Thursday, October 29, 2015

Class Distinctions and the War - WW1

Article - November 1914

Class Distinctions and The War

Ever since the outbreak of the war the press and politicians have been telling us that all sections of the community have dropped their differences, and that we are now united people.

That would be very nice and comforting if it were true, it is almost as incorrect as to say that as a nation, we are at peace with Germany.

In the first two or three weeks of the war employers of labour brought pressure to bear on eligible youths in their employment to force them into the army, such as could not be enforced on the use of the propertied class.

That game was only stopped by the growing signs of resentment and the fear that serious trouble might arise. 

When the first two or three casualty list appeared, in which were included "officers and men missing" the War Office issued an order intimating that the pay of "missing officers" would be continued, but the pay of privates missing would be discontinued that is a glaring example of class distinction as any that have emerged since war began.

In the matter of providing comfort troops - socks, woollen helmets, and mittens while the women of the middle class have been free to assist in this if they chose, women who were compelled to work for an employer having a large numbers of cases being given no option. In the printing line for instance in girl and women "feeders" between the finish of one job and the start of another have usually some time to wait stop during such waiting time it has been customary for them to do some knitting or selling themselves. It has indeed been necessary in most cases in order to eke out their wages.

Now they are being supplied with wool and told to "go ahead and do something for the soldiers".

In this way the girls employed by a large Glasgow firm have done an average of five pairs of socks, four pairs of mittens and four helmets each, and then they would not be accepted by the firm until the girls had taken them home and watch them.

If the government is so mean as to shirk its undoubted duty to supply all these articles, and most of the girls and women, many of whom have brothers, fathers, sweethearts, and husbands serving in the Army will voluntary do such work, but they want no interference from the employers.

Another case of which we have heard it in connection with another Glasgow firm and the production of flags for one of those numerous "flag days" which look like becoming a permanent feature of organised charity. The girls employed on them were not paid their usual time rate, but were given a special piece rate so low that they could not make a decent wage.

There seemed a danger of trouble over it, but ultimately the girls were put off by being told that it was an "isolated incident" at and at the normal time and that in any case it was "a good cause"

It is about time that we made an effort to stop these "isolated incidents" and the sweating that is going on for "a good cause"

There is no use, however, railing at charity-mongering and all the evils that accompany it unless we are all prepared to be so "unpatriotic" as to demand that the Government assume full responsibility for satisfying in a generous way all those needs which are at present left to the prying and stingy methods of fussy charity mongers.

In the case of banking, shipping, and property interests generally, the Government has been ready to do almost anything it was asked to do, but towards the interests of the mass of the people it has shown a callous indifference, which fully justifies all that socialists have ever said against class rule.

The treatment accorded to the wife's and the dependents of men in the Army and Navy is to put it mildly, absolutely scandalous.

Thousands of them have received practically nothing of their meager separation allowance supposed due to them, While thousands of others - women of spirit have refused to be pauperised by the acceptance of food coupons at the hands of "superior" middle-class women - food coupons which specify what they are, or are not allowed to eat

The demand now being made for adequate maintenance being guarantee to every widow or dependent of men killed or maimed in battle will probably meet with a good deal of opposition from the well-to-do people who are themselves not worried by any sort of semi-starvation.

Already those carrying on the agitation are being termed mercenaries and sneered at as being devoid of patriotism.

Patriotism is quite fitting for those who get all the best in the country can give, but to men who have never even had a guarantee of a bare subsistence it does not appeal overmuch.

It is certainly mercenary to demand a reward for fighting capitalism and the wage system has been responsible for that. The only thing we regret that the demand is so moderate. It ought to be a demand for the expropriation of the capitalist class.

The Socialist November 1914
Socialist Labour Party
15 Renfrew Street, Glasgow