TOPICS OF THE DAY
A TURNING 'OF THE WAYS.
TAST Saturday, when speaking at Hardenhuish Park, the Prime Minister used some words which, we trust, signify an earnest attempt to start a new way of industrial life by an agreement with Labour which -would. cover, among other things, the future legal position of the trade unions. Mr. Baldwin said :— " The time will come soon, I hope and believe, when what has been, impossible under clouds of suspicion may become possible for the more enlightened and statesmanlike minds among employers and trade union leaders, with whatever help the Government can give them, to meet and discuss some new industrial policy that once and for all may put behind them the kind of open and concealed warfare which has been the order of the day for so many years."
What does this mean ? We belieVe it means that Mr. Baldwin will try to persuade both Capital and LabOur to accept what would be vastly to the advantage of both—a method of industrial life that would be a real alternative to Socialism. We are all agreed that the wage-earners ought to have. a larger proportion of the good things of this world. There is no dispute about that. During the past few years a perfect demonstration of how the thing can be done has been given in the United States. There is very little jealousy and suspicion there between' employers and employed ; the employed are shareholders, full participants, and co-operators, in their induStries. No impassable frontier bars them from what is here the reserved ground of management. Promotion is by Merit: The. leaders of industry are accessible to every man and to every new idea. America. has what has been called a " Revolution towards Capitalism." It is the kind of revolution which seems barely credible to the average trade unionist here, because his only idea of revolution is something that destroys Capitalism. Yet that beneficent revolution has heen attained in Ainerica and has given the hand-workers by far the highest. wages that have ever been recorded in history.
High wages, it has been proved, justify themselves over and over again on the one condition that production, instead of being impeded, is accelerated by every mechan- ical means. The good worker with the help of labour. aiding machinery and the arts of standardization is a comparatively cheap item in the balance-sheet, however excessive his wages may seem to an old-fashioned employer. The *speed of his labour is, of course, all the time saving overhead charges.
It has been objected that what is true of the huge area of the United States is not true of these small islands. The objection is false. 3Ve have the British Empire. The Empire is an enormous field which is only at the beginning of its development. Some people reckon the consuming power of the Empire only by the number of white inhabitants, which is relatively small, but coloured people wear clothes and live in houses, and as time passes will use more and more the implements of civilization. There are also the foreign markets. We are kept out of them now only because our prices are too high. Large -production by standardization means lower prices.
There is, however, another matter besides this possible Paradise of the Wage-earner which the Government ought to discuss with Labour as vital to the rebuilding • of industry.. We mean the codification of trade union law. The general strike dealt a stunning blow to many of the preconceptions—and misconceptions—which trade unionism had gradually developed. Trade unionists themselves hardly know where they stand. - The one fatal thing would be for the Government to declare war or even to seem to declare War on trade unionism. All .; the scattered groups of the Labour world wOuldinstantly be joined together in order to resist what they would regard. as something equivalent to the invasion of their country by a foreign Power. We have very little' doubt- that if the Government relied on friendly discuision they' could win a. considerable degree of consent from Labour in the re-codification of trade union laiv. After.all, trade unionists themselVes haVe a good many grievances. They want to be SaVed. froth some of the monsters of their own creation.
The Government have only to say " We want to save trade unionism just as much as you do, for we recogniie its value. But it will never be put beyOnd the" reach of bitter dispute if you allow executives to order their men to arike witliOut really ascertaining their Opinions by a secret ballot ; if you allow decent men to be threatened and even to be followedto their hoines where their wives. and children are also brought under the terror ; if you continue to put benefit' fLinds into a pool with the political : funds ; and if you compel a man to come out into the open and advertise himself as a dissentient- Wen he-does not. wish to contribute to a political fund. Cannot we discuss these things together ? Cannot we have a set of laiVs which will do injustice to none and which will be respected by all ? Will not that serve your 'purpose much better than the broken and doubtful reeds upon which you are now leaning ? "
So much for the. reconstitution of trade unionism in its relation to the law.. But . there is much else that the Government ,would wish to discusS with Labour. Stan-, dardization, the introduction of labour-aiding Machinery, the abandonment of. the policy of restricting output, much higher wages, the acceptance of all workers as sharers in the profits of a coMpany, and as men eligible for managing posts—none cf. these things will be possible un less the trade unions consent to modify the present pedantic demarcation between the various types of skilled labour. The hindering of output by excessive detharcation is almost immeasurable. High wages are a- test of improvement by which` the ordinary wage-earner, we believe, would be glad and thankful to abide: We are confident that if the Government could bring both sideS togetherand inspire them with -fliese doctrines prosperity would be achieved. • • '