Only A National PLAN Can Save ritish Industry Fro Complete Chaos
ICONCLUDED my article last week by describing the conditions of Labour in the building trade which has a strong asset in that the industry is still growing. This cannot be claimed for coal-mining, which next to building absorbs the greatest number of juveniles. In July, 1937, 77,740 male workers in our coal-mines were under 18, this being 8.7 per cent. of the total so employed.
Despite the strength of the IVIiners' Federation, the falling off of our export trade, coupled with new mechanised methods of coal cutting, have played havoc with the personnel of this dangerous and ill-paid trade. The average weekly Wage earned by the coal miners in Great Britain, according to a recent statement by the Minister of Mines, was under 50s. a week.15 It is interesting that the tonnage of coal raised per person employed has increased from 253 tons in 1931 to 289 in 1935.16 345,000 Fewer Miners Than In 1923 The total number of workers has declined in the coal industry from 1,243,580 in 1923 to 898,690 in 1937. Unemployment, despite this drastic reduction, varies between 11 per cent. and 34 per cent., while those in the pits arc frequently on short time. Yet in 1935-6-7 respectively there were 33,230, 30,670 and 30,090 boys who teft school and became miners.17 It is significant that England is one of the few countries where boys of 14 are allowed to go down the pits.
Dismissal at 21 is quite common, and with the steady advance of mechaoisation the ratio of juveniles to adults in the mines
now varies between 2:1 and 6:1. No wonder the Ministry of Labour states that there is a " persistent shortage of juveniles willing to enter the coal mining industry "!18 Printing is Brighter
The picture so far has been one of almost unrelieved gloom, and just to refresh ourselves a little we will turn to the printing industries, one of the few bright spots in our survey.
An expanding industry, the printing and allied trades embrace some 172,000 male workers, of whom 14.4 per cent. are under 18. The great majority of these, however, are properly indentured apprentices, with futures as assured as our crazy economic system can make any of us assured.
Powerful trade unions and strong employers' feredations, after years of bitter strife, have learned, if not to love one another in true Scriptural fashion. at any rate to respect each other's viewpoints. Today, in these trades, entry is rigidly controlled by joint comrtiittees of workers and masters. Only a certain number of apprentices arc allowed to be recruited annually.
Broadly speaking, Ahe ratio is kept at one apprentice kh feihr adult journeymen receiving full rates, and this eminently sensible arrangement knocks the cheap labour racket on the head. It must be remembered, however, that in favour of the printing trade is its so far uninterrupted prosperity, and the fact that despite the coming of mechanical composition and other developments. it remains essentially a skilled trade. Such repetitive work that exists in it. mainly on the binding side, is done by female labour, which is not at all well paid on the whole, no doubt in some measure due to the feminine apathy towards trade unionism.
Decay in Textiles Next on our list comes textiles, the production of cotton and woollen goods which together answered for 28,000 male operatives under 18 in July, 1937.
Both these industries. symbolised by the Woolsack as the source of England's greatness, are 'today in a dire state of chaos and decay. Loss of foreign markets, cheap imported textiles from the Orient, and also changes in our social habits as regards clothes, these causes have played havoc with our staple industries.
In the cotton trade alone, goods exported in 1910 amounted to 7.057,000,000 yards. In 1935 it was 1,949,000,000 yards. " Rationalism," with State aid, is proceeding, which, when completed, will probably render about 90,000 workers in the cotton trade redundant.19 Cheap girl labour prevails; of the 432,500 insured operatives in 1937, 281,280, or 65 per cent. of them, were women.
Unemployment varied between 10 per cent. and 15 per cent. last year, and yet we find that the cotton trade is yet another source of worry to the Ministry of Labour. which wants more juvenile operatives, and states that to meet the shortage (!) special attention is to he given to the recruiting of " learners."w The facts speak for themselves, and if they don't the Duchess of Atholl made sure the cat should come right out of the bag when she opposed the third reading of the last Education Bill on the grounds that there were . . . many machines at present standing idle for the want of these small fingers to work them."21
It is only necessary to add that for an adult male worker in the cotton industry to earn as much as 40s. a week is a rarity, to realise that there is a great deal of native shrewdness in those of our northern youth who are fighting shy of the mills.
