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The view that the reduction of hours of labour and the increase of wages secured during the past half century has been due to any very large extent to the action of trade unions may probably be subject to modification ; but among other tendencies, the tendency to corporate action has unquestionably eventuated in the labourer being placed in a position of greater advantage than he formerly was in making his bargain. When we realise that the employer on any large scale controls, as a rule, not alone his own capital, but the combined capita's of many persons, and when we find that he employs not the labour of one man, but the labour of a great number of men, we see at once that he represents a combination “more compact than any trades union is likely to be.' 2 The development of the banking system and the system of credit has rendered the large industry possible, but it has destroyed the small master, and by so doing has changed the plane of competition.
The labour market without combination became relatively overstocked with sellers, while the buyers became relatively fewer. It is true that they bought in the aggregate more largely 3 than the larger number of small masters under the preceding system, but the relative smallness of their numbers operated as a restriction of the market as regards buyers. The only counterpoise to this, apparent to the present generation of labourers and capable of prompt application, is combination.
(1). “Whether the employer be an individual or a corporation, it is as though there were but one man wielding the force of the entire capital of a productive establishment, in the effort to secure advantageous terms from the workmen. If now the workmen act not collectively, but individually, if they compete vigorously with each other for employment, they divide their force against themselves, assist the capitalist, and forfeit all hope of a successful issue of the contest. The army of labour fires, as it were, into its own ranks.
The strategic inequality in the position of capitalists and labourers would be at a maximum if there were but one employer in locality, and if employees were numerous, unorganised, and unable to emigrate. If, in addition to this, the ethicoeconomic rule of “every man for himself"-were a recognised principle of action, the result would be a society composed indeed of men, but completely dehumanised in its organic action. It would be a collective brute.
A maximum of justice in distribution is attained where the brute forces are evenly matched, and where moral influ. ences are efficient. A minimum of justice results where brute forces are unequal, and moral forces are wanting."- Prof. J. B. Clark. “The Philosophy of Wealth," p. 133.
(2) Cf. Prof. Marshall, Address B. A.,, p. 8: “There was not only a class injustice but a logical confusion, in prohibiting combinations among workmen, on the ground that free competition was a good, and that combination being opposed to free competition was for that reason an evil."
(3) That is, machinery increased employment.
It is quite erroneous to suppose that combination and competition are mutually exclusive. A combination, as in a jointstock company is, indeed, formed, as a rule, to employ the methods of competition more effectively than they can be employed by individual members of it; and the same may be said of trade unions. The trade union, however, serves several distinct purposes. First, it is a combined mutual life, health, and annuity society. Second, it is a society for the insurance of regularity of employment. Third, it is a combination of men who, by clubbing their resources, place a reserve price upon their labour.)
To many it may seem superfluous to enter upon discussion of a question to which it would appear as if there could only be one answer, namely, that anti-combination laws have been tried and have failed, that combination is not now likely to be prohibited by law, and that therefore its justification, economic and otherwise, is unnecessary. But during the past few weeks the prevalent feeling among the commercial classes has undoubtedly been that as regards those employed in what have been described as socially necessary functions, combinations ought not to be allowed. But the prohibition of it in such cases, while it prevails in others, places the public service at a serious disadvantage in the labour market. As a practical question, it is clear that prohibition of the social right of combination as regards the servants of railway, gas, and water corporations would be accompanied by increase of wages as a countervailing inducement to recruits, by reduction in the quality of the workmen employed, or by rebellion.
Now, it may plainly be suggested that the Scottish railway strike was due not to the strength of the combination among the railway servants, but to the weakness of it?; that the refusal to recognise and to treat with the Union amounted to a
(1) On certain ill effects of unionism, see Donisthorpe's " Individualism: A System of Politics," page 220.
