The Harmony of Interests
Henry Charles Carey
HOW PROTECTION AFFECTS THE LABOURER.
WHENEVER there is in market a surplus of any commodity, whether that surplus be the effect of natural or artificial causes, the price of the whole tends to fall to that at which the last portion can be soldand whenever there is a deficiency, the price of the whole tends to rise to that point at which the last portion that is needed can be obtained. Labour is a commodity, the owners of which seek to exchange with other persons, giving it in the form of sugar or cotton, and receiving it in the form of cloth and iron, and, being such, it is subject to the same laws as all other commodities. So long as there shall be a surplus of it anywhere, the price everywhere tends to fall to the lowest level. With the diminution of the surplus anywhere, the price everywhere will tend to rise to a level with the highest.
Mere labour, unaided by machinery, can effect little. The man who has no axe cannot fell a tree, nor can he who has no spade dig the earth. The man who has no reaping-hook must pull up the grain, and he who has no horse or cart must transport his load upon his back. Such is the condition of the people of India, and such, nearly, is that of the people of Ireland. Labour is consequently unproductive, and its price is low.
To render labour productive, men require machinery, which is of three kinds, to wit: First, Machinery of production, consisting of lands that are cleared, drained, and otherwise fitted for the work of cultivation. Second, Machinery of conversion, as saw-mills, which convert logs into planks and boards; grist-mills, which convert wheat into flour; cotton and woollen-mills, which convert wool into cloth; and furnaces, which convert lime, fuel, and ore into iron. Third, Machinery of transportation, by aid of which the man who raises food is enabled to place it where he can exchange it with the one who makes cloth or iron.
The two latter descriptions make no addition to the quantity of food or wool that is to be consumed. The wheat or cotton that goes into the mill comes out flour or cloth. The barrel of flour that goes into the ship comes out a barrel of flour, neither more nor less, and it will feed no more people when it comes out than when it went in.
The bushel of wheat that is sown comes out of the earth six, eight, or ten bushels, and the bushel of potatoes comes out twenty or thirty bushels. They have been placed in the machine of production, while the others have been placed in the machines of conversion or transportation.
The more labour that can be applied to the machine of production, the larger will be the supply of food and wool, and the larger will be the quantity of both that will be deemed the equivalent of a days labour.
The nearer the place of conversion can be brought to the place of production, the less will be the necessity for transportation, the more steady will be the demand for labour throughout the year, the larger will be the quantity that may be given to the work of production, the better will the labourer be fed and clothed, and the more rapid will be the accumulation of wealth in the form of machinery to be used in the further increase of production.
Wealth tends to grow more rapidly than population, because better soils are brought into cultivation; and it does grow more rapidly whenever people abandon swords and muskets and take to spades and ploughs. Every increase in the ratio of wealth to population is attended with an increase in the power of the labourer as compared with that of landed or other capital. We all see that when ships are more abundant than passengers, the price of passage is lowand that when, on the contrary, passengers are more abundant than ships, the price is high. When ploughs and horses are more plenty than ploughmen, the latter fix the wages, but when ploughmen are more abundant than ploughs, the owners of the latter determine the distribution of the product of labour. When wealth increases rapidly, new soils are brought into cultivation, and more ploughmen are wanted. The demand for ploughs produces a demand for more men to mine coal and smelt iron ore, and the iron-master becomes a competitor for the employment of the labourer, who obtains a larger proportion of the constantly increasing return to labour. He wants clothes in greater abundance, and the manufacturer becomes a competitor with the iron-master and the farmer for his services. His proportion is again increased, and he wants sugar, and tea, and coffee, and now the ship-master competes with the manufacturer, the iron-master and the farmer; and thus with the growth of population and wealth there is produced a constantly increasing demand for labour, and its increased productiveness, and the consequently increased facility of accumulating wealth are followed necessarily and certainly by an increase of the labourers proportion. His wages rise, and the proportion of the capitalist falls, yet now the latter accumulates fortune more rapidly than ever, and thus his interest and that of the labourer are in perfect harmony with each other. If we desire evidence of this, it is shown in the constantly increasing amount of the rental of England, derived from the appropriation of a constantly decreasing proportion of the product of the land: and in the enormous amount of railroad tolls compared with those of the turnpike: yet the railroad transports the farmers wheat to market, and brings back sugar and coffee, taking not one-fourth as large a proportion for doing the business as was claimed by the owner of the wagon and horses, and him of the turnpike. The labourers product is increased, and the proportion that goes to the capitalist is decreased. The power of the first over the product of his labour has grown, while that of the latter has diminished.
