Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

Over One Million British Workers
Demand More Pay

(27 January 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 4, 27 January 1941, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One million arms workers in Great Britain demanded an increase in wages last week. Following their example, the shipbuilding workers en masse did likewise a few days ago. These English workers are not quietly starving, awaiting the utopia-after-the-war promised by the Bevins and the bosses. They want to know NOW how they can live on an average wage of $17 a week.

The arms and shipbuilding workers are asking, an increase of five cents an hour. Hearings have been held before an official arbitration tribunal – behind closed doors. The final decision has not yet been reached.

The workers, however, are in no mood to take a negative answer. Out of the $17 weekly wage, they have to pay rent of at least $6 a week, and a minimum of $1.20 for coal. Food prices have been sky-rocketing. For example, eggs are 7¢ each, bacon 40¢ a pound, beans 16¢ a pound. Even the government admits a rise of twenty-five percent in the cost of living since the war started. Unions declare that the official figure is based on tricky statistics and that actually the percentage of increase in the cost of living is much higher.

Anger Piles Up

Although there is a war-time ban on strikes in “democratic” England, the threat of strike hangs in the air. The anger of the workers has been piling up. They know that as the class of under-dogs they have been getting the usual dirty end of the stick as regards rising prices. as regards air raid shelters, as regards food rationing.

They see prices going out of sight, skyward, while they wait for a tribunal to decide upon their meager demand for five cents more an hour. At night they crawl into underground caves where water trickles down the walls and across the stone floors on which men and women try to sleep, with filth and rats for company. Whereas the rich rest in air-conditioned safety in the style to which they are accustomed. The rationing of food prevents the working woman from getting even the bit of meat she could afford to buy. But the rich satisfy their appetites at the best hotels.

In spite of these class inequalities, which stand out in bolder relief now than in peacetime, the employers say this is no time for the workers to demand more wages. They give a very fancy reason. They say that it would be very bad indeed to increase home consumption. They say that goods must be sent out of the country to be sold abroad and help pay for the war. They cross their hearts and: promise the workers a “new deal” when the war is won and British imperialism saved.

The workers are not taking seriously this promise of a “new deal” from the bosses after the war. They point to the fact that in the midst of the war boom, there are almost a million jobless workers – a big number for little England. They know that after the war there will be no “new deal” but only a great deal more unemployment.

If the arbitration tribunal refuses the very moderate demand of the arms and shipbuilding workers, this great sector of the British working class will not be frightened by the government ban on strikes.

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 16 February 2014