Зображення сторінки
PDF

seem shadowy and unsubstantial. New men taken on in an emergency do as much work, and perhaps do it as well, as the old. The conditions of the business, the natire of the products, are not such as to make it worth while to retain a workman at any great sacrifice, so long as another of the same industrial grade can be had.

In other branches of industry, however, the advantages which have been enumerated are not only substantial but of great importance. At times, indeed, they are recognized in the grading of wages somewhat according to the length of service; and probably few employers of labor in these branches would deny that the reason of the case would justify that system being carried much further than it is. Yet, while the distinct acknowledgment of the advantages of continuity of employment, by money payments proportioned to length of service, is still highly exceptional, it may be said that these advantages are almost as a rule recognized by employers in a preference given to their older employees in the event of a reduction of force; and since, as has been shown heretofore, regularity of employment is to be taken into account in reducing nominal to real wages, we may fairly say that these advantages are actually paid for in no inconsiderable amount.

Yet, though workmen are thus compensated through money payments, or, more frequently, by preference given them in reductions of force, for the power they have acquired, through continuance in employment, of rendering a higher quality of service; in general, at least, there is strong reason to believe that they are not paid as much on this account as the considerations adduced would warrant. The force of custom, the jealousy of fellow-employees, the stress of trades-union regulations,1 and, not least, the failure of the employer to recognize the full merit of the workman and the degree in which it contributes to his own success; these latter, in connection with the master's knowledge that, though the workman may take from him these advantages, he can not carry them to any one else, are in a great majority of cases sufficient to keep the remuneration of the higher grades of labor from rising proportionally to their real worth. Yet we can not doubt that the employer's conscious interest in the continuity of employment does enter,1 in almost every issue joined between him and his workmen, as an element in deduction from the computed difference between the wages paid and the wages demanded. Few masters in any branch of industry could contemplate the sudden change of their entire laboring force as less than a business calamity, while in many branches of production it would involve great loss if not ruin. Partial changes may indeed be effected without actual sacrifice of capital, but not without a marked increase of labor and of anxiety on the part of employers.

1 Many trades unions or societies disavow the purpose to prevent workmen of exceptional merit from receiving wages above the average.

1 A very striking demonstration of the importance of this consideration in many branches of industry is to be seen by the most casual observer in the phenomenon of a part of the laborers in a trade wholly unemployed. Why are not all employed at lower prices? This would be the effect of simple competition. The answer is found partly in the force of personal consideration and respect arising out of acquaintance and association; but mainly in the employer's interest in the continuity of employment. He could not afford for a short time to take on new hands even at lower rates.

CHAPTER XVII.

WHAT MAY PLACE THE WAGES CLASS AT A DISADVANTAGE?

We have seen (Chapter X.) that the only security which the wages class can have that they shall receive the largest possible remuneration which is compatible with the existing conditions of industry, is found in their own perfect mobility. Without this, they are clearly subject to reductions of wages under pressure, to be succeeded only too surely by industrial degradation (Chapter IV.). And it is further evident that it matters not, in the result, whether the total or partial immobility of labor be produced by physical causes, by the force of positive law, or by fear, ignorance, or superstition. Any thing which deceives the sense of the wage-laborer or confuses his apprehension of his own interest may be just as mischievous, in a given case, as bodily constraint.

Following out this line of thought, we find that the wage-laborer may be put at disadvantage,

I. By laws which act in restraint of movement or contract. Such laws may not be prohibitory, but merely regulative in their intention, and yet retard more or less seriously the passage from occupation to occupation, or from place to place. Even the mere necessity of registration imposed must have an effect, ♦however slight, in the nature of obstruction; and unless it can be shown1 that, by increasing the intelligence and confidence with which

2 See p. 169.

changes of location or of occupation may be effected, it more than compensates for the degree of hindrance and irritation which the merest act of registration involves, it must be condemned as prejudicial to the wages class, whose supreme interest is the easy, ready flow of labor to its market.

But it is not of such incidental or perhaps wholly undesigned mischief that labor has had chiefly to complain in the past Those countries are very young whose history does not afford repeated instances of direct and purposed obstruction to industrial movement and contract, in the interest of the employing class, which has generally been largely identical with the law-making class. The vicious maxims of English legislation in this respect extended even to the American colonies, free as they kept themselves otherwise from the industrial errors of the mother country, and laws in regulation of service and of wages remained long on the statute-books of these enlightened communities.

A brief recital of the English legislation in restraint of the natural rights of labor will not prove uninstructive.

After the frightful plague, called the Black Death, which swept over England in 1348-49, carrying away "perhaps from one third to one half of the population,"1 wages rose, from the temporary scarcity of labor, to rates previously unknown; nor can it be doubted that laborers, thus by a great accident made for the time masters of the situation, assumed a tone which employers relished quite as little as they liked their higher terms. To meet this exigency,3 Edward III. issued a proclamation forbidding the payment of more than customary wages,3 and requiring workmen to serve in their accustomed place. About a year later, the disputes which arose in determining what wages had been customary before the plague led to the enactment of a law (25 Edward III.) fixing for the whole kingdom the precise amount to be paid in wages in each of the principal occupations. Servants were to be "sworn two times in the year before lords, stewards, bailiffs, and constables of every town to hold and do these ordinances." . "And those

1 Rogers, Hist, of Agr. and Prices.

2 "Because a great part of the people, and especially of workmen and servants, late died of the pestilence, many, seeing the necessity of masters and great scarcity of servants, will not serve unless they receive excessive wages," etc., etc.

3 Namely, those wages which had been paid in the 20th year of King

which refuse to make such oath, or to perform that that they be sworn to or have taken upon them, shall be put in the stocks by the said lords, stewards, bailiffs, and constables of the towns by three days or more, or sent to the next gaol, there to remain till they will justify themselves." The statute prescribed the "liveries and wages" of "carters, ploughmen, drivers of the plough, shepherds, swineherds, deies, and all other servants" in husbandry; of "carpenters, masons and tilers, and other workmen of houses," including their " knaves," and of "plaisterers and other workers of mudwalls and their knaves."1

But by the 13th year of Richard II. Parliament had ac

Edward's reign, or the average of " five or six other common years next before."

11 select the following examples from the laws of the Massachusetts Colony:

1630, 23d August.—" It was ordered that carpenters, joiners, bricklayers, sawyers, and thatchers shall not take above 2s. a day; nor any man shall give more, under pain of 10s. to taker and giver."

28th September.—" It is ordered that no master carpenter, mason, joiner, or bricklayer shall take above 16d. a day for their work, if they have meat and drink, and the second sort not above 12d. a day, under pain of 10s. both to giver and receiver." •

Two other acts had been passed of a similar nature, when, on the 22d March, 1631, the General Court "ordered (that whereas the wages of carpenters, joiners, and other artificers and workmen were by order of court restrained to particular sums) shall now be left free, and at liberty as men shall reasonably agree." In September, however, the Court suffered a relapse, and for four years longer continued to fix specifically the wages of labor.

« НазадПродовжити »