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CHAPTER 9: Labour Questions - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, vol. 2 
Democracy and Liberty, edited and with an Introduction by William Murchison, 2 vols. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981). Vol. 2.
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It would be hardly possible that the immense extension of Socialism which has taken place, in all parts of the civilised globe, within the last twenty-five years, and the immense change that has been effected in the balance of political power in England by the Acts of 1867 and 1884, should not have powerfully stimulated English Socialism. The whole wealth and greatness of the community lie at the mercy of an electorate in which the poorest and least instructed class have the largest share, and, if it is the will, it is well within the power of the democracy to make taxation the most efficient instrument of confiscation. The temptation is a great one; though it is but justice to observe that the men who have of late years been labouring most zealously to seduce the poorer voters into the paths of plunder have not themselves been of that class. The proposal of George to rob, by means of a confiscating tax, all the owners of land, whether it be purchased or inherited; and the doctrine of Marx, that all capital should be taken possession of by the community, are now often put forward in England, usually in those sonorous phrases by which some men seem able to disguise from others, and perhaps from themselves, the profound dishonesty of their teaching. The policy is described as ‘the collective administration of rent and interest, leaving to the individual only the wages of his labour of hand or brain;’ as ‘the nationalisation of land and organisation of agricultural and industrial armies under State control and co-operative principles;’ as ‘the emancipation of land and industrial capital from individual and class ownership, and the vesting of them in the community for the general benefit.’1
There are several small bodies which are at present advocating these views, though they are usually divided from one another by much jealousy and antagonsim. The Social and Democratic League, of which Mr. Hyndman is the leading spirit, is, I believe, the oldest. It has published a programme demanding, among other things, nationalisation of the land; the rapid extinction of the National Debt; cumulative taxation upon all incomes above 300l. a year; the establishment of national banks ‘which shall absorb all private institutions that derive profit from operations in money or credit;’ a law prohibiting men and women in any trade from working more than eight hours a day; the compulsory erection of dwellings for artisans and agricultural labourers, for which no rent must be paid beyond the bare cost of their building and maintenance. In order to attain these objects the State is to be made as democratic as possible. There must be annual Parliaments, adult suffrage, proportional representation. The taxpayers are to pay the members. The ratepayers are to pay for their election. The House of Lords and all hereditary authorities are to be abolished. All State Churches are to be disestablished and disendowed, and the powers of County Councils are to be enlarged. One article of this programme is ambiguous. The ‘rapid extinction of the National Debt’ might appear to unwary readers to point merely to an extension of the admirable efforts which British Governments have made for many years to diminish out of the annual revenue the capital of the debt. The tracts, however, which are issued by this society abundantly correct the error. The extinction desired is of a far simpler character. It is merely to cheat the national creditors by repudiating the debt.
‘The few thousand persons,’ they write, ‘who own the National Debt, saddled upon the community by a landlord Parliament, exact twenty-eight millions yearly from the labour of their countrymen for nothing. The shareholders who have been allowed to lay hands upon our great railway communications take a still larger sum.’ ‘The land must be in future a national possession; so must the other means of producing and distributing wealth.’ The handling of money and credit must necessarily be carried on in future for the community at large…. As a stepping-stone to the attainment of this State organisation of production and exchange we advocate the heaviest cumulative taxation, rising upon all incomes derived from trade or business, as well as upon those drawn from the land.’ ‘The means of production, distribution, and exchange are to be declared and treated as collective or common property,’ ‘Nor is it reasonable to suppose that any compensation will be given to the landholders, the fundholders, or the railway or water shareholders, when it has been determined to assume administration of all for the public benefit.’2
The society is characterised by some other tendencies. It is much opposed, chiefly on lofty moral grounds, to any extension of the Empire, and is generally, within the very moderate limits of its influence, a supporter of any movement within the Empire which tends to weaken the coherence and the power of its central Government. It is also strenuously opposed to both of the great parties in the State, and maintains that its members should never support any politician who does not accept their programme. They have not, however, invariably acted on their principle, and on one memorable occasion, in 1892, a branch of this society interposed, and effected by their vote the return of the Indian member, Mr. Naoroji, the official Liberal candidate for Central Finsbury. He was returned by a majority of three.3
The Social Democratic Federation seems to have been somewhat unfortunate in losing its members; and there have been several divisions, arising, as far as I can understand, chiefly from personal quarrels. There was a secession in 1883, resulting in the foundation of a ‘Socialist League,’ under the presidency of the distinguished poet, Mr. W. Morris. There was a secession in 1886, resulting in a new body, called the ‘Socialist Union,’ which, however, appears to have only lasted for two years;4 and the society of Mr. Hyndman afterwards quarrelled with at least three of its most active members—Mr. John Burns, Mr. Tom Mann, and Mr. Champion. Members of the party have been concerned in several riots, and some of them have endured ‘martyrdom’ in the shape of short periods of imprisonment. There is also, I believe, an independent group, called the ‘Kropotkin Anarchists,’ and there is a separate society for the purpose of bringing about the ‘nationalisation of land’ and the ‘expropriation’ of its owners.
Another body, which has of late years made some noise in the world, is the Fabian Society. If the figures it publishes are true, its tracts must have been circulated by tens of thousands, and it contains at least two men of considerable ability. It proposes to work for the extinction of private property in land, and the appropriation of all industrial capital by the community, in order that rent and interest may be added to the reward of labour; and it differs from the Social and Democratic League in urging its members to take an active part in all general and local elections. The creation of a pure Socialist party in Parliament is one of its objects; but until this is possible its members are to endeavour to obtain a place in all local bodies of power and influence, and to support on all occasions, and regardless of all party considerations, those candidates who will go furthest in the direction of Socialism, even though they altogether repudiate its ultimate ends and its guiding principles.
Mr. Bernard Shaw—a writer of plays, and an excellent musical and dramatic critic—who has taken a leading part in the society, has written a very frank and instructive little paper on ‘The Fabian Society: what it has done, and how it has done it,’ which was published by the society in 1892. He claims that it is eminently practical, and he cannot be accused of taking it too seriously. He says that in 1885 it consisted of forty members, male and female. ‘We denounced the capitalists as thieves at the Industrial Remuneration Conference, and among ourselves talked revolution, anarchism, labour notes versus pass books, and all the rest of it, on the tacit assumption that the object of our campaign, with its watchwords “Educate, agitate, organise,” was to bring about a tremendous smash-up of existing society, to be succeeded by complete Socialism. And this meant that we had no true practical understanding, either of existing society or Socialism. Without being quite definitely aware of this, we yet felt it to a certain extent all along; for it was at this period that we contracted the invaluable habit of freely laughing at ourselves, which has always distinguished us, and which has saved us from being hampered by the gushing enthusiasts who mistake their own emotions for public movements.’ There was a Fabian Conference in 1886, which achieved the great success of obtaining a notice in the ‘Times.’ It had not, Mr. Shaw thinks, much other result, but ‘it made us known to the Radical clubs, and proved that we were able to manage a conference in a business-like way. It also showed off our pretty prospectus, with the design by Crane at the top, our stylish-looking blood-red invitation cards, and the other little smartnesses on which we then prided ourselves.’5
After this, however, the society took a new departure, chiefly under the influence of Mr. Sidney Webb, a plausible writer and adroit tactician who, on the London County Council and elsewhere, has played a considerable part in contemporary English Socialism.6 The society clearly saw that they represented only a very small portion of the English working class. ‘We have never indulged,’ Mr. Shaw writes, ‘in any visions of a Fabian army any bigger than a stage army.’ ‘We have never advanced the smallest pretension to represent the working classes of this country.’ ‘We know that, for a long time to come, we can only make headway by gaining the confidence of masses of men outside our society, who will have nothing to do with us unless we first prove ourselves safe for all sorts of progressive work.’
They accordingly adopted what they called a policy of ‘permeation.’ In other words, they made it their object to enter as largely as possible into all the many Radical organisations and movements, and endeavour to add Socialist formulae to the received Radical programmes; to acquire an influence over municipal and political bodies which had no sympathy with their specific tenets; to help on all revolutionary or subversive tendencies, even though the men who represented those tendencies were far from looking forward to a socialistic State. A few small newspapers had been set up as purely Socialist organs, but most of them proved perfectly insignificant, and soon died away. Many young newspaper writers, however, sympathised with Socialism, and some of them obtained employment on well-established Radical journals, and induced two or three editors to admit into their columns a certain amount of Socialist doctrine and colouring. The vast multiplication of local elections by the legislation of the last few years assisted the movement. A large proportion of them excited little general interest, and in the face of the numerous abstentions, and by judicious combinations, alliances, and surprises, it was not difficult for a small but well-organised minority to capture occasional seats.
Long before the formation of the Socialist bodies I am describing there had been a tendency, largely illustrated in the present work, to increased extravagance in taxation; an increased disposition to extend the sanctions of Government, both in restraining, initiating and supporting private industries, in dealing by State methods with social evils, in supplanting in many fields the action of the individual by the action of the State and the municipality. Growing democracy had weakened the connection between property and taxing power, and had made it easy for a majority of voters to throw the burden of the taxation they voted, upon other shoulders than their own. It was the object of the Socialists to fall in with these tendencies; to encourage, intensify, and embitter them. They recognised fully that the confiscation of all rent and interest, which was their ultimate object, could only be fully attained in the distant future; but in the meantime they worked with all parties who desired to extend the power of the State or of municipalities over industries, to sap in any form the rights of property and the obligation of contract, to throw taxation more and more upon land and realised property.
Some changes which took place in the character of trade unions assisted in the same direction. Partly through the distress and fluctuations produced by a long period of trade depression, partly through the contagion of the socialistic and anarchical tenets that were circulating through the working classes of the Continent, partly through the wild hopes which the great and sudden lowering of the suffrage had produced, and partly, too, through the natural disposition of young, poor, clever, discontented and ambitious men to revolt against established authorities, and seek a new deal in the good things of the world, there arose a party within the trade unions who were bitterly discontented with the conservative and moderate spirit of the old leaders. They assailed them with the most scurrilous invective, preached a more violent and aggressive policy and a more clearly defined class warfare, and brought the chief objects of Socialism rapidly to the front.
It was about 1885 that this new element became prominent in the trade unions. It increased in the following years, and was much strengthened, not only by the progress of democracy in the State, but also by the introduction into the trade unions of great masses of unskilled labourers, who were much more easily led by agitators than the skilled artisans. Socialists of all kinds and persuasions allied themselves with the new leaders, and by doing so they achieved considerable triumphs. Trade in most of its departments was at this time very bad. Work had become scarce; wages were falling. Some great strikes, rashly undertaken in the midst of a declining demand, created sharp conflicts between capital and labour; while their inevitable failure aggravated the distress, ruined many trade unions, and discredited the old methods in the eyes of great bodies of workmen. The old, stern gospel of thrift and self-reliance was put aside, and the opinion grew rapidly that more was to be hoped from State action and from a great industrial revolution.7
Independent Labour candidates, usually preaching socialistic doctrines, were now frequently put forward. In parliamentary elections they had very little success. Their minorities were nearly always infinitesimal; and although a few Socialists entered the House of Commons, they usually did so, much less as Socialists than as advanced Radicals, and the more powerful of them soon sank into regular members of the Radical party. In school-board and municipal elections, however, they were more successful. Mr. Keir Hardie boasted that in 130 municipal elections, of which he obtained information, the Independent Labour vote exceeded 25 per cent, of the votes.8 The most remarkable success was in the London County Council, where the Socialist element acquired an undoubted influence, and has given a distinct bias to municipal politics. The party had already achieved a similar success in the Municipality of Paris, and the two largest and wealthiest cities in Europe were thus in a large measure under their influence.
Still more serious is the hold which they have acquired over the Trade Union Congresses. This is a very recent, but surely a very serious, fact, due to the rise of the New Unionism, and it is shown in many forms. Undeterred by the disastrous example of the French national workshops of 1848, the Trade Union Congress of 1890 voted ‘that power should at once be granted to each municipality or county council to establish workshops and factories, under municipal control, where destitute persons shall be put to useful employment, and that it be an instruction to the Parliamentary Committee to at once take the matter in hand.’9
In a similar spirit, a compulsory Act limiting the labour of adult men in all trades to eight hours has come to be a leading article of trade-union politics. All parties and classes have agreed that, under the stress of intense competition, the hours of labour have been, and still often are, too long, and that where their reduction can be effected without serious injury to the productive powers of the nation it is a great blessing. Very much has been actually done in this direction, by voluntary effort and combination, both in the way of a reduction of daily labour and in the extension of the Saturday half-holiday; but the law has hitherto shrunk from regulating by a hard and fast line the hours of adult labour, and thus invading what Adam Smith called ‘the most sacred and inviolable’ of all properties—‘the property which every man has in his own labour.’ The legal eight hours, however, has long been prominent in the continental Socialist programmes, and it has made great progress in England.
The movement has taken several forms. One demand is, that it should be the rule in the case of all persons employed either by the State, or by municipalities, or by any other public body. If this were established by law, it would become a model which private employers would be soon forced to follow; and if the State and the local bodies lost by the transaction, they had always the purses of the taxpayers and ratepayers as their resource. The possibility of obtaining higher wages and shorter hours is one of the chief grounds for the demand for the municipalisation of industries. Another proposal, which is likely soon to become law, would restrict the legal eight hours to miners. It is very evident that such a period of work is quite as much as can in general be exacted without injury in this kind of labour, and, as a matter of fact, the limitation which it is sought to impose by law is very nearly attained by private arrangement. In Northumberland and Durham the miner's actual working day is, in most cases, less than seven hours. In other parts of England it it generally less than eight and a half hours.10 Another proposal, which has received a large amount of working-class support, has been that the eight-hour limitation should be introduced into each trade on the vote of the members, the majority binding the minority. In the International Congress of Workmen which was held in London in 1888, a resolution was carried in favour of a general limitation of the hours of all trades to eight hours; and although this policy was defeated in the Congress of 1889, an eight hours day for all trades by Act of Parliament was voted by a large majority in the Congress of 1890, and a Bill was subsequently introduced making it a penal offence to ‘cause or suffer any other person to work, on sea or land, in any capacity, under any contract, or agreement, or articles for hire of labour, or for personal service on sea or land (except in case of accident), for more than eight hours in any one day of twenty-four hours, or for more than forty-eight hours in any week.’11 Sometimes it has been proposed that an eight hours day should be established by law, but that any trade objecting by a formal vote to that standard should be exempted.
Still more significant is the conversion of the New Unionism to the extreme Socialist doctrines of George and Marx. The writings of George, as a Socialist historian observes, ‘sounded the dominant note alike of the New Unionism and of the English Socialist movement of to-day,’12 and demands for the nationalisation of land were soon regularly put forward at Trade Union Congresses. An amendment in this sense was carried, though apparently only by surprise, and in the absence of many delegates, in the Congress of 1882. It was rejected in the five succeeding congresses, but carried in a vague form in 1887, and, more decisively, at Bradford in 1888. It began to take the place of the demand for the creation of peasant proprietors and household enfranchisement, which had formerly been urged.13 The congress which was held at Bradford in 1893 laid the foundation of an Independent Labour party in Parliament, which was intended to act in complete separation from all other parties in the State, and one of the main articles of its programme was ‘the taxation to extinction of all unearned incomes.’14 In the congress which was held at Norwich in 1894 a delegate moved, ‘that in the opinion of this congress it is essential to the maintenance of British industries to nationalise the land, mines, minerals, and royalty rents, and that the Parliamentary Committee be instructed to promote and support legislation with the above object.’ The motion was met by an amendment, moved by Mr. Keir Hardie, substituting for the words, ‘mines, minerals, and royalty rents,’ the words, ‘and the whole of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.’ He explained that there was no argument in favour of the nationalisation of land and mines which did not apply to the nationalisation of every other form of production; that if the mines from which minerals were taken were nationalised, the same thing should be done to the railways which conveyed these minerals, to the depots where they were deposited, to the works where they were manufactured; that for every 1l. taken by the landlord in the form of rent, 2l. were taken by the capitalist in the form of interest, and that there was, therefore, no reason why the landlord should be attacked and the capitalist allowed to go free. The amendment was supported, among others, by Mr. John Burns and Mr. Tom Mann, and was carried, amid loud applause, by 219 votes to 61.15
This congress consisted of 380 delegates from different trade bodies, and it was the boast of one of its members that it included at least 100 men who were either members of town councils, county councils, school boards, benches of magistrates, or the House of Commons. That such a body should have carried, by a great majority, such a resolution must surely be regarded as a grave portent, even by men who are in no degree disposed to panic or exaggeration.
There are, no doubt, serious deductions to be made from its significance. One of the largest and richest of the trade unions formally seceded from all connection with the Trade Union Congress on account of this resolution; and it has long been asserted, by those who have the best means of information, that these bodies only represent to a very small and imperfect degree the older and larger trade unions, which are the special organs of the more intelligent members of the working-classes. It is the old story of the active agitators of a new doctrine acquiring for a time a notoriety and prominence out of all proportion to the real weight and number of their adherents. The increasing influence of unskilled labour in the trade unions, and some changes that had been made in the manner of electing delegates, have assisted them. In the separate trade unions voting power is not proportioned to the amount which each member has contributed to its funds, and in the congresses each delegate has one vote, quite irrespectively of the wealth and number of the union he represents. Under such a system the votes of the Trade Union Congresses can only represent in a very imperfect degree the real weight of opinion in the bodies from which they spring. There have been large abstentions, and active minorities have often governed the proceedings.16
It is also not surprising that, in the terrible shrinkages of industry that have of late years taken place on all sides around us, wild and revolutionary experiments should have been advocated. The schemes of gigantic plunder which are put forward are relegated to a distant future, and they therefore fail to arouse the full measure of earnest opposition. It is probable that the resolution of the Norwich Congress is far from representing the genuine opinion of trade unions, and it does not even pretend to represent that of the workmen who are outside them. Yet Sir Robert Giffen stated in 1893 that, according to the latest returns, out of a working population of 13,200,000, only 871,000 are members of trade unions.17 No one who knows England will seriously doubt that, if these schemes of nationalisation were submitted to the English people as a plain issue for immediate action, the overwhelming majority would pronounce them to be a mixture of madness and swindling, certain to ruin any nation that adopted them, and fundamentally opposed to those ideas of right and wrong on which all civilised society must rest. No feature of the general election of 1895 was more remarkable than the invariable defeat of representatives of the New Unionism and of the Socialist party, and the strong conservative tendencies that were dominant in the great working-class centres. The same thing had been shown shortly before, on a smaller scale, by the defeat of the Socialist party in the London County Council. The avowed and exclusively Socialist party, which is so formidable in the Parliaments of Germany, France, and Belgium, can scarcely be said to exist in the British House of Commons. Knots of men holding such views may be found in many constituencies, but they scarcely anywhere predominate. Except in places where political parties are closely balanced, or greatly disintegrated, they have little power, and the sustained market value of the forms of property which they desire to rob shows that the secruity of this property is not yet greatly shaken.
At the same time, it cannot be an indifferent thing that there is a large number of men in England who look upon Government as an instrument, not for protecting, but for plundering property, and who are exerting all their influence to lead the ruling democracy in this direction. Those who have followed the writings and speeches of the members of this school will scarcely deem these words too strong. ‘Thrift,’ Mr. John Burns assured the Trade Union Congress at Norwich, ‘was invented by capitalistic rogues to beguile fools to destruction, and to deprive honest fools of their diet and their proper comfort.’18 Mr. Hyndman expressed very similar sentiments before the Labour Commission, and added, that ‘to put money into savings banks,’ or to accumulate it in any other way, is to accumulate orders on other men's labours, and is no benefit to the class who so save. All thrift on the part of the working classes which leads to their becoming small capitalists he declared to be an evil. It only intensifies competition, and fortifies the class which they should endeavour to supplant.19
The two most successful methods that have ever been employed to mitigate the antagonism of classes, and to give the working classes the full benefit of capital, have been the system of profit-sharing which has been so successful in France, and the system of co-operative industrial undertakings worked by working men. Both of these modes of raising the condition of the working class have been strenuously opposed by the New Unionists.20 No feature of the Old Trade Unionism is more admirable than the efforts they have made to encourage providence among their members and to assist them to provide for sickness, old age, and the destitution of their families. Mr. Howell has given the statistics of the sums expended by the fourteen largest trade unions in England in sick-pay, superannuation allowances to aged members, funeral allowances, and other benevolent purposes, and he has compared the sum with that expended by these bodies in strikes. For the detailed accounts I must refer the reader to Mr. Howell's valuable book. They clearly show how entirely subordinate is the part which strikes have held in the policy of the most important trade unions; how admirable and conscientious their administration has usually been; what a vast sum of self-help and providence exists among the better class of the English labourers; and what incalculable benefits these trade unions have conferred upon their members. ‘The aggregate amount devoted [by these fourteen societies] to what might be called the constant and permanent requirements of workmen—namely, pecuniary assistance in cases of need over which they have little control—reaches the grand sum of 7,331,952l., while the total ascertained amount expended solely on strikes was only 462,818l.’ ‘Singularly enough,’ Mr. Howell adds, ‘the provident side of trade unions is the one mainly attacked by the apostles of the so-called New Trade Unionism, whose objects seem to be to make the unions merely fighting-machines, unencumbered with any sick or accident fund.’21
I have mentioned in a former chapter that worst and most dangerous form of corruption, which has shown itself in modern times in England—the combination of workmen in the dockyard towns, and of Civil Servants of different categories, to use their voting power for the purpose of putting political pressure upon their representatives in parliament in order to raise their own salaries and wages, subordinating to this end all national and political considerations. It would be scarcely possible to conceive a habit more calculated to demoralise constituencies to the core, and more certain, if it spreads widely, to destroy all sound patriotic feeling in the nation. It is one of the usual arguments of the Socialist party in favour of the municipalisation of industries, that it enables workmen more easily to exercise their franchise with this object, and Mr. Sidney Webb informed the Labour Commission that he desired an indefinite extension of this practice.22
At the same time, the necessity of acting with other sections of the Radical party obliges the Socialist bodies engaged in active politics in some measure to mask their objects, and to throw many of their favourite arguments in the background. The confiscation of mining royalites and of ground rents are the only forms of direct plunder which are now put forward with much persistence. These kinds of property belong chiefly to a few men, and they are, therefore, natural objects of dishonest cupidity. But on the question of the taxation of ground rents we find an instructive combination of two classes of very different arguments.
