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THE DEMAND FOR AN Eight Hours Day. . The one demand of the laboring masses which to-day forces itself on the attention alike of the willing and the unwilling, is the rapidly growing international movement in favor of an Eight Hours Day.
In England and Scotland, in Australia and America, and throughout the Continent of Europe, the wage-earners are quickly coming to be unanimous on this point.
This has come about, not so much from the conviction that the present hours are injurious to health-though that in many cases is the fact—not so much from the theory that shorter hours mean higher wages - though that theory is in the main sound,—but from the strongly-felt desire for additional opportunities for self-cultivation and the enjoyment of life.
Men and women who toil for wages are everywhere growing tired of being only working animals. They wish to enjoy, as well as to dabor ; to pluck the fruits, as well as dig the soil; to wear as well as to weave. They are eager for opportunity to see more of the great world in which they live—a world of which many of them now for the first time hear from. books. On all sides there is an expansion of life. New possibilities of enjoyment, physical, emotional, intellectual, are daily opening for the masses. New aspirations are daily surging up. We need not wonder then that this generation is no longer content to live as its fathers and mothers lived. Hence in all classes the demand for leisure grows keener and keener. Both men and women are growing daily more conscious of the cruelty of a system which condemns them to a barely broken round of monotonous toil. Everywhere they begin fiercely to rebel against this system, and nerve themselves to prepare for its overthrow.
"Work we will,” they say in effect, if not in words, “ for we know that work is the condition of life. But we demand in return the wage for our work. Not mere money wage—for that by itself is useless—but the power and opportunity to enjoy the advantages which the labor of all of us has created.”
THE NEED FOR A SHORTER Day. This power and opportunity to enjoy the civilisation which labor creates is now denied to the great mass of the workers. In
• Fabian Tract No. 9, An Eight Hours Bill in the form of an amendment of the Factory Acts, gives practicable proposals for Eight Hours legislation. A brief summary of the arguments is contained in Fabian Tract No. 16, A Plea for an Eight Hours Bill. The whole subject is dealt with at length in the book entitled “ The Eight Hours Day," by Sidney Webb and Harold Cox (London, Walter Scott, price one shilling), which gives full particulars of the history of the Eight Hours Movement in all parts of the world, description of Foreign and Colonial Factory Laws, authentic accounts of the results where the Eight Hours Day has been tried, and an extensire list of publications on the subject.
many industries, practically the whole of their waking life is taken up in the mere struggle to live. Many thousands of them never see their little children out of bed. Nearly all of them are worked too. long for physical health.
Here are some cases of the hours of labor now being worked in Great Britain.
TRAMWAY WORKERS. The men who work on the tramcars in our cities are on duty for at least fourteen hours a day, without including meal times.. Many of them work longer even than this, and seven days a week.. One conductor in Bradford was found to be working regularly 115 hours a week, with no intervals for meals, at wages of three shillings a day. One town * in England works its own tramways. free from the control of profit-making shareholders. On this tramway the workers enjoy an Eight Hours Day.
RAILWAY WORKERS. The great Scotch strike of 1890-1 has made us all familiar with the monstrously excessive hours of nearly all grades of railway men. Particulars of their overwork are to be found in the Railway Companies' own returns to the Board of Trade.t
Nearly all the great Railway Companies have thousands of men at work for fifteen, and even eighteen hours at a stretch. Nor is. this made necessary by fogs or pressure of business. The London and South-Western Railway suffers from as many fogs as the rest, and is no less liable to sudden increase of traffic. But the London and South-Western Railway hardly ever keeps any engine-driver or signalman at work for more than twelve hours at a stretch. What. one company can do, the others could imitate if they liked; but they prefer to work with an inadequate staff.
