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The operation of the system on the industry of the labourers is equally disastrous. It has reduced the earnings of the sober and industrious to the same level as those of the profligate and idle. The conduct of a labourer is no longer regarded in determining his wages. These have been made to depend on the tables put forth by the magistrates, by whom all classes-the prodigal and the parsimonious, the careless and the diligent, the able-bodied and the feeble, are put on the same footing! Were the allowance-tables entitled, Rules for the Discouragement of Industry and Providence, and the Encouragement of Idleness and Improvidence, they would be pretty correctly described.
In many districts, bodies of labourers, under the name of roundsmen, or gangs, are sent round to the farmers, and receive always a part, and sometimes the whole, of their subsistence from the parish, while working upon the lands of individuals. The farmer is thus tempted either to dismiss altogether, or greatly reduce the wages of the regular labourers in his employment. In the South, every sort of industrious undertaking is either carried on by means of paupers or helots, or the wages of those who carry it on are reduced by their competition. The magistrates and overseers fix the tariff of human subsistence. Its amount is not determined by the fair competition of the parties, on the principle of contending interests and compromised advantage. Owing to the factitious increase of population caused by the allowance-system, the labourer is without the means of stipulating for wages. He must take what is offered to him; and the magistrates have only to consider, how far they may go in reducing the allowances without exciting a bellum servile.
Mr Senior has made some very pertinent and striking observations on this subject, in the preface to his valuable Lectures on Wages. In the natural state,' says he, of the relation between the capitalist and the labourer, where the amount of 6 wages to be paid, and of work to be done, are the objects of a 'free and open bargain; where the labourer obtains, and knows that he is to obtain, just what his services are worth to his ' employer, he must feel any fall in the price of his labour to be an evil, but is not likely to complain of it as an injustice. Greater exertion, and severer economy, are his first resources in distress; and what they cannot supply, he receives with
ledge of the just principles of public economy than any other statesman of his time, pointed out, with a prophetic and powerful pen, the consequences of this tampering, in his Tract entitled Thoughts and Details on Scarcity.
' gratitude from the benevolent. The connexion between him ' and his master has the kindliness of a voluntary association, ' in which each party is conscious of benefit, and each feels that his own welfare depends, to a certain extent, on the welfare ' of the other. But the instant wages cease to be a bargain, the 'instant the labourer is paid, not according to his value, but his 'wants, he ceases to be a freeman. He acquires the indolence, the rapacity, and the malignity, but not the subordination, of 'a slave. He is told that he has a right to wages, but that he is bound to work. Who is to decide how hard he ought to 'work, or how hard he does work? Who is to decide what ' amount of wages he has a right to? As yet the decision has been made by the overseers and the magistrates. But they 'were interested parties. The labourer has appealed to force to 'correct that decision.'
It may appear astonishing that a system productive of such results should have been allowed to grow up; but it will appear so to those only who do not reflect on the circumstances which gave it birth, and who are unacquainted with the causes of its being continued. It was entered into from benevolent motives. Unhappily, however, the ignorance of the magistrates and the legislature of all those principles that ought to have guided their proceedings, in endeavouring to provide for the exigencies of the poor, has changed their intended benevolence into a bitter curse. And the system, once established, has been continued, because the farmers contrived to throw a portion of the burdens growing out of it upon others; and because of the difficulty of dealing with the mass of pauperism it has engendered.
Had the employers of labour been always identical with the payers of the rates, there is reason to think that the allowance system would never have made any considerable progress, and that it would long since have been rooted out. But, in consequence of all sorts of fixed property being assessed to the poor's rate, a large proportion of the wages of farm labour is, in many cases, paid by those who have no concern with agriculture; and hence it is that this system combines injustice to others with degradation to the poor. Its tendency is, to rob the former and enslave the latter.
Lest readers resident in those happy districts into which this system has not been introduced, should accuse us of exaggerating its pernicious influence, we beg leave to lay before them the following extract from the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Labourers' Wages, printed in 1824. It is highly deserving of attention.
VOL. LIII. NO. CV.
The evils which follow from the allowance system may be thus enumerated :
1st, The employer does not obtain efficient labour from the labourer whom he hires. In parts of Norfolk, for instance, a labourer is quite certain of obtaining an allowance from the parish, sufficient to support his family; it consequently becomes a matter of indifference to him, whether he earns a small sum or a large one. It is obvious indeed, that a disinclination to work must be the consequence of so vicious a system. He whose subsistence is secure without work, and who cannot obtain more than a mere sufficiency by the hardest work, will naturally be an idle and careless labourer. Frequently the work done by four or five such labourers does not amount to what might easily be performed by a single labourer at task-work. Instances of this fact are to be found in the evidence, and in the statement of all persons conversant with the subject.
2dly, Persons who have no need of farm labour, are obliged to contribute to the payment of work done for others. This must be the case wherever the labourers necessarily employed by the farmers, receive from the parish any part of the wages which, if not so paid, would be paid by the farmers themselves.
3dly, A surplus population is encouraged; men who receive but a small pittance know that they have only to marry, and that pittance will be augmented in proportion to the number of their children. Hence the supply of labour is by no means regulated by the demand, and parishes are burdened with thirty, forty, and fifty labourers, for whom they can find no employment, and who serve to depress the situation of all their fellow-labourers in the same parish. An intelligent witness, who is much in the habit of employing labourers, states, that when complaining of their allowance they frequently say to him, "We will marry, and then you must maintain us.”
