From Socialist Review, Vol. 3 No. 2, May 1953 (Special May Edition).
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
If there’s a war, you must work harder, if there’s an export drive, you must work harder. If there’s an economic crisis, then you must work harder. Whatever problems confront Britain can be easily solved. The answer is simple: WORKERS MUST WORK HARDER.
Of course, this might prove difficult if you are one of the increasing number of unemployed. But then when your drawing your 32s. 6d. at the Labour Exchange don’t become embittered. Surely it will gladden your heart to think of another man working harder and trying to do your job as well as his won? Then there’s that fine and noble character the boss. Reflect on how he’s saved paying your wages because he has got one man to do two men’s work.
All this is so obvious that one would consider it hardly necessary to extol the virtues of increased productivity. Unfortunately that is not the case. Workers seem suspicious of the plans to make them work harder. Consequently the Tory Government intends to enlighten them. They have recently begun a big publicity campaign, and hope to form Production Committees in 105 towns. Their job will be to stimulate enthusiasm and spread knowledge.
The whole plan got off to an encouraging start. It received the benediction of the big three of industry. First to speak at the opening ceremony was Mr R.A. Butler, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He thinks increased production pays good dividends – and who should know better than him? Besides being Chancellor, he finds time to be a director of Courtaulds, the big rayon firm that increases its profits – but not its wages – with monotonous regularity. When, with the textile recession, the demand for rayon goods slackened, many workers at Courtaulds’ factories were unemployed. But profits were not affected. Last year dividends rose four per cent and net profits jumped from £3,815,000 to £7,920,000.
The second speaker, Sir Peter Bennett, represented the most powerful employers organisation in Britain, the Federation of British Industries. They are, of course, all in favour of increased work – so long as it is not them who are expected to do it! Sir Peter is no socialist. He does not advocate the principle that all able-bodied men who do not work should not eat. For if this ever applied, it would be a first-rate catastrophe for the FBI. It would result in more people dying of starvation at Bournemouth than at Bihar in India – and they would all be FBI members.
Although it would expand the working population or reduce the number of parasites – so that the burden of increased work could be more equitably shared out – Sir Peter does not aim at increased productivity this way. No, so long as Sir Peter has his way the idle rich will always remain in perfect idleness and the FBI’s slogan will be: Workers must work harder, but capitalists need not work at all.
For this objective to be achieved, workers must be provided with incentives. These must be carefully selected. Sir Peter and his friends only consider those where the benefit received by the workers will be far less than the inflated profits accruing to capitalists. The FBI hopes that the workers, like a set of dim-witted donkeys, will focus their whole attention on the elusive carrots, marked incentives, that are dangled before their noses and overlook the large profit that the capitalists have made from their exertions.
Should the workers see – and it is becoming increasingly difficult to miss – the ever-widening discrepancy between the value of the goods produced and the money they take home in their pay packets, then they must be told that they are making a sacrifice in the national interest. Everything can be justified that way. The only difficulty is that they never explain why it is always the workers, the section of the community least able to make sacrifices, that are always called upon to do so.
One might have expected that the workers’ representatives on this unholy trinity would have pointed this out. But Mr Lincoln Evans, of the TUC, was too tired. His brow was covered with lines of lassitude and languitude because he had spent so many gruelling hours remonstrating with Mr Ted Hill, General Secretary of the Boilermakers’, for saying to a London productivity conference: “If the conference expects to increase production without the workers getting something from it, then they are a bunch of fools.”
The TUC General Council’s criticism of this statement of Ted Hill implies that the workers must be prepared to increase productivity without getting something out of it. If this is what they mean, they are being truthful for once. But let us ask Lincoln Evans and his learned colleagues a question: Would the capitalist class be prepared to permit increased production if it did not get something profitable out of it? If the answer was “yes”, it would mean the end of the high monopolies and combines that restrict production to keep prices – and profits – high. Thirty thousand tons worth of fish would not be dumped back in the sea each year; fruit would not be left to rot on the trees in the Vale of Evesham; and housewives would find the cost of living problem much less acute.
But all this would mean interfering with the profit-making system – and that would never be allowed. Working class youths can be conscripted and sent to the Korean slaughter-house or to do British imperialism’s dirty work in Africa, but you can’t conscript wealth. Profit-making, not human life, is sacred. Workers can fall on the battlefield while the profits of arms barons continue t rise. And if you want to know the reason why Butler, Bennett, Lincoln Evans, Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all will tell you: “It’s in the national interest.”
Last updated: 18 February 2017