Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter XI.: FINAL DELIBERATION. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3
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Chapter XI.: FINAL DELIBERATION. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 3.
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The spirits of the people were sunk, not only by poverty, but by a more bitter disappointment than had attended any former strike. The Combination Laws having formerly been the great object of dread and hatred, it had been too hastily supposed that the repeal of these laws would give all that was wanted; whereas the repeal only left the people free to make the best bargain they could for their labour, without its having any thing to do with the grounds of the bargain. The repeal could not increase the supply of capital, or diminish the supply of labour; it could not therefore affect the rate of wages.
One more event was looked to with hope; the arrival of the delegates who had travelled in search of support. They had remitted money as they had received it, and the remittances had fallen off much of late; but it was still hoped that the messengers might bring such assurances of sympathy and support, as might justify the people in holding out a little longer. These men, who returned nearly all at the same time, were met some miles out on the road, greeted with cheers, carried to the Committee-room, and with difficulty left alone with tile Committee to tell their business.
These men brought advice and intelligence so various as might have perplexed the most discerning and prudent of all managers of public affairs. There were exhortations from some places to hold out to the very last shilling; and from others to retreat, while retreat could be managed with honour. Some distant friends gave them a kindly warning to look for no more contributions from that quarter; and others were sorry to send so little at present, but hoped to raise such and such sums before they should be much wanted. Some sent word that it had always been a bad case which they could not in conscience support, while so many more promising needed help; others declared that if ever there was a righteous cause, this was it, and that they should brand with the name of traitor the first who quailed. While the members of the Committee sighed and inquired of one another what they were to think of such opposite advice, and each delegate was vehement in urging the superior value of that which he brought, Allen proposed that they should abide by the advice of the London delegates, who had been in communication with persons who understood more of the matter in hand, than any who occupied a less central situation. All agreed to this, and the consideration of the matter was deferred till the next morning, when the delegates were expected to have arrived from London.
Every member of the Committee was in his place the next morning, and the expected messengers appeared at the foot of the table, and delivered in their report, which was brief enough. Their London friends believed their strike to be in a hopeless condition, and advised their making the best terms they could with their masters, without any further waste of time and capital. Not that all combinations were disapproved of by their London advisers; there were cases in which such union was highly desirable, cases of especial grievance from multiplication of apprentices, or from unfair methods of measuring work, or from gross inequality of wages, &c.; but for a general and permanent rise of wages, no strike could ultimately prevail, where there was a permanent proportion of unemployed labour in the market. A proportion of three per cent. of unemployed labour must destroy their chance against the masters.
“Just what Wentworth told us,” observed a committee-man. “Pray did you inquire whether it is possible to get a rate of wages settled by law?”
“Of course, as we were instructed so to do; and the answer is what you probably expect,— that unless the law could determine the amount of capital, and the supply of labour, it cannot regulate wages. The law might as well order how much beef every man shall eat for his daily dinner, without having any power to supply cattle. If there be not cattle enough, men cannot have law beef. If there be not capital enough, men cannot have law wages.”
“Besides,” observed the other delegate, “wages-laws involve the same absurdity as the combination laws we are so glad to have got rid of. Every man who is not a slave has a right to ask a price for his labour; and if one man has this right, so have fifty or fifty thousand. What is an innocent act in itself, cannot be made guilt by being done by numbers; and if Government treats it as guilt, Government treats those who do it as slaves. Government then interferes where it has no business. This was the argument in the case of the combination laws, and it holds in this case too: Government is neither buyer nor seller, and has nothing to do with the bargain; and having nothing to do with it, could neither pass a just wages-law, nor enforce it when passed, any more than in the case of the combination laws, which we all know to have been unjust and perpetually evaded.”
As it was now clear that the turn-out must come to a speedy end, the committee decided to waste no more time in discussion, but to proceed to immediate action. Allen begged to produce the accounts, which were balanced up to the present day, and the sight of which would, he thought, quicken their determination to let all get work who could. He had for some time found it difficult to get a hearing on the subject of the accounts, as his brethren were bent on holding out, and would listen to nothing which opposed their wishes; but they were now completely roused. “How much have we left?” was their first question.
“Left!” exclaimed Allen. “You know I have been telling you for this fortnight past that we are deficient 70l., without reckoning the bills for advertisements, which had not then come in, and which, I am sorry to say, swell the amount considerably.”
