The Worker January 1916

Compulsion and Efficiency

Source: The Worker no. 4, 29 January 1916 p. 7, by E.M.;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Nothing was more significant in Mr. Lloyd George’s St. Andrew’s Hall speech than his adumbration of the methods by which the Government intended to carry out their policy of dilution. We have decided that such and such has to be done to increase the supply of munitions, he said in effect: It is for you, the Clyde workers, to carry out our decisions. Not the faintest sign did he evince of a desire to give Labour a voice in the national deliberations most concerning Labour both at home and at the front. The Government has said what it has said, so went the oracle of compulsion; you may think the Government has blundered, yet you must carry out what it commands or be damned to the hell of fractricides. Mr. Lloyd George, in plain English, was at his old game of putting the workers in the wrong. We know now what was the reply of the Clyde workers to the debating point which he raised. They retorted first, with considerations, showing that the Government’s policy of dilution would not increase the supply of munitions, but would, on the contrary, merely breed discontent among the workers; second, and as a consequence of the first, with a disavowal of all responsibility for the shedding of the blood of their brothers at the front; and, third, with an alternative scheme to the Government’s, by means of which they held that the manufacture a munitions would be very substantially accelerated. We know also what was the reply by the Minister of Munitions to these arguments: it was the conscription of Men Act. The question, nevertheless, remains, whether the Government were wise from their own self-abrogated standpoint of patriotism in repulsing the counsel and co-operation of the Clyde workers, while adopting what has indubitably become a policy of compulsion.

The point upon which a Government determined at all costs to win the war should concentrate, is very obviously the point of efficiency. In fact, it must be admitted that the present Government have never tired in saying as much; but it must also be added that they appear never to have attempted to discover how efficiency may be attained, or to have had any definite conception of the nature of efficiency. That system of production is efficient which gets out of a given quantum of labour, machinery and raw material, the maximum output. It is to some extent a matter of organisation, and this the Government appear to have recognised in a partial way; it is also, however, a question of spirit, and this the Government seem to have forgotten, if, indeed, they ever knew it, and while organisation is not overlooked by the Clyde workers; while; on the contrary, they have thought out a system of organisation which will express and make effective their spirit (the other ingredient in efficiency); at the present moment it is perhaps best to insist how necessary is the existence of spirit, and how impossible it is to get efficient work out of spiritless and unwilling workmen. On the Clyde at the present time, the most important fact for the Government is the temper of the men. To adopt a saying of Carlyle’s, it is easy to make constitutions a la George; the frightful difficulty is to get men to come and work in them. Mr. Lloyd George’s Acts and regulations are imposed from without. They do not express the desires of the workmen, however patriotic these may be. On the contrary, they are antagonistic to the deep-set will of the proletariat; they engender discontent and discouragement; and they create, by their own operation, the very slackers whom their author, like the unskilful potter has then the effrontery to punish and condemn. The compulsory Munitions Act brought in by Lloyd George, has been the fruitful parent of inefficiency in production, and he may be sure of this, that the more he extends compulsion the greater will the inefficiency become. Man cannot be made enthusiastic by compulsion, and enthusiasm is the mainspring of efficiency.

On the face of it, compulsion in industry has failed disastrously, and will continue to fail more disastrously. What is the duty, therefore, of a presumably patriotic Government? The answer is simple: There is nothing left now, save to conscript capital. That capital should have escaped so long is a crime against the men who are fighting, as well as a searching interrogation mark to the patriotism of the Government. For capital can be conscripted easily, without any of the loss in efficiency which would inevitably follow the attempted conscription of Labour, but, on the contrary, with an increase in efficiency beyond the dreams even of the Minister of Munitions. For there is this difference to be noted between Capital and Labour, that the former is something discrete from its owner, which can be conscripted without at the same time conscripting him, whereas the latter is embodied in the brain and hands of its possessor and cannot be compelled without drawing him along with it. Conscription of Labour, in fact, is simply conscription of the labourer, and needs, therefore, the consent and cooperation of the labourer. Capital, however, has, as such, no spiritual qualities: it cannot consent or rebel, or become restive. The capitalist, it is true, can do so, but that is an irrelevant consideration, because the capitalist can be separated from capital. Such a separation, it is clear, is desirable in the interests of efficiency. Make capital a national possession, give Labour a share in the control of industry under the supreme direction of the State, and production will go up by leaps and bounds. For the first condition of efficiency is that the workers should not merely work, but work with all their will and power. That will and power is at the service of their country at any time, but it is not at the beck and call of these unscrupulous patriots who make their 50 per cent. and 100 per cent. out of the nation’s peril. Between working for the community and working for a capitalist there is all the difference involved in doing gladly what you wish to do, and being compelled to do unwillingly and grudgingly what you hate to do. In short, there is the difference between efficiency and inefficiency.

Compulsion has failed; therefore, says Mr. Lloyd George, let us have more compulsion. It is in vain, apparently, that the Clyde workers have striven to make him understand their demands. His understanding is centred on nothing except knowledge concerning the department of production which he administers. Certainly the impression left with the Chide workers after his recent visit, is that he not only did not know what he was talking about, but that he could, or would not, understand even what they had to tell him. On grounds of pure reason he was outdone and eclipsed, for against the reason of the Clyde risen he had nothing to oppose but sentiment. The truth is that he is wed to compulsion, and reason will not divorce him from it. Consider what he has already done to shatter the alleged national unity of which he is such a vociferous protector. The list of offences is a heavy one. To have jeopardised the safety of the country in its time of greatest crisis, to have invited an industrial revolt in the midst of a national war, to have attempted the inauguration of the Servile State at the moment when the country is supposed to be fighting for freedom; all these crimes and blunders can be laid to the charge of Mr. Lloyd George; and all committed to stave off the patriotic claims of the worker, and save for the last time the corrupt profiteering system! Yet after this record of miscalculation and ineptitude, he has the disingenuousness (to say the least of it), to come to the Clyde and lay publicly at the door of the Clyde workers the guilt for the shedding of their mates’ blood at the front. That accusation was unjust and false, and Mr. Lloyd George, politician, though he is knows it. So far are the Clyde workers from desiring a diminution of output that they have drawn up a scheme whereby they hold that the output of munitions will be enormously increased. But what stands between this plan and its embodiment in practice? No-one but Mr. Lloyd George and the Government, along with their friends the capitalists! These are the men who should be blamed for the shortage of munitions. These are the men who will not even listen to any scheme for expediting production, if by any chance it threatens rent, interest and profits. Efficiency, they are constantly saying, must be secured if we are to win the war with the minimum loss of life. Efficiency, the Clyde workers reply, can be secured if capital is conscripted, profits are abolished and the workers given a share in the control of their industry. With Mr. Lloyd George and the Government, therefore, lies at present, the decision whether efficiency is to be attained and the men at the front are to be amply supplied with ammunition. If they decide against efficiency, it will be a crime against the men, not only in their present vocation as soldiers, but also in their future vocation as workers; for if the schemes of Mr. Lloyd George reach fruition, those who are not fortunate enough to lose their life for freedom at the front will return to spend the remainder of it here in slavery. The prospect is not to be endured, and if the Government continue much longer to cherish capital at the expense of labour, of victory, and of freedom, it is certain that a rude lesson on patriotism is in store for them.


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The Clyde Workers’ Committee meets every Saturday at 4.30 p.m. in the Good Templars’ Hall, Ingram Street, Glasgow.