The subject is one into which I do not propose to enter at length. There is obviously a great distinction between proposals to break existing contracts, under which householders have engaged to pay all rates and taxes, and a proposal like that of a recent town holdings committee, that in all future contracts rates should be compulsorily divided between the owner and occupier. The point on which I would insist is, that the arguments which are commonly advanced in public in favour of the special taxation of the ground landlords are based on that bourgeois morality which Socialists so much disdain. It is argued that the ground landlord does not pay his fair or due share to the improvements that are rapidly and enormously raising the value of his property; that vast expenses have been imposed on the community which were not anticipated at the time when existing contracts were made. The question is treated as one of equity and degree, and on the principle that all parties should contribute their fair proportion to the common expenditure.
Among the Socialists it is looked on in another light. It is considered simply as a step to the confiscation of the whole value of the ground on which cities are built. ‘The movement for the absorption by taxation of the site value of great cities,’ Mr. Sidney Webb writes, ‘is making enormous strides,’ and he congratulates himself upon the fact that when Mr. George propounded his views on these subjects in London, in 1889, his lectures were presided over by Liberal members and candidates, and by ministers and other leaders of the great Nonconformist religious bodies, who would once have regarded his doctrine with horror. ‘The accepted method of land nationalisation,’ he says, ‘is the taxation of rental values;’ and he notices how a Committee for the purpose of bringing about the taxation of ground rents and values has enjoyed the presidency of a noble lord who holds a high judicial office under the Crown, ‘and has succeeded in enlisting nearly all the Liberal (and some Conservative) members of Parliament in support of the special taxation of urban land values.’ The committee does not profess to be a Socialist body, or to aim at the Socialist ideal. At the same time, Mr. Webb remarks, its first important publication ‘was, at the request of the committee, written by a Socialist, and the arguments used therein support the complete nationalisation and municipalisation of all rent.’
On the whole, Mr. Webb observes: ‘The special rating and taxation of urban land values, the amount being left unspecified, is, indeed, now fully accepted as part of the official Liberal programme; and this fact is the more significant of the popular pressure in that probably not one of the present Liberal leaders really desires or intends any such confiscatory taxation, though they take no trouble to disclaim it.’23 Mr. Webb's own view is very clearly stated. He has no objection to purchase ground rents, but he would first of all tax them to extinction. He would gladly see a rate of twenty shillings in the pound imposed on ground values, and would then ‘take over the reversion of the estate of London of these terms.’24 It would be difficult to be more completely emancipated from the trammels of a mere ‘bourgeois morality’!
It is instructive to notice the analogy between these views and the agrarian movement which has lately taken place in Ireland. Mr. Parnell was quite prepared to advocate the purchase by the tenants of their farms, but he desired in the first place to beat down their cost to a mere fraction of the natural value. This was to be accomplished by violent conspiracy and intimidation; by systematic breach of contract and repudiation of rent; by throwing the country into a state of anarchy, in which all market transactions in land were paralysed. The English Socialist differs in his means, but not in his end. He seeks by a special and confiscatory taxation to reduce to a mere nominal value the property he desires to appropriate.
The connection, indeed, of Irish agrarianism and the laws that it has produced with English Socialism is very close, and it has been clearly seen, not only by Socialists at home, but also by some of the most eminent economists on the Continent.25 It is a significant fact that one of the earliest and most unqualified advocates of the doctrines of Mr. George was a leading member of the Irish agrarian movement. That movement showed more clearly than any preceding one how possible it was for a class who possessed a predominance of voting power, to use it for the purpose of breaking contracts and confiscating property; and it also showed that we have arrived at a stage of party government in which neither Parliament nor the ministers of the Crown can be trusted to resist the pressure, or to protect the property and legal contracts of any class who have lost political power. The lesson will not be lost upon wise men. The precedents and principles introduced into Irish legislation, and the methods by which that legislation was carried, will have far-reaching results, and have already given a powerful impulse to English Socialism.
One of the immediate objects of the Socialist wing of the Radical party is to advocate on all occasions the absorption of as many great industries as possible by the State or the municipality, with the curious result that the very men who are preaching the repudiation of debts, and the policy of taxing interest out of existence, are the strenuous advocates of enormous national and municipal loans. Thus Mr. Hyndman, who is the leading spirit of an association that desires the ‘rapid extinction of the National Debt’ by means of repudiation, informed the Labour Commission that the State should immensely enlarge its functions as an employer of labour; that the first industry it should take over is the railways; that the cost of the acquisition would be about 1,100,000,000l., and that he would gladly see the State giving this sum, and raising it by State bonds. He acknowledged, indeed, that if he had his way he would take the railways for nothing; but as, in a capitalistic society recognising private property, this is not possible, he urged for the purpose of the purchase an immediate addition to the National Debt greatly exceeding the whole of that debt when it reached its highest point, at the Peace of 1815. As one of the first duties of the State on taking the railways would be to reduce the cost of transport, and as one of the great advantages of State ownership would be that those who were employed upon them would have the power of exerting political pressure to extort higher wages, the reader may easily foresee the nature of the financial millennium that would ensue. Nor is it difficult to conceive what prospect a Government would have of raising such a loan at the instigation of the party that talks of the ‘healthy indifference’ which each generation should cultivate to the debts incurred on its behalf by its forefathers, of the facility with which ‘veiled repudiations’ might be effected ‘by a judicious application of the income tax.’26
But the railways, though the largest, form only one item in the long list of State acquisitions that are advocated by Socialist leaders, each one of which, in the present condition of society, could only be effected by raising vast loans. Canals, dockyards, tramways, omnibuses, the gas supply, and the water supply, are in like manner to be taken over by the municipalities; which are also to set up municipal workshops, to make large purchases of land, to absorb in succession the great private industrial concerns, and to set up new ones. The hours of work are to be shortened by law; the municipalities are to establish a minimum of wages for all workmen in their employment—which Mr. Hyndman puts at 305. a week, and which would be, certainly, considerably above the market rate—and they are to guarantee that the advantages in the matter of wages and hours obtained in good times should not be taken from the workmen in bad times without their consent.27 The enormous additional taxation that would naturally ensue is not a thing to be deprecated, but rejoiced in, for ‘the increasing absorption of rent and interest by taxation’ is one of the objects the Socialists most desire. They propose, in the words of an academic Socialist,28 ‘to make rent and interest pay for their own extinction.’ They hope that the ever-increasing burden of rates may drive the smaller rate-payers in despair into their ranks,29 and it is only when taxation has reached the point of confiscation that their ideal will be attained.
That this insane and grotesque policy can ever be carried into effect is impossible; but any near approach to it would produce calamities in a country like England which it would be scarcely possible to exaggerate. It would blast as in an hour the whole prosperity of the nation. If a House of Commons were elected which accepted the Socialist programme, long before that Parliament had time to assemble countless millions of capital would have passed out of the land. The whole system of credit, on which the vast and complex edifice of English industry and commerce depends, would inevitably collapse. Every manufacturer, every employer of labour, would make it his object to stop his works and dismiss his workmen, and, in an overcrowded country, nearly every main channel of employment would be at once obstructed. The Cotton Famine of Lancashire during the American Civil War, even the ghastly scenes that were witnessed in Ireland during the great Famine of 1847, would only faintly foreshadow the misery that such a state of things must produce. For a juster parallel we should have to go to the last days of the Roman Empire, when the Egyptian corn supplies were cut off, and the population of Italy slowly dwindled by famine to a mere fraction of what it had been. In no age of the world could such a calamity be more easily produced, for never before could capital be so quickly and easily displaced, and in no other country do industry and employment more largely depend upon national credit. In a population like that of England every fluctuation of credit, every diminution of capital, every temporary dislocation or enfeeblement of a great industry, produces deep and widespread distress, and adds largely to the number of the unemployed. Who can estimate what would happen if all the elements of national prosperity were convulsed or paralysed by the prospect of a legislative confiscation?
The good sense and the fundamental honesty of the English people may be trusted to guard against such a catastrophe, but measures that are far short of it may produce grave evils. I have already described the effects on national industries when any considerable revolutionary body passes into power, when capital begins to feel itself unprotected and insecure, and when confidence and credit decline. Men cease to undertake great enterprises which can only slowly mature. They contract those in which they are engaged. They diminish their risks. They divide and scatter their investments, and place large portions in other lands. Hitherto every wave of continental trouble has brought large sums of money to England, under the belief that it was the country where property is the most secure. If men whose avowed object is to use their political power for the purpose of confiscating property increase in influence, the stream will flow in the opposite direction. If the belief once grows and strengthens that England has ceased to be a safe country for investment and enterprise, employment in all its branches will speedily wither. Unemployed capital means unemployed labour, and the migration of capital is soon followed by the displacement of industry. In modern times political causes may easily change the course of wealth and industry; and this is especially true of a country which lives not by agriculture, but by manufactures and commerce, and which possesses no natural resources sufficient to support its population.
The increase of taxation has similar effects. No delusion can be greater and more dangerous than to suppose that it is possible to throw great burdens of taxation on the rich without injuring the poor. In a thousand ways employment will be contracted, and the capital from which it is paid will be diminished, or will seek lands where it is less heavily burdened. There are comparatively few homes in London into which the recent increases of rates and taxes have not introduced an increased spirit of economy. Servants are dismissed; charities are cut down; luxuries which give a livelihood to numbers of poor people are given up. The small struggling shop is abandoned for the cheaper store. Contracts are more rigidly enforced. Every article of expense is closely scrutinised, and final remedy is probably found in a period of economy in some cheaper country or some distant watering-place. Every small London shopkeeper knows but too well that the augmenting pressure of taxation is diminishing his custom, as well as absorbing a larger proportion of his profits; that both by its direct and indirect action it is constantly increasing the cost of living; and that it is forcing numbers into the ranks of pauperism who had hitherto maintained an honourable, though struggling, independence. It is perhaps less evident, but not less true, that the great industries, on which so large a proportion of London workmen subsist, are made by the same cause less productive, and therefore less capable of giving employment.
The tendency to place important industries more and more in the hands of municipalities is very evident, and it is not one wholly to be condemned. As I have already said, the municipal government of our provincial towns is one of the most remarkable of English successes, and in several cases great industries which are essential to the town, such as the supply of water or gas, have been taken over by the municipalities, and managed with honesty, efficiency, and economy. At the same time it must be acknowledged that the low franchise which now prevails is too modern to justify us in speaking with much confidence of its results; and certainly, if the principles and methods of the Socialist party were to prevail in English town government, the evils which have been so abundantly displayed in the United States would not be permanently averted. Municipalities are becoming enormous employers of labour. The labourers are at once their servants and their masters, having the power of coercing their employers by their votes; and a strong party is encouraging their very natural temptation to use this power with the object of obtaining higher wages.
In London the number of labourers employed by the Metropolitan Board of Works is said to have been already multiplied fourfold by the County Council, and every effort is made to extend the sphere of municipal employment. Chiefly through the influence of the Socialist members of the County Council, that body, under the plausible pretext of setting an example to other employers, has fixed a minimum rate of wages, irrespective of the value of the work performed, independent of the market rate for similar work, and considerably higher than that for which equally efficient labour could be easily procured. It has thus, in a slightly different form, brought back the system of ‘make-wages,’ or ‘rate in aid of wages,’ which had long been regarded by economists as one of the worst abuses of the earlier years of the century. That system also endeavoured to establish a certain standard of comfort, beneath which wages should not fall, and it did so by granting to the poorer labourers an allowance from the rates in addition to the wages they received from their employer.30 In the present case the whole wage comes from the rates; but it is fixed above its market, or natural value, and the excess is a gift made by the ratepayer to the labourer.
In this way the London County Council has completely abandoned the old notion that a representative body is a trustee for all classes, and that one of its first duties is to obtain the best market value for the money with which it is entrusted. One of the ablest of its members31 observes that it ‘has adopted a policy that would involve a private firm in bankruptcy,’ and it only escapes this evil because the purse of the ratepayers is behind it.
Whether a step which must at once injure independent industries and increase the inducement to country workmen to flock to London can be really beneficial to the working classes is surely very doubtful, but it is not doubtful that it opens the door to vast possibilities of corruption. The danger has been greatly aggravated by two other steps which have been taken by the same body. They have made the trade unions arbiters of the wages they give, by resolving that no contractor shall be employed by the municipality who does not sign a declaration declaring that he pays the wages ‘recognised, and in practice obtained, by the trade unions in the place or places where the contract is executed.’ One of the results of this step has been that contractors have largely increased the sum they demand for executing municipality work. In one case, out of a total of 54,353l. in an accepted tender, no less than 5,750l. was increased charge due to the rule of the Council that the tendering company must bind itself ‘to adopt the rates of wages and hours of labour as fixed by the various trade unions concerned.’ Soon after the County Council, moved partly by the increased cost of the contract system which was due to their own rule, and partly also by the desire to realise the Socialist idea of municipal workshops, undertook as far as possible to abolish contractors, and carry out their public works without their intervention. It thus entered into the most direct business relations with great masses of labourers on whose votes its members largely depended for their seats.32
The dangers that may spring from such a policy seem to me very obvious. Where democracy reigns, few things are more to be feared than a great increase in the number of those who are in the direct employment of the State and the municipality. If a dominant proportion of the voters in each constituency are in the pay of one or other of those bodies, it is idle to suppose that the relations between the representative and his electors can long be kept distinct from the relations between the employer and the employed. The temptation of the representatives to use public money and public works as a means of electioneering, and the temptation of the electors to use their political power as a means of obtaining trade advantages for themselves, will soon become irresistible, and the floodgates of corruption will be opened. A candidate for election is never likely to appear before an audience of working-class electors advocating either a reduction of wages or a restriction of work. Public works are, in this respect, far more dangerous under a democratic Government than under a despotism. There is a remarkable contrast between the works carried out at public expense in India and in France. In both cases they have largely added to the national debt, and some persons believe that, in India as well as in France, they have been carried to excess. But no one doubts that, under the despotic system in India, public works have been undertaken according to the best Government intelligence, and with the sole view of benefiting the country. No one also doubts that, under the democratic system of France, they have been in a great degree electioneering devices, intended to conciliate a class or a district and to induce them to support the Government. And because this has been the object, an immense proportion of them have proved unremunerative to the State.
Many dangerous experiments of this kind are likely to be made in England, and it is probable that there will be many attempts to withdraw great industries or forms of production from private hands, and to place them in the hands of the State—or, in other words, under the management of Government functionaries. The belief in the competence of the State to undertake all kinds of tasks and to deal with all kinds of questions is one of the most curious characteristics of much contemporary political thought. It is difficult to discover on what ground, either of experience or of reasoning, it is based.
One other remark on this subject may not be useless. Experience has shown that Government organisation may be applied, with some success, to such industrial undertakings as can be managed on the system of strict routine, and by rigid and inflexible rules. The State administers very efficiently, on such a system, the Post Office and Telegraph services, and in some countries it undertakes the management of the means of public transport, or the supply of a few great articles of public necessity, such as gas and water. But in all those departments of industry which are not susceptible of this kind of management it is certain to fail. It is, for example, utterly unfit to undertake on a large scale the duties of a landowner. The extreme variety and fluctuation of conditions and circumstances among agricultural tenants; the great place which exceptions and allowances, and special treatments and indulgences, must play in the wise management of land, are quite incompatible with those hard and fast lines of administration which the State can never abandon without the most imminent danger of jobbery and favouritism. Equally hopeless would be the attempt to convert the State into a gigantic shopkeeper, or storekeeper, or manufacturer, providing for the vast and ever-changing variety of human wants and tastes. All the qualities that are needed for success in these fields are qualities that are found in exceptional individuals, acting under the impulse of strong personal interest, but never in the disciplined action of a great public service. The tact and foresight which anticipate changes in the course and conditions of commerce or fashion; the promptitude which seizes the happy moment for contracting or expanding supply, meeting half-disclosed wants, and giving to enterprise new direction and impulses; the rare combination of daring, caution, and insight by which alone these great forms of industry can succeed, will never be found in routine-ridden Government officials.
There is not, I think, any real danger that the vast predatory schemes of George and Marx will ever be carried into effect in England, or indeed in any other great civilised country; though it is probable that the disciples of these men may, in some degree and in more than one direction, modify the action both of the State and of local bodies. The mere presence also in the political world of a group of men openly advocating the confiscation of all interest on public debts, of all rent on land, of all mining royalties, is a portent of some significance. It is a deep-seated conviction of English political life that, where dangerous and subversive opinions exist, it is desirable that they should be brought into light, fully discussed, and adequately represented. Opinions, it is said, are never so dangerous, and their power is never so exaggerated, as when their free expression is suppressed. Discussion brings out any element of truth that underlies them; fanaticisms wither in the atmosphere of free criticism; and contact with the reality of things, and with the various forms of national thought, seldom fails either to convert or moderate the revolutionist, or to reduce him to insignificance, or to lead to some compromise which allays friction and diminishes the area of discontent. In hardly any country in Europe have extreme or revolutionary opinions been so freely propagated as in England. In hardly any country in Europe have they so little power. At the worst, it is said, they only produce strong reactions, unduly frightening moderate men, and delaying for a time inevitable reforms.
There is great truth in this political philosophy, which for several generations has been that of the more sagacious English politicians. There is, however, another side to the question, which in England, I think, is apt to be underrated. Legal toleration is one thing, social and political toleration is another; and, as Burke long since observed, the widest latitude of legal toleration is only harmless where there is a strong restraining moral opinion in the nation. There can be little doubt that this restraint has diminished in England. There has grown up in our day an extreme laxity of opinion in judging men who are advocating courses which are palpably criminal, provided they have not themselves a direct money interest in the issue. It is true that this pretended disinterestedness is often, perhaps usually, a fraud. Money by no means supplies the only selfish motive by which men can be actuated. A desire to enter Parliament; to win votes, or popularity, or power; to obtain the kind of notoriety which the profession of extreme and startling opinions often gives to very commonplace men; the vanity, the discontent, the incapacity for serious and continuous work, the bitter class hatred growing out of a diseased, envious, acidulated nature—all these things lie at the root of much anarchical and socialistic speculation. But, apart from these considerations, it is an evil sign for a nation when those who are preaching open dishonesty are treated by great sections of society as honest men, deserving of no more moral reprobation than if they held extreme or eccentric opinions about vaccination or vivisection, about the nature of the sacraments or the organisation of the Church. It is no real dishonour to a nation that it produces among its teeming millions teachers of dishonesty. It is a far graver thing when such teachers can command the votes of thousands of their fellow-citizens, can rise to positions of power and influence in the State, can move uncensured, or even applauded, through large circles of society. The sense of right and wrong in the sphere of politics is thus gradually dimmed. Success justifies, to most men, the methods and the principles that lead to it. A new standard of judgment and honour is insensibly formed, and the public opinion of the nation too easily accommodates itself to a lower moral level.
I have noticed in the last chapter that English and American Socialism differs from that of the Continent in the fact that it is not usually associated either with aggressive atheism or with attacks on the relation of the sexes. There are, it is true, some exceptions. Thus Mr. Bax, who is prominent among English Socialist writers, describes Socialism as an ‘atheistic humanism,’ which ‘utterly despises the “other world,” with all its stage properties—that is, the present objects of religion;’ and he tells us that the existing theology ‘is so closely entwined with the current mode of production that the two things must stand or fall together.’33 There are also clear signs that a section of the party contemplate, and desire, great revolutions in the sphere of family life. I have already quoted the subversive views of Godwin and of Owen on the subject. The work of Bebel ‘On Woman,’ advocating an extreme latitude of free love, has been translated and published in an English Socialist library. Mr. Hyndman assures us that the family, ‘in the German-Christian sense of marriage for life, and responsibility of the parents for the children born in wedlock, is almost at an end even now,’ and he predicts ‘a complete change in all family relations,’ which must issue ‘in a widely extended communism.’34 Mr. William Morris and Mr. Bax, in a joint work on Socialism, contend that marriage should cease to be a permanent and binding contract, and should be a mere voluntary association, dissoluble by either party at pleasure.35 But it would be unjust to English Socialists to attribute to them in general such views. A large proportion of them treat questions of religion and questions of marriage as entirely outside their system; while another section, who call themselves Christian Socialists, very earnestly deprecate all attacks upon religion and upon the Christian conception of the family.
The denationalising influence of Socialism probably goes deeper. Its very essence is to substitute a class division for the division of nationalities, and to unite the workmen of all countries for the overthrow of the owners of property. Nearly all the institutions that make the distinctive glory and greatness of a nation are bound up with the state of society it desires to overthrow, and the enthusiasm of patriotism is one of the most formidable obstacles to its progress.
Mr. Bax, with his usual uncompromising candour, has expressed the feelings of the genuine Socialist. The establishment of Socialism on any national or race basis is out of the question. The foreign policy of the great international Socialist party must be to break up these hideous race monopolies, called empires, beginning in each case at home. Hence anything that makes for the disruption and disintegration of the empire to which he belongs must be welcomed by the Socialist as an ally. It is his duty to urge on any movement tending in any way to dislocate the commercial relations of the world, knowing that every shock the modern complex commercial system suffers weakens it, and brings its destruction nearer.’36
Much, however, of the Socialism which we see around us is of a more superficial and less dangerous description. It has little genuineness, and is largely due to transient causes. Prolonged and widespread agricultural and commercial depression has increased the number of the unemployed. By introducing acute suffering and anxiety into many industrious homes, and a new uncertainty and fluctuation into many great industries, it has had the very natural effect of greatly widening the area of restlessness and discontent. Something, too, is due to mere fashion. Around the nucleus of genuine conviction that underlies every great movement there gathers loosely a vast accretion of half-formed, unsifted, unsubstantial assent. The half-educated, the excitable, the great multitude who, without seriously formed convictions, desire to show that they are in the van of progress, naturally catch up and exaggerate the dominant enthusiasm and tendency of their time, and when the current changes they will change with it. It is curious to observe how rapidly this may happen. In the early years of the century nearly all the genuine religious enthusiasm of the country flowed in the Evangelical channel; in a few short years it was mainly flowing in the channel of Tractarianism or Rationalism. Fifty years ago nearly all political enthusiasm in England ran in the direction of Free Trade, and the restriction in every form of Government interference. The dominant note in all countries is now a desire to enlarge the sphere of State action and control in nearly all departments of industrial life.