4thly, By far the worst consequence of the system is, the degradation of the character of the labouring class.
There are but two motives by which men are induced to work ; the one, the hope of improving the condition of themselves and their families; the other, the fear of punishment. The one produces industry, frugality, sobriety, family affection, and puts the labouring class in a friendly relation with the rest of the community; the other causes, as certainly, idleness, imprudence, vice, dissension, and places the master and the labourer in a perpetual state of jealousy and mistrust. Unfortunately, it is the tendency of the system of which we speak, to supersede the former of these principles, and introduce the latter. Subsistence is secure to all; to the idle, as well as the industrious; to the profligate as well as the sober; and, as far as human interests are concerned, all inducement to obtain a good character is taken away. The effects have corresponded with the cause. bodied men are found slovenly at their work, and dissolute in their hours of relaxation; a father is negligent of his children; the children do not think it necessary to contribute to the support of their parents; the employers and the employed are engaged in perpetual quarrels, and the pauper, always relieved, is always discontented; crime ad
vances with increasing boldness, and the parts of the county where this system prevails are, in spite of our jails and our laws, filled with poachers and thieves.
The evil of this state of things has often induced individuals to desire further means of punishing labourers who refuse or neglect to work, and the legislature has sometimes listened with favour to such proposals; but we are persuaded, that any attempt to make the penalties of this kind more efficacious, would either be so repugnant to the national character as to be totally inoperative, or, if acted upon, would tend still further to degrade the labouring classes of the kingdom.'
After this authoritative exposition of the mischiefs arising from the allowance system, need we add, that its abolition is the imperative duty of the legislature? We say abolition; for nothing short of this can be of any material service. Labour is a commodity; and, as such, an article of commerce, and ought to be left, like every thing else, to find its own fair value in the market. It is not possible that the interference of the magistrate, in adjusting the terms of the contract of employment, can be otherwise than pernicious. His compulsory equalisations extinguish industry on the part of the poor, and prevent competition on the part of their employers. They give to the former the vices of slaves, to the latter, those of petty despots. And instead of wondering at the outrages and atrocities that have recently been perpetrated, our only wonder is, that they did not break out sooner, and have not been ten times more extensive and appalling.
But though a legislative fiat gave birth to the allowance system, such a fiat cannot extinguish it. Wherever it has been long acted upon, there is a considerable excess of labourers, or a considerable number of labourers for whose services there is no effective demand. Suppose it were enacted, that henceforth no able-bodied labourer, engaged in any sort of regular industry, should be entitled to any allowance from the parish, and that all those who were not so employed should be separated from the others, and employed as paupers by the parish, the allowance given to the latter would determine the wages of the former. For, in the first place, if this allowance were higher than the wages paid to free labourers, the latter would immediately become so careless and indolent, that their employers would be obliged to dismiss them, or, which is the same thing, to hand them over to the pauper gang;' and, in the second place, supposing the allowance given to paupers to be less than the wages of labourers, the former would go to the farmers, and, by offering to work for them at less than they are paying, would sink the rate of wages to the level of the parish allowance. It is therefore quite impossible to establish a system of free competi
tion in the adjustment of wages in parishes where there is an excess of labourers. The rate of wages in them must inevitably correspond with the allowance given to paupers; they are not places in which superior industry and ingenuity in the labouring class can obtain any reward; the wages and the performances of the gangs' at public works, are there the only standards by which to measure the wages and the work of others.
In order, therefore, to pave the way for the abolition of that helotism now so prevalent in England, means must be resorted to for the disposal of the labourers for whose services there is no real demand. Now, this, it is plain, can only be done in one of two ways; that is, either by placing them on unoccupied and uncultivated lands at home, or by removing them to the colonies. But the first of those modes would really occasion an aggravation of the mischief; we should be merely shifting the locality of the disease; exciting, after the manner of the fashionable quacks of the day, an ulcer in one part of the body politic, by way of curing an inflammation in another. If we locate the labourers at home, the lands assigned to them must, speaking generally, be of a decidedly inferior quality to the worst of those that are now cultivated; for, had it been otherwise, they would have been occupied in preference. They will, consequently, obtain less for their labour than the occupiers of the poorest lands obtain at present. We shall thus reach a lower step in the descending scale, and lay the foundation of a frightful increase of pauperism. It is, indeed, most probable, that the condition of the persons located on such inferior lands would be so very bad, that, unless they were cooped up in Mr Owen's parallelograms, or reduced, like the Dutch pauper colonists, to a state of predial slavery, they would quit their situations, and return to beat down the wages of the ordinary labourers by their competition. These effects might not be manifested for a year or two; but we are to look at the ultimate and lasting, and not at the immediate and transitory, effects of such a system. And if we do this, and consider the disastrous influence that a forced cultivation of poor land would have on the condition of the labourer, and the rate of profit, we must be satisfied, that it would be in the last degree injurious.
Luckily, however, the other method for effecting the removal of the surplus labourers would have none of these disadvantages. Emigration would be beneficial to the emigrants themselves, by conveying them to countries where none but good lands are cultivated, where labour is in extensive demand, and where every industrious individual would have a reasonable prospect of attaining to a state of comfortable independence.