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R. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) Ensor.

Modern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; online

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Online LibraryR. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) EnsorModern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; → online text (page 26 of 35)
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cipal trading may fail. I do not share that fear. Social odium
and displacement can always be relied upon to stimulate
officials to do " the utmost for the highest." Greater powers
to committees and officers to dismiss lazy or incompetent
workmen will correct any abuse from this quarter. And if
sectional aims go too far, as often they do, particularly at the
War Office, the mass of the public can be relied upon to
administer the necessary corrective in a summary way.

Where that has not been done, experience will teach, and
the necessity for success will compel.

In the latter process, labour leaders, as in the past and
present, will deprecate and resist the sectional aims of a class



270 MODERN SOCIALISM

or trade unless these can be reconciled with the instahnent
process of improving the mass of the community step by step.
In fact, signs are not wanting that ah'eady the sensible
servants of the State, and the equitably-minded of the muni-
cipal workmen, are conscious of the danger that disproportionate
demands may bring to the commonwealth. And, with a few
exceptions, amongst leaders and men there is asserting itself
a belief that all for each means also each for all. The ever-
widening sphere of municipal employment, of course, presents
social, political, moral, and ethical difficulties. But the same
problem is greater in the trust, the combine, and the public
monopoly, as the " Car Barn Vote " of companies' employes
proves.

The greater difficulty about the latter is that a few persons,
often a single individual, such as a Pierpont Morgan or a
Penrhyn, can only be dealt with when an industrial crisis is
reached, and from behind the wall of uncontrolled possession
either cripple industry by a corner in commodities, or by rail-
way rates, or crush out human sympathy and combination by
a feudal edict that municipal ownership would avoid.

In a word, the rapidity of growth of towns, the productivity
of labour and machinery, the aggregations of populations, the
increase thereby of complex civic problems, brush aside all the
doctrinaire theories of individual as against collective owner-
ship. The average Briton, to his credit, cares neither for the
cast-iron formulae of Marx, or the belated wails of individualists ;
what he cares for, votes for, and pays for is the best that any
system will produce, and the answer to the allegations of the
Times^ as to the dangers of municipal enterprise, is that con-
currently with keener criticism municipal trading dispropor-
tionately grows, and will so continue to prosper.

What is needed for its guidance, development, and full
fruition for the ratepayers is greater tolerance and more sympa-
thetic relations between all classes of people in matters that
affect the common interests of the newer and the higher
citizenship. Fortunately this is coming, as is evidenced by



JOHN BURNS 271

the excellent work, apart from their pohtical differences, that
the London County Councillors have generally displayed at
Spring Gardens for the betterment of London. In this work
none have shown better judgment, tact, and self-denial than
the Labour members.

It would have done the Times more credit if it had
encouraged this process from its higher vantage-ground, instead
of turning on a cock-and-bull story about an officer sending a
map to be repaired to the Works Department — the cheapest
and best way of getting it done, by the way — or of a painter
refusing to unscrew a door-plate because it was a carpenter's
work.

I could retort by saying that because my trade union and
the plumbers spent foolishly about ;!^ioO;Ooo over a demar-
cation of work dispute some years ago on the Tyne, that
therefore the employer on whose works this collective folly
occurred should be pilloried for an act he was not responsible
for. The fault rested with the respective trades, not with the
council or employer. Similarly the Times distorts, exaggerates,
omits, and misinterprets the greatest movement of the century
which it wishes to destroy, but has not the fairness to
understand.

Its charges about direct employment of labour are as
ridiculous as they are untrue.

The L.C.C. only asks contractors to grant their workpeople
" the rate of wages, hours, and conditions in practice
obtained " by the trade unions from associations of employers,
and in practice obtained. The L.C.C. itself only pays to its
workpeople what the same workmen could get on similar work
elsewhere. Its other clauses as to payment, arbitration,
retention moneys, and other conditions are much more favour-
able to contractors than those enforced by the Metropolitan
Board of Works. The Council insists upon, and generally
secures, the same amount of work as contractors, and certainly
gets a better quality of work from those it employs.

