Abbildungen der Seite

but to make goods as rapidly and abundantly as possible.

56. Piece-Work. Some trades unions endeavour to prevent their members from earning wages by piece work, that is, by payment for the quantity of work done, instead of payment for the time spent in doing it. If a man is paid tenpence an hour, whether he work quickly or slowly, it is evidently for his interest to work slowly rather than quickly, provided that he be not so lazy as to run a risk of being discharged. It is a well known fact that men employed on piece-work do much more work in the same time than those employed on time jobs, and it is altogether better that they should be paid by the piece when the work done can be exactly measured and paid for. The men earn better wages because they are incited to do so much more, and they earn it more fairly, as a general rule. Trades-unions, however, sometimes object to piecework, the reason given being that

akes the men work too hard, and thus injures their health. But this is an absurd reason; for men must generally be supposed capable of taking care of their own health. There are many trades and professions in which people are practically paid by the piece, but it is not found necessary to have trades-unions to keep them from killing themselves. There is more fear that people will work too little rather than too much.

The real objection which trades-unionists feel to piece-work is that it gets the work done quickly, and thus tends, as they think, to take employment away from other men. But, as I have already explained, men do not work for the sake of working, but for the sake of what they produce, and the more men in general produce, the higher wages in general will be. Tradesunionists put forward their views on the ground of unselfishness. They would say that it is selfish of Tom to work so as to take away employment from Dick and Harry; but they overlook the thousands of Toms, Dicks, and Harrys in other employments who get

small wages indeed, and who are perhaps prevented by their rules from earning more. If the nation as a whole is to be wealthy and happy, we must each of us work to the best of our powers, producing the wealth which we can best produce, and not grudging others a greater success, it Providence has given them superior powers. People can seldom produce wealth for themselves without spreading a greater benefit over society in general, by cheapening commodities and lightening toil.

57. The Fallacy of Equality. Workmen often show a dislike to allowing one man to earn more than another in the same shop, and at the same kind of work. This feeling is partly due to the mistaken notion that in doing more work than others he takes employment from them. It partly, however, arises from a dislike to see one man better off than his mates. This feeling is not confined to workmen. Any one who reflects upon the state of society must regret that the few are so rich, and the many so poor. It might seem that the laws must be wrong which allow such differences to exist. It is needful to reflect, therefore, that such differences of wealth are not for the most part produced by the laws. All men, it has been said, are born free and equal; it is difficult to see how they can be born free, when, for many years after birth, they are helpless and dependent on their parents, and are properly under their governance. No doubt they ought to become free when grown up, but then they are seldom equal. One youth is stout, healthy and energetic; another puny and weak; one bright and intelligent; another dull and slow. Over these differences of body and mind the laws have no power. An Act of Parliament cannot make a weak frame strong. It follows that in after life some men must be capable of earning more than others. Out of every thousand men and women, too, there will be a. few who are distinguished by remarkable talents or inventive genius. One man by patient labour and


great sagacity invents a sewing machine, a telegraph, or a telephone, and he thus confers the greatest possible advantage upon other men for centuries after.

It is obviously to the advantage of everybody that those who are capable of benefiting society should be encouraged to do so by giving them all the reward possible, by patents, copyright, and the laws of property generally. To prevent or discourage a clever man in doing the best work he can, is certainly no benefit to other men. It tends to level all down to a low standard, and to retard progress altogether. Every man, on the contrary, who is incited to work, and study, and invent to the utmost of his powers, not only earns welfare for himself, but confers welfare upon other people. He shows how wealth may be created abundantly, and how toil may be lessened. What is true of great ability and great inventions is true, also, of the smallest differences of power or the slightest improvements. If one bricklayer's labourer can carry up more bricks than another, why should he be prevented from doing it? The ability is his property, and it is for the benefit of all that he should be allowed to use it. If he finds a better way of carrying bricks, of course it should be adopted in preference to worse ways. The purpose of carrying bricks is to get them carried and benefit those who want houses. Everything which makes it difficult and expensive to build houses, causes people to be lodged worse than they otherwise would be. We can only get things made well and cheaply if every man does his best, and is incited to do so by gaining the reward of his excellence.

Every man then should not only be allowed, but should be encouraged to do and to earn all that he can; we must then allow the greatest inequalities of wealth ; for a man who has once begun to grow rich, acquires capital, and experience, and means which enable him to earn more and more. Moreover, it is altogether false to suppose that, as a general rule, he does this by taking wealth from other people. On the contrary, by accumulating capital, by building mills, warehouses, railways, docks, and by skilfully organising trades, he often enables thousands of men to produce wealth, and to earn wages to an extent before impossible. The profits of a capitalist are usually but a small fraction of what he and he cannot become rich without assisting many workmen to increase the value of their labour and to earn a comfortable subsistence.


in wages,


CO-OPERATION, &c. 58. Arbitration. We have now considered at some length the evils arising from the present separation of interests between the employed and their employers. The next thing is to discuss the various attempts which have been made to remedy these evils, and to bring labour and capital into harmony with each other. In the first place, many people think that when any dispute takes place, arbitrators or judges should be appointed to hear all that can be said on both sides of the question, and then decide what the rate of wages is to be for some time to come.

No doubt a good deal may be said in favour of such a course, but it is nevertheless inconsistent with the principles of free labour and free trade. If the judges are to be real arbitrators, they must have power to compel obedience to their decision, so that they will destroy the liberty of the workman to work or not as he likes, and of the capitalist to deal freely with his own capital, and sell goods at whatever price suits the state of the market. If wages are to be arbitrarily settled in this way, there is no reason why the same thing should not be done with the prices of corn, iron, cotton, and other goods. But legislators have long since discovered the absurdity of attempting


to fix prices by law. These prices depend entirely upon supply and demand, and no one is really able to decide with certainty what will be the conditions of supply and demand a month or two hence. Government might almost as wisely legislate about the weather we are to have next summer as about the state of trade, which much depends upon the weather, or upon wars and accidents of various kinds, which

one can foresee. It is impossible, then, to fix prices and wages beforehand by any kind of law or compulsory decision. The matter is one of bargain, of buying and selling, and the employer must be at liberty to buy the labour required at the lowest price at which he can get it, and the labourers to sell their labour at the highest price they can get, both subject of course to the legal notice of a week or fortnight.

59. Conciliation. Though the compulsory fixing of wages is evidently objectionable, much good may be done by conciliators, who are men chosen to conduct a friendly discussion of the matters in dispute. The business is arranged in various ways; sometimes three or more delegates of the workmen meet an equal number of delegates from the masters, who place before the meeting such information as they think proper to give, and then endeavour to come to terms. In other cases the delegates lay their respective views before a man of sound and impartial judgment, who then endeavours to suggest terms to which both sides can accede. If the two parties previously engage that they will accept the decision of this conciliator or umpire, the arrangement differs little from arbitration, except that there is no legal power to compel compliance with the decision. Discredit has been thrown upon this form of conciliation by the fact that the workmen have in several instances refused to abide by the award of the umpire when given against them, and of course it cannot be expected that masters will "ccept adverse decisions as binding under such cir

tances. Thus I am led to think that the con

« ZurückWeiter »