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SHALL WE LOSE OUR EXPORT TRADE ? This is for the workers in each industry to consider for themselves. The same fear has been expressed about every previous Factory Act: yet the successive reductions of hours in the textile factories have been followed by a rapid increase of textile exports. But even if it were true that any branch of our export trade depended on the overwork and degradation of our working population, we could afford to let that branch go, with the certainty of finding in our home markets better employment for the workers engaged in it. However, we shall always find that the easiest way to get Greek currants and Jamaica sugar is to buy them with our own productions. The fear of foreign competition is used as a bogey to frighten the workers in every country. The French coal miners are told that unless they work themselves to death they must starve to death, because of “ English competition.” Will our coal miners let themselves be frightened by the same story?
BUT WILL NOT PRICES RISE AND DEMAND FALL OFF ? Not unless the total national production falls off; and this, we have seen, is not likely to happen. As regards purchasing power, what the capitalists may lose in profits the workers will gain in wages. Even if it should happen that here and there three fashionable ladies spend less on their caprices while thirty artizans spend more on their comforts, the “market” would be none the worse for that; and the country would be much the better for it, whatever the three fashionable ladies might think. If, in the aggregate, production and demand are not altered, there is no reason why prices generally should rise or fall. Some prices may go up, while others go down, as they are doing every day from changes of fashion, commercial panics, and one cause or another.
Thorold Rogers said : “No one believes that if the London seamstresses, tailors, and matchbox-makers received double the wages which they do at present, there would be an appreciable difference in the price of the products sold, or any present risk that any of those industries would cease to be plied in this country."— Work and Wages (abridged edition), p. 203.
BUT WILL NOT OUR CAPITAL BE SENT ABROAD ? Neither the Ten Hours Law nor the Nine Hours Day has had this effect. Victoria, with its Eight Hours Day, has enormously increased its capital. The rate of interest in England is uniformly lower than elsewhere, and yet the emigration of capital which has hitherto taken place has been a mere overflow of surplus annual savings. Quite three-fourths in value of what is called oapital (includ. ing, that is, the land, mines, railways, harbors, buildings of all kinds): is absolutely incapable of emigration. Other nations, indeed, are in creasing their factory legislation parallel with our own advance, so that the gap is not by any means widening. A revolution in Brazil or a panic in Argentina is, moreover, far more potent in discouraging foreign investments than any difference in the rate of interest. The notion of any important emigration of capital in consequence of an Eight Hours Bill appears, indeed, as chimerical as the same threat proved
to be in the cases of the Ten Hours Bill and the general Nine Hours Movement.
OBJECTIONS TO LEGISLATIVE ACTION. Few persons, nowadays, confess to any opposition to an Eight Hours Day: what the manufacturer now says is, that he objects to an Eight Hours Law.
WHY NOT LET EACH MAN SETTLE HIS OWN HOURS ? The ordinary journalist or Member of Parliament says: “I don't consult anyone except my doctor as to my hours of labor. That is a matter which each man must settle for himself." You never hear that said by a working man belonging to any trade more highly organised than chimney-sweeping. When the carrier drove his own cart, and the weaver sat in his cottage at his own loom, they began and left off work at the hours that suited them, each man pleasing himself. Now the railw worker or the power-loom weaver knows that he must work the same hours as his mates.
The industrial revolution which became general in the United Kingdom during the eighteenth century, and is now rapidly becoming universal, has swept away this individual liberty in all the main occupations of industrial life. The worker, in most of the great manufacturing industries of advanced communities, must now begin and leave off work at the sound of the factory bell or steam“hooter," over the times of which he feels that he has as little individual control as over the sunrise. To fix by law the working hours of a journalist or a doctor would diminish his personal liberty of action; to hasten by Act of Parliament the welcome signal for the close of thefactory day would increase the personal liberty of the operative. At present the latter has practically no control over his working hours. What he wants is a share in settling how long those hours shall be.
