Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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FACTORY LAWS. The doctrine so long current in political economy and expressed in the motto, laissez faire, laissez passer, has been thoroughly exploded by the logic of circumstances. No better proof of this could be desired than the factory laws of modern industrial nations, laws which have been of late warmly defended by economists of every school. The reaction begun by Adam Smith against the paternal theory and practice of contemporary governments resulted in an illogical and untenable theory of the state and its functions. "Free competition" was the panacea for all economical ills of society. Every one was to be free to sell his own labor and that of his family where he could obtain most for it, and free to make such contracts as he would or could. As England was the first great industrial state of modern times, so in England the results of such a policy first showed themselves in all their nakedness. The most merciless exploitation of the weaker elements of society by the stronger became the rule. The manufacturers, in their thirst for wealth, paid as little attention to the health of their operatives as they chose. The laborers, in their necessity, were compelled to accept what terms were offered. The labor of the father soon became insufficient to support the family. The mother had to go into the coal mine or factory. It was not enough; the children were sent into the mines and factories. They were compelled to work ten or fifteen hours a day for seven days in the week, in narrow, illy ventilated and dirty factory rooms or in still more un-healthful mines. The result of such work was, of course, the moral and physical deterioration of the children and a steady degeneration of the laborers from decade to decade. The conditions prevailing in Great Britain during the latter part of the last century and the early part of the present century would be entirely incredible were they not well attested by the testimony of unimpeachable witnesses. So crying did the evil become that in 1802 an act was passed "for the preservation of the health and morals of apprentices and others employed in cotton and other mills, and cotton and other factories." This bill owed its passage to the ravages of epidemic diseases in the factory districts of Manchester. The illy fed and over-worked children in the factories formed the very best field for the development and spread of epidemic and contagious diseases. Pauper children were sent in crowds from the agricultural districts of the southern counties to the manufacturing regions of the northern counties. They were apprenticed to the mill owners and mercilessly over-worked and under-fed. The act mentioned subjected all mills employing three or more apprentices or twenty other persons to its provisions. The walls were to be whitewashed, windows enough were to be provided, and the apprentices were always to have two suits of clothing, one to be new each year. Twelve hours were declared to be a day's work, and work was altogether prohibited from 9 P. M. to 6 A. M. These provisions applied only to apprentices, and not to the work of children residing in the neighborhood of the factories. In 1819 children before the age of nine were excluded from the cotton mills, and those from nine to sixteen were not to be employed more than twelve hours a day. In 1825 a bill was passed providing for a partial holiday on Saturday. In 1831 night work in the cotton factories was prohibited for persons between nine and twenty-one years of age; the working day for persons under eighteen was to be twelve hours, and on Saturday nine. In 1833 these provisions were extended to various other kinds of factories. These acts diminished the number of children employed in factories very materially. In 1835 (before the factory acts went into full operation) there were 56,455 children employed in 3,164 factories; in 1838, 29,283 were employed in 4,217 factories, i.e., from an average of over seventeen per factory to less than seven. The movement did not stop here. A mining act was passed which prohibited underground work to children under ten, and to women. In 1844 a new act was passed, providing that children between eight and thirteen should not be employed in textile industries for more than six and a half hours per day. In 1847 ten hours was declared a working day for women and "young persons," i.e., persons between thirteen and eighteen, and they were allowed to work only between 6 A. M. and 6 P. M., one hour and a half to be allowed for meal time. No protected person was to work on Saturday after 2 P. M. Subsequent laws extended these provisions, with some modifications, to nearly every branch of manufacturing industry. In 1874 the minimum age of children was raised to ten years.


