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Paul G. Stevens

In the World of Labor

(14 January 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 2, 14 January 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

News Briefs from France

By a decree issued November 15, working hours are increased to 72 per week, with a maximum of 14 hours set per day. For women and children, the limit is set at 60 hours per week and 10 hours per day!

It must be remembered, in addition, that the lengthening of the work week and day doesn’t at all make for a larger pay envelope. Through a complicated system of overtime-pay-taxes and wage-taxes, the essential features of which we described in a previous column, the French worker now gets the same pay for 60 hours of work that he received for 40 hours before the outbreak of the war.

Strikes are, of course, outlawed. But, more than that, revisions in wage rates can be made only by government decree.

The shop steward system has been abolished. The men can no longer elect their representatives. They may be represented only by officials of the “loyal” trade unions – that is, unions that have been purged, with police aid, of all “nonconformist” elements.

The difference in working conditions under the French “democracy” and the Nazi dictatorship is practically at the vanishing point.

* * *

We mentioned here last week that the agitation of the bourgeois “pacifists” like Flandin, de Monzie and Bonnet is tolerated by the government. The same situation holds true, we learn, also for the Paul Faure wing of the French Socialist Party (S.F.I.O.). It must be remembered that Paul Faure hailed the “Munich” peace. On the other hand, the Leon Blum wing of the party, although completely patriotic, is being harassed by the authorities. Some of its most prominent members are being sent to the front. Blum was, of course, militantly “anti-Munich”. All of which would seem to indicate that the Daladier regime, on the fence most of the time, is at the least leaving the door open towards the conclusion of a truce with Germany, in order to direct its guns elsewhere.

Troubles of the British Empire

Latest to stir rebelliously against the Union Jack are the lowly Lascars, those native East Indian seamen who are the backbone of British shipping in the Far East.

The Lascars are simply walking off the ships when they reach ports which seem to them to be approaching the war zone. They are intent not to shed one drop of blood for the Empire.

Thus, in Sydney, Australia, Lascar crews who had quit refused 100 per cent increases in pay and preferred to remain on the beach. The government had to import, by airplane from Calcutta, a certain Khan Bahadur Fazlul Karim – a native “strong” man – to break their resistance. However, he has met only with partial success. Despite his presence, a Lascar crew held a public demonstration in Sydney at the end of November, declaring its firm intention to stay out of the war and demanding relief pending repatriation to India.

“There is no doubt in my mind,” Mr. Fazlul explained to the Australian press, “that powerful influences have been at work somewhere to prevent the Lascars from going about their duties in the ordinary way ... We must not forget that it was they, largely, who kept the sea routes open by serving loyally in the Great War.”

Can it be that the experience resulting from “serving loyally” – the continued enslavement of India – has something to do with the “powerful influences” at work?

* * *

Under pressure from the labor ranks, who have en masse defeated the government’s voluntary recruiting drive, the Australian Labor Party has officially gone on record against conscription and “against the despatch of forces overseas.” The leaders of the party are having difficulties, steering a course of social patriotism in which they cannot go the whole hog.

* * *

“Wheatgrowers in Victoria and Western Australia say they are determined not to deliver their wheat unless the Commonwealth government agrees to increase the guaranteed price.” – item in the Sydney Herald.

The farmers are falling in line with what appears to be a pretty definite movement to give the British rulers a pack of headaches.

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