Dora B. Montefiore Justice December 1907

A Happy Christmas!

Source: Justice, 21 December 1907, p. 4;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

I don’t want to be a kill-joy, but I am going to tell, quite simply the story of what Christmas to some of the workers in London will be this “year of grace,” 1907, and as most stories have a moral, I shall point out very briefly what should be moral for workers who are, in any degree class conscious, and show how they might, if they all stood together, help to alter things somewhat before Christmas, 1908.

Last Friday, December 13, a workman I know was paid off from a large firm who do work for Government, and have branches in several parts of London. Twenty-five other men were paid off at the same time. The work this man did was in an upstairs workshop in Finsbury, where a patent machine engraved bank-notes, cheques, and bonds; his hours were from 8 to 7. Below the room where he worked the calicoes used in printing were boiled and cleansed, and the heavy impure fumes of steam from the boiled calicoes filled the shop, and made the work unhealthy. But twenty-four shillings a week keeps the hunger-wolf from the door, so there were always plenty of men ready and willing to sell their labour on the terms offered. Conditions of work are, however, constantly changing, and a new lithographic process for engraving these banknotes and cheques is being introduced; the new machinery has been set up in another part of London, where rents are not so high, and the various grades of workers employed in the old process are to be dismissed. Among those who were paid off last Friday were a man of twenty-six with nine children; a man who had been in the firm 37 years, who is now grey-haired, and who wept as he took his wages for the last time, and realised what was before him and his family; a man of twenty-three who has his mother and younger brothers and sisters to keep; and a man who having been working in the firm for thirty years, remonstrated with the manager at the summary dismissal, and received for answer: “You may think yourself lucky to have been employed all these years.”

I am quite aware that this is only the old, old story of what is going on every week all over England as trade conditions alter, and (new methods and machinery are introduced. But a concrete case at a time when everybody is pretending to be merry and happy because of what took place in Palestine nearly two thousand years ago, may help to set some thinking about what is taking place in England at the present time.

In these twenty-six homes, where the bread winners have been so summarily paid of, will the Christmas, do you think, be a happy or a merry one? And Christmas after Christmas goes by, and still the workers forget to learn the lesson of standing by one another, and demanding with one voice that the capitalist system should cease, and should be succeeded by a system in which the wealth of the country should be made “commonwealth,” and should be produced, distributed and managed for the common weal.

To any working man or woman who may read this, and who has not yet joined a Socialist organisation, I would say, join the Social-Democratic Party at once, and read “Justice” of December 14, one of the most important numbers that have been published for a long time. It contains a copy of the Engineers’ resolution for the Labour Party Conference to be held early next year; if that resolution is carried the Labour Party have in the future a “definite object, the socialisation of means of production, distribution and exchange, to be controlled by a democratic State in the interest of the entire Community.” The same number of “Justice” also contain the manifesto of the Social-Democratic Party question of Universal Adult Suffrage or “Votes for all men and all women.” Many men, workers of the stamp of the 26 of whom I have written as having been paid off so summarily just before Christmas, have no vote, either because, being obliged to move about from place to place in search of work, or because they may, for a time, have been forced (for the sake of a large family depending on them) to accept parish relief, or because, possessing only a lodger or latchkey qualification, they may be thrown off the register by the revising barrister. All these men, with their wives, their mothers, and their daughters, should join heartily this agitation to force the Liberal Government to deal with this franchise question in such democratic fashion that every grown-up man and woman will be put in possession of that constitutional weapon, which, used by the workers with intelligence and solidarity, will help, to overthrow the present capitalist system, with its starving army of unemployed men and women, its shameful army of overworked children, its regiments of hungry school children, and its pitiful rearguard of worn-out workers, left to the tender mercies of the relieving officer.

Workers who are dissatisfied with the present state of things should come out into the street and demonstrate for votes for all men and all women!