Sunday 28 October 2007
1946 Pay - Country Standard
£4:10 for the Farm workers by Tom Potter FOREWORD By A. C. DANN General Secretary, National Union of Agricultural Workers (NUAW)
The case for the farmworker has here been very ably put in pamphlet form, containing sufficient material for the average worker to convince, not only the farmer and farm worker, but also the townsman, of the Justification of our claims.
There are, of course, many other points which could be put forward in support of the farm workers' claims, but that would need a much greater document than this pamphlet. The writer has done a good job, putting the subject in language which can be clearly understood, and making out a very good case for the workers in agriculture in their demands. £4.10s.0d.
FOR THE FARMWORKER
By TOM POTTER Norfolk Farmworker
The war against Germany and Japan has now been won, and our country is turning to the great tasks of reconstruction, and of establishing peace on a secure foundation. The people are determined to build a happy and prosperous Britain. In this the farmworkers, who produce our food, have a big pant to play.
They need for themselves big advances in wages and conditions; their work will become of even greater national and international importance. This winter is likely to prove the grimmest yet. Thousands of people are in danger of death from starvation and the diseases which follow, in Europe and the rest of the world; and ithe ending of Lease-Lend to Britain means that it is a problem to maintain our own rations at their present level in this country. This means that it will be vital for our land to continue to be utilised to its fullest 'extent to grow every ounce of food possible.
The goodwill and fullest co-operation of the farmworkers are absolutely necessary if we are to obtain the food we need. The farmworker has had many flowery compliments paid him during the war, but when it comes to a more material reward for his labours, then this is quite another matter.
FAIRY TALES But is it not true, you may ask, that the farmworker is receiving more than double his pre-war wage ? And are not rents of houses and the cosit of living much cheaper in the country ? Let us examine these questions, because they will be some of the arguments used against granting any further increase in farmworkers' wages. Yes, it is true that wages have considerably increased. Our wages in 1939 averaged about 38/- a week, though many got much less; and they have now reached 70/- for a 48-52 hour week. But this has only 'been achieved bymagnificent campaigns led by the N.U.A.W.—and I might add, without one day's loss of food production through strikes, despite the vigorous opposition by the farmers' representatives to every demand for wage increases.
FARMERS BETTER OFF
Alongside with this it is necessary to look at the changed position of the industry, and the changed position of the farmers. In 1943, Mr. Hudson, then Minister of Agriculture, announced that agricultural production in England and Wales was 70% higher than in 1939. This increase has taken place without any increase in the total labour force on the land and, in fact, with a decrease in the skilled labour, for land girls and other war-time extras have only replaced young farmworkers taken into the Forces.
Secondly, the prices obtained for this greatly increased production stand some 70% higher than in 1939. Thus the ability of farmers to pay greatly increased wages cannot possibly be doubted. lA striking illustration was given in "Changes in the Economic Organisation of Agriculture," a Report by the Cambridge University Department of Agriuuliture on 200 farms—mainly arable—in the Eastern Counties between 1939-43. The average net income rose from £467 in 1938 to £1,214 in 1942 and £889 in 1943. During all this time the landlords who draw rents from agriculture made piteous complaints about their" poverty," but no one has ever heard of a landlord having to make do on £3 10s. 6d. Furthermore, it is well known that very large sums are paid to the industry every year in the form of subsidies— more, it has been said, than to any other industry.
It is true that a number of these subsidies are designed to give special assistance to the "marginal" producers, while others have the effect of artificially reducing prices to the consumer; but it cannot Ibe seriously argued that the vast sums expended do not benefit the farmers also. They do have the effect of putting tfhem into the position of being able to' pay proper wages ; and, being obtained from the public funds, they should carry with them the obligation to do so.
"ADVANTAGES" OF COUNTRY LIFE ?
Looking at it from the workers' angle, rural rents may be less than in towns, but if you take the tied cottage, in which half the farmworkers live—which means that the very roofs over their heads depend upon keeping their jobs— such amenities, as 'electricity, clean water supply and drain- age, or even a kitchen sink, are practically unknown, andeven the minimum rent of 3/- to 4/- per week for theses hovels is far more than they are worth. The other half who do live in " free " houses often have to pay a rent of 10/- or 12/-. Take again the supposed cheapness of the cost of living in the country.
