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and will, we can assure our friends, still further increase, if the turn-outs do not speedily cease. It has, perhaps, never been sufficiently considered by the industrious classes of this and neighbouring districts, that they are raising a competition to the masters and to themselves elsewhere, by persisting in the dangerous course which they now pursue. The capacity for production in different parts of the world, at competing prices, is very nicely balanced; and this country possesses now very few advantages over rival manufacturing countries. If an article is for any length of time neglected here, or not produced in sufficient quantities, it will be manufactured in other countries; and a trade once transferred is not easily recovered. This view of the disadvantages of the present strikes and labour question has not, as far as we are aware, been brought home to those most interested in it; we should, indeed, be glad to have it in our power to convince both masters and men of the importance of considering the subject in this light, in order to bring their disputes to a speedy end, and thus to prevent serious injuries to the entire trade of this country."
This is the worst view that can be taken of the influence of strikes and combinations; and the desire to obviate it would, if anything could, warrant the interference of government for their suppression. But the grand principle of the freedom of industry must not be infringed upon. We must take it with its disadvantages as well as its advantages; and trust, as we may safely do, to experience, and the good sense and better training of the masters and work-people, to lessen the former and to increase the latter. Even if it were conceded that it might be expedient for government to interfere to put down a combination to raise wages above their proper level, or to frame improper regulations in regard to the employment of work-people, the concession would be of no real value to the apologists of combination laws; for the result of the combination is, in fact, the only certain test by which we can pronounce whether the advance of wages claimed by the workmen and the regulations proposed by them were fair and reasonable or the reverse. If
government were to refer to the masters for information on the subject, they would most likely be told that the best founded claim for a rise of wages was unjust and ill-founded; and if, on the other hand, they were to refer to the workmen, who have as good a right to be consulted as the others, the most exorbitant and unreasonable demand would be said to be moderate and proper, and such as could not be equitably refused. It is only by the fair and free competition of the parties in the market, that we discover which of these opposite and contradictory assertions is most consistent with truth. There neither are, nor is it in the nature of things that there can be, any other means of coming to a correct conclusion on the subject. If the workmen be in the right, they will, as they ought, succeed in their object: if they be wrong, they will be defeated, and the injury they will do to themselves will render them more cautious about again em barking in a similar struggle. Enlighten all parties as much as you possibly can with regard to the condition of the labouring classes, the rate of wages, and the state of industry here and elsewhere; but when this has been done you had better stop. The interference of government in the decision of questions between masters and their work-people can be productive only of evil. Having no means of informing themselves of the real merits of the case, its agents must, if they act at all, necessarily act blindly and capriciously. And even if they had such information, it would be unadvisable for them to interfere, it being abundantly certain that every combina tion for an improper object will be more easily and effectually put down without their assistance than with it.
The great evil of the combination laws consisted, as already observed, in the mistaken notions respecting their influence which they generated in the minds both of workmen and mas ters. They taught them to believe that there was one measure of justice for the rich, and another for the poor. They conse quently set the interests and the feelings of these two great classes in direct opposition to each other, and did more to en
gender hatred between the different orders of society-to render the masters despotic and capricious, and the workmen idle and turbulent, than can easily be conceived or imagined by. those not pretty intimately acquainted with the former state. of society in the manufacturing districts. Instead of putting down combinations, they rendered them universal, and gave them a dangerous character. For the fair and open, though frequently foolish and extravagant, proceedings of men endeavouring to advance themselves in society, and to sell their labour at the highest price, the combination laws gave us nocturnal meetings, private cabals, and oaths of secresy. There was not a workman to be found who did not consider it a bounden duty to embrace every opportunity of acting in the teeth of their most positive enactments. And all the means which the intelligence, the cunning, and the privations of workmen could suggest, for defeating and thwarting their operation, were resorted to from a conviction of their partiality and unfairness.
It appears, therefore, on every ground both of justice and expediency, that the repeal of the combination laws was a wise and salutary measure. Until that event, the terms of the contract between masters and workmen could not be said to be adjusted, as it always ought to be, on the principle of free and unrestrained competition. We readily allow that combinations of workmen and of masters may be, and, indeed, frequently are, formed for the accomplishment of improper objects. But it is quite clear that these combinations will, when let alone, inevitably cure themselves, and that the efforts of government to suppress them, besides being uncalled for and unnecessary, would be oppressive and unjust. Every individual who is not a slave is entitled to demand any price for his labour that he thinks proper. And if one individual may do this, may not fifty, or five thousand, demand the same price? A criminal act cannot be generated by the mere multiplication of acts that are perfectly innocent. We are not to confound the power and the right to set a price on labour with the reasonableness of that price. It is the business of those
who buy labour, and not of government, to decide whether the price set on it is reasonable or not. If they think it is unreasonable they may, and they certainly will, refuse to buy it, or to hire the workmen; and as the latter cannot long subsist without employment, necessity will oblige them to moderate their demands.
It will be observed, that the observations we have now made apply exclusively to the justice and policy of attempting to prevent voluntary combinations among workmen; and we trust they will not be understood as being intended to countenance, in the slightest degree, the atttempts that have frequently been made by combined workmen forcibly to prevent others from working, except on the conditions they have fixed for the guidance of their own conduct. Every such attempt is an obvious breach of the peace; and if not repressed by prompt and suitable punishment, would be subversive not only of the freedom of industry, but of the national welfare. The reason that combinations among numerous bodies are rarely injurious is, that the motives which individuals have to break off from the combination are so numerous and powerful, that it can seldom be maintained for any considerable period. But if those who adhere to the combination were to be allowed to maltreat and obstruct those who secede from it, this principle would be subverted, and the combination might become so very injurious as to require the interference of the legislature for its suppression. This, therefore, does not really seem to be a case in which there is much room for doubt or difference of opinion. It is plain, that we must either reduce the workmen to a servile condition, or authorize them to refuse to work, or sell their labour, except under such conditions as they may choose to specify. But when they are allowed this much, they are allowed all they are entitled to; and if they go one step further-if they attempt to carry their point by violence, either towards their masters or their fellow-workmen, they are guilty of an offence that strikes at the foundations of the manufacturing and commercial prosperity of the
country, and which no government can or ought to tolerate. It is indispensable that that system of intimidation which the workmen in some places have endeavoured to organize should, at all hazards, be effectually put down. And to secure this. object, every practicable means should be adopted for facilitating the prosecution, speedy conviction, and punishment of those who are guilty of obstructing and intimidating others.
These remarks proceed from no unfriendly feeling towards the workmen, but from a desire to do them service. It is the extreme of folly to suppose that any combination can maintain wages at an artificial elevation. It is not, as we have already shown, on the dangerous and generally ruinous resource of combination, but on the forethought, industry, and frugality of work-people, that their wages, and their condition as individuals, must always depend. If they attempt, by adding violence to combinations, to force wages up to an artificial level, one of two things will follow; they will either draw down on themselves the vengeance of the law, or they will bring about their permanent degradation by forcing the transfer of that capital, from which alone they derive their subsistence, to other businesses, or to countries where it will be. better protected.
Interests of the Labourers promoted, and their condition improved, by increased facilities of Production and Exchange.-Circumstances which have conspired to prevent the Inventions and. Discoveries of the last half-century from effecting a greater change for the better in the condition of the Labourers.— Influence of Taxation.
Though the labourers engaged in a particular trade may occasionally suffer from the introduction into it of new or improved machinery, or of new or cheaper methods of production, such suffering is but of brief duration, while the entire labour