.1 1915 82.1 1923 81.3
It will be seen from this that the decline over the period of a quarter of a century to this year is nearly 20 per cent. There is, of course, one other small factor to be allowed for in recent years, that is, the effect of unemployment insurance. According to the L.R. Dept., however, the total amount paid out between November, 1920, and June, 1922 (less the workers’ own contributions) averaged less than 1/2 per week for insured persons.

The result of lower “real” wages and greater unemployment is a striking increase in pauperism. Unable to accumulate savings the worker is forced to go to the Poor Law authorities for meagre protection against one of the effects of capitalist owner¬ ship and production.

The number and percentage (in relation to growing population) had been declining from 1870 to about 1890, but an increase then began. According to the 12th Abstract of Labour Statistics (Board of Trade)—
“On every day throughout the year 1892 the average number of persons in receipt of Poor Relief was 953,719, this number rising steadily each year with but slight fluctuations to 1,103,724 in 1906, being an increase not only in the number but also relatively to the increase of population.”
It was this state of affairs which led Mr. Lloyd George to assert in a speech in Park Hail, Cardiff (December 29th, 1911), that
“To-day you have greater poverty in the aggregate in the land than you have ever had. . . . You have a more severe economic bondage than you probably ever had . . . that condition of things was foreign to the barbaric regime of the darker ages.”
Yet, despite the Old Age Pension scheme designed by Mr. George with the object of relieving the pressure on the Poor Law institutions and finances, it was not until the exceptional conditions of the war that the number of persons relieved (which was 694,036 in 1883) fell below 600,000. At June 30th, 1921, the number was 1,299,086, and in 1922 1,769,387, representing more than 45 per 1,000 of the population, as against 31 between 1871 and 1879.
“In October (1921) returns show the highest number of persons dependent on Poor Law relief since records were kept, namely, a period of 72 years. . . . The growth of expenditure . . . reaching in 1920 by far the highest level in our history. —(“British Trades Union Review,” January, 1922.)
In August, 1925, the number was 41 per 1,000 (see Ministry of Health Quarterly Report on Poor Law Relief).
Edgar Hardcastle

(To be continued.)

Wages. (1925)

From the November 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard


The great majority of the population have no property. They have no means of living except by working for others. They must seek out a master. They must find owners of factories, mines, farms, etc., willing to employ them.

The working class is that body of the population which does not possess wealth, and are therefore forced to work for employers in order to live.

They must get permission from the owners of raw materials, machines, etc., to enter the factories and begin work.

The working class can offer for sale only one thing—their ability to labour. They have no other possession to sell except the energy in their bodies. That force of muscle, nerve and brain is their power to labour.

When a member of the working class goes out to seek a job he finds others like himself equally anxious for work.


The employers need workers to produce things which can be sold. There is only one way to make these things and that is to apply the energy of the workers to the raw-materials of nature. By altering the size, shape and place of raw materials, wealth is produced in its many forms, such as we see around us. Only one class does this work, and so we know that the wealth of the modern world is the product of working-class labour.

The employers, therefore, must hire workers. They may be hired by the day, week, month, etc. They will receive a certain sum of money called a wage. This is the price of the power of mind and body they sell to the employer.


The perishable nature of the workers’ power to labour drives them to accept the terms of some employer or other. This labour force of the worker is like any other article of merchandise. It is offered for sale on the market. The labour market is like the meat market or wheat or egg market. The articles offered for sale have a price, which changes from day to day. Labour power varies in price according to the supply available and the demand for it from the buyers—the employers. If there are more wage workers seeking jobs than are needed by the masters, the price of labour power—wages—will fall. If there are few workers and many jobs, the price of labour power will tend to rise.

But, unlike most other articles for sale, labour power cannot be put on the shelf until a buyer is willing to pay the price asked. A chair can be stored, but labour power will suffer loss of vigour if the necessary nourishment is not obtained, and will cease entirely if the body receives no food or warmth.


The wage is the money name for the working power of the individual. It may be 5 dollars per day in Winnipeg or three pounds per week in London. It may be 10s. a day at one time in London and 15s. a day at another time. This price or money name for the use of the flesh and blood of the worker is just the nominal wage. The real wage is what the money wage will buy. The worker may find that his 10s. daily wage to-day will buy less than his 5s. formerly did. How much of the necessaries of life the wage will purchase is, therefore, the real test that decides what the money wage is worth.


