LABOUR disputes have always been among the primary symptoms of a social structure in the act of readjustment. However deeply strikes are to be deplored in the present critical days, the actual working time lost by them is much smaller than one might conclude after reading headlines in certain sections of the Press. An Industrial Commissioner, quoting the statistics for April and May of this year, showed that in the Scottish coal-mining industry the time lost by strikes was a quarter of one per cent, and the shipbuilding loss was actually less than one-sixth of this figure. Absenteeism is largely attributed to young people who have become "stale" after intensive spells of overtime. Meanwhile two million more men and women are to register for war work; men up to 50, women up to 45. Young men transplanted from industry to the fighting forces will thus be replaced by older operatives; and rapidly-expanding war factories will have fresh personnel. The problem of the key-worker must be tackled with constructive imagination.
The President of the Amalgamated Engineering Union has warned engineers that the "fluidity of labour" is of signal importance; it might be necessary, for instance, to move arms workers to shipbuilding. As one industry reaches saturation point, a switch-over of personnel will be vital in the achieving and maintaining of 100 per cent production. To this end the Ministry of Supply has been cooperating with the Ministry of Labour to complete schemes for a nation-wide "labour pool". Of the thirty-three million men and women between the ages of 14 and 65, twenty-two million have been mobilized for the armed forces, Civil Defence and war production; and the Labour Minister, Mr. Bevin, has made the resounding claim that no other country in the world's history has ever so fully mobilized its man-power. And to provide the sinews of war the House of Commons the other day voted another thousand million sterling. This makes a total of ten thousand million pounds - already more that the total cost of the War of 1914-1918.
Farmers in Scotland have touched a new peak in potato planting, and look for a production of over a million tons this autumn. There is word of this year's harvest being a bumper one generally in the north; and Scottish farmers, smallholders, and crofters have succeeded in bringing another 200,000 acres under the plough since last autumn, thus adding a total of 600,000 acres since the first winter of the war. The figures for England are no less encouraging; and the latest demand of Mr. Hudson, Minister of Agriculture, is for another half-million acres to be bought under the plough this autumn. City volunteers are now being mobilized all over England to help in the harvest; land clubs are being formed, and school children will spend holidays in harvest camps. It is estimated that 20,000 boys and girls will have enrolled with farmers by August.
With a sharp pencil and large-scale map, Lord Woolton has divided the United Kingdom into sectors, each being a new food zone. This will mean a big drop in the cost of distribution, for retailers will be obligated to draw their supplies only from wholesalers within their zone boundary; and the edict will affect 15s. of every 20s. spent by the average housewife. Similar plans have already been in operation for certain commodities. One had heard too much about goods being carried long distances, only to be hauled back to retailers in the locality whence they came.
THE Food Minister startled the House of Lords the other day by holding up a small green disk about the size of a 5s. piece. He assured his astounded peers that it contained enough concentrated vegetables to feed a family of twelve: "Fresh vegetables," he declared, "for troops in the desert!" One wonders what our troops will think of the green agglomerate! But there is news of a new dried meat process that will mean a saving in cargo space: indeed, caterers have been putting the dried meat through drastic tests and even "customer reaction" is being tabulated.
In October Lord Woolton will become the world's biggest milkman, for the Milk Marketing Board will then be the sole buyer of milk from British producers. In every urban district of more than 10,000 people associations of dairymen are being formed to cut anomalies in supply; and the marketing of milk will be controlled at every stage from farm to housewife. Mothers and children will, of course, have priority.
The housewife with a far-seeing eye (and memories of chill winters in the past) is thinking of her coal supply. No more than 28 lb. may be bought without registration; if one's total stock was less than 1 ton at the beginning of this month, one may purchase up to 10 cwt. before the end of it, and the cost is 10s. per ton more than in June. The coal problem is one of the biggest in our wartime conundrums. Absolute justice to all is an ideal hard to achieve. Justice to the mineworker is no less important than justice to the consumer. And there is the great hungry maw of a war industry that must be fed day and night.
The last drops of petrol saved from the basic ration will soon be no more than a memory. The month of July was finally thrown at the motor-car user, rather like a last bone to an eager-eyed dog; and until midnight of the 31st the motorist may use the last driblet left in his tank. After that date no civilian motor-car will be allowed on the roads of Great Britain unless the owner has proved to the satisfaction of his local Petroleum Officer that he is using his car for essential purposes - and "essential" is a word that will be cleaned to the very bone as time goes on. There will be no more long costly trips by taxi-cab. But what will affect the majority of people in a much more drastic way is the cut in public coach services. We may as well face the fact: all travelling is discouraged except for journeys that are necessary.
OF vital interest to small traders whose profits have vanished with the scarcity of goods is the Government proposal of assisted liquidation. This should ameliorate many a difficult case where the shopkeeper has been grimly hanging on with the bankruptcy as the only certain thing in an uncertain future. On the other hand, some traders are flourishing. In secondhand furniture, for example, scarcity has been the fluent excuse for prices having doubled and trebled. But the Board of Trade is taking control; no longer will prices continue to mount skyward. The entire basis of commodity trading is being radically revised, and Government control is tightening upon every branch of our lives.