Look where we may, throughout this country, we shall find that where machinery of transportation is most needed, the quantity of labour that can be given to production is least, and the return to labouror wages of the labourer in food, clothing, and other of the necessaries and comforts of lifeis least: and that where transportation is least needed, the quantity of labour that can be given to production is greatest, and wages are highest: or in other words, that the nearer the consumer and the producer can be brought together the larger is the return to labour.
For forty years past the cultivation of cotton in India has been gradually receding from the lower lands towards the hills, producing a constantly increasing necessity for the means of transportation, and a constant diminution in the quantity of labour that could be applied to production. With each such step labour has been becoming more and more surplus, and the reward of labour has been steadily diminishing.
During a large portion of this period, such has been the case with Southern labour. It has been gradually receding from the lower lands of South Carolina and Georgia, producing a constant increase in the necessity for transportation, while the commodities to be transported would command in return a constantly decreasing measure of cloth, iron, and other of the necessaries of life. This tendency has been in some degree arrested by the large consumption at home, and by the power of applying labour to the culture of sugar; but were we now to change our revenue system, establishing perfect freedom of trade, the home manufacture of cotton and the home production of sugar must cease, and cotton wool would then fall to three cents per pound, for the planter would then be reduced to that as the only thing he could cultivate for sale. Labour would become more and more surplus, with a constant diminution of the power of the labourer to obtain either cloth or iron.
So has it been, and so must it continue to be, with the sugar and coffee planters. Their products yield them a constantly diminishing quantity of either cloth or iron, with constantly increasing difficulty of obtaining clothing or machinery in exchange for labour.
In New England, wagesi.e. the power to obtain food, clothing, and iron in exchange for labourare high, but they tend to rise with every increase in the productiveness of Southern and Western labour, and so will they continue to do as Southern and Western men become manufacturers, because the latter will then have more to offer in exchange for labour. With any diminution in the productiveness of labour South or West, the wages of New England must fall, because there will then be less to offer them in exchange.
In England, the power to obtain food, clothing, or iron, for labour, is small, and it tends to diminish with every increase in the proportion of the population dependent upon transportation, and every diminution in the proportion that applies itself to production, because with each such step there is a necessity for greater exertion to underwork and supplant the Hindoo, whose annual wages even now are but six dollars, out of which he finds himself in food and clothing. With every step downwards, labour is more and more becoming surplus, as is seen from the growing anxiety to expel population, at almost any present sacrifice. Why it is so we may now inquire.
The great object of England is commerce.
Commerce among men tends to produce equality of condition, moral and physical. Whether it shall tend to raise or to depress the standard of condition, must depend upon the character of those with whom it is necessary that it should be maintained. The man who is compelled to associate with the idle, the dissolute, and the drunken, is likely to sink to the level of his companions.
So is it with labour. The necessity for depending on commerce with men among whom the standard is low, tends to sink the labourer to the level of the lowest. Place half a dozen men on an island, two of whom are industrios and raise food, leaving it to the others, less disposed to work, to provide meat, fish, clothing, and shelter, and the industrious will be compelled to exchange with the idle. Clothing and shelter are as necessary as bread, and those who play will therefore profit by the labours of those who work. The latter, finding such to be the result, will cease to work with spirit, and by degrees all the members of the little community will become equally idle. Here lies the error of communism and socialism. They seek to compel union, and to force men to exchange with each other, the necessary effect of which is to sink the whole body to the level of those who are at the bottom.
So, too, is it with nations. The industrious community that raises food and is dependent on the idle one that makes iron must give much of the one for little of the other. The peaceful community that raises cotton and is dependent on the warlike one that raises silk, must give much cotton for little silk. Dependence on others for articles of necessity thus makes a community of goods, and the sober and industrious must help to support the idle and the dissolutenations as well as individuals.