Such considerations are well fitted to prevent us from exaggerating the importance of the movement of the hour. At the same time it is extremely improbable that a tendency which is so widely spread will pass away like a vapour or a dream, and leave no serious legislation behind it. Nearly all working-class movements of late years have assumed something of a socialistic tinge. In the industrial, even more than in the purely political, sphere, many hazardous experiments, many dangerous conflicts, lie before us.
It would be very unjust, however, to classify the many efforts that are made to regulate by Government authority the different forms of industry with the confiscating and dishonest type of Socialism. No legislation of the nineteenth century has been, on the whole, more successful, and certainly none was more clearly called for by great abuses, than the factory legislation which began with the Act of 1802 for regulating the health and morals of apprentices, which was consolidated and codified by the Factory and Workshop Act of 1878, and which has received several important additions within the last few years. Even the history of the African slave trade hardly reveals more horrible abuses than may be found in the early days of the factory system in England, when machinery first introduced child labour on a large scale into industrial employment, when the domestic ndustries were suddenly broken up, and when multitudes of ignorant peasants were precipitated from their country homes into the great manufacturing towns. The laws dealing with these subjects are very numerous and very intricate, but a brief outline of their leading provisions will here be sufficient.
Their chief object was to protect three classes. The first were children. The factory laws carefully regulated the ages at which they might be introduced into the factories, and the amount and the continuity of work that might be exacted from them; they prohibited their night work, and at the same time provided for them an excellent system of education, running concurrently with their work. Provisions of this kind have met with an almost universal approval. They have been extended by many successive enactments to a great variety of industries, and they have been adopted, in their main lines, in all civilised countries.
The second class to be protected were ‘young persons’ between thirteen and eighteen—a class who were first made the subjects of distinct legislation in the Act of 1833. They were withdrawn from night work, and the hours of their labour in the many employments which were regulated by this Act were definitely fixed. In 1874, the age at which children were counted as ‘young persons’ was raised to fourteen, except in cases where a child of thirteen had passed a specified educational test.
On this class of subjects also there has been little serious controversy; but there has been grave difference of opinion, on grounds which will be mentioned in the following chapter, about the provisions limiting and interfering with the right of adult women to work as they please and make their own contracts with their employers. By the Factory Act of 1844 all women in factories or workshops were, for the first time, placed under the same regulations and disabilities as ‘young persons.’ An earlier Act had absolutely excluded them from underground employment in mines; and in 1891 their employment for four weeks after childbirth in the protected trades was forbidden. This last law is copied from continental precedents. Laws of the same kind, though with different time limits, now exist in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Netherlands.37
Concurrently with these provisions there are a vast number regulating with extreme minuteness the health conditions of factories and workshops. With the progress of sanitary science laws of this kind have immensely multiplied. An army of inspectors, armed with large powers, and acting sometimes under the central authority, and sometimes under local authorities, control all the details of protected industries. This control is not confined to unhealthy industries, or to industries in which children or young persons are employed. It extends to many which involve no special danger and are carried on by adult men, and there are, at the same time, minute directions about fencing dangerous machinery, and about the ways in which it may be employed. No woman or young person, for example, is permitted by law to clean any mill-gearing in motion, or to work between the fixed and traversing parts of a self-acting machine, though a man has full liberty to do so.38 No one will question the general utility of sanitary regulations, and of regulations for the prevention of accidents, but many good judges doubt whether it is a wise thing for the State to regulate the industry of adult men in all its details, as if they were children, incapable of taking measures for their own protection, and requiring at every turn to be directed and inspected by authority of the law.
This policy, however, has been largely carried out, and in many different forms. Thus, for example, the truck laws prohibit any arrangements between employers and employed for the payment of wages in goods, or otherwise than in the current coin of the realm. An Act regulating agricultural gangs provides that no females may work in the same gang as men. An Act of 1883 makes it penal to pay wages in public-houses, lest the workmen should fall into the temptation of spending them in drink. Another Act, intended to protect seamen against fraudulent lodging-house keepers, makes it penal for any person on board a ship, and within twenty-four hours of its arrival, to solicit a seaman to become a lodger.39 Sometimes the proposals of legislators are curiously infelicitous. Thus, a few years ago, the Sweating Committee was struck by the weight of the hammers used by women in a certain branch of the iron manufacture, and proposed an Act of Parliament for diminishing their size. The project, however, was abandoned in consequence of a deputation of sturdy workwomen to the Home Secretary. They represented to him that the immediate consequences of the proposed Act would be to deprive them of their means of livelihood, by throwing this branch of industry into the hands of men, and they proved very conclusively that, by constant practice, they could wield the customary hammer without the slightest difficulty, while the use of smaller hammers would require a considerably greater muscular effort, as the work could only be accomplished by a much larger number of blows.
The next great restriction involved in the Factory Acts is that of the hours of adult male labourers. For a long period it was universally held that adult men were capable of making their own bargains, and that a restriction of their hours of work was utterly beyond the legitimate province of the law. The Tudor Acts arranging the period of working hours have been often quoted in this connection, but, as Mr. Jevons observes, they were not intended to limit, but to lengthen, work. They established a minimum, but not a maximum, providing that ‘the legal day's work was to be twelve hours at the least.’
It is very obvious, however, that in numerous trades habitual work is far too prolonged for the physical wellbeing of the workman, and that it practically reduces his life to a life of continued slavery. Nothing can contribute more to raise the mental, moral, and physical condition of the working classes, to strengthen their domestic happiness, and to lighten lives that are at best toilsome and difficult, than a wise limitation of the hours of work, and no part of modern industrial reforms has been more really beneficial. There are several considerations which have of late years considerably added to its necessity. The Sunday holiday had fallen in a great measure into abeyance in Catholic countries, though its importance is now more generally felt, not so much on religious as on economical grounds. The Church holidays, though often multiplied to excess, secured to past generations frequent intermissions of labour; but they, too, are now little observed. On the other hand, facilities of communication have immensely added to the severity of competition; and the unintermitted action of machinery, though it greatly diminishes physical toil, brings into many forms of labour a vastly increased mental strain through the constant watchfulness and attention it requires.
Another consideration, which is of great importance in judging this question, is the demonstrated fact that the most prolonged work is not the most productive. The greatly increased amount and accuracy of statistical information which has been acquired in the present generation has established this fact beyond dispute. Work which exceeds the healthy physical powers of the average labourer is always inefficient. In employments that require hard and steady work, it may be safely assumed that a work-day of twelve hours will produce less than a work-day of ten hours. It is, of course, obvious that the diminution of the length of labour cannot be carried on indefinitely without leading to a diminution of production. Ten hours will produce more than twelve hours, but it is not certain that eight will produce as much as ten, and it is quite certain that six, or four, or two, will not produce as much as eight. It is also true that shorter hours usually mean a diminished employment of machines, which know no fatigue;40 but, on the whole, a widespread and various experience clearly shows that those men will work the best who work well within the limit of their physical capacities, and in this fact we have a groundwork on which we may safely build.
A similar process of reasoning applies to the rate of wages. High wages do not necessarily mean dear labour, or low wages cheap labour. It is bad economy to underfeed the horse that labours in the field, and human labour only attains its full efficiency when the labourer is enabled by good wages to keep his strength at the highest point. A comparison has been made of wages and work in many different countries, and it supplies ample and striking evidence that the efficiency of work usually rises and falls with the rate of wages, underpaid labour producing little, well-paid labour producing much. In most fields of labour there is no labour more remunerative to the employer than that of the Englishman and American, who are usually the most highly paid. One of the best living authorities goes so far as to conclude that, in spite of all the difference of wages, the real price of labour is everywhere much the same; that, on the whole, for the same sum of money, much the same amount of work may be everywhere procured.41
Taking these principles as a guide, a great deal has been done within the last half-century to diminish the hours of labour in different industries; but it has been done, for the most part, by voluntary agreement, and not by the action of the law. Indirectly, however, the Acts limiting the work of young persons and women in textile factories to 56 1/2 hours a week, and in a great variety of other industries to 60 hours a week, have influenced adult male labour, for it has been found necessary, or advisable, to stop the work of the factory at the time when a great proportion of the workers were obliged to desist. In addition also to Sunday the law has secured some periods of intermission. The Saturday half-holiday, which has spread so widely through all departments of English industry, was first incorporated in the Factory Acts in 1825, and several other holidays and half-holidays have since then been established.42
As we have already seen, the demand for a legal limitation of all adult labour has of late years grown and strengthened in many countries, and the form which it has assumed had been a general demand for an eight hours day. In some Socialist programmes it is decreed that overtime should be strictly forbidden, and even the eight hours day is treated as merely an instalment, to be followed at a later period by much greater reduction. In many industries the eight hours limitation has already been effected by voluntary agreements between masters and men; and there can be little doubt that, wherever it is economically harmless, wherever it can be effected without diminishing produce and profit, the same course will be taken.
The interference of the law, however, is a matter of very dubious policy; and the extension of the same legal limitations to all industries would produce numerous evils, injustices, and anomalies. There are forms of work—such as domestic service, or the work of a sailor, or the work of an agricultural labourer during harvest-time—in which the eight hours system would be manifestly impossible, and it would be absurd to apply the same time limit to industries that are utterly dissimilar. Eight hours in a crowded London store is much harder work than twelve hours in a quiet village shop; and there can be no real comparison between the labour of a porter at a country station, or of a servant in a well-to-do household, and the incessant strain of factory labour. One of the most remarkable instances of the curtailment of work hours without the assistance of the law is the early closing and the half-holiday in the great shops, and some persons would extend this system by force of law to the small shops, which are usually open the longest. Hitherto the law has done nothing in this field except providing, by Acts of 1886 and 1892, that persons under eighteen years must not be employed more than seventy-four hours a week, including mealtime.43 That the hours of the small shops are often far longer than is desirable is incontestable. To the richer classes their curtailment would be a matter of indifference; but it is specially for the convenience of the working classes that a great proportion of these small and poor shops are kept open into the night, and it is solely by these long hours that they are able to hold their own against the crushing competition of the great shops.44 It would surely be an act of tyranny to prevent a poor man from serving his customers in his own shop as long as he pleased; but it would be very difficult to distinguish by law between the shop where the master served alone, and that in which he served with two or three assistants, leaving the one open, while the other was forcibly closed.
In trades where work is intermittent, and where long periods of depression are followed by brief periods of inflation, the time limit is especially harsh. Take, for example, the common case of a strong girl who is engaged in millinery. For perhaps nine months of the year her life is one of constant struggle, anxiety, and disappointment, owing to the slackness of her work. At last the season comes, bringing with it an abundant harvest of work, which, if she were allowed to reap it, would enable her in a few weeks to pay off the little debts which weigh so heavily upon her, and to save enough to relieve her from all anxiety in the ensuing year. She desires passionately to avail herself of her opportunity. She knows that a few weeks of toil prolonged far into the night will be well within her strength, and not more really injurious to her than the long succession of nights that are spent in the ballroom by the London beauty whom she dresses. But the law interposes, forbids her to work beyond the stated hours, dashes the cup from her thirsty lips, and reduces her to the same old round of poverty and debt. What oppression of the poor can be more real or more galling than this? What consolation can it be to the poor girl who is thus deprived of the liberty which is most vital to her happiness, to be told that she lives in a free country, where men speak and write and vote as they please?
There are other and still larger aspects of the question to be considered. In the keen competition of modern industrial life, knowledge, machinery and opportunities are all greatly equalised, and some of the most important trades are only kept in England with extreme difficulty and by a narrow margin. This is especially the case in the textile manufactures, which support such a vast proportion of our working classes. International competition in this manufacture is now so close that any change which seriously diminishes profit will inevitably lead to a migration of the capital. Any change that, by considerably increasing the cost of production, raises prices, and thus enables other countries to undersell England, must give a death-blow to the industry. In the French factories the workmen are said to work sixty-six hours a week. In England it is proposed that they should be forbidden by law to work more than forty-eight, and it is contended that wages would be undiminished, and even increased, by the change.45 Is it quite certain that, under these conditions, the ascendency of the English cotton manufacture would long survive?
But French competition is far from being the most formidable. The growth of the cotton manufacture in India, which is one of the most significant facts in modern industrial history, is not likely to be isolated. Japan has swiftly followed in the steps of India, and it already possesses a large, flourishing, and rapidly growing cotton manufacture. In the great awakening which is taking place in the East the same manufacture is likely to spread through other countries, where the manufacturer may have his cotton growing at his door, where the cost of living and the price of labour are a mere fraction of what they are in Europe, where labour is so abundant that machinery might easily be worked during the whole, or nearly the whole, of the twenty-four hours by relays of fresh labourers. If such a system can be made profitable, it is not probable that mere difficulties of organisation and displacement will permanently prevent it. It is far from improbable that, in no very distant future, some of the chief centres of the cotton manufacture may be in these regions; and if the legislative tendencies that now prevail in England increase, it is also probable that the machinery that works them may be largely provided by English capital. The capitalist, discouraged and restricted at home, will find his profit—but what would be the fate of the English workman?
Coal, unlike cotton, is a great English product, and there are some who contend that, as it cannot be driven from the country, it should be the object of the colliers to raise its price. The great strikes in the coal trade that have taken place within the last few years enable us to realise clearly what would be the effects. To the rich man who only consumes coal in his own houses it would be of little consequence. The present wasteful methods of consumption furnish an ample margin for economy, and, after all, the cost of coal will form but a small item in his budget. To men of moderate income it would be a cause of great inconvenience, sometimes making all the difference between comfort and straitened means. But to the poor it would be a calamity of the first magnitude. In a climate like ours warmth is only second in importance to food, and a change of price that placed it beyond the means of the poor would produce an amount of suffering and illness that it would be difficult to exaggerate. But this is only one part of the question. There is a considerable export trade of coal from England, which may easily be arrested or diminished; and there are also a crowd of important home industries which depend vitally for their profit on cheap coal. Every considerable rise of prices extinguishes furnaces, throws multitudes out of employment, and endangers still further great industries on which tens of thousands depend, and which are already shrinking and tottering before foreign competition.
All this is very elementary, but it is apt to be forgotten or deliberately concealed. It is obvious that, if an English industry be so handicapped by restrictions that it is unable to compete with a foreign industry of the same kind, it must lose its ascendency abroad, and can only in the long run retain its ascendency at home by the help of stringent protective legislation. This fact does not, as I have shown, lead to the necessity of low wages and excessive hours, but it does add immensely to the dangers of the hard and fast lines of legislative restriction.
In nearly all the reforms of industry which seem most desirable we find a painful conflict of poor men's interests. The hardships that may be found in domestic service are certainly not to be found in the houses of the rich, but in the poor and struggling homes, where one overworked servant is all that can be kept. The horrible grinding of the poor that takes place under the name of sweating is not for the benefit of the rich. They buy their clothes or shirts at a price which should amply allow for the proper payment of labour. It is in the struggle to provide clothes of extreme cheapness for the very poor that these evils chiefly arise. The building trade is one of those into which international competition can enter least, and it would therefore appear at first sight to be one of those in which artificial methods may be most easily and most safely employed to raise the price of labour. But, in the words of Mr. Jevons, ‘nothing can be more injurious to the poorer classes than any artificial restrictions in the building trades tending to raise the cost of building, or to impede the introduction of improvements in bricklaying and the other building arts. The effect is peculiarly injurious because it places great obstacles in the way of any attempt to produce really good new dwellings for the working classes. There are always quantities of old houses and buildings, of various sorts, which can be let as lodgings at a rate below that at which it is possible to build good new ones. The result is either that very inferior cheap houses must be built, or the more expensive model dwellings fall practically to a better-paid class. The general effect is to make really wholesome houses a luxury for the wealthier classes, while the residuum have to herd together between whatever walls they can find.’46 It is already observed by those who are connected with societies for building artisans’ houses, that the enhanced cost of building is making it necessary to choose between meaner cottages and higher rents.47
Considerations of this kind are well fitted to preach caution to the legislator, whose efforts to benefit the poor may often be the means of seriously injuring them. One truth should never be forgotten: it is, that no change which renders labour less productive and efficient can permanently benefit the working classes. Short hours in industry are frequently advocated, not only on the sound and proper ground that they are a blessing to the workman, and give him the means of larger instruction and increased happiness in life, but also on the very different ground that, by making it necessary to employ more workmen to produce a given result, they will diminish competition, and give work to the unemployed. This doctrine has of late years obtained a great prominence in trade-union politics, and has evidently taken deep root in the English working-class mind. There can, I think, be little doubt that a grave economical fallacy underlies it. If the shorter hours produce as much as the longer ones, the change will be a great benefit to the actual workman, but it will create no additional demand, and will do nothing for the unemployed. If the produce is diminished, either wages will be reduced so that the same wage fund may be distributed among a larger number, or prices will rise, or profits will fall. Against the first consequence the labouring classes emphatically protest, but in a large number of cases it would be the inevitable result. On the other hand, increased prices mean decreased consumption, and smaller profits mean a contraction or a migration of industry; and in all these cases the ultimate result will be to diminish instead of increase the number of the unemployed. In the long run all who are engaged upon an industry must be supported out of its profits, and if an industry is declining, the wellbeing of those who are employed in it cannot permanently be maintained. Law or combination may compel the capitalist to shorten hours or increase wages, but they cannot compel him to pursue an industry which has ceased to be profitable; nor can they compel the consumer to purchase. Protective laws may, no doubt, exclude foreign articles, but an immense proportion of the purchasers of English goods are foreigners, who are attracted to them mainly by their cheapness.48
It is worthy of notice also that in some important respects trade-union policy has a tendency to multiply rather than diminish the number of the unemployed. One of its chief objects is to maintain the highest rate of wages an industry can bear, and to make this rate uniform through the trade or district. The consequence is that the employer is necessarily driven to employ exclusively the most efficient labour. One of the saddest features of modern industrial life is the growing difficulty of the old, the sickly, and the feeble to obtain a living. It is observed that, since the maximum trade-union wages have been stringently enforced, men come to the workhouse earlier than before.49 Formerly, when their powers declined, they could usually find work at reduced wages. Now such wages are prohibited by trade-union rules, and as they cannot be profitably employed at the trade-union wages, they sink rapidly to pauperism. By this process multitudes who are still able to work, but not at the highest average of efficiency, swell the ranks of the unemployed. Not unfrequently an employer, through a feeling of benevolence, keeps on the old worker at a loss to himself; but if a strike is ordered by the union, this worker is obliged to quit his work with the rest, and he very seldom regains his position. Such facts make the problem of dealing with old age especially serious. It is difficult to find any sufficient remedy, except by the large extension of piecework—the form of labour which is the most just, as it proportions the reward of each man rigidly to his production. But piecework can be less easily controlled and managed by trade unions than day labour, and, accordingly, in the New Unionism it is generally opposed. Wherever labour is very highly organised, the tendency is towards industries carried on by the smallest possible number of workmen at the highest possible rate of wages.
There is also a marked tendency, especially among the New Unionists, to establish monopolies, excluding, often by gross violence and tyranny, non-unionists from the trades they can influence, and sometimes even closing their own ranks against new recruits. In a large number of trade unions there are strict rules, much like those of the mediæval guilds, limiting the number of apprentices who may be taught a trade, and maintaining by trade-union action the restrictions on skilled employment which were once enforced by law.50 One of the most significant strikes of late years has been that which took place in 1890 in the great pottery works of Sir Henry Doulton. There was no question of wages or hours, but the sole point in dispute was the right of the manufacturer to teach new hands the more difficult branches of the work. ‘Throwing’ on the potter's wheel is an art which requires much skill, and can rarely be attained to perfection except by those who begin it early in life. Sir Henry Doulton states that it was only by the careful training and selection of youths in this branch that his works had attained their world-wide fame. When several vacancies had occurred near the close of 1890, he selected three lads, the sons of journeymen employed by the firm, and put them in training; but he was surprised to receive a peremptory demand from the trade union that there should in future be only one apprentice to seven journeymen. Sir Henry Doulton replied that such a rule had never existed in the past; that if it had existed, past progress would have been impossible, and a large proportion of his present workmen could never have received their training; that the number of learners was at this time less than it had been in any period during the last fourteen years; and that it was absolutely essential to the maintenance of the trade that the number of the skilled labourers should be kept up. The only reply was a peremptory order from the trade union that the three boys should be at once dismissed, under pain of a general strike. The manufacturer refused to submit to this dictation, and a desperate strike in the pottery trade ensued, lasted for three months, and ended in the total defeat of the workmen.51
Another illustration of the same spirit was shown by the London Dockers’ Union. This body aimed at nothing less than a monopoly of the whole riverside industry of London, and in 1890 it passed a resolution that no further members should be admitted without the special sanction of the district committee.52 It is obvious that such a policy, which has of late years been shown in many quarters and in many forms, has a direct tendency to increase the number of the unemployed.
Some writers, in considering the possibility of a great reduction in the hours of labour, place much stress on international agreements preventing any one country from taking an unfair advantage of its neighbours. In many large departments of human affairs international agreements have proved very successful. Telegraphs, the rates of postage, extradition, and copyright have all been regulated in this way; the same system has been efficacious in suppressing the slave trade and introducing several mitigations into war; and a large and growing party are advocating international agreements for regulating the currency and maintaining a fixed ratio between the precious metals.
