The Economics of Welfare

Pigou, Arthur C.
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First Pub. Date
London: Macmillan and Co.
Pub. Date
4th edition.
41 of 73

Part III, Chapter IV


§ 1. THE experience of the United Kingdom and of the United States affords abundant proof that purely voluntary arrangements entered into by employers and workpeople, when worked in a friendly spirit, can do a great deal towards promoting industrial peace. But these arrangements are not adequate to prevent strikes or lock-outs in all circumstances. Purely conciliatory schemes may be broken into by war even during the period of their currency; and schemes in which provision is made for arbitration may fail to be renewed when this period comes to an end. On occasions of this kind, when voluntary machinery within an industry is lacking or threatens to prove inadequate, something further is necessary if industrial war is to be averted. The solution which naturally suggests itself is that of friendly mediation. In behalf of this the general argument is strong and straightforward. When once a difference has become accentuated, and, still more, when it has developed into an open conflict, both sides are apt to be striving for the "mastery," as well as for the particular object in dispute. They stand to lose dignity as well as money, and, consequently, their obstinacy will be much greater than the material point alone can justify. Not only is this, as a matter of fact, so, but it is frequently known to be so by the parties themselves. They will often have considered some matter worth the chance of a rupture, but not worth the certainty of one. Hence, when the rupture actually arrives, all that may be needed is some device for facilitating withdrawal, without undue loss of dignity, from a position assumed for purposes of bluff. Even if, in the earlier stages of a conflict, no way out seems acceptable, a point is sure to be reached sooner or later when one party will be willing to yield, if it can "save its face" in doing so. Hence the opportunity for the "good offices" of a mediator. His appearance on the scene makes prominent the fact, apt to be lost sight of in the heat of controversy, that the general public, as well as the parties directly concerned, have an interest in peace. The mere suggestion from him that a conference should be held may, in some circumstances, of itself suffice to bring about a settlement; and, where it falls short of this large measure of success, tact and a genial luncheon party may still indirectly advance the prospects of peace.*26 For, in the presence of a mediator, the element of "proper pride" and "courage never to submit or yield" is eliminated by the suggestion that reconciliation is made as a favour to a friend, and not as a concession to an adversary. Furthermore, even when good offices do not effect an actual settlement, they may secure that a difference shall be resolved by arbitration instead of by industrial war. Perhaps the most effective way in which a mediator can forward this result is by helping the disputants in the difficult task of finding some mutually acceptable person to decide between them. In this matter the assistance of the British Board of Trade, before its duties were taken over by the Ministry of Labour, used frequently to be invoked.


§ 2. Since there is, thus, scope for mediatorial intervention, it becomes important to examine the different institutions through which it may be made to work. There are three kinds of mediators—the eminent outsider, the non-governmental Board, and the Board connected with some part of the governmental system of the country. These are not mutually incompatible, but can advantageously be used to supplement one another. The great advantage of the first is that the intervention of men like Bishop Westcott,*27 Lord Rosebery,*28 Lord James,*29 Mr. Asquith,*30 or the Prime Minister of the day, of itself tends somewhat to smooth the course of events by flattering the disputants with a sense of their own importance. The ordinary Board of Mediation, whether voluntary or official, has not, as a rule, such distinguished names to conjure with, and is, so far, inferior. Hence for a certain class of disputes the eminent outsider cannot be dispensed with.


§ 3. The usefulness of the non-governmental Board is less generally admitted. It has, indeed, the advantage over the eminent outsider that, not being constituted ad hoc, it is more readily brought into play, and has a better chance of making its voice heard in that breathing space before a strike or lockout actually begins, when mediation is most likely to succeed. It has been urged, however, that, whereas in this country a great number of mediatorial Boards have been set up by the Chambers of Commerce and Trades Councils of different towns, none of them, except the London Board, has produced the slightest effect. In short, according to this argument, the system of non-governmental Boards has been tried and found by experience to be worthless. The evidence adduced, however, is inadequate to support so sweeping a conclusion. The Boards which have failed are exclusively municipal Boards, and, with labour organised as it is in England, the conduct even of purely local differences is not likely to be left altogether to the men on the spot. May it not, then, be fairly urged that the failure of these Boards was due, not to their non-governmental character, but to the narrowness of the area which they covered, and does not the comparative success of the London Board add weight to this suggestion? If, however, the facts can be thus explained, they do not warrant us in supposing that local non-governmental Boards would fail if tried on the less completely unionised soil of the Continent. Still less do they prove that a non-governmental national Board is doomed to failure. Indeed, a Board of this kind, under the name of the Industrial Department of the National Civic Federation, has had considerable success in the United States.