This is how the North British Railway Company worked one of its firemen during the latter part of 1890 :1st fortnight ... ... 174 hours 9th fortnight ... ... 168 hours
... 193 , 11th
... 190 , 12th
... 254 , 16th
Average, 1851 hours per fortnight. No wonder that during 1889, one in seventeen of the brakesmen and goods guards, and one in eighteen of the shunters, employed in the United Kingdom, were injured by accidents. I
174 156 186 193 188
* Huddersfield. The Town Council nevertheless loses nothing by its/ generosity ; its tramways yield full interest on cost and show no deficit.
+ See Parliamentary Paper, c. 6158 of 1891.
Report to the Board of Trade, c. 6155 of 1890.
SHOP ASSISTANTS. The President of the Shop Hours Labor League tells us * that “the majority of shop assistants in this country work from 75 to 90 hours in every week. Of that majority one-fourth work the full 90 hours per week, two-fourths 80 hours, and the remaining fourth 75 hours.”
Here is one out of many cases :
"" William H., aged 22, grocer's assistant: Have been in three places since I was 15 years of age. My hours have been and are from 7.30 a.m. to 9.30 p.m., Fridays 10 p.m., Saturdays 12 p.m. At the end of the day my feet burn and my limbs ache. On Saturday it is something cruel. We have no holidays. I have known one death through the long hours, and many a one I have known broken down and be obliged to leave. It's very hard to have one's health ruined at the very beginning of life, and then having to go through the world with half a constitution.' i
WOMEN WORKERS. Women are, in many industries, protected against excessive hours of labor by the Factory Acts. But where these do not apply, or are not enforced, the women often have to work scandalously long hours. The washerwomen in little laundries rarely work less than 72 hours a week. Barmaids are often on duty for over 100 hours a week. Women in small shops suffer much from their excessively prolonged day. Doctors are unanimous in affirming the evil physical effects of this undue labor.
COAL MINERS. We are often told of the short hours which the coal miners have won for themselves. The Government returnť shows, however, that very few even of the coal hewers are underground for less than nine hours a day. The other workers in the mine are in the pit still longer. Only in Northumberland and Durham, where the masters have chosen to institute a double shift, do the coal hewers spend less than eight hours underground. The “ rulleymen " and boys in those mines work over ten hours underground.
OTHER WORKERS. Many other workers toil for excessive hours. The prosperous artisans who have nominally won the Nine Hours Day, form but a small minority of the wage earners. At Liverpool the bakers in 1890 worked on an average eighty hours a week. The "sweated " tailors in East London often work sixteen, or even eighteen hours out of the twenty-four. Nor are the worst scandals confined to the great towns.
The following instance of a contract actually put into writing, at Slough (Buckinghamshire), may be taken as typical of much unrecorded tyranny in the agricultural districts :
“I, WILLIAM BURTCHELL, agree to hire myself to Alfred William and Joseph Reffell for one year as carter at 7s. per week for the first half, 8s. for the second half-year, and £3 at Michaelmas, 11th October, 1891, to make myself generally useful at all kinds of work, and to do anything I am asked to do at any time. In
• " Death and Disease behind the Counter," by Thomas Sutherst (2 Harcourt Buildings, Temple, London, E.C.).
+ Paniamentary Paper, H.C., 284 of 1890.
case of illuess or accident I agree to support myself; to be in the stable at four o'clock every morning in order to get my horses ready for work by six o'clock; to rack up my horses every night at eight o'clock; to find my own whip, masters to keep it in repair; to get up in the morning when called by the carter; to be in every night by nine o'clock, except when required to be later by my masters; to clean boots and shoes on Sunday mornings.”
WHAT HAS ALREADY BEEN DONE TOWARDS GETTING
AN Eight Hours Day. Some shortening of the working day has already taken place. In some cases the employers have voluntarily conceded more leisure to their workers. In some industries Trade Union action has reduced the hours. Many thousands of workers now enjoy leisure secured to them by the Factory Acts for which their fathers fought. Let us see how much has yet been won by each of these methods.
