MANY people whose instinctive social values are by no means wholly on the side of " big business " or of big employers and managers feel worried today by the apparent lack of commonsense and even common patriotism on the part of the trade unions and their supporting workers in the face of the country's obvious economic necessities.
They see that wages and working conditions, especially where workers are well organised, are reasonable by moral and even Christian standards. They certainly know that outside he field of industrially organised industry, the economic lot of millions of others, whether employees, employers, tradesmen or members of the professions, can be a good deal worse, either a bsolti ely or relatively.
They themselves, indeed, too often find themselves Precisely in this position of seeing the value of their salaries or wages steadily dwindling, and can do nothing about it either because they are not organised or because they have a conscience and an ideal which they do not wish to subject to the haggling of the labour market.
Then they read of the automatic efforts of the big unions, apparently without any reference to the increasing danger to all of inflation, to force up wages again by a process which is almost annually dated as part of a permanent agenda.
They read of threats of strikes by men declared redundant by employers faced with a big contraction in their market and clearly unable to employ the same number as when the market was rapidly expanding.
None of this seems to make any sense whatever, except that the new privileged classes are nowadays prepared to call the whole community to ransom in complete disregard of the country's economic future and that in this new economic morality no duties exist except to oneself, apart from political platform ideologies whose ultimate purpose is to flatter the electorate into supporting the " haves " on both sides of the economic and class fence.
BUT situations like this are not really the result of individual greed or selfishness. Which of us,faced with the concrete chance of bettering himself, will not take it, whether it be through pressing for higher wages consistently with giving good service according to our ideals or through seeking higher profits consistently with delivering the goods ? So much, apart from very exceptional people with exceptional vocations, is human nature.
The causes have to be sought in the working ideals of our society itself and the proper organisation of that society to work towards such ideals.
The ideals of a society reach the individuals, in the vast majority of cases, through that society, from _parents, from religion, from education. from social relations, from reading, and the like. Each individual makes them his own and passes them on.
If then a society has no ideals or the wrong ideals or if, professing to have ideals, it is so organised as to make the fulfilment of those ideals unrealistic for the average man, then men and the organisations that represent their interests fall back oil basic human motives.
The difficulty today in a country like ours is the lack of an effective idealism which supports not only the individual but the various organisations whose business it is to help the
individual within the country's administrative structure.
In industry, employers fee] little urge to do more than increase their profits within the limitations imposed upon them both by law or custom and by fear of the power of organised workers.
It may even be said that they hardly know their owe best interests, as in the case of motor industry today. Planning automatically for an expanding market, that industry finds itself today quite unprepared for sudden restriction of demand, not only because it expanded too fast but because, while the going was so good, it did not bother to study the long-term needs of the vital export market, as the Germans have. It takes it for granted that its redundant workers may be dismissed without any warning.
ON the organised labour side,
no ideal has been put forward beyond the negative one of earning as much as possible for oneself in the best possible conditions. It is the job of those who represent the workers to do their utmost to secure this. Why should the workers object, even if they may as citizens wonder sometimes where it will all lead.
The contrast between peace and war is instructive.
Under war conditions, the whole country possesses an ideal, and it takes it for granted that the government of the country will represent that ideal and see to it that it is made effective so far as possible within the traditions and customs of the country.
The clue surely lies there. In pur modern society only the government is in a position to take up and express the latent values of a people and to make them effective throughout the life and working of the community. Only the government, for example, can see to it that labour is quickly, yet humanely, made available where it is most needed and withdrawn easily when it is not.
The tragedy is that modern political ideas swing from class party government to totalitarian government or they effect some ill-digested working compromise half way which produces, for example, large blocks of nationalisation or State socialism uneasily living with large blocks of liberal free competition. Within all this, the individual swings uneasily from the status of a cog to that of a man free, in certain conditions, to fight at all costs for his basic economic intere,st.
Somehow we have to solve the problem of creating effective moral responsibility throughout all sections of the community through the common sense of a positive social ideal. It seems certain that this will never be done in modern times unless government realises its own moral responsibility for giving expression to a social ideal and enables it to operate.