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adopted. On the contrary, the presumption is, that it would be injurious. If labourers are to participate in the advantages of successful enterprises, they must also participate in the losses resulting from those of a contrary description; and must, consequently, in cases of failure, be deprived of their accustomed and necessary means of subsistence. The hazard to which they would thus be exposed, might, it is true, be lessened by making a part only of their remuneration depend on the issue of the enterprise. But if it were really an advantage to be allowed to participate in a chance of this sort, the fixed portion of their wages would be proportionally diminished, and at every failure of an enterprise, the labourers engaged in it would be thrown upon the work-house, or on the contributions of the benevolent. It is nugatory to suppose that the condition of the poor should be improved by their engaging in such uncertain projects. Security, and a reward proportioned to their deserts, conduce most to their well-being. And these, we have seen, are enjoyed in the highest degree by the piece-work labourers. They are nowise dependent on the seasons, or on any one of the thousand unforeseen contingencies that may occur to defeat the most carefully conducted industrious speculation. They depend on themselves only; and being sure of a commensurate return, they invariably put forth all their energies.

It is further obvious that if work-people are to be interested in the result of an undertaking, they must have some control over its conduct, and be authorized to inquire into the accounts and proceedings of those by whom the undertaking is managed. All the advantages of individual enterprise and responsibility would, in consequence, be lost, and the most necessary and judicious steps, in the conduct of a business, might be objected to or censured by those most incompetent to form a judgment upon such matters. At present, when a capitalist engages in any undertaking, he knows beforehand that he will reap all the advantage if it be successful, and that, if otherwise, he will have to bear all the loss. He is consequently determined, by the most powerful

motives, to act discreetly, to proscribe all useless expense, and to avail himself of every means or incident that may present itself, to facilitate his projects. Except in a very few cases, all industrious undertakings are sure to be carried on most efficiently and economically by individuals. But of all sorts of interference, that of the workmen would be most objectionable. It would hardly, indeed, be more absurd for a general to take the opinion of the privates of his army on questions of strategy, than it would be for a capitalist to call his labourers to his councils, and mould them according to their opinions.


Law for repressing Combinations among Workmen repealed in 1824-Impolicy of that Law-Its real effect-Voluntary Combinations should not be forcibly suppressed-Such combinations are often injurious to the Workmen-Necessity for preventing one set of Workmen from obstructing others in their Employments.

BESIDES the causes of variations in the rate of wages, specified in Chapter V., they are supposed to be materially affected by the strikes and combinations which frequently exist among workmen; and as this is a subject of much importance, and with respect to which there is a considerable difference of opinion, we shall shortly examine it.

It was the practice of the legislature, subsequently to the reign of Edward I., to interfere respecting the stipulations in the contract of wages between masters and servants. And, its deliberations being in most cases guided by the advice of the masters, it was natural that it should interfere, rather to promote their particular interests, than that it might treat both parties with the same even-handed and impartial justice. But the gradual though slow dissemina

tion of sounder and more enlarged principles of public economy having impressed all classes with a conviction of the general impolicy of such interference, it was latterly but rarely practised. The experience of nearly five hundred years has shown that, while every attempt to set a maximum on the price of labour is oppressive and injurious to the workmen, it is of no real advantage to their employers; for it has been found that workmen have invariably become more persevering, sober, and industrious, according as their freedom has been extended, and as they have been relieved from the vexatious restraints to which they were formerly subjected.