So long as this state of dependence exists, the condition of each is determined by that of the other. If the idle become more idle, and the dissolute more dissolute, those who still continue to work must steadily give more labour for less labour, and their condition must deteriorate unless they adopt such measures as shall gradually diminish and finally terminate their dependence on such companions.
The policy of England has tended to produce communism among nations. She has rendered herself dependent upon other communities for supplies of the articles of prime necessity, food and clothing, obtaining her rice from the wretched tlindoo, her corn from the Russian serf, and her wool from the Australian convict, neglecting her own rich soils that wait but the application of labour to become productive.
The necessary consequence of this is a tendency downwards in the condition of her people, and as it is with those of England that those of this country are invited to compete, it may not be amiss to show what is the condition to which they are now reduced by competition with the low-priced labour of Russia and of India.
The Spectator, a free-trade journal, informs us* that the condition of the labouring classes engaged in agriculture, long an opprobrium to our advancement in civilization, has not improved; while wages exhibit a universal tendency to decline beneath the lowest level of recent times.
The Morning Chronicle has recently given a series of letters from a correspondent specially deputed to inquire into the condition of the labouring classes in the aglricultural counties, and by him we are informed that in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire the average wages of the year will not exceed 9/==$2.16 per week, while in Berks and Wiltshire they will not exceed 7/==$1.79, and with this it is to be borne in mind that when a poor wretch is prevented for a day, or even half a day, from working, his wages are stopped for the time. The wife sometimes works in the fields, and adds three shillings a week to the fund out of which these unfortunate people are to be subsisted, yet this gain is not without a drawback, as will be seen by those who may read the following account of the condition of the English agricultural labourer, in the middle of the nineteenth century, which, long as it is, will be found interesting:
When a married woman goes to the fields to work, she must leave her children at home. In many cases they are too young to be left by themselves, when they are generally left in charge of a young girl hired for the purpose. The sum paid to this vicarious mother, who is generally herself a mere child, is from 8d. to 1s. per week, in addition to which she is fed and lodged in the house. This is nearly equivalent to an addition of two more members to the family. If, therefore, the mother works in the fields for weekly wages equal to the maintenance of three children for the week, it is, in the first place, in many cases, at the cost of having two additional mouths to feed. But this is far from being all the disadvantages attending out-door labour by the mother. One of the worst features attending the system is the cheerlessness with which it invests the poor mans house. On returning from work, instead of finding his house in order and a meal comfortably prepared for him, his wife accompanies him home, or perhaps arrives after him, when all has to be done in his presence which should have been done for his reception. The result is, that home is made distasteful to him, and he hies to the nearest ale-house, where he soon spends the balance of his wifes earnings for the week, and also those of his children, if any of them have been at work. A great deal is lost also through the unthrifty habits of his wife. Her expertness at out-door labour has been acquired at the expense of an adequate knowledge of her in-door duties. She is an indifferent cooka bad housewife in every respect. She is also in numerous instances lamentably deficient in knowledge of the most ordinary needle-work. All that she wants in these respects she might acquire, if she stayed more at home and was less in the fields. In addition to this, her children would have the benefit of being brought up under her own eye, instead of being, as they are, utterly neglected and left to thelselvess; for the party left in charge of themand it is not always that any one is sois generally herself a child, having no control whatever over them. It is under these circumstaces that the seeds of future vice are plentifully sown. On the whole, as regards the system of married women working in the fields, I cannot, when the children are young, but look on the balance as being on the side of disadvantage. In that case I think it would be decidedly better for the poor man, having reference only to his physical comforts, that his wife stayed at home. And this is the position of many a labouring man. In many cases when the family is large, some of the children are at work, adding their scanty wages of from 1s 6d. to 2s. a week to the common fund. But I have known numerous cases of families of seven children, of which the eldest was not eight years old. Besides, when these are fit to work and earn wages of their own, his children soon become independent of him, and set up for themselves. This is in one way a relief to him, unless his family, while diminishing at one end, is increasing at the other. There can be no doubt but that a family is frequently aided by the earnings of the children, but in by far the greater number of cases the means of support are procured by the parents themselves. From what has been already said of the disadvantage to the whole family at which the wife bears her share in procuring them, it will be evident that the husbands earnings are, after all, the true test and standard of his own condition and that of those dependent upon him.
