On Monday, April 14th, 1913, a public meeting, convened by the British Socialist Party, was held at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London, E.C., and an address given by Mr. H.M. Hyndman entitled The Official Murdering of British Seamen by Mr. Lloyd George and the Board of Trade; with Sidelights from the Marconi Enquiry. Other speakers were Mr. Robert Williams (of the Transport Workers’ Federation) and Mr. H. Orbell (of the Dockers’ Union), Mr. E.C. Fairchild presided.
The CHAIRMAN said: Comrades and friends, we are gathered here this evening to hear an address from our comrade Hyndman with special reference to the raising of the Load Line. Some sidelights will be thrown upon the Marconi inquiry that is now proceeding, and, incidentally, both Hyndman and, I apprehend, the other speakers also will make some reference to the legislation of the Liberal Party. I only want to say that I shall probably carry you with me when I maintain that that legislation has been of an exceedingly bad kind judged from the point of view of the working class. (Hear, hear) In my opinion there never has been a body of legislation so inimical to the interests of the workers as that which has proceeded from the Liberal Party since the year 1906. To take one or two things only, their proposals to mend the state of the workers in the sweated trades, to relieve the position of those who are worst paid under capitalism – though all are badly paid under this system. Their Trade Boards Act has simply resulted in pumping more work and more surplus value out of the sweated workers in return for the same money paid in wages. And then the Insurance Act. (Hisses) Those of us who are Social-Democrats on this platform contended right from the very beginning that it would be disastrous to the workers as a whole, and to the organised workers in particular. That Insurance Act is now being discovered by the working class of the country. The extraordinary thing about it all is, comrades and friends, that there were so many men – some of whom foregathered in this hall more than once – who were prepared in the name of the working class to say that the Insurance Act was a beneficial thing. Then on this matter of the Load Line, just one word. I suppose every one of us here either remembers or has read of the fight that old Plimsoll put up in the House of Commons. (Applause) As I came along to this meeting to-night I could not help but ask myself whether the temper of the people of this country had not changed somewhat since that day. I rather think it would have been impossible in Plimsoll’s day for any Chancellor of the Exchequer having an antipathy to the unearned increment of land to be prepared to take a Stock Exchange tip. The mere fact that we have got to that stage shows how very, very much we have changed in this country from Samuel Plimsoll’s time. I hope to see someone of our Party before long on the floor of the House of Commons prepared to do on a larger scale what Plimsoll did on that occasion. My great regret here in this matter is that our comrade Hyndman cannot carry what he says on this floor to-night on to the floor of the House of Commons; because I think I voice the opinions of every man and woman in this hall when I say that we at least are all satisfied that whatever the temptations and whatever the dangers of that atmosphere may be, if Hyndman got there, as I hope he will get there yet – (loud applause) – he at least would say, as any Social-Democrat, any Labour representative ought to say, that we the workers keep the governing class – that there is no remedy for poverty but to take away the things that they have, and transfer them to the community so that they can be used for the good of all the people. (Loud applause)
H. ORBELL: Mr. Chairman and Comrades, the question of this Load Line has troubled those of us who are interested in shipping considerably, particularly those of us who have had to get our living both loading and working on these boats. I arn surprised to find so many people misunderstand the Load Line. It is astonishing. I remember when the matter was being discussed in the House I was in the Lobby. One friend said to me, “What is this Load Line, Orbell? What does it mean? Is it not better for the Load Line to be higher? Is it not better for the men who work on board the ship?” I said, “For the man who actually works on board the ship when the ship is in the dock I don’t know as it matters much to him; but for the man who is working on board the ship when the ship is at sea it matters considerably where the Load Line is.” “Well,” he said, “I don’t understand it.” I said, “Look here, old fellow,” pulling a piece of paper out of my pocket, “we will suppose that line there is the top of the ship, and that line running there with a mark across it is what they call the Plimsoll. When we are loading that ship we must not go below the mark.” “I see.” “If I put that mark up higher, nearer the top, that means I must sink the ship deeper in the water before I reach the line, doesn’t it?” “Yes.” “Now, cannot you see that the ship is in greater danger?” “Oh,” he said, “I see. I never understood that before.” (Laughter) He is not an exceptional person, and I believe it is part of the game of many of our shipowning Liberals and Tories to keep from the minds of the public in the detailed sense what the Load Line on the side of the boat was there for, and what it should indicate.
I ’phoned the Sailors’ Union. “Do you intend getting the Load Line altered?” “Of course we do.” “Has it hit you up to now?” “Decidedly; inasmuch as there are two million tons of goods placed on the market without one extra ship being employed to convey that extra number of tons, it means that, even from the workman’s standpoint – to say nothing at all about the lives of those who manage the boats: – there has been a great number of crews standing idle where they should have been at work.” So from the unemployed standpoint, you see, the raising of the Load Line hits them considerably. Some of you, perhaps, remember the replies given in the House of Commons, and the figures that were handed round later. If you have gone carefully through those figures you will have found there is no increase in loss of life to passengers. As a matter of fact there has been a decrease since the raising of the Load Line. I have helped to load a great number of passenger boats. I do not remember yet a passenger boat going out of either London or Southampton Docks sunk to the Load Line. A passenger boat very rarely touches the Load Line. But what we are concerned about, those of us who do attach some importance to a sailor’s life, is the increase of loss of life at sea of the crews. It goes to show that the Load Line was raised in order to enable them to carry a greater number of tons on the boat than they did previously, with the result that a greater number of men have lost their lives. The sailors’ death-rate from loss of life at sea is considerably higher – by many hundreds – since the Load Line has been raised.