How ABOUT PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE ? Some people are afraid that an Eight Hours Bill would destroy the personal independence of the English working man. Yet they know that the Factory Acts, which nominally apply only to women and children, really limit the hours of every man who works in a cotton-mill. Have the Lancashire operatives less personal independence than they had when their masters fixed the hours of labor at fifteen per day? Are the East-end tailors really freer than the men who work under the Factory Acts in the Yorkshire cloth mills? Mr. Mundella is no bad witness on such a point, and his testimony is emphatic. Writing in 1873, he says :
An argumeni which is freely advanced against the interference of the State with the relations of capital and labor, is that it tends to undermine the indepen. dence and self-reliance of the class which it seeks to protect, and teaches them to look to the State rather than to their own exertions to remedy evils requiring redress. My answer to this is, that the factory operatives of Lancashire and Yorkshire have made greater advances in self-reliance and independence during the past fifty years than any other class of English operatives. Building and benefit societies, co-operative associations, both for distribution and production, have taken their rise and flourish amongst them on a scale of magnitude unknown in any other part of the United Kingdom.
Why, indeed, should it injure the personal independence or the valiant self-reliance of working-men voters for them to fix by law their own hours of labor ? Why should all the moral qualities of manliness be supposed to depend, in some mysterious way, upon the worker being exposed to long hours or any other form of industrial tyranny? No! Personal independence is produced, not by overwork and fear and suspicion, but by bodily and mental health, by regularity of life, and by that feeling of security which comes when humane conditions of employment are guaranteed to the workers by the only power which they know to be stronger than their masters :: and that is the Power of the Law.
THE NEED FOR GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE. It may, indeed, be contended that the prevention of excessive: hours of labor is one of the essential duties of Government in an. advanced industrial community. It is universally admitted to be the: primary duty of Government to prescribe the plane on which it will allow the struggle for existence to be fought out. Of course, the fittest. to survive under the given conditions will inevitably survive, but the: Governinent does much to determine the conditions, and therefore to. decide whether the fittest, by the test of conflict, shall be also the best then and there possible. We have long ruled out of the conflict. the appeal to brute force, thereby depriving the strong man of his natural advantage over his weaker brother. We stop, as fast as we: can, every development of fraud and chicanery, and so limit the natural right of the cunning to overreach their neighbors. We prohibit. the weapon of deceptive labels and trade-marks. In spite of John Bright's protest, we rule that adulteration is not a legally permissible: form of competition. We forbid slavery : with Mill's consent, weeven refuse to uphold a life-long contract of service. The whole history of Government is, indeed, one long series of definitions and limitations of the conditions of the struggle, in order to raise the. quality of the fittest who survive. This service can be performed only by Government. No individual competitor can lay down therules for the combat. No individual can safely choose the higher: plane, so long as his opponent is at liberty to fight on the lower. Thehonesty which is the best policy is merely just so much honesty as. will not let you fall flagrantly out at elbows with your neighbors.. It is for the citizens collectively, through their representatives inı Parliament, to do what neither the employers nor the employed can, do individually. Law is but the expression of the common will, and there is no reason why it should not express our common will as to the hours of our labor, just as it does our common will on other points..
It may, however, be admitted that the demand, which has marked the present century, for a more general regulation of the hours and conditions of labor, does represent a marked advance: upon previous conceptions of the sphere of legislation. Such an. extension of collective activity is, it may safely be asserted, ani inevitable result of political Democracy. When the Commons of England had been granted the right to vote supplies, it must have seemed an unwarrantable extension that they should claim also to. redress grievances. When they passed from legislation to the
exercise of control over the Executive, the constitutional jurists were aghast at their presumption. The attempt of Parliament to seize the command of the military forces led to a civil war. Its authority over foreign policy is scarcely two hundred years old. Every one of these developments of the collective authority of the nation over the conditions of its own life was denounced by great authorities as an illegitimate usurpation. Every one of them is still being resisted in countries less advanced in political development. In Russia, it is the right to vote supplies that is denied : in Mecklenburg, it is the right freely to legislate; in Denmark, it is the control over the Executive ; in Germany, it is the command of the army; in Austria, it is the foreign policy of that composite Empire. În the United Kingdom and the United States, where all these rights are admitted, the constitutional purists object to the moral competence of the people to regulate, through their representatives in Parliament, the conditions under which they work and live. Although the tyranny which keeps the tram-car conductor away from his home for 17 hours a day is not the tyranny of king, or priest, or noble, he feels that it is tyranny all the same, and seeks to curb it as best he can. The step which these Anglo-Saxon communities are taking unavowedly, and often unconsciously, a smaller Republic expressly enshrines in its constitution. The Swiss Federal Constitution explicitly declares the competence of the legislature to enact statutes “relating to the duration of the work which may be imposed upon adults.” The English workman now demands a similar advance.