Messengers and Agriculture
This is an article and not a book, and for that reason it is not possible to examine all crafts and trades in detail. The occupational census of 1931 showed that there were 109,715 boy messengers aged 14-15 and 47,244 aged 16-17. Very few of these youths will have found that their jobs have got them anywhere. Then there is agriculture-the backbone of the national economy, at the zenith of a career in which You may earn £2 a week. There were 78,500 juveniles (both sexes) estimated as insured workers in agriculture in July, 1937, and the Ministry of Labour is finding difficulty in many cases to entice youth on to the land-our greatest heritage.
Sufficient has been said to show that our major industries, those absorbing at least 60 per cent. of our young boys, are rapidly becoming spheres which in the main are only offering what is in official parlance termed " non-progressive employment," not infrequently providing what is for schoolleavers a high initial wage, but holding out neither chances of promotion or security of tenure.
In 1932 the Ministry of Labour cornmented on the problems resultant upon the changed conditions of industry.
. mechanisation of so many pro
cesses formerly done by hand, the rapid development of girls' labour in the factories in preference to that of boys', the recent introduction of mass production . . . What was considered safe and steady employment in the past is rapidly becoming less skilled owing to the introduction of machinery. and, owing to its lesser skilled nature, more uncertain in its tenure."
Subsequent reports commented on " the flow of young labour away from the older basic industries" and its increasing tendency to gyrate towards distribution and the newer semi-luxury trades. There are plenty of other reports, official and unofficial. which corroborate the gravity of the problem and the prevalence today of the non-progressive job.
70 per cent. Have No Prospects
But sufficient has been said now to bear out the assertion made at the commencement of this article, that round about 70 per cent. of our youth today is faced with prospects of nothing but a low wage job for life, if indeed not the unemployment queue.
So what? What of Our Great Democracy now? What of That Big Wide Open Door of Opportunity?
Yes, I know, opportunities still exist. In our vast State services such as the Post Office, for instance. But don't be too insistent on that, my dear Mrs. SmytheBeauchamp, because the brutal truth about these services is that entry to them is now virtually limited, in the majority of instances, to secondary scholars, who constitute about 15 per cent. only of our school leavers. Moreover, the keen competition for these jobs has made the examiners set a standard for the entrance examinations often so ridiculously high that nothing less than a University training is required to pass them, which cuts the potential 15 per cent. to 24 per cents the percentage of our scholars who get to these august institutions in these days of equal opportunity (!)
But, of course, there's always the Army. True, Colonel Peppah, but in the first case about 50 per cent. of those who do apply to enlist are rejected as physically unfit, a wonderful commentary on our social system when one comes to think of it, and of those who do get in a great many find themselves hack on the labour market at the end of seven years.
National Plan Needed No-the solution to the problem can be summed up in one word-PLANNING. National planning. Planning of our labour supply so as to avoid waste.
Planning of incoming labour already exists in theory in the machinery of our Juvenile Advisory Committees and Juvenile Transference Schemes, the former intended to advise young school-leasers on the choice of a job, and the second to bring surplus labour to where there is a deficit.
There are few who have come into contact with these bodies who would not unhesitatingly pay them a tribute for the manner in which they endeavour to carry out their impossible task. Bricks cannot be made without straw, and juveniles cannot be directed into non-existent progressive employment. We have seen, even in our necessarily limited survey, how the trades which absorb 60 per cent. of our boys are largely blind alley. Analysis of the other 40 per cent., which includes domestic service, various metal industries, chemical trades, tailoring, food and allied callings, would reveal that non-progressive employment is the rule rather than the exception in nearly all of these.
State Responsibility The only way out of the difficulty is for the State to assume responsibility for the manning of all forms of industry and commerce. There is no other way out. Call it some " ism " if you wish. The facts are inescapable, and no one can say that private enterprise has not had long enough to put its house in order.
It is essential, and in the national interest, that we must ensure that when a boy leaves school the job which he takes should' be reasonably secure, offer decent wages on his attaining adult status, and provide real opportunity for promotion.
As it is, the older one gets now the less chance one has in the scramble. The average percentage unemployed, males only, taking all industries and arranging them in age groups, for England and Wales in 1931, was: Age 14-15, 4.5 per cent.; 16-17, 7.6 per cent.; 18-20, 13.3 per cent; 21-24, 14.5 per cent. Thus, while our industrial magnates are shouting out for juveniles, the school leavers of a few years previous are finding themselves too old at 20!