With regard to its Works Department, the inception of



272 MODERN SOCIALISM

this policy was due to the contractors themselves by their high
prices and their mysteriously similar tenders, and the desire to
remove from L.C.C. officials a sphere of temptation to which
I am not anxious any public servants should be subjected, and
to which some of their predecessors' servants succumbed, as
recent magisterial and other significant facts disclose.

Whether the Times cares for it or not, the elimination of
the middleman, the abolition of the contractor, is a rapidly
growing process not only for all public bodies, but for Govern-
ments and even large private manufacturers. It is in that way
that profit, concentration, and economy are to be found, and
is the only weapon of the community against the tyranny of
the trust. What is more, if there is any defect in the direct
employment of labour by the L.C.C, the primary responsibility
for this rests upon those who, for political or trade reasons,
have prevented the proper equipment, administration, and
work of the department.

Where similar work is done by the City of London, the
London School Board, or even by the Government, at same
cost and no better quality, there is a studious silence ; but
" what in the City captain is but a choleric word, in the
County Council soldier is rank blasphemy." But the facts
about the Works Department are these : —

Since its inception it has done, under the old management,
;2o793>99° S-^* ^^- ^^ estimated work at a cost of ;;^865,244
9^. 10^., or ;^7 1,334 above estimate, by no means the
absolute standard, and that on 12 jobs taken too cheaply in
the early stages.

Under the new management it has completed ^^466, 102
Zs. 2d. estimated, at a cost of ^473,713, or £,1^10 above.
From the latter alleged loss jQ^in is to be deducted for
profits on jobbing works, or a net loss of ;;^4oo. As a set-off
against this, over the whole period ^^97,000 has been incurred
for excessive establishment charges, ;^34,ooo for general
charges, including interest on capital, ;^i 2,377 for repayment
of capital, or a total of ;^i44,ooo. If any ratepayer wishes to



JOHN BURNS 273

see whether he has value for the money, a visit to New Cross,
Whitefriars, Battersea River, and other firo-stations will
reassure him ; whilst a visit to the new Lots Road Pumping
Station, Heathwall, and other works, will dispel the " wild
and whirling " words of the authors of Municipal Socialism in
the Times as to the capacity, cost, and quality of the depart-
ment's work.

If contract comparisons are needed : Parliament Street
contract paving, the annual cost of ^35,000 a year on
scamped Board School buildings, the Victoria Embankment
repairs, and the enormous extras on the works by other
London bodies that can be named. These bodies are being
tardily driven to follow the policy of the L.C.C. in defence of
the ratepayer, independently of tlie interest of the workman,
the protection of the contractor, or the aims of the theorist.

The wise municipal statesman says, with the poet Pope —

" Vox forms of ijovermnent lei fools contest,
Whate'er is best administered is best."

The growth of municipal trading is only the recognition,
and the profitable application to municipal affairs, of the
sensible couplet that is never quoted by the present Govern-
ment of the country, which on all counts is worse managed
than any borough council I know of, including, with all its
difficulties, overburdened, undermanned West Ham.

The Times y in its quixotic crusade against municipal trading,
descends from the criticism of municipal life in general to the
particular in several instances, and of course, not unexpectedly,
Battersea, with which I am associated. Is this a premonition
of an imminent general election, as I notice that invariably in
London a wholesale onslaught is made either on the L.C.C. or
the Battersea local governing body a few weeks before either
of the two elections occurs ? Of Battersea, the first charges
are that the representatives of the masses make pilgrimages to
Battersea, with the view not of studying municipal efficiency,
" but of getting nice, soft, and comfortable jobs." This quite

T



274 MODERN SOCIALISM

unfounded statement is disposed of by the fact that the ovcr-
whelnaing majority of the staff now engaged by the Battersea
Borough Council have been transferred from the old local
Board of Works, the defunct vestry, or as vacancies have
occurred from the best qualified, whether from Liverpool,
Manchester, or elsewhere, irrespective of politics, creed, or class.

Borough Councillors can truly say, "None of my relations
are (local) Government contractors." Whilst in the matter of
relationships. Downing Street could do worse than emulate the
Spartan self-denial of Battersea.

