Sieving Unemployment Solutions
By FRANCIS HUNT
P-1-1 HF, bulk of our unemployment is
due to the decline of England as as exporting mition. The volume
of exports from this country in 1934 was only a little over half of what it was in 1913. It is true that the position was ameliorated by a substantial fall in the prices paid for our imports, the monetary decline in our exports being only 20 per cent. Even so, this 20 per cent. represented the jobs of about 700,000 persons, mostly coal miners, merchant seamen and cotton operatives.
The fact is that we are now paying the price of being a nation of shop-keepers. So long as we were the foremost manufacturing country in the world the sun shone. Our forefathers found that they could get rich with far less effort than tilling the soil—by selling manufactured goods to nations less sophisticated than Iourselves, and, with the proceeds, buying food from them at prices rendered favourable to us by their towel staudards of living. And so they concentrated on the exports and British agriculture went to rack and ruin.
Today all is sadly different. The East, once an avid buyer of our gay textiles, now
makes her own. Our cotton exports in 1936 were only half the volume of those ten years before. A significant fact is that the spindleage of China and Japan has increased by six millicins during the past few years while • in the same period the ipindleage in Great Britain has declined by twice that number. India, who in preWar days drew 50 per cent. of her textile requirements from Lancashire, now supplies 86 per cent. of her wants from her own mills. Coal is losing favour to oil as a fuel, and furthermore some of our old foreign customers have found new sources of supply.
What can we do about it? Well, in the very first place we have got to realise that 't is almost certain that we shall never regain our pre War position as an exporting nation. The likelihood is, unfortunately, that, with the continued rise in foreign dandards of civilisation, and the ever ;rowing tendency towards self-sufficiency, our markets abroad will diminish even more.
What We Can Do This being so we are faced with the following alternatives: (a) We can lower the standards of living of our working-classes so ai to be able to compete with such countries as Japan, where there are no tradeboards to enforce the payment of living wages, or (b) we must expand our home market, and at the same time plan our labour supply to fit in better with the demand, and prevent it from getting concentrated into derelict industries, incapable of absorbing it, as is the case at present.
So far as solution (a) is concerned, this is quite definitely unthinkable, and proviientially our trade unions are powerful enough to prevent it being tried. This leaves us with (b).
The expansion of the home market is dependent on the increasing of the purabasing power of the masses in this country. This can only be done by a more equitable distribution of the national in-some by which the proportion of wealth now going to labour must be substantially increased, so that the demand for goods lutomatically rises and with it the demand for labour. With more earning more will be spent, and more will be wanted, and so the home market will continue to expand.
The Method The method of bringing about this desired re-allocation of the national income can vary. The co-cperative movement is one example of how it can be done. Compulsory profit-sharing in industry is another, and is probably easier in administration than any scheme to merely transfer wealth by taxation. It follows that minimum wages would be fixee where these could not be met a subsidy would be necessary.
The most important step in curing unemployment, however, is Labour Planning, i.e., the control of the recruitment of labour into the various occupations so as to prevent maladjustment between demand and supplies. In certain trades, in which the workers are we organised, the annual influx of apprentices is regulated by joint industrial councils, but, apart from these isolated instances, there has been little or no effort made in the past to see that juvenile labour was directed into sound channels with the ehaotic results that we now see.
Planning Juvenile Labour Planning juvenile labour is not nearly so difficult as it appears. What will be required will be the forming of occupational groups and the setting up within them of joint committees representative of the employees' and employers' organisations, together with Government nominees, these bodies to compute their approximate programmes as far ahead as possible, and from their statistics deduce what supplies of labour they are going to need. It is futile to believe for one moment that absolute accuracy can be ascertained, or that all industries will, by their nature, lend themselves to such prognostications, but to a certain extent variations can be offset by extension or diminution of hours until the errors can be made right.
Unquestionably such a scheme predicates a further incursion of Government control into private enterprise. Just how far this incursion will have to go will largely depend upon the attitude taken up by the industrialists. If they adopt one similar to that adopted by our present coal owners nothing short of nationalisation will enable us to make any progress.
More Drastic Steps
More drastic steps than now envisaged will have to be taken to bring about a better distribution of mobile industries, so that as far as is possible they shall be situated where there is now plenty of spare
labour. Geographically our unemployment is mainly concentrated in certain areas in the north. The continual immigration from north to south (half a million workers came south between 1927 aid 1934) is not only extremely wasteful but causes disruption of family life, that valuable social unit already assailed by so many enemies.
It is obviously quite impossible in an article such as this either to detail fully a. scheme for labour planning, or to answer thoroughly the many difficulties that can be foreseen. They are not insuperable.
Reviving Agriculture The resuscitation of agriculture must be our first task. We have now hardly a million workers engaged in what should be our premier industry. We can produce a very large proportion of the food requirements
we now import. For example, of the 7,750,000,000 eggs consumed annually in this country, a third of them are imported from abroad, while our own poultry far
mers are going broke. Again, we only make at home one-fifth of our enormous consumption of butter (somewhere in the region of 1,200./00.000 lbs. p.a.) To-days Workless?
But what of those now out of work? Can anything be done to restore to them their right to earn a living? The problem is hardest in the consideration of those over 55, of men who have learnt their calling and cannot be initiated into a fresh trade with ease. By a drastic restriction of recruitment into the satiated industries (such as coal-mining), together, possibly, with schemes for diverting a portion of the younger workers from those spheres to others we may be enabled to absorb back again those elderly toilers who are past mastering new crafts. At the same time experiments have shown, even in the case of those well past their prime, a remarkable versatility when placed on land settlement schemes, and it is not unlikely that many of them can be found jobs when agriculture comes into its own again.
As to the younger unemployed, it is essential that these should be drawn away from derelict spheres of activity without delay and transferred to others. Such cannot be done properly until the State plans our labour distribution. Periodic booms procure only transitory employment.
Public Works Those employment-providing projects known as "public works," grandiose proposals to build big social centres, erect all sorts of often quite unnecessary things, are periodically put forth by the various political parties, particularly at election times. "Public works " have a definite place in a nation's economy, but they are no panacea for unemployment. In the majority of cases these " works are unproductive insomuch as they absorb wealth without creating fresh. There are a number of items of our national expenditure which are unproductive (armaments, for instance), but which are indispensable, or are generally considered so. But insofar as they give work, unproductive expenditure can only be a temporary expedient. There is a fallacious idea that anything that " makes work " is defensible, and this covers, in some people's -rninds, champagne parties, profligate living, and the erection at a vast expense of ugly, useless, monumental buildings.
Capital outlay to be beneficial must be directed into producting channels such as housing and land settlement schemes, and
primary industries generally. To assure that the national wealth should reach these (Continued on Page 12)