From Workers’ International News, Vol.3 No.3, March 1940, pp.3-5.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
It is an irrefutable fact that during a war or a depression, the rich add to their wealth whilst the poor add to their poverty.
The Board of Trade figures for wholesale food prices for October last year showed an increase of 20%. Cotton prices increased by 26% and wool 12½%. The Ministry of Labour estimate of the increased cost of living, including rent, clothes, etc., on February 1st was over 13¼% above that of September 1st 1939.
The spokesmen of the bourgeoisie demand sacrifices from the masses, and blame increased wages for the soaring prices. An examination of the meagre increases gained by the workers will prove that this is a lie.
The shipyard workers who claimed 10/- a week increase received 5/-. The same applies to the engineers (including railway shopmen) and grade one haulage workers. With the exception of the London butchers who were granted 10/- a week war bonus, this miserable 5/- a week represents the highest recorded gain, if we ignore the insignificant number of cinema workers whose increases since the war vary from 3/6 to 15/- a week and the railwaymen with whom we deal later.
The increases granted to the Transport workers tell the same story; 140,000 adult employees of municipally and company owned passenger undertakings received 4/- a week increase, 50,000 operatives of Herbert Morrison’s much lauded: “socialist” enterprise, the LPTB enjoy the benefits of socialism to the extent of an additional 1d. an hour for males and ¾d. for females.
The miners have had 1/1 a shift added to their miserable pittances, in the case of youths 4d. a shift. Blast-furnacemen and coke workers have fared even worse, 8d. a shift being their additional reward.
Grades 2 and 3 haulage workers gained 4/- and 3/- a week respectively, the railworkers got 50/- a week minimum in London and 48/- and 47/- in the provinces and rural areas with an additional 1/- a day for engine drivers, the first instalment of their share of the “square deal.” The second instalment stripped of all its trappings, boils down to 4/- a week increase for the higher paid grades and 1/- to 2/- for the others.
In the textile trades increases vary only in their niggardliness; 19,000 to meet a 13% increase in the coat of living, received a five percent war bonus. The miserably paid cotton operatives, who demanded 20% increase, received 12%. In the cotton waste trade, male workers were given an, extra 1/4 per hour and females ¾d. whilst hosiery operatives got 1d. in the shilling (8%). 200,000 garment workers got 1½d. an hour instead of the 15% for which they asked.
In the pottery industry 700,000 male, female and youth workers got an additional 8d., 6d., and 4d. a day respectively and day workers, weekly bonuses of 3/- (males) and 2/- (females) except where a smaller bonus will bring the wage up to 56/- a week.
The furniture and building trade operatives have had two increases an hour, but this is small consolation, for the 200 of the latter who are unemployed. Book and shoe operatives and repairers have received increases ranging from 1/6 to 3/- a week.
Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd, foremost among the war beneficiaries, have magnanimously increased the wages of their employees by 1/- to 2/- a week, electricians have got an extra 3/6 a week and municipal employees of the London County end Metropolitan Borough Councils have received 10% increase.
These miserable additions to the inadequate wages of the workers listed above are the sum total of those sufficiently important to be published in the press which is so anxious to show how much better off we are than our German counterparts.
Millions of workers whose poverty has been intolerably increased by the rising prices, have received no increase at all. Engineering clerks, civil Servants and dyers have had their demands met with a blank refusal, agricultural workers have not been given an extra penny. Seamen too have been refused an increase and it is interesting in view of this to note a remark in the Sunday Express on October 1st 1939:
“In the last war it was well known that one of the quickest ways to become a mushroom millionaire was to go into shipping. The same thing is true today.”
And not only because of the added profits from increased freight charges. The sale of second-hand ships is also a lucrative sideline. A ship sold in December 1938 for £15,250 brought £33,000 in September 1939, two tank ships which realised only £13,000 in 1932 were sold, after war broke out, for £58,000, whilst the price, of a tanker offered for sale before the war for £90,000 was increased after the war began to £144,000. Limitations of space prevent amplification of these few examples. It should also be noted that these transactions do not come within the scope of the Excess Profits Tax.
Amongst the greatest sufferers under war conditions are the 3,000,000 old age pensioners. Apart from the few wives who will benefit from the lower age limit, the new legislation leaves the aged in the same sorry plight. Ten shillings a week remains, their reward for 50 years service to the capitalist state. It is revealing to note in passing that this only applies to the toilers. High Court Judges receive £67 a week old age pension, County Court Judges and Vice-Admirals £20, Field Marshals £32, Admirals and Generals £21 and Chief Constables £18.
Let us now see how the bankers and capitalists are faring under war conditions. By December 19th 1939 orders for over £234,000,000 had been placed by the Minister of Supply. Of this at least £100,000,000 will be taken by these parasites in the form of rent, interest, dividends and individual profits. It has been estimated that £350 to £400 million of every £850 million spent by the Ministry will be taken in these forms by the vociferous advocates of “equality of sacrifice”. ££3,000 millions is the estimated annual cost of the war to Britain. When we consider the percentage of this will, go in rent, interest and profit, we have no reason to believe that, the owners of the “big five” banks who raked in £8,253,000 net profit in 1939 will fare any worse in 1940. This also goes for the machine tool makers. In the three years prior to the war (1935-1938) seven firms made a total profit of over 400%.
The Government of the bankers and capitalists are, of course, taking steps to prevent profiteering. Their efforts to date have resulted in a fine of £25 being imposed on a Birmingham firm of iron and steel stockholders and an Aldgate greengrocer who charged 20% too much for potatoes was penalised to the tune of 20/-.
The price control and excess profits taxation are a hollow mockery, a facade set up to deceive the workers. The Treasury has now decided to conceal its expenditure on the armed forces from Parliament. And for good reasons, for money is being squandered just as in the last war. The cost of erecting militia camps in one area was over £300 per head of militiamen and the war office-paid £15,000 for a sewage contract which the local authorities were going to carry out before the war for £9,075. These are just two examples.
For the oppressed masses who are called upon to spill their blood and pay the £6½ million a day, war is a terrible thing. For the exploiters, whose scramble for markets and profits has caused the conflict, war is a terribly profitable thing.
The burden of increasing misery which the war has placed on the overloaded shoulders of the oppressed will be aggravated as the war proceeds, until it extends beyond the limits of endurance. When this stage is reached, the burden will be flung off by those who bear it and the system responsible for its imposition will give place to a new social order in which these contradictions can find no place. The length of the intervening period cannot be determined now. It will be decided by the masses themselves.
Last updated on 29.10.2005