London

ON THE WORLD TODAY

ENEMIES of the British Labor Government expected dissension or even a split at the annual convention of the Labor Party this year. Yet when the 1255 delegates, representing 3,800,000 organized workers, met for five days at the breezy seaside resort of Margate, discord melted under the soft sunshine.

The delegates came from workshops and factories, from Parliament, from bleak offices, and from local party branches throughout the country. These men and women of the British Labor movement — some in black coats and striped trousers, others with sleeves rolled up and shirt fronts open — were drawn together by the very adversity which their opponents thought would divide them.

For fifty years they and their fathers had been struggling to build this movement. Two years ago a general election flicked them into the seat of government with a generous majority in Parliament. At the Margate conference, no delegate was inclined to risk this hard-won power by rebelling on any major issue.

Almost throughout, the party’s executive committee of twenty-seven had its own way. It was occasionally criticized and attacked from the floor. On one question it even suffered an awkward defeat. This was on the issue of equal pay for men and women.

In the most stirring episode of the convention, a frail, white-haired woman of seventy-five, Mrs. E. M. White, suffragette of another generation, humbled the party leadership and the Labor Government. Alone, by a moving speech, she swung the convention into a 4 to 1 ballot against its leaders and in favor of equal pay for women now. Several members of the executive committee, sitting on the platform, were so electrified by the old lady’s impassioned demand for economic equality for her sex that they clapped excitedly as she denounced them.

For a quarter of a century the Labor Party had been calling for standard wage rates for the same job, regardless of sex. But the Government, while agreeing to the principle, refused to put equal pay into operation immediately. The cost would be the equivalent of $120,000,000 a year if women’s pay were to be raised to the male level in the national and local government services. That sum would be multiplied many times if equal pay were extended to industry and commerce.

At a time when the people’s purchasing power is surpassing by $4,000,000,000 annually the value of goods that can be bought on the home market, an all-around lift of women’s incomes would increase the inflation threat.

So the Labor Party leadership, defying the convention’s 4 to 1 vote for immediate equal pay, accepted the idea but declined to apply it now. Some delegates were dissatisfied that a Labor Government which can find £900,000,000 for the armed forces this year refused to spend one thirtieth of that sum to keep its promise to women workers.

Shift to the Right

Addressing the conference, Deputy Prime Minister Herbert Morrison went far out of his way to woo the middle class, managers and technicians, and even the employers. A few days earlier his colleague, Fuel Minister Emanuel Shin well, had told a public meeting of electrical workers that the Government is supported by organized labor and that the rest don’t matter a tinker’s curse.

To erase the vote-losing remark of Shinwell, Herbert Morrison expressed sympathy for the middle class, whose incomes, he said, are often not higher than those of “workpeople.” If Morrison’s kind words for the bourgeoisie indicated a rightward trend, it was even more conspicuous that not a single delegate dissented and several muttered agreement. Nor was he criticized for telling the delegates that until labor produces more goods to be bought, higher wages and shorter hours are useless.

Bevin wins

The convention dealt its hardest blow to the Left on foreign affairs. The group of rebels, led by Richard Crossman, took a terrific drubbing. Before the Margate conference opened, the party leaders had received assurance that the big unions would support Bevin’s foreign policy, and their block vote controlled two thirds of the convention. Sunburned and with perspiration running down his face and blurring his horn-rimmed spectacles, Bevin coasted to an easy triumph.

Resolutions implicitly accusing Bevin of servility to capitalist America, opposing war preparedness against “either the United States or Russia,” and condemning British support for the Truman Doctrine — in fact all resolutions except two which approved Bevin’s policy — were either withdrawn or almost unanimously beaten by a show of hands after Bevin, drawing a handkerchief across his brow, sat down.

Attlee laid down the party line against the rebels, who have been clamoring that the British Labor Government is ganging up with the United States against Russia. The Prime Minister declared, “I utterly deny the charge made by some people whose subservience to one great power makes them charge us with subservience to another.”

Aftermath of the blizzards

It has only lately become possible to survey the impact of last winter’s blizzards on agriculture. The Government estimates that 4,188,000 sheep and lambs are dead, victims mainly of the February frost and snow and, to a smaller extent, of subsequent floods. This means the loss of 21 per cent of Britain’s flocks. About 50,000 cattle were also frozen to death or drowned. Experts say five years will be needed to replace these sheep and cattle. The tight ration in Britain allows one as much meat in a week as a normal consumer eats in a day — about two chops or their equivalent.