(2) Had the Union been strong enough to secure a preponderating number of notices from the general body of railway servants, it would have been simply suicidal for the companies to have permitted a strike.
practical though ineffectual prohibition of it; and that each of the three results of prohibition did actually take place. First, wages were necessarily to some extent and in some grades increased. Second, the quality of the workmen in other grades was reduced by changes; and third, the conditions of work becoming more severe, the men rebelled. The notorious severity of the work on the Scottish lines and the uncertainty of promotion rendered it difficult for one of the railways, at least, to get an adequate staff of efficient and experienced servants. This want of inducement to recruits was at once the reason of the strike and the reason of the utter collapse of the railway service which followed it. Given a choice of employments, an efficient worker will choose that employment which offers him the most advantageous terms. When, therefore, a railway company hampers itself by prohibition of combination, a priociple frankly acknowledged by almost every other industry, and then further hampers itself by excessive severity of work, it must give high wages or it loses the best of its men, gets relatively inferior men to replace them, degrades the remainder of its employees, and, by severity of work beyond a certain point, forces them into rebellion.
Besides the feeling that combination among railway servants, ought by some means to be prevented by law, the companies being unable of their own action to prevent it, there was also the feeling that the strike of railway servants presaged a general uprising of labour against capital, and that in resisting the claims of the men, the companies were fighting the battle of the commercial world against the New Unionism. Time alone
(1) The deteriorating influence upon skilled labour of excessive strain and irritating conditions is analogous to the deteriorating influence upon unskilled labour of irregularity of employment. There was a very large proportion of young men on strike. These were the men who really made it. They carried everything before them at the meetings, many of the older men having left the service, or having received increased wages, or having been reduced to a condition of chronic despair.
(2) A not unfair analogy may be traced in the disregard and miscalculation of physical forces which led to the collapse of the Tay Bridge; and in the disregard and miscalculation of physiological and social forces which led to the collapse of the railway system. Both mistakes have been costly. Even Boards of Directors find it hard to contend against Istar.
can show whether or not there is any foundation for this dread. Meanwhile, it may be noted that the railway servants are among the least likely to be leaders in an uprising of labour. They are very loosely bound together in their union; their experience of corporate action is slender in the extreme ; their notorious want of leisure has prevented them from study. ing, even had they been so disposed, the questions with which recent labour struggles have familiarised other workers.
Moreover, the years 1889 and 1890 were prolific in strikes. The working class is heartily weary of the worry of them, so that, unless some specially deep-seated grievance arises into prominent notice, there is little likelihood of the feeling of fear having any speedy justification in fact. It is, however, to be remembered, that we are probably on a downward curve of trade fluctuation, and that this is generally productive of trade disputes. Wisely conducted and strongly supported unions, with appeals to arbitration where disputes cannot be prevented otherwise are the visible palliatives. Their judicious exercise may enable us to get round awkward corners.
While resistance to sectional combinations, whether of labour or capital, is inexpedient as a general prirciple, it would appear as though the trade union and the joint-stock company, however they may develop, do not supply a permanent solution of the labour problem, though they may contain the germs of a mediate solution. The difficulty, so far as both of these forms of combination are concerned, is, that men position of considerable power are apt to use it badly, whether this power is possessed by them because they have been entrusted with large masses of capital, or whether they feel, perhaps, in an exaggerated form, the irresistible force of their labour combination. Meanwhile, the existing checks to these tendencies-publicity and criticism-may well be applied constantly, and much may be hoped from the growing discredit which is overtaking short-sighted self-regarding and socially injurious action on the part of individuals or of corporations.
CALEDONIAN, 871 12,930 690 18,739 22,367 12,981 3,827 16,808 24,360 44,808 1,234 47,152
1,046 13,720 628 21.848 27,665 11,710 3 924 15,635 24,897 42,232 1,612 44 457 70*7 G. & S.-WESTERN, 347 5 330 | 301 17,708 10,676 4,262 2,212 5,475 18,124 12,039 729 13,341 44'0
Cols. I., II., III.. V., VI., VII., X., XI. and XII. are extracted from Parliamentary Returns, C. 6118. The other columns are calculated from these.