From Workers’ International News, Vol.1 No.6, June 1938, p.7-9.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The steady drop in United States production, the so-called “recession”, has been continuing unabated for the past half year. According to the figures published by the American Federation of Labour, which takes to a conservative and cautious attitude in its computations, the number of unemployed in America is now 11,232,000. The number of business failures is almost double that of a year ago.
In Britain also, ominous signs appear of the extension of the slump, warnings of another world depression. Compared to the figures of a year ago the estimated cost of building plans approved last month showed a drop of more than 20%. In the same period, British imports have dropped 11.2% and exports 13.4%; most striking of all, rayon output has fallen 22.7% below the figures of last year. Gross railway receipts are down this year by half a million sterling. If the industrial decline which is indicated by these statistics has not so far shown itself in a sharp increase in unemployment figures, the cause must be sought on the one hand in the recruiting drive for the regular army, which now absorbs between six and seven hundred recruits every week, and on the other hand, in the increased employment in the armaments industries. As productive industry slumps to lower levels day by day, the workers are drawn into the unproductive trades of soldiering and arms manufacture. The worker is exchanging his overalls for a uniform, instead of producing the means of life he is set to work producing the means of death, but in any case he is kept away from the Labour Exchange, and the figures of unemployment, which show an increase of more than 200,000 over last year, do not reveal the real extent of the decay of industry which is setting in throughout Britain.
The increasing shift from production to war preparations is also shown in the movements of capital. For the first quarter of last year new capital issues totalled £49,505,000. This year they total £33,000,000. Just as manpower is drafted from production to war preparation, so also is capital drawn away into financing the defence loans. The national debt approaches £8,600,000,000 and the burden of interest which must be paid out of taxes piles up with the piling up of rearmaments and emergency stores of food and raw materials.
British Imperialism, menaced from the outside by impoverished rivals, is also menaced from within by a growing economic paralysis which it prepares to counteract by the traditional capitalist remedy of savage wage-cuts. Although during the first three months of this year wage increases were obtained by more than two million workers, increases swallowed up by the rising cost of living, during April wage-cuts were imposed on 330,000 workers.
In spite of the turn towards a wage cutting policy, the workers in the large trade unions are pressing forward with demands for increased pay, shorter hours and better conditions. The three railway unions submitted on May 19th their demands: a minimum weekly wage of £2.10.0 is claimed by the National Union of Railwaymen; the Locomotive crews demand a scaled wage minimum based on terms of service; the Railway Clerks claim an increase of £20 per annum on maximum salaries plus £10 London allowance. Simultaneously the engineering and shipbuilding unions have decided to present to employers their demands for higher wages, shorter hours, closed shops, paid holidays, and abolition of the present grading system of wage rates. While the bourgeoisie, whipped on by declining traffic and trade, commences an onslaught to worsen workers’ conditions, the workers confront them with a counter-offensive for better conditions. The inevitable clash draws close.
The approach of the storm is by no means unanticipated by the ruling class. It is not for nothing that the subject of civil war in Britain has formed a topic of sober discussion among them. A few weeks ago, insurance companies announced that civil war risks were among those specifically excluded in new policies for Britain and we recollect that in the army manoeuvres of last year, conducted on the supposition that a civil war was in progress in Britain, forces were supposed to be converging on London from bases in Scotland and Wales, which are, perhaps by coincidence, strongholds of militant labour. Even if these circumstances are considered as mere echoes of the Spanish civil war, there remains the fact that the newly organised food supply units, supposedly set up “in case of national emergency” are powerful weapons for the ruling class in breaking a general strike, and so far, no call has been issued to the general population to take part in them as has been done in the case of the parallel air raid precautions units. The officers to administer “emergency” food supplies are selected in each area from the local government service.
The machinery to impose upon the working class by force lowered standards of life remains in the background to be used only in the last resort At the head of the trade unions there still stands the bureaucrats, faithful servants to their capitalist masters, ready to explain to the workers, as they have done before, that it is necessary for them to accept wage-cuts in view of the downward trend of trade, or in view of the precarious international situation. It is only when the efforts of these strike-breakers within the workers’ movement are ineffective that the employers turn to more violent strikebreaking methods.
More dangerous than the reformist trade union leaders are the Stalinists who are increasingly penetrating the trade union movement and utilising the prestige of militant trade unionists who support them, for the purpose of carrying out their treacherous political aims. The Stalinists aim to obtain the leadership of the growing wave of militancy in the trade unions in order to bargain with the Government. The Daily Worker urges engineering workers not to support the arms programme of the Government as long as it adheres to its present foreign policy, and openly demands, as the price for supporting war preparations, that the British Government enters into a pact with the Soviet Union. The British ruling class would only make such a pact if its own capitalist interests were served thereby. For a workers’ party to support imperialist war-preparations under any circumstances is treachery to the international working class, and the policy of the Communist Party of Great Britain serves only to force German workers to rally behind Hitler in sheer self-defence.
The mouthing of militant phrases now indulged in by the Stalinists is only another means of bringing pressure to bear on the National Government through the trade unions. They are equally well prepared to damp down the workers’ struggle, to advise moderation of workers’ demands as the French Stalinists did, just as soon as the National Government shows signs of yielding to their pressure.
Workers in the trade unions, in pressing forward with demands for improved conditions, must not permit their struggle to be side-tracked and exploited for the treacherous political ends of Stalinism. While the capitalist enemy confronts the worker, Stalinism stands in the ranks of the proletariat, now shouting encouraging slogans, but ready at a moment’s notice to strike the worker down from behind.
Capitalism with its reformist and Stalinist protectors, guides the workers only to death – a swift death in war or a slower yet no less deadly destruction in economic depression. For the working class the path to life is barred and remains barred until the obstacle is smashed out of the way. To-day’s struggles for better conditions of work are but the first stages in the revolutionary task of clearing the road ahead for the workers’ triumphant march into the new world of peace and plenty – the world of socialism.
Last updated on 11.9.2005