PRACTICAL PROPOSALS. The leaders of both political parties are continually proclaiming: Only let the working classes declare what they want, and we will carry it out at once." The working classes are beginning to declare pretty clearly. a want for legislation to shorten the working day. If the party leaders are fit for anything, they ought to be fit to put such a demant into practical shape. If not, the thing has been done for them often enough already. For instance, if it is desired to limit the hours worked by state and municipal employés, they will find that the State of California has enacted that :
Eight hours labor constitute a legal day's work in all cases where the same is performed under the authority of any law of this State, or under the direction, control, or by the authority of any officer of this State acting in his official capacity, or under the direction, control, or by the authority of any municipal corporation within this State, or of any officer thereof acting as such; and a stipulation to that effect must be made a part of all contracts to which the State or any municipal corporation therein is a party.
If the almost unanimous demand of the miners for an Eight Hours Bill is to be carried into effect, Mr. W. Abraham, M.P. for Glamorganshire, has introduced a Bill which runs :
A person is not, in any one day of twenty-four hours, to be employed under. ground in any mine for a period exceeding eight hours from the time of his leaving the surface of the ground to the time of his ascent thereto, except in case of accident. Whenever any employer or his agent employs, or permits to be employed, any person in contravention of this enactment, he is to be liable to a penalty not exceeding 40s. for each offence. This penalty is to be recovered in the same manner in which any penalty under the Acts relating to factories and workshops is recoverabin.
After the significant debate in the Houso of Commons (23rd January, 1891) on the hours of railway servants, it is now quite certain that some legislation on the subject will take place. The Fabian Society's Bill contains clauses in the following form :
No person employed wholly or mainly to work railway signals or points shall de employed continuously for more than eight hours, nor for more than fortyright hours in any one week.
No person employed as engine-driver, firoman, guard, or wholly or mainly in shunting, on any railway, shall be employed continuously for more than twelve bours, nor for more than forty-eight hours in any one week.
If a more extensive Bill is wanted, so that legislation shall automatically follow on the expressed wish of the majority of any trade, the « Trade Option" clauses of the Fabian Society's Bill are ready for use.
But the exact form of the Act of Parliament is of no great importance at the present moment. What is now wantod is not only that every workman should insist on a promise from his Parliamentary candidate that he will support an Eight Hours Bill, but that even when such a pledge is given by a party candidate, the worker should still threaten to withhold his confidence until the pledge is confirmed by some public utterance on the part of the official leaders of the candidate's party.
Members of Parliament and candidates are coming reluctantly io recognise the need for conforming to the popular will. An Eight Hours Bill has now become a political necessity. But let no one imagine that its enactment will accomplish all that is needed. It will not make the three-hooped pots to have ten hoops, nor endow as with a new heaven and a new earth. It will do little to remedy the evils caused by the great disparity of incomes, or by the individaal ownership of the means by which the worker lives. It will not restore to social health a “submerged tenth" wasted by the demoralisation of extreme poverty, or the results of drink and disease. But if it secures for millions of tired workers an hour or two of leisure which would otherwise have been spent in toil; if it enables many who would otherwise have plodded the daily round of monotonous labor to obtain access to some share in that larger life from which they are now relentlessly excluded ; if it protects the future generations of the race from physical degradation or mental decay; if it makes brighter the lives of those who have toiled that a small class among us might have education, and holidays, and culture ; if it accomplishes only partially some of these great ends, an Eight Hours Bill will be no mean achievement even for the greatest statesman, and no unfitting close to the century of the Factory Acts.