Just another point, the danger which seamen are exposed to from dead cargo. This danger rarely occurs to the general public. There are some goods that you could not sink a ship with if you went to the top of the funnel, I remember a few years ago as a trade union official I had some business to do with a shipowner who used to run boats from the London Dock round to Goole and Hull. A contractor had the ship before me, and then I took it in the name of the union. We had loaded the boat, got the hatches on neatly, and we said to the captain, “All right, now, governor. She can clear. You have plenty of time, a couple of hours, to meet the tide.” “Oh,” he said, “I have got a lot of rags to come on yet.” I looked round and said, “You will have at least three tiers here, and that will take them up to the bridge.” “They have got to come on.” “But you ought not to let them come on, sir.” “They have got to come on. Go and ask the boss.” When I asked the boss, he said, “You can put them on or clear out, which you like. They are going.” I put on three tiers of bales of rags, which just left room for a man on top of those rags to crawl under the bridge. That was a tier at least above the rail of the ship, and sheeted over with tarpaulin. With the ship rolling so that some of us when we are at sea as passengers have a job to keep our feet even if we hold the rail, these men would be on a tightly lashed down tarpaulin close on three feet above the rail of the ship. You might say, “What has that to do with the Load Line? “ It means that with some cargoes you could not put a deck cargo on because the ship would be down to the Plimsoll. Raise the Plimsoll, and, in addition to what she may have under her hatches, you can pile up on her deck, which adds to the danger to the seaman at sea. (Applause)
ROBERT WILLIAMS: Mr. Chairman, before I came to you this afternoon, I was looking at the posters announcing the meeting. I read that the meeting was called to protest against the official murder of British seamen by the Board of Trade, and I wondered if we could not alter the title of the address and call it the voluntary self-sacrifice of British seamen, because of their own apathy and indifference. After all, we have to bring these things down to their real and actual terms. I might wax eloquent denouncing George and the Liberal Cabinet, perhaps some members of the Liberal Party. But, remember, the Order of the Board of Trade was introduced in 1906, when the Labour Party went to the House of Commons thirty strong; and what protest did the Labour Party raise then other than a couple of speeches made by George Barnes against this nefarious Act of Lloyd George in conjunction, I understand, with Walter Long, his predecessor? We have seen the action of Mr-Lloyd George quite recently, the man who is bewailing his fate as a comparatively poor man, (Laughter. A Voice: “What price Marconis?”) Yes. Poor in honesty and statesmanship; rich in humbug and pretence. (Applause) Whatever opinions the members of the working class, or some of the leaders of the Labour Party, may have of Mr. Lloyd George and his democratic sentiments, posterity will be able to appraise Mr. Lloyd George and his work at its true value. We of the trade union movement have, in the first place, to put our own house in order. After all, if we had had an efficient Seamen’s Union, if they had been effectively organised and backed up by an effective Transport Workers’ Federation, then if such an Order had been issued by the Board of Trade or any other Government Department we ought to have replied by a strike, a strike as well managed as the strike of the Belgians to promote Universal Suffrage.
But I was going to tell you about my own experience as a coal-trimmer. When the Load Line was raised it became possible for the ships to carry 5 per cent, more cargo than hitherto. In my trade at that time we had our tariff divided into ordinary boats, which were non-self-trimmers and self-trimmers. We were compelled to accept lesser rates on these self-trimming ships. When the increased Load Line was introduced, the class of boats which were previously self-trimmers but by this piece of legislation became non-self-trimmers, we had to continue loading them as self-trimmers, and put in 5 per cent, more work than hitherto. You see the advantage to the employers. They were able to carry a larger amount of tonnage and to pay less loading and discharging charges. They were also able to increase their profits because they did not have to build so many ships. Mr. Hyndman has often pointed out that such is the Interdependence and complexity of modern industry that its ramifications are everywhere. Within a few years of this piece of legislation the amount of shipping laid down for constructive purposes was much less than in the previous years. All this redounds to the interest of the profit-mongering class. We of the workers are apt to forget these things. Moreover, the trend of modern industry is to abolish labour by labour-saving contrivances. Since I have been in office it has been my experience to watch this development going on inexorably, driving more and more men into the ranks of the unemployed. Every week sees the introduction of some form of labour-saving contrivance or another. In Southampton, Glasgow, Liverpool, or the Thames, where the big passenger boats come from, they are introducing automatic coal bunkers which, in some instances, dispense with 50 per cent, of the human labour required. I ask what becomes of this labour that has been displaced? It is there on the unemployed market to compete with you who remain in employment, always tending to bring down wages to the bare subsistence level. We ask what are you doing to alter and meet these things? When we look round we do not see much evidence in the restiveness in the ranks of the working class. We might become despondent, but one occasion for hope is the thought that Hyndman is not in any manner disconsolate. He comes here with exuberant energy, and is more vigilant on behalf of the working class than the paid leaders of the working class. (Applause) I want to accord my measure of praise and appreciation to our friend Hyndman. I don’t think we do it often enough. However, I want to do it for myself, and am glad to be here to sit alongside him and help in exposing the Liberal Government, particularly that arch-humbug, George. (Applause)
Mr. H.M. HYNDMAN said: Mr. Chairman, friends and fellow-citizens, before I enter upon the subject of my speech of to-night – this meeting has been called together, I know, for quite a different purpose, and, therefore, what I am going to say is irregular – nobody will be bound by any resolution or any message that you undertake to pass here.
