« PreviousContinue »
tinguished in this branch of knowledge. It should seem that neither these writers nor their followers had sufficiently estimated the peculiar control which the fluctuating nature of demand exercises over the resolutions of master manufacturers. If the demand for the goods which they produce pressed upon them in a regular and continued stream;—if their business was nothing more than the making a steady profit on transactions, the amount and recurrence of which were as regular as the seasons and markets (in a long average of years) of the agriculturist, then it is evident that they might, with much greater ease, enter into such a tacit confederacy as Dr Smith has described, not to raise wages above a particular level. They might then always calculate the amount of loss to be incurred by desisting from working their mills or their mines for a certain time, and subdue the resistance of their workmen by irresistible force. But the fact is, on the contrary, that the very essence of a master's business, in most of our manufactures, is speculation. He has no power to regulate the amount of orders he may receive, or the time at which they may come. Should a combination be ever so regularly formed, for instance, between the masters of a particular town, a sudden order coming on one of them, and requiring immediate execution, would be sufficient to induce him almost perforce to relinquish the Union, to call in fresh hands, and to offer higher wages. The individual artisan's employment being (however liable to fluctuation) far more regular, on the whole, than the profits of the individual master, he can calculate the supposed gain to be made, and the loss to be incurred by a strike, far better than the latter can do. Add to this, that Dr Smith's sanction of public opinion, which he supposes to bind the masters together, is a very weak preventive indeed against the strong stimulus of jealous competition. The committee of a Trades' Union may govern the operatives by intimidation; the committee of a Masters' Union have no better resource than the censure of their own body, against which the 'nummi in arcâ' afford a very sufficient consolation.
Another reason which strongly militates against the possibility of effective combinations among the masters, supposing them shortsighted enough to believe that such combinations would eventually increase their profits, is to be found in the large amount of stock which each of them has invested in fixed capital, and the loss which is incurred by leaving it unemployed. The reasoning of Colonel Torrens, with respect to the effect of foreign competition, in underselling goods produced by high wages, is equally applicable here. For the same reason which, on the former supposition, would induce the Frenchman to submit to low profits in the first instance, in order to increase his speculations, the rival
manufacturer, in the present case, would be willing to give high wages, and win from the combiners the supply of the market. He would gain on his fixed capital more than he would lose on his floating capital. Hence in trades in which circulating capital is chiefly required, combination may and does take place with much greater facility among the masters; each has less temptation to overbid the other in the labour market; because any raising of wages is attended with much greater loss to him, than to the manufacturer whose capital is chiefly fixed. Therefore it is extremely probable that tacit combinations, of the nature described by Dr Smith, do frequently for a time raise profits in such employments above the ordinary level, to which the influx of fresh capital must speedily reduce them. This, perhaps, chiefly takes place in trades in which manufacture and retail dealing are combined; in which the producer disposes of the object produced to the consumer. Whether the journeymen tailors, on the occasion of their recent strike, were unreasonable or not in their demands (that they were so, few will hesitate in supposing, when it is known that the wages generally received in that trade, and which they struck to increase, are the same in 1834 as they were in 1815, when the prices of most necessaries were a third higher), there is no doubt that among the better masters-those who enjoy the monopoly profits which fashion gives-there is a combination, and that wages are in fact regulated less by supply and demand, than by the balanced leagues of employers and men. It is the consumer who really suffers, and in truth voluntarily suffers, as he is content to make to fashion the sacrifice of almost all the pecuniary saving which the general fall of prices ought to have secured him. But with manufacturers the case is widely different. Shops may be shut, and the capital usually laid out in wages, remain in the owner's pocket for a while; but factories cannot stand idle, or mines remain empty, without very serious loss. The old capitalist may hold out for a time, whether he endeavour to reduce wages, or to resist reasonable demands for raising them the speculator cannot; he has been at a great expense, and cannot forego the return; he will therefore inevitably underbid his competitor, by offering higher wages, until he reduces himself to the average rate of profit on his fixed and circulating capital together, which must eventually fix the maximum limit of wages.
To imagine, therefore, that a combination can exist to lower wages, we will not say among master manufacturers generally, but even among those of any trade in any single town, is a delusion. Most advantageous it would be to all, could it become generally known that such is the case. The general
perception of this one truth in commercial science, would save more suffering to the unfortunate operative, and his unhappy family, than the acquisition of any of those chimerical objects they now seek to attain. For it is important to observe, in justice to all parties, that many of the most obstinate Strikes of which the history has been recently before the public, and some which are animadverted upon as acts of great injustice on the part of the Unions, were, in fact, begun by the masters, not by the men. We are aware that these instances are exceptions; that, especially of late years, the Unions have generally commended turns-out when trade has been brisk, and wages naturally high: although any reader, from the first pages of the little pamphlet of Miss Martineau, would be induced to suppose the contrary. From a wish, we suppose, to address the men in conciliatory language, she condoles with them as a suffering race, who are induced to strike by the depression of their wages to the lowest possible point. Surely it was not necessary for her thus to represent the exception as the rule; nor will men of intelligence be attracted by an exaggerated statement of their case, while men of no intelligence will be captivated by the representation, but wholly neglect the moral. But some combinations, as we have said, have been occasioned by the inevitable lowering of wages. The great Strike among the spinners, in December, 1830, (by which fifty-two mills and 30,000 persons, according to the statement of the author of the second and third pamphlets on our list, were thrown into idleness for ten weeks,) occurred, we believe, in consequence of the masters having lowered wages, which happened, from some accidental cause, to be higher at Ashton and Stayley Bridge than in the neighbouring district. In 1829, their turn-out in Manchester was occasioned by a reduction, the necessary consequence of the depression of trade in the spring of that year. The famous Kidderminster Strike, in 1828, originated in the same cause. Undoubtedly, in none of these cases were the masters wilfully combining: they were merely endeavouring to save themselves from loss, or rather, to divide the loss between themselves and their men. But so long as the latter are under the erroneous impression, that their employers are everywhere in a confederacy against them, it would be too much to expect, that they should not adopt the same weapons, in what they must consider a case of self-defence. To endeavour to remove this impression, should be one of the first objects of those who seek to instruct the working classes; not to encourage the delusion, as interested men have done, when, in endeavouring to force on the manufacturers their projects for limiting the duration of labourprojects which, whatever may be their value, can never be carried
into effect without lowering real wages until seven halfpenny 'loaves are sold for a penny, and the three-hoop'd pot has ten hoops--they fraternize with the delegates of Trades'-Unions, and join in the common cry against the avarice of capitalists.