It is true that the majority of councillors are of the working
classes, but so are their constituents. Better this than the
creatures of contractors, as too many members of the old
London vestries were, and in so being causing their belated
disappearance in favour of the existing bodies, who are
extending municipal enterprise as fast as they can to undo the
heritage of neglect and jobbery the vestries bequeathed to
tliem. The allegation that this Labour representation has
operated to the detriment of the district is disposed of by
comparing its roads and the cost per mile thereof, streets,
sanitation, libraries, baths, electric light, its sterilized milk
depot, its gymnasia, gardens, and other amenities, with Tory,
middle-class, company-ridden Wandsworth, or with the aristo-
cratic Westminster City Council, which, in my opinion, is the
worst and most costly district in London, with its paving
scandals and its mania for advertising itself in costly street
name-plates.

It is true that Battersea has a works department, but so
has the Times office for its limited work.

That works department from 1895 ^o March, 1902, did
^266,000 of estimated works at a cost of ;j{^256,ooo, or
;^i 0,000 below estimate, and which, allowing for office and
establishment charges, still yields a profit to ratepayers for
admittedly superior work, the abolition of tips, secret com-
missions, and high maintenance charges that bad contract
work always means.



JOHN BURNS 275

The instance of the excessive cost on the Albert Bridge
Road sewer is only partially true. This was a difficult job.
A new sewer had to be placed under another, which had
collapsed long before its proper time, because it was badly
built by a contractor ; there were difficulties through land
water getting in ; but there is less to blame the council for in
this than in the system of cheap and nasty work that rendered
this job necessary at all.

What the " Municipal Alliance " want is to get back to
power to revive this condition of things ; hence their rage and
disappointment through the medium of the Times.

The silly stories of five men to drive a nail, the fiction
about York Road chalet, which could not be put elsewhere
except at treble the cost, and could not be altered as to level
because of main sewer, my unfounded visits to certain works,
and my purely imaginative rebuke of workmen on these jobs,
are but the irresponsible clatter of defeated jerrybuilders in
their cups, or the fictions of a few dismissed employes who
were sent about their business.

The statement about "local government in Battersea being
carried on far more in the interests of municipal employes than
in those of the general body of the ratepayers " is as unfair as
untrue. This statement is the invention of the local Municipal
Alliance, that on several occasions have failed to make their
charges true, and, what is more, do not make them on the
council itself, where they can be refuted.

The numerical answer is that in November, 1S99, the
council had in its employ 570 when work to be done justified
this number. It has now 242 doing its necessary public work,
and of these I should say half were without votes, spread over
two L.C.C. and Parliamentary constituencies, and the majority
of these people often are Tory in their views.

It is true that Battersea has a debt of ;^5 15,000, but what
of that. Its assets in electric light, libraries, baths, wharves,
works, and other properties, counterbalance this. It is also
true that its rates have been seriously increased, but this is not



276 MODERN SOCIALISM

altogether the fault of the borough council. It is due to causes
general to all parts of the metropolis, partly to outside bodies,
who out of a total rate levied by the borough council of
^£38^,000, leave the borough council only ^136,000 for its
manifold duties ; and this cannot be specially attributed to
Battersea workmen. One of the chief reasons is due to the
eviction of the very poor from low-rated West End parishes,
who bundle their poor and their burdens over the bridges from
Belgravia to Battersea. The way out is to further equalize the
cost of Poor Law maintenance, but not to cut down the
standard of sanitary efficiency.

The Times then makes a great fuss about what Battersea
spent upon free concerts, now disallowed by Local Govern-
ment Board auditor. The cost of giving 76 concerts to 84,000
people in three years, delightful counter-attractions to the
street and the public-house, cost the parish up to date less
than ;^9oo, or not a farthing rate for the year, and less than a
foolish person in the West End recently spent on a dinner for
ten persons that fitly ended in a street row. If, however, there
had been more tact and judgment displayed in this matter
by those responsible, this venture could have proceeded as
originally intended, " but raw haste was ever half-sister to
delay."

The facts about the boys' club and gymnasium are not as
stated. The truth about the matter is, that the Latchmere
Baths in the winter were lying idle; youths were lounging
about the streets, with nowhere to go but the public-house or
other undesirable places, sucking at cigarettes.