But though the legislature had long ceased to dictate the precise terms on which masters should buy and workmen sell their labour, a set of laws were of late much extended, and were very frequently acted upon, by which workmen were severely punished for combining together to raise their wages, or to oppose their reduction. These laws, which were in no ordinary degree partial and unjust, had their origin in a dark and barbarous period. The dreadful plague that desolated England, in common with most other countries of Europe, in 1348 and 1349, having destroyed great numbers of the labouring poor, a greater competition took place for the services of those who survived, who, in consequence, obtained much higher wages.1 Parliament, however, instead of leaving this temporary rise of wages, to which the poor had an unquestionable right, to be modified by the increase of population it would have occasioned, passed, in 1350, the famous act (25 Edward III., c. 1) for regulating wages. By this statute, labourers were obliged to serve for such wages as were common in the districts in which they resided previously to the pestilence. But, as this gave rise to a great deal of cavilling, a statute was passed two years after, fixing the specific amount of the wages to be given to reapers, mowers, haymakers, thrashers, &c., and to the more common and important classes of artificers. A variety of subsequent

1 See ante, p. 21.


2 See the Rates in Sir F. M. Eden's State of the Poor, vol. i. p. 33.

acts were passed, to enforce compliance with the regulations in the statute of wages, of the spirit of which some idea may be formed from the fact of its having been made felony, by a statute, passed in 1425 (3 Henry VI., c. 1), for masons to confederate or combine together to raise their wages above the statutory rate. And though this barbarous law has long ceased to be acted upon, it was not effaced from the Statute-book till 1824, and may be considered as the parent stock from which the statute against combinations was derived.

This statute (39th and 40th Geo. III., cap. 105), after declaring all combinations to obtain an advance of wages to be unlawful, went on to enact, that any workman who entered into a combination, either verbal or in writing, to obtain an advance of wages, to lessen the hours or time of working, to decrease the quantity of work, to persuade, intimidate, or by money or otherwise, endeavour to prevail on any other workman not to accept employment; or who should, for the purpose of obtaining an advance of wages, endeavour to intimidate or prevail on any person to leave his employment, or to prevent any person employing him: or who, being hired, should, without any just or reasonable cause, refuse to work with any other workman; such workman should, on the oath or oaths of one or more credible witnesses, before any two justices of the peace, within three calendar months after the offence had been committed, be committed to, and confined in, the common gaol within their jurisdiction, for any time not exceeding three calendar months; or, at the discretion of such justices, should be committed to some house of correction, within the same jurisdiction, there to remain, and be kept at hard labour, for any time not exceeding two calendar months.

The extreme severity of this enactment must strike every one. Justices of the peace belong to the order of masters; and, however respectable individually, they generally possess a full share of their peculiar feelings and prejudices. To invest two of them with the power of imprisoning workmen

for three months without the intervention of a jury, was certainly intrusting them with an authority very liable to be abused, and which, if it were to be exercised at all, should have been placed in hands less likely to act under a bias. The workmen could, it is true, appeal to the quarter sessions: but as this was only an appeal from one set of justices to another, it was of little importance. There were a variety of other clauses, discharging all workmen from attending any meeting for the purpose of combining, from contributing to defray the expenses incurred by persons acting contrary to this Act, and compelling offenders to give evidence, &c. &c., under the above-mentioned penalties.

A very strong feeling had been spreading for many years, not only among the workmen, but also among the more intelligent portion of the masters, that the attempts to enforce the provisions of the Combination Act had done more harm than good. And in unison with this feeling, a Committee of the House of Commons was appointed, in 1824, to inquire into the operation of the laws for preventing combinations among workmen, and for preventing their emigration, and the exportation of machinery. This committee collected a great deal of evidence on these subjects. And the impression made by this evidence, and the growing conviction of the impolicy of the combination laws were such, that a bill for their repeal, introduced by Mr. Hume, the chairman of the committee, was soon after carried through both Houses, and passed into a law.

This measure has not, however, had all the effect which some of its supporters anticipated. And it must be admitted, that the workmen have in many instances discovered a refractory and turbulent disposition; and that there is hardly a branch of industry in which they have not resorted to strikes, and entered into combinations, not unfrequently accompanied with violence, to raise their wages, and to dictate to their masters the mode in which they should be employed. Much, however, as we regret, and ready as we are to condemn, many of these proceedings, we are very far from thinking that they form any

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