It is of equal importance to show, as all the authors whose productions are now before us have endeavoured in different ways to do, the manner in which a Strike among the workmen almost invariably counteracts itself. Not only are high wages, when enjoyed for a time, in consequence of a successful Union, usually followed by a slack trade, and diminished employment; but a still more valuable lesson may be learned, by observing, that the nominal high wages are in truth subject to proportionable deductions, occasioned by the consequences of the Strike. They are, in fact, reduced (as nearly as in so difficult a calculation it is possible to conjecture) to that amount at which the necessary regulators of wages-supply and demand-would have fixed them. This point, perhaps the most important which can be discussed with reference to Trades'-Unions, we have nowhere found so well stated as in the second pamphlet on our list; the author of which (Mr E. Tufnell) has qualified himself for its elucidation by a very extensive acquaintance with the condition of the several branches of our manufacturing industry, and sums up the evidence with equal intelligence and impartiality.
Where the workmen have succeeded in compelling their employers to raise wages, they have equally failed to derive benefit, or even to escape injury from the change, though it is of course more difficult in this case to trace the means by which this effect has been produced. It has either arisen from the high wages attracting more labourers to enter the trade in which they have been given, than can be supplied with work, and who, consequently, must be supported by those who get work, else the competition of their numbers will beat down the advance that has been obtained; in both which cases, the advance, or more than the advance, is instantly lost or it has arisen from the expense of maintaining the various burdens which a combination entails, such as clerks, secretaries, delegates, meeting-rooms, &c.—from the falling off of consumption, in consequence of the increase of price; and, therefore, less being manufactured, and less wages distributed among the body of the Unionists,from the driving away of the manufacture to other places,-from some one of these, or other causes, the advantage vanishes in the moment of expected fruition, and generally leaves the workmen in a worse state than before.'--P. 76.
When, therefore, it is asserted, that the Spinners' Union, for instance, and one or two others, have, in fact, eventually and permanently raised the rate of wages in their respective trades, this is the true answer-that the actual receipts of the workman are no greater than his natural wages would have been; the rest
is absorbed in what may be called the expenses of collection. These expenses, or deductions, have been stated to amount in some Unions to twenty per cent, besides occasional levies, and this statement we should think below the mark.
'By the evidence of a large Glasgow manufacturer, given before Parliament last session,' (says Mr Tufnell,) 'it appears that the spinners in that town have applied part of their funds towards paying the emigration expenses of some of their class, and in this way have got rid of oneeighth of their numbers.'-P. 96.
Here is an instance of a body of men uniting to raise wages, and then devoting the excess of those wages to the greatest service, perhaps, which, in the long run, they could render the country, as well as themselves. But is it not probable, that had they not procured the emigration of one-eighth of their number, the whole would have found work at wages lower than the combination rate by a less sum per man than that actually contributed towards their emigration fund? The same problem might be worked out in many ways. The chief laws of political economy, however darkly they may lead to their result, are as unchangeable as those of nature; and it would be as possible to make the quicksilver in the thermometer expand beyond the temperature of its atmosphere, as to fix wages at any other rate than that at which they would fix themselves, if undisturbed either by Unions or Acts of Parliament.
But the workmen go still farther, and lower wages beyond the natural limit, in their attempts to raise them; by the almost incredible expense entailed upon them under the sort of organization which it is their pleasure to form. Societies must have officers; officers must be supported out of the common funds; and their support must be, like that of other placemen, on a scale sufficient to render their offices worthy of acceptance. Thus a large body of men is interested in what is called in commonwealths the maintenance of established order; that is, the maintenance of the system which gives them dignity and profit. Hence, in the accounts of the Trades' Unions, from which many extracts lie before us, we find something equivalent to most of the items of a nation's expenditure. They have their public creditors in the parties out of work, who claim to be supported out of their funds. Their civil list, and their army and navy estimates,-the effective part of their disbursements-are represented by the sundry items of the necessary expenses of committees, stationery, newspapers, and advertisements. Their Parliaments, like those of America, are paid, and at a pretty high rate too. An account of one of the mostremarkable of these, the Spinners' Union Parliament, which met in the Isle of Man in 1829, to frame laws for the three kingdoms