The prospect, however, of such agreements for regulating the hours of work seems to me exceedingly remote. Nations differ so vastly in their industrial circumstances, in the price of food, in their standard of living, and in their commercial and industrial legislation, that agreements of this kind would meet with almost insuperable difficulties. Free trade has not triumphed, and does not appear likely to triumph, in Europe. If all customs barriers were struck down, the more important forms of manufacture would be concentrated in comparatively few centres, where large capital and a gigantic production and sale would reduce prices to a lower level than could be made profitable in a small manufacturing State. It is the object, however, of each nation by protective legislation to preserve its own industries. There are cases, like those of the carpet manufactures of the Netherlands, where the industry of a small and comparatively poor country is able to hold its own, and in some degree to flourish, in spite of the gigantic manufactures of the greater nations, but it will usually be found that it can only do so by longer hours and lower wages. In most of the countries of Europe, legislation about the hours of adult labour either does not exist, or is drawn in terms that would certainly not be regarded by English workmen as an improvement on their lot. In France the law of 1848, establishing a twelve hours working-day, remains, but it has been interpreted to exclude the time of meals. It is largely evaded where it is nominally in force, and several of the most important industries have, by subsequent measures, been withdrawn from its operation. As a rule, the French labourer is present in the factory for at least fourteen hours out of the twenty-four. In Germany, Russia, Turkey, Spain and Portugal Sweden and Denmark, and in most of the smaller countries in Europe, there are no laws restricting the hours of adult work. In Austria mining work is limited to ten hours, actual working-time, and factory work to eleven hours, exclusive of meal-time, and there are some special regulations about female labour, which are said to be not generally enforced. In Belgium and the Netherlands limitations of adult labour are confined to the case of women. Switzerland, however, has legislated more stringently on the subject, reducing the working-day to eleven hours on ordinary days and ten hours on Saturdays and public holidays, and regulating with much strictness the conditions of female labour.53
In most countries it is found that the workers are very ready to connive at evasions of laws restricting their labour: a large proportion of adult women resent bitterly laws which injure them in the competition with men, and deprive them of some portion of their scanty earnings. Among adult men also there is a great deal of opposition to limitation of working-hours, and the legal eight hours is probably intended quite as much to coerce the workmen as to coerce their employers. The strong desire of workmen to work longer than the prescribed hours, if they can by doing so increase their wages, and the impossibility the trade unions find in preventing them, are among the chief reasons why these bodies advocate a compulsory eight hours bill. One of the most significant pieces of evidence laid before the Labour Commission was the case of the Enginemen and Firemen's Union, in favour of a legal limitation of the hours of adult work. ‘It would be impossible,’ they said, ‘to reduce the hours permanently except by Act of Parliament, since in bad times employers must either reduce wages or lengthen hours in order to make a profit, and the men always prefer the latter alternative if left to their own devices, thereby increasing the number of unemployed members on the funds of the union.’54 ‘There is really no disguising the fact,’ says another good authority, ‘that overtime is worked willingly by large bodies of men as a means of increasing their earnings. It is even known as a fact in some trades that men will leave situations in which they can only work their nine hours per day, to go to places in which they can increase their time and earnings by night work.’55
It is certain, indeed, that a large proportion of those who desire a fixed eight hours day do not do so for the purpose of diminishing the amount of their work. Their calculation is that, by systematically working overtime at a higher rate, they will add something to their earnings.56 If this is true of England, we may be sure that it is equally true of other countries, and that a legal eight hours day could only be established by coercing a large number of workmen. If we cross the Atlantic, we find it enacted in some American States, including New York, Connecticut, and California, but it appears to be much evaded, and there is great latitude of altering the hours by agreement and working overtime. In the Australian colonies the legal eight hours generally prevails; but in Australia, in addition to the protective system, the sparseness of the population and the great distance from Europe establish industrial conditions wholly unlike our own.
This survey gives little reason to believe in a general reduction of hours by law, though it is probable that the excessive hours which prevail in many continental countries will be gradually reduced, that the Sunday rest will be more generally secured, and that the Saturday half-holiday will be more frequently adopted.
The idea of an international regulation of labour has of late years spread widely. It has been proposed in several working men's congresses, and in 1881, and again in 1889, the Swiss Federal Council invited the leading Powers of Europe to join in a conference on the subject. The invitation was not warmly received; but in 1890 the Emperor of Germany took up the subject, and at his invitation the representatives of fourteen States assembled at Berlin. They soon decided that they could do no more than submit some very platonic recommendations to the public, without attempting in any way to enforce their decisions, or even to bind the Governments they represented. They also agreed that it was impossible to come to any conclusion about the normal length of the working day, and this subject was, in consequence, formally excluded from their discussions. On nearly all points there were grave differences of opinion, and nearly all the decisions were only carried by majorities.
Resolutions were passed commending the general adoption of the Sunday rest; the establishment of an age, which the majority fixed at twelve years, before which children should not be admitted into factories; and some special regulations for the labour of children and young persons. The majority of delegates also desired that female labour should be specially regulated. Women, they maintained, should not be allowed to work at night, or in mines, or for more than eleven hours, or for four weeks after confinement. The conference recommended additional sanitary precautions, additional inspectors, additional institutions for encouraging thrift, periodical meetings of the representatives of the European Powers to consult about labour problems. Most of the measures recommended by the Berlin Conference had already been taken in England, and there has been some recent continental legislation in the same direction; but international and simultaneous consultation and legislation about labour seem to have found little favour with the sovereigns and statesmen of the world.57
A few more remarks must be added to those which have been already made about the position and functions of trade unions. These bodies rose naturally when factory industry, carried on by great bodies of workmen, took the place of the domestic industries, which were carried on in independence and isolation in the cottages. No one will now deny their legitimacy, or defend the legislation which for so long a period condemned them. They perform many functions of the highest value, most of them, as we have seen, quite unconnected with any class antagonism. They are friendly societies, discharging efficiently a large number of most useful benevolent purposes. Under this head are included their sick funds, their burial allowances, their superannuation allowance, their funds for assisting their members when out of work or when travelling in search of work, and for rendering to them several minor and occasional services. They are the clubs of the working men. They are class parliaments, representing, organising, and furthering their class interests; and if a trade union is wisely and equitably conducted, it does much to raise the moral level of its members, by sustaining the sentiment of fraternity and association, and extending their range of sympathies and interests.
In dealing with the employers these organisations are also of great value. The workman, if isolated, is in two essential respects at a disadvantage in bargaining with the manufacturer. He has not the same knowledge of the conditions, and profits, and probable future of the trade, and has, therefore, insufficient means of testing the justice or injustice of the terms that are offered him. He has also the great disadvantage of being unable to wait for better times and more favourable terms. His daily work is necessary for his daily subsistence, while the manufacturer can for a time suspend production and forego profits, and fall back on the fortune he has already amassed. In both of these respects the trade union is of inestimable value. It is a great cooperative society for collecting all the available facts relating to its trade, and it has largely accumulated resources which enable the workmen to exist for a considerable period when on strike. It in this manner places the two parties to the bargain on a basis of substantial equality. Politically, too, labour, like other things, has its own special interests, and those interests are likely to be most attended to when labour is powerfully organised and intelligently represented.
On the whole there can be little doubt that the largest, wealthiest, and best-organised trade unions have done much to diminish labour conflicts. They remove these questions from the domain of passion and ignorance, and secure that no strike shall take place without knowledge and without deliberation. The employer, knowing the vast reserve of strength that lies behind a trade-union demand, is not tempted to take any undue advantage of transitory conditions, and is prepared to concede all that can be conceded without seriously or permanently affecting his industry. The trade union, on the other hand, acts only after a careful examination of the conditions of the trade, and under the direction of leaders who have secured the confidence of large numbers of workmen. It knows that the whole complex system of benefits for the class, which it has laboriously built up, depends upon its financial solvency, and may be shattered by imprudent policy; and the very magnitude which organised trade warfare assumes gives a strong sense of responsibility, and prepares the way for compromise and mutual concession. Industry also, it may be added, is now of a very international character, and it is chiefly by means of these great organisations that the labourers of one country are able to come into correspondence with those of another.
These advantages are very great; but it is a fallacy to attribute to trade-union organisation the chief part of that increase of wages which has taken place during the present century. This increase is due to much wider and larger economical causes, relating to the production and interchange of wealth. It has often been noticed, that it has been nowhere more conspicuous than in the case of domestic servants, and in the case of agricultural labourers, though in these cases trade-union organisation has been absolutely, or almost absolutely, unknown; and the unassisted action of supply and demand has given great and permanent addition in many forms of mercantile, professional, and government employment.58 Lord Brassey has collected conclusive evidence showing that some of the most considerable and rapid rises of wages in our time have taken place in foreign countries, without any trade-union pressure.59 But although it is impossible that trade-union combinations can permanently raise the general level of wages, there are doubtful and balanced circumstances where a little pressure can turn the scale on one side or the other, and a rise of wages has often been accelerated, or a fall in wages in some degree delayed, by trade-union action.
The doctrine that the price of labour in the long run and on a large scale must necessarily be regulated by supply and demand—the demand for labour in the labour market; the demand for the things that it produces, and the amount of capital that is applied to the production—is, in the eyes of many contemporary writers, a hard doctrine, and much declamation has been expended on its immorality. Mr. Ruskin, for example, expresses his regret that he can find no language ‘contemptuous enough to attach to the beastly idiotism of the modern theory that wages are to be measured by competition;’60 and both within and without trade unions a school has arisen which believes that wages can be placed on another foundation. It maintains that the relation of the employer and the employed should be an ethical relation: that the first duty of the employer is to give his labourer a ‘just wage,’ representing a ‘fair’ proportion of the produce of his labour; ‘a living wage,’ enabling him to live up to a given standard of comfort; and that by such considerations the rate of wages can be, and ought to be, determined.
To me, at least, these writers seem to confuse a desirable end, which may be largely attained, with the means of attaining it. In a prosperous industry, and with an intelligent and provident working class, the ‘living wage’ and the ‘just wage’ will be easily reached, but they will be reached through the improved conditions of the market, and not by any ethical consideration. It is true, indeed, that modern economists have shown that the influences acting upon the rate of wages are both more numerous and more complex than their predecessors had supposed, and that causes which often seem very remote have sometimes modified them. But these influences play only a minor and subsidiary part. It is idle to suppose that the great body of average men will ever consent to purchase an inferior article at a high price in one shop, when they can purchase a superior article at a lower price in the adjoining one, because the conditions of production are less favourable to the labourer in the latter case than in the former. It is no less idle to suppose that they will pay a high rate of wages for any given service if a multitude of equally efficient labourers are willing to perform it at a lower rate.
The phrase ‘a living wage,’ which has lately come into use, is a very vague one. It was first, I believe, brought into prominence during a great miners’ strike, and it was noticed that the rate of payment which was then rejected as below ‘a living wage’ was about double the agricultural wage over a great part of the world. And, indeed, in the same trade the same wages will be opulence to one man and penury to another. One workman is unmarried, and has no one but himself to support, or he has a strong wife and child, who can fully bear their part in maintaining the family. Another workman has to support old and infirm parents, or a dying wife, or a young, numerous, or sickly family. Can it be supposed that, in the vast competing industries of the world, the wages of equally efficient labourers can ever be varied according to such considerations? Old age and diminished strength need more than youth, but in manual labour they will always gain less. Winter in a cold climate is more costly to the labourer than summer, but it is also the time of slack work, and therefore of diminished wages.
There is undoubtedly some truth in the doctrine which is now much taught, that a rise in the habitual standard of comfort among the working classes is not only the consequence, but also, in some degree, a cause of higher wages. This is especially the case when it is gradual, normal, and general. Such a rise gives an increased earnestness and steadiness to the pressure of one of the two competing parties in the labour market, and it tends to limit the supply of labour, by making labours more prudent in contracting early marriages, and more ready to abandon callings in which the requisite wages are not given. In this way the share of the labourer is often increased at the cost of diminished profits or enhanced prices. But although this fact is of real importance in the history of industry, its action is restricted to narrow limits. Nothing can be more idle than to suppose that the mere increase of a labourer's wants, without any increase of the produce of his labour, will secure him increased prosperity. If the rise of wages is sufficient to swallow up the profits of the employer, or to make those profits less than he could have obtained in other fields, the industry will inevitably cease, and the capital that supports it will go to other lands or to other employments. If the increased cost be thrown upon prices, the demand will, in most cases, be reduced, and the industry will, in many cases, be annihilated by foreign competition. No trade-union combinations can possibly, in the long run, emancipate industry from this law.
The first step towards establishing the present position of trade unions in England was the repeal of the combination laws in 1824 and 1825, which gave workmen full liberty to combine for the purpose of raising and maintaining wages, and regulating the hours of work. But although from this time trade unions rapidly multiplied, especially after the Reform Bill of 1832, their position was still somewhat precarious. In addition to the very just laws against molestation, obstruction, and intimidation, which were often stringently enforced, they suffered under the great disadvantage that, as far as they were considered corporations ‘acting in restraint of trade,’ they were still illegal, excluded from the power of protecting their property which was accorded to other corporations by the Friendly Societies Act, and liable to be robbed with impunity by their own officers. The Trade Union Act of 1871 remedied this evil. It enabled all trade unions, even though they were acting in restraint of trade, to obtain full corporate rights of holding land and other kinds of property in the name of trustees, who might sue or be sued in respect to it. The only condition required was that the rules of the society should be registered.
In this manner the trade unions acquired full rights of holding and protecting corporate property. At the same time, by a strange anomaly, which was partly due to the jealousy with which they were regarded, but still more, I believe, to their own desire,61 they remained in other respects purely voluntary societies, external to, and uncontrolled by, the law. The law took no cognisance of their internal arrangements; they had no power of making binding contracts in their corporate capacity, either with their own members or with other bodies or individuals, and they could neither sue nor be sued. If a trade union made an agreement with an association of employers about the conditions of work, neither party had any power of enforcing it in the law courts. If a member was expelled from the union for some alleged offence against trade-union rules, and was thus deprived of all the benefit of his previous subscriptions, he had no legal redress. If an employer or a non-unionist was injured by a trade-union official acting as a trade-union agent, his only remedy was to bring an action against the individual who had injured him, who would probably be unable to pay any considerable damages. He could bring no action against the trade union itself, and recover no damages from its collective funds. In this way these great bodies were left in an entirely exceptional, and in some respects privileged, position, quite unlike that of a club, or a joint-stock company, or a railway company, or any other fully legalised corporation.
Such a privilege, granted to bodies which are under manifest temptations to oppress and to coerce; such an immunity from responsibility, granted to bodies which seek to extend to extreme limits the responsibility of others, was, to say the least of it, anomalous, and illustrates clearly the tendency of modern industrial legislation to aggrandise the powers of the corporation at the expense of the liberty of the individual. The enormous wealth, power, and magnitude which these corporations have attained in England make their legal position peculiarly surprising. Thus it appears that in 1889 sixteen trade unions had together a membership of 216,634 and an annual income of 530, 755l.62 Sir Robert Giffen stated before the Labour Commission that, according to the latest returns, the aggregate annual income of the trade unions is nearly 1,200,000l.63
In one of the reports of the Commission, which was signed by the Duke of Devonshire and some other Commissioners, it was contended that this state of things ought to cease; that the trade unions being, in fact, great, powerful, and wealthy corporations, ought in all respects be treated as corporations by the law; that those whom they had injured should have the power of bringing actions against them in their corporate capacity; and that they, in their turn, should have the power to take legal proceedings on behalf of their members, and to make legal contracts with other bodies or with individuals.
This suggestion, however, appears to have been very unpopular in trade-union circles.64
It was put forward with great moderation, for it was only proposed that those trade unions should acquire a complete legal personality which desired to do so. The trade unions of the workers and the federations of the employers stand in this respect on the same legal basis, and it was urged that English industry on a large scale is coming more and more to rest on collective agreements, made in the most formal way, between these great and highly organised trade associations. Such agreements are constantly made. They are becoming much more than engagements between individual employers and individual workmen, the form into which English industry is manifestly developing. This is perhaps, on the whole, a good thing, and is probably inevitable, but in order that it should work well it is manifestly necessary that each party should have a legal power of enforcing its contracts. Sooner or later this view is certain to prevail.
The growth of trade-unionism all over Europe is perhaps the most marked feature of modern industrial life. It is remarkable, too, that exactly in proportion as these bodies acquire an overwhelming power, that makes them fully competent to make their own bargains, so does the tendency to regulate and restrict industry in all its details by direct legal enactments increase. Scarcely a ministry, scarcely a Parliament, passes over the political scene without adding something to the vast network of restrictions, precautions, and limitations by which the action of men and women in nearly all the branches of industry is now regulated. The law pursues them into the smallest industry, into the humblest workshop, even into their own homes, dictating in minute detail how long they may work, under what conditions they may work, what risks they may incur, what risks they must avoid.
Public opinion, and especially the public opinion of those who are most directly interested in these questions, is now the supreme arbiter, and it evidently approves of these restrictions. It is, however, a somewhat singular fact that an age in which liberty of worship has been most fully secured and in which the liberty of holding, expressing, and propagating every variety of opinion on religious, moral, social, and political questions has become almost unlimited, should have witnessed this strong disposition to limit in so many forms and in so many spheres the freedom of human action.
That the laws to which I have referred—especially in their sanitary aspects—have done much good cannot reasonably be denied. They have prolonged life, and diminished disease, and blotted out many plague-spots from the world, and given to multitudes healthier, happier, and more rational lives. At the same time, as I have already hinted, it may well be questioned whether their effects have been wholly good, and whether their exaggeration may not lead to very dangerous consequences. It may well be asked whether the old energy, self-reliance, and resourcefulness of the English character will continue unimpaired under this education of perpetual legal regulations; whether it is really advantageous to cripple by rigidly uniform rules the flight of superior industry, capacity, or daring; whether great industries, which are now barely retained in this country, may not easily be regulated or taxed out of existence; whether the growth of a vast bureaucracy of inspectors and other officials, and the constantly increasing mingling of questions of industry with questions of politics, do not foreshadow grave evils to the State; whether it is a genuine kindness to the very poor, the very incompetent, and the very thriftless, to drive them even out of unhealthy trades, in which they may be overworked and underpaid, when, as is too often the case, the only real alternative is the poorhouse or the street.
The complexity and interdependence of industrial interests are very great, and the effect of laws reach far beyond the intention of the lawgiver. It is possible and easy by improving the conditions of one trade, to injure many others that are dependent on it, and widely different motives blend in the movements for reform. Among the advocates of increased regulation of the work of women and young persons there is always a minority whose real object is to establish a precedent for the increased regulation of the work of adult men, or to drive child labour and female labour out of competition with the labour of adults, or to lay the foundations of a Socialist organisation, which is certainly very alien to the wishes of the majority of the reformers. The regulation of the industrial system is one of the most difficult tasks of statesmanship, and requires beyond most others a judicial and impartial temperament, a rare power of tracing distant consequences and estimating nearly balanced advantages and disadvantages. Whether a Government depending for its existence on a democratic Parliament, and compelled at all times to seek support by conciliating great masses of the most ignorant voters, is likely to deal wisely with so delicate a machine may surely be gravely doubted.
Experiments of organisations and restriction, however, are ardently advocated in many lands. Sometimes the demand is for a legal minimum of wages, and sometimes for a legal maximum of hours. Sometimes it takes the form—which a German law of 1889 has sanctioned—of an obligatory insurance against old age. Sometimes there is a demand for legislation investing conciliation or abritration boards, or trade unions, with increased powers. A considerable working men's party on the Continent, but especially in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, desires ‘obligatory syndicates,’ or in other words, corporations for carrying on particular trades, to which all who practice these trades must necessarily belong. It is a system curiously like the guilds, and other trade organisations and monopolies, that flourished in the Middle Ages, and existed till the French Revolution. In Austria, a very remarkable law, enacted in 1883, established compulsory guilds, including all employers and workmen, for the smaller industries, with power of regulating apprenticeships. In these corporations workmen and their employers are brought together; there is a court for arbitration, and there is a trade savings bank and insurance fund. The system is said to be, on the whole, popular with the working men in Austria. In 1893 a working men's congress held at Bienne, in Switzerland, unanimously voted for obligatory corporations; a revision of the Constitution was prepared which would have made it possible to establish such corporations and suppress free labour, but it was defeated by a small majority on a referendum vote.65
In countries where there is no legal restriction imposed upon the liberty of industry, much legislation is sometimes required to protect the individual workman against molestation and intimidation from his fellow-workmen. This is one of the many questions which present little or no difficulty as long as we confine ourselves to broad and general principles, but great difficulty when we attempt to apply them in detail. As a general principle, it is clear that when men of their own free will join an association, and retain the liberty of leaving it, they have no right to complain if, while they remain in it, they are obliged to conform to its rules. The most obvious case is that of a great strike which is ordered by the executive of a trade union. A minority of the members, in most cases, would much prefer to continue at work, but they are compelled by the orders of the trade union to desist. As long as this body confines its coercion to threatening recalcitrant members with expulsion, there is no real grievance in the case. Men have sought certain advantages by joining the society, and placing the direction of their industry under the order of its chiefs, and they have no reason to complain that they lose the advantages if they discard the obligations. On the other hand, it is equally plain that any attempt to carry out a strike by force or intimidation ought to be rigidly suppressed by law.
The English law on the subject rested, for many years, on the enactment of 1825. By this law both workmen and employers had obtained full liberty of meeting, consulting, and combining for the purpose of regulating wages and hours of work, but a summary process was established for the punishment of all those acts of violence which were already indictable, and additional provisions were enacted providing summary punishment for the employment of threats, intimidation, molestation, and obstruction directed to the attainment of trade-union objects.66 In the early history of trade unions, however, the extreme difficulty of carrying on a labour war without acts of violence and intimidation, directed either against members of the unions who refused to obey the orders of the executive, or against non-unionist workmen who took the place of those who were on strike, was abundantly shown. Every period of depression and distress was accompanied by fierce explosions of crime, which induced some men to regret the authorisation of trade unions in 1824 and 1825. Several trials took place. Several workmen were sentenced to long periods of transportation. In 1830 Nassau Senior drew up, at the request of the Government of Lord Melbourne, a report on the subject, in which he described the ‘cowardly ferocity’ with which not only innocent and laborious workmen, but also their families, were assailed; the paralysis of industries employing thousands and tens of thousands of workpeople by organised intimidation; and the necessity of strengthening the coercive provisions of the law if the national superiority in industry was to be preserved.
