Transferring the Unemployed
THE general sense of the most interesting Report issued by the Industrial Transference Board is that there is no panacea for unemployment, but that unemployment will certainly yield to the determined and converging application of a variety of cures. In other words, unless everybody helps, unemployment will not only continue, but will become worse because it carries in itself the seeds of personal demoralization. It is everybody's job to find a job for everybody who wants one. Even -private employers are not absolved of the responsibility of doing what they can towards easing what is really a national disease. It follows that precisely because the Transference Board has no heroic remedy the long list of expedients which is set forth has a certain vagueness. " What, after all, does this Report amount to ? " people will be inclined to ask. "So far as we can see, very little." We can only say that if this should be the common verdict it would do a great deal less than justice to a really .sympathetic and understanding ex- amination of one of the worst problems which the nation has ever had to face.
Hopefulness is the note of the Report. Everything depends upon the effort made. There can be little doubt that if a combined campaign to end unemployment were started by industrial employers, private employers, the Labour Exchanges (to which the Board pays a tribute) and the Dominions—particularly the Dominions—unem- ployment would very quickly begin to retire, would soon be on the run and ultimately would be routed. We do not, of course, pretend that there could ever be such a condition of employment that there would be no unem- ployed list, but the future rightly regarded is not dashed with a threatening gloom. If we could get things going in such a way that we deserved success we should also command it.
The disease is settled deep in the internals of the basic industries of the country. The most casual glance shows that there is a high power of spending in the country as a whole. The money spent must be coming from some- where. Whence does it come ? Briefly, it comes from industries which are new or of recent origin. These comparatively new industries (such as the motor industry, the electrical industry, the artificial silk industry, and so on) are placed in the Midlands and in the South of England, which are rapidly becoming industrialized. That a genuine amount of wealth is being made from these industries, and is spreading through all grades of society, is proved by the satisfactory rise in the savings of the people. Nevertheless, the basic or heavy industries of the country are essential. We shall never have economic security or a proper balance of well-being until they revive. The unemployment in the iron and steel trades, cotton, shipbuilding, and above all, of course, in the coal industry, is appalling.
The members of the Transference Board—Sir Warren Fisher, Sir John Cadman, and Sir David Shackleton- were probably well advised to give an almost exclusive attention to the miners. Among all the blots on the industrial page this is by far the greatest and also much the most worthy of attention, because there is little hope of ending the unemployment by improvement in the industry itself. This cannot be said in the same degree of any other industry. It is a pleasure to read the understanding and moving words in which the Board writes of the miners. If it did not admire the miners before, it has, at all events, discovered them to some purpose now. The Report points out that- the miner is " an example to his fellows." It dwells on the fact, which has been continually emphasized in the Spectator, that the mining industry is the greatest hereditary industry in the land. Mining talent and 'a liking for mining are " handed down from generation to generation." The miner has an instinctive loyalty to his comrades and the capacity for a similar loyalty to his employers. These qualities he retains so long as " unimaginative handling is not permitted to alienate his sympathy "—a caustic reference to the political handling of the miners' cause which has been largely responsible for bringing these admirable men to their present sorry condition.
The Board looks into certain well-known proposals only to dismiss them. There would be little result, it thinks, from the scheme of withdrawing from the mining industry boys between 14 and 16 and raising the school age, though, as a matter of principle, the Board does strongly advise parents to keep their children at school till employment can be found for them. Similarly the Board turns down the proposal for finding pensions for miners at sixty years of age. This would add £30,000,000 to the present annual expenditure of £47,500,000 on pensions if the new pension was 10s. a week for a man of sixty and 10s. for his wife. If the man's pension were £1 a week, with 10s. for the wife, the addition to the present cost would be more than 260,000,000 a year.
We have frequently discussed- the particularly demoral- izing effect of unemployment on youths who are unem- ployed from the moment they become of insurable age. A man who has acquired a habit of work may not be greatly injured in character by unemployment even it the unemployment lasts over long periods ; he may even have his appetite for work whetted. The case of the youth is quite different. While his character is still being formed chronic unemployment turns him into an habitual idler. He cannot be blamed. Circumstances are all against him. The Board says that among the unemployed under eighteen years of age the " demoraliz- ing influence " of unemployment is worse in the mining industry than in any other. The " will to work " is, destroyed. We are glad to see that the Board recognizes the importance of training. the unemployed—both adults and boys—for fresh employment. Young men in the mining districts must make up their minds, in spite of their loyalty to the industry and their hereditary aptitude, to take to some other trade. It is sad but necessary. They must say good-bye to the old ship. The Board thinks that at least 200,000 men, who are at present attached to the mining industry, cannot look for employ- ment in that industry. They must be otherwise employed or remain idle. That is the most startling statement- in the Report.
A very interesting suggestion is made that some mining areas might be found suitable for new industries. We hear much of the flight of labour from the industrial North, but suppose it were possible for new industries. to cause labour to fly back to the districts now being denuded ! After all, those sites were chosen for a very good reason ; they were near cheap coal or large ports or good markets. This suggestion is worth the con- sideration of enterprising manufacturers who are con- templating building new factories. Perhaps they could buy existing buildings on old sites much more cheaply and the rates would no longer be prohibitive.
The transference of a married man with a family from one district to another is beset with difficulties. A bachelor can go easily enough, but a married man cannot move till a new home has been found for him. The Labour Exchanges have been authorized to lend ',money in approved cases and this _ is Am -excellent arrangement. As for the Labour complaint that unemployed are already being sent to work in new districts where they take the bread out of other men's mouths, it is satisfactorily answered by the Board. The Report points out that the employment market is not a static or limited thing, but that every man taken on is "adding to a flowing stream, and not driving another man out of a place of fixed dimensions."
What the Report says about emigration deserves an article to itself. The bald fact is that emigration to the Dominions instead of increasing under the Empire Settlement Act of 1922 has diminished. Under this Act the Government contribute up to half the cost of assisting emigration and settlement. The Act was launched in high hopes, but the results have been terribly disappointing. The Board says that there are many more people applying and ready to apply for assisted passageS overseas than the Dominions will accept.- In Canada the number of foreign immigrants has actually been rising, while the number of British immigrants has been falling. .
We should be unjust to the Report if we did not say that its appeal for generosity, its call for the helping hand, is directed to the Dominions quite as much as to anybody else. The facts about emigration are described as " deeply disturbing." The Dominions have a perfect right to choose the type of man they want. Still, there are the vast unoccupied spaces, and Great Britain in her distress is not asking anyone to harbour wastrels. The Report is clear that it would be a " calumny " to describe the unemployed in Great Britain to-day as " a standing army of vagrants."