GETTING THE MEN BACK.
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A Momentous Task for Industry. By "The Inspector."
AS a topic "Reconstruction" has had to yield to " Demobilization " in prominence during the past week or two, and as these lines are being written this latter subject is becoming one of very first-rate importance. The evidences of dissatisfaction with regard to the methods so far adopted by the authorities have unfortunately become very patent, and, although there has been little disorder, there has' been considerable and disconcerting disregard for the essentials of discipline. Particularly has this affected that branch of the Army with which we a.i particularly concerned, the Royal Army Service Corps.
While this subject is so prominently occupying public attention, -it is as well for all those concerned with industrial reconstruction to review certain aspects of the whole question of demobilization in order to avoid arriving at too hasty conclusions. First of all, it has' to be remembered that demobilization as such is not possible until peace is actually signed and guarantees are extorted from our present enemies. Release of so-called pivotal and slip men and of men with very special claims in respect of length of service Or hardship arising from domestic conditions should obviously be arranged with immediate benefit to the community at large, and any display of red tape or departmental obtuseness should not be tolerated for one moment, if it is a fact that . such attitude is hindering the nation's essential recovery of its commercial activities. That is the national point of view.
There is no need to labour the case for hardship to the individual. That there must be priority'of release is specially evident., and those with the hardest cases and with the best claims to the necessity for early reinstatement in civil work should and must be provided with the most rapid facilities that can be devised, subject to orderly procedure. The R.A.S.C. is in a peculiar position at the present time. It is that branch of the Forces with which the transport industries have been most specially concerned from the early days of the war. We, of course, have been particularly interested in that portion of it which operates and controls the mechanical transport services with the armies at home and overseas. Owing to its relatively non-combatant duties, it has undoubtedly attracted large numbers of men from all kinds and conditions of trades and occupations in the past. Recently it is understood that great numbers of men from line regiments have been transferred to it on being classified in low categories subsequent to disablement or illness on active service, so that its personnel at the present time is, to say the least of it, Mixed both in quality and qualification.
The military authorities hold, and rightly so. too, that the transport services of the armies in being must necessarily be maintained at full strength so long as there is any actual need for them, and that, of course, has been a point of view with which we are not entitled to .disagree. Exception, however, has been taken by the large numbers of men transferred from the infantry and similar fighting branches, who complain that they are being detained purely as members of the R.A.S.C., and, as such, are likely to suffer in respect of their priority of demobilization.
The latest news, as we go to press, is that, while the military authorities necessarily remain convinced of the superlative need of maintaining the
transport services at the highest pitch of efficiency, while they have to be maintained on a war footing, they appear to agree the principle that there should Ile no essential disqualification for reinstatement as between the R.A.S.C. and other branches of HAL Forces. It is also undgrstood that the men temporarily transferred to the R.A.S.C. who are required back in civil life or who have outstanding claims for such reinstatement will not, because of their zra n S. ference to that Corps, forfeit their priority rigats to demobilization on that account.
There is one other aspect of this whole question which is particularly interesting .to the commercial. vehicle .world, as to other virile industries, and this part of the problem is -concerned not with the
.A.S,C. but with the demobilization of war industries. It has to be remembered that all trace of socalled dilution, which was found to be such a necessary industrial adjustment in the earlier days of munitions speeding up,' haw not disappeared. The engineering industry particularly still employs great numbers of men and women who have become engineers or have adopted one or other allied trade qualifications solely during the war period, and very largely—not entirely—on account of the opportunity the war has offered.
In the Army, and particularly in many of the technical branches 'of it, and, to a less extent, in the Navy, there are still great numbers of pukka mechanics and artificers who claim to have served their term in the country's armed forces, and the suggestion has been made, although it appears to be one which is, unfortunately, not a very practical one, that these men, who were trained craftsmen when the war broke out and who patriotically placed their services at the disposal of the country, should very speedily be returned to civil life, whilst some corresponding form of similar service should be imposed upon those who have become, or who have attempted to become craftsmen, owing to the topsy-turvy happenings in industrial., during the world war—and this rather thn unemployment benefit.
The whole question of demobilization is a vastly compliceed one, even in the partial stages which are now possible -during the period of armistice, and serious industrial discontent and upheaval will only be avoided if those who are charged with the conduct of this eolossal change-over are men of infinite resource and infinite knowledge of the human mind. We are not very hopeful that it will be carried through without serious discontent if it be left in the hands of the professional soldier who, with very few exceptions indeed, is none too anxious to reduce the military establishment and, consequently, the relative importance of his own appointment.
General mobilization may well be deferred if the present partial release is not effective. On the other hand, any attempt on the part of the men to press for ill-considered and hasty general release will only result harmfully to themselves, both while they are still under military authority and afterwards when they are seeking to take up their civilian occupations, which may, indeed, be seriously jeopardized by the precipitation of industrial unrest and overcrowding of the unemployed ranks before the wheels of war have slowed and those of peace time have been speeded up to something like their pre-war revolutions.