Page:Britain's Deadly Peril.djvu/43

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37
THE PERIL OF EXPLOITING THE POOR

as anxious as any to keep trade going in the country," he said, "it was clear to them that the truce in industry could not be continued unless some effective relief were given in regard to the prices under discussion." In other words, the Labour "organisers" will call for strikes—perhaps hold up a large part of our war preparations—unless the employers, most of whom are making no increased profit out of the price of food, are prepared to shoulder the entire burden.

It is quite clear, to my mind, that the prices of food are being forced up by gigantic unpatriotic combines, either in this country or abroad, or both. I do not think that mere shortage of supply is sufficient to account for the extraordinary advances that have taken place. Whether the Government can take steps to defeat the wheat rings, as they did to prevent the cornering of sugar, is a question with which I am not concerned here. My purpose is merely to point out that the constant rise in food prices, brought about by gangs of unscrupulous speculators, is bringing about a condition of affairs fraught with grave peril to our beloved country.

If we turn to coal we find the scandal ten times greater than in the case of flour and meat. It is at least possible that agencies outside our own country may be playing a great part in forcing up the prices of food; they can have no effect upon the price of coal, which we produce ourselves and of which we do not import an ounce. Coal to-day is simply at famine prices. It is impossible to buy the best house coal for less than 38s. per ton, while the cheapest is being sold at 34s. per ton, and the very poor, who buy from the street-trolleys only inferior coal and in small quantities, are being fleeced