Similar violence was displayed, and similar complaints were made, at many later periods, and the trade outrages that took place in the last years of the sixties in Sheffield and Manchester sent a thrill of indignation through the land. The practice of rattening, or purloining or destroying the tools of recalcitrant workmen, was found to be constantly pursued. Cases of gunpowder were exploded in the houses of workmen who had broken the trade-union rules, and several deliberate murders were committed. A searching parliamentary inquiry, assisted by a promise of indemnity to the instigators or perpetrators of these crimes, succeeded in tracing them, for the most part, to the Grinders’ Clubs at Sheffield and the Brickmakers’ Union at Manchester, and in proving that they had been deliberately organised, and paid for out of the club funds. It was shown that these bodies had succeeded for many years, by systematic and organised crime, in keeping up a reign of terror in these districts and trades as complete as has ever been achieved by agrarian conspiracy in Ireland, or by the Molly Maguires in Pennsylvania.
At the same time the inquiries into these outrages led also to other conclusions, which I have already indicated. They showed that it was the small, the young, the poor trade societies that tried to make their way and to hold their members together by stimulating trade warfare, and establishing through outrage and intimidation their authority over their members. The older, larger, and richer societies were animated by a different spirit. By securing for their members the advantages of a friendly society, they gave them such a strong personal interest in the organisation that the simple threat of expulsion was an amply sufficient instrument of coercion; while in their relations with the employers they usually exerted their influence on the side of peace. Their vast accumulated funds made them very cautious in risking financial disaster by an unnecessary struggle, while the consciousness of their strength and their widely representative character made the employers attend with great deference to their demands. This distinction has steadily prevailed to the present day. It was clearly brought out before the Labour Commission, and it is one of the landmarks that are most useful in guiding us in the future.
One of the results of the disclosure of the gross abuses that had taken place was the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1871, which inflicted a punishment of three months’ imprisonment, with hard labour, on any one who attempts to coerce another for trade purposes by the use of personal violence; by such threats as would justify a magistrate in binding a man to keep the peace; or by persistently following a person about from place to place, hiding his tools, clothes, or other property, watching and besetting his house, or following him along any street or road with two or more other persons in a disorderly manner. These last clauses were directed against the practice of picketing, a practice which was, and still is, constantly employed in strikes. It consists of bodies of workmen on strike surrounding and guarding the places of labour, and the approaches to them, in order that no workmen should be able to take up their work without passing through the midst of them, being observed and reported, and, if possible, persuaded or induced to abandon their purpose. Even when no actual violence is employed, it is idle to suppose that picketing can be carried on by bodies often amounting to some hundreds, and even thousands, of rough and angry workmen, without a great deal of obstruction, insult, intimidation, and molestation.
The Act of 1871, as it seems to me, in its general purpose was a very just one; but in a trial which took place in the following year the term ‘coerce’ was interpreted from the bench in a wider sense than it was probably meant to bear, and it appears, or was believed to have been held, that a strike was criminal if it forced its terms on an unwilling company under pain of producing a great public inconvenience, or breaking contracts which had been already formed. Magistrates were accused of construing the word ‘coerce’ as if it were rather a synonym for ‘induce’ than for ‘compel.’ Rightly or wrongly, great discontent was produced in trade-union circles, and as it continued unabated the Legislature at last intervened. In 1875 the Act of 1871 was repealed, and a new Act was substituted for it.
This Act specifically protected all combinations in furtherance of trade disputes, and laid down the principle that what one man might do in such disputes without committing an indictable offence did not become criminal because many did it. It followed that the action of hundreds of men assembled to dissuade non-unionists from working was of the same legal nature as if a solitary individual had been sent to remonstrate with them. The other very important portion of the Act was the seventh clause, which dealt with the more subtle forms of coercion, and re-enacted in substance, but in more carefully limited terms, the provisions of the law of 1871. This clause provided that ‘every person who, with a view to compel any other persons to abstain from doing, or to do any act which such other person has a legal right to do or abstain from doing, wrongfully and without legal authority (1) uses violence to or intimidates such other person, or his wife and children, or injures his property; or (2) persistently follows such other person about from place to place; or (3) hides any tools, clothes, or other property owned or used by such other person, or deprives him of or hinders him in the use thereof; or (4) watches and besets the house or other place where such other person resides, or works, or carries on business, or happens to be, or the approach to such house or place; or (5) follows such other person, with two or more persons, in a disorderly manner in or through any street or road, shall, on conviction thereof by a court of summary jurisdiction, or on indictment as hereinafter mentioned, be liable either to pay a penalty of 20l., or to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding three months, with or without hard labour.’ The same section contains a proviso that ‘attending at or near the house where a person resides, or works, or carries on business, or happens to be, or the approach to such house or place, in order merely to obtain or communicate information, shall not be deemed a watching or besetting within the meaning of this section.’67
Such is the law which at present governs these matters, and opposite parties have been endeavouring in opposite senses to obtain its revision. It is contended on one side, that the whole system of picketing ought to be made illegal: that it is inevitably a system of terrorism, intimidation, and molestation, and is something quite different from merely giving information, or submitting arguments or remonstrances to non-unionist workers. On the other side, it is argued that the workmen on strike have an undoubted right to inform any workmen who are brought from a distance to supply their place that a strike is in existence; to persuade them that they are injuring their class by giving their labour to the employers; to offer on the part of the trade unions to pay their travelling expenses, or even give them a gratuity, if they will return to their homes. They maintain that the right of ‘moral suasion,’ as distinguished from ‘violence’ and ‘intimidation,’ should be fully recognised and widely interpreted, and they endeavour, with no great success, to establish a parallel between picketing and the confidential communications about the circumstances of a strike which often pass between employers, and make it difficult for its leaders and organisers to obtain employment.
In accordance with these antagonistic views, different amendments of the law have been demanded. The employers desire that the term ‘intimidation’ should apply to the assemblage of more than three men in the neighbourhood of industrial establishments for the purpose of picketing. They maintain that information about the strike can be amply communicated to workmen by public meetings, placards, advertisements in the papers, or canvassing from house to house, and they desire that the penalties under the Act should be increased, and made in all cases imprisonment. The workmen, on the other hand, take two different lines. Some of them wish the term ‘intimidation’ to be so restricted as to include only threats accompanied by physical violence, and of such a character as to put men in reasonable bodily fear, and they wish the whole of the seventh clause, with its elaborate provision against molestation, to be repealed. Others desire to see the Act so expanded as to include several acts of employers. ‘Black-listing’ obnoxious workmen, eviction at less than three months’ notice, dismissal without assignment of a valid reason, and the engagement of men during a strike without informing them of its existence, ought all, they maintain, to be included.68
The majority of the members of the Labour Commission concluded that very little could be done on either side to amend the law. They recommended, however, that the word ‘intimidation’ should be suppressed as ambiguous, and the phrase ‘uses or threatens to use violence to such other person, or his wife or children, or injures his property,’ should be inserted in the Act. They also hinted that much of the difficulty of the question would be removed if the full legal personality of trade unions were recognised, and if it were possible to recover damages from them in the case of injury in the civil courts.
In spite of these differences of opinion, the legislation of 1875 appears, on the whole, to have been successful; and though great strikes, sometimes accompanied by great abuses, have since then taken place, there has been certainly, of late years, less open violence and crime in labour disputes in the United States. It has been observed, however, that the New Unionism brought with it a considerable recrudescence of violence and a greatly increased stringency of trade despotism.
That a vast amount of intimidation and coercion prevails in trade-union politics is incontestable. Lists are sometimes put out of shops and other work-places which unionists may not enter. Some unions aim at obtaining a complete monopoly in their respective trades, by depriving non-unionists of all means of livelihood, and thus forcing them into subjection to their rules. Unionists are often forbidden to work the non-unionists, or with any employer who supports non-unionists. They are forbidden to teach non-unionists their trade, to lend them tools, or to assist them to obtain work, and all the weapons of social persecution are often lavishly employed. The word ‘boycott,’ as is well known, is a recent word, of Irish origin; but the thing has long existed in English trade disputes, and the rapidity with which the new word has been adopted in several languages is itself some evidence of the wide diffusion of the practice. Black-listing, or posting the names of recalcitrant or non-unionist workers during a strike, has been a common device, and has recently been condemned by the law courts. There are rules for excluding from a given neighbourhood all workmen from other parts of the kingdom, thus curiously reproducing the old limitations on the circulation of labour which existed before the laws of settlement were abolished in 1795. There is, indeed, a strong and constant disposition among large bodies of workers to prevent the free circulation of labour, either from one country, or district, or trade to another. A workman who has learnt more than one trade, or who undertakes more than one division of a complex industry, or who in off hours or in times of slackness turns his hand from one trade to another, is severely condemned. ‘One man, one job,’ is a favourite maxim, and many trade unions desire not only to confine the workmen to one kind of work, but also to limit severely both its amount and its efficiency. Overtime is either forbidden or greatly discouraged. No workman, it is said, ought to work more, or produce more, or earn more than his fellows. There are said to have been rules limiting the number of bricks that a bricklayer may place in a specified time, limiting the output of machinery, prescribing in different trades the amount of work which may be performed. It is curious to observe that these rules measuring the amount of productive work are sometimes found where there is most opposition to piecework when instituted by the employers.
There has been a considerable amount of controversy about the extent to which these different forms of restriction are carried, but there can be no real doubt that they are widely diffused, and that they have been supported by a large amount of persistent persecution. The rules limiting the efficiency of labour are especially dangerous, and they appear of late years to have become very popular in some branches of trade. They rest upon the fallacy that, the less work each man accomplishes, the more there will be for his fellows, and that by raising the cost of work they will benefit the workman; but they strike directly at the superior quality, and therefore superior cheapness, of English well-paid work, on which the whole edifice of our industrial supremacy mainly rests. They belong to the same order of ideas as the attacks upon labour-saving machines, which were once so common, which even now are not wholly extinct, and which are encouraged and applauded by some Socialist writers.69
Experience shows that coercion and oppression may exist in extreme severity without actual violence, and in forms which it is very difficult to bring under the direct action of the law. Fortunately, however, in England other and stronger influences than legal penalties usually arise to correct the evil. The abuses of power to which I have referred are not practised by all trade unions, and when they are pushed very far they arouse a healthy reaction. The great organisations of labour that have taken place in our century have been speedily followed by great federations of employers for the purpose of acting in concert, protecting their interests, and resisting unjust demands. This has been one of the most important facts in modern industrial history in England, and it is of very recent date. The earliest of these federations appears to have been the Association of Engineers and Ironfounders in Scotland, which was established in 1865, and in 1894 there were at least seventy associations of this kind in Great Britain.70 They are very powerful, and when trade unions are despotic and oppressive they become the natural protectors of the non-unionists. The war between the trade union and the isolated employer seems to have almost ended. It is being replaced by the far more formidable, but far more equal, struggle between the trade union and the federation. One of the first objects of the latter has been to put down the system, which the New Unionists have endeavoured to establish, of driving non-unionists out of employment, compelling employers to dismiss them on pain of a strike, forbidding unionists to work in conjunction with them. Thus the great Shipping Federation, which had registered no less than 128,000 seamen up to September 1893, employs unionists and non-unionists alike, but on the express condition that they bind themselves to work in harmony together; and a similar policy has been successfully adopted by most of the great dock companies.
Among the workmen also there have been growing signs of reaction against the tyranny of the New Unionism, and a Free Labour Association was founded in 1893 for the purpose of vindicating the right of workmen to sell their labour at the best market, and to make their agreements on their own terms. This society has a central council in London, and it claims to have thrown out many branches and enrolled many thousands of workmen. The fact is one of undoubted significance, though it is too early to forecast its full importance. One of the resolutions of the Free Labour Congress of 1893 is especially significant. It is: ‘That this congress, bearing in mind the system of intimidation and coercion practised by union pickets during the recent disastrous strikes, whereby the common law of the land has been practically set aside, most earnestly calls for an amendment of the law relating to unlawful picketing, with a view to secure the just liberty of the subject for a workman to sell his labour in the best market during the internecine warfare arising from labour conflicts.’71
I have already mentioned the evidence furnished by the general election of 1895 of the political impotence of the New Unionism; and it must be added that the trade unions themselves are independent bodies, animated by very different spirits, and often acting in antagonism. The trades that fall within the provinces of different unions, and the demarcations of industry that arise under the transformations effected by new inventions have produced keen disputes between rival unions.
The tendency, however, to federation and organisation, both on the part of the labourers and on the part of their employers, is very manifest, and when labour disputes break out they are apt to assume much larger proportions than in the past. There are signs that these influences are likely to play a prominent part in questions of municipal government. The Paris Municipal Council, under the influence of its Socialist members, has more than once attempted to impose a nine hours day and a fixed minimum of wages upon the contractors who did its work; but the Council of State possesses in France a right of veto, and it has hitherto refused to sanction such measures. The same body has tried to prevent contractors from having any portion of the municipal work done by cheaper labour in the provinces, and then brought into Paris.72 It has gone further, and has actually subsidised strikes from the public funds. The first proposal of this kind was made in 1884, on the occasion of the strike in the mines of Anzin. It was on this occasion rejected, but similar proposals were soon after accepted. A single municipal council subsidised from public money no less than twenty-two strikes. On some occasions, when the Paris Municipality desired to support the most dangerous of all strikes—those on the railways—the central Government annulled their act; on other occasions it yielded, adopting the compromise of giving the money to the families of the strikers when the strike was over.73
The proceedings of the Paris Municipality have, in some respects, gone beyond any in England; but here too, as we have seen, it is the object of a considerable party to make the municipalities on the largest scale direct employers of labour. It is the desire of the trade unions that the municipal authorities should apply to them for their labourers, and should accept and enforce their rules about wages and hours, and constant political pressure is brought to bear upon Governments, with the object of bringing all State employment under trade-union rules, supplying from the rates and taxes any losses that may in consequence be incurred.
The attitude of the employers to the trade unions varies a good deal, according to the character of the latter. In the case of the larger, wealthier, and more conservative unions there is, I believe, little friction, and no real antagonism. In several trade unions there are rules expressly framed for the protection of employers against unjust demands, and employers have sometimes found appeals to the trade-union authorities the best means of settling disputes with their workmen.74 In the case of the more aggressive unions a different spirit prevails, and employers find many modes of defence and retaliation. Sometimes they have taken the extreme step of refusing to employ members of hostile trade unions. More frequently they have made it an express condition of employment that there should be no restriction on non-unionist labour. They have guarded against sudden strikes by engaging their men for definite terms. When hostilities were manifestly arising, they have taken the first step, and anticipated a strike by a lock-out. Sometimes during a strike they have imported foreign labourers. Sometimes they have made themselves independent of native labour by setting up branch establishments in foreign lands, or by contracting for some portions of their work with foreign manufacturers. Sometimes, in trade disputes with their own men, they have refused to enter into communication with trade-union leaders. It is a feeling much like that which makes a landlord ready to receive deputations from his own tenantry about the rents or rules of his estate, but not from outside organisations; and it is worthy of notice that the Imperial Government has hitherto adopted this rule, and refused to permit trade unions to intervene in disputed questions between themselves and their labourers.75
The trade unions, on the other hand, do what is in their power to give their organisations an international character, so as to prevent the market from being flooded with foreign workmen. At home it is one of their great objects to affiliate different trades, and to induce them to support one another in their contests. In some recent instances they have succeeded in obliging vast bodies of workmen to strike, who alleged no grievance whatever against their employers, simply for the purpose of supporting the cause of workmen on strike in another trade or another district, and the paralysis of industry is thus spread over an area far larger than that of the original dispute. In these great strikes the interest of one class of labourer is alone considered, and it is the special object of the leaders to conduct the war in the manner which produces most inconvenience and injury to the country at large. It is the boast of one of the Socialist writers that, under ‘the superb generalship of Mr. John Burns …the traffic of the world's greatest port was for over ten weeks completely paralysed;’76 and attempts have been made, on both sides of the Atlantic, to dislocate the whole railroad communication, on which immense districts depend for all industrial life, in order to succeed in some local dispute. The calamities which the great coal strikes and the great shipping strikes have brought upon gigantic interests, and upon multitudes of men and women who were wholly unconnected with the matter of dispute, can scarcely be exaggerated. And it is upon the very magnitude of these calamities that the leaders of the strikes chiefly base their hopes of enforcing their demands.
A large proportion of English strikes are brief in their duration and very restricted in their area. They are a form of bargaining, wasteful indeed in their nature, but not permanently injurious to the national industries, and, in the judgment of some of the best authorities, they have not, on the whole, injured the workmen who were engaged in them.77 A considerable proportion have succeeded, and a short suspension of wages, even in case of failure, is soon made up. But the great strikes can be only looked upon as national calamities. In many cases their immediate cost to the country has been at least as great as that of a small war, and it falls far more directly than the expenditure of a war on the labouring classes and their families. The distant and indirect consequences have probably been still more serious. Every great strike drives a portion of trade out of the country, and some of it never returns. The great industrial forces of the nation are permanently affected, and English industry, in its competition with that of other countries, sinks to a somewhat lower plane.
These great strikes are essentially of the nature of wars. They are governed by much the same motives as other wars, and are probably undertaken with neither more nor less wisdom. In some cases they are perhaps inevitable. More frequently they are due to false calculations of results, or to false estimates of conditions of trade; and pride and passion, and the personal ambition of individual agitators, enter largely into them. Sometimes it is a new trade union which wishes to force itself into notoriety and obtain the support of larger numbers. Sometimes it is an able and ambitious man who sees in a labour war the means of placing his foot upon the ladder that leads to municipal, or perhaps even parliamentary, success. The consequences of these great strikes are so far-reaching that it is difficult to estimate them. In many cases they lead the workmen to utter and ruinous disaster, sweeping away not only the accumulated funds of the trade unions, but also the private savings of countless homes, and reducing hardworking men and innocent wives and children to the lowest depths of misery. Sometimes they are partially or wholly successful in their main object; but even then success often fails to compensate for the losses incurred by a long period of suspended work and by the restriction of employment that often follows. Sometimes the victory is more apparent than real, and the apportionment of gains and losses is not what at first sight might appear. There have been cases when so large an amount of coal had been extracted from the mine that prices sank to a point which required a considerable reduction of wages, and the reduction was resisted, and a strike ensued. The first result was a great rise in the price of coal, and the masters, having large quantities in store, gained enormously. The next was, that when this store was sold the men were taken back to work at the higher wages they demanded, which the enhanced price of coal abundantly justified. They congratulate themselves on their victory; but, in truth, it was the masters who had gained largely by the struggle, while the suffering fell partly on the public in the shape of increased prices, and partly on the workmen, who were deprived, perhaps for several weeks, of all wages. Nearly always after a great strike comes a time of restricted and uncertain employment, due to the fact that capital has been expatriated or rendered insecure, that capitalists find it necessary to retrench, that industries which were once wholly British have, in part at least, crossed the Channel or the ocean. Sometimes unanticipated changes of habit affect the issue. A great London cab strike is said to have accustomed multitudes to use omnibuses who had never done so before, and the habit, when once formed, persisted though the strike had terminated. Often, too, increased cost and scarcity of labour gives a great impulse to the invention of labour-saving machinery. The extraordinary development of this form of invention in the United States is probably largely due to the great cost of American labour. Always in these strikes the community suffers severely, and generally in part permanently, and, if these labour wars succeed each other too rapidly, they must ruin the industrial pre-eminence of the nation, and destroy or contract great centres of employment.
The federation of industries, enlarging the area of a strike, is one great weapon which is employed by the working man; but there is also a widespread desire to make use of the power which democracy gives to the working classes to handicap the employers in all disputes with their labourers. That the increasing power of the working classes in the State should be followed by an increased attention to working-class interests in both natural and desirable, and, as we have seen, much that has been done has been very beneficial; but this legislation may take forms which involve grave danger.
One of the most popular proposals, and one which can be supported by the strongest arguments, is that measures should be taken to prevent the immigration of foreign pauperism. This policy has been decidedly adopted by the United States, which, of all countries, was most identified with the opposite system, and in nearly all other great countries it is in one form or another pursued. The change of opinion that has taken place on the subject in the United States in our own generation is exceedingly significant. Only a few years ago Lowell, echoing the favourite boast of American statesmen, spoke of his country as
As late as 1868 the American Government, in a treaty with the Emperor of China, asserted ‘the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance,’ and unqualified freedom of migration to the United States was frequently put forward as one of the most essential characteristics of the American polity. Since 1880 the stream has completely turned. The change began with the great outburst in California against Chinese labour. Exclusive Acts were carried by the California Legislature, but they were pronounced unconstitutional. But in a few years the Federal Government took up the question, and the United States have now been closed against Chinese immigration. By laws of 1885 and 1891 all persons who had been convicted of crimes other than political, all labourers brought over on contract, all idiots, lunatics, cripples, consumptives, persons with loathsome contagious diseases, girls and children or in a state of pregnancy, inmates of poorhouses, and also all paupers who seem likely to become a burden on the community, are excluded from American soil.
