Human Problem To Be Solved
IN the House of Commons the other day Mr. Lennox-Boyd, the Minister of Transport, referred to the results of a census conducted among railwaymen by the Railway Review, organ of the National Union of Railwaymen, the purpose of which was to discover how they felt about the nationalisation of their industry in practice.
The answers to the questionnaire are of interest to far more than those employed on the railways, for they underline the existence of a problem in modern industrialised society which neither private enterprise nor public ownership have so far solved.
To the question: "Do you now feel that you have a share in running your railways?" 82 per cent. said "No." And to another question : "How do you find your job under nationalisation?" 52 per cent answered "More frustrating than under private enterprise."
It is significant that these answers should have come from railwaymen, for the syndicalist tradition is strong among them and no body of workpeople pinned greater hopes on the benefits which would derive from public ownership, which would, they believed, give the workers a large measure of control of their own industry.
The problem of how to ensure dignity and responsibility for the worker in a great industrial enterprise is one to which Catholics in particular should turn their minds. For the Church is the last sure champion of the individual today.
Some form of copartnership would appear to be the most obvious solution. But just how that could be applied to an industry already nationalised has yet. so far as I am aware, to be worked out in any detail.
ACATHOLIC: with a cheerfully borne load of responsibility is Councillor "Bill' Sheridan, who after three years as vice-chairman has now been made chairman of the Coventry Housing Committee.
Coventry's hcr.:sing problem is big enough to frighten any man charged with the responsibility of dealing with it. The bombing of the city gave our language the verb to "Coventrate"— and gave the council the job of rebuilding the city centre. (Incidentally the loss in rating revenue from the open spaces which should be covered with great stores and other buildings is the equivalent of a 4s. 6d. rate.) But added to the problem created by bombing is that of the fifty thousand people who have moved into the city in the past 10 years. Local fac tories draw oft' large numbers of building workers, creating a chronic labour shortage in the building industry. Because of the nature of its industries, Coventry's population, too, is the youngest in Great Britain, which mans that more than the usual number of family houses and schools are needed.
Owner or Tenant?
1' ASKED Councillor Sheridan
whether they were building for renting or for owner-occupation. He told me that all will be let, although, as one would expect of a Catholic, he personally favours house-ownership.
One of the deplorable signs of a proletarianised society is the gradual wilting, on the part of the mass of the people, of even the desire to own property, since this means the acceptance of responsibility which is otherwise borne by others. I was interested, therefore. to know why his council is not building for purchase.
The absence of public demand he attributes not so much to lack of desire for the independence which comes with ownership as to lack of cash. The prices of houses today, he thinks, are totally out of keeping with incomes and involve long-term financial burdens of a size that the average worker dare not even contemplate. This applies in particular to those who are most desperately in need of accommodation.
There is, i think, a good deal in that. but it is also true that there are growing numbers of people who are quite content to be tenants and that this is a trend which we should try, within the limits set by present difficulties, to counter.
THE most hopeful solution to the problem seems to lie in the g r o w t h of "build-your-ownhomes" schemes, with their emphasis on self-help as opposed to State help. There are three such, Councillor Sheridan told me, in Coventry. Because of certain financial grants which become available, most even of these houses are built through housing societies who become the legal owners with the home-builders as tenants.
The city's housing department is interested in aiding such schemes. Its architects are getting out drawings of a house which is easy for amateurs to build with a minimum of skilled assistance, and proposes allocating land on leasehold on its own building sites.
ISEE that I have written above of "the average worker." Really, of course, one should not use the term in relation to human beings, for there are no such things as "average" men. They are individuals. I am reminded of when Prof. Hyman Levy, the mathematician, once bet a friend of mine that the next man they met in the astvreereatwonuulndhar of legs,
more than the average number
astvreereatwonuulndhar of legs,
more than the average number
Levy, mevya, nof they met had won, because
which is above the average since one rarely if ever hears of a man with more than two legs whereas, thanks to modern wars and motor cars, large numbers of people have only one. The average, therefore, is probably about 1.95.
Somehow or another men always seem to add up to something a good deal more, or less, than the average and to evade the categories into which the statisticians and the bureaucrats would like so neatly to fit them.