5 AUGUST 1916, Page 19


[Notice in this column does not necessarily preclude subseyusnt review.)

Casual Labour at the Docks. By H. A. Mess. (G. Bell and Sons. 2s. net.)—This is one of the publications of the Ratan Tata foundation. Nobody supposes that the organization of labour at the London docks has been or is satisfactory, but it is probably the size of the question rather than its particular quality that makes the troubles there more conspicuous than they are at other porta. Unfortunately the work is by nature " casual," because it depends upon the coming and going of ships, upon tides and upon weather. Mr. Mess putt the average surplus available and usually idle at ten thousand men. This is a serious problem, and neither the Port of London Authority, the shipping zompanies, nor the men themselves and their Unions get much credit from the author for the way they have coped with it. The war has had its effect in reducing the numbers, so that those who remain have had more regular work, and this is a good time to take stock of the position before things drift back into the old state. After a reasonable account of former conditions, Mr. Mess suggests a few steps that should be taken. He would like to see a joint Committee of employers and labourers which would issue tallies giving the right to apply for work, and would rigidly exclude the surplus. Details as to the " stands " where the gangs are engaged need alteration to promote mobility. The inelastio specialization which is favoured by Unions should be discouraged. He does not emphasize one point that we believe would be valuable—namely, great efforts to improve mechanical substitutes for manual labour. We aro quite aware that experts find the problem very difficult, and the dockers would show a shortsighted resentment against more machinery. But it would be an economic advantage without doubt, and it would result in the attraction of fewer men to what at present always tends to be a demoralizing employment.