In the British colonies the old system of free or Government-assisted immigration has been abolished. Measures have been taken, both in Canada and in Australia, to diminish the influx of Chinese immigrants; and in the North American colonies at least a strong disposition has been shown to restrict the immigration of all pauper labour. By the Immigration Act of 1886, indeed, the Viceroy has already power to prohibit it.79
It does not appear to me that, either in America or in England, there is any valid argument of principle against such legislation. Every nation has a right to close its own door, and a country which is already overcrowded, where vast masses of native industry are unemployed, and where the State undertakes at national expense to support pauperism, can surely not be blamed if it refuses to admit torrents of foreign pauperism, which displace native industry, beat down the wages of native workmen, and appreciably lower the standard of life. The real question is one not of principle, but of expediency. In past periods of her history England has owed many of her most valuable trades, as well as some of the best elements in her national character, to Huguenot or Flemish immigrants. Whether the evil of the present immigration greatly exceeds the good; whether it would be possible to discriminate between that which produces wealth and that which increases pauperism; whether attempts to restrict foreign immigration would not be followed by retaliatory measures, which would be peculiarly disastrous to a nation so migratory as the English; whether the principle of exclusion, if once admitted, could be restricted within reasonable limits, are questions which demand much careful and far-seeing statesmanship. It is extremely probable that, if the Home Rule policy ever effected a complete or even partial separation between the Governments of Great Britain and Ireland, a working-class agitation would arise in some parts of England to prevent the immigration of Irish labour. In France, where great immigrations of Belgian and Italian labour have had much the same effects as Irish labour in England, a strong movement in favour of the exclusion of foreign workmen has more than once appeared.80
It can, at least, hardly be doubted that, if the policy of importing cheap foreign labour in times of strike became common, there would be an irresistible pressure of working-class opinion in favour of laws forbidding it, much like the American and Australian laws against Chinese labour. Sometimes the Protectionist spirit has shown itself at home in still more decided forms. Among the proposals carried at the Trade Congress at Norwich in 1894 was one for making it ‘a penal offence for an employer to bring to any locality extra labour when the existing supply was sufficient for the needs of the district.’81
In other ways it is possible for a legislature to do much to handicap the employer in any contest with the employed. It may do so by largely increasing taxation for the benefit of one class, and throwing the burden mainly upon another. It may do so by introducing into legislation trade-union rules about hours, and even about wages; by surrounding the employer with new restrictions, responsibilities, and limitations, and withdrawing the management of his work practically from this control. It is the ideal of some men to leave the whole cost and risks of a great factory in the hands of the owner, while the conduct of the business is placed mainly in the hands of the working men and of Government inspectors. In this direction much has been done, and much more may be done. But it can be done only subject to one inexorable condition—that all legislation which seriously diminishes profits, increases risks, or even unduly multiplies humiliating restrictions, will drive capital away, and ultimately contract the field of employment.
The form in which the spirit of Protection now shows itself most strongly in England is the limitation and regulation of labour, and it is the outcome of a spirit which is now passing widely over the whole civilised globe. No fact is more conspicuous in the nineteenth century than the strength of the reaction that has taken place against the Free Trade, or laissez faire principles which, within the memory of men still living, were almost completely dominant in the more advanced economical teaching of the world, and which seemed likely in a few years to control all the more civilised legislations. Whether we look to the despotic monarchies or to the democratic republics, whether we consider the crowded populations of Europe or the thinly scattered inhabitants of Australia or New Zealand, the same lesson may be learnt. Nearly everywhere the old Free Trade doctrine is a vanquished or a declining creed, and the chief disputes relate to the forms which Protection should take, to the degrees to which it may be wisely carried, to the advantage of establishing a preferential treatment in favour of different parts of the same empire.
In England, more than in any other great country, Free Trade holds its ground, and it still governs our commercial legislation. But England is very isolated, and, if I read aright average educated opinion, the doctrine has become something very different from the confident, enthusiastic evangel of Cobden. It has come to mean little more than a conviction that, if all nations agreed to adopt Free Trade, it would be a benefit to the world as a whole, though not to every part of it; that though protective duties are of great value in fostering the infancy of manufactures, they should not be continued when these manufactures have reached their maturity, or be granted when there is no probability that they may be one day discarded; that Free Trade is the manifest interest of a great commercial country which does not produce sufficient food for its subsistence, while its ships may be met on every sea, and its manufactures might almost supply the world; that cheap raw materials and cheap food are essential conditions of English manufacturing supremacy.
Even this last article is not generally held without qualification. Cheap food, it is beginning to be said, does not necessarily mean the very cheapest, and a system under which the greatest and most important of all national industries is almost hopelessly paralysed, under which land is fast falling out of cultivation, and the agricultural population flocking more and more to the congested towns, cannot be really good for the nation. It is more and more repeated that the great rush of prosperity that undoubtedly followed the repeal of the Corn Laws was largely due to the gigantic gold discoveries, which kept up prices while they stimulated enterprise; that the predictions of agricultural ruin made by the old Protectionists, which were once laughed to scorn, are fast becoming true; that, short of the absolute repeal of the corn duties, diminutions might have been made which would have greatly cheapened bread without ruining agriculture; and that if this policy was not adopted, it was because the preponderance of voting power had passed from the country to the towns. To those, indeed, who observe how large a proportion of the advantage of the extreme cheapness of articles of food goes simply to the middleman, and not to the consumer, it will appear very doubtful whether a low corn duty would have any perceptible effect on the price of bread.
What may be the final issue of this momentous controversy, on which the civilised world is so deeply divided, I shall not venture to forecast. If, a quarter of a century hence, this book should find its readers, they will probably be able to judge this, like many other questions that I have raised, with a juster judgment than contemporary critics. One thing, however, may be confidently said. It is, that the policy of regulating and limiting labour, which is now so popular; the policy of substituting in all industrial spheres administrative and legislative restriction for the free action of supply and demand; the policy of attempting to level fortunes, to change by law the natural growth and distribution of wealth, and to create a social type different from that which the unrestricted play of natural forces would have produced, belongs to the same order of ideas as the Protectionism of the past. It is clearly akin to the old policy of sumptuary laws, of embargoes, of trade regulations and monopolies, of feudal restrictions on property and industry, of strict commercial Protection. The policy that would exclude foreign labour from England, and submit all English labour to trade-union rules, leads logically to the exclusion of all goods that are made on the Continent by foreign labour and under foreign conditions. Free labour and free trade are closely connected. If, in England, those who oppose the first profess to be in favour of the second, this is only because most sections of the labouring classes believe cheap food to be altogether to their advantage, and because in the great division of industries in England they see no present prospect of obtaining protection for their own.
In the United States Protection is mainly defended on the ground that it keeps wages at an artificial height. In Australia and New Zealand we might naturally have supposed that a small working-class population, living amid the boundless possibilities of a new country, with every stimulus upon individual resources, would have chosen to be governed as little as possible, and would have allowed the whole subject of politics to sink into a secondary place. Though Australia contains few great fortunes, she is almost wholly free from great poverty, and wellbeing is so diffused that the average wealth of the colonists is said to be greater than that of any other nation in the world. The most prominent Australian statesman of our generation has stated that, at the end of 1892, the wealth of the Australian colonies ‘amounted to 1,169,000,000l., or 309l. per head of the total population.’ ‘The percentage of the accumulated private wealth,’ he added, ‘was higher than that of any other nation; the next in point of wealth was the United Kingdom; the third, France; the fourth, Holland; and the fifth, the United States, which were very much below that of the Australian colonies.’82
Yet there are few countries where State intervention is more exaggerated than in these prosperous colonies, and Victoria and New Zealand are probably the two countries in the world in which the theory of State socialism is most nearly realised. Compulsory eight-hour laws; steeply graduated taxation, especially designed to break up large landed properties; compulsory education, paid by the State; State railways; highly protective duties; an immense multiplication of government officials; a debt rising with astonishing rapidity for the purpose of expenditure in public works which in England would be left to individual enterprise—to all these things are the characteristics of these rising English democracies, where the working classes exercise the most complete ascendency. In Victoria, about 8 per cent. of the adult male population are said to be in Government employment.83 The New Zealand land laws are especially remarkable for their stringent provisions intended to prevent all speculation in land, and confining its ownership to moderate properties and bonâ fide occupiers.84 It is remarkable, too, that, in spite of the great influence the working class exercises over Australian and New Zealand legislation, hardly any country has witnessed labour conflicts in the form of strikes carried on with more persistence and violence, or on a larger scale.
In England the greatly increased organisation, both of labourers and of employers, is an inevitable fact, upon which all sound calculations of the industrial future must be based. The value of the trade unions in representing, sustaining, and extending working men's interests, both at home and abroad, can hardly be exaggerated, but there are great dangers that they may stimulate over-legislation and largely restrict individual liberty. If they reduce the quality and produce of English labour, by hampering and diminishing the work which each man is allowed to do; if they insist upon the worst workmen being paid as much as the best; if they oppose or retard the introduction of labour-saving machines which other countries have adopted; if they so diminish profits and increase risks that capital finds more profitable employment in other countries than in England—if they do these things, they will ultimately prove not a blessing, but a curse, to the working men of England.
The great hope of our industrial future is that the working classes will master these principles, and abstain from seeking proximate benefits at the cost of ultimate disaster. The long practice of public life; the evident desire of all Parliaments and Governments, for many years, to meet the legitimate demands of the working classes, and the wide extension of education, have raised up a large class of workmen who are fully aware of the true conditions of industrial success, and who have no desire to separate themselves by a class warfare from the bulk of their fellow-countrymen. It is observed that the older, wealthier, and more conservative trade unions are far less desirous of legislative interference than the new unions, and that they rely much more largely on their own unassisted action. It is also observed that these unions are by far the most permanent. The aggressive and belligerent type of trade union makes for a time a great noise in the industrial world, but such unions usually perish during periods of depression: not less than fifty of them are said to have been wrecked during the acute trade crisis of 1878 and 1879,85 and since that period many others have shared the same fate; while the unions of the older school, and of more moderate policy, generally survive.
In such facts we have a good omen for the future. An advocate of the new unions has given a graphic description of the manner in which the organiser or leading official of an aggressive new union starts in his career full of belligerent ardour, but gradually changes his views as he becomes more prosperous, as his family grow up, as he begins to come into closer connection with the employers, and with the more well-to-do classes.86 A very similar change is apt to pass over trade unions themselves when their funds accumulate, when their advantages as benefit societies become more apparent, when the responsibility of the management of large investments and the dread of financial disaster begin to weigh heavily on them. This is but an image of what takes place with individual men when the caution, the responsibility, the attachment to settled habits, and the increased knowledge of life which age brings in its train have mellowed the character, and toned down the crude enthusiasms, the undisciplined energies of youth. Conservatism has its deep roots in human nature, and there is a kind of tidal movement in human affairs which prevents the triumph of extremes. If times of depression and distress quicken the impulse towards violent experiments and revolutionary change, times of prosperity act in the opposite direction. If the clash of rival interests begins by generating fierce passions, it commonly ends by suggesting possibilities of compromise. If violent opinions and measures have for a time a free career, they infallibly end by arousing the timid and the apathetic, and producing reactions proportionally strong. England has been saved from many dangers by her reactions, and the lassitude that follows a period of abnormal excitement has often given time for the formation of habits that will not wholly pass away. Whether a great social or industrial change is an evil or a benefit will often depend upon whether it is effected violently, suddenly, and prematurely, or by a gradual change of ideas, by a process of slow and almost insensible growth.
The best security of the industrial fabric is to be found in the wide division and diffusion of property, which softens the lines of class demarcation, and gives the great masses of the people a close and evident interest in the security of property, the maintenance of contracts, the credit and wellbeing of the State. In all the more civilised countries this process is steadily going on. Among the great countries of the Continent, France holds the first place in wealth, skill, industry, and thrift, and the peasant-proprietor system attracts to the land a far larger proportion of working men's savings than in England. Her first living economist computes her total annual savings at from 1 1/2 to 2 milliards of francs, or from 60 to 80 millions sterling; and he mentions that in 1882 it appeared from official documents that the sum due to the depositors of the French savings banks was about 1,745 millions of francs, and that it had increased by 1 milliard 85 millions since 1875.87 In England the accumulated capital of the working classes is to be mainly found in savings banks, insurance and co-operative working men's societies, trade unions, building societies, and a few other kindred societies, about which much accurate statistical information has been collected. Mr. Brabrook, the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies, gave some valuable evidence on this subject before the Labour Commission, and he estimated the sum total of the accumulated capital of the working classes in England and Wales alone, in 1890, at the enormous sum of 218,374,046l.88 Still more significant is the evidence showing that, in the space of fifteen years before 1891, the invested capital of these classes in England and Wales had nearly doubled.89
Such facts clearly prove the fallacy of the sharp distinction that is commonly drawn between the capitalist and the working population, and each generation brings them more closely together by increasing vastly the realised and fructifying property of the wage-earning classes. This is the best of all guarantees against revolutionary projects. Public debts and landed property are the two forms of property which it is the special object of Socialists to plunder. If they succeeded, the savings bank of the poor man would sink in the same boat as the fortune of the millionaire; and most of the charitable funds, the provident and insurance funds, and the various forms of endowment which are the special property or for the special benefit of the poor, are either invested in Government funds or are a first charge upon land. The true owners of the soil are not merely those who hold its title-deeds. They are also the mortgagees and encumbrancers, who have a first claim on its revenues, and in this way the land of England belongs, to a degree that is seldom realised, to the very poor, and to provident and charitable institutions for their benefit. One of the most remarkable facts disclosed by the recent inquiries into the ground values of our great towns is, that ground rents have long been a favourite form of investment of persons of small means, as well as of benefit and insurance societies, charities, and trustees. It is only necessary to look through the reports of any great hospital, or charitable association, or working man's insurance company, to perceive how largely their incomes are derived from the very forms of property which the Socialist and the demagogue most bitterly assail.
That a wide diffusion of property can ever give complete and permanent security to a country which has no written >Constitution protecting property or contract, and in which all power ultimately resides with a simple majority of the poorest and most uninstructed, I, at least, do not believe. With the growth of Socialism in all countries; with the manifest and rapid decline in the character of public men; with the increasing tendency of popular party politics to depend upon competing offers of class bribes; with the precedents of violation of contract and confiscation of property which Irish land legislation has established, it is certainly not surprising that a feeling of growing insecurity may be traced among the possessors of property. There are already plain signs—ominous for the industrial future of England—that they are beginning, in calculating risks and profits, to estimate as a serious item in the former category the possibility of plunder by their own Government, either in the shape of violation of existing contracts, of increasing restrictions on their industrial freedom, or of partial, inequitable, and confiscatory taxation. But, at the same time, every measure which by honest means tends to the diffusion of property and the multiplication of proprietors is of real value, and in this constantly increasing diffusion we possess the most powerful corrective of the Socialist tendencies of our time. The growth of the co-operative principle in industry and the multiplication of joint-stock companies accelerate the process. If it is true that, with the agglomeration of industries, great capital is more and more needed for successful industry, it is also true that a great capital is ceasing more and more to imply a great capitalist. It often consists mainly of the combination of a large number of moderate, or even very small, shareholders, and the chief industries of the world are thus coming rapidly to rest on a broad proprietary basis.
Co-operative industries in which the actual workers are at once the proprietors and the managers are, on the whole, steadily advancing, though their history has been a chequered, and in some respects rather a disappointing, one. A large proportion of the earlier co-operative enterprises failed through causes that may easily be understood. Great numbers of workmen prefer higher wages, with perfect freedom of locomotion and freedom from risk, to lower wages, compensated in times of prosperity, and after a long period of work, by a share of profits. Really skilled management is a rarer, a more difficult, and a more essential thing than a common workman is apt to imagine, and the large salaries by which alone it can be secured often seem inordinate to a workman's committee, which compares it with the wages of manual labour. The great fluctuations of industry; the many miscalculations and failures, balanced by occasional brilliant successes; the years of depression and declining profits that alternate with cycles of prosperity; the trying and precarious years at the beginning of an enterprise, when a reserve fund has not yet been accumulated, can only be successfully met by moral qualities of a kind that are not common in any class, and which the life of an ordinary workman is not much calculated to promote.
It is difficult to persuade workmen who are not too highly paid that it is necessary in a time of depression to reduce their wages in order to avert bankruptcy. It is perhaps still more difficult to persuade them, in times when large profits have been earned, that great portions of these profits should be put aside to meet the stress of bad years and commercial losses, to accumulate a reserve fund, to obtain new and improved machinery, to enlarge buildings, or to establish new branches, for which there seems no very pressing or immediate need, but which are at the same time essential to the ultimate success of their enterprises. Large industries also are among the many things in the world that cannot be carried on successfully without an amount of discipline and an exercise of authority that cannot easily be obtained in a system of republican equality. The spirit of command and the spirit of obedience must both be there, and there must be some power that can promptly and decisively enforce submission and expel inefficient or recalcitrant members. It must be added, too, that this form of co-operation is still in such an early and undeveloped stage that a few conspicuous disasters produce a disproportionate amount of discouragement.
On the whole, a broad distinction must be drawn between co-operative distribution and co-operative production. The former, which depends for its profits on the suppression of the middleman, and on the great cheapness that may be attained by an enormous and rapid sale and very extensive choice, has proved of late years brilliantly successful. The purchasers have gained largely in the shape of diminished prices, and the shareholders, in a large proportion of these societies, in ample dividends. These societies are largely working-class institutions, though many of the most conspicuous are chiefly owned by, and profitable to, other classes. In 1891 there appear to have been 1,459 retail distributive co-operative societies in Great Britain, with 1,098,352 members, and profits of no less than 4,342,373l. had been realised on their sales during the year.90
There are also numerous examples, both in England and in other countries, of successful co-operative establishments for production. It is true, as I have said, that most of the earlier societies, and especially the State-aided institutions in France, speedily failed, but experience has done much to solve the difficulty. On both sides of the Channel the conditions under which such establishments can be successfully worked are now much better understood, and large numbers of industries have adopted the system, and are working it with respectable profits. Their success has not been conspicuously brilliant, nor has it been unchequered, but it has been, on the whole, real and lasting, and establishments of this kind are steadily, though not very rapidly, increasing. They do not appear to be greatly encouraged by trade unions, which generally refuse to invest any of their funds in them; the societies for co-operative distribution do not usually connect themselves with them;91 and there seems little probability that they will so far displace individual capitalist production as to become the dominant form; but, at the same time, they have acquired a considerable importance within the last thirty-five years. They are naturally viewed with much dislike by the Socialist demagogues who are trying to foment ill-feeling between the employer and the employed, for they do very much to reconcile these classes. They make the workers themselves capitalists, produce in them the feelings and instincts of capitalists, and place industry on a basis that gives no scope to class animosity. They have also a great indirect value in enabling working men to understand more thoroughly than they could possibly do by other means the true conditions and prospects of a trade, and the rate of wages which can be profitably paid. In all these ways they prevent labour wars, and tend to correct the fatal fallacy that capital and labour are essentially antagonistic.92
The establishment of such societies has been largely due to the Limited Liability Act making it possible to establish companies with moderate risk, and it has been much assisted by the growth of national education. The industrial uses of education are great and evident, though, as I have already pointed out, there are certain drawbacks, which practical men have now learned clearly to realise. They observe how the general effect of the spread of school education is to produce among the poor a disdain for mere manual labour and for the humbler forms of menial service, and they notice, with some concern, a greatly increased restlessness of character and a much stronger appetite for amusement and excitement. It shows itself in the increased love of gambling; in the growing preference for the hard work of the factory, with its free evenings, to the lighter work but greater restraints of domestic service; in the more fluctuating and nomadic character which domestic service has itself assumed. It enters, as we have seen, as an important element into the migration of the agricultural population to the great towns; and it is very apparent in the country districts, in an increasing disposition to choose casual and irregular work at comparatively high wages rather than regular and constant work at lower pay, and also in a greatly increased objection among agricultural labourers to isolation, which leads them to prefer to pay a high rent for a bad cottage in a village rather than a low rent for a good cottage on a farm. This desertion of the farms for the village has been justly considered one of the most significant facts in recent agricultural history.93 On the other hand, education generally produces self-respect. It makes men quick to perceive and prompt to avail themselves of opportunities of improving their position, and thus tends to raise and to maintain the levels of industry. In all the higher branches, by developing intelligence, it increases power, and, where a work of difficult administration is required, it is almost indispensable. The prudence, foresight, self-control, and skill in management which are essential for successful co-operative work, are not likely to be found in an uneducated class.
The remarks which I have made about co-operation in production apply, with little change, to the various schemes of profit-sharing under which workmen receive, in addition to their wages, either a percentage on the whole profits of their work, or a proportion of such profits as are made in excess of a certain reserved limit. Schemes of this kind were much advocated by the Christian Socialists in England, and they have had some considerable success. They leave the management and risks in the hands of the employer, who seeks his profit in the increased stimulus given to industry, in the diminished need of supervision, in a closer tie of interest, binding the workman to his business, in the special attraction this form of industry presents to the more efficient workman. The bonus system is often so arranged as to come gradually into operation, to take the form of provisions for old age, and to depend largely on the length of time the workman continues in his employment.
The various systems of profit-sharing are only applicable to a limited number of industries. They work best in those which are at once profitable and steady, and in these they have widely adopted, and appear to have given a large measure of satisfaction. In trades where profits are precarious, violently fluctuating, and often, for long periods, suspended, they are rarely successful. In general, the trade unions dislike them. By establishing a close union between the employer and his workmen they withdraw the latter from trade-union influence; and strong objections are urged against the provisions which are intended to guard against strikes, against the minimum rate of profit which is often guaranteed to the employer before the workmen's profits accrue, against the tendency of the system to encourage increased work and unequal rewards, corresponding to diversities of industry and skill. The great strike against the South Metropolitan Gas Company in 1890 was a desperate but wholly unsuccessful attempt to break down this system. There is so much difficulty and complexity in its practical application that this form of industry is never likely to become universal; but wherever it has succeeded it tends, by establishing a kind of industrial partnership, to cure some of the worst evils of our time. There are said to be already seventy-seven profit-sharing firms in Great Britain and the Colonies, with over 16,000 persons employed in them.94 In the United States, more than 10,000 workmen are said to be admitted to a share in the profits of the industries in which they are engaged.95
In France also the system has been largely and skilfully developed. In spite of all her political revolutions, the French laws permitting combinations of workmen are very recent. It was not until 1864 that some small amount of liberty was granted to working men's combinations and syndicates, and trade unions were only fully and formally authorised in 1884. It must be added, too, that though they have proved active and very belligerent bodies, they are not believed to comprise more than 6 or 7 per cent. of the French working men.96 On the other hand, the larger manufacturers, and still more the great industrial companies, have succeeded to a remarkable degree in uniting their interests with those of their workmen, and creating a strong and healthy sympathy between them. They have done so in many ways. They have built cheap cottages for their workmen in the immediate neighbourhood of their work, and where the workmen live at a distance they have organised a system known as the ‘Economat,’ for providing them with food at very cheap rates in their places of work. They have largely supported savings banks, pension funds, and sometimes gratuitous schools connected with their works. They have often introduced the system of adding a certain percentage of salaries after two or three years’ service, and granting special bonuses to workmen engaged in works in which special exertions are required. They have given shares in the profits of their establishments mainly in the form of saving funds, increasing in proportion to the length of time the workman remains in his employment, and managed by a joint committee representing the employers and the workmen. They have also adopted the system of filling vacancies in their establishments by appointing chiefly the children or other relatives of their staffs. In the large shops a commission of from 2 to 3 per cent. is usually granted to the assistants who sell the goods.