Moreover, in a very large proportion of cases, the wife remains at home, attending to duties more appropriate to her sex and position, in which case there is no other aid to be had, unless it be the trifling and fitful earnings of one or two of the children. We have seen that, in the counties in question, there are about 40,000 married couples, who, with their children, numbering about 120,000, depend exclusively upon agricultural labour for support. Of the 40,000 mothers, fully one-half stay at home, some being compelled to do so on account of the extreme youth of their children; and others, save when their families are somewhat advanced, preferring from calculation to do so, as being the best mode of turning their scanty means to good account. This may be taken as the case with half the married couples, who, with their families, will number about 100,000 individuals. So far, therefore, as these are concerned, the children, in about the same proportion of families, being too young to add any thing to the common stock, there is nothing else to adopt as the test of their condition and the standard of their comforts but the earnings of the husband. Let us inquire, therefore, into the condition of a farmily thus solely depedent upon such wages as the husband has, on the average, received during the past portion of the current year. I can best illustrate that condition by one of the numerous cases which came under my consideration in Wiltshire. The laborer in that case had had 8s. a week, but he was then only in receipt of 7s. He had seven children, the eldest of whom, a girl, was in her eighth year. Two of his children had been at a dunces school; but they were not then attending it, simply because he could not afford the 4d. a week which had to be paid for their education. To ascertain how far he was really incapable in this respect, I requested him to detail to me the economy of his household for a week, taking his earnings at 8s. The following is the substance of the conversation, discarding, for the readers sake, the portions in which the names are given.
When are your wages paid?On Saturday night, but often only once a fortnight.
What do you do with the money on receiving it?I first lay by my rent, which is a shilling a week. I then go to the grocers and lay in something for Sunday and the rest of the week. I buy a little tea, of which I get two ounces for 6d. Sugar is cheap, but I cannot afford it. We sometimes sweeten the tea with a little treacle, but generally drink it unsweetened.
Do you purchase any butcher meat?Generally for a Sunday we buy a bit of bacon.
How much?It is seldom that I can afford more than half a pound.
Half a pound among nine of you?Yes; it is but a mere taste, but we have not even that the rest of the week. It costs me about 5d.
Do you buy your bread, or make it at home?We buy it. We have not fire enough to make it at home, or it would be a great saving to us.
Do you buy a quantity at once, or a loaf when you need it?We buy it as we need it.
Have you a garden attached to your cottage?I have about fifteen poles, for which I pay 1½d. a pole. It is less than the eighth of an acre.
What do you raise from it?We raise some potatoes and cabbages.
Do you raise a sufficient quantity of potatoes to serve you for the year?No, not even if they were all sound.
In addition to the potatoes and the cabbages which you raise, how much bread do you require for your own support, and that of your wife and seven children for the week?We require seven gallons of bread at least.
What is a gallon of bread?It is a loaf which used to weigh 8lbs. 11oz., but which now seldom weighs above 8lbs. Those who supply bread to the union seldom make it over 8lbs.
What is the price of the gallon loaf?Tenpence. It is cheaper than it was, but then there is not always so much of it. It is often of short weight.
Seven gallons of bread at 10d. a gallon would make 5s. 10d., would it not?I believe it would make about thatyou ought to know.
Do you always get seven gallons a week?No, seldom more than six.
Then you spend 5s. in bread, and make up for the want of more by potatoes and cabbages?Yes.
You have still some money left; what do you do with it?It costs us something for washing. For soap and soda, and for needles and thread for mending, we pay about 5d. a week.
Do you buy fuel?We get a cwt. of coal sometimes, which would cost us about 1s. or 1s. 1½d. if we took in any quantity and paid ready money. When we do neither it costs us about 1s. 4d. a cwt. If there is one poor man who can afford to buy it in any quantity for ready money, there are forty who cannot.
How long would a cwt. of coals serve you?We make it last one way or another for two weeks.
Your fuel, therefore, will cost you about 8d. a week?It will.