—In 1878 a consolidating act was passed, which included in one bill the substance of all previous laws. We can not illustrate the present state of the subject in any better way than by giving this bill in outline. Part I. contains the general law relating to factories and workshops, under the following heads: 1. Sanitary provisions; 2, Safety; 3, Employment and meal hours; 4. Holidays: 5, Education: 6. Certificates of fitness for employment. 7, Accidents. 1. Under the first head, the buildings must be kept in a clean state, and free from effluvia arising from any drain, privy or other nuisance. 2. The second contains provisions for the fencing of dangerous machinery, and restrictions on the employment of children and young persons in cleaning, etc., machinery in motion. 3. A child, young person or woman shall not be employed except during the period of employment fixed as follows: 1st. In textile factories. For young persons and women the period shall be from 6 A. M. to 6 P. M or 7 A. M. to 7 P. M.: on Saturdays, from 6 A. M. till 1 P. M. for manufacturing processes, and 1.30 for all employment, if one hour is allowed for meals; otherwise at 12.30 and 1. Or if the work begins at 7 A. M., it shall end on Saturdays at 1. 30 and 2 P. M. respectively. For meal times two hours at least on week days, and on Saturdays half an hour, must be allowed. Continuous employment without a meal time of at least half an hour not to exceed four and a half hours. For children: employment to be for half time only (in morning or afternoon sets, or alternate days). The work day is the same as above A child must not be employed for two successive periods of seven days in the same set, whether morning or afternoon, nor on two successive Saturdays, nor on Saturday in any week if he has already on one day been employed more than five and a half hours. Nor shall a child be employed on two successive days, nor on the same day in two successive weeks, 2d. In non-textile factories. For young persons and women: period of employment same as before, ending at 2 P. M. on Saturdays; meal times not less than an hour and a half, and on Saturdays half an hour; continuous employment without a meal not to exceed five hours. These regulations also apply to young persons in workshops. For children: half-time arrangements generally the same as before; continuous employment without a meal not to exceed five hours. Women in workshops are subject to the same regulations as young persons, if young persons or children are employed; if not, the period of employment for a woman in a workshop shall be from 6 A. M. to 9 P. M. (on Saturday, 4 P. M.). Absent time for meals, etc., must be allowed to the extent of four and a half hours (on Saturdays two and a half hours). The employment of young persons or children at home, when the work is the same as in a factory or workshop, but no machine power is used, is also regulated, the day being fixed at 6 A. M. to 9 P. M.; for children, 6 A. M. to 1 P. M.; or 1 P. M. to 8 P. M. Meal times in factories or workshops must be simultaneous, and employment during such meal times is forbidden. The occupier of a factory or workshop must issue a notice of the times of employment, etc. No children under ten shall be employed. 4. The following holidays shall be allowed to all protected persons: Christmas day, Good Friday (or the next public holiday), and eight half-holidays, two of which may he commuted for one entire holiday. 5. Occupiers must obtain a weekly certificate of school attendance for every child in their employment 6. Medical certificates of fitness for employment are required in the case of children and young persons under sixteen. When a child becomes a young person a fresh certificate is necessary. 7. Notice of accidents causing loss of life or bodily injury must be sent to the inspector and certifying surgeon of the district.


—Part II. contains special provisions for particular classes of factories and workshops, such as bake houses, print works, bleaching and dyeing works. The third schedule to the act contains a list of special exceptions too numerous to be given in detail.


—Part III. provides for the administration of the law. Two classes of officers are to be appointed by the secretary of state, viz.: 1, inspectors, charged with the duty of inspecting and examining factories and workshops at all reasonable times, and of exercising such other powers as may be necessary to the carrying out of the act: and 2, certifying surgeons, to grant certificates of fitness under the act. Numerous other sections relate to penalties and legal proceedings.


—Part IV. defines the principal terms used in the act. "Child" means a person under fourteen years of age, a "young person" is between fourteen and eighteen; a "woman" means a woman over eighteen. Other sections apply the act to Scot land and Ireland, with a temporary saving for the employment of children under ten and children over thirteen (lawfully employed at the time of the passage of the act). Previous enactments are repealed—It will be seen that the government has taken under its protection the whole class of women, children and youth employed in manufacturing industries. England has not progressed very far in protecting male laborers over twenty-one years of age, although the general provisions relating to the situation, cleaning, ventilation, etc., of factories, and the legal definition of a day's labor, should be considered as the first steps in such a policy. The liberty of combination allowed the laborers is also to be regarded as a negative protection at least.


—Other countries have followed the example of England in protecting the interests of wage laborers. Switzerland, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and several states of the American Union, have more or less developed systems of factory laws. The federal law of Switzerland provides that children under fifteen years of age shall not be employed in factories, and those under seventeen shall not be so employed as to hinder their school and religious instruction. Sunday and night labor is forbidden to persons under eighteen years of age. Pennsylvania fixes the legal day's labor at eight hours in the absence of a special contract, and prohibits the employment of children under thirteen years of age in factories. Minors between the ages of thirteen and sixteen shall not be employed in factories for more than nine months in any one year, nor shall any minors between said ages be employed who have not attended school for at least three consecutive months within the same year. Operatives under twenty-one years of age shall not be employed for more than sixty hours in any one week. Detailed provisions are also contained in the law as to the means of safety to be provided in all branches of industry where they are needed. Massachusetts prohibits the employment of children under ten years of age in manufacturing, mechanical or mercantile establishments. No child under fourteen years of age shall be so employed, except during the vacations of the public schools, unless during the year next preceding such employment he has for at least twenty weeks attended some public or private day school under teachers approved according to law, nor shall such employment continue, unless such child in each and every year attends school for twenty weeks, which time may be divided into two terms of ten consecutive weeks each. Nor shall any child under fourteen years of age who can not read and write be employed in such establishments while the public schools of the town are in session. Minors under eighteen and women may not be employed in factories for more than ten hours per day, nor sixty hours per week. A law, approved April 12, 1882, provides that every person or corporation employing females in any manufacturing, mechanical or mercantile establishment shall provide suitable seats for the use of the females so employed, and shall permit the use of such seats by them when they are not necessarily engaged in the active duties for which they are employed. The provisions in reference to ventilation, cleaning, etc., of factories are similar to those in the English law. It will be seen that Massachusetts has gone farther than any other commonwealth in the classes of protected persons. In addition to factories, mercantile and mechanical establishments are included in the law. Other states allow also many more exceptions than Massachusetts does.