The council fitted up a gymnasium at a cost of ^^496, in-
cluding appliances, wages, expenses, and salary of instructor,
and charged a small fee for admission and use ; 31,000 youths
paid this fee, or a sum of ;^403, leaving a deficit of ;;^93, a
set-off against which is the improvement of physique, manners,
and habits of the lads frequenting the place, which would have
pleased Colonel Fox, of Aldershot Gymnasium, and the Royal
Commission on Physical Education.



JOHN BURNS 277

As to the club, where they can play bagatelle and other
innocent games, 16,000 boys paid in fees the sum of ;£6^ for
the use of recreative pleasures that saved them from the streets
and yielded ^;^ above cost and working expenses. In all,
47,000 youths for less than ;^ioo had opened out to them
something better than the streets and their consequent hooli-
ganism ; and this useful work is described as a scandal.

It is not true, as stated, that the Latchmere Baths are a
loss of nearly ;;^40oo a year to the parish. The working
expenses, including repayment of principal, are ;;^4843 for
230,000 bathers ; the receipts are ;^2i83, and, in spite of low
charges, are rapidly improving.

The Times man forgets to mention, whilst on Latchmere
Baths, that these dreadful Battersea workmen have dared to
dispense with a water company bill of p^6oo per annum by
sinking a well, the property of the council, that gives them the
necessary supply for less than ^100. He forgot also to
mention that its sterilized milk depot is becoming self-support-
ing in a short time, and has been blessed by the Coroner,
approved by the doctors and the Zanccf and has certainly
reduced the infantile death-rate, which the dreadful Labour
Leaguers are determined to still further diminish.

The statement about Nine Elms Baths is equally misleading.
The Times investigator, if he had inquired further, would have
ascertained that the loss on this bath could have been wiped
out if the ^^4000 a year, or id. rate, which the council now
spends in repairing defective private combined drainage out of
the i)ublic funds, had not been saddled upon the parish by
the house-agents who run the Municipal Alliance, and wish to
ruin the parish. It is true there is a loss upon the Morden
Cemetery, which is a new burial-ground of enormous size and
with low fees ; but Battersea prefers to make a dividend of
better health out of the living rather than a profit out of the
prematurely dead. The Labour Leaguers actually had the
audacity to ask the railway company for cheaper railway fares
for the mourners, and, as with nearly all its attempts, it really



278 MODERN SOCIALISM

succeeded. The borough would, however, bury the Municipal
Alliance at a loss, to prevent their emissaries from misleading
a great paper like the Times, that might, before publishing these
libels, have seen the responsible officials and members of the
borough council. If not too late, I will give the authors of
the articles a few days to correct their mis-statements by view-
ing the parish with them and displaying its attractions and un-
folding its well-kept accounts.

The greatest inaccuracy of all is that the borough loses
over ;^3ooo a year over the men's sick club. The fact is, the
borough council gave J[^2^o last year for a fund to which the
men contribute 4^. per week. Of the 624 average membership
this year, 21 only at this moment are on the fund. Consider-
ing the character of occupation and age of men, none under 40
being engaged on roads, this is not bad. This is allowed and
approved by the Local Government Board. This is a sample
of the allegation that passes for criticism in the Times, which
seems to me very much "out of joint." Here and there in the
Times articles on Battersea is disclosed the source from which
the inspiration is derived. I have to meet it at every L.C.C.
and borough council election, and presumably this last
criticism is intended for local use by the dispossessed Mode-
rates at the next Parliamentary election.

I have not the least fear as to the result, because con-
currently with refuting the Ti}nes attacks on democratic govern-
ment in this district, in the main prejudiced, partial, or untrue,
I intend to advise those with whom I work to legislate for the
parish as a whole, and if, as on one or two occasions, this is
not done in the general interest of the community, I will with-
hold what support I can command, and, if necessary, actively
oppose any party or candidate who could act or would attempt
to defend the purely imaginary condition of misgovernment
which the Ti»ies has fabricated.

The fact is a great paper has been befooled by a few
discredited and defeated people, who have stuffed the ears of
the Ti??ies correspondents witli fables, filled their mouihs with



JOHN BURNS 279

libels of a district that, with all its shortcomings, as competent
observers can see, is a model to the west and an exemplar to
the east.