To plan our future labour supply properly we must have regard to all cognate factors. We must study the state of each
industry to find out whether it is declining or expanding. We must decide from such facts how best to guide our youth, and what is most important, we must fix the ratio of juvenile labour to adult in all spheres of gainful activity so that the scandal of experienced hands being ousted by cheaper. younger ones be ended once and for all.
It would be impossible in anything less than a treatise to say exactly how this can be done. But it can be done. When fixing the ratio we must have regard too, not only to the state of the industry, but to the prevailing unemployment in it and how much of the adult labour we can re-absorb, and also it will be necessary for us to take into account the inevitable changes in the age groupings of our population that must come about during the next fifty years. In connection with this latter factor, if we assume that everyone retired from gainful occupation on reaching the age of 65 we should still be faced with the fact that for some years to come new entrants to industry will exceed those !caving it in a ratio of, at first, 2 to I and later 3 to 2. As it is, there were in 1931, 700,000 people over 65 still in employment, and this, of course, makes the position somewhat worse, but one may well assume compulsory retirement at 65 as part of any plan for regulation of labour supply.
Frequent Readjustment Readjustment of the proportion of juveniles to adults will be necessary fairly frequently, as during the next ten years there is going to be a steady drop in the number of children leaving school, which will be accentuated if the school-leaving age is raised in a whole-hearted manner. Gradually, the average age of the population is going to rise, and there will be more and more people in the older age groups, and less and less in the younger, as the result of the declining birth rate makes itself felt.
If industry remains in private hands, much more pressure must be brought to bear on it to fit its geographical distribution to the available labour supply, and not vice versa as happens at the moment under our system of trainees and transferences.
Transference Schemes There is no word in our English language strong enough to condemn the transference schemes, particularly the iniquitous Juvenile Transference Scheme. The Ministry of Labour alleges that a basic principle of the scheme is that the vacancies offered to the transferred youngsters must be of a permanent and progressive character.
Of the 6,943 boys removed under the scheme in 1937, 1,271 alone went into domestic service in the hotel and restaurant section,24 one of the worst sweated callings now existing, and certainly leading nowhere. Indeed it is questionable whether 10 per cent. of these uprooted lads will ever attain a decent livelihood from the starts that the Government has given them.
Significant, too, is the fact that of these 6,943 boys who were sent last year to industrial employment, 4,464 of them were given maintenance grants to supplement earnings that were inadequate to keep them.25
Thus does a Government which refused to give maintenance grants to keep poor children at school show its willingness to provide them as a subsidy to employers of cheap labour.
Of the agonies undergone by these youngsters torn from their home surroundings and friends and dumped amongst unsympathetic and often hostile strangers, with next to nothing in their pockets after their keep has been paid, we will not dilate. It is certainly not to be wondered at if some of them stray from the path of virtue, particularly where the girls are concerned.
Training the Veteran Training of older unemployed workers for trades already overcrowded, as is being done at present, is also completely unhelpful, except to the unscnipulous industrialist who is provided with an army of semiskilled operatives with whom he can displace his higher paid artisans. It is not without good reason that the trade unions have declared war on the trainee system.
Work at decent wages is the right of man. With the birth rate in its present parlous state is becomes doubly imperative that we remove that bane of economic insecurity from the lives of such a huge proportion of the working classes, for it is this, quite as much as selfishness. which is responsible for the small or completely absent family of today. ' Under our existing system every child born is a potential competitor in the overcrowded labour market. It is certainly a scathing indictment of our social structure that things should so be, and that age should come to fear and dread youth because of the latter's threat to its livelihood. And there we are.
You have heard probably ad nauseam about the Distressed Areas, about those vast, silent valleys of despairing men and women, young men who have grown up into their twenties without ever having had a job, or derelict towns like Jarrow, where God's own creatures are literally rotting away in idleness and poverty.
The Fight is Yours and Mine
The fault is ours. Yes, yours and mine. We have votes. We can pester our M.P.s. We can give up some of that time which we now devote to Ascot, Lord's, and other trivialities to rousing public opinion.
16 Coal. The Labour Plan. Published by the T.11 .C.
17 Ministry of Labour Report 1937.
19 Youth in British Indnstry.
20 Ministry of Labon.r Report 1937. at Hansard, May 26, 1936.
From a table compiled by P.E.P. 25 Compiled from 1931 census figures. 24 Ministry of Labour Report 1937.