I’ve been reminded of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists book by Robert Tressell (published in 1914), a major piece of socialist literature and particular favourite of people such as Tony Benn (my printed copy has a forward by him). The book is out-of-copyright, and so is available free from Project Gutenberg , Amazon etc.
The below – from a meeting of the council in Mugsborough (Hastings) in Chapter 39 – is a seemingly timeless take-that to (to give contemporary examples) MPs voting through 11% pay rises then complaining when nurses have the nerve to ask for a 1% below-inflation rise, or the divide-and-conquer tactic of making low paid private sector workers jealous of public sector workers with better pay or conditions:
Councillor Rushton said that several influential ratepayers and employers of labour had complained to him about the high wages of the Corporation workmen, some of whom were paid sevenpence-halfpenny an hour. Sevenpence an hour was the maximum wage paid to skilled workmen by private employers in that town, and he failed to see why the Corporation should pay more. (Hear, hear.)
It had a very bad effect on the minds of the men in the employment of private firms, tending to make them dissatisfied with their wages.
The same state of affairs prevailed with regard to the unskilled labourers in the Council’s employment. Private employers could get that class of labour for fourpence-halfpenny or fivepence an hour, and yet the corporation paid fivepence-halfpenny and even sixpence for the same class of work. (Shame.) It was not fair to the ratepayers. (Hear, hear.) Considering that the men in the employment of the Corporation had almost constant work, if there was to be a difference at all, they should get not more, but less, than those who worked for private firms. (Cheers.) He moved that the wages of the Corporation workmen be reduced in all cases to the same level as those paid by private firms.
Councillor Grinder seconded. He said it amounted to a positive scandal. Why, in the summer-time some of these men drew as much as 35/- in a single week! (Shame.) and it was quite common for unskilled labourers–fellers who did nothing but the very hardest and most laborious work, sich as carrying sacks of cement, or digging up the roads to get at the drains, and sich-like easy jobs–to walk off with 25/- a week! (Sensation.) He had often noticed some of these men swaggering about the town on Sundays, dressed like millionaires and cigared up! They seemed quite a different class of men from those who worked for private firms, and to look at the way some of their children was dressed you’d think their fathers was Cabinet Minstrels! No wonder the ratepayers complained ot the high rates. Another grievance was that all the Corporation workmen were allowed two days’ holiday every year, in addition to the Bank Holidays, and were paid for them! (Cries of ‘shame’, ‘Scandalous’, ‘Disgraceful’, etc.) No private contractor paid his men for Bank Holidays, and why should the Corporation do so? He had much pleasure in seconding Councillor Rushton’s resolution.
Councillor Weakling opposed the motion. He thought that 35/- a week was little enough for a man to keep a wife and family with (Rot), even if all the men got it regularly, which they did not. Members should consider what was the average amount per week throughout the whole year, not merely the busy time, and if they did that they would find that even the skilled men did not average more than 25/- a week, and in many cases not so much. If this subject had not been introduced by Councillor Rushton, he (Dr Weakling) had intended to propose that the wages of the Corporation workmen should be increased to the standard recognized by the Trades Unions. (Loud laughter.) It had been proved that the notoriously short lives of the working people–whose average span of life was about twenty years less than that of the well-to-do classes–their increasingly inferior physique, and the high rate of mortality amongst their children was caused by the wretched remuneration they received for hard and tiring work, the excessive number of hours they have to work, when employed, the bad quality of their food, the badly constructed and insanitary homes their poverty compels them to occupy, and the anxiety, worry, and depression of mind they have to suffer when out of employment. (Cries of ‘Rot’, ‘Bosh’, and loud laughter.) Councillor Didlum said, ‘Rot’.
It was a very good word to describe the disease that was sapping the foundations of society and destroying the health and happiness and the very lives of so many of their fellow countrymen and women. (Renewed merriment and shouts of ‘Go and buy a red tie.’) He appealed to the members to reject the resolution. He was very glad to say that he believed it was true that the workmen in the employ of the Corporation were a little better off than those in the employ of private contractors, and if it were so, it was as it should be. They had need to be better off than the poverty-stricken, half-starved poor wretches who worked for private firms.
Councillor Didlum said that it was very evident that Dr Weakling had obtained his seat on that Council by false pretences. If he had told the ratepayers that he was a Socialist, they would never have elected him. (Hear, hear.) Practically every Christian minister in the country would agree with him (Didlum) when he said that the poverty of the working classes was caused not by the ‘wretched remuneration they receive as wages’, but by Drink. (Loud applause.) And he was very sure that the testimony of the clergy of all denominations was more to be relied upon than the opinion of a man like Dr Weakling. (Hear, hear.)
Dr Weakling said that if some of the clergymen referred to or some of the members of the council had to exist and toil amid the same sordid surroundings, overcrowding and ignorance as some of the working classes, they would probably seek to secure some share of pleasure and forgetfulness in drink themselves! (Great uproar and shouts of ‘Order’, ‘Withdraw’, ‘Apologize’.)
Councillor Grinder said that even if it was true that the haverage lives of the working classes was twenty years shorter than those of the better classes, he could not see what it had got to do with Dr Weakling. (Hear, hear.) So long as the working class was contented to die twenty years before their time, he failed to see what it had got to do with other people. They was not runnin’ short of workers, was they? There was still plenty of ’em left. (Laughter.) So long as the workin’ class was satisfied to die orf–let ’em die orf! It was a free country. (Applause.) The workin’ class adn’t arst Dr Weakling to stick up for them, had they? If they wasn’t satisfied, they would stick up for theirselves! The working men didn’t want the likes of Dr Weakling to stick up for them, and they would let ‘im know it when the next election came round. If he (Grinder) was a wordly man, he would not mind betting that the workin’ men of Dr Weakling’s ward would give him ‘the dirty kick out’ next November. (Applause.)
Councillor Weakling, who knew that this was probably true, made no further protest. Rushton’s proposition was carried, and then the Clerk announced that the next item was the resolution Mr Didlum had given notice of at the last meeting, and the Mayor accordingly called upon that gentleman.
Councillor Didlum, who was received with loud cheers, said that unfortunately a certain member of that Council seemed to think he had a right to oppose nearly everything that was brought forward.
(The majority of the members of the Band glared malignantly at Weakling.)
He hoped that for once the individual he referred to would have the decency to restrain himself, because the resolution he (Didlum) was about to have the honour of proposing was one that he believed no right-minded man–no matter what his politics or religious opinions–could possibly object to; and he trusted that for the credit of the Council it would be entered on the records as anunopposed motion. The resolution was as follows:
‘That from this date all the meetings of this Council shall be opened with prayer and closed with the singing of the Doxology.’ (Loud applause.)
Councillor Rushton seconded the resolution, which was also supported by Mr Grinder, who said that at a time like the present, when there was sich a lot of infiddles about who said that we all came from monkeys, the Council would be showing a good example to the working classes by adopting the resolution.
Councillor Weakling said nothing, so the new rule was carried nem. con., and as there was no more business to be done it was put into operation for the first time there and then. Mr Sweater conducting the singing with a roll of paper–the plan of the drain of ‘The Cave’–and each member singing a different tune.