But I do feel that we ought from this hall to send a message of greeting to our Belgian comrades, who are endeavouring to hold their own against the tyranny and intrigue of the Catholic Church and the reactionaries of Belgium. (Applause) What is taking place is really very remarkable. You see in Belgium that the workers and the men of letters have really combined. The most celebrated man of letters in Belgium has said: “Not only am I with the strikers, but I am going to help them in every possible way – and not only with my pen.” (Applause) We may agree with the general strike or not. We may think it is a good line of policy or not; but I do think all in this hall, whatever their political or social opinions may be, must see that such a Government as that of Belgium in an industrial country is entirely abominable. Therefore, what they are striving for is what we ought to have, and should have, comrades, if we had the pluck and vigour of our ancestors who fought for what we have got already. What they are fighting for is a peaceful revolution by means of universal suffrage. It is what is reasonable and what is right. It is what is beneficial to all classes, if they would but see it, and in Belgium if they get this by the general strike – which I hope and believe they will – they have proportional representation already at work there, and it will enable them to take advantage of universal adult suffrage in a way that it has never been taken advantage of before. Therefore, I ask you, here and now, to authorise our secretary – those of you who agree with what I am saying – to send a cable of cordial greetings to the leaders, followers, rank and file, to the whole party of the Belgian Socialists and Belgian Radicals who agree with them, who are fighting against a corrupt Conservative domination, and to hope they will have success in the efforts they are making. (Applause)
Now, comrades, you have already heard two of our friends who know more about this matter of the Load Line by practical experience than I do. Do not suppose for one single moment that this is an affair of yesterday with us. We have been at this business now for seven years. Seven years have we done our best to show the people of England what has been done by the raising of that Load Line, Neither do I wish you to think that I, personally, or anybody on this platform, has got any “down,” so to speak, on Mr. Lloyd George personally. I mean to say that we do not commence with a prejudice against him. I shall say more about that. We come here because I believe – and I think you will believe before I sit down – that one of the most shameful things is being done against the working class at this moment that ever was heard of; not only so, it was begun seven years ago. That is a very serious thing to state; and, from quite a different point of view to our comrade Robert Williams here, I admit there are those who might object to the title of this address. Some do.
“What?” they say, “official murdering! You should not use a phrase of that kind. That is calculated to breed opposition to what you state.” I reply, “Nothing of the kind. I say that murder is murder – (hear, hear) – and that it is the worst kind of murder when it is officially done and it is impossible to get the crime suppressed in the ordinary way.” It is perfectly true, as Orbell has so clearly put it, that we are face to face here with reaction and maladministration every bit as bad as that which is going on in Belgium, and it makes it the worse that the Liberals pretend that this is not so. Unfortunately, also, as has been truly said, it is extremely difficult to get the public to understand what is going- on. They do not understand this question. They are indifferent to the whole question of the seamen’s lives. That is a point which, unfortunately, we cannot overlook.
It is also said, and our comrade Robert Williams has repeated it, that the seamen are too apathetic themselves. But remember, comrades, remember, friends and enemies here, that a man who objects and makes himself obnoxious loses his job. He is bound to run these abnormal risks, as he is on the railways, in the mines, and in those horrible oversteamed sheds of Burnley, of which I know something. The workers cannot complain. If they do complain, they and their families have to starve. Consequently, with these unfortunate seamen it is all very well to say they can raise an agitation and make disturbances, but nobody knows better than our friends here the danger of that in many cases. The trouble is to bring home to the people at large – to this meeting, to begin with – there are plenty here to bring it home to people outside if you will take it up – to bring home what the raising of the Load Line means, and the deck cargoes, which are part of the business, to the men employed on the ships. The fact is, that in all these matters the House of Commons to-day is more than ever a capitalist assembly. Unfortunately, the Labour Party do not see that. On social questions the Liberal Party and the Tory Party are at one. They may pretend not to be so on the question of Home Rule, There are differences on other questions of minor moment. There are apparent differences in other directions. But when it comes to real social questions, affecting the workers of this country, Liberals and Tories, Tories and Liberals, practically constitute one party as against the people. The sooner that is understood the better.