Is there any thing else you have?We buy a little salt butter sometimes, which we can get from 6½d. to 10d. a pound. We are obliged, of course, to take the cheapest; and really, sir, it is sometimes not hardly fit to grease a wagon with.
But your money is already all gone: how do you pay for your butter?It is not always that we have it, and we can only have it by stinting ourselves in other things.
You have said nothing about your clothing: how do you procure that?But for the high wages we get during the harvest time, we could not get it at all.
How long does the time last when yout get high wages?About ten weeks, and but for what we then get I do not know how we could get on at all.
From this recapitulation it must certainly appear a mystery to the reader how they get on as it is. The weekly expenditure, in our view, is as follows, the family being nine, and the weekly receipts 8s.:.................s. d. Rent..............1 0 Tea...............0 6 Bacon.............0 5 Bread.............5 0 Soda, soap, &c... 0 5 Fuel..............0 8 Total.............8 0
The provision for clothing is in the extra wages paid at harvest time, while the family cannot be treated to the luxury of bad butter without sacrificing the tea, two ounces of which must serve for a week, the half pound of bacon, which affords but a mere taste on Sunday to each; some of the bread which is already but too scantily supplied; or a portion of their fuel, the absence of which renders their home still more cheerless and desolate. Sugar, too, is out of the question, without trenching upon items more absolutely necessary. Nor is there any reserved fund for medicines, too often required by a family of nine thus miserably circumstanced. What, in short, have we here? We have nine people subsisting for seven days upon 60 lbs. of breadscarcely a pound a day for each, half a pound of bacon, and two ounces of tea, the rest being made up by a provision, too scanty in nine cases out of ten, of potatoes and cabbages raised in the garden. Could they descend much lower in the scale of wretchedness, especially when we couple with their stinted supply of the less nutritious kinds of food the miserable hovels in which it is taken by them, either shivering in the winters frosts, or inhaling the pestilential odours engendered around them by the summer heats?I could no longer express any surprise at 4d. a week being grudged for the education of two children.
This being the mode in which his weekly wages were expended, I asked the same individual to give me an account of his daily life, including his labour and fare. In reply to my questions on this point he answered, in substance, as follows:
At what hour do you go to work?At six in the morning, generally, in summer; but I have gone much earlier. In winter time work begins at a later hour.
Do you breakfast at home?When I do not go out very early I generally do.
Of what does your breakfast consist?Principally of bread, and sometimes a little tea. Sometimes, too, we have a few potatoes boiled.
When do you dine?About twelve.
Of what does your dinner consist?On the Monday my wife gets a little flour and makes a pudding, which, with a few potatoes, forms my dinner. Sometimes we have a pudding on other days, but generally our dinner is bread and potatoes, with now and then a little cabbage. When the family is not large, there may be a bit of bacon left that has not been used on Sunday, but that is never the case with us.
You return to work again?I do, and when I come home at night may have a little tea again, with the bread which forms my supper. The tea is never strong with us, but at night it is very weak.
Do your children get tea?We have not enough for that.
What is their drink?Water; sometimes we get them a little milk.
What is your own drink?Water.
Do you never drink beer?Never, but when it is given me; I cant afford to buy it.
When your dinner consists of bread, potatoes, and water, have you nothing to season it or make it palatable?Nothing but a little salt butter; and we can only afford that when the bread or potatoes happen not to be very good, or when we are ailing, and our stomachs are a little dainty.
When your bread or potatoes are bad, or your stomachs are dainty, you take as a relish the butter which you said was scarcely fit to grease a wagon with?We have nothing better to take.
Suppose you had nothing but bread to eat, how much would you require to sustain you at work in the course of a day?Two pounds at least.
And how much would one of your children require?About the same. A child, although not at work, will eat as much as a man; children are always growing, and always ready to eat, and one does not like to refuse food to them when they want it. I would sooner go without myself than stint my children, if I could help it.
Then, at the rate of two pounds a day for each, you would require for all about 126 lbs. for the week?I suppose about that.
And, as you only get about sixty pounds of bread a week, you have to rely on your potatoes and cabbages, your half pound of bacon, and two ounces of tea, to make up for the sixty-six pounds which you cannot get?We have nothing else to rely on.