§ 4. Nevertheless, though it would be a mistake to ignore the possibilities of non-governmental Boards, it is plain that there are certain advantages inaccessible to them, but readily available to Boards attached to the governmental machinery of the country. In the first place, the latter possess exceptional facilities—facilities second only to those enjoyed by voluntary Conciliation Boards in particular industries—for ascertaining the existence of differences at the earliest possible moment. For administrative officials can be required to supply them with immediate information whenever a strike or lock-out occurs or is seriously threatened. In the second place, they have greater intellectual and financial resources, and are likely to be more liberal in the use of them. Thus it is probable that the trained ability which the Ministry of Labour—as once the Board of Trade—can command has a good deal to do with the preference displayed for it, as against local Boards, by the parties to disputes covering a small area. Lastly, when, as on the plan adopted in England, the emissaries employed are sent out directly from a central State department, instead of being, as in France, mere local officials endowed with mediatorial powers, they are likely to wield a modicum of reputation which may help them considerably in their work. Consequently, it is not surprising to find that in recent times the work of mediation in industrial disputes has been taken over in great part by machinery attached to some organ of government. In some countries the offer of mediation may only be made on the request of one or other of the parties to a difference. Thus a Belgian law of 1887 authorised the establishment locally of councils of industry and labour with sections representing different industries, and provided: "Whenever circumstances appear to demand it, at the request of either party, the governor of the province, the mayor of the commune, or the president of the section for the industry in which the dispute occurs must convene that section, which is to endeavour, by conciliation, to arrange a settlement."*31 More frequently, however, mediation is authorised at the discretion of the public authority, whether it is asked for by a party to the difference or not. This is the arrangement under the French law of 1892 and under the English Conciliation Act of 1896. The latter Act provides: "When a difference exists, or is apprehended, between an employer or any class of employers and workmen, the Board of Trade may, if they think fit, exercise all or any of the following powers, namely: (1) inquire into the causes and circumstances of the difference; (2) take such steps as to the Board may seem expedient for the purpose of enabling the parties to the difference to meet together, by themselves or their representatives, under the presidency of a chairman mutually agreed upon or nominated by the Board of Trade or by some other person or body, with a view to the amicable settlement of differences; (3) on the application of employers or workmen interested, and after taking into consideration the existence and adequacy of the means available for conciliation in the district or trade and the circumstances of the case, appoint a person or persons to act as conciliator or as a board of conciliators." The Ministry of Labour, fortified with the Industrial Courts Act of 1919, has inherited these powers from the Board of Trade. Experience shows that mediation, skilfully and sympathetically conducted along these lines, can often bring about the adjustment of differences that might otherwise very probably have led to a stoppage of work.


§ 5. Thus we may conclude generally that eminent outsiders, non-governmental Boards and official agencies of mediation are all valuable in their spheres. It must not, however, be forgotten that they are also dangerous. As an indirect consequence of their presence, the development of peace-promoting machinery within separate industries—a more effective solvent of differences than "good offices" are ever likely to be—may be checked. To prevent this result, discretion on the part of the intervening body is essential. It should never arrogate to itself the claim to more than a transitory usefulness, and should carefully encourage—as the British Board of Trade, under the Act of 1896, and its successor, the Ministry of Labour, have always aimed at doing—the formation of mutual Boards in the industries with which it is brought into contact.

Notes for this chapter

Cf. Mr. and Mrs. Webb's opinion of the efficacy of Lord Rosebery's luncheon party in conciliating the parties in the coal dispute of 1893 (Industrial Democracy, p. 242).
The Durham Coal Strike, 1892.
The Federation Coal Strike, 1893.
The Clyde and Belfast Engineering Dispute, 1895.
The London Cab Strike.
Bulletin of U.S.A. Bureau of Labour, No. 60, p. 421.

Part III, Chapter V

End of Notes

41 of 73

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