The wage worker does not sell the work he performs. He is not in a position to sell that. He does not own the work or labour he puts into the raw materials supplied by the employer. Immediately the worker begins to work in the shop he gives up to the employer his labour. He cannot claim any of his work. His labour no longer belongs to him. The wage, therefore, is not the price of the labour or work performed by the wage earner. The wage is the price of his capacity or ability to work. This is properly called labour power. For a certain wage he places this labour power at the employer’s disposal for a certain time. He uses his muscle, brain, and nerves to make raw materials more valuable by fashioning them to the useful forms required.


How are these wages regulated? What decides the price of labour power? The competition in the labour market only decides the changes in the price. These ups and downs in a worker’s wage centre round a certain figure. This real wage or price of labour power is decided just as the price of all commodities are determined—by the cost of production. The labour power of the worker is the power to use the body and mind, and is therefore inseparable from him. The cost of production of the worker’s labour power is the cost of producing the things necessary to his existence and with which he maintains himself.

The cost of production of labour power is the cost of the food, clothing, shelter, fuel, etc., upon which the worker depends for his life. It also covers the cost of bringing up his children to replace him in the labour market and secure a new generation of wage workers. It includes also the cost of the training of the “skilled” worker to cover the expense involved in the greater time needed to produce the skilled ability.


The money wages are different in different countries and cities and differ in one place from time to time. But all over the world the real wage of the worker, the buying power of the money wages, is based upon the cost of living. What it costs the worker to live, according to the accepted standard of living, will be the average wage. That is true of the workers whose standard of living is based upon a rice diet and is equally true of the workers here whose activity demands other food. That is why leading employers are pointing out to the workers of Britain that they must lower their standard of living in order to compete with France and Germany. This artful plea is an attempt on “patriotic” grounds to get the workers to accept less wages.


The worker generally receives the value of his labour power. Its value being the time necessary to produce the necessaries of life to live upon while he works. But the worker produces a greater value than that represented by his wages. If he works eight hours per day, part of the time he will be replacing for the employer the wages he receives and most part of the time he will be performing labour for which he receives nothing. This unpaid labour is the surplus taken by the employer and is commonly called profit.

Whether you work in a private concern or for a nationally owned enterprise you will find the above to be the position of the wage workers.


Wages, therefore, represent only a portion of the wealth produced by the worker. If you compare the part paid in wages and the surplus taken by the employers, you can see the relation between the worker’s “share” and the total product. The proportion between them shows what the relative wage is, that is to say, what relation the wages of the working class bears to the total wealth produced by them.

Due to the introduction of machinery, the application of science to industry, more scientific shop management, speeding up, piece-work, and other methods, the “share” of the worker gets less and his relative wage falls. These same causes result in rendering “skilled” workers more and more unnecessary. The war showed how quickly “mechanics” could be made, and so the worker tends to become a machine-minder and no longer does his wage include the cost of the training of the skilled worker.


Women and even children are continually used to displace men, and along with the greater use of machinery and weeding out of the less efficient, the competition for jobs grows greater and wage cutting becomes easy. The army of unemployed outside is used by the employer to reduce the wages of those inside, and so fear of being workless causes the workers to submit to wage reductions and to sign agreements. The workers have little choice. They do not enter into a free contract, for the menace of starvation for themselves and others prevents free bargaining. The wage contract is not an agreement between equals. It is a penalty enforced upon a propertyless worker by a propertied employer.


Combination amongst workers is necessary and useful in the constant struggles of the workers. But most of these fights are attempts to make the worker’s wage cover the increased cost of living.

A wage is a badge of servitude and while the wage system remains the employers will act as they do to-day. They will use their wealth and political power to ensure the subjection of the worker and the smallness, of his “share.” The unions are trying to effect changes in wages, but not the abolition of the wages system. Even higher wages and shorter hours result in speeding up the workers more and the use of more and better machinery and the careful selection of the most efficient workers, so that the employers are compensated for the increased wages by greater output. The wage is the price of a commodity possessed by the worker, and in selling his labour power to the master the worker is really selling himself piecemeal.

His great trouble just now is that many employers won’t buy the workers’ “one ewe lamb “—his ability to work.
Adolph Kohn