Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
From the Doyen of Science (S618b: 1905)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the politician and editor George N. Barnes, printed in the first number of a new series run of his magazine Amalgamated Engineers Monthly Journal in 1905. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S618B.htm


[[p. 33]] Broadstone, Wimborne,
November 22nd, 1904.
Mr. G. N. Barnes.

     Dear Sir,--I know really nothing of your circumstances, your needs, or your ultimate objects, and, therefore, it is difficult for me to say anything that can be of service to you. I am also too much occupied to do more than say a very few words. But I have long held and expressed the opinion that organised Labour is not doing the best for itself and the community. Whatever may have been the case in the past, it is to-day a waste of energy and of means to endeavour to raise your wages by means of strikes. The employers being organised also, are stronger than you are. The time, I believe, has come when organised Labour should devote the funds hitherto spent on strikes upon industrial competition with the employers. It seems to me incredible that a society such as yours cannot among its 90,000 members produce knowledge and ability sufficient to carry on any ordinary engineering works as well and as profitably as can a capitalist employer. It would be worth your while to make any sacrifice to do this, and thus absorb your unemployed members, paying them wages for profitable work instead of allowances while remaining idle.

     The economies of such a system would be so great that in a few years you would not have an unemployed member, and the inevitable, the absolutely certain, result, would be that wages would rise automatically, and would remain permanently high. Then, with your accumulated capital you would always be ready to purchase the works and factories of bankrupt employers at low rates, because no capitalist would buy without the certainty of obtaining labour, whereas your supply of labour would be inexhaustible. It will be a grand day for the workers when this principle is adopted, of fighting the capitalists by competition [[p. 34]] instead of by strikes. This is what they will dread, because this method will give you the advantage, will render you the stronger.

     I do not see how this plan can possibly fail, always supposing that you carry it out on thoroughly business lines, and make yourselves a reputation for the highest quality in materials and workmanship. The employers now can demand the highest business capacity, the most skilled workers, the most talented designers and inventors. You would have the same in your own ranks and if not could as readily obtain them; and it is to be presumed that your own members, working for themselves and for the elevation of their class, would not work less efficiently than they do for the capitalist.

     If energetically and persistently carried out, and combined with a system of co-operation and thorough education, the movement once begun must inevitably extend, and by the middle of the century almost the whole, if not the whole, engineering work of the country (excluding, I suggest, war material) might be in the hands of the workers themselves.

     But as soon as you have successfully shown the way, other Labour societies will certainly follow your example, and we shall then be marching steadily on to the realisation of the co-operative commonwealth.

     With best wishes for the cause of Labour, in which alone there is now hope for civilisation and for humanity.

     I subscribe myself, your very sincere friend,

Alfred R. Wallace.


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