On this special question of the Load Line also, even those who know something about the subject cannot believe that the Government would deliberately set to work to drown seamen for the benefit of shipowners. People will not believe it. They will not even believe that shipowners, would deliberately overload their vessels in the hope of making greater gain by it. They cannot believe human beings can be so inhuman as that. If they had to do it themselves as individuals in each case perhaps very few of them would; but when it is a class question, when it is a breeches-pocket question, absolutely no sense of humanity comes in at all. The workers might as well be monkeys so far as concerns the capitalist class. If monkeys could do the work on deck and in the stoke-hole they would employ monkeys instead of men, and drown them, too! (Laughter) I want you to understand perfectly well that the feeling of the class to which I belong is that feeling. There are exceptions. One of those exceptions has already been referred to. That takes us back a great many years. That was a case of a man who did not belong to the working class. He was a rich man who had made his money in a totally different department. It was a question which got hold of him. It was not he who got hold of it, but it got hold of him. The seaman’s life is a terrible life. I have been a good deal at sea in the course of my life; I have been at sea in queer craft, and the life of an ordinary seaman on a tramp vessel is a terrible life even when things are good. When things are bad, with the atmosphere and general disturbance and the whole upset that comes about with very heavy weather, the life of the ordinary seaman or fireman is very hard even on a well-laden vessel. But when this occurs on an overladen vessel the anxiety, horror, trouble of it all is something quite terrible. This has been put to me many a time by men accustomed to rough work. This horror got hold of Plimsoll. I met him once, and I know the man was full of this one subject. He took up the question by himself. The sailors of that day did not take it up themselves; they were not agitating as he was any more than they are to-day. He was impressed by it, brought it forward in the House of Commons, and, as you know, strode forward when the members rejected his measure, damned them all – very bad language, but very bad people – (laughter) – and the consequence was that so clear was it that he had an overwhelming case against the shipowners, and that he was inspired by genuine feeling for his fellows, that the whole country was roused, and the Tory Government was forced – it did not want to do it any more than the Liberals, I can assure you – was absolutely forced to accept Plimsoll’s safety line.
I have often brought that forward as an example of what one man can do in the House of Commons. Sometimes we are asked, “What can one man do?” Then I recall Plimsoll and his rout of the coffin-ship ship-owners. That was what one man can do, not 40 £400-a-yearers. (Cheers) That is what he did, and at that time the question of the Load Line was fairly understood by the people. However, as I have said already, it is not only on board ship that workers are unable to complain of what is done with them. There are many fiery mines being worked in danger to-day. The miners do not complain, because if they did they would be discharged, and would not know where they would get their next meal. At that time certain well-known firms – their names are present to me now – particularly in the north of England, made it a practice to overload their vessels, knowing perfectly well that the loss of one now and then would recompense them in many ways for losses in other directions, and that on the whole they would gain enormously by it. It was a terrible business at that time, but the crime was not legalised by Act of the Board of Trade; it was merely the outcome of the laissez faire indifferentism which prevailed at that period. This, then, was what happened many, many years ago.
During the whole of the years that have passed since then the shipowners have been very much incensed against the Plimsoll Load Line, which has saved thousands of lives. I do not say there is no objection to the Plimsoll Line: there is always an objection to anything which saves lives and denudes pockets. I do not say there may not have been a few technical drawbacks in certain cases. Very likely; but they were as nothing compared to the enormous advantages which accrued to the seamen at large from the Plimsoll Load Line. Those miscreants who send coffin-ships to sea, themselves and their fellows, have always worked very strongly against it. Plimsoll was a capitalist, and likewise a Liberal; and the extraordinary thing to me is that there is nobody in the House of Commons to-day who has the pluck to make a great reputation and a career for himself, and be respected by the whole community, by doing to-day what Plimsoll did yesterday. I cannot understand such a lack of courage as that. It seems to me so utterly contemptible that not a single man of the working class – and there are not only forty men, there are a great many more than that who are members of the working class in the House of Commons – can follow on the lines of a capitalist and a Liberal and take up the cause of the seamen. It is a remarkable thing. (Hear, hear)
Let us understand. This agitation by the shipowners had been going on for a considerable time. I should like to show you precisely what has taken place. Thousands of lives were saved by the Plimsoll Line, and a good deal of money was lost to the shipowners which, otherwise, they would have gained. But also, as our comrades have said here, it is perfectly true the shipowners were always saying they were losing money. They always do lose money; yet, somehow or other, their wealth piles up. I cannot understand it. They cannot afford this, that, and the other, yet they die worth millions sterling – hundreds of thousands of pounds is a small matter. They said they were being absolutely ruined by this Plimsoll-Line business, although shipping was expanding enormously, and, as I say, huge fortunes were piled up.