How would the farmers on the Agricultural Wages Board like this same argument applied to them as the very reason why they should be able to afford higher wages than the employers in the towns ? Anyhow, this supposed cheapness, is a complete fallacy. The easiest proof of this can be seen in any big town near an agricultural area by observing itihe large numbers of fairmworkers and their wives who come from miles around by bus and train, paying a substantial fare, to do their .shopping, precisely because things are cheaper there than in the village or small town where they live.
Finally, it is now generally acknowledged—as Harry Pollitt again pointed out in a recent speech on the need for a Government Wages Policy—that the actual increase m what it costs to live is not the 30 per cent. of the offcial Cost-of-Living index, but over 50 per cent.
A CHARTER FOR THE WORKERS No, the farm worker has a long way to go before his wages are on a par with the skilled workers in other industries. Therefore, when we ask for a minimum wage of £4 10,s. Od. for a 48 hour week, our claim is an absolutely just one, and the other demands which our Union is puttingforward:—
Proportional increases for male juniors.
£3 for female workers over 18.
Overtime, time-and-a-quarter on weekdays; time-and-a- half on (Sundays, Bank Holidays, and the eekly short-day.
All (six) Bank Holidays with pay
must be granted in full if the agricultural industry is to continue its expansionist programme, and thus ensure food for the people and prosperity for the countryside.
PEOPLE'S FOOD AND FARMERS' BUSINESS IN DANGER
To those farmers who read this pamphlet, I want to point out a few facts. It is true that the revised June 4th Returns of the Ministry show a trifling increase in tihe labour force compared with last year, but the number of regular male workers is 20,000 less than in 1939, and even so, 20,000 conscientious objectors are included. The substantial increase in casual workers cannot be regarded as a healthy thing for the industry; on the docks, for example, there is an insistent demand for the ending of casual labour. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 prisoners of war who cannot be expected, and are not wanted, to remain for ever; and the Women's Land Army is rapidly diminishing.
The appeal of the Government for 100,000 volunteers for agricultural training remains practically unanswered, and out of 150 children leaving school in West Wilts, recently, it was found that only three were going into fanning. The demand among the farmworkers for the lifting of the Control of Engagement Order which prevents men between the ages of 18 and 50 from leaving the land is making itself felt.
This has now been done for almost all workers except in agriculture. In short, the industry will soon face a labour famine, which will ruin the farmers and endanger the nation's food supply.
Decent wages and conditions for the farm workers is the only way to stop it. Our application last November for an increase in theNational Minimum Wage resulted in our wages being increased by ,a mere 5/- a week, from £3. 5s.Od. to £3. 10s. Od. for men over 21, without any increase .for women and youths;and this was granted only after a great deal of delay anda seven hour battle by the Unions at the National Wages Board meeting.
FARMWORKERS, INTO ACTION
This means that a great campaign will be necessary if we are to obtain the full demand that we are making That it can be done I feel quite confident. The position today is much more favourable than ever before. We have now a Labour Government which includes over 70 M.P 's from rural constituencies, and at their head in the fight for better conditions for the farmworker is the President of our Union Alderman Gooch. This must mean that our voice will be heard in Parliament more than ever before. Secondly, there is the growing strength and influence ot the Union. More than 2,000 new members a month are still joining, and this must mean that the Union can speak too the farmworker with greater authority than it has ever done.
But we must clearly understand that it depends upon what we—the ordinary members—do. now and during the campaign whether or not we shall win our just demands. Our immediate task is to see that the agricultural workers, men and women, are organised 100 per cent. inside the Union, and we must see, too, that our branches meet and discuss ways and means of backing our leadedship to the fullest extent by passing resolutions demanding that our claims shall be met in full, and by letters to our M.P.s and to the local press and farming journals, stating our case.
TOWN WORKERS MUST SUPPORT
We must, in fact, make use of every means of publicity that is in our power to get the support of the whole countryside. We must see to it that the help of the organised Trade Union Movement in the towns is enlisted in our fight for higher wages and better conditions. That the town workers realise the importance of the position of farmworkers in the struggle for a better Britain is shown by the resolutions of support that have already been passed by Trade Union branches and Trades Councils in the towns, supporting our demand for a £4 10s. 0d. minimum wage.