Have you enough of these to afford you as much nourishment as there would be in sixty-six pounds of bread?Not nearly enough.
Is what you have stated your manner of living from week to week?It is when I have work.
And when you have not work, how is it with you?In the winter months we have sometimes scarcely a bit to put in our mouths.
Such is the substance of the statement, as regards his own and his familys circumstances, made to me by a labouring man in the receipt of the average rate of wages for the last nine months in Wiltshire. Comment is scarcely needed, the facts speaking but too plainly for themselves. Had the famlily been smaller, or the wages a little higher, instead of a taste, they might have had a meal of bacon once a week. But even then it would be but once a week, potatoes and bread still constituting the staple of their diet, and even these not being had by them in sufficient quantity. Besides, even if they had it more frequently, bacon is not the most nourishing food in the shape of butcher meat; it is fat, and goes to fat. The little lean that is in it is almost destroyed by the process of curing. But it is greasy, and soon satisfies. It fills us sooner than any other kind of meat, was the reply given to me when I asked why they preferred it to beef? But the fault is that it does not fill them; it satiates, without filling them. Bulk is required as well as nutriment in food. The stomach has a mechanical as well as a chemical action to perform. A man could not live on cheese, nor could he exist on pills having in them the concentrated essence of beef. They buy bacon because it goes a longer way than other meatin truth, they buy it because it soon cloys them. Nor is it always that they have even a taste of it once a week. I have seen several families who had not tasted butcher meat of any kind for weeks at a time. When French and English workmen came together during the construction of some of the French railways, it was found that the Englishmlan could perform far more work than his French competitor. This was universally attributed to the superiority of his diet, it being supposed but reasonable on all hands to expect more work from the man who fed on beef and porter than from him whose fare was bread and grapes. But the fare of the man who is expected by his labour to develope, year after year, the agricultural wealth of England, is, in a large proportion of cases, little better than bread and waterthe fare of the condemned cell! Contrast the condition of the English farm labourer with that of the farm labourer in Canada. In England he eats butcher-meat once a week, and not always that; in Canada he has as much of it as he wants once, at least, and frequently twice a day. Contrast his condition even with that of the slave in the Southern States of America. In Virginia, the great slave State, it is seldom that a day passes without the slave eating butcher-meat of some kind or other. In addition to this, when he is old and infirm, he has a claim on his master for support. But the English labourer, if he has a family to sustain, has not, even during the days of his strength, when he can do, and does work, the same nutritious diet as the slave; while, when he is disabled, or loses his work, he must starve, or, as the alternative, become a vagrant, or the recipient of a formal and organized charity. In the words of one of themselves, it is not a living, sirit is a mere being we get; by which he intended to convey that their reward for their toil was their being barely enabled to exist.
It may be said that the case put is an extreme one. It is the case, however, of nearly one-half of those who are dependent upon labour in the fields. But it may be said that I have omitted to take into account some little privileges which the labourer has, and which, when he avails himself of them, tend to enhance his comforts. He may keep a pig, for instance, and his employer will sometimes find him straw for it, which, in process of time, will serve as manure for his little garden. This looks very well on paper, but that is chiefly all. In the four counties under consideration the number of labourers keeping pigs is about one in twelve. It is also a striking illustration of the condition of the labourers, that even such of them as do feed a pig seldom participate in the eating of it. Then we hear a great deal about the coal and clothing clubs, to which I shall hereafter more particularly advert, and the chief merit of which is that they tend to render life not pleasant, but barely tolerable to the poor.
