It is said that Labour under the capitalistic system is bought and sold as a commodity. That is one of those phrases which expresses more than is meant. The lawyer sells his legal advice, the surgeon his operative skill, the musician his powers of technique, taste and expression just as a person who owns a commodity sells it. I cannot see any moral degradation whatever in the worker accepting wages any more than a private lawyer accepting his salary in a financial house, or a house-surgeon accepting his in a hospital or an organist his in a parish church. All of them are subject to notice terminating their engagements, just as a manual worker—not probably a week’s notice, but some longer period. The accusation is put even higher and the capitalist is called a thief, in other words, that he is appropriating in the shape of his own profit something which ought to belong to Labour.
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A Board can, if it thinks fit, fix minimum rates of wages for all classes of workers throughout its trade, or, if it chooses, fix only a general minimum time-rate, and leave other rates to be settled between the employers and workpeople themselves. When a rate has been fixed, every employer in the trade must exhibit the Trade Board’s notice, giving full particulars of the rate, in his factory, or in the place where work is given out. Any employer who pays wages at less than the minimum rate is liable to a fine of £20 for each offence and to a further fine of £5 for each day after his conviction on which he fails to pay the legal rate. Any worker who thinks he is not receiving the rate due to him may complain to the Minister of Labour or to the Trade Board. Fines for late arrivals have also been discussed by the Councils. The Government agreed to regard a Joint Industrial Council as the Standing Consultative Committee for its industry, and in a number of instances matters such as the foregoing have been discussed on the initiative of the Government.
In the old days the tradesman saw the finished article gradually taking shape under his creative craftsmanship; to-day no worker sees anything but the single operation which he performs. As a result, there is little to minister to the instincts of a craftsman. The workman employed on such repetition work becomes quickly apathetic, his interest relaxes, his inventiveness atrophies, his initiative dies, he degenerates into a cog, and, being human, into an inefficient cog, in the vast mechanism of industry. There is, however, no ground datingsitesranked for suggesting—as Socialists are fond of instilling into the minds of the workers—that this is still another inevitable result of the capitalistic organization of industry. In some of the largest and greatest of capitalistic works, workers can be, and to my knowledge are, treated with consideration and sympathy. Their human values can always be respected and full human status accorded to them if only the right spirit prevails between employers and employed, and proper machinery exists for its infusion into workshop life.
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Poor Law relief in London is always a matter of exceptional difficulty, and there has, since 1867, been a Common Poor Fund, through the agency of which certain Poor Law expenses are pooled and charged to the whole of the unions in London. During the war, this Fund was placed on a stereotyped basis, but with the rise of prices and with the growth of unemployment relief, hardship was caused to the poorer unions. An emergency arrangement was accordingly made for placing this Fund on an unstereotyped basis, much to the advantage of the poorer unions. Later, by the Local Authorities Act, 1921, certain additional expenses in each union, and particularly the cost of out-door relief, so far as this was given within a scale and subject to conditions prescribed by the Minister of Health, were added to the expenses of a union chargeable on London as a whole. By this Act the burden of out-door relief in boroughs such as Poplar has been very greatly lightened by being spread over the wealthier boroughs like Kensington and Westminster.
The effectiveness of the Labour movement has in the past been dissipated by overlapping functions, by duplication of effort, and by confusion arising from conflicting policies.” The scheme is described as one which enables Labour to speak with one voice on all questions of national importance, and to pursue one uniform policy in support of its common ends. Finishing his work early and then allowing his machine “to cut air” for the rest of the day, will with nice calculation slow down all day long so as to spin out the allotted day’s work more or less uniformly over the working day. Industrial experience during the war has proved the existence, to an almost inconceivable extent, of this latter method of limiting production. Perhaps I can best illustrate it from some cases within my personal knowledge. In one instance some boys straight from a board school were put on to do a simple operation from which men had been withdrawn for more arduous duty.
Work which otherwise would not have been done has been provided in the shipbuilding and repairing business, in the construction and improvement of docks and canals, in the extension of railways, in the electrification of railways, and in the extension of a number of electrical undertakings. This has facilitated the employment of direct labour in a number of places, and in addition, orders for the manufactured goods, principally cement and iron, have been placed in the manufacturing towns of the North and Midlands. To take a concrete instance, a guarantee has been given to the London Underground Railways for extensions.
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These men were graded as machinists, and when the trade became organized generally received about three-fourths of the skilled turner’s rate. The point to be observed is that any operation among the many thousands that constitute skilled work is deemed to be a “skilled operation,” performable only by a skilled man, and if in special circumstances it is undertaken by any other person, supposing such an improbable case, it carries the full skilled rate of pay. Very similar, but somewhat less rigid, conventions exist in regard to semi-skilled work. The inflexible way in which the engineering Unions enforce these trade practices has certainly reserved exclusively for skilled men a large sphere of work, but it keeps up production costs, and retards development of the industry. Whenever a new and improved machine has been introduced, a machine, say, of a type where the skill was mainly in the machine, and no longer to anything like the same degree required of the worker, there has been a constant struggle between the Unions and the employers as to whether the machine should or should not be operated by a skilled man.
The political and economic organization of the working-class for the purpose of abolishing the capitalist form of society and achieving complete freedom for humanity through the conquest of political power and the socialization of the means of production and exchange, that is to say, by the transformation of capitalist society into a collectivist or communist society. The furtherance of production, the development of international lines of communication, and the prevention of exploitation by trusts. As an alternative to “the present profit-making capitalistic economic system,” Labour proposes to use for purposes of international trade, an organization on a world-wide basis of the different national Co-operative movements. So long as foreign trade remains under the control of the competitive and capitalistic system, Labour asserts that its general international aims can never be attained.
The party was called the Communist Party of Great Britain, its ultimate purpose being the establishment of a Communistic Republic and its immediate end the abolition of the wage-system through a social revolution. It is affiliated to the “Red” or Communist International of Moscow. The best account of the revolutionary organizations in this country is that contained in Dr. Shadwell’s Revolutionary Movement in Great Britain, Grant Richards, Ltd., 1921. Nobody who has not seen the working of the Trade Union machine from inside has the remotest conception of the difficulties of the Trade Union leader, or of the tyranny to which he is subject. He is in the first instance usually a paid official of his Union, and if he takes or advocates any political or parliamentary action which is considered in any way to invade or infringe the trade rights and privileges of his Union, he will assuredly fall from office at the next Union election. Every leader must, therefore, keep one eye upon his own position and the other upon the political principle which he is disposed to advocate.