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BIAS OF THE WORKING CLASSES.
on the average, the same throughout all ranks; it seems to us clear that if the rich, when they have the opportunity, make laws which unduly favour themselves, it must be concluded that the poor, if their power was in excess, would do the like in similar ways and to a similar extent. Without believing that they would knowingly enact injustice, we believe that they would be unconsciously biased by personal considerations, and that our legislation would err as much in a new direction as it has hitherto done in the old.
This abstract conclusion we shall find confirmed on contemplating the feelings and opinions current among artisans and labourers. What the working classes now wish done, indicates what they would be likely to do, if a reform in the representation made them preponderate. Judging from their prevailing sentiments, they would doubtless do, or aid in doing, many things which it is desirable to have done. Such a question as that of Churchrates would have been settled long ago had the franchise been wider. Any great increase of popular influence, would go far to rectify the present inequitable relation of the established religious sect to the rest of the community. And various other remnants of class-legislation would soon be swept away. But besides ideas likely to eventuate in changes which we should regard as beneficial, the working classes entertain ideas that could not be realized without gross injustice to other classes and ultimate injury to themselves. There is among them a prevailing enmity towards capitalists. The fallacy that machinery acts to their damage, is still widely spread, both among rural labourers and the inhabitants of towns. And they show a wish, not only to dictate how long per day men shall work, but to regulate all the relations between employers and employed. Let us briefly consider the evidence of this.
When, adding another to the countless errors which it has taught the people, the Legislature, by passing the Ten-Hours-Bill, asserted that it was the duty of the State to limit the duration of labour, there naturally arose among the working classes, the desire for further ameliorations to be secured in the same way. First came the formidable strike of the Amalgamated Engineers. The rules of this body aim to restrict the supply of labour in various ways. No member is allowed to work more than a fixed number of hours per week; nor for less than a fixed rate of wages. No man is admitted into the trade who has not “ earned a right by probationary servitude.” There is a strict registration, which is secured by fines on any one who neglects to notify his marriage, removal, or change of service. The council decides, without appeal, on all the affairs, individual and general, of the body. How tyrannical are the regulations may be judged from the fact, that members are punished for divulging any thing concerning the society's business; for censuring one another; for vindicating the conduct of those fined, etc. And their own unity of action being secured by these coercive measures, the Amalgamated Engineers made a prolonged effort to impose on their employers, sundry restrictions which they supposed would be beneficial to themselves. More recently, we have seen similar objects worked for by similar means during the strike of the Operative Builders. In one of their early manifestoes, this · body of men contended that they had “an equal right to share with other workers, that large amount of public sympathy which is now being so widely extended in the direction of shortening the hours of labour :” thus showing at once their delusion and its source. Believing, as they had been taught by an Act of Parliament to believe, that the relation between the quantity of labour given and the wages received, is not a natural but an artificial
CLAIMS OF OPERATIVE BUILDERS.
one; they demanded that while the wages remained the same, the hours should be reduced from ten to nine. They recommended their employers so to make their future contracts, as to allow for this diminished day's work: saying they were “so sanguine as to consider the consummation of their desire inevitable:” a polite way of hinting that their employers must succumb to the irresistible power of their organization. Referring to the threat of the master-builders to close their works, they warned them against “the responsibility of causing the public disaster” thus indicated. And when the breach finally took place, the Unionists set in action the approved appliances for bringing masters to terms, and would have succeeded had it not been that their antagonists, believing that concessions would be ruinous, made a united resistance. During several previous years, master-builders had been yielding to various extravagant demands, of which those recently made were a further development. Had they assented to the diminished day's work, and abolished systematic overtime, as they were required to do, there is no reason to suppose the dictation would have ended here. Success would have presently led to still more exacting requirements, and future years would have witnessed further extensions of this mischievous meddling between capital and labour.
Perhaps the completest illustration of the industrial regulations that find favour with artisans, is supplied by the Printers' Union. With the exception of those engaged in The Times office, and in one other large establishment, the proprietors of which successfully resisted the combination, the compositors, pressmen, etc., throughout the kingdom, form a society which controls all the relations between employers and employed. There is a fixed price for setting up the type so much per thousand letters: no master can give less, no compositor being allowed by the
Union to work for less. There are established rates for press-work, and established numbers less than which you cannot have printed, without paying for work that is not done. The scale rises by what are called “tokens” of 250; and if but 50 copies are required, the charge is the same as for printing 250; or if 300 are wanted, payment must be made for 500. Besides regulating prices and modes of charging to their own advantage, in these and other ways, the members of the Union restrict competition
, by limiting the number of apprentices brought into the business. So well organized is this combination that the masters are obliged to succumb. An infraction of the rules in any printing-office, leads to a strike of the men; and this being supported by the Union at large, the employer has to yield.
That in other trades, artisans would, if they could, establish restrictive systems equally complete with this, we take to be sufficiently proved by their often repeated attempts. The Tin-plate-Workers' strike, the CoventryWeavers' strike, the Engineers’ strike, the Shoemakers' strike, the Builders' strike, all show a most decided leaning towards a despotic regulation of trade-prices, hours, and arrangements—towards an abolition of free trade between employers and employed. Should the men engaged in our various industries succeed in their aims, each industry would be so shackled as seriously to raise the cost of production. The chief penalty would thus fall on the working classes themselves. Each producer, while protected in the exercise of his own occupation, would on every commodity he bought have to pay an extra price, consequent on the protection of other producers. In short, there would be established, under a new form, the old mischievous system of mutual taxation. And a final result would be such a diminished ability to compete with other nations as to destroy our foreign trade.
DESPOTISM OF TRADES-UNIONS.
Against results like these it behoves us carefully to guard. It becomes a grave question how far we may safely give political power to those who entertain views so erroneous respecting fundamental social relations, and who so pertinaciously struggle to enforce these erroneous views. Men who render up their private liberties to the despotic rulers of trades-unions, seem scarcely independent enough rightly to exercise political liberties. Those who so ill understand the nature of freedom, as to think that any man or body of men has a right to prevent employer and employed from making any contract they please, would almost appear to be incapacitated for the guardianship of their own freedom and that of their fellow-citizens. When their notions of rectitude are so confused, that they think it a duty to obey the arbitrary commands of their union-authorities, and to abandon the right of individually disposing of their labour on their own terms—when, in conformity with this inverted sense of duty, they even risk the starvation of their families, when they call that an “odious document” which simply demands that master and man shall be free to make their own bargains-when their sense of justice is so obtuse that they are ready to bully, to deprive of work, to starve, and even to kill, members of their own class who rebel against dictation, and assert their rights to sell their labour at such rates and to such persons as they think fitwhen in short they prove themselves ready to become alike slaves and tyrants, we may well pause before giving them the franchise.
The objects which artisans have long sought to achieve by their private organizations, they would, had they adequate political power, seek to achieve by public enactments. If, on points like those instanced, their convictions are so strong and their determination so great, that they will time after time submit to extreme privations in the