The sleeping accommodations are thus described:
These are above, and are gained by means of a few greasy and rickety steps, which lead through a species of hatchway in the ceiling. Yes, there is but one room, and yet we counted nine in the family! And such a room! The small window in the roof admits just light enough to enable you to discern its character and dimensions. The rafters, which are all exposed, spring from the very floor, so that it is only in the very centre of the apartment that you have any chance of standing erect. The thatch oozes through the wood-work which supports it, the whole being begrimed with smoke and dust, and replete with vermin. There are no cobwebs, for the spider only spreads his net where flies are likely to be caught. You look in vain for a bedstead; there is none in the room. But there are their beds, lying side by side on the floor, almost in contact with each other, and occupying nearly the whole length of the apartment. The beds are large sacks, filled with the chaff of oats, which the labourer sometimes gets and at others purchases from his employer. The chaff of wheat and barley is used on the farm for other purposes. The bed next the hatchway is that of the father and mother, with whom sleeps the infant, born but a few months ago in this very room. In the other beds sleep the children, the boys and girls together. The eldest girl is in her twelfth year, the eldest boy having nearly completed his eleventh; and they are likely to remain for years yet in the circumnstances in which we now find them. With the exception of the youngest children, the family retire to rest about the same hour, generally undressing below, and then ascending and crawling over each other to their respective resting-places for the night. There are two blankets on the bed occupied by the parents, the others being covered with a very heterogeneous assemblage of materials. It not unfrequently happens that the clothes worn by the parents in the day time form the chief part of the covering of the children by night. Such is the dormitory in which, lying side by side, the nine whom we have just left below at their wretched meal will pass the night. The sole ventilation is through the small aperture occupied by what is termed, by courtesy, a window. In other words, there is scarcely any ventilation at all. What a den in the hour of sickness or death! What a den, indeed, at any time! And yet when the sable goddess stretches forth her leaden sceptre over the soft downy couch in Mayfair, such are the circumstances in which, in our rural parishes, she leaves a portion of her slumbering domain.
Let it not be said that this picture is overdrawn, or that it is a concentration, for effect, into one point, of effects spread in reality over a large surface. As a type of the extreme of domiciliary wretchedness in the rural distrits, it is underdrawn. The cottage in question has two rooms. Some have only one, with as great a number of inmates to occupy it. Some of them, again, have three or four rooms, with a family occupying each room; the families so circumstanced amounting each, in some cases, to nine or ten individuals. In some cottages, too, a lodger is accommoodated, who occupies the same apartment as the family. Such, fortunately, is not the condition of all the labourers in the agricultural districts; but it is the condition of a very great number of Englishmennot in tlhe backwoods of a remote settlement, but in the heart of Anglo-Saxon civilization, in the year of grace 1849.
Bad, however, as is all this, it is likely to be worse. Everywhere, notices are being given of a reduction of wages, and diminution in the number of persons to be employed. There is scarcely, says the writer, a district in any of these counties where the work of reducing wages has not already commenced. In one of them, as early as last June, there was a reduction from 8s. to 7s., and apprehensions are everywhere entertained that they will be reduced to 6s.==$1.44. Is it any wonder, he adds, that, with such a prospect before them, the agricultural labourers should brood over their circumstances with the ominous sullenness of despair? What is that prospect? The winter is approachingthe season when most is required by us all to administer to our comforts. They are entering upon that season with here 8s., there 6s., and there again but 5s. a week for the support of their families. How far will these pitiful portions go in households of five, six, seven, eight, nine, or ten individuals? We cannot, in estimating a labourers comforts at any given time, apply to them the test of his average wages. It is his wages for the time being that decide the measure of his condition. Had he at any time more than was necessary to carry him and his family up to the line of comfort, he might lay by the surplus for adverse times. But he never has what secures him perfect comfort, and is always more than tempted to spend all he gets. He therefore commences this winter, as he does every winter, without any reserve-fund to fall back upon; and the fact is appalling that, in this month of October, thousands of families in the very heart of England have no better prospect before them than that of living on 8s., 6s., and even 5s. a week, in their cold, damp, cheerless, and unhealthy homes.
The Canadian farmer is invited to contend in the market of England with the serf of Russia for the privilege of supplying with food men to whom a morsel of bacon on a Sunday is a luxury, when by the simple process of annexation and protection he could bring to his side the same men and convert them into large and valuable customers. The planter is invited to contend in the market of England for the privilege of clothing men who want means to buy bread, when by an exercise of his will he could bring to his side, annually, millions of the same men, each of whom would then require twenty pounds a year, two millions consuming half as much as was consumed in 1847 by almost thirty millions of the people of England and Wales.