This declaration was received with murmurs, and on the part of some, with loud declarations that there must have been mistake or bad management.
Allen passed his hand over his forehead, while enduring the bitter pang caused by this outcry; but he recovered himself instantly.
“There are the accounts,” he said. “See for yourselves whether there has been any mistake, and bring home to me, if you can, your charge of bad management. You pressed the task upon me in the first instance against my will; you referred it to my disinterestedness to resume it, when, fearing that I had lost tile confidence of the people, I would have resigned it. At your call, I have done my best, and—this is my reward!”
There was a cry of “Shame, shame!” and two or three friends rose in turn to say for Allen what he was too modest to say for himself; that the unthankful office had been repeatedly forced upon him, because there was no other man who could discharge it so well; that he had never been detected in a mistake, never found in the rear of his business, never accepting fee or reward, never—
This eulogium was interrupted by objections. He had erred in involving the Union with tile editor of a newspaper, who now unexpectedly brought an enormous charge for the insertion of notices, intelligence, &c., which it had been supposed he was glad to print gratuitously. Allen had also claimed fee and reward in a way which, to say the best of it, was shabby.
Allen calmly related the facts of the transaction with the editor, leaving it to his judges to decide whether tile misunderatanding arose from carelessness on his part, or from some other cause. As to the other charge, what fee or reward had he taken?
“The clothes, the clothes!” was the cry. “To send for them privately to sell, after pretending to give them back in the face of the people. Fie! Shabby!”
Allen looked on his thread-bare dress with a smile, supposing this a mistake which a moment would clear up. He went to the press belonging to the committee, where the clothes had been deposited, and flung open the doors. He looked very naturally surprised at their having disappeared, and turned round with an open countenance to say,
“I see how it is. Some dishonest person has used my name to obtain possession of the clothes. I give you my word of honour that I have never seen the clothes, or known that they were not here, since the hour that I gave them back in the face of the people.”
All believed him, and some had consideration enough to command silence by gesture; but before it could take effect, the fact was out, that Allen's own wife was the “dishonest person.” While he silently walked to the window, and there hid his face in his hands, his friends called on business which attracted attention from him. It was pay-day, and what was to be done? What funds were in hand?
Allen returned to his seat to answer this question; and, as all were just now disposed to do as he pleased, he carried his point of honesty, and obtained authority to lessen the allowance one-half, and give advice to every applicant to attend the afternoon meeting for the purpose of voting for the dissolution of the strike.
Of these applicants, some were glad, and some were sorry to receive the advice of the paymaster; but there was a much greater unity of opinion about the reduction of the allowance. Some murmured, some clamoured, some silently wept, some sighed in resignation; but all felt it a great hardship, and wondered what was to become of them either way, if it was true, as Mr. Wentworth had said, that the wages-fund of the masters aud the Union-fund of the men were wasting away together. Some were ready with bad news for Allen in return for that which he offered to them.
“You will be worst off, after all, Allen; for there is not a master that will give you work.”
“Did you hear, Allen, what Elliott said about you? He hopes you will go to him for work, that he may have the pleasure of refusing you.”
“Mortimer has got a promise out of his cowardly partner, that he will not let you set foot on the premises, Allen, on account of the part you have taken.”
“They say, Allen, that you are a marked man in Manchester, and that no master in any trade will take you in among his men. What do you think of doing, I wonder?”
This question Allen could not have answered if he had wished it. It was again put to him by his wife, who waited for him in the street to tell him through her tears all the evil-bodings which a succession of Job's comforters had been pouring into her ears since the news of the probable dissolution of the strike had got wind. “What do you think of doing, I wonder?” was still the burden of her wail.
“Do you know that man?” replied her husband, pointing to a wasted and decrepit man who was selling matches; “that man was once a well-paid spinner. He lost his health in his employment, and now, at forty years of age, is selling matches from door to door. He has submitted to God's will. I too will submit to sell matches, if it be God's will that I should lose my good name as innocently as that man has lost his health.”
“I told you how it would be. I told you—” cried Mary.
“I too foresaw it, Mary, and prepared myself for much;—but not for all.”
He reproached her no further for the injury she had done to his good name than by declaring his unalterable will that not an article should be purchased by her beyond a bare supply of daily food till the clothes were bought back again and restored to the committee, or their full value, if they could not be recovered.