WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE WORKERS? T HE Westminster Gazette on
Tuesday published an exceedingly interesting article "by a special corre- spondent on Tyneside," in which an attempt is made to analyse and account for the restlessness and malaise which are alleged just now to be a feature of working-class life. Probably this talk about universal discontent and universal unrest is a good deal exaggerated, or, to put it in another way, there is nothing new or abnormal in the condition. Man is a restless animal, and we very much doubt whether at any time in any age it would not have been possible, and in a sense true, to say all that the writer in the Westminster Gazette says of the working classes in the North at the present moment. A physician of experience is said to have declared that there was no such thing as good health and never would be, and that man was always more or less ailing or in trouble in some part of his body. In a word, we all of us "pine in life's disease," and are engaged in a struggle to patch up the bodily machine and keep it running. Much the same must be said of men in their social capacity. The body politic is always ailing. When, therefore, we say that men, or a body of men, are restless and discontented, we are necessarily indulging in a truism.
In spite, however, of this fact, it is worth while to consider closely the allegations of the writer to whom we have referred. Even if we have to make the large allowance we have just suggested, there does seem reason to believe that at the present moment in a section of the British population there is an unusual unrest and discontent. Though there may not really be anything specially wrong with the workers, they may be in a special degree inclined to think there is. and that fact by itself is important. The conclusions of the correspondent of the Westminster Gazette may be summed up as something of this kind. The workers in the North feel that they are not getting as much out of life as they ought to get. Deep down in the worker's soul there is, we are told, a blind revolt against life as he finds it. He is beginning to loathe the slums or semi-slums in which be is compelled, or appears to be compelled, to pass his life. He hates the depressing brick boxes without a scrap of garden or a spot of green. Cleanliness and comfort seem banished from his surroundings. In fine, he is beginning to rebel against slum life, or, to avoid a word about which there may be dispute, against life amid the squalid, dreary, and hideous surroundings of the industrial towns of the North. If this is true, we can only say that we are most unfeignedly delighted to hear it. Nothing could possibly be better for the future of the country and for the improvement of the lot of the workers than the spread of this particular form of discontent. Though sympathising with movements like the Garden City move- ment and all attempts at the improvement of town conditions, we have always felt a little hopeless in regard to them. Such movements have begun at the wrong end,—begun at the top instead of the bottom. While we hate the slum and all that it means with a deadly and uncompromising hatred, we feel that the only real remedy is for the workers to determine, come what may, that they will not live in slums. Of course no sane man would want this movement to come suddenly and in a fury. In that case it would be almost im- possible to deal with it properly. A steady and sus- tained resolve that neither high wages nor any other favourable considerations would tempt them to live under conditions dirty, insanitary, and squalid must confer the greatest possible benefit upon the workers themselves and upon the country as a whole. Though it sounds a paradox, there is no real reason why so large a portion of mankind should live in slums, except that they have in the past shown themselves willing to do so, and have made no serious effort to co-operate with those who have endeavoured to help them to better conditions. The world. moves, and always will move, economically along the line of least resistance, and if there is little or no resistance to slum life, slum conditions are bound to grow up. Miss Tioane puts this fact in another way with her usual insight and good sense. She sums up her experience among the poor by telling us that "what a man wants he will have ; what is given to him he cannot even use." Here is a profound truth, and the way to utilise it is to try to inspire men with the divine dis- content with that which is bad for them and for the nation. No one of course would be so foolish as to want to make a man living in a healthy cottage at the edge of an open moor discontented with his cottage merely because it has a stone floor, or because it has not got water laid on from the main, while the sanitary arrangements are of a primitive even though healthy kind. He, how- ever, who makes the working man discontented with the town slum is a real benefactor, and therefore, as we have said, we welcome the statement of the Tyneside corre- spondent of the Westminster Gazette with positive enthusiasm. The old-fashioned political economists were perfectly right when they used to harp upon the necessity of raising the standard of comfort and getting men to desire more than they desired before. There is no other way. In the last resort the Neapolitan lazzaroni are lazzaroni because they prefer sprawling half starved in the sun in rags to exerting themselves and doing an honest day's work. As they would put it if they had a taste for economic expositions, what they desire most in the world is idleness, and they are in fact, by not working, purchaqing for themselves that which has for them the greatest possible value. The writer in the Westminster Gazette goes on to tell us that one of the governing factors at the present time is the fact that the working men seem to be losing all hope of a remedy, at any rate in this country, and that therefore many of them are emigrating, though they recognise that in Canada work is infinitely harder, and that in some ways the conditions of labour are not so favourable. Working men, we are told, have lost faith in political action, to which they are invited by their leaders to turn their attention, and are even losing faith in Trade-Unionism itself. In fact, they cannot see a way out. We trust that we shall not be thought incurable optimists if we also find a source of satisfaction in this desire of working men to turn from what they have hitherto regarded, as the only possible means of social righteousness. We are no enemies of Trade-Unionism, and have no desire 1_3 suggest that working men can do nothing to help themselves by political action. We do, however, hold that these things are by no means the best ways of acquiring what we all want the workers to acquire, —a larger share of the profits of industry and a more equal distribution of the world's wealth. We sincerely believe that a remedy, though not a panacea, lies at hand. The best way to discover it is through discontent with the existing attempts at amelioration. Before you can get a man to take the right road. he must be convinced that he is on the wrong road.
