MALLON, James Joseph
9th May 1878 to 12th April 1961
Mallon was involved in the labour movement and served as a commissioner for industrial unrest during the First World War. In 1919 he was appointed warden of Toynbee Hall.
Mallon was born in Manchester on 9 May 1875, the child of Irish immigrants. His father worked as a clerk for a mercantile concern, but died when Mallon was four years old. Mallon’s early education was at a convent school in Liverpool, but he left school at fourteen and apprenticed as a jeweller. He continued to study, taking courses at the Victoria University of Manchester.
Through a combination of his studies and his membership of the Shop Assistants’ Union, Mallon became interested in social issues such as poverty and workers’ rights. He worked with the University Settlement in Ancoats, Manchester, campaigning for better housing and working conditions. He joined both the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party in 1903. In 1906 he moved to London where he began his association with Toynbee Hall, the university settlement in East London, and also became secretary of the National League to Establish a Minimum Wage. In 1909 he became honorary secretary of the Trades Boards Advisory Council.
In 1914 Mallon was appointed a commissioner for industrial unrest, dealing with industrial relations problems in the munitions industry. In 1917 he served on the Whitley Committee that recommended the creation of Joint Industrial Councils, or Whitley Councils. In 1919 he was appointed warden of Toynbee Hall, which post he held until 1954. He married Stella Gardiner, daughter of a newspaper editor, in 1921.
Mallon stood for parliament for the Labour Party in 1918, 1922 and 1923, but was unsuccessful on all three occasions. He was appointed a Companion of Honour in 1939. Mallon died in London on 12 April 1961.
Most of Mallon’s written work consists of newspaper articles or short essays. His most important early work was a chapter on women’s wages, published in 1915, in which he argued strongly that women should receive equal pay to men. Mallon rejected the idea that men’s work was somehow more important and therefore deserved to be better paid. Of his later works, Poverty Today and Yesterday is an examination of both the social ills and the costs to society of poverty and describes how families become trapped in a cycle of poverty. Industry and a Minimum Wage renews the call for a minimum wage, and Mallon argues that a minimum wage could help to reduce the impact of economic downturns.
Mallon gave three Rowntree lectures over the course of a four-year period. The first, ‘What’s wrong with industry: the workers’ view’ in 1922 begins by urging employers to attempt to empathise with and understand their workers. He makes the important point that the nature of labour relations is heavily condition by past history:
The first thing that strikes us when we endeavour to understand the mind of the worker is that he is the creation not of our own time but of preceding generations. He inherits much from the past, and has instincts and feelings for which he cannot account. His ‘point of view’, so far as there is a common point of view among the workers, is largely predetermined for him.
Drawing on his own experience as a campaigner and commissioner, Mallon attempts to help his audience get inside the minds of workers, especially the poorer and less educated ones, and understand how they think – and more importantly, why they think in the ways that they do. He talks about the need for security, not just in terms of wages but also tenure of employment, and the corrosive effects that lack of security has on people’s mindsets. He insists that a relationship of trust between employer and employee is vital, but he seems almost sceptical of ideas such as worker governance and co-partnership. More important, he says, is to give people a sense of purpose about their work:
…the good workman wants to feel, and must feel if discord is to cease, that there is a vital connection between his work, and the happiness of mankind. That desire is not to be treated lightly, and if we care deeply about, human society and want to see it noble and dignified, we shall on both sides consider his proper aspiration in a mood of sincerity and calm and truthfulness, and endeavour to give effect to it, and to do the best we can for our time and for society.
The second paper, ‘Industrial peace’ in 1924, is more blunt.
There is not really any mystery about the worker's point of view, and I wish somebody would so inform newspapers like the Morning Post. From time to time there are inquiries as to the cause of industrial unrest: here we can dispense with such inquiries because we know the facts. The worker, as I meet him in the East End, is poor; his career is restricted; his livelihood is precarious. It is very doubtful whether he can equip his children for the position which he would like them to occupy in the world. He lives a wretched, threatened, obscure life; and, strangely enough, he does not like it; and when he expresses his dislike, the Morning Post, unable to account for such an extraordinary frame of mind, calls him Communist! But it has nothing to do with Communism. The simple fact is that the worker is dissatisfied with the mean portion of life’s bounty allowed to him, resents it, and asks for an augmentation of his share.
To understand the causes of labour unrest, Mallon says, one need only look at the conditions in which most workers live; and improving the lot of the workers is the surest and most direct way to industrial peace. He looks back at past initiatives such as the Whitley Councils and concludes that they may have been ahead of their time; neither side, capital nor labour, was yet ready to cooperate. The postwar spirit of optimism about the future of labour had evaporated very quickly. But Mallon still believes that some form of cooperation is essential if peaceful relations between workers and employers are ever to be achieved.
In the third paper, ‘What the employer can contribute to bring about peace and prosperity in industry’ in 1925, Mallon further provokes his audience by declaring that ‘industrial unrest is not wholly an evil’. To those who claim that industrial unrest will lead to revolution, Mallon retorts: ‘I don’t say whether it is to his credit or otherwise, but I hold that the English working-man is about as revolutionary as a plum pudding’, going on to remind his audience that he knows the working classes at first hand, and does not rely on distorted newspaper accounts of them.
Mallon reckons that employers’ contribution to industrial peace can be summed up in two words: be human. Remember, he says, that your workers are human beings like you. Remember that you have a moral obligation to them, to look after them and ensure their well-being. Remember too, not just the workers themselves, but their families. He closes his paper with a passionate argument in favour of more and better education, and urges his audience to support the Workers’ Educational Association.
‘Women's Wages in the Wage Consensus of 1906’, in B.L. Hutchins (ed.), Women in Modern Industry, 1915.
Poverty Today and Yesterday (1930).
Industry and a Minimum Wage (1950).
‘What’s wrong with industry: the workers’ view’, 22 September 1922, Balliol College
‘Industrial peace’, 4 April 1924, Balliol College
‘What the employer can contribute to bring about peace and prosperity in industry’, XX April 1925, Balliol College