As a result of this underground agitation on the part of the shipowners nearly thirty years ago, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, then President of the Board of Trade, took up this question. I do not think anybody in this hall, even if he does not know me, will think I have any particular regard for Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. I can assure you I have not; he is not a man for whom I have any respect at all. But it will give you an idea of the difference of the old time from the new if I contrast what Mr. Chamberlain did with what Mr. Lloyd George has done. Mr. Chamberlain appointed a committee in 1884 to consider the Load Line – twenty-nine years ago. This committee consisted not of seamen and masters of vessels – that would not have done – but contained a very considerable number of the leading shipowners of the country. And the Board of Trade was very well represented. I should like to read to you from their report. The questions that were put to them were as to whether it was possible to make any alteration of the Load Line which would do away with certain disabilities without risking life. There is a particular passage in the resolution this Committee passed which I want you to hear. Necessarily this sort of thing is not exciting, except to those who understand what is going on. It is a little dull, but very important:–
“If a compulsory Load Line is to be enforced, it will be essential to constitute a public authority competent to administer such a measure. In our judgment it would only tend to failure to entrust the task which we describe to any purely official administration. The duty of assigning compulsory Load Lines, if it is to be undertaken, must, we consider, be entrusted to some body of a more representative character, which should consist not only of officials, but also of gentlemen who, as shipowners, naval architects, SEAMEN, and, perhaps, underwriters, would bring to bear on this work great knowledge and experience, and who, by reason of that knowledge and experience and also of their high standing in their several professions, would ensure such a fulfilment of the duty confided to them as would command the confidence of the country.”
I do not say that is all that we should wish. Not by any means. But it does introduce the interests of the seamen, you will observe. Seamen as representatives are mentioned in that resolution of 1884. On that particular Commission there were no seamen or masters of vessels. Nevertheless, that was the resolution which they passed as a portion of their recommendations in answer to the questions then formulated. (Applause)
Matters went on. Shipowners continued to bring pressure to bear to do away with the Plimsoll Line so far as they could. Governments would not listen to them. Flagitious as much of the action of the Tory Government was, on that particular point for very many years they were quite firm. Nothing was done. I want to be quite fair in this matter. Tories or Liberals, Liberals or Tories, are nothing to me. (Hear, hear) I am not here particularly to attack the Liberal Government, although they are chiefly to blame in this matter. As between the dominant class and the wage-earners both parties form one reactionary mass, and until you workers who are here, and those who sympathise with you, understand that you will never get anything worth doing done.
In 1905, however, the Tories yielded to this pressure and appointed a secret Committee of the Board of Trade. This was, of course, entirely composed of members of the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade! Probably the most corrupt department in all Europe! Again, not a single master and not a single seaman was on that committee of 1905. Their opinions, like the lives of the seamen, did not trouble the Tory Cabinet at all. This Committee reported in favour of raising the Load Line, That was done by the Tory Party. But the Tory Party, mark you, although I daresay it was fully in sympathy with the shipowners, did not raise the Load Line. The Board of Trade, of course, is never wrong. The Board of Trade never falsifies statistics. Never. You remember the elaborate return about German wages, don’t you? No falsification! It was printed at our expense, and had to be burned at our expense. Well, we shall see.
Now we come to Mr. Lloyd George. Again I say, don’t suppose I have any personal feeling against Lloyd George. I am quite prepared to believe that the Tories were as anxious as the Liberals to serve the interests of the shipowners, but nothing was done. The shipowners and their friends on the Board of Trade had to wait. And they did wait, until Mr. Lloyd George became President of the Board of Trade. Now, we Socialists, I repeat – I speak for myself, too – we have no prejudice against Mr. Lloyd George. As a matter of fact, we backed and applauded him, and did our utmost to uphold him, and thought he did splendid work against the Boer war. (Applause) We cheered him. We protected his meetings. We thought he had done a splendid thing, and when he was taken into the Cabinet we honestly believed – and I said so – we all said so; there are those on this platform who remember it very well – we all said we hoped Mr. Lloyd George would carry into the Cabinet and into an official position the same pluck, determination, and goodwill in upholding the freedom of the people that he showed in defending the Boers of Africa. That is so.
What happened? Here, again, I want to be perfectly fair. As a matter of fact, we admired Mr. Lloyd George at that time; and in February, 1906, when he became President of the Board of Trade, it is possible that when this matter was brought before Mr. Lloyd George, he being quite new to office barely knew the bow of a vessel from its stern – that was why he was President of the Board of Trade – (laughter) – and, acting in a hurry, the thing was brought before him and he signed it at once. That is what his friends say. They say, “You are quite wrong, Hyndman. This is all wrong that you are upon. As a matter of fact, Lloyd George only did what the Tories were going to do if he had not come in.” Then I reply, “There is no difference between you. What did you turn them out for?” But it is worse than that. I am, at any rate, willing to assume that he did sign that Order inadvertently, without knowing that he was condemning sailors to drown. I will assume this was so. That, I think, is a fair way to put it.