The system of England demands that with such people as these we shall establish a community of goods. Were it allowed free playwere the people of the world to establish what is called free trade, and thus unite their efforts for the maintenance of the monopoly system, wages universally would fall to the level of those of the poorest countries of the world, for with every step those of England would, of necessity, fall, because they must be kept at that point which would enable her people to underwork the world, and the tendency everywhere would be, as it has been in Ireland and India, downward. The adoption of perfect free trade by this country would, for a short time, produce some activity there, but a very short period would prove that we bought far less under free trade than we had done with protection, and in the mean time the disproportion of the English population would have largely increased, and the difficulty would be then far greater than it is now, great even as it is. We now pay for far less merchandise than we did three years since, and were it not that we are still able to buy on credit, we should make smaller demands on England than we have done at any period since 1842. The greater the amount of capital thus lent to us, the lower must fall the condition of the English labourer. Every step now being made by England is a step downwards, and if we would not have our labourers reduced to a level with hers we must, by protection, endeavour to raise hers to a level with ours, as it will do by relieving us from the necessity for dependence upon commerce with a people whose labour is lower in the scale than our own. It tends to raise the value of man abroad and at home, and to enable all to obtain more food, fuel, and clothing with less labour. Under it immigration has always increased, and it has declined with its diminution. That it must tend to raise wages abroad is obvious from the fact that so many hundreds of thousands of the population of Europe, held to be surplus, have sought our shores, thus diminishing the quantity of labour seeking there to be employed.
With the approach to what is called freedom of trade, that system which tends to the maintenance of the monopoly of machinery in England, the value of labour here is falling towards the level of that of England. The present diminished production of coal and iron is maintained only by aid of a great diminution of wages. Labour is becoming surplus, and immigration is already falling off. This year will show a large diminution therein, and every step in that direction must be attended with a rise of freights tending to diminish the power to export either food or cotton. With the diminution of wages at the North, there is already a diminished power to consume either food or clothing, with increase in the surplus that is to be sent. Thus the same measures that increase the necessity for depending on machinery of transportation diminish the power to obtain it, to the deterioration of the condition of the whole body of the people, labourers and capitalists, farmers and planters, manufacturers and ship-owners; and the same which tend to diminish our necessities for depending thereon, tend to increase our power to obtain it, to diminish the burden now pressing upon the land-owners and labourers of Europe, and to bring about that state of things which shall give to us and them perfect freedom of trade. The harmony of all interests, whether individual or national, becomes more and more obvious the more the subject is examined.
It may not be uninstructive to review the last few years, with special reference to the discords that have occasionally been seen to exist between the employers and the employed, accompanied by strikes, combinations, &c., with a view to show their cause.
It is within the recollection of most of my readers that the years from 1836 to 1839 were distinguished for disturbances of this kind. The cause is obvious. Production was diminishing, and the labourer found himself unable to obtain the quantity of food, fuel, and clothing to which he had been accustomed. He desired a rise of money-wages to meet the rise in the price of food, but the employer could not give it, and hence arose combinations for the purpose of compelling him to do so.
From 1844 to 1848, harmony was restored, because production increased, and the labourer found that each year enabled him to obtain more food and clothing, and better shelter, with the same labour.
The last year has been marked by a succession of combinations. In the coal region of Pennsylvania, at Pittsburgh, Lowell, and various other places, there have been strikes and turn-outs, some of them long-continued; and everywhere there have been clamours for the passage of laws restricting the hours of labour; but those who thus clamoured desired that wages should remain as they were. These things all result from the one great fact that the productiveness of labour is diminishing, and that wages are tending towards the European level.
To that cause was due the jealousy of foreigners which gave rise to the native party. In 1842, employment was almost unattainable, and the native workmen were indisposed to divide with strangers the little that was to be had. With the increased productiveness of labour wages rose, and the native party almost died out, while the import of foreigners was quadrupled. If the system of 1846 be continued, the same jealousy will re-appear, and foreigners will be proscribed, while immigration will be diminished.
It is to the interest of the native workmen that the wages of Europe should be brought up to a level with our own, and the only way in which that can be accomplished is for us to pursue a course that shall tend to render it the interest of every man in Europe that can find means to pay his passage to endeavour to reach our shores. Every one that comes will be a producer of something, and every one therefore a customer to others for their products. Look where we may, there is the most perfect harmony of interest.
* November 12, 1849.