By ALFRED GROSCH
SOME time ago a writer in a daily paper who admitted to a public school education, and who could not by any stretch of imagination be called a workingman within the accepted meaning of the term, wrote of the past these words: "Y outh then had more to look forward to I" And indeed there's many a workingman today, both in work and out of it, who considers his lot by comparison with the lot of a workingman in pre-war days a very poor one.
But looking back over the last quarter of a century I'm not so sure that twenty-five years ago youth had anything near as good a world to look forward to as youth has today.
Garden suburbs were in their infancy and most workingclass people lived nearer to town under what seems to us now almost primitive conditions. Shops kept open for as many hours in the day as proprietors wished of them, though a feeble weekly half-day closing restriction was more or less observed in some places.
Work was not easier to obtain than it is now, and there was no unemployment pay for those out of a job; nor was there any question of a means test—family or other wise. Either the family kept its unemployed members, or the State did which usually meant the workhouse.
The wages paid were disgracefully low, so low indeed that few could afford a daily paper. I know I couldn't though I always saw one in the public library reading room.
Some of the adult employees of a large firm in North London petitioned for an increase in pay. They could not feed themselves, wives and children on 14s. a week. This firm marketed a world famous household commodity, and had travellers drawing salary and commission up to £15, and £20 a week; but those poor factory hands
did not get their increase. Four years later they, and thousands more like them, were asked to die for the country which could not, or would not pay them more than 14s. for a working week of 64 hours, holidays not paid for. Today the average
wage of a male factory worker is seldom less than £2 5s. for a live day week.
In 1910 I was earning 30s. a week as a night telephone operator in the employ of the late National Telephone Company. My hours were 72 a week. But some of my colleagues who had only just commenced, earned no more than 22s. 6d. for the same hours. Today the wages for that same job are nearly double, and the hours little more than half what they were.
Marriage on 30s. Without Prospects I married when I was twenty-four, earning 30s. a week, and without any hope of ever increasing the amount which was the maximum for the job. I was, in fact, only
too glad to be working at all and earning that sum, for some unfortunates who could not get on to the full-time staff had to be content with part-time jobs at 15s. and 16s. a week, and there was little to look forward to but a life of toil and drudgery to be ended as likely as not in the workhouse.
I rented a small three-roomed flat in the Western suburbs of London at 9s. 6d. a week, and in it I planted my home and set up my establishment. Mr. Lloyd George's " ninepenve for fourpence insurance scheme had just got into its stride, and the maternity benefit when we needed it came in more than useful.
By this time the National Telephone Company had gone, and the Post Office had taken over.
I had become a State servant with a much appreciated shortening of hours from 72 to 54 a week. It was heaven compared with what I had been enduring for six years past.
About this time Mr. (now Sir) Herbert Samuel was Postmaster-General, investigating for himself the conditions under which we and other badly paid postal servants were working. The result was a commission of inquiry which eventually increased our maximum to 35s, a week.
Travel then was not noticeably cheaper than now, and it certainly was not as luxurious as we enjoy today. To get from my home to the City where I worked cost me, at season ticket rate, 3s. a week, but as I never had the ready money, for a small poundage I used to get mine from a firm which bought the ticket so that I paid a little more than 3s. a week, but considerably less than ordinary rate. The same journey today costs very little more, but the choice of routes is several times greater.
Drink was not a refreshment, it was a great social evil. Public houses kept open till twelve-thirty a.m., some to open again at five o'clock on the same morning. On the day of the funeral of King Edward VII, I was in a public house in the Paddington district of London at about ten in the morning.
A man of the labouring class had just called for a pint of ale, twopence, but was quite unable to get it to his mouth. He was shaking like a man with ague. At last, seizing the glass in both hands he forced it up to his mouth where it heat a horrible tattoo upon his blackened and broken teeth while the liquor slopped over his face and shoulders. When a little of it had gone into him Ise became steadier and apologised for his state by a reference to the night before. My own drink stood on the counter untasted but paid for, and nauseated at the sight of this trembling wretch I walked out and left it. A similar picture could be seen in many parts of London on most week mornings.
People still drink and great fortunes are made from the sale of drink, but I am certain you could not witness anywhere in the Metropolis today a scene such as I have described.
There Was Always Gloom
As regards outlook: today the talk is of war, the gloomy future, and the lack of chances for Youth. Well, I don't think our day was very free from talks of war, and armaments. In fact, from the opening years of the century right down to August, 1914, the Great World War that was to come was constantly on people's lips, and the subject filled columns in the Press.
To sum up, life today is better in every way than it was twenty-five years ago. There is more to live for, we work less hours, and the rewards of our labour are more adequate in money and leisure. I can earn a little over twice what I earned 25 years ago, but my rent is not double, though I have now a house instead of a flat. Life offers greater variety and unbounded interests. 1 can sit in a palatial theatre in comfort for ninepence and witness a marvellous entertainment. For less than one halfpenny a day the cream of the world's song and music is brought right into my home.
We Cannot Starve
Whatever happens, whether 1 work or do not, the State will see to it that I and mine do not starve.
To perpetuate the world of 25 years ago the flower of my generation went out to die on foreign fields. Out of their sacrifice has grown a new world, and if not quite the world for heroes Mr. Lloyd George promised it is nevertheless a very good world indeed. The advantages of being a Briton are manifold and manifest. Life possesses for youth today advantages undreamt of when the present King's father came to the throne.