But, now, let us go on. All this was secretly done. It was done, according to an official letter under date of January 25th, 1913, sent by Mr. Lloyd George in answer to my attack upon him at Plymouth, under Section 438 of the Merchant Act, 1894, giving the Board of Trade power to modify the tables – Parliament having nothing to say. It was all, therefore, I repeat, secretly done. Assuming, therefore, that Lloyd George did what he did inadvertently, and that the raising of the Load Line was only to be applied to new vessels specially built for that purpose – because that was argued – supposing that were so – and he said that was so, which was absolutely untrue – from that time to this no difference has been made between the old vessels and the new. (Hear, hear) A clamour was raised by the shipowners, and to that clamour Mr. Lloyd George immediately gave way. Ships of the oldest pattern. were allowed to raise their Load Line by the privity and sanction of Mr. Lloyd George under the Act already quoted, though he himself had declared on October 31st, 1906, in the House of Commons, when he was doing this, that the new freeboard would only be sanctioned in certain classes of vessels of modern construction and publicly approved; but that the older vessels which did not come up to this standard were to be allowed no deeper loading. (A Voice: “He’s a liar !”) Well, so they say. (Laughter)
It was not only a lie, friends, but it was a lie with circumstance. I will show you directly what this raising of the Load Line on these old British vessels meant in human lives. Meanwhile, you may like to know that it saved the shipowners, who had “persuaded “ Mr. Lloyd George and the Board of Trade to allow the old vessels to be overloaded, in the construction of new vessels, which but for the heavier loading would have been necessary, a sum that has been put variously at from £6,000,000 to £8,000,000. I believe £8,000,000 is the true amount. They persuaded Mr. Lloyd George and the Board of Trade after he had stated in the House of Commons that new ships only would have the Load Line raised. Now, the effect of this huge gain to the shipowners on the lives of the seamen was put quite clearly to Mr. Lloyd George from the waterside. Most damning facts were laid before him, and figures were sent him showing what must be the inevitable result of his policy. The whole thing was brought to his knowledge, and that of other members of the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, in every conceivable way. I say it was brought clearly to the mind of the Liberal Cabinet, of Mr. Lloyd George, and of everybody connected with the Board of Trade, that this raising of the Load Line which was permitted on old vessels must necessarily mean the deliberate drowning for gain of British seamen. (Applause)
What has been happening? This was a good long time ago – six and seven years ago. From that time onwards, I say, knowing what he knows, and having done what he did, Mr. Lloyd George has been officially murdering the seamen on British vessels in the interests of the shipowning class. (Hear, hear, and applause) I say the man who did that, and does that – because he is a member of the Cabinet to-day – and I say it of the whole Cabinet, too – I say the man who did that – well, I have a little more to say about him later.
This may be denied. As a matter of fact, it was denied. But, curiously enough, Mr. Sydney Buxton, now President of the Board of Trade, admitted the other day in the House of Commons that these representations from the waterside had been made, and that now they would be looked into! In the meantime, you see, a good number of seamen have found watery graves. Dead men tell no tales. Drowned men have no votes. So that does not matter. I say this may be denied; denials are very common just now. (Laughter) The Marconi inquiry now going on helps us, however, to understand a little what the value of a Cabinet Minister’s word of honour is. It is really quite interesting to see what a high standard of morality they live up to. We cannot hope to emulate that, Mr. Chairman. It would take a lot of climbing – down! (Applause) They claim a special political privilege of paltering with the truth. For instance, nobody can deny in regard to these “investments” in Marconi shares – which to ordinary people look so much like a gamble on secret information – that Mr. Lloyd George and Sir Rufus Isaacs lied like gasmeters – (laughter and applause) – last summer in their answer to George Lansbury, among others. (Applause) And the Prime Minister, either misinformed or fully advised – I do not pretend to know which – he is a lawyer – he aided and abetted them in their falsification of the facts.
That is bad, very bad. What followed is worse. This gamble in Marconi shares, which, however, was not a gamble in men’s lives, is a scandal. It is a dirty business. (Hear, hear) But it is not murder. It is not official murder. It is only what the French call tripotage, mean pecuniary dodgery. (Laughter) But what did Mr. Lloyd George threaten? That is the point where the light comes in. What did he threaten when the Tories were attacking him on this Marconi gamble? He threatened that if they went any farther he would “blow the gaff.” (Laughter) He did not say that in so many words, but he said if they went on like that he would have to tell something about them.
