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The Quarry in the Contemporary Industrial Chase.
By "The Inspector."
AMONGST all the varied contents of a recent issue of THE COMMERCIAL MOTOR, I found much food for thought in a relatively insignificant paragraph somewhere in the middle of the paper, recording the efforts to secure better consideration for their spare-part claims by a representative party of owners of commercial vehicles, under the auspices of the C.M.U.A., who are suffering severely owing to the present exceptional difficulty in securing replacements for some if not all, of the vehicles which they are operating. ,I. gather that these gentlemen were. engaged in the all absorbing _task of priority hunting—a task that is rapidly becoming common to every single member of the community who is. old enough to have to look after his own interests, or of those who depend upon him. The word " priority " is increasingly heard through
the land. .
_ Priority is rapidly becoming a matter of life or death to much of the civilian part of road transport. The commercial vehicle in warsservice is, naturally enough, quite fully protected. But if • adequate facilities cannot be granted by the priority-powersthat-be ere long for spare parts and replacements enough and in sufficient variety, the country's internal road transport network will quickly slow down to an alarming extent. That, I take it, was the view ex pressed by the deputation which waited on the Priority Committee of the Ministry of Munitions on the occasion to which I refer.
Important as this relatively new mode of classification is proving to be, 1 dorthit if there exists a very widespread understanding as to what " priority " implies, as to who settles it, or as to the basis upon whiai such ratings are allocated. I even venture to wonder if the deputation of the C.M.U.A, business men as they evidently were, had any very clear idea. As to how a decision, if any, had been arrived at in connection with a. claim, I wonder if the functions of the Ministry of Munitions, as the all-powerful arbiter in -matters industrial in this country at the present time, are at all, or at least only imperfectly, understood.
Priority in itself is a. variable quantity, and what may be readily and cheerfully conceded by the authorities in one week, may necessarily be relucte antly refused in another, and the reason is, if I am not mistaken, as follows :
The industrial capacity of the country fer war and what is-left of other purposes, but a few short months ago was becoming taxed to its uttermost, and as every month goes by the strain becomes worse. There was a great deal more work of all kinds in sight than there were workers to carry it all out without intolerable delay and great discrepancies. Such a state of affairs uncontrolled naturally invited private preferences. Manufacturers were constantly in quandaries as to "what they should take in hand first." The need very soon arose of deciding what preference must be given, from a national point of view, to some classes of work over others. Someone had to say whether haversacks were more important than camp beds, whether aeroplane engines were more important than sewing machines, whether submarine mines should be provided for the nation's security before new boilers were put in hand for jam-Making establishments. •
These, and countless other important questions of precedence, more perplexing than tlse functions of a master of ceremonies at a great Court . function, came up for consideration in concrete form not many months ago, and the Ministry of Munitions, which, with all its faults has inaugurated much that is excellent, was charged with the duty of deciding as a whole what i the nation most required from time to time. It is not to be-expected-that asman's 4:ma particular problems can always be reduced tq their proper national proportions by the man himself. No individual without the ends of the national cables on his desk can say, in this vast conflict, what at. any one moment is absolutely vital in. respect of civilian equipment or munitions of a thousand and one kinds.
The Priority Committee of the Ministry _ of Munitions was therefore furnished with the means to decide on the basis of national emergency whatshould be produced in preference to what must wait its turn, and on the whole I think it will be conceded that these efforts have had excellent results ; that they have been carried oat conscientiously I am in a position to testify. That there has been grumbling.'is, of course, unavoidable, and, as a. matter of fact, in the circumstances, this was of little moment. Government contracts carry with them, I am told, the priority which is known. as P 4; higher gradings, giving preferential treatment in factory or workshop, are allotted to those Operations which the national authority considers, after taking the widest possible view of the whole situation from time to time, necessitate such
preferential treatment. * * I am told that if a job which is reputed to bear a P I certificate gets in a factory it almost completes itself. Labourers and mechanics spring to it, and with little thought of piece work or bonuses or any other advances, see to it that what the nation's experts consider is of such primary importance shall be provided, if British energy and effort can yield it. On the other hand. I hear occasionally plaintive grumblings from a man here and there who, properly keen on some special work of the importance of which he alone is particularly aware, complains that a P 5 is rather like telling him to wait until after the war.
My purpose for writing on this subject this week is to counsel all those who are from time to time a little impatient of the fact that they are perforce condecnned to carry on with all the disabilities pertaining to a. relatively low certificate of priority, that
those classifications are not lightly arrived ; they are, of my own knowledge, the subject of very careful and very extensive thought in the thousands of cases. As the war goes on, and as our national facilities decrease in respect of man power, it must be anticipated that civilian work will have to be re-graded and re-graded on lower and lower classifications. We must have munitions and supplies of war, as well as such productive facilities as. are necessary for the feeding and maintenance of the human element of the nation before all else The best that can be done is to make available plain business-like statements of claims for rating and to rely upon the proper judgment of those who know, or at any rate should know, all the nation's manufacturing difficulties. We shall win the war as much by loyal acceptance of these official preferential ratings in all their many guises as much as by any other individual effort or sacrifice of which we are capable.