—It is evident from the preceding sketch that the meaning of the term "factory legislation" can not be ascertained by a mere putting together of the meanings of the two words which compose it, but can be understood only by a study of its history (Cohn.) The origin and development of factory legislation point to a limited field which as very far from being coincident with legislation concerning factories. This limited field has in general as its object the protection of wage laborers from those injurious influences which they can not themselves ward off, and, in a narrower sense, from those agencies which most deeply affect the existence of the laborer, especially the protection of those persons who stand most in need of protection, particularly of children; and finally, protection in those branches of industry in which such influences have revealed themselves in the most palpable way. It is characteristic of the empirical course of such legislation that, where it was anything more than a mere pretense, it began in the narrowest sense of the term and approached its logical consequences only after the lapse of generations. Out of the protection of apprentices in cotton factories grew the protection of all children in those factories; out of this grew their protection in other kinds of factories, and out of this last their protection in all mercantile and mechanical establishments as well. (Mass.) The protection of children developed into a protection for women and even for adult men. Protection against the danger of excessive duration of labor developed into a detailed oversight directed not only to the limitation and division of the day, but also to the kind of wages and to provisions against mechanical and chemical dangers of the factories.


—The discussion as to the wisdom of such legislation has been long and excited. Factory laws have been opposed at every stage as being an unwarranted case of interference with the liberty of the individual. Many political economists have protested that the principles of economics forbid any such interference with the freedom of contract. Manufacturers objected that the cost of manufactured goods would be so increased that they could not compete in foreign markets. The laboring classes themselves were opposed to the movement, maintaining that, so far from raising their standard of life, it tended to lower it. Nor can it be denied that each and all these objections have a certain force. Laws which prescribe the age at which labor may be begun, the duration of labor, the conditions under which labor may be carried on, and compulsory attendance at school, need special justification. They interfere with the liberty of the individual, which seems to be contrary to the course of modern political development. In their endeavor to protect him they limit his power over the very agency by which he becomes independent, viz., his own labor, and so they seem to come in conflict with the principles of a sound economy. In their attempt to raise the standard of comfort of the laboring classes they deprive them of certain sources of income, and so their first result is a lowering of the standard of comfort, and they are felt to be oppressive. They interfere, in a word, immediately in the life of the laboring classes, and undertake to counteract by force their tendency to degeneration. And yet they do nothing more than simply apply this force, letting the results take care of themselves. However weighty these arguments are allowed to be, they are overcome by other considerations. In the first place, so far as those provisions relating to the labor of children are concerned, it may be maintained even by those who would limit the functions of the state to the simple one of protection, that such legislation is nothing more than a much needed interference of the state in behalf of the most helpless and oppressed portion of the community. If fathers and mothers become so deadened to every feeling of the obligation of parents to their offspring, as to place their children under such conditions as make their normal development as human beings impossible. If they deprive them of all opportunities for mental, moral and physical education; if they employ them habitually in such branches of industry as lead to their mental, moral and physical deterioration and ruin; surely no more sacred duty rests upon the state than to interfere to protect these children—to protect them not only against their employers, but against their parents as well. The state, then, may undertake to protect minors from the abuse of their parents or guardians. But the principle which justifies interference to protect one helpless and exploited class, justifies interference to protect all helpless and exploited classes. For a long time women were minors in the eyes of the law, and are in reality so yet in all the great manufacturing centres of the world. Their labor was and is exploited as mercilessly by their husbands and lovers as ever that of children was by their parents. Legislation has interfered to protect them from this abuse, fixing the maximum period of labor within any one day and any one week. Such measures can be justified on essentially the same principles as those in behalf of children. The case of adult men is some-what different. To those, however, who maintain that factory laws interfere to an unwarrantable extent with the right of contract, and that adult men and women know what is to their interest better than any set of lawgivers, it may be rejoined that it makes no difference how clearly a man knows what is for his interest if circumstances compel him to close with any contract offered him, which is the case of the ordinary laborer in our modern industry. A laborer in search of work, and needing it in order to earn his next meal, is in no position to require his employer to see that the workshop is healthy or safe, or to dictate any other terms on which he will or will not work. The employer is economically the stronger, and he can exploit the laborer at his will. Here is still another case, then, where the simple theory of protection demands the interference of the state. The conditions of modern industry tend constantly to make the laboring class as a whole more dependent and helpless, and every added year of industrial development makes protection of this class more necessary.