What does this mean? It means that the Right Honourable David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, keeps up his sleeve anything that may possibly be of public benefit to know against his adversaries, in order that at the critical moment when they are attacking him he may blackmail them into silence. (Applause) That is a nice sort of business, is it not? Now, I say a man who would say that, who would say, “If you go on attacking me about Marconi shares I will expose all the rascally things I know you have done, but which I have kept silence about because I was doing a bit myself” – (laughter and applause) – I say the man who is capable of that is capable of anything. (Hear, hear, and applause)
Consequently, what I said just now – namely, that I was willing to believe that Mr. Lloyd George did not consent to this raising of the Load Line deliberately – I take back. (Cheers) I believe he did. Moreover, I believe precisely the same course that has been pursued with regard to the threats in the Marconi inquiry, if investigation is pushed too far, has been pursued in relation to this Load Line matter. I believe Mr. Lloyd George has practically said, “If you get up and attack me on the Load Line business, look out! I will split!” One is obliged to use language consonant to the occasion. One is not accustomed to find this dirty sort of business going on in Cabinets, you know – or not, at least, in Cabinets in this country. Consequently, when we do find them we are obliged to use the language of the bucket shop, or the dirty gambling dens of the East End. It is not nice, but it is descriptive. say this Load Line business, though it has not yet attracted public attention, unfortunately, to the extent of the Marconi shares, is an infamous thing. (Cheers) An infamous thing! (Renewed cheers)
Now comes the next bit of infamy, which our friends here know very well. Having raised the Load Line by secret process, Mr. Lloyd George and the Liberal Government refused to give any information whatever as to what had been the result in each case of this shameful action. On what ground did they refuse to do this, do you suppose? Because it would cost too much to give the facts! Men’s lives are cheap. (Hear, hear) Statistics are dear. Even so long ago as 1907, in reply to Lord Muskerry, who asked for facts in the House of Lords, Lord Granard, speaking for the Government, declared it was impossible to grant the return for which he asked, simply on the ground of expense. It is cheap to drown men and dear to tell how you do it. (Applause) In a letter in reply to my vehement attack at Plymouth, Mr. Lloyd George actually had the impudence to declare – in his letter signed “ H.P. Hamilton,” January 25th – that the raising of the Load Line had reduced the foundering of ships by twenty per cent. (A Voice: “It is a lie!”) I have got it here. But just one minute! It is worth noting the depths of turpitude and villainy they will condescend to. Hear this: “Thus for the six years prior to the revision ending June 30th, 1906, the total number of vessels registered in the United Kingdom which foundered or were reported as missing was 307. For the six years since the revision ending June 30th, 1912, the total number was 240.” So beneficial had been the raising of the Load Line that actually fewer ships by twenty per cent, foundered than before!
That is the biggest lie of all. (Hear, hear) But we are able to bring it home to them. That is where they are so foolish. As a matter of fact, as Lord Muskerry has pointed out in the Times, included in the former return were vessels of two, four, five, and seven tons, where the Load Line does not come in. This is the sort of game they play. There is the official statement, and I have read it. They say liars ought to have a good memory. As a matter of fact, they have not always. In answer to Mr. Jowett, the other day, Mr. Sydney Buxton, himself President of the Board of Trade, admitted that last year, 1912, “over three thousand seamen” – I am quoting from his reply – “lost their lives on British ships, this being equal to a rate of 1 in 76 as compared with 1 in 106 and 1 in 112 for the two immediately preceding years,” So far from deaths by drowning decreasing among seamen they were increasing in very rapid ratio. The fact is that the vessels were getting older, and the heavier freights sunk more of them. All those figures sent to Plymouth by Mr. Lloyd George’s direction were on this showing Marconi lies of the very foulest kind. So far from founderings having diminished, they have increased.
Now I come to the worst part of the whole thing. Let us see what this really means. Early in 1912, Mr. Alexander Wilkie, the member for Dundee, asked for a return from the Board of Trade showing how many trading vessels were missing or lost by foundering or stranding during the period from January 1st, 1911, to May 31st, 1912, with a return of the freeboard particulars in each case. This return was handed to Mr. Wilkie. It has never been published. But here is a summary which will give you some idea of what it is by Father Hopkins of the National Sailors’ and Firemen’s Union. I want you to listen to this really seriously, and to consider what it all means. It will take just a minute or two, but it is worth listening to. (Hear, hear) This document tells us “that between the two dates covered by the return, January 1st, 1911, to May 31st, 1912, the vessels returned as missing numbered 22, and those returned as having foundered numbered 42. In 30 of these cases the Load Line is recorded as having been altered. In 17 cases ‘no assignment’ is entered. In one instance, viz., that of the Cayo Largo, a London steamer, of 2,223 tons burden, built in 1898, the freeboard was reduced in the summer months from 5 feet 11 inches to 4 feet 11½ inches and in the winter months from 6 feet 2½ inches to 5 feet 4½ inches. She sailed from Swansea on April 16th, 1911, laden with coal, and has never been heard of since. The Amana, a Liverpool steamer, of 2,161 tons register, sailed before 1906 with a summer seaboard of 5 feet 9 inches and a winter seaboard of 6 feet 1 inch. After 1906 she was deepened in summer by 4 inches and in winter by 3 inches. She left Leith on December 1st, 1911, and that was the last heard of her. The Archtor, a London steamer, of 2,193 tons register, elected after 1906 to reduce her summer freeboard by 7 inches and her winter freeboard by 5½ inches. She passed Cape Henry, in Virgina, USA, on January 3rd, 1912, and after that – darkness. The Wingrove, another London steamer, with a register of 1,819 tons, changed a summer freeboard of 5 feet 3 inches to 4 feet 10 inches after 1906, and a winter freeboard of 5 feet 6½ inches to 5 feet 2½ inches. No further record is known of her after leaving Plymouth on December 18th, 1911.” Here are a few more of them:–
Nobody comes home. These vessels disappear. The seamen are drowned. There is no evidence. They say, “How do you know?”
