Imágenes de páginas

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 oc casionally 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

ing class is sure to be benefited by the change. This has been demonstrated over and over again, and is a proposition of the truth of which no doubt is now entertained. An increased facility of production immediately increases the command of all classes over necessaries and conveniences; and it further leads, by increasing the demand for the articles whose cost has been reduced, to an increased demand for labour. When the cost of cottons was reduced by the introduction of the spinningframe, it is plain, as that reduction did not affect the demand for labour, or the rate of wages in other employments, that the condition of the labourers generally must have been improved by their being able to supply themselves with cheaper cottons. The fall in the price of the latter was, in truth, equivalent to a corresponding rise of wages; while the increased demand for cottons, and the powerful stimulus which was thereby given to invention and discovery, by still further lowering their price, and bringing them within the command of a constantly increasing number of consumers, has so much increased their consumption that the cotton trade is now, next to agriculture, the most important business carried on in the kingdom, employing millions upon millions of capital, and hundreds of thousands of work-people! And such is invariably the case, in a greater or less degree, with every increased facility of production. An increase of supply is sure to occasion an equal increase of demand. In this case, therefore, as in all others, the interests of the manufacturers and employers of labour are coincident with those of the labourers. Every additional facility of production really raises wages, or, which is the same thing, it gives the labourers a greater quantity of produce in return for the same amount of labour or of money.

Plain bobbin-net lace is said to have sold, in 1813 and 1814, for about 21s. a square yard; and the same article, but of an improved quality, may now be had for about 3d. the square yard! Hence, as compared with bobbin-net, wages are now about eighty-four times higher than in 1813-14.' And the

This takes for granted that money wages have not fallen in the interval, which they have not done.

number of hands employed in the manufacture of the article has increased at least a hundred-fold in the interval.

The employment of machinery, and the increased facility of production consequent thereon, has also a tendency to raise the condition of the labourer, by bringing the powers of his mind more into action. Some of the most laborious operations of industry—such, for instance, as the thrashing out of cornare now either wholly or principally performed by machinery, the task of the labourer being confined to its construction (in which he is usually assisted by other machines) and guidance. And the presumption is, that this substitution of the powers of nature for those of man will be carried to a much further extent, and that he will be progressively still more and more employed in making new applications of their exhaustless energies.

The same results follow from the repeal of prohibitions on importation, and from the opening of new commercial channels, by which produce may be brought from abroad cheaper that it can be furnished at home. It is proper, however, in the view of preventing any sudden shock being given to any great branch of native industry, that such changes should be cautiously introduced, and be accompanied with the necessary safeguards. But, apart from the temporary injury that it may occasion to a particular class, every additional facility given to commerce, like the additional facilities given to production, never fails to add to the well-being of the public. Owing partly to improvements in agriculture, and partly to greater facilities of importation, the price of corn was not, during the four or five years ending with 1852, more than half its price previously to the termination of the late war; so that, as compared with this most indispensable of all articles, wages may be said to have more than doubled since 1815. There is nothing, in truth, either isolated or in any degree peculiar in the situation of work-people. On the contrary, their interests are inseparably associated with, and promoted by, all that contributes to national opulence, civilization, and good government.

After what has now been stated, the reader will be prepared to hear that the condition of most classes of workpeople has been much improved since the close of the American war, and that they are at present better fed, better clothed, and better lodged, than at any former period. We are aware that Lord John Russell is reported to have said, in 1844, that the labouring classes had retrograded within the last century, and that they were not then so well off as they had been in 1740. But, despite the deference justly due to so high an authority, we are satisfied that this is an erroneous statement. Most things on which wages are expended are as cheap now as in 1740, and very manyincluding all articles of clothing-are much cheaper. Notwithstanding the well-founded complaints of the badness of the lodgings of the lower classes, they are incomparably better now than they were in the last century, or at any anterior period. The older portions, indeed, in all our towns and villages, are precisely those in which the poor are in all respects the worst lodged. The bread, also, which is used in poor families in the present times is much superior, and in towns, at least, the consumption of butcher's meat by the labourers has greatly increased. Drunkenness and immorality, if they have not been materially abated, have not increased; while the manners of all classes have been humanized and softened. The great improvement that has taken place in the health and in the longevity of the population could not have been realized had not their condition been materially bettered.

At the same time, we are ready to admit that the condition of the labouring class is far from prosperous; and Lord John Russell was quite right in saying, that they do not appear to have profited as much as they should have done, or as much as the middle classes have done, by the extraordinary improvements that have taken place during the last half century, and especially by the fall in the price of most articles since 1815. The middle classes have, however, always evinced far more prudence and forethought than those below them, and

« AnteriorContinuar »