Labour call for Luton communal kitchens

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: July 19th, 1919 – published on July 18th]

Some time ago, Councillor Bone urged the Luton Town Council to take steps to establish a communal kitchen. His intentions were good, doubtless, but in the presentation of his case he referred to the wastage of good foodstuffs in provision shops, and incidentally dwelt on the qualities of the 'trimmings' which usually go under the counter.

At the meeting of the Luton Trades and Labour Council last night, Mr A. Buchanan, Labour Adviser to the Ministry of Food, gave a very fine address on the same question, as a result of which representations will be made to the Town Council.

Mr Buchanan said it was alarming thing that a large portion of the general public seemed to think all their troubles were ended with the signing of Peace, and especially the foot difficulty. In fact, the signing of Peace would mean that the Central Powers would be able to enter into competition for foodstuffs in the markets of the world, and a serious reflex would be felt in this country.

The policy of the Ministry of Food, in those circumstances, had been gravely in error. The Ministry should have foreseen the possible results in that direction, but it was found that prices, after a temporary decrease, had risen by leaps and bounds.

No matter was more likely to cause a serious disturbance than the problem of food supply and distribution. It was necessary for the responsible department to ensure that both supply, quality and prices should be commensurate with the wages received by the workers of the country.

Personally he would like to see similar treatment meted out to food profiteers in this country as was being meted out to those in other European countries. For those who were prepared to take a mean advantage of the necessities of a nation in a time of distress, there was no punishment too dire or speedy to be imposed. They daily read that competition reduced prices. That was a fallacy. The only commodity which was cheapened by competition was labour, and all the pious expressions regarding the necessities of life being cheapened by competition were mere eyewash.

With the signing of Peace there were 80 million Russians, 67 million Germans and 40 million Austrians, and many other nations, to be fed, and the problem had become as dangerous as at any period of the war.

The whole policy of the National Kitchens Department had been revised and replaced by a more up-to-date policy, and he hoped they would achieve a tremendous success, with the backing of the Labour movement. There was still much prejudice and conservatism among the working classes. The very name 'National Kitchen' was wrong, and it was not changed to 'National Restaurant'.

Mr Buchanan then proceeded to give instances of the success of the kitchens in various parts of the country, and pointed out that the middle classes wee giving strongest support and using the restaurants most. It was the duty of the Trade Union movement to see that the prejudice of the working classes against these kitchens was removed.

Mr Willet Ball moved: “That this Trades and Labour Council approves the policy of the Food Ministry, and urges the Luton Corporation to consider seriously its local adaptation.”

Mr Ball said they had been agitating for a policy of feeding the children, but had not yet persuaded the Luton Corporation to undertake it, or even to start a municipal restaurant at the establishment already used for feeding purposes and within the control of the Corporation.

Mr Ball said they wanted the Corporation to control and manage themselves. Instead of letting out to contract, or even to start a municipal restaurant at establishments were directly responsible.

He referred to the letting of the basement of the Corn Exchange for this purpose. The same thing could apply to Wardown Mansion, which might have been run by the Corporation and any profit accruing could have been for the benefit of the people.

“The Corporation is not a very estimable body just now,” said Mr Ball drily, amidst much laughter, “and one doesn't like to kick a politician when he is down, and personally I prefer to leave them alone.”

The Chairman said it appeared that the matter was one for further consideration by the Trades and Labour Council.