Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

trade could not stand them; rightly enough if they were taking a long view, but without much immediate justification if their profits in 1919 and 1920 are any indication of what trade could stand. The close and continuous contact between trade union officials and employers, which normally enables them to gauge pretty accurately how far they can go without provoking a rupture, had been interrupted by the period of Government control of wages. Both sides, therefore, were almost compelled to question every rate; a stoppage was often the only means of ascertaining what rate the trade would bear. We were, for the time being, faced with the question, What is a fair wage ? and compelled to consider, by such machinery as the Sankey Commission and the Shaw Court of Enquiry, what the absolute level of wages in essential industries ought to be. The problem of wages as a whole came up on every particular wage dispute.

There is not much prospect of a return even to the qualified peace that characterised industrial relations before the war, until something like the pre-war stability of wages is restored. This involves two things : the rates must be adjusted to the normal commercial needs and possibilities of each industry, and the relations between them must be such as the workers accept as reasonable. At present the worker's mind is still influenced by the system of pre-war relations; progress towards adjusting wages to a commercial basis outrages his sense of equity wherever that adjustment has meant a reduction in the scale. Hence there is no finality about these adjustments, and they will be challenged so soon as the unions feel strong enough to challenge them. Employers as well as workers are dominated by these pre-war notions, and complain that workers in other trades have not made the sacrifices that their own have made to reduce costs and revive industry. Yet it is on the face of it in the last degree unlikely that the system of rates that represented a fair adjustment to commercial needs before the war will have the same validity in the changed post-war world. The need is not to restore the pre-war system, but to secure a post-war system with the same stability as the pre-war system. To do this, the chief need is to get clear the changes, permanently affecting wages, that the war has brought about. The war interrupted the process of continuous adjustment to economic changes in the wage system and accelerated economic change; there was, therefore, at the end of the war an accumulation of changes to which wages had to be adjusted, and there can be no stability in wages until these changes are recognised, adjustments made

where they are necessary, and, a matter of equal importance, the necessity of modifications recognised where these have already been made.

II

Obviously it would require the resources of a Government department or a Royal Commission to survey the changes adequately. I can hope only to indicate the chief among them, without much detail. They can, I think, be conveniently brought under four heads : occupational distribution, organisation, markets, and nature of work.

Perhaps the most important effect of the war for the postwar generation is the change it brought about in the distribution of population among occupations. The war gave an abnormal stimulus to certain industries, the exigencies of war starved other industries of their normal development. And the war lasted long enough—about the duration of an ordinary apprenticeship—to make these influences effective. The following table brings together the chief changes in the occupational distribution of which we have information :

[blocks in formation]

Even more striking is a comparison made by Professor Bowley 1 between the shift of population into certain industries and the increase in the population.

[blocks in formation]

It is clear that the war diverted a large part of the labour of the country from the occupations into which the normal needs

1 The Third Winter of Unemployment, J. J. Astor and others, chap. ii.

of commerce would have drawn it into the industries required by the war. The influence of this diversion is the greater since in certain directions it accentuated pre-war tendencies that were already operating to depress wages in certain occupations and raise them in others. 1

The effects of this occupational redistribution could be traced further if we had the results of the 1921 Census. In printing, for example, wages have risen relatively; this rise has coincided in the areas for which we have the Census returns with a decline in the number of compositors.

An increase in numbers is not always accompanied by a relative fall in wages. In the case of the railway workers numbers have increased, and yet wages are relatively higher. This may illustrate the influence of the second set of changeschanges in organisation. It will be generally admitted that wage-rates are much influenced by trade union organisation and other methods of collective bargaining. An organised trade is likely to secure a higher rate than an unorganised one would in circumstances otherwise similar; standard rates will have a wider authority and be more uniformly observed where the organisation extends over the whole of a trade and is not confined to a few favoured districts. Organisation is a condition of obtaining the highest wage that the trade at any moment will bear, and it is a means by which one trade secures better terms than other trades in the competition of all trades for the joint product of all.

The war and the post-war boom affected the relative strength of different organised groups in several ways. In the first place it gave certain trades, which had recently extended and improved their organisation, an opportunity of exploiting their new powers more favourable than they could otherwise have hoped for.

1 The movement into certain industries before the war was as follows :

United Kingdom : Males aged 10 years and upwards occupied.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Coal and Shale

Mines . . . Metals, Machines, Implements and

Conveyances . Ships and Boats.

only . . . . Building and Con

struction All occupied Males

181

[blocks in formation]

1,672,000

163,000 1,208,000 14,308,000

[blocks in formation]

14]

The railwaymen and the miners were the most important groups under this head. In both cases the trade-union organisation on the eve of the war had recently made itself national in its scope, and had defined a national programme, directed to securing improved rates and conditions and some approach to uniformity throughout the country. The Government control of the railways and the mines, with its pooling of the receipts of hitherto independent concerns, made this greater uniformity possible. Probably Government control also made it easier to raise wages; marginal firms no longer held down rates, political pressure could be added to economic pressure, the Government dare not, when irresponsible private employers would have dared, face a strike in an essential industry. It is significant that the Cabinet dare not even subject the mining industry to the jurisdiction of the Committee on Production, although the basis of its policy of wage control was to use the Committee on Production as the final unifying authority on wages. While, however, miners and railwaymen both gained from Government control during the war, the gains they were able to retain were very different. In the case of the miners, unification of the industry, which was essential if anything like uniform standards and conditions of labour were to be established, and which Government control involved, has been swept away. Forced to accept wages based on the commercial results of the industry organised once more on its pre-war basis, the miners have found the industry's profits and their wages reduced by the slump, for which the Government's mismanagement of the industry's markets was at any rate partly responsible, and have retained of their gains only the shorter working day and a wider district basis for wages. The railwaymen have retained relatively more; a re-classification of grades that meant a general levelling up of wages, a wage agreement that ensures a considerable advance on pre-war real wages, and a shorter working day, representing a much greater increase in labour cost, since it is not possible in railway working, as in mining, to increase production to a point at which the rate of output compensates for the reduction in hours. The reason of the difference is no doubt partly that mining is directly, and the railway industry only indirectly, dependent on export markets ; but mainly that the unification of the railway industry effected during the war has not been allowed to lapse, the four groups under the Railways Act, with their statutory right to profits on the pre-war scale, constituting as effective a monopoly, from the point of view of the worker who is organised to share monopoly gains, as the Government control. The mining industry has got rid of the new labour that poured in during the war, the demand for its products continues to grow; it may be expected, therefore, when trade improves, to resume the advance in wages and conditions that the war first accelerated and then checked. The railwaymen have probably achieved a permanent improvement in their position, even if they do not retain all their war-gains.

A second change in the organisation of labour, due to the war and likely to effect wages permanently, is the greatly improved organisation of general, so-called unskilled and semi-skilled, labour. For a number of reasons the war gave an enormous stimulus and support to the efforts of the general labour unions to extend their organisation. The depression of the last two years has caused a large falling off in membership; but the improved union framework survives, the membership is much greater than ever before the war, and the novel experience of union membership persists as a memory among millions of hitherto unorganised workers. Now it may be doubted whether differences of skill in the past would have had the influence they seemed to have on wages, if skill had not been backed by organisation. To-day the inequalities in organisation have been largely redressed, and it is unlikely that the disparity of earnings between so-called “skilled ” and “ unskilled ” workers will be as great again as it was before the war.

A third way in which a change in organisation has affected wages is in the great extension of the legal regulation of wages. The Government found itself compelled to fix by authority the wages of ill-organised and unorganised women workers on munitions during the war. By the Wages (Temporary Regulation) Act it continued this protection for a year after the war. Since then it has provided a permanent safeguard, in the extended Trade Board system, against individual bargaining and the exploitation of the weakest wage-earners. If the use of Trade Boards, not only to protect unorganised workers, but to make effective standard rates in partly organised trades, survives the attacks that are being made upon it, the disparity in bargaining strength between trades that before the war were effectively organised and trades that were not will have been still further reduced.

To my third and fourth heads, markets and nature of work, I can do no more than refer. The former requires an examination of the world economic situation that would take too long, the latter a technological survey of industry that only technological

« НазадПродовжити »