Source: “High Prices and Low Wages”, The Call, 16 December 1919, p.6, (850 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Chris Clayton
Copyleft: John MacLean Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2007. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
The class war in Britain this year has been a manoeuvring for position to justify working-class action or Government counteraction. To side-track the Trades’ Union Congress from deciding on a strike the Government tried to meet the high-cost-of-living issue by dropping 10s. off the price of a ton of coal, the hands-off-Russia issue, by sending O’Grady on the sham errand to meet Litvinoff, and the mines-nationalisation issue by the limitation of Profits Bill. The Congress wisely deferred a final decision on the issues until February, as the American boycott of Europe to suit her own ends in the world markets is leading to an economic collapse inevitably thrusting Bolshevism into a position likely soon to lead to power all over Europe. The drift of the Italian and German Socialist movements proves the latter, as does the collapse of the French exchanges, and the visit of Clemenceau to Lloyd George prove the former assertion.
To tide over the year-end the Government is going to release supplies of meat at reduced prices, supplies brought into the ports to unload on the market to forestall a strike for reduced prices or break a strike to save Russia from the devilish blockade.
The action of the Government in the case of coal and meat, like the action of the Glasgow Corporation in the case of milk, in reducing temporarily the price of a commodity here and there, and putting up the price of other goods as compensation shows the need to beware of “particularism.”
We must have an all-round reduction of prices. A control of British markets alone will not suffice, as Britain largely depends on America and other lands for supplies of foodstuffs and raw materials, The continued rise in the price of gold against our paper currency, an ounce now selling at over 111s. instead of 85s., shows how worthless our pound notes are becoming. This again reflects itself in the American exchange, one pound now being equal to 3 dollars 65 cents., or 15s. If we have to pay Americans a pound for 15s. worth of American goods, then it is obvious that inside Britain alone we cannot avoid high prices unless we withdraw the paper money. Were the paper money withdrawn, gold would fall in price, the American exchange would rise, goods purchased abroad would fall in price, as would also those made entirely within these isles.
As a supplement to the suggestions contained in the resolution on high prices passed by the Congress, let me again insist that the most effective and most immediate move against the Government would be the urging of the withdrawal of the Bradbury’s.
The Government, in the financial corner it finds itself at present, cannot entertain the idea. That is the very reason why it ought to be hard pressed in this direction. Before Labour can possibly come to power it must check-mate the Government. Here is a line along which Labour can then move to buckle up the slippery Cabinet, the typical representative of unscrupulous capitalism.
The attempt to unite Labour to fight high prices does not necessarily imply that we should ask the workers to weaken their fight for higher wages. We wish the moulders success in their fight, and congratulate the A.S.E. members-levying on themselves a shilling a head to help the moulders, but we most heartily endorse the position taken up by Tom Mann in the December issue of the A.S.E. Journal, when he asserts that the moulders have now been so weakened that they have little prospect of entering on another struggle with the hope of winning “unless they and we (A.S.E.) all line up together, and make common cause”. “Cease to be sectional, and merge into one gigantic amalgamation.”
Tom adequately expresses the disgust of the rank and file of the A.S.E. at the award of 5s. per week, when 15s. were demanded to keep pace with rising prices. He urges the members not to acquiesce, not to accept contentedly the 5s.; but he wisely points out that a sectional fight would not be judicious. So get ready without delay; but the absolutely essential preliminaries are a genuine understanding with all trades in the industry, and such a close relationship with the Co-operative movement as will enable us to handle the distribution of necessities satisfactorily.
In this work the Works committees and Shop Stewards movement can and will be of the greatest service.
Let our comrades at once get busy to bring iron and steel workers, engineers and ship builders — skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled — into one big Metal Union in preparation for the fight. The capitalist amalgamations are so many now that local illustrations can at once be got to justify scrapping the older Unions for an inclusive Industrial Union. On the Clyde recently, Lithgow, who controls six ship yards at Port Glasgow, has got control of the Lanarkshire Steel Company and the Watson Coal and Iron Company. Let the Clyde workers at once respond to Tom’s call and lead, the country once more towards the last great fight.