BUT if, on the one hand, the action of workmen in resorting to strikes is neither an accurate means of ascertaining what are fair wages, nor yet an effective means of securing them, neither on the other hand do the pleas usually put forward by employers, when resisting any increase, or insisting upon a reduction of wages, afford a truthful or sufficient justification of their conduct. These pleas may be summarised in the phrases, “Bad Trade,” “Foreign Competition,” “Low Prices,” and “Diminished Profits.”
Now, it is evident on the least thought about it that, even were the assertions true, as they often are not, workmen cannot be responsible for any of the circumstances implied in them.
It is not the working class, but the capitalist class that undertakes the organisation of industry and the control of the market for profitmaking. This is no accusative statement. It is the claim boastfully and triumphantly made on behalf of employers and capitalists generally, by themselves and their political apologists. And surely no more discreditable admission of their personal incompetence, or the unserviceableness of their functions could be desired, than this of their cwn, that they are unable to conduct the production and exchange of the country, with even such bare efficiency as will allow of their paying the paltry wages demanded by their workers, or of their obtaining for themselves the no more than petty profits which they allege their businesses afford. What object can there be in producing commodities at all, if neither those who make them, nor those who Organise those who make them, nor those even who sell them, can get a “living wage” out of the undertaking?
And if neither the workers can get wages, nor the employers profit, to whom does the enormous sum of our industrial profits go – a sum admittedly sufficient, even with our present recklessly wasteful methods of production, to richly supply all our material needs as a nation, and of which at present the workers, some four-fifths of the nation, only obtain one-third? Who are the clever knaves, and how do they get their greedy fingers in. who contrive so successfully to deplete the workers of the reward of their labour, and the astute employers of their tender percentages? And why don’t the employers, the “captains of industry,” the “statesmen of commerce,” as they have, with prodigious flattery, been designated, seize hold of these wicked thieves and have them publicly arraigned for their crimes? Truly, if matters stand as said “captains” and “statesmen” protest upon all occasions of dispute with their workmen, they must either be imbeciles, and fit only to be confined in lunatic asylums, or themselves be the knaves, or the abettors of the knaves, in which case they should be stripped of their “captains’” uniforms, and deprived of their “statesmen’s” seals, and sent to the places which they have prepared for their less dangerous, but more unfortunate professional brethren.
And if we inquire we shall find that our worst suspicions of the capitalists are confirmed at every turn. Their everyday actions, their mode of life, their places of abode, the company which they keep, and even their antecedents, all track them down as men of evil principles and unrighteous deeds.
Never a week passes but we find a list of wills in the newspapers in which fortunes of from £30,000 to £300,000, and occasionally £3,000,000, have been left by well-known or obscure capitalists, who have gone down into the pit, protesting with almost their last breath that their businesses did not pay, and that the workers must submit to a reduction of wages. Never a week passes but we read that some coalowner, ironmaster, manufacturer, shipowner, or railway shareholder, who has made himself notorious by resisting the demands of his workpeople, is about to build a new yacht, or a larger palace, purchase an additional shooting, or go away upon another prolonged tour in some interesting part of the world.
Again, too, in the reports of their financial successes published in the commercial columns of our newspapers, we discover that however the profits of capitalists may shrink when held up to the gaze of the workers, they assume astounding proportions when laid for inspection before financial investors. When the Messrs. Coates, of Paisley, first converted their Thread Mills into a Limited Liability concern in 1898, they affirmed that they had been making an average annual profit of £480,000, and that they employed about 6,000 workpeople. That is to say, according to their own audited declaration, the firm was making a profit of not less than £78 a year, or 30s. a week off every one of the men, women and girls in its employment.
Hardly less astounding were the figures given by a firm of Tube manufacturers in the neighbourhood of Glasgow about the same time, in a prospectus issued for a similar purpose. By its own confession the firm was making a profit of more than £1 for itself, against every £1 paid out in wages to its workmen. Many colliery companies also admit making profits as high as from 15 to 35 per cent, on their nominal capital. 
It may be demurred that instances of this kind are exceptional, and that the great majority of employers obtain but meagre dividends upon their investments, not a few indeed failing to obtain any return at all.