Paradoxical as it may seem, the real economic hope of the worker is in a .greatly increased accumulation of capital. "Capital, more capital, and yet more capital" should be his watchword. At every increase of accumulated wealth he should rub his hands and congratulate himself, for in truth the gain is his, and every man's who has hand skill, or even merely hand.
labour, to exchange. Instead of capital being the enemy, it is the friend. Instead of the worker wishing to see capital destroyed, it should be his end and aim to see it built up and increased. This fact is capable of very obvious and easy exposition. We need, indeed, look no further than the Gospel. When the unemployed were asked : "Why stand ye here all the day idle ? " they gave the perfectly plain and perfectly sound answer : "Because no man hath hired us." They understood that what they wanted was more hirers. But no man can be hired and set at work without capital. That is a truth which utterly destroys the rhetorical fallacy under which men are described as "wage slaves." You may constrain a man to work without capital, but you can only hire him through the medium of capital. It is capital which sets men to work. That being so, the more capital there is in the world, the greater the demand for labour. But the more demand there is for a thing, the higher is its price. The increase of capital and. the increase of wages must in the long run go together, thought no doubt, if we only look at a part and not the whole, examples to the contrary may be shown.
To put the matter_ in another way, the more capital accumulates, the more the rate of interest falls. Capital, that is, is always seeking to get the highest wages it can by hiring itself out. But if another two or three millions comes into the world's market seeking to hire itself out, the price falls all along the line. If the rate at which capital can be hired—i.e., the wages of capital—falls by even one-half per cent., thousands of industries, undertakings, and works can be started which otherwise could not promise a profit capable of rendering capital its wages. Capital was never yet accumulated without the workers being helped and their wages potentially or actually raised. Capital was never destroyed, whether it be in the form of a loss of credit or through the actual physical destruction of material, without the workers being injured.
The next question for the worker to ask is—How can capital be increased ? In the first place, we must recognise that capital tends to waste and die, and that a great deal of capital must be created every year to replenish the waste before we can begin to talk about that new capital which is to act as a regenerative agent in the cause of the workers. We want huge annual increments of capital every year. The path to the accumulation of new capital is thrift, and thrift among the working classes. Their aggregate numbers are so huge that even if they exercised only a very small amount of thrift, the new capital created thereby would. be enormous. If the saving habit—after all, saving is only a habit like any other, like smoking or drinking or going to football matches or buying newspapers—could for some reason seize upon the whole of the British working class • for a year, the accumulation of capital could quite well take place without any working-class family being deprived Of any of the necessaries of life which they had before, or, indeed, of any of the amenities of life. We only want the effort by which waste is avoided and thrift practised made in every household and the thing is done. The abolition of waste would indeed "do the trick," for such abolition is an automatic form of thrift. No sensible man desires to ask working men to give up any specific part of their pleasures, let alone the necessaries of life, in order to accumulate capital. What one asks is really not self- sacrifice, but an inclination in the direction of thrift rather than of waste. That will bring about the desired end. No one who has any practical experience of the working class, and who has differentiated the men of thrift from the men who waste, will for a moment suggest that one set are misers and the others jolly good fellows who have an infinitely better time than the thrifty. On the contrary, to outward view one household is almost exactly like the other, except indeed that the thrifty have very often more " go " in them, and get more pleasure out of life, than the unthrifty. We know very well that these suggestions to workinc, men will be scouted as the ridiculous pomposities of the well-to-do, and we shall be told that the working man cannot save and. ought not to save. The Socialists will tell us, indeed, that we are disingenuously recommending to working men a poisonous anodyne, which they must avoid as if it were chloroform or opium. Yet all the same we are convinced. that what we have said. as to saving and its aggregate result on the workers is not only true in theory but absolutely sound in practice. As for the allegation that the thing cannot be done, we have only got to point to the amounts now spent upon unnecessary drinking and. unnecessary betting. By all means let people play football or look on at football, breed their dogs or their pigeons, and indulge in every other sort of sport, regardless of the dialectics of the virtuous. All we want to make clear is that in the unnecessary consumption of alcohol, and in the still more unnecessary devotion to betting under the guidance of "Captain Coo" and his friends, they are throwing away what might prove, not only individually but collectively, their salvation.
We do not of course suggest for a moment that we have hit upon any panacea. The forces that we want to see put in motion, though they will work surely, will work slowly, and will also bring certain reactive forces in their train. Taking things as a whole, however, we have no doubt whatever that the way to reach the ideal of a better distribution of wealth is only to be found in the greater accumulation of capital. Capital, remem- ber, as the old lawyers used to say of water, is a wild and wandering thing which cannot be kept in chains. Capital must come out and, earn its living, and in that process it must confer benefits on the workers. The selfish and heartless capitalist who has made his pile could wish, indeed, nothing better than that nobody else should accumulate capital, least of all the workers. If there is no undue accumulation of capital, he may be sure that he will be able to get his ten, twenty, thirty, or forty per cent., while the thriftless uncapitalised workman will of necessity be at his mercy, and more and more obliged to take lower wages. The condition which the selfish capitalist dislikes is when capitalists with capital to hire out are looking for men to employ. That which suits him best is when men come in crowds to ask to be employed by the small amount of free capital in the market. If the workers are wise, they will do everything to encourage plenty of capital to compete for their labour.