Source: “Burn Bradbury and Down with Prices”, The Call, 27 November 1919, p.1, ( 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 Board of Trade “Labour Gazette” has just informed us that retail prices for October were 131 per cent. higher than in July, 1914, a rise of 9 per cent. since September. This rapid rise is likely to be continued despite Government rumours that prices will fall after the New Year. In fact, we may take it that this hint is but to disarm Labour so as to allow further price increases right on till Spring’s return.
To this conclusion we are entitled to come when we realise that the net result of the heralded Profiteering Act has, been a rapid rise in prices, whilst honest people were led to conclude that the Act would limit prices if not reduce them.
Further, we are entitled to advise the working-class not to believe the Government nor the capitalist class. The only way to win anything from Labour’s enemy is to fight for it.
Labour in September rallied to the railwaymen in the fight to keep up the money wage, and won.
Now Labour must fight to reduce prices, and win.
Prices to-day are usually compared with those prevailing in July, 1914: but to get a proper view of the real income, not the paper income, of the working-class we must go back to the retail prices of the foodstuffs consumed by the workers in 1896.
The Board of Trade has taken the retail prices of twenty-three of the principal articles of food in London since 1895. If the average price of these for 1900 be represented by the index number 100, then the number was 92 for 1896, the year we have selected as the starting point. In July, 1914, the number was 116, and in October, 1919, it was approximately 268.
This means that the housewife to-day has to spend 268 pence to buy 116 penceworth in July, 1914, 100 penceworth in 1900, and 92 penceworth in 1896.
In other words, it means that she has to pay 43 to-day to get the same quantity of food as 41 would purchase in 1896. We must not talk of quality!
Were we to include coal, clothing, and other articles needed to keep a family going the difference would be even greater. The Board of Trade provides us with no retail price record to cover these items, but it provides us with the wholesale prices of forty-seven articles. The food section rises from too in 1900 to 262 in 1918, whereas for all the articles the rise is from 100 to 270. The general index number for 1896 was 88.
If the retail prices of the same articles rose at the same rate, then the housewife would have to spend 282 pence to-day for 92 pence in 1896; or £3 1s. 4d. instead of £1.
On this latter calculation the minimum wage of 51s. secured by the railwaymen is worth only about 16s. 6d. in 1896; or 17s. at most. Yet the Government used all the resources of the State to beat down that miserable wage!
Were we to take the wholesale index number of “The Economist” as an indication of the rise in the cost of living, we would find a greater difference still.
Against 90 in 1896 we must place 309 in October, 1910; or, we must spend 43 8s. 8d. to-day for every pound in 1896.
Taking rates, wage-taxes, and rent into consideration as well as other household outlays, we can safely conclude that the cost of living is fully thrice as high as it was in 1896.
No one will be bold enough to assert that wages generally have trebled within the same period. On the average the wages of the workers within that period have just about doubled. It follows, then, that the living of Labour has fallen in the last twenty-four years despite two wars for “freedom” — the Boer War and the “Great” War.
The only course open to Labour is the absolute destruction of capitalism, as is being worked out in Russia. The way to victory must be through prosecution of the class struggle; and in connection with this struggle Labour must see that the living of the workers is raised either by raising wages or lowering prices, or both.
The fight for higher wages is a sectional one even inside the ranks of the five million organised wage-earners. The unorganised get little or no benefit and can therefore be pitted against the organised.
On the other hand, a fight for lower prices involves all organised workers at the same time, and favourably affects the unorganised with the consequent possibility of bringing them within the rank of the organised. From a class point of view, then, the fight for lower prices is the better course, especially as many workers have had wages stabilised till September, 1920.
Furthermore, the way to decreased prices gives less opportunity to “the increased production stunt” than the claim for higher wages.
Since the war the Government has brought into being about £340 millions of paper money for ordinary circulation, mainly in the form of John Bradburys. Before the war the gold and, the bank notes needed to circulate wealth amounted perhaps to no more than £150 millions. This increase in paper money above the £150 millions is the principal cause of the high prices. The same took place during the Napoleonic Wars — a flood of paper money and high prices.
When gold payment was resumed in 1819 prices began to fall. Labour’s cry, then, ought to be:— “Burn Bradbury” not the man, but his effigy composed of Treasury notes.
If these notes were burned and gold payments resumed, supported as before by the usual bank notes, prices would at once fall to half their present level. Therefore, let the Labour campaign have as its slogan:— “Burn Bradbury.”
If prices come down wages cannot be broken except at the risk of revolution.
Lord Milner expressed this fear in the Lords the other day, and hence favoured the keeping up of prices.
“Burn Bradbury and Down With Prices,” must be our reply to the Milners.