And at the last Trades Union Congress at Blackpool, a (resolution demanding for farmworkers a wage rate equal to that of town workers was put forward, and was carried unanimously latter an unanswerable case had been put before the Congress by Mr. A. C. Dann, the General Secretary of the N.U.A.W. In conclusion, I want to appeal first to every member of the Union who reads these words. Mak'e a resolution now to go to that pal of yours and get him to join the Union, and, furthermore, take him along to the Branch meetings and let him see for himself how the intereste of the workers are protected by belonging to a Trade Union.
Secondly, to those farmworkers who are not in the Union: Join now and play your part in the fight for wages and conditions that will enable us to afford amenities—such as better houses, with electricity and piped-water .supplies, and better food, clothes, and opportunities for education and recreation—that we voted for at the last General Election, and which the granting of a decent minimum wage will help to bring into being. And, finally, to the farmers, to whom the prosperity of the agricultural industry means so much: as. workers, we know that the industry has not always enjoyed the prosperity that it does today. Before the war, many small framers,in particular, had a hard struggle to make ends meet.
But the farmers must realise that the position to-day is very different. At the last Biennial Conference of the N.U.A.W. the Union agreed to form a joint committee with the Farmers'Union to try to agree upon a policy for the industry that will ensure prosperity both for the farmers and the farmworkers. But this co-operation cannot be expected to produce any real results except on the understanding that the workers areentitled to wages and conditions as good as .those of their fellows in the towns, and unless something more than words is forthcoming in recognition of the principle. LABOUR'S
PLAN MUST MEAN HIGH WAGES
There is a Labour Government in power today, a Government that represents the broad mass of the people. The Labour Party before the election published its plan for agriculture in "Our Land". A similar programme was published by the Communist Party in "Agriculture, Planned and Prosperous"; support for the general principles under lying the policy was given unanimously by the T.U.C. at Blackpool in September, 1945. Already the Government has outlined its plans for carrying out a substantial part of its policy by giving the farmers guaranteed prices and guarante'ed markets.
These proposals, give the farmers most of what they have been asking for; and their last objections as to doubts and in-security in the future have been removed. Further measures to help the small and less efficient farmers, and to reduce the margin between what the consumer pays and what the farmer gets, can be expected. In 1938 the public paid £1,500 million for its food. The British farmers received £250, and the foreign farmers £400 millions, leaving £850 million for the middlemen.
Thus, here is plenty of scope for fair prices for the farmers, proper wages for the workers, and lower prices for the consumers Along with its plan for agriculture was Labour's plan to provide cheaper electrictiy and water supplies to the countryside, and measures to improve the capital equipment of our farms. The farmers and the workers have a common interesit in seeing that they are carried through. It mustbe understood that proper wages are also a common interest, without which the industry can be neither efficient nor prosperous.
Refusal to grant a decent wage to the farm workers will result in the best and most intelligent of our workers leaving the land again on the same scale as happened between the two wars.
But if our demand is granted in full, then the way will be open, not only to farmers and farmworkers, but to the whole of the working-class movement in Britain to advance to greater prosperity than ever before.
Published by THE COUNTRY STANDARD 27 BEDFORD STREET, LONDON, W.C.2.
Note —Farm Workers desiring to join their Union should write to Mr. A. C. Dann, General Secretary. 63, Bushey Hall Road. Bushey, Watford, Herts.
Just as this pamphlet was going to press, the Central Wages Board turned down the farmworker flat—no 5/- increase tihis time to soften the blow. ' We are convinced that the decision of the Board is a bad one—-bad for the farmworkers, bad for the farmers, bad for agriculture, bad 'for the 'nation.
The case/made out in this pamphlet remains good; What does the Wages Board mean by saying that to grant the claim would mean " a decrease in food production " ? (Farmer's Weekly, 4/1/46).' How can food production be kept up if there is no willing labour to replace the scores of thousands of German prisoners of war ? The Government itself has recognised the serious need for labour and the bad conditions on the land by maintaining, the Control of Engagements Order for agriculture. We are certain the farmworkers will redouble their effort and not give up until that £4 10s. is won in full.
Maybe, as a first step, the County Wages Committee can be induced before February 14th to protest against the Central Board's decision. More meetings, more resolutions, more letters in the local Press, more efforts to secure the support of Labour M.P.s will be needed. Every farmworker, all progressive-minded people who realise the key position of agriculture can help. The fight is on ! The Country Standard.