Imágenes de páginas

power of capital and popular education, there can be no just ground of despair for Ireland.

The next circumstance that I shall notice, as tending to augment the demand for labour, is the security of property. Most men have an aversion to labour, that can only be overcome by the temptation of enjoying its rewards, either in future ease or present enjoyments. The merchant, manufacturer, and shopkeeper, submit to the toils and anxieties of business in the hope of reaping and enjoying hereafter the fruits of their exertions. The rights of property may not only be infringed by direct and forcible violation, but by any measures that interfere with its free use and most beneficial employment. Every one ought to be at liberty to employ his capital and industry on such objects as he deems most advantageous to himself, provided the exercise of this liberty does not abridge the enjoyment of the same right by others. A landlord ought to be free to cultivate his land as he pleases, a capitalist to fix his own rate of interest, and a labourer to choose his employment, and accept or not a fixed rate of wages. On this principle, commercial monopolies, the antiquated immunities of corporations, and combinations of workmen, are a violation of the rights of property and industry. Individuals are best able to select the occupations most adapted to their means and natural capacities; but the freedom of choice is abridged by the members of these associations enjoying advantages from which those who are excluded are denied.

Capital and industry do not flow into the most profitable channels; and as the demand for labour and its remuneration depends on this circumstance, the interests of the working classes are compromised by such arbitrary interferences with the general freedom. A state of peace and uninterrupted intercourse with other countries, are the last circumstances I shall notice as favourable to the demand for labour. Foreign war usually tends to disturb the operations of industry, either by preventing the supply of the raw material of some established manufacture, or intercepting the market for our commodities. Hostilities, it is true, give rise to new, and revive dormant employments; but this does not compensate for the loss of capital occasioned by its transfer to other branches of industry, and the stagnation and derangement produced in the pursuits of commerce and manufacture. War is a consumer, and not a creator of national wealth; and from this cause, as already explained, it must tend to lessen the demand for employment. The existence or apprehension of civil commotion has a similar tendency. A general feeling of insecurity and uncertainty, as to the future, is generated; and the mind and energies of the community are diverted from the pursuits of wealth and industry to the consideration of national affairs.

be compelled to submit. The low wages, which of late years have been paid to weavers in Lancashire and Scotland, to framework-knitters in Leicestershire, and to farm-servants in the southern and midland counties, incontestably establish the veracity of this principle. The disgusting atrocities practised in mills and factories are another corroborative circumstance. The proprietors of these abodes of wailing and anguish, and vice, are many of them enlightened men-Christian men-men, who, in all other relations of life are swayed by intelligence and humanity, but who in this are callous to every motive, save that of gain-who know no law save that of supply and demand-and who feel justified in running against each other a race of competition in buying the greatest quantity of human toil at the lowest price an overstocked market may compel the owners to accept.

The same principle governs rural industry. Humanity suggests that labourers in husbandry should be paid higher wages in winter than in summer; they require more food, fire, and warmer clothing; but humanity does not regulate wages, they are regulated by competition for employment. In summer, especially during harvest, farmers bid against each other for servants, and thereby raise wages; in winter work is not so plentiful, and servants bid against each other for employment and lower wages. Thus, by the operation of the unavoidable principle of competition, which neither can nor ought to

be interfered with in the case of adult persons, the lowest wages are received when the highest are needed to meet the greater inclemency of the season. The circumstances which influence the action of the competitive principle on the price of labour are different among the several classes of workpeople. All, for example, are eligible to the employments of domestic servants whose personal characters are unexceptionable. Among mechanics and artisans skill in their occupations is the chief condition; but among the common sort of labourers neither character nor skill are much sought after, it is sufficient if they possess muscular strength. As strength is the main qualification requisite in a labourer, he is liable to be competed against by all the able-bodied persons in the community in want of employment; hence the lowness of his wages. A domestic servant can only be competed against by persons with a character; while an operative or skilled labourer has a kind of monopoly in his trade; he can only be bid against by those who, like himself, have paid a premium, served an apprenticeship, or complied with some other established condition, essential to obtain a knowledge of his business. An increase of population therefore, or an immigration of Irish does not affect a skilled labourer as it affects the unskilled labourer, who may be bid against by all capable of work. The wages of a skilled labourer are a compensation for the exertion of both strength and skill; the wages of an unskilled labourer are a compensation for the exertion of strength only. Com

petition regulates the wages of both; but all the the able-bodied in society are eligible to compete against the unskilled labourer; whereas it is only those who have paid the price, either in money or money's worth, to obtain a knowledge of the business of the skilled labourer that can compete against him for employment. The limit, however, to the employment of both the operative and labourer is the same; namely, the possibility of the employer realizing a profit on the produce of their industry. If the rate of wages is such as to reduce the master's gains below the average profit of capital, he will cease to employ them, or he will only employ them on condition of submission to a reduction of wages.

Whether wages are high or low does not depend, as before remarked, on their money amount, but on their relation to the prices of provisions, and the command they give the labourer over all articles of ordinary use and consumption. They have also reference to the customs, habits, physical wants, and circumstances of the working people Wages, for example, which might be considered adequate to satisfy the wants of a labourer living in a warm climate, where clothing, a well-built cottage, and fire, are of secondary importance, might be quite insufficient in a cold country. The food too, necessary to subsistence, varies in different countries. In England the ordinary diet of labourers is, or ought to be, wheaten bread, meat, and beer; in Ireland, potatoes; in China and Hindostan, rice. In many: provinces of France and Spain an allowance of wine

« AnteriorContinuar »