In all these ways a strong co-operative feeling and interest is created, and industry receives a new impulse and a new stability. It is observed that this system, like so many other influences, works in the direction of large industries. The great company or the great manufacturer can do these things, but not the small employer. In the words of a valuable Government report, ‘the owners of large private concerns, either by personal solicitude for the welfare of their men, or by a judicious distribution of annual gratuities, have generally succeeded in retaining a staff of able and fairly contented workmen; but the small employers, on whom very often the worst, and consequently the most discontented, wage-earners filter down, have not been so successful. Often their circumstances prevent their doing more than just pay the current rate of wages, and their engrossing sympathy for their own wants and difficulties is a hindrance to their sympathising with the complaints of those they employ …and this in a measure accounts for the hatred existing towards the petit bourgeois.’
A natural consequence is that the best workmen prefer to work under a company or in a large firm, and, when the system I have described proves successful, they are usually completely alienated from trade-union politics. ‘Workmen who join profit-sharing establishments,’ it is said, ‘desert the army of labour, and declare war on the syndicates.’97
In addition to profit-sharing, there are various other expedients for connecting the interests of employer and employed, and preventing ruinous trade quarrels. There is the sliding-scale system, according to which wages are advanced or diminished on a recognised scale, in proportion to the rise and fall of prices. It has prevailed largely in England during the last quarter of a century in the iron, steel, and coal industries, and, in a less degree, in the manufactures of lace and hosiery.98 There is the system of piecework, which exists, though in very fluctuating proportions, in many industries, and which, beyond all others, establishes a fair proportion between wages and production, and furnishes strong incentives to industry and ambition. There is the system of paying work by the hour, giving the workmen large liberty of lengthening or shortening their day. Great efforts have also been made to substitute in industrial conflicts arbitration for strikes. Conciliation boards and arbitration boards, on which both parties in the dispute are represented, and which consist of men in whose judicial qualities both parties have confidence, have attempted, with great success, to prevent and to terminate strikes. Sometimes these boards are permanent bodies. The North of England Board of Conciliation and Arbitration for the Manufactured Iron Trade, which was founded in 1869, has been the most successful, and the London Chamber of Commerce has shown itself very useful and active in the same direction. It is said that some three thousand disputes in the Northumberland coal trade have been settled by joint committees.99
The example has been chiefly set by France, where, as early as the reign of the Great Napoleon, conciliation boards were established, under the name of Conseils de Prud'hommes, for the purpose of settling disputes about the terms of labour compacts. Each of them is divided into a bureau of conciliation and a bureau of judgment, or, as we should say, of arbitration. They are instituted, at the initiative of the local chamber of commerce, by Government decree, and they consist of equal numbers of employers and workmen, with a president and vice-president, who were once appointed by the Government, but are now elected by the body itself. The success of these bodies has been very remarkable. From 30,000 to 45,000 cases are said to be annually brought before them, and in about 70 per cent. of these cases they succeed in reconciling the disputants.100 In Belgium, Austria, and Germany, also, there are elaborate provisions for settling labour disputes.
In England an Act was passed in 1867 authorising the Secretary of State, under certain conditions, to grant a license for the formation of councils much like those in France, and, while strictly limiting the subjects on which they might pronounce, it gave them powers of enforcing their awards; but this Act, as well as a later one which was carried in 1872, appears to have been a dead-letter, and conciliation and arbitration boards of a purely voluntary character have been found most acceptable both to employers and workmen. They have greatly multiplied, and boards of this kind, consisting of equal numbers of employers and workmen, have been established in a great variety of trades. Perhaps the most useful service rendered by the Government in this field is the collection of a large amount of accurate statistical information about the condition of work and wages in many countries.
In all these ways much has been done to mitigate class antagonism in industrial life. Much, too, is done by the Government to encourage thrift in the shape of savings banks and kindred institutions, which bridge over the chasm between the wage-earning and the wage-paying classes, extend to the working class the advantages of the national credit, and, by making their savings a portion of the National Debt, blend their interests very closely with the great property interests of the nation.
In France, and in several other continental countries, one great safeguard of property lies in the extensive subdivision of land, which raises up a bulwark against which Anarchist and Socialist passions dash in vain. In England this bulwark does not exist; for, although the legal owners have been shown to be a much larger body than had been frequently alleged, and although the real owners, who hold charges on the land, are very numerous, the ostensible ownership of the soil is in the hands of a comparatively small class, whose political power has greatly diminished. If the agricultural interest had been as powerful in England as in France, English legislation would probably have taken a somewhat different course during the last half-century; and, amid the ruinous depression through which English agriculture is fast withering away, the inadequacy of its political representation has become a great national evil. Extensions of the suffrage have not improved it. They have left the relative importance of town and country unchanged, and, by creating or deepening divisions between labourers and farmers, between Churchmen and Nonconformists, they have rather weakened than strengthened the interests of agriculture. Nothing, I think, can be clearer than that, in a democratic State, land should be in many hands. In this way only can it exercise its legitimate influence, and secure itself from injustice and extortion. It does not appear to me possible, in the existing conditions of English life, to defend with success the law of primogeniture in case of intestacy, and it is extremely desirable that all legal restrictions and obstacles that make the division of land and its sale in small quantities difficult and expensive, should be swept away.
It does not follow from this that the old laws favouring agglomerations of land should be looked on as acts of injustice or tyranny. They were intended to maintain in England a governing class who could be trusted to administer, for the most part gratuitously, county business, and at the same time to conduct the affairs of the nation with honesty and dignity. In spite of many shortcomings, this end was attained, and, under the government of her gentry, the English nation in its long and chequered past has achieved as large an amount of freedom, of greatness, of honest administration, and of internal prosperity, as any nation in modern history. Nor is it true that the interests of the poor have been largely or consciously sacrificed. Cases may, no doubt, be cited in English history in which class interest had an undue power in legislation, and things have been done in the past which cannot be justified if measured by nineteenth-century standards; but still, in every period of her history, England can well bear a comparison with the most favoured nations of the Continent. It would be difficult or impossible to find any country in Europe in which the general level of prosperity has been higher, the taxation more equitable, and the relations of classes more healthy.
The old order, however, has manifestly changed, and the great agglomerations of property, which were once so closely connected with the prevailing political type, have become a source of political weakness and danger. The question how far it is likely that English soil will be more subdivided than at present is one of great difficulty and complexity. The system of compulsory equal division which, under the influence of the Code Napoléon, has spread so widely over Europe, has taken no root in either English or American public opinion. Traditional habits and ideas throughout the English-speaking world are strongly opposed to it, while the revolutionary party would probably dislike it, as strengthening the sentiment of hereditary property, and the rights of the family as against the claims of the community. If agriculture in England were prosperous, it does not seem to me possible that it would take the form of a peasant proprietary. The two forms in which such a tenure of land is most profitable are vineyards and market-gardening; but the first does not exist in England, and, in the face of foreign competition, the second can never play more than a very subsidiary part in English agriculture; while pasture, into which England is more and more turning, is not adapted for small farms.
The disappearance of the yeomanry, which is so often and in some respects so justly lamented, was not in any perceptible degree due to the laws of entail and primogeniture, and was probably only slightly accelerated by the enclosure of common land. It was mainly due to irresistible economical forces, which I have already traced, and which were closely connected with the growth of manufactures. When the small proprietor found that he could greatly increase his income by selling his farm and investing the proceeds in trade, or by selling his farm, renting it from the purchaser, and employing his capital in stocking it, one or other of these courses was certain to be followed. In our own day, if the ownership of land is not widely diffused among the farming classes, this is much more due to the absence of all wish on their part to buy than to any indisposition on the part of the landlord to sell. The political arguments in favour of a peasant proprietary are, indeed, even now far more powerful than either the social or the economic ones.
In Ireland, as is well known, great efforts are made to create such a proprietary; but the conditions of Ireland are unlike those of any other part of the civilised globe. It has been the deliberate policy of the Government to break down, by almost annual Acts, the obligation of contracts, and the existing ownership of land has been rendered so insecure, the political power attached to it has been so effectually destroyed, and the influences tending to anarchy and confiscation have been made so powerful, that most good judges have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to force into existence by strong legislative measures a new social type, which may perhaps possess some elements of stability and conservatism. In order to effect this object the national credit has been made use of in such a way that a tenant is enabled to purchase his farm without making the smallest sacrifice for that object, the whole sum being advanced by the Government, and advanced on such terms that the tenant is only obliged to pay for a limited number of years a sum from 20 to 30 per cent. less than his present rent. In other words, a man whose rent has been fixed by the Land Court at 100l. a year can purchase his farm by paying, instead of that sum, 70l. or 80l. a year for forty-nine years. The arrangement sounds more like burlesque than serious legislation; but the belief that political pressure can obtain still better terms for the tenant, and that further confiscatory legislation may still more depreciate the value of land to the owner who has inherited it, or purchased it in the open market, has taken such deep root in Ireland that the tenants have shown little alacrity to avail themselves of their new privilege.
What may be the ultimate issue of the attempt to govern a country in complete defiance of all received economical principles remains to be seen. The future must show whether a large peasant proprietary can be not only called into existence, but permanently maintained, under these conditions, and whether it will prove the loyal and conservative element that English politicians believe. According to all past experience, peasant proprietors rarely succeed, except when they possess something more than an average measure of industrial qualities, and the Irish purchase laws give no preference to the energetic, the industrious, and the thrifty. On the contrary, it is very often the farmer who is on the verge of bankruptcy who is most eager to buy, in order to reduce his annual charge. The tendency of the new proprietors to mortgage, to sublet, and to subdivide, is already manifest, and some of the best judges of Irish affairs, who look beyond the present generation, are very despondent about the future. They believe that a peasant proprietary called into existence suddenly and artificially, with no discrimination in favour of the better class, in a country where industrial qualities are very low, and where the strongest wish of the farmer is either to divide his farm among his children, or to burden it with equal mortgages for their benefit,101 must eventually lead to economic ruin, to fatal subdivision, to crushing charges on land. The new policy must also, they contend, almost wholly withdraw from the country life where it is peculiarly needed, the civilising and guiding influence of a resident gentry. Whether or not these apprehensions are exaggerated time only can show. Two predictions may, I think, with some confidence be made. The one is, that the transformation is likely to be most successful if it is gradually effected. The other is, that a great part of the influence once possessed by the landlord will, under the new conditions, pass to the money-lender.
We may perhaps derive more instructive facts bearing on the probable future of English land from the example of what is taking place in New England and some of the other parts of the United States. The competition of American wheat, which has ruined agriculture over a great part of England, is felt with still greater force in New England and New York, where the overwhelming influx of the products of the Western States has beaten down most prices to unremunerative levels. The first result has been a great removal of population from the country to the towns. The second has been a large diminution of the number of farms. In Massachusetts alone there were, in 1890, 1,461 abandoned farms. In the State of New York there were, in 1890, 16,108 fewer farms than in 1880. At the same time the steady tendency seems to be to larger farms, worked as much as possible by labour-saving machinery, and exhibiting a much greater variety of farming than in the past. Market-gardening and tree-planting seem to have rapidly increased, and much inferior land has gone out of cultivation. In Maine, which is called ‘the Lumber State,’ scarcely a third of the State is occupied by farms, and more than half of the farms are under wood. While the old farmers of New England, who were once the backbone of these States, are moving in great numbers to the towns, they are in some districts largely replaced by foreigners—chiefly French Canadians, who are accustomed to more economical habits and a lower standard of comfort.
Land in all these States has always been cultivated chiefly by its owners, but it is a remarkable fact that there appears to have been during the period of depression some movement in New England towards the English system of rented farms. In 1880, 91.8 per cent. of the farms were cultivated by their owners; in 1890, only 85 per cent.102 In general all farming in the United States is conducted on a much larger scale than in the peasant-proprietor countries of Europe. In the words of the British Ambassador in the United States: ‘With a very few isolated exceptions, there does not exist in the United States the class of peasant proprietors as understood in European countries. There are to be found in agricultural districts a few farmers whose farms are of only twenty acres or thereabouts, but the term “peasant proprietors” could not in any way be applied to them.’103
A series of reports were presented to Parliament in 1891, drawn up by the different British diplomatists in the countries to which they were accredited, relating to the increase of diminution of the number of peasant proprietors, and of the debts with which they were burdened during the preceding twenty years, but the evidence accumulated is so imperfect and conflicting that it scarcely authorises us to draw any fixed conclusion. Thus it was shown that in that portion of the Austrian Empire where the peasant properties are large and seldom divided there is a far higher level of cultivation and a far smaller proportion of debt than in the part where the system of small farms and constant division prevails. In the German Empire, where the habit of letting farms is seldom practised except on princely estates, and where an overwhelming majority of the estates are managed by their owners, there is decisive evidence that the farmers who have suffered least by the long period of depreciation are those who are the owners of what are termed middle-sized farms, which range from about 18 to about 370 acres, and are probably, on an average, a little more than 60 acres.
In France the number of persons cultivating their own land is believed to have increased during the last twenty years by rather less than 1/2 per cent., but there has been a large diminution in the number of farm-servants. There has been a considerable movement of population, both from agricultural and productive industry, to commercial and transport occupations. The larger farms tend to increase, but the general average size of the plots of land cultivated is diminishing. Most of the peasant proprietors have very small holdings, but most of the land of France belongs to the proprietors of farms ranging from 23 to 115 acres. About 78 per cent. of the rural owners themselves till the land they own or occupy. The author of the report expresses his belief that, owing to ‘the intensely frugal habits’ of the French peasantry, their indebtedness has not increased, but rather diminished, during the last twenty years. This statement, however, seems to rest chiefly on conjecture, as there are no available statistics, and it is quite inconsistent with the experience of all other countries where the system of peasant proprietorship exists.
In the smaller countries the evidence of rapidly increasing debt is very great, and in some of the countries where peasant proprietorship is most extended the distress has been extremely acute. In Belgium almost the only peasant proprietors who were not poorer in 1890 than in 1880 were said to be found among the very smallest and poorest, who employ no hired labour, and cultivate their own land with their own children. In the Netherlands the only accurate statistics on the subject appear to be for the five years from 1883 to 1887 inclusive, and they are certainly abundantly significant. In that time the unredeemed mortgages of the peasant proprietors nearly doubled, having risen from 80,000l. to 158,000l., and while the number of the very small farms not exceeding 2 1/2 acres has increased, there has been a considerable diminution in the number of rent-paying farmers.
In some parts of Switzerland the number of peasant proprietors has greatly declined, but in the whole country it is believed to have considerably increased. This, however, is no real proof of the success of the system, for it is largely due to the much smaller number of peasant proprietors who now buy up neighbouring farms, and also to the marked tendency to break up the common lands. In Switzerland, as in nearly all other countries, there has been a rapid increase of the debt of the peasant proprietors during the last thirty years, and if it is not checked it will, in the opinion of the author of the report, seriously endanger their position. Much the same thing may be said about the Scandinavian countries, in which the system of peasant proprietors is popular, and works well, and is encouraged by several special laws. In Denmark, during the last forty years, the debt has increased from about 25 to more than 50 per cent. of the value of the landed properties.
These facts do not seem to me to point to any general movement in favour of peasant proprietors. At the same time, in England land will, no doubt, soon be held by a larger number of persons than at present. The laws that favoured its agglomeration have been repealed, and nearly all the social, political, and economical motives that led to it have either passed away or greatly diminished. If under the combined influence of agricultural depression and Radical finance the great historical properties come frequently into the market, it is probable that the new millionaires will often prefer to purchase a great place unincumbered by large tracts of farming-land, which now add little to the power or the social consequence of the purchaser.
Several important Acts have been passed within the last few years for the purpose of improving the condition of the agricultural labourers, and, if possible, checking their migration to the towns. Sanitary authorities and county councils have obtained large powers of closing or removing insanitary dwellings, acquiring sites, and building houses for the working classes. In London and several of the great provincial towns these powers have been largely exercised, and they have also, in some degree, been employed for the benefit of the agricultural labourer. Under an Act of 1887 allotments have been multiplied, and the Small Holdings Act of 1892 attempted to create a peasant proprietary on the lines of the Irish Purchase Act, by enabling the county councils to lend public money on certain conditions to small farmers for the purchase of their farms. Legislation of this kind is the first fruit of the extension of the suffrage to the agricultural labourer, and it bears much resemblance to the old Tudor legislation annexing four acres of land to every agricultural cottage. It is intended for the benefit of a poor, suffering, meritorious, and silent class, and in as far as it gives them healthier and happier lives it deserves all sympathy. Whether, however, in the face of existing economical tendencies, it is possible to create by law on any large scale a peasant proprietary, appears to me more than doubtful. There are manifest dangers in the disposition to place great compulsory powers of purchasing land in the hands of the new elective bodies, and to enable them to levy rates and accumulate debt for the benefit of a single class of their electors. But the elevation of the humbler levels of the agricultural population is a matter of the very highest national importance, and, when compulsory purchase is made on equitable terms, it does not appear to me in such a cause to exceed the legitimate powers of Government.
One of the most powerful of the earlier causes of the migration of labourers to the towns was the destruction by the factory system of the domestic industries which once flourished in the rural villages and in countless isolated farmhouses. Considerable efforts have been made in the present generation to bring back, on a small scale, some of these industries. Philanthropy has done something to stimulate the movement, and, both in France and England, manufacturers in the great towns have lately found it profitable to have portions of their work done by the cheaper labour of the country. It is a course which is bitterly resented by the town labourers and their representatives, and seems likely to become the cause of much labour dispute. It was one of the causes of the great lock-out in the boot trade in the spring of 1895; and I have already mentioned the attempt of the Municipality of Paris to prevent it. It is possible—though the suggestion can only be thrown out as one of distant and uncertain conjecture—that the progress of science may some day bring back to the country districts a larger portion of their old industries. If electricity becomes a cheap and easily managed motor force, it may make it possible to do many things in the cottage which can now only be done in the factory.
There is one form of agglomerated property which probably endangers the security of property in England much more than the great country estates. It is the vast town properties, which are in England in a very few hands, and which, being let at long leases, have risen enormously in value, owing to the general prosperity and efforts of the community. Few persons who have watched the Radical and Socialist tendencies of modern times can fail to perceive that it is this form of property which has proved most invidious, and which lends itself most readily to socialistic attacks. The immense increase of value, which is not due to any exertion on the part of the owner; the power which a selfish or unwise owner may exercise in obstructing the development of the community; the bad effects of the leasehold system, in producing buildings calculated to last little longer than the period of a lease, are keenly felt, and schemes for the special taxation of such properties, and for a compulsory transformation of leaseholds into freeholds, are acquiring much favour. It is greatly to be wished that the large town landlords would generally follow the example which has been set by a few members of their class, and make it their policy to convert, on equitable terms, their long leases into freeholds. Few things would do so much to strengthen property in England as the existence of a very large body of freehold owners in our great towns. The multiplication of small working-class ownerships, through the instrumentality of building societies, has in this, as in other ways, been one of the most healthy movements of our time.
The more intelligent Socialists are under no delusion about its effects. It is a characteristic fact that Engels, the chief disciple of Marx, was one of the bitterest opponents of the policy of making the working man the owner of his house, and, if he lives in the country, of a small garden. This Engels described as the ‘bourgeois’ solution of the labour question. He denounced it as the infamous device of the capitalist to buy labour cheap, as a cause of bondage for the working man, and a misfortune for his entire class.104 In no quarter is the idea of a peasant proprietary more disliked than among the disciples of Mr. George.
In considering the acuteness which labour troubles have assumed in modern days, a large place must be assigned to moral causes. The inequalities of fortune are undoubtedly felt much more keenly than in the past. The agglomeration of men in great towns, and the sharp division of those towns into the quarters of the rich and the quarters of the poor, bring into salient relief the too frequent contrasts between extravagant luxury and struggling misery. Education has strengthened among the poor the sense of the disparities of life, and by increasing self-respect and multiplying tastes and wants it raises the standard of what are deemed its necessaries. Wellbeing has greatly increased, but it has not increased as rapidly as desires. The breaking up, among large classes, of old religious beliefs has given an additional impulse to the restlessness of society; and when the hope of a future world no longer supplies a vivid and strongly realised consolation amidst the miseries of life, it is not surprising that the desire to obtain the best things of this world should attain a passionate force. And all this restlessness concurs with the unexampled opportunities for agitation which the conditions of modern life afford, with the growth of a great popular press which represents, echoes, re-echoes, and intensifies every discontent.
It concurs also with the new sense of power, the new vistas of untried possibilities, which triumphant democracy has opened to the poor. Nearly all the wide legislative movements I have enumerated are attempts to realise quickly and by compulsory action changes which, under the system of unrestricted freedom, had been steadily growing. Building societies and artisans’ dwelling companies have anticipated legislative and municipal action in providing sanitary houses for the working classes, and they have succeeded in making their enterprises thoroughly remunerative. Pensions for old age and infirmity, and insurance against accidents, have long been leading features of unobtrusive provident societies, working without any compulsory powers, and resting upon a sound commerical basis. By voluntary co-operation and voluntary bargaining, unassisted by law, trade unions have succeeded in obtaining over large areas, and wherever it is economically profitable, nearly all those boons which legislators are now asked to enforce by law. But swifter and larger changes are demanded by the new democracy, and they are pursued often with effects which their authors had neither foreseen nor desired.
