Imágenes de páginas

individuals will continue, for a lengthened period, to practise their peculiar trades, or will remain in the same district, when other trades in that district, and the same trades in other districts, yield better wages to those engaged in them. But how slowly soever, wages, taking everything into account, are sure to be equalized in the end. And the extraordinary facilities that are now afforded for becoming minutely acquainted with the various branches of industry carried on in all parts of the country, and of travelling from one point to another, will no doubt hasten the adjustment of wages, according to the advantages and disadvantages incident to different businesses and localities. Without, however, insisting on these considerations, it is enough to state, that all inquiries, like those in which we are now engaged, that have the establishment of general principles for their object, should be founded on periods of average duration; and whenever such is the case, we may always, without occasioning any material error, assume that the wages earned in different employments are, all things taken into account, about equal.

It may farther be observed, in reference to these principles, that wherever industry is unfettered, and knowledge generally diffused, the talents of all are turned to the best account. Indeed, it may be safely affirmed, that of the myriads of individuals engaged in industrious undertakings in Great Britain, as conductors, overseers, or workmen, the situation occupied by each is, in the vast majority of cases, that which is best suited to his capacity, and his salary or wages such as he is fairly entitled to by his services. Agriculturists, manufacturers, and merchants, whether their businesses be large or small, are always most anxious to give the greatest efficacy to their establishments, to adapt their means properly to their ends, and to select the parties that are, all things considered, the most suit

able for their purposes. The prosperity of all industrious undertakings principally depends on the skill with which this selection is made, on the proper parties being placed in the proper situations, and their wages adjusted according to their

merits and the confidence reposed in them. Mistakes in a matter of such primary importance as the proper distribution of the labour employed, in any considerable undertaking, would be so very fatal to its success, that we may be sure they will be carefully guarded against. The principle of detur digniori is the only one on which their managers can act with safety or advantage to themselves. And it is quite as much for the interest of the employed as of the employers that this distribution should be fairly made; for otherwise trickery, ignorance, and sloth, might carry off the rewards due to integrity, skill, and diligence. The society in which we live has its disadvantages and drawbacks; but, at all events, it must be said of masters and capitalists engaged in business, that they never willingly fail duly to appreciate and reward the superior talents and industry of the lower classes; and never suffer, or, if ever, only through error and for a moment, that the fund which should feed and support labour should be misemployed to support idleness. And yet there have been, and still are, persons, calling themselves social reformers and friends to the poor, who propose that this natural and admirable system should be subverted, and that the employment and the wages of every man should be determined by agents nominated by government for the purpose! We should show but little respect for our readers, were we to waste their time by exposing in detail the palpable quackery of such a scheme. The innumerable abuses to which it would infallibly lead, were any attempt made to act upon it, would be such that it could not be maintained for six weeks. If it were, it would destroy industry, and fill the land with bankruptcy and beggary.


Hiring by Time and by Piece Work.-Advantages of the latter. -Inexpediency of making Wages depend on the Result of Undertakings.

WAGES are sometimes paid by the day, week, month, year, or other term, and sometimes by the piece or job, that is, by the quantity of work done. Domestic servants are usually hired in the former mode, or by time; but large amounts of manufacturing, agricultural, and other labour are performed by the piece, and wherever it can be adopted, this is the preferable mode of hiring work-people. Their strength, skill, and assiduity are widely different. And when they are hired by time, it is often impracticable, and is always a difficult, troublesome, and invidious task to arrange them in classes, and adjust the wages of each according to their real deserts. Hiring by the piece or job does away with these difficulties; and, by exactly apportioning the reward to the amount of labour, not only takes away all temptation to idleness, but prompts workmen to put forth all their energies. It makes their own immediate interest, and not their duty to their employers, the mainspring of their exertions. Laborious and skilful workmen are no longer underpaid, as compared with those who are slothful and ignorant. The system admits of no partiality on the part of the masters, and of no pretence or shirking on the part of the employed. It is thoroughly honest and equitable. The wages earned under it may be low or high; but whatever may be their amount, they are distributed in the exact ratio of the services that have been performed. The labourer who executes twice the work that is executed by another, receives double wages, and so in proportion.

The stimulus which this plan of hiring gives to exertion, is so very powerful, that in some cases it has been thought ne

cessary, in the view of preventing the labourers from overworking themselves, to limit the sums which they could earn in a given time. But this ultra zeal is not manifested, except in the case of parties engaged for a short period only, or when they first begin to work under the system. Regular task-work labourers, though distinguished by their industry and perseverance, do not overwork themselves. They are, also, much more their own masters than those engaged for certain terms. They are, in truth, contractors as well as labourers. And provided they execute their work within the term stipulated (if such stipulation be made), they may choose their own time for working, and begin and leave off when they please.

Piece work is also by far the most likely, if it be not the only means by which the mere labourer can expect to advance himself to a higher station. A man undertakes to cut down corn at so much an acre, to make roads and drains at so much a rood, to weave cloth at so much a yard, in short, to execute a certain amount of work for a certain price. Sometimes he restricts his undertaking to what he thinks he can execute himself, with perhaps the assistance of his family. But whether he do this, or employ others (sometimes in the way of sub-contractors) to assist him, it is his object to finish his task as expeditiously as possible, and to employ his profits as a means of extending his business. In this way he gradually rises in the scale of society, till, having ceased to work with his own hands, he becomes a contractor on a large scale, or engages in some other occupation. And it is plain that the training and experience he has had, and the habits he has formed, must make him at once a vigilant and a discerning master. The foundations of thousands of middling, and of very many large fortunes, have been laid in the way now stated. It is, in truth, the broadest, the easiest, and the safest of the various channels by which diligent, sagacious, and frugal individuals emerge from poverty, and attain to respectability and opulence. Those who thus rise to distinction may be emphatically said to be the architects of

their own fortunes. They owe nothing to interest, to favour, or to any unworthy means. They stood originally on the same level with their fellow-workmen, and they owe their elevation to the judicious exercise of talents common to them all.

There cannot, therefore, as it appears to us, be any reasonable doubt that the introduction of the practice of piece-work, or of hiring by the job, has been, and that its further extension would be, a great advantage to all classes, but especially to the labourers. It appears to be the only plan by which a man's earnings are not only made to depend upon, but are exactly proportioned to his labour, skill, and ingenuity; while it has the further advantage of enabling prudent and enterprising individuals to advance themselves, by comparatively easy steps, to a superior condition, and, in the end, to merge the character of labourer in that of employer.

It has sometimes been said, that it would be good policy to endeavour to interest labourers in the zealous prosecution of the task in which they may be engaged, by making their wages depend, in part at least, on the result of their exertions. But except in a few limited and peculiar cases, this could not be done. The wages of sailors may be, and indeed usually are, made to depend on the successful termination of the voyage. But how could the wages of the work-people employed on a farm, in a foundry, or in a cotton-mill, be made to depend on the result of such speculative undertakings? Very frequently, however, the workpeople now referred to, are paid by the piece; and, when such is the case, they have a plain and tangible motive, level to their capacities, and not depending on anything remote or contingent, to make every exertion.

But, though the practical difficulties in the way of making the wages of labourers dependent on the results of the employments in which they are engaged, were less formidable than they appear to be, we should not; in the great majority of cases, anticipate any advantages from the scheme being

« AnteriorContinuar »