—Factory legislation may be justified not only as a fair response to a demand for protection on the part of helpless classes of the community, but as an essential movement in the interests of society as a whole. Looked at from this standpoint, we may formulate the object of factory laws somewhat as follows: the establishment or restoration of normal conditions of life for the laboring classes, in opposition to those destructive influences by which modern industry especially, although that by no means alone, has destroyed the unity of family, home and education. (Cohn.) It goes without the saying that in a state of society in which the children from the age of five or six years are sent into the mines and factories from daylight till dark, in which the mothers from the time of delivery work all day and half the night in the same places, in which the fathers either do the same or idle away their time living on the proceeds of the labor of their wives and children—it goes without the saying, we repeat, that in such a society there can be no home life, no care and nurture of children, no education, no morality, no health; in a word, none of the conditions necessary to the development of intelligent citizens and to the welfare of free states. Practical statesmen and philanthropists of two generations ago saw clearly that something must be done to counteract the agencies which were sapping rapidly and surely the foundations of family life, reversing the relations of parent and child, of husband and wife, and reducing whole classes of the population to a condition but little, if any, removed from barbarism. They began the work, and it has made good progress. But it is clear that much remains to be done. The next step to be taken is to prohibit the employment of mothers of young children in the factories. Exactly what legislation on this point is practicable does not appear as yet by any means clear, though that something must be done in this direction, and that right early, no one can doubt who knows anything of the conditions prevailing in the great manufacturing centres of the world. In such cases we interfere with the liberty of the laboring classes against their will in the interests of society as a whole. And their objection that their income is thus abridged and their standard of comfort thus lowered, although undoubtedly true of the immediate results, will probably lose its force in course of time, and even if it does not, it ought not to avail against the interest of the commonwealth as a whole—In answer to the manufacturers who urge that such legislation, by raising the price of labor, makes a country unable to compete in the world market with nations which have no such laws, three points may be made: First, it can not be shown, either in theory or practice, that those nations with the lowest wages are best able to compete in international industry. On the contrary, as America has the highest rate of agricultural wages in the world and is yet able to underbid all the world with her agricultural productions, and as England has the highest rate of wages of all the nations which manufacture largely for foreign countries and yet underbids all her competitors with her manufactures, it would seem that supremacy in the world's market and the highest rate of wages are perfectly compatible. Second, the endeavor of the laborers is now directed toward securing an international factory legislation which will place all nations on the same footing in this respect. The federal legislature of the Swiss republic took the first official step toward securing an international system in 1881. Foreign governments were invited to unite with Switzerland in such an attempt. No decisive result has as yet been attained by this step, but it is significant of the progress of events, and marks a decided advance in this subject. Third, a state has other and nobler ends to follow than the accumulation of mere material wealth. The advance of its citizens in intelligence and happiness, in all that distinguishes civilization from barbarism, is of far more importance than supremacy in the world market. Moderate wealth and happy homes are better than a degraded proletary and ability to underbid all competitors in the industrial world.


—Whatever one may think of the arguments on either side, it is certain that factory legislation will not rest where it is, but will advance to new fields and new restrictions. The laborers themselves have taken the matter into their own hands, and by their local, national and international combinations are exercising, whether for weal or woe, a marked influence on the legislation of all civilized nations.


—LITERATURE. Among the sources of information on this topic we may mention: Artisans and Machinery, by P. Gaskell, London, 1836; Die Lage der arbeitenden Klassen in England, by Engel, Leipzig, 1848; Ansichten der Volkswirthschaft aus dem geschicht. Standpunkte, by Wilhelm Roscher; Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes, by Dr. Kay, 1832; various Reports of Commissioners appointed to inquire into the working of the factory act by the British parliament; various Reports of English Factory Inspectors; various Reports of Children Employment's Commission to Parliament; yearly Reports of Statistical Bureaus of all civilized nations; Ueber internationale Fabrikgesetzgebung, by Gustav Cohn, in Conrad's Juhrbücher für Nationalokonomie, vol. xxxvii., p. 313, to which reference is made in the body of the above article; Le travail des femmes au xix. siecle, by Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, Paris. 1873; La législation sur le travail des enfants dans les manufactures, by Tallou-Maurice, Paris, 1875.


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