(a) Voluntary Action by Employers. Little has been gained in the past, and little can be hoped for in the future, from the voluntary action of individual employers. Many capitalişts declare that they desire, in the abstract, a shorter working day; but few have had the courage to start it in their own works. Nor is this to be wondered at. Every employer is afraid of his rival's competition. No mill-owner dare run his mill only eight hours whilst other mills are running ten. No shopkeeper dare close his shop whilst his competitors remain open.
(6) Public Opinion. Nor does public opinion suffice to bring about voluntary agreement to shorten the hours of labor. Agreements among shopkeepers to close early, even on one night a week only, are continually breaking ciown.. Those who most relied on public opinion to bring about a shorter working day are now the most emphatic in their demand for more effective methods. The (London Early Closing Associetion, once resolute in its faith in moral suasion, now heartily sup: ports legislation. The Melbourne Early Closing Association has a a similar experience. The Secretary of this latter Association appeared to give evidence before the Royal Commissie
Asson on the Hours of Labor in Victoria, “expressed himself as opposedle innovation upon the tactics hitherto pursued, and more eshte to legislative interference with what he termed the libert subject. Subsequently a poll of the members of the Asso was taken as to the advisability or otherwise of regulating the of labor in shops by Act of Parliament, and resulted in 279 me voting for an Act of Parliament and only 48 against."
Thus, even in Australia, public opinion has been found in equate to secure a shorter day for the weaker workers. In Victor so complete had been the failure of over thirty years of volunta agitation that the Royal Commissioners unanimously reported to they were “convinced of the absolute necessity for legislative actio ... In proposing any remedy for the relief of employés in shor your Commissioners rely on the results of practical experience rath than on the theories of those political economists who hold tih legislative interference is in violation of the law regulating supn
oated public opinion will in time achieve all that is necessary; while others maintain that nothing more can be effected by moral suasion. Your Commissioners believe that moral force is devoid of the necessary potentiality to bring about the reform desired, and that an Act of Parliament alone can impart solidity and permanence to the Eight Hours Movement in connection with shops and similar establishments.".
If this is true in Victoria, how much more is it the case in England
(c) Trade Union Action. But we are often told that the English artisans have won a Nine Hours Day, and the Australians an Eight Hours Day, by trade union action. Why cannot all workers go and do likewise, and not “ go whining to the State"?
It is true that a series of successful strikes has brought about a nominal nine hours day in most English skilled crafts. But the gain has often been little more than nominal. Habitual overtime in many industries makes the day as long as before.
But only one out of nine of the English wage earners is organised into a trade union at all, and still fewer are members of a union strong enough to enforce any reduction of hours. What respon. sible person would venture to advise the tramway men, or the laundry women to strike for shorter hours, although they are members of well-organised trade unions ?
The trade unions themselves are rapidly coming to the opinion that only by legislation can a real and a general shortening of hours be secured. The Liverpool Trade Union Congress voted for an Eight Hours Bill. The Trades Councils of London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham, and Hull support the same aemand. Both unions of railway workers are now in its favor. The coal miners everywhere outside of Northumberland and Durham are almost unanimous op the subject. Democratic legislation is everywhere preferred to trade anion warfare.
But even if Trade Unions were powerful enough to secure a serious and effective reduction in the hours of labor, it may still be doubted whether it is to the interest of the community as a whole that the work of obtaining an Eight Hours Day should be left to them. The methods of Trade Unions are essentially the methods of war. A strike, with all the misery entailed, is the only effective instrument which Trade Unions possess for enforcing their will.
Few people realise how much misery a strike of necessity entails. The long, anxious waiting, the insufficiency of food, the cessation of every luxury, and the spectacle daily growing sadder of the home bit by bit bereft of all its little ornaments and comforts, while its Inmates, like its owner, are visibly suffering from downright starva. Lion : these are the trials imposed upon the workman and upon his family when a Trade Union asserts its independence by striking. lor are the workmen actually engaged in a strike the only members
• Employees in Shops Commission : Socond Progress Report, p. 5.-Victorian arliamentary Papers, 1883.