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61. Industrial Partnerships.
The best way of reconciling labour and capital would be to give every workman a share in the profits of his factory when trade is so prosperous as to allow of it. Charles Babbage proposed, in the year 1832, that a part of the wages of every person employed should depend on the profits of the employers. In recent years this has been tried in several large works, especially in Messrs. Briggs' collieries, and in Messrs. Fox, Head & Co.'s iron-works. The arrangement generally made with the men was that the capitalists should first take enough of the profits to pay 10 per cent interest on the capital, together with fair salaries for the managers as wages of superintendence, a sum to meet bad debts, the repairs and depreciation of the machinery, and all other ordinary causes of loss. Such profit as remained was then divided into two equal parts, one of which went to the employers, while the other was divided among the workpeople in proportion to the amounts of wages which they had received during the year. Many workmen under such a scheme found themselves at Christmas in possession of five or ten pounds, in addition to the ordinary wages of the trade received weekly during the year.
This kind of co-operation has been called industrial partnership, and, if it could be widely carried into effect, there would arise many advantages. The workmen, feeling that their Christmas bonuses depended upon the success of the works, would not favour idleness, and would have some inducement for preventing needless waste whether of time or materials. By degrees they would learn that the best trades-union is a union with their employers. Strikes and lock-outs would be for the most part a thing of the past, because, if wages were too low, the balance-sheet would prove the fact at the end of the year, and half the surplus would go to the workmen. To be free from the danger of strikes would be a very great advantage to the employers, and any portion of
profits which they might seem to give up would be more than repaid by the increased care and activity of the workmen. The employers would continue to manage the business entirely according to their own judgment, and they need not make their affairs or accounts known to the men. All that is requisite is that skilful accountants should examine the books at the end of the year, and certify the amount of profits due to the men. If this plan were thoroughly carried out, the men would feel that they were really working for themselves as much as for their masters, and the troubles which at present exist would be nearly unknown.
There are great difficulties in the way of this kind of co-operation : most capitalists do not like it, because they needlessly fear to make known their profits to their men, and they do not understand the advantages which would arise from a better state of things. The workmen also do not like the arrangement, because the trades-unions oppose co-operation, fearing that it will overthrow their own power. Where the scheme has been tried, it has usually succeeded well, until the men, urged by their trades-unions, refused to go on with it. Thus are people, through prejudice and want of knowledge, made blind to the best interests of themselves and the country.
It is to be feared, then, that industrial partnerships will not make much progress just at present, so great is the dislike to them felt both by trades-unions and by prejudiced employers. Nevertheless, the arrangement is in accordance with the principles of political economy, and it will probably be widely adopted by some future generation. Already, indeed, many banks, mercantile firms, and public companies practically recognise the value of the principle, by giving bonuses or presents to their clerks at the end of a profitable year. A French railway company adopted this practice forty years ago, and as business falls more and more into the hands of companies whose profits are matters of general knowledge, there seems to be no reason whatever why the principle of industrial partnership should not be adopted. Somewhat the same principle is said to be carried into effect in the very extensive and successful newspaper business of Messrs. W. H. Smith & Son.
62. Joint-Stock Co-operation. Another mode of co-operation consists in working men saving up their wages until they have got small capitals, so that they can unite together and own the factories, machines, and materials with which they work.
They then become their own capitalists and employers, and secure all the profit to themselves. Co-operative societies of this kind are simply Joint-Stock Companies, the shares of which are held by the men employed. Of course the shareholders must choose directors from among themselves, and they must also have managers to arrange the business. The managers and directors ought to be well paid for what they do, and have a considerable share of the profits, in order to make them interested in the success of the works, and therefore active and carefu). Incompetent or negligent management will soon ruin the best business.
A great number of co-operative companies of this kind have been formed in the last twenty years in England, France, America, and elsewhere, but most of them have failed from want of good direction. The working-men shareholders do not generally understand what a great deal of skill and judgment is required in the conduct of a business; they are accustomed to see work going on as if it went of its own accord, but they do not see the constant anxiety and the careful calculation which is requisite to make the work profitable. Hence they usually fail to secure good managers, and they do not sufficiently trust those whom they appoint. Moreover, many of the so-called cooperative companies are not really co-operative; they frequently employ men who are neither shareholders nor receivers of a share of profits, and they pay their
managers by a small fixed salary. Such co-operative societies are badly-managed joint-stock companies, and cannot be expected to succeed well.
Another difficulty with such companies is, that they rarely have enough capital, and, when bad trade comes, they are unable to bear the losses which will sometimes occur for several years in succession. They can borrow money by the mortgage of the buildings and machinery belonging to the company, and this is usually done; but no banker will give credit to such companies without the security of fixed property. Thus they frequently fail when bad trade comes, and those who buy up their property cheaply reap advantage. It is to be hoped that at a future time all working-men will become capitalists on a small scale, and when education and experience have been acquired, co-operative factories of working-men may succeed. At present it would be better to leave the management of business in the hands of capitalists, who are not only experienced and clever men, but have the best reason to be careful and active, because their fortunes depend upon success.
63. Providence. It is most deeply to be regretted that the working-people of England will not, for the most part, see the necessity of saving a portion of their wages in order to have something to live upon when trade is bad, or when ill-health and misfortune come upon them. Too many working-men's families spend all that is earned while trade is brisk, and when employment fails they are as badly off as ever. There are several distinct reasons why every man or woman should save up some property when possible: (1) It forms a provision in case of ill-health, acci
dent, want of employment, or other misfortune ; it is also wanted for support in old age, or for the helpless widow and orphans of a workman who dies early.
(2) It yields interest, and adds to a workman's
income. (3) It enables a man to go into trade, to buy good
tools, and to enjoy good credit in case he sees an opportunity of setting up business on his
own account. No man and no woman, who is in the prime of life and earning fair wages, should spend the whole. Even an unmarried person will generally reach a time of life when, through ill health, old age, or other unavoidable causes, it is no longer possible to get a living. By that time enough ought to have been saved to avoid the need of charity or the degradation of the poor-house. When there is a wife and young family, the need of saving is evidently greater still. Every great storm, colliery explosion, or other great accident leaves a number of helpless children to be brought up by a struggling widow, or to go on the parish. No doubt people may meet with disasters so unexpected and so great that they cannot be blamed for not providing against them. A man who is blinded, or crippled, or otherwise disabled in early life, is a proper object of charity, but there would be plenty of benevolent institutions to provide for such exceptional cases, if those who are more fortunate would provide properly for themselves.
It is often said that working men really cannot save out of the small wages they receive; the expenses of living are too great. We cannot deny that there are labourers, especially agricultural labourers in the South of England, whose wages will not do more than barely provide necessary food and clothing for their families. The weekly earnings of a family in some parts are not more than 12 or 15 shillings on the average of the year, and sometimes even less. Such people can hardly be expected to save. But this is not the case with the artisans and labourers in the manufacturing districts. They seldom earn less than a pound a week, and often two pounds. The boys