But the objection only serves to exhibit more clearly the purely predatory character of our commercial system. Capitalists are not only purchasers of their workmen’s labour, but sellers afterwards of what they have purchased. As buyers of labour they endeavour to get as much of it as possible, at the lowest cost in wages. As sellers to other capitalists, middlemen, agents, or consumers, they endeavour to give as little, and get as much in return as they possibly can. In this process of exchange between employers, middlemen, and consumers, it inevitably happens that one or other of them drives the most successful bargain. If the employer happens to be an incapable merchant of the goods which he has possessed himself of by his workmen’s labour, he may have to sell at a price that allows him little or no profit on the transaction, in which case the purchaser, usually a middleman or broker of some description, pockets as extra gain what the employer has unwittingly let slip through his fingers. Thus, if I may present the matter in a familiar and perfectly accurate manner, the employer who has stolen so much value from his workmen fails, when disposing of it to the reseller, to get even a fair thieves’ price for it. He is, however, none the less a knave, though he may be the greater fool that he has allowed another rascal to niggle him of his booty.
Perhaps, however, there may be workers who still cling to the peculiar notion that the capitalists and landlords, wno between them make up our employing classes today, do some really useful work, and that without them it would be impossible for industry to be carried on. Do they not, it may be asked, supply the capital, pay us our wages, and direct our labour wisely?
No! Employers do not supply workmen with either the capital they use, nor their wages, nor do they direct their labour wisely.
The landlords and capitalists simply hold possession of the land, which no one can claim to have produced, and the capital, which the labour and skill of the workmen have produced, and only allow the latter the further use of the land and capital on condition that tbey hand up to their employers all that they make, and are content to go on working for the small share they receive back in the form of wages. All the capital, viz., all the workshops, factories, machinery, railways, etc., which the capitalist class own, and all the houses, food, clothing, and everything else which workmen purchase with their wages, have been produced by the labour and skill of the workers of this and past generations. The capitalist class have obtained all the capital, which they now use to compel the workers to serve them, by the very same means as they now increase their store of it, that is, by unjust exchange, by paying the workers less in wages than the workers produce by their labour.
Moreover, they do not direct the workers’ labour wisely. It must surely be admitted that there are only two questions with which a wise director of labour would trouble himself. He would first find out what the people needed, and secondly see to it that the workers who under him laboured to produce what was needed, had themselves their full life needs supplied – with all that that implies in comfort at their work, and the opportunity of leisure and pleasure outside of it – and that none of their labour force was wasted. Instead of this, today, the employers are exercising all their skill, their cunning, and, if you will, their anxiety and labour, in endeavouring to sell at a profit. That is, they will, firstly, only allow their land and capital to be used for the production of goods which other people have money to buy, and as the workers have little and the rich much, they prate of gluts in the market, and no work needing to be done, when the poor all around them are half-fed, half-clothed and half-sheltered. And secondly, whatever of time or diligence they do give to business is spent in fighting the other employers who desire to supply this cash demand, in obtaining orders for themselves which other employers would fain have secured.
Employers, therefore, do not assist in the production of wealth, they only manage or mismanage it with a view to getting as much for themselves, and as little for anybody else, as possible. Let me ask you, how, if the services of the capitalist class in any way add to the value of the products of labour, as all useful service must do, how is it that the reward of their service should be determined almost entirely by their cunning and craft in deceiving and over-reaching their neighbours? Why should they sometimes, almost without pretence of exertion at all, make large fortunes, and at other times, even with the utmost care and striving, fall out penniless? There are only two tenable suppositions. The one is that their services are dispensable and are, therefore, entitled to no due, constant, or ad valorem reward, in which case, whatever recompense capitalists obtain, is mere booty or spoliation gained by their preying upon the necessity or ignorance of those with whom they deal. The other is, that their services are indispensable and add to the value of the products of labour; in which case if they fail to obtain a due, constant, and ad valorem reward, as many, especially of the most active and just dealing, do fail, their failure must be the result of their being deprived of the value of their services unjustly by others of their own class. I say of their own class because the wages of workmen usually run at the same rate under employers who are unsuccessful, as under employers who are successful, and similarly, the prices paid by consumers are usually the same, irrespective of whether the goods have come from a firm that has made a profit or a loss in selling them. Whichever, therefore, of the two assumptions we proceed upon, we are forced to the conclusion that the existing capitalist-competitive system of production and exchange is fraught with grave injustice, and that as the employing classes cannot claim either to have furnished the workers with their capital or their wages, or to be directing their labour wisely, the whole system of their profit-making is based upon systematic theft.
1. After-war figures make these statistics of profiteering read quite tamely. Since these paragraphs were written Messrs. Coates have declared a profit of over £19,000,000 for the five years of the war and topped this with a bonus of £7,300,000 capital to the shareholders from the reserve fund, in connection with a scheme which increased the company’s capital from £10,000,000 to £20,000,000. The coal mines in the same period showed over £188,000,000 final net profits and interest accruing to coal owners, after deducting the Coal Controller’s Levy and the Excess Profits Duty! The total capital sunk in the mines is about £135,000,000.
Last updated on 9.11.2007