Productivity of Labour

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd July 1947.

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Photo of Mr Charles Byers Mr Charles Byers , Dorset Northern 12:00 am, 3rd July 1947

I would like to follow up that point, but I do not think I can. The point I am trying to make is that it was clear in the fuel crisis that electricity and gas consumption was going up rapidly, and that coal was not being produced fast enough to meet it, and that therefore there would be a crisis some time. Let the Government be men and admit they did not take the necessary action in time, and that there is nothing wrong with the system. [An HON. MEMBER: "What action?"] One of their first actions could have been to have had rationing far earlier. We know that we began the winter with inadequate stocks. In any case, I am trying not to get out of Order in developing the question of coal. I am trying to say that we must give to the workers of this country the confidence that we know how to produce full employment, that we know that occasionally we shall make mistakes, but that they will not be serious mistakes.

I believe also that if we are to deal with the psychological problem of the restrictive attitude of mind, we have to prove to the worker not only that we shall have full employment, but that the Government will do their best to ensure that there is no crisis next winter, that a man does not need to spin out his work, and that there is plenty more for him when he is finished what he is doing. It is equally important that the Government should tell the country what we are trying to do. That suggestion is made in the "News Chronicle" today—that there is not the proper leadership coming from the Government. Here I believe that the Government are to blame. It is no use having fortnightly Press conferences and saying, "We think we are going on all right." People want to know what they are trying to do, the sort of pattern they are trying to build over a period of years. They want to know that if they make sacrifices today they will get real benefits tomorrow by so doing, and what those benefits will be. I believe it can be done Next, I would like to make a suggestion, and I believe that this is the respon- sibility not so much of the Government as of management. I would like to see in every factory that the worker's job is directly related in his own mind to the production drive. I do not believe that it is. That is where we fail. That is not the responsibility of the Government but of the management inside the factory. We should show in some dramatic fashion, to the coalminers in a particular pit, what an increase of so many tons of coal in that pit would mean in terms of increasing the consumer goods in the shops three, four, or five months later. Those people who are responsible for putting over these dramatic forms of appeal to workers in industry ought to be able to do that. I would like to see coal related to steel, related to motor cars for export, related to what we want import. I do not believe that that is understood. It is always said in economics that the theory that imports should balance exports is the easiest thing to understand. That should be brought home to the people who do not think in those terms at present—and I do not blame them.

I suggest that the managements could play a big part in explaining the position just as was done during the war, when people were sent round the factories to explain how a man's job was related to what was taking place on the beaches of Normandy or in the air over a target area. That can still be done though we are working in a slightly different atmosphere. I was glad to see the announcement that we are to have a great increase in joint production committees. Joint consultation is very important indeed. Do not let us forget when we get joint production committees and joint consultation that, really, we are talking to the people who, probably, are aware of the urgency of the problem. We are not getting at all the workers on all the benches. That is why I have suggested that we should apply the same principle as we did in the war when the management got somebody to give a talk to relate the workers' specific jobs to the production drive and to show how they fit into the drive.

On the question of management, I should like to quote a letter from the manager of a big firm employing thousands of men. I received it only this morning. I believe that if we can get this attitude of mind to work, we shall indeed make quite a big difference to the productivity of labour. He writes: You ask me what we ought to do, and I say to get more output you must always treat your men as human beings. That is something which can be done by the management in the factories this week. They can check up on this and say to themselves, "Arc we doing the maximum to treat these men as human beings?" The letter proceeds: They must know where the management is going and why, and where they fit in, and they must feel as well as think that their interests are yours. This requires proper consultation and discussion in order to break down the 'them' and 'us' barrier which has so often been erected in the past. That was a lesson we learned in the Army in the very early days. We did not get the best out of the troops in a platoon or a battery of guns unless the men knew what was happening in detail on the whole front. If I have put even that one point over—it is by no means a novel point— I shall be grateful. It is the duty of every employer of labour to ask himself whether he is doing enough to take his men into his confidence and to let them know exactly what their specific jobs mean in the factory. It is his duty to tell them what the factory is doing in the production drive. It would not take them long to consider this matter. It would not cost them anything and if they put it into effect they would get a good return.

On the question of financial incentives, I agree that there must be an extension of the system of payment by results where that system will get increased production. It is no use suggesting that it can be applied throughout industry, because it cannot. The facts put before the House by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) not long ago about the building industry show quite conclusively that increased production can be attained by adopting a certain system of payment by results. I have also spoken to representatives of firms responsible for erecting prefabricated houses, and they have proved conclusively that there is a phenomenal increase in output, and that the men are happier and make more money by having a system of payment by results. I know that there is a psychological reaction on the part of the worker. He is frightened that he is letting himself in for sweated labour and for being done down. We must recognise that the trade union movement has never been stronger than it is today. Surely, they can safeguard the interests of the workers. Why cannot they come forward with schemes for payment by results with proper safeguards? I believe that those schemes are being held up for lack of initiative.

What a magnificent lead it would give to the country if the leaders of the building trade unions said tomorrow morning, "This is what we reckon will increase production by 25 per cent. These are the safeguards we want, and now we are prepared to have this payment by results system. We have changed our mind from the old days. But we have now got safeguards. Our primary duty as trade unionists is to safeguard the interests of the worker." If the interests of the worker are to be safeguarded, it must not be done on a short-term basis. One must look ahead. The one thing which will wreck the interests of the workers of the country will be a failure to get the production we want. I would like to see the trade unions take the initiative in the introduction of a system of payment by results. Then, at least, we would have the safeguard that the scheme would be in the interests of the workers, because it is the job of the trade unionists to look after the workers. Do not let us wait for the management to bring forward these schemes and then say, "No, we do not like that one." Why should not the trade unions take action now and produce a proper scheme?