Constructive Conservatism, #9

(1) First, then, as to industrial co-partnery. It rests on a firm basis of principle. Capital and Labour by it are to the full recognised as partners in the work of the production of wealth, for each shares in the true profits of that production, arrived at after each, the one by way of a fair rate of interest, the other by way of a fair wage, has been paid the price for its services in the common work. And further, the wage-earner’s proportion of the profits is paid to him partly in cash, partly invested for him in the concern, while, as the workers become capitalists, “seats on the Board,” either for the domestic internal government of the concern, or for its general direction, very naturally follow.

Thus status and property-owning grow together; the wage-earner, as industrialist, from a machine becomes a man. Nor is this all. To the wage-earner, co-partnery brings a new incentive and a new kind of interest in his work, arising out of his new relation to it; a wider industrial outlook, since, as his savings in the business increase, so does his interest in its general prosperity, for that prosperity affects him directly as a shareholder.

To the community it brings all the results that flow form a real identification of interest between Capital and Labour—reduction of the number of strikes, with their waste of the national wealth and dislocation of the national life; the elimination of such crazy doctrines as that of “ca’ canny”’; improvement in the standard of both management and work, since the wage-earner will not readily submit to his own good work being neutralized by the slackness of his neighbour, or the incompetence of his manager.

Moreover, co-partnery is clearly on the broad highway of economic evolution, for it is the next available incentive to increased productivity. Increase of wages and reduction of the hours of labour have both contributed largely in he last hundred years to this result. But it is more than doubtful whether both of these factors have not exhausted their impetus, and from a purely economic point of view are not now “squeezed oranges”.

And finally, the development of co-partnery and profit-sharing is the natural and obvious concomitant of any system of protecting British industry. For it has told against Tariff Reform that it has seemed to many to be the sole constructive suggestion which Conservatism had to make, and it has, perhaps in consequence, acquired almost the character of a substitute for, instead of a part of, a general policy of improving the status of the wage-earner. Certainly many opponents have made haste to point out to the working classes that, in the existing industrial system, the lion’s share of any advantage would, in their opinion, fall to Capital rather than Labour.

Such a criticism would be of no avail under a system in which employer and employee clearly shared alike in the increased prosperity.

Yet there are objections. It is said, “Some industries are not suited to the system.” Possibly not. But has there yet been any determined effort to work out in practice the modifications necessary to make it suit the special circumstances of particular trades? The overcoming of practical difficulties is a matter for resource and will-power, once the value of the underlying principle is realised. Conservatism in the new era must refute Anatole France’s mocking remark that moderate men and women are those who have only a moderate belief in moderate opinions.

And again, “The Trade Unions are against it.” Perhaps their Socialist leaders are, but battle has to be joined with them in any case. That the great mass of the wage-earners is hostile can hardly be maintained, since the fact is that no political party has yet seriously addressed itself to the exposition of co-partnery in all its bearings. In any case, co-partnery is the ideal ground on which to fight Socialism, for it emphasizes the distinction, fundamental but neglected, between a property-owning democracy and the Socialist ideal, and if the Trade Union leaders hide away from their followers the more excellent way, so much the worse, when the truth is discovered, for them and for their leadership.

If, therefore, the master-problem in our highly industrialised country be how to bring the economic status of the wage-earner abreast of his political and educational, the master-key to that problem is clearly industrial co-partnery.

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