The Wages Question: A Treatise on Wages and the Wages Class
WE have seen (Chapter X.) that the only security which the wages class can have that they shall receive the largest possible remuneration which is compatible with the existing conditions of industry, is found in their own perfect mobility. Without this, they are clearly subject to reductions of wages under pressure, to be succeeded only too surely by industrial degradation (Chapter IV.). And it is further evident that it matters not, in the result, whether the total or partial immobility of labor be produced by physical causes, by the force of positive law, or by fear, ignorance, or superstition. Any thing which deceives the sense of the wage-laborer or confuses his apprehension of his own interest may be just as mischievous, in a given case, as bodily constraint.
Following out this line of thought, we find that the wage-laborer may be put at disadvantage,
I. By laws which act in restraint of movement or contract. Such laws may not be prohibitory, but merely regulative in their intention, and yet retard more or less seriously the passage from occupation to occupation, or from place to place. Even the mere necessity of registration imposed must have an effect, however slight, in the nature of obstruction; and unless it can be shown*43 that, by increasing the intelligence and confidence with which changes of location or of occupation may be effected, it more than compensates for the degree of hindrance and irritation which the merest act of registration involves, it must be condemned as prejudicial to the wages class, whose supreme interest is the easy, ready flow of labor to its market.
But it is not of such incidental or perhaps wholly undesigned mischief that labor has had chiefly to complain in the past. Those countries are very young whose history does not afford repeated instances of direct and purposed obstruction to industrial movement and contract, in the interest of the employing class, which has generally been largely identical with the law-making class. The vicious maxims of English legislation in this respect extended even to the American colonies, free as they kept themselves otherwise from the industrial errors of the mother country, and laws in regulation of service and of wages remained long on the statute-books of these enlightened communities.
A brief recital of the English legislation in restraint of the natural rights of labor will not prove uninstructive.
After the frightful plague, called the Black Death, which swept over England in 1348-49, carrying away "perhaps from one third to one half of the population,"*44 wages rose, from the temporary scarcity of labor, to rates previously unknown; nor can it be doubted that laborers, thus by a great accident made for the time masters of the situation, assumed a tone which employers relished quite as little as they liked their higher terms. To meet this exigency,*45 Edward III. issued a proclamation forbidding the payment of more than customary wages,*46 and requiring workmen to serve in their accustomed place. About a year later, the disputes which arose in determining what wages had been customary before the plague led to the enactment of a law (25 Edward III.) fixing for the whole kingdom the precise amount to be paid in wages in each of the principal occupations. Servants were to be "sworn two times in the year before lords, stewards, bailiffs, and constables of every town to hold and do these ordinances."... "And those which refuse to make such oath, or to perform that that they be sworn to or have taken upon them, shall be put in the stocks by the said lords, stewards, bailiffs, and constables of the towns by three days or more, or sent to the next gaol, there to remain till they will justify themselves." The statute prescribed the "liveries and wages" of "carters, ploughmen, drivers of the plough, shepherds, swineherds, deies, and all other servants" in husbandry; of "carpenters, masons and tilers, and other workmen of houses," including their "knaves," and of "plaisterers and other workers of mudwalls and their knaves."*47
But by the 13th year of Richard II. Parliament had accumulated experience enough of the evils of settling a common rate for all England to provide that "forasmuch as a man can not put the price of corn and other victuals in certain,"*48 justices of the peace should in every county make occasional proclamation, "by their discretion, according to the dearth of victuals, how much every mason, carpenter, tiler, and other craftsman, workman, and other laborers by the day, as well in harvest as in other times of the year, after their degree, shall take, with meat and drink or without meat and drink." By the important act of 5 Elizabeth this power of justices to fix wages was re-enacted, and, though long disused, it was not until the 53 George III. that the authority was formally withdrawn.
But it was not the rate of wages alone which received the attention of the early parliaments. The statute of 37 Edward III. required that "artificers, handicraft people, hold them every one to one mystery, which he will choose betwixt this and the (said) feast of Candlemas; and two of every craft shall be chosen to survey that none use other craft than the same which he hath chosen." By statute of 12 Richard II. it was ordained that "he or she which use to labor at the plough and cart, or other labor or service of husbandry, till they be of the age of twelve years; that from thenceforth they shall abide at the same labor, without being put to any mystery or handicraft." But the statute of the largest effect in constraining the courses of labor was that of the 5th Elizabeth known as the Statute of Apprentices, by which the access of unskilled labor to the trades and professions was restricted within the narrowest bounds. A single section will suffice. No merchant, mercer, draper, goldsmith, ironmonger, embroiderer, or clothier may take an apprentice, "except such servant or apprentice be his son, or else that the father or mother of such apprentice or servant shall have, at the time of taking of such apprentice or servant, lands, tenements, or other hereditaments of the clear yearly value of forty shillings of one estate of inheritance or freehold at the least."
So much for restraints on movement from one occupation to another. Movement from place to place was restricted with equal jealousy. By statute of 25 Edward III. it was ordained that, with exception of certain counties, no laborer in agriculture should "go out of the town where he dwelleth in the winter to serve the summer, if he may serve in the same town, taking as before is said." By the statute of 12 Richard II. it was provided that "no servant or laborer, be he man or woman, shall depart at the end of his term out of the hundred, rape, or wapentake where he is dwelling, to serve or dwell elsewhere, or by color to go from thence in pilgrimage, unless he bring a letter-patent containing the cause of his going, and the time of his return, if he ought to return, under the king's seal," etc. Although all life had long passed out of these statutes, it was not until 1824 that the laws prohibiting the emigration of artisans from the kingdom were repealed, as vain and uselessly irritating.
Such extracts as have been presented will perhaps serve sufficiently to convey an impression of the minuteness and rigidity of the numerous acts which sought to regulate the industry of England. It is not necessary to show that such laws were always fully enforced,*49 to establish the certainty that they wrought grievous evil to the working classes. If they had effect only in part, if they were only enforced here and there and now and then, or even if they were always to be evaded, but by resort to concealment, stratagem, or indirection, then they must have seriously affected the mobility of labor.
But it is doubtful if all the barbarous enactments we have cited are together responsible for more of the present pauperism and destitution of England than is the law of parochial settlement. This act originated in the reign of Charles II., and while other restrictions upon the movement of population were gradually giving way before the expansion of industrial enterprise and the liberalizing tendencies of modern thought, the mischievous provisions of the Law of Settlement were given a wider scope and an increased severity from reign to reign. It is only within the last twelve years that the cords that crossed the political body in all directions, cutting off the circulation until every portion of the surface broke out in putrefying sores, have been loosened. The image may seem extravagant; but no language can exaggerate the effect of such restraints on population. Migration within the kingdom was practically prohibited. If the laborer in search of employment ventured across the boundaries of his parish (and there are 15,535 parishes in England and Wales), he was liable to be apprehended and returned to the place of his settlement; while parish officers were perpetually incited by the fears of the ratepayers to zeal in hunting down and running out all possible claimants of public charity on whom, if unmolested, residence would confer a right to support. "When an employer wished to engage a servant from a foreign parish, he was not permitted to do so unless he entered into a recognizance, often to a considerable amount, to the effect that the incomer should not obtain the settlement, else the bond to be good against the employer. Parochial registers are full of such acknowledgments."*50
The peasant and the artisan, thus shut up within the place of their birth, were compelled to meet the fate which awaited the industry of that locality. All local calamities fell with unbroken force upon a population that had no escape. The calamity might be temporary, but the effects upon character and life were not. Industry might look up again, but the peasant, broken in his self-respect, brