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Thirdly (what has been intimated above), that there is really no limit to the principle of association among wage-laborers, and no reason, in the nature of the case, why every branch of industry, even to the day-laboring class, should not be protected by similar organizations and regulations. The recent extension of agricultural unions ainong the scattered farm-laborers of England is pointed to with not a little force as proving the adaptation of the system of industrial federation to conditions the least favorable. When, then, it is said all industries are thus organized and established, none will be at advantage or disadvantage relatively to another, but all will be at an advantage with respect to the employing class. Meanwhile the result of universal federation would not be hastened but retarded by our relaxing our restrictions and abandoning the good principle. It is wholesome rigor which we exercise; our measures seem selfish, and indeed they are taken with consideration only of our own interests, but the results are sure to favor the whole cause of labor.
In each and all these claims there is enough of truth to entitle them to somewhat more respectful treatment than has been accorded them. The student of history recognizes that the ancient guilds of which the tradesunions are the indirect successors performed a high office in their time.' Selfish as were the aims and proscriptive as were the methods of the guild, it had yet its part to play in the strife of the people against king and priest and noble; and it played that part, on the whole, well. Selfish and proscriptive as the modern trade-union has
I “Although it is undoubtedly true that in a normal condition of society the system of protection and monopoly, of which the corporations were the very ideal, is extremely unfavorable to production, in the anarchy of the Middle Ages it was of very grea. use in giving the trading classes a union which protected them from plunder and enabled them to incline legislation in their favor."--Lecky's History of Rationalism, ii. 240.
been, it has curbed the authority of the employing class which sought to domineer not in their own proper strength, but through a cruel advantage given them by class legislation, by sanitary maladministration, and by laws debarring the people in effect from access to the soil. My difference with such defenders of trades-unions as Mr. Thornton is merely as to the time when these should be put away as an outgrown thing. I find no ground for expecting any benefit to the wages class as a whole, from restricting the access to professions and trades in any country where education is general, where trade is free, where there is a popular tenure of the soil, and where full civil rights, with some measure of political franchises, are accorded to workingmen.
But it is as associations for legislating respecting the methods and courses of industry, that trades-unions acquire their highest importance.
Strong as the passion of meddling is in all political communities, it appears nowhere so strong as in organizations of workingmen; mischievous as have been the restrictions upon trade and industry, imposed in the past by governments, it would be difficult to match some of the latest trades-union edicts out of the statutes of Edward III. and Richard II.
The Reports of the British Commissioners (Sir William Erle, chairman) of 1867 show that there were in force among trades-unions rules like the following, to be enforced, wherever the unions should find themselves strong enough, by fines levied on the masters, or by strikes :
Prohibiting a man from employing his own brother or son, or even from laboring with his own hands at his own work, unless duly admitted to membership of the proper trade society.
Prohibiting a workman to work out of his trade, so that a mason may not, for the shortest time, do the least part of the work of a bricklayer, or a bricklayer undertake the smallest casual patch of plastering or of stone-laying, or a carpenter finish a remnant of bricklayer's or mason's work, and if called in to fit a door or set a post, he may not, if he find the space accidentally left too small, remove so much as one loose brick, but must wait for the appropriate artisan to be summoned.
Prohibiting a workman, where an assistant is usually required, to be his own assistant, for never so small a job or short a time, so that a plasterer, called to a piece of work where an assistant would not be actively employed for one eighth of the time, must still come attended by his “homo,” who, if he can not be kept usefully busy, will, for the good of the craft, remain dignifiedly lazy during the whole operation.
Prohibiting any one to be known as an exceptionally good workman in his trade; against walking fast to the place of work when in the employer's time; against carrying more than a certain load, as eight brick at a time in Leeds, ten brick in London, or twelve brick in Liverpool.
Prohibiting use to be made or advantage taken of natural agents, of improved machinery, or of special local facilities. Thus we have regulations against brick being wheeled in a barrow instead of being carried in a hod, for no other reason alleged than that brick can be wheeled more easily than carried; against brick being made by machinery or stone dressed by machinery, so that inventions of vast capability remain almost unused in England; against stone being dressed, even by hand, at the quarry where it is soft and can be easily worked.
Prohibiting with more than Chinese intolerance the use within small districts, arbitrarily circumscribed, of material produced outside, so that brick can not be carried into Manchester from brickyards distant only four mile3 without the certainty of a strike; prohibiting an employer from taking a job outside the place of his own residence, unless he shall take with him at least one half the workmen to
be employed; prohibiting members to work for any gentleman, at any job whatever, who finds his own materials or does not employ a regular master in the trade to find the same;" and, finally, making war at every stage upon “piece-work.”
It is not to be understood that any one society has adopted all these rules, or that all societies have adopted any one of them; but, to a very great extent, rules like those recited, and many others quite as minutely restrictive, are enforced by the whole striking-power of the trade.
All such regulations and restrictions must clearly be judged by the principle which has been applied to State legislation on similar subjects. If they can be shown, beyond any reasonable doubt, to be correspondent to human infirmities in such a way that labor, on the whole and in the long run, has actually a freer resort to its best market by reason of them, then they stand justified on economical grounds. But if they are not thus required to correct liabilities which threaten the mobility of labor, they must be pronounced as mischievous as they are irritating and insulting. And this liability and strong proclivity of associations of workingmen to intermeddle and dictate concerning the methods and courses of industry must be accepted as a valid, practical argument from human nature against trades-unions.
THROUGHOUT the foregoing discussions I have written un. der a constant sense of my accountability as a teacher of political economy. I have adduced no causes, recognized no objects, but such as I deemed to be strictly economical. No ethical or social considerations have moved me consciously in the composition of this work. Causes have, it is true, been here adduced which are not commonly recognized as economical, but it has only been where reasons could be shown sufficient, in my judgment, for attributing to these causes, which are perhaps primarily ethical or social, a clear potency within the field of industry, affecting either the production or the distribution of wealth; for I hold that it can not be questioned that whatever affects either of these is, in just so far, an economical cause. Thus, sympathy for labor (pp. 362–372), if it serves in any degree to make competition on the side of the laboring class more active and persistent; if it takes any thing from the activity and persistency with which the employing class use the means in their power to beat down wages, or lengthen the hours of work, or introduce young children into painful and protracted labor, becomes, in just so far as it has such an effect, a strictly economical cause, to be recognized, and, so far as may be, its force measured, by the writer on the distribution of wealth. The economist recognizes indolence (pp. 174, 175), the indisposition to labor, as an economical cause, holding men back from the acquisition of wealth which they might obtain but for the force of this principle. Why is not public opinion, restraining men, as it so largely does, from the acquisition of wealth by means held to be dishonorable or oppressive to the weaker classes of the community, also and equally to be recognized as an economical cause ?