In all that Battersea and its Labour majority does for the
improvement of its community by the money its generous rate-
payers place at their disposal, I believe that better value is
given in return by officers, workmen, and councillors than in
any district in London.

I say that deliberately after having given five weeks of my
Parliamentary vacation to visiting all the districts, parks, works,
and other public institutions all over London.

In spite of a few blunders that have been checked, a few
errors of judgment, curiously by the very section the Times
picks out for special distinction, the borough council still
enjoys the confidence of the electors ; but has earned the
curses of the opponents of all that is good for the parish and
for London.

The attack of the Times has failed to impress the district,
because it is but a r'echmiffe of flat, stale, and unprofitable
mendacity that failed at the last elections for L.C.C. and the
borough council, and is mainly directed, politically and person-
ally, against myself. From the collection of house-agents,
slum-owners, publicans, and others that compose the declining
Municipal Alliance we expected nothing better. But from a
great newspaper that is still a power when it dares to rise to its
great traditions we had expected dignified correction when
proved to be wrong, sensible advice when doubtful policies
were under discussion, and cultivated instruction when inex-
perience prompted a wayward policy.

But instead of a dignified and well-informed reminder of
duty, obligations, and the responsibilities of Labour to llie
community, which we could have respected, and where true
and applicable sincerely adopted, w^e have had a wanton
attack, inspired by local raalignants, .prompted by political
faction, in the interests of private monopoly that too long
has dominated the life of our great city. In the movement



28o MODERN SOCIALISM

called by the Times " Municipal Socialism," it suspects that
this is an attempt of a class to capture power, fill offices, spend
other people's money in the interest of a special class to the
detriment of the community as a whole. This is what the
contractor, the trust, the syndicate, the resultant " Boss " and
" spoils " system have produced in many American cities.

Municipal Socialism will avoid that danger in Britain, be-
cause the incentive for company franchises, the fruitful source
of corruption everywhere, even in Parliament, will not exist ;
because the town will own the trust, instead of the trust
owning the town.

In so far as Battersea has secured the ownership by its own
ratepayers of what is left to inefficient and costly private enter-
prise elsewhere, Battersea has done well.

The movement amongst workmen for a greater share of
the blessings that municipal life confers on society as a whole
is not a disordered scramble for office, patronage, or largesse
under the guise of dawdling service or perfunctory labour. For
Labour there must be no " Miching Mallecho ; " for the com-
munity none but loyal and strenuous service.

It is a revival of the old-time enthusiasm for a richer,
fuller civic life as a means of lifting themselves from the pit of
Tophet into which past neglect consigned them, private enter-
prise enthralled them \ and from which in raising themselves
they deserve better than the gibes and jeers of the "Joe
Millers " of the Liberty and Property Defence League in the
columns of the Times. If in this upward movement of a
people, for the benefit of the race, for something better than
hovels to live in, drink as a diversion, monotonous toil as a
livelihood, there has been^ as at West Ham and elsewhere,
strong language, in some cases provoked by the present
snobbery and past jobbery of Tory Bumbledom, it is but a
rough incident, a mere stumble, in the stride of a people from
the cringing, dependent period of monopoly tutelage, to the
higher life of the craftsman citizen of a free community.

In that general movement for a brigliter, better London,



JOHN BURNS 2S1

Battersea deservedly stands in the forefront of municipal
progress ; and for that worthy cause Battersea Labour honestly
works, and its workmen, without patronage or corruption, will
ever honourably and fairly strive to lead.

Yours truly,

JOHN BURNS.
September 23, 1902.

The following was the municipal programme given in Mr. Burns'
election address for the London County Council election of 1898.

If elected, I will, as heretofore, devote my time to the
Council's work, and am in favour of —

1. The extension of the powers of the Council, so that the
City, with all its funds and endowments, be included in and
used by a real Municipality for London.

2. That all monopolies, such as gas, water, tramways,
omnibuses, markets, docks, river steamboats, and electric
lighting, should be municipalized, and the profits, amounting



Online LibraryR. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) EnsorModern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; → online text (page 26 of 35)