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a man ought to have what he ought to have. There is no way of deciding what is a fair day's wages. Some workmen receive only a shilling a day; others two, three, four, or five shillings; a few receive as much as ten, or even twenty shillings a day; which of these rates is fair? If the saying means that all should receive the same fair wages, then all the different characters and powers of men would first have to be made the same, and exactly equalised. We have seen that wages vary according to the laws of supply and demand, and as long as workmen differ in skill, and strength, and the kind of goods they can produce, there must be differences of demand for their products. Accordingly, there is no more a fair rate of wages than there is a fair price of cotton or iron. It is all a matter of bargain; he who has corn or cotton or iron or any other goods in his possession, does quite right in selling it for the best price he can get, provided he does not prevent other people from selling their goods as they think best. So, any workman does quite right in selling his labour for the highest rate of wages he can get, provided that he does not interfere with the similar right of other workmen to sell their labour as they like.
TRADES-UNIONS. 47. The Purposes of Trades-Unions. Working-men commonly think that the best way to raise their earnings is to form trades-unions, and oblige their employers to pay better wages. A tradesunion is a society of men belonging to any one kind of trade, who agree to act together as they are directed by their elected council, and who subscribe money to pay the expenses. Some trades-unions are very different from
others, and they are not all well conducted nor all badly conducted, any more than people are all well behaved or all badly behaved. Moreover, the same trades-union often does different kinds of business. Usually they act as benefit or friendly societies, that is to say, if a member of a trades-union pays his subscription of say one shilling weekly, together with an entrance-fee and other small payments, he has a right, after a little time, to receive say twelve shillings a week in case of illness; he gets back the value of his tools if they should happen to be burnt or lost; when thrown out of work he will enjoy say ten shillings a week for a certain length of time; if he is so unfortunate as to be disabled by accident, he receives a good sum of money as an accident benefit; and when he dies he is buried at the expense of the union. All these arrangements are very good, for they insure a man against events which are not usually under his own control, and they prevent workmen from becoming paupers. So far as trades-unions occupy themselves in this way, it is impossible not to approve of them very warmly.
Then, again, trades-unions are able to take care of their members by insisting that employers shall make their factories wholesome and safe. If a single workman were to complain that the workshops were too hot, or that a machine was dangerous, or a mine not properly ventilated, he would probably not be listened to, or would be told to go about his business. But if all the workmen complain at once, and let it be known that they do not intend to go on working unless things are made better, the employer will think about the matter seriously, and will do anything that is reasonable to avoid disputes and trouble. Everybody is justified in taking good care of his own life and health, and in making things as convenient to himself as possible. Therefore we cannot find fault with workmen for discussing such matters among themselves, and agreeing upon the improvements they
think right to demand. It is quite proper that they should do so.
But nobody is perfectly wise, and those who have not much time to get knowledge, and learn science and political economy, will often not see the effects of what they demand. They may ask for something which is impossible, or would cost so much as to stop the trade altogether
. In all such matters, therefore, working-men should proceed cautiously, hearing what their employers have to say, and taking note especially of what the public opinion is, because it is the opinion of many who have nothing to lose or gain in the matter.
48. The Regulation of Hours. One of the principal subjects of dispute is usually the number of hours in the day that a workman should work. In some trades a man is paid by the hour or by the work done, so that each man can labour a longer or shorter time as he prefers. When this is the case, each man is the best judge of what suits him, and no trades-union ought to interfere. But in factories, generally speaking, it would not do to let the men come and go when they liked; they must work while the engines and machines are moving, and while other men need their assistance. Accordingly, somebody must settle whether the factory is to work for twelve, or ten, or nine, or eight hours a day. The employer would generally prefer long hours, because he would get more work and profit out of his buildings and machines, and he need not usually be on the spot all the time himself. It seems reasonable, then, that the workmen should have their opinion, and have a voice in deciding how long they will work.
But workmen are likely to be mistaken, and imagine that they may get as much wages for nine hours' work as for ten.
They think that the employer can raise the price of his goods, or that he can well afford to pay the difference out of his own great profits. But if political economy is to be believed, the wages of
workmen are really the value of the goods produced, after the necessary rent of land and interest of capital have been paid. If factories, then, produce less goods in nine hours than in ten, as is usually the case, there cannot, in the long run, be so much wages to receive. On the other hand, as machinery is improved, labour becomes more productive, and it is quite right that those who are sufficiently well paid should prefer, within reasonable limits, to lessen their hours of work rather than increase their earnings. This is a matter which depends upon many considerations, and it cannot be settled in this Primer. What I should conclude is, that when workmen want to lessen their hours of work, they ought not to ask the same wages for the day's work as before. It is one thing to lessen the hours of work; it is another thing to increase the rate of wages per hour, and though both of these things may be rightly claimed in some circumstances, they should not be confused together.
49. The Raising of Wages. The principal object of trades-unions, however, is to increase the rate of wages. Working men seem to believe that, if they do not take care, their employers will carry off the main part of the produce, and pay very low wages. They think that capitalists have it all their own way unless they are constantly watched, and obliged to pay by fear of strikes.
Employers are regarded as tyrants who can do just as they like. But this is altogether a mistake. No capitalists can for more than a year or two make unusual profits, because, if they do, other capitalists are sure to hear of it, and try to do likewise. The result will be that the demand for labourers in that kind of trade will increase; the capitalists will bid against each other for workmen, and they will not, generally speaking, be able to get enough without raising the rate of wages.
There is no reason whatever to think that tradesunions have had any permanent effect in raising wages in the m ority of trades. No doubt wages are now
much higher than they were thirty or forty years ago; but to a certain extent this is only a rise of money wages, due to the abundance of gold discovered in California and Australia. The rest of the increase can be easily accounted for by the great improvements in machinery, and the general prosperity of the country.
It is certain, too, that the increase of wages is not confined to those trades which have unions; even common labourers who have no unions receive considerably more money wages than they did, and domestic servants, who never strike in a body, but simply leave one place when they can get a better, have raised their own wages quite as much as any union could have done it for them. 50. Strikes and Lockouts.
Workmen are said to strike, that is, to strike work, when a number of them agree together to cease working on a certain day for certain employers, in order to oblige these employers to pay better wages, or in some way to yield to their demands. When one or more employers suddenly dismiss their workpeople altogether, in order to oblige them to take lower wages, or agree to some alteration of work, it is called a lockout, and a lockout is nearly the same as a strike of the employers. Strikes sometimes last for many months, the workmen living on what savings they have, and on contributions sent to them by workmen or unions in the same or other trades. The employers at the same time lose much money by their factories standing still, and they sometimes receive aid from other employers.
There is nothing legally or morally wrong in a strike or lockout when properly conducted. A man, when free from promises or contracts, has a right to work or not to work, as he thinks best, that is to say, the law regards it as beneficial to the country, on the whole, that people should be free to do so. Similarly, employers are free to work their mills or not as they like. Neither employers nor employed, indeed, must break