Total direct and indirect cost is assessed at $80,000,000. About a 1/4 million farmers and land workers were affected. The wheat crop is likely to be 550,000 acres below the 2 1/2 million acreage which had been earmarked for the 1947 harvest. Potatoes destroyed amounted to 75,000 tons.

One casualty of the cold and blizzards passed almost unnoticed. That is the loss of wild birds. It is much more than a blow to folk who love to hear a thrush sing. It marks the disappearance of birds which protect crops against snails and other pests, and the cumulative effect is going to be felt.

The picture of a dying England being presented to the American public by some reports is grotesquely distorted. True, the prospect for the next few years is not rosy. It will take several more years to achieve full recovery than was imagined. Food and clothes rationing will continue longer than was expected.

But there are impressive signs of the basic economic health of the nation. Herbert Morrison, no windowdresser, has stated with confidence, “Short-term setbacks there may be, but the long-term trend will be in the right direction. The coal industry is on its feet; the men and machines are coming forward and progress is in sight. The steel industry too is beginning to move in the right direction. These two are the foundations of our industrial strength.”

In many respects the British industrial scene is better than after World War I. The national percentage of unemployment in 1922 was 14.9 per cent, but today it is 2 per cent. The number of houses built in the first two years after World War I was unofficially estimated at 12,000. This contrasts with 194,000 built during the corresponding period after Hitler’s deieat.

Coal is the key

Run-down machinery, shortage of miners, weariness and inefficiency are holding back mining output. But recovery after the winter breakdown has been faster than expected. Coal output for 1947 will probably be 197 million tons, which is still 3 million below the essential minimum. But about 9 million tons of home-produced coal will be economized by industrial use of oil instead of coal, by forced cuts in electricity and gas consumption, and by small imports.

On May 1, the 700,000 coal miners in this newly nationalized industry were granted the five-day week, and it seems to be working well. The majority of miners, even with the shorter week, are working longer than before because there is much less absenteeism.

The Government has increased the allocation of coal to the steel plants. This became necessary because shortage of steel has been threatening to eclipse the coal shortage as the most troublesome blot on industrial recovery. Home production capacity is only four fifths of present steel needs.

Lack of steel is delaying shipbuilding, impeding motorcar manufacture, hampering growth of the whole capital goods industry, and retarding the housing program. In the last Quarter oi this year steel production is expected to reach the pre-war peak annual rate of 13 million tons. Despite the grave shortage of steel and timber, British shipbuilding is booming. In the first quarter of 1947, Britain produced 54 per cent of the whole world’s new ships.

Besides the coal and steel deficiency, another major cause of the crisis is too little electricity. Electricity production has almost doubled since 1938, but the larger load has to be carried by almost the same generating plant. The dilemma is likely to grow worse. But the Government now expects to manufacture in two years the electrical generators which were to have been made in three.

The gap between exports and imports

The British foreign trade position is disquieting. While exports are now just above the level at which they stood before the fuel crisis, they are still being dangerously outrun by imports. In February the Cabinet set an export target of 140 per cent of the 1938 volume, to be reached by the end of this year, as compared with 111 per cent during the last quarter of 1946. The Government had contemplated a 150 per cent goal but during the blizzards reduced this to 140 per cent. It is now extremely improbable that even this more modest volume will be reached.

The imperative need to sell more and more abroad, and to import less, means that, the British must go on eating tedious food, must be rationed to half the garments they used to buy before the war, and must resign themselves to doing without consumer’s articles which would make everyone’s life more comfortable.

Of all workers in British manufacturing industries before the war (June, 1939), 14 per cent were producing for export. Today that ratio is up to 21 per cent and still rising.

It is no calamity when the Briton who likes a drink, but can’t buy one, learns that British whiskey exports to the hard-currency countries, mostly to the United States, are now being increased by $20,000,000. It is more serious when you are unable adequately to clothe your wife, children, and yourself because textiles are a primary export bringing the foreign currency which England needs to keep alive.

If Secretary Marshall’s proposals for European reconstruction are successful, Britain’s dollar crisis will be eased. One other eventuality, besides the Marshall Plan, would help: a mild recession in the United States. A major United States slump would be disastrous for Britain and the world. America would then reduce her buying abroad, depriving other countries of the money with which to buy British products. British sales to other nations would be hit.

But a little slithering of American prices, say a drop of 15 per cent, would make the American loan to Britain last longer and enable the British to buy more food and raw material. It would be a slight compensation for the 40 per cent rise in American prices since the loan was negotiated. A gentle recession in the United States could be the occasion for a thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey.