Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER XIX.

MAY ANY ADVANTAGE BE ACQUIRED BY THE WAGES CLASS

THROUGH STRIKES OR TRADES-UNIONS ?

It was seen in our analysis of the operation of competition (Chapter X.) that the members of the wages class on their side, and the members of the employing class on theirs, act singly, each for himself, with individual spontaneity; and that out of this complete mobility of the individual, in subjection only to his own sense of his own interest, issue the highest conceivable industrial order and an absolutely right division of burdens and diffusion of benefits.

The question in the present chapter is, whether, there being an acknowledged failure of competition, greater or less, on the side of the wages class, from ignorance, inertia, poverty, or the undue anxiety of individuals to snatch, each for himself, at the first employment offered, any thing can be added to the real power of this class in competition, through restraints voluntarily adopted. The perfect reasonableness of supposing that some advantage might be derived by the wages class from such arrangements, will be seen if we compare their situation with that of an audience seeking to escape from a crowded theatre which has taken fire. There may be time enough to allow the safe discharge of every soul, and in that case the individual interest of each person clearly coincides with the interest of the audience taken collectively, namely, that he should fall-in precisely according to his present situation relative to the common place of exit. Yet we know that, human nature being what it is, panic is likely to arise and a crazy rush ensue, cach trying to get before his neighbor, with the certain result that the discharge of the whole mass will be impeded, and the strong probability that not a few will be trampled to death. If now, upon men in such a situation, discipline can be imposed, and the procedure which is for the interest alike of each and of all can be allowed to go forward steadily, swiftly, and surely under authoritative direction, a great deal of misery may be prevented. Discipline, restraint, create no force, but they may save much waste.

In just such a situation, say those who are the professed advocates of the “cause of labor," is the wages class in many if not in most communities. Grant that the true interest of each member consists with the interest of the whole, no one will assert that each man's interest, as he may understand it and be prepared to act on it, necessarily consists with the good of all. When industry slackens and employment becomes scarce, there is the same danger to the mass, from the headlong haste and greed of individuals, as in the case of the theatre just referred to. A mistaken sense of self-interest may even pervert competition from its true ends, and make its force destructive. If, then, it is urged, bodies of labor can be put under discipline so that they shall proceed in order and with temper, great injury may be averted : injury which once wrought may become permanent.

There is, surely, nothing unreasonable in this claim. Let us, therefore, without prejudice proceed to consider the agencies by which, under this plan, it is proposed to meet the infirmities of the laboring classes.

The issue is not whether joint action is superior to the individual action of persons enlightened as to their industrial interests, but whether joint action may not be better than the tumultuous action of a mass, each pursuing his individual interest with more or less of ignorance, fear, and passion.

The question of strikes has generally been disposed of by economists with a summary reference to the doctrine of the wage-fund. Strikes could not increase the wage-fund, therefore they could not enhance wages. If they should appear to raise the rate in any trade, this must be due either to a corresponding loss in the regularity of employment or to an equivalent loss, in regularity or in rate, by some other trade or trades occupying a position of economical disadvantage. Hence, strikes could not benefit the wages class. But we have rid ourselves of the incubus of the wage-fund; and the question of strikes is, therefore, with us an open question as yet. We have seen' that the amount of wages received by the laborer may be insufficient to furnish the food necessary to his maximum efficiency, and that an increase of wages might, by increasing his laboring power, increase the product not only proportionally, but even more than proportionally, under-feeding, whether of men or cattle, being admittedly false economy. If a strike should enable a body of laborers to secure such an advance against the reluctance of their employers, it might easily turn out that the masters would not only not be injured, but would be benefited in the result. The same would be true of an advance of wages which allowed the workmen to obtain more light and warmth and better air in more commodious dwellings. The same might prove to be the case with an advance of wages which merely stimulated the social ambition of the workmen, the wages of labor being, in the language of Adam Smith, “the encouragement of industry, which, like every other human quality, improves in proportion to the encouragement it receives.” The same would probably be the result, though after some delay, of an advance of wages

[ocr errors]

which enabled workmen to send their children to school, thus bringing them into the mill or shop, a few years later, far more intelligent and physically more capable than if they had been put at work at seven or eight years of age. It might easily prove, according to the principles which have been laid down respecting the efficiency of labor, that such expenditures would be found to be the best investment which the employer ever made of the same amount of money, giving him industrial recruits of a much higher order.

I might multiply illustrations showing how an advance of wages which masters were unwilling to concede, and which workmen through their isolated and mutually jealous and suspicious action would be unable to command, if effected through united action might prove to be for the interest of both masters and men.

By others, again, the question of strikes is dismissed with the assertion that they generally fail of their objects. “Never, in any case,” says Mr. R. W. Hopper, “has an extensive strike resulted in an advance of wages.” To a request to act in a mediation between masters and men, Lord Cranworth replied, “In the game, so to say, of combination the workmen eventually fail." M. Théodore Fix, in his work Les Classes Ouvrières,' writes: “ After making vast sacrifices, the workmen almost invariably succumb.”

1 Fortnightly Review, August, 1865.
9 Statistical Journal, xxx. 5.
3 P. 194.

Doubtless a much larger proportion of the earlier than of the later strikes in England were attended by immediate success. The reason may be presumed to be that, after the repeal of the Combinations Acts in 1824, the workmen struck simply for bread enough to eat. They had been held down by law and ground by an unequal competition till they were reduced below the economical point of subsistence. As to this the testimony of all reports is unanimous. Strikes made for such a palpable cause are more likely to succeed than those which are made, as many of the later ones have been, for doubtful reasons, on ill-chosen occasions, or for the enforcement of trades-unions rules which must appear to any disinterested person as void of sense and against common justice.

Granting that this is so in the sense in which the terms are used—that is, that in the great majority of cases workmen making a demand and seeking to enforce it by a strike, are beaten, and, after the exhaustion of their resources, have to go to work again on their master's terms—is this quite conclusive of the whole question? The argument used against strikes is, it will be observed, much the same as that which was formerly employed by reactionary essayists, and even admitted with reluctance by many liberal writers, in proof of the failure of the French Revolution. The StatesGeneral had been succeeded by the Assembly; the Assembly by the Convention; the Convention by the Directory; the Directory had been turned out by the First Consul ; the First Consul had been made Consul for life; the Consul had become Emperor; the Emperor had been driven from France; and after an interval of insolent foreign domination, a legitimate prince, unrestrained by a single constitutional check, untrammelled by a single pledge, led back priest and noble, unforgiving and unforgetting, to resume their interrupted license. There had been revolution after revolution; constitution after constitution; there had been proscriptions, confiscations, and massacres; there had been untold loss of blood and treasure; and in the end a king had returned who did not accept a constitution, but conferred a charter.

It is not an inspiring thonght that arguments like these were for a whole human generation held sufficient to prove that the French Revolution was a mistake and a failure;

Prof. Fawcett, in his Political Economy, has collected a number of instances of strikes immediately successful. The best succinct account of the strike-movement in England which we have met is contained in Ward's Workmen and Wages. The same work also contains much information respecting strikes and trades-unions on the Continent of Europe.

« НазадПродовжити »