On the side of the wealthy, also, there is a much clearer realisation of the misery and injustices of life. Compassion in nearly all its forms has grown both wider and more sensitive. If the purely dogmatic elements in religion have waned, if the saintly type of character as moulded by the ideals of an ascetic and introspective faith has lost much of its old power, the philanthropic side of religion has certainly strengthened. Morality is looked upon much less as a series of restrictions and prohibitions than as a positive force impelling man to active duties, and chiefly measured by useful service to mankind. The unity of the race, the brotherhood of man, is more strongly felt, and there is a genuine and growing desire to open the spheres of opportunity and the great sources of human pleasure more largely to the poor.
Much in this direction has been done, chiefly by the great inventions of modern times and by the normal course of economical and moral growth, but largely also through the action of wise legislation and disinterested philanthropy. Education in nearly all its forms has been widely diffused. Picture galleries, museums, libraries, more sumptuous than any millionaire could collect, are the common property of the nation, and gratuitously open to all classes. Charitable institutions, enriched by the benefactions of many generations, and growing in full proportion to the growth of capital, bring the best medical and surgical appliances within the reach of the poor, and alleviate in countless forms their suffering and want. Noble parks and gardens are opened for their pleasure, and they have more leisure to enjoy them. The public domain, which is the common property of rich and poor, continually augments. Many artificial barriers have been broken down, and many paths to eminence and wealth thrown open to ability in every rank; and while the decline of pauperism and crime, the rise of wages, the prolongation of life, and the shortening of work hours, attest the substantial improvement in the condition of the poor, the range, variety, and cheapness of amusements have greatly increased.
The picture, it is true, is not unchequered. The land has become overcrowded. The strain of competition in many forms has grown more intense. The conditions of modern industry bring with them vast and frequent fluctuations, which increase the great evil of unemployed labour. Among the very poorest, misery is probably as acute as it has ever been. It is also true that many of the forms of pleasure which gave England the title of ‘merrie England’ have passed away or greatly diminished through changed conditions of life, through changes of tastes, manners, and beliefs. But for these last losses, at least, the printing press and the railway furnish ample compensation, and whoever will be at the pains to analyse the pleasures of rich and poor will probably be struck with the enormous proportion that may be directly or indirectly traced to their influence.
Envy is not a characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon democracies at either side of the Atlantic, and I do not believe that wealth honourably acquired and wisely, usefully, and generously employed, is ever likely to be really unpopular among them. Nor is it probable that they will ever to a large extent adopt the doctrine which is now so industriously propagated, that there is something immoral, and injurious to society, in living on an unearned income, or, in other words, on inhertied property. The number of men who are able to do so form, even in the richest countries, but a small fraction of the population, and many of the most useful and industrious lives may be found among them. To this class belonged William Wilber-force, and John Howard, and Lord Shaftesbury, and countless other philanthropists, whose services to mankind can hardly be overpraised. Great inherited properties usually carry with them large and useful administrative duties, and no class of men in England have, on the whole, lived better lives, and contributed more to the real wellbeing of the community, than the less wealthy country gentlemen who, contenting themselves with the moderate incomes they inherited, lived upon their estates, administering county business, and improving in countless ways the condition of their tenants and of their neighbours. It might have been better for these men, but it would certainly not have been better for the community, if they had thrown themselves more generally into the already overcrowded paths of professional life, displaced poorer men who were struggling for its prizes, or secured for themselves a larger number of coveted Government appointments, paid for out of the taxation of the nation.
The impulse of ambition may be sufficiently trusted to impel rich men of extraordinary abilities to the development of their powers, and it is certainly no disadvantage to the world if their circumstances and their aptitudes combine to lead them to paths from which they never could have derived a livelihood. It is possible that if Darwin had become a physician he might have earned a larger professional income than his father. It is possible that if Sir Charles Lyell had applied to the practice of the law his rare powers of collecting and appreciating evidence he might have become a chancellor or a judge. It was surely better that these great men should have contented themselves with the ‘unearned incomes’ which they had inherited, and should have devoted themselves to pursuits which during the greater part of their lives were absolutely unremunerative. A man who has serious work to perform in the world is in no degree to be blamed if he makes it his object to minimise the cares of life by throwing his fortune, if it is in his power to do so, into forms that require little thought, effort, or responsibility. English public life in most of its branches has been largely filled by men who lived upon inherited competences, took no means to increase them, and gave their services gratuitously to their country.
It is quite right that a legislator, in adjusting taxation, should take into account the fact that a realised property descends scends undiminished from father to son, while a professional income is a precarious thing, depending on the life and strength of the man who earns it. It is, however, a false and mischievous doctrine that the one form of property is less legitimate than the other. Society is a compact chiefly for securing to each man a peaceful possession of his property, and, as long as a man fulfils his part in the social compact, his right to what he has received from his father is as valid as his right to what he has himself earned. In the one case as in the other, no doubt the Supreme Legislature in England has the power of confiscation. But moral right and constitutional power are different things, and it is one of the worst consequences of the English doctrine of the omnipotence of Parliament that it tends to confuse them.
It is not the existence of inherited wealth, even on a very large scale, that is likely to shake seriously the respect for property: it is the many examples which the conditions of modern society present of vast wealth acquired by shameful means, employed for shameful purposes, and exercising an altogether undue influence in society and in the State. When triumphant robbery is found among the rich, subversive doctrines will grow among the poor. When democracy turns, as it often does, into a corrupt plutocracy, both national decadence and social revolution are being prepared. No one who peruses modern Socialist literature, no one who observes the current of feeling among the masses in the great towns, can fail to perceive their deep, growing, and not unreasonable sense of the profound injustices of life. In the words of one of the most popular of these writers, ‘Jay Gould, the “financier,” got more “pay” and held more wealth than Gladstone, and Carlyle, and Darwin, and Koch, and Galileo, and Columbus, and Cromwell, and Caxton, and Stephenson, and Washington, and Raphael, and Mozart, and Shakespeare, and Socrates, and Jesus Christ ever got amongst them. So perfect is the present system of pay!’105
When in the immediate neighbourhood of the wretched slums of our great cities there are to be found societies where dignity is mainly measured by wealth, irrespective of the source from which it is derived and the purposes to which it is applied; when in the mad race of luxury and ostentation men are ever seeking for and inventing new and costly inutilities to gratify the freaks of fashion, and lavishing sums that might bring comfort to a hundred families on the pleasures of a single night, or on trinkets that are not really more respectable than the beads and feathers of the savage, it is not surprising that feelings should strengthen and opinions should grow that portend grave convulsions in the State. In these things law can do little, but opinion can do much. A sterner judgment of ill-gotten wealth and of luxurious, vicious, or merely idle lives, a higher standard of public duty, and something more of that ‘plain living’ which is the usual accompaniment of ‘high thinking’ are the best remedies that can be applied.
Programme of the Fabian Society; Sidney Webb's Socialism in England, p. 10.
Manifesto of the Social Democratic Federation (1883); Hyndman and Morris, The Principles of Socialism, written for the Democratic Federation, p. 59; Hyndman's Historical Basis of Socialism, p. 467.
See on this case the postscript to Mr. B. Shaw's lecture, The Fabian Society, and what it has done.
The Fabian Society, and what it has done, p. 7; Webb's Socialism in England, p. 33.
The Fabian Society: what it has done, and how it has done it, p. 11.
‘The generalship of this movement was undertaken chiefly by Sidney Webb, who played such bewildering conjuring tricks with the Liberal thimbles and the Fabian peas that to this day both the Liberals and the sectarian Socialists stand aghast at him’ (Ibid. p. 19).
For the rise of the New Unionism the reader should consult Howell's Trade Unionism New and Old, Webb's History of Trade Unionism, and the evidence given on the subject before the Labour Commission.
See an article in the Nineteenth Century, January 1895.
Howell's Trade Unionism New and Old, p. 166.
Howell's Trade Unionism, p. 171. If the actual working hours ‘at the face,’ as it is termed, deducting the time for meals and rest, and also the time occupied in going to and fro, be taken, the time of work appears much less. A Government report on thirteen mining districts in Great Britain shows that in no district except South Wales did this kind of work average forty-six hours a week; in all the other districts it was less than forty-four, in six districts less than forty (Ibid. p. 183).
Ibid. pp. 188, 193–205.
Webb's History of Trade Unionism, p. 362.
Webb's History of Trade Unionism, pp. 362, 375–76.
Article of Mr. Keir Hardie, Nineteenth Century, January 1895.
Report of the Twenty-seventh Annual Trade Union Congress published by the authority of the Congress, pp. 53–55. Very similar resolutions were carried a year later in the congress at Cardiff.
See Howell's Trade Unions, pp. 192–99; Brook's Industry and Property, ii. 362–63, 398–99.
See his evidence before the Labour Commission (Digest, p. 43). A wellinformed correspondent, in the Times, September 7, 1895, gives somewhat different figures. He estimates the branches of labour from which trade unionism seeks its recruits at 11,338,035 persons, and the total membership of the 677 unions at the close of 1893 at 1,270,789. He also collects much evidence to show that the number of the members of trade unions is declining.
Report, p. 55.
Minutes of Evidence, 8406, 8718–9. See, too, Digest, p. 23. Mr. Bax observes that the aim of the Socialist ‘is radically at variance with thrift.’ ‘To the Socialist, labour is an evil to be minimised to the utmost. The man who works at his trade or avocation more than necessity compels him, or who accumulates more than he can enjoy, is not a hero, but a fool, from the Socialist's standpoint’ (The Religion of Socialism, p. 94).
Howell's Trade Unionism, p. 233.
Howell, pp. 96, 127, 137.
Minutes of Evidence, 4045, 4046; see, too, 4505.
Webb's Socialism in England, pp. 58–60.
Labour Commission: Evidence, 3887–3891.
See Vol. i. pp. 163–64.
Fabian Essays, p. 143.
See the evidence of Mr. Hyndman and Mr. S. Webb before the Labour Commission.
Hobhouse, The Labour Movement.
‘The small tradesmen and ratepayers who are now allying themselves with the Duke of Westminster in a desperate and unavailing struggle against the rising rates entailed by the eight hours day and standard wages for all public servants, besides great extensions of corporate activity in providing accommodation and education at the public expense, must sooner or later see that their interest lies in making common cause with the workers to throw the burden of taxation directly on unearned incomes’ (B. Shaw, The Fabian Society, What it has done, p. 26). Mr. Hyndman observes: ‘It may be reasonably contended that the well-to-do classes are, as a rule, a good deal overhoused, and some have urged that direct expropriation should be resorted to the instant the workers are strong enough to act…. The rise in the rates would compel the well-to-do to throw good houses on to the market, thus enlarging the sphere of action’ (Historical Basis of Socialism, pp. 453–54).
There is an instructive account of the working of this system in a pamphlet, by Mr. Montague, on The Old Poor Law and the New Socialism, published by the Cobden Club.
Evidence of Sir T. Farrer before the Labour Commission.
See on this subject an excellent memorandum, drawn up by Lord Farrer (then Sir T. H. Farrer), on the London County Council's Wages Bill in 1892, and also his later evidence before the Labour Commission.
Bax's Religion of Socialism, pp. 52, 81.
Hyndman's Historical Basis of Socialism, p. 452.
Socialism in its Growth and Outcome, pp. 299–300. Mr. Grant Allen also, who has identified himself with extreme Socialism (see Vox Clamantium, pp. 138–61), has in other writings shown himself little less revolutionary in the domestic sphere.
Religion of Socialism, p. 126.
A good summary of the provisions of the foreign factory acts will be found in an article of M. Emile Stocquart on ‘Les restrictions à la liberté’ (Revue de Droit International, tom. xxvii.).
Cooke Taylor, The Factory Laws, p. 170.
17 & 18 Vict. cap. 104, sect. 238.
There are, however, cases in which expensive machinery can be worked with greatly increased profit by the system of ‘double shifts,’ or relays of labourers working in succession. Sixteen hours’ work of such machinery, carried on by two bodies of workmen, each of them working eight hours, would produce much more than could be produced by a continuous employment of the same men for ten hours. It is found, however, in England that there have been great practical difficulties in establishing this system, and it does not seem to be popular with the workmen. See on this subject Marshall's Principles of Economics, i. 741–42.
This subject is treated with great ability, and with ample illustrations, by Lord Brassey in his Work and Wages; see especially p. 75 (3rd ed.).
Cooke Taylor, pp. 62, 168. M. Stocquart observes that one of the old Flemish customs (prescribed by law) prohibited most forms of work, not only on Sundays and other religious festivals but also on Saturday afternoons and on the eve of festivals (Revue de Droit International, xxvii. 148).
Jevons, p. 87.
The same distinction appeared when the question was raised of bringing laundries under the Factory laws. ‘The movement was viewed favourably by the larger employers, who could afford to keep a double staff, but was objected to by the smaller ones, who were afraid that they would lose their trade if they were obliged to observe the limited and regular periods of employment ordained by the Acts’ (Spyer, The Labour Question, p. 118). Mr. Spyer sums up the views of those who advocated before the Labour Commission more stringent shop regulations, and concludes: ‘They were, for the most part, viewed not unfavourably by the larger employers; but the smaller shopkeepers complained that, if they were obliged to close early, they would lose the patronage of the working men, for whom they chiefly catered’ (p. 125).
See the evidence of Mr. T. Mann, Mr. Hyndman, and Mr. S. Webb before the Labour Commission.
Jevons, The State in relation to Labour, pp. 107–8.
The most important of these societies is the Artisans and Labourers’ Dwellings Company, which has done a vast beneficent work, and been established on a thoroughly sound economical basis. The following passage from a speech of the chairman (Mr. Noel) at the annual meeting in 1895 seems to me very significant: ‘I am bound to point out a third consideration connected with the estates, which is important, namely, that we shall never be able to build so economically in the future as we have built in the past. This naturally arises, in the first place, not from the increase in the price of material—for this has diminished, and we can build more economically, in some respects, as regards such things as iron and wood—but our great bill, which is the wages bill, is larger, and must be larger, owing to the rise in wages. There is also not only the rise in wages, but there are shorter hours of labour. Both these things must produce more costly buildings; but I should rejoice personally in both of these, even if we had to find our buildings more costly. I could hardly but rejoice, seeing that the money was thus spent; but I must add another fact, which is, to my mind, not at all satisfactory, and that is an apparently marked desire on the part of the labour leaders, supposing it to be on the principle of doing good to their fellow-workmen, that the men should do less work and less efficient work during the hours of labour. This, gentlemen, seems to me a most suicidal policy. Not only does the rise of wages and the shorter hours of labour increase the expense of building, but it must also increase the rents that the working classes pay for their houses, for, as you know, we work on a very small margin of profit. There will be a perpetually increased rent for workmen's houses owing to this unfortunate action on the part of some of the labour leaders. But there is something more than that. It will tend, I believe, to diminish the capital employed in building—I believe it has already done so—and therefore will certainly cause an ever-increasing number in the building trades to join the ranks of the unemployed’ (Report of the General Meeting, 1895).
The effect of a legal eight hours on different kinds of industry is treated, with much fulness and skill, by Mr. Graham in his Socialism New and Old, pp. 362–76.
The reader will find some remarks on this subject, by Mr. Mackay, in A Policy of Free Exchange, p. 226. See, too, Marshall's Principles of Economics, i. 733.
Many particulars about these restrictions will be found in Howell's Conflicts of Labour (2nd ed.), pp. 216–50.
Brooks's Industry and Property, i. 104–6.
Spyer, The Labour Question, p. 2; Howell's Trade Unionism New and Old, p. 150.
See on this subject the Reports from Her Majesty's Representatives on the Hours of Adult Labour in the Countries in which they reside, published by Parliament in 1889. It is possible that since these Reports there may have been some fresh legislation. See, too, Béchaux, Revendications Ouvrières en France, pp. 45–46.
Spyer's Labour Question, p. 80.
See the article on Trade Unions in Subjects of the Day (August 1890), ‘Socialism,’ pp. 119–20.
Howell's Conflicts of Labour, pp. 282–84.
Béchaux, Les Revendications Ouvrières en France, pp. 66–77; see, too, Reports of Her Majesty's representatives abroad relative to the recommendations of the Berlin Conference (1891).
See on this subject Jevons, The State in relation to Labour, pp. 120–21.
Brassey's Work and Wages.
Ruskin's Munera Pulveris; see too, his Unto this Last, and the eloquent chapters denouncing the modern industrial system in Mr. Lilly's Shibboleths. Mr. Lilly has recurred to the same subject in several other thoughtful and striking essays. A very able, and at the same time candid and temperate, criticism of what is called the orthodox school of English political economy, will be found in a little book by Mr. William Dillon (the biographer of John Mitchel) called The Dismal Science (Dublin, 1882). It is a book which deserves to be far better known than it is.
See on this controversy Webb's History of Trade Unionism, pp. 254–60.
Howell's Conflicts of Labour, p. 153.
Digest of Evidence, p. 43.
See the Final Report, Part i. pp. 115–19. Compare the very hostile report brought before the trade union congress at Norwich (Report of its proceedings, pp. 27–28). There is an interesting article, by Mr. B. Holland, on this subject in the Nineteenth Century, March 1895.
Béchaux, Les Revendications Ouvrières en France, pp. 192–200; see also the Report on Austria laid before the Labour Commission.
Stephen's History of the Criminal Law, iii. 215–16.
Compare Stephen's History of the Criminal Law, iii. 224–27; Spyer's The Labour Question, pp. 16–19; Howell's Conflicts of Capital and Labour (2nd ed.), p. 293; Final Report of the Royal Commission of Labour, pp. 39–41, 106–7.
Spyer, pp. 18–19. The whole subject of picketing is treated very fully, from the workman's point of view, in Howell's Conflicts of Labour, pp. 305–24.
Thus Mr. Bax assures us that machinery, ‘up to the present time, has proved the greatest curse mankind has ever suffered under’ (The Religion of Socialism, p. 75). ‘The action of the Luddites in destroying machinery, so far from being a mere irrational outburst, the result of popular misapprehension, as the orthodox economists assert, was perfectly reasonable and justifiable’ (ibid. pp. 157–58).
Memorandum on Associations produced before the Labour Commission, p. xxii.
See on this subject Brooks's Industry and Property, ii. 335–46. Mr. Brooks has collected a great amount of material illustrating the coercive measures adopted by a large section of trade-unionists.
Guyot, La Tyrannie Socialiste, pp. 114–15.
Ibid. pp. 209–13.
See some examples of this in the Memorandum of Rules of Association drawn up for the Labour Commission, pp. xviii–xix.
See the indignant comments of Mr. S. Webb on the refusal of the Admiralty to recognise any person not in their employment as the representative of the workmen in trade disputes (Digest of Evidence before the Labour Commission, p. 20).
Webb's History of Trade Unionism, p. 390.
See the evidence of Sir Robert Giffen (Digest of Evidence before the Labour Commission, pp. 42–43).
Dilke's Problems of Greater Britain, i. 120–22, 146.
See Guyot, La Tyrannie Socialiste, pp. 136–40.
Report of the Trade Union Congress, p. 49.
See a remarkable speech of Sir Henry Parkes (November 13, 1894), New South Wales Parliamentary Debates, 1894, p. 2204. Some interesting statistics about the average wealth in these colonies will be found in the New Zealand Official Handbook for 1892, pp. 86–8. Victoria seems to be the richest colony.
Pearson's National Life and Character, p. 21.
The Land Laws of New Zealand, as enacted by the Land Act, 1892, by Vincent Pyke (Wellington).
Subjects of the Day (‘Socialism’), August 1890, p. 115.
See the very interesting picture of trade-union life, drawn up by a skilled artisan, in Webb's History of Trade Unionism, pp. 431–58. This seems to me the best thing in the book.
Leroy-Beaulieu, Le Collectivisme, pp. 228, 237.
Digest of Evidence, p. 35.
See the statistical abstracts brought together by Mr. Mackay (A Policy of Free Exchange, p. 235).
Jones's History of Co-operative Production, i. 1.
See Howell's Conflicts of Labour, pp. 460–61.
Mr. Howell has given a long catalogue of the more successful establishments of this sort (Conflicts of Labour, pp. 461–65). See, too, the excellent chapter of Lord Brassey (Work and Wages, pp. 247–60); Jones's History of Co-operation; Jevons's Work and Wages, pp. 144–46.
See the very interesting report of Mr. W. C. Little on the agricultural labourer before the Labour Commission (Fifth and Final Report).
Digest of Evidence before the Labour Commission, p. 33.
Forum, March 1895, p. 57.
Report on the Relations between Capital and Labour in France (Foreign Office, 1892), p. 6.
Report on the Relations between Capital and Labour in France (Foreign Office, 1892), pp. 17–18. This very interesting report, which was drawn up by Sir Condie Stephen, gives an excellent account of labour relations in France. Compare Guyot, La Tyrannie Socialiste, pp. 232–34.
See Howell's Conflicts of Labour, pp. 439, 448.
Howell's Conflicts of Labour, p. 439.
Jevons's State in relation to Labour, p. 164; Report on the Relations between Capital and Labour in France, pp. 19–22; Samuelson, Boards of Conciliation in Labour Disputes, pp. 6–7.
It may be observed that the farm of the peasant proprietor has been made by law personal property; so that if, as is very often the case, the owner makes no will, his sons have equal rights in the inheritance.
I have taken these facts from a very careful and interesting examination of American agriculture by M. E. Levasseur in a series of papers in the Comptes Rendus of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques in 1895. These papers have, I believe, been republished in a book.
Report of Sir Julian Pauncefote; Reports on the Position of Peasant Proprietors Abroad (1891).
See on Engel's views the essay of M. Raffalovich on Working-class Housing in A Plea for Liberty, edited by Mr. Mackay, p. 219.
Blatchford's Merrie England, p. 139.