Well, you can guess. (Hear, hear) Now I come to the North Briton. The North Briton sank off Ushant on March 3rd last, with the loss of twenty lives. It will be remembered that it was in reference to the North Briton that the Court of Inquiry and Mr. Lewis, stipendiary magistrate of Cardiff, spoke so strongly in denunciation of the altered freeboard and its lamentable consequences. The figures given in this return are almost incredible. Before 1906 the freeboard of the North Briton was 1 foot 4½ inches. The Board of Trade allowed this to be reduced to 10 inches. (Shame)
Shame? But what are you going to do? I am not here merely to deliver an oratorical exhortation. Not a bit of it. I am here to bring this right home to these people. What I say here is criminally libellous if not true. When I say that Mr. Lloyd George and Liberal Ministers have done these things I am accusing them of the most abominable turpitude it is possible to impute to anybody. Marconi shares are child’s play to what I am putting from the platform to-night. Gambling in men’s lives in order to fill the pockets of shipowners of this country is an infinitely more dastardly action than anything to do with the Marconi punting. Far worse. Unfortunately, it is difficult to rouse people to understand what it means. Speaking after I had read those figures on a very stormy night at Plymouth – one of the heaviest gales I have ever heard – hail, snow, terrific gusts and squalls as fierce as I have ever heard in any part of the world – with that North Briton wreck fresh in my mind, I got hot, and I called this man George an unscrupulous and murdering rascal. (Cheers) What I said then in hot blood, I say now in cold. As I challenged him then, so I challenge him now, to bring an action for criminal libel against me. (Applause) I tell you he won’t dare to do it, because he will never expose himself – a man after God’s own heart as David is – he will never expose himself to half-an-hour’s cross-examination in the witness-box by the old man who is now addressing you. Not he. (Applause and laughter)
It is no laughing matter, comrades. I am not attacking Lloyd George alone. Aristotle told us 2,000 years ago that people will listen to personalities when they will not hearken to principles. That is the only reason I attack him first – because the whole Cabinet is equally responsible. This has been going steadily on. The professional philanthropist, Mr. Sydney Buxton, is to-day responsible for what has been done, as Mr. Lloyd George was and is. He, too, is being tarred with the brush of this indelible infamy. And Mr. J.M. Robertson, the Radical touter for place, ready to sell any principles in order to get £1,200 a year, he, too, is in it. I charge it, too, that the Tories by not getting up in their places and challenging these outrageous misdoings – Mr. Walter Long, Mr. Bonar Law, Mr. Balfour, and the rest of them – have become parties to them. Why do they not get up? This is good party matter, look you. If the Marconi business is a good thing to bring forward to slur your adversaries’ character, how about the Load Line? Why have they said nothing? Why have they carefully kept quiet? Because they have shipowners on their side, top, who subscribe to the party funds as the Liberal shipowners do. That is the reason. (Cheers)
Now, what is the Labour Party doing? (Ironical cheers) This is a serious matter. I was among those who were at the Horticultural Hall when the Labour Party was elected, and I congratulated them upon putting on the floor of the House of Commons the first proletarian party that had ever been there. I was fool enough to think they meant business. Honestly, I did. I saw around me on the walls, “Workers of the world, unite!” I absolutely got excited. (Laughter) Yes, it is laughable now. I see Mr. Wilkie has asked questions and got a return; Mr. Jowett, after I denounced him at Bradford, began to be active; but I say, what have they been doing? They should have done, the whole forty of them, what old Plimsoll did as one man. (Applause) They should have got up together with one determined action and denounced both Liberals and Tories who had carried out the corrupt decree of this abomination of a secret Commission, on which not a single seaman or master of a ship was represented, as scoundrels who murdered seamen for the profit of capitalists. This is the most formidable indictment ever brought against an Administration or a National Assembly. (Loud applause)
And it is not only for the sake of the seamen, not only to save their lives in the future, or denounce the men who have wrecked them in the past, that I have brought this matter forward. I am an old man, with nothing to gain that I want in the way of political distinction, or office, or anything of the kind. I do not even care a button-top now whether I ever stand on the floor of the House of Commons or not. But I want to point out that the capitalist class are played out. Their character is gone. Their ability leaves much to desire. They have constituted of the House of Commons an infamous Bed of Justice which registers decrees against the people all the time. I say, also, that here we have an international question. Mr. Buxton tells us this is to be an international question, this Load Line. Join, then, with your comrades in other countries. Join with them to crush a system which crushes them as well as you. We have passed here to-night a resolution of greeting to the Belgian comrades on the other side of the North Sea. I ask you to pass a resolution for yourselves, and to show more pluck in the future than in the past. Everything here is economically ripe for a great transformation and class change. You have opportunities which do not exist in the rest of the world, freedoms which exist in this country and in no other with which I am acquainted. Freedoms fought for and won by your fathers which I don’t believe you yourselves would have had the pluck to obtain. These people are kicking themselves downstairs. Jump on them and keep them down. Band yourselves together. Sink petty differences of religion or political affairs. Wage-earners and professional men, as in Belgium, band yourselves together in one solid combination. Come together as one vast army of the future for the workers of the world. Take hold of the great powers which now oppress you in order that no longer shall your seamen be drowned, your women crushed into early graves, and you yourselves be compelled to starve under the control of the capitalist. Come forward side by side with your fellows to hand on a better society to your successors, where wage-slavery shall be unknown, and happiness, contentment, and prosperity shall be the lot of all. (Loud and continuous applause)
The meeting concluded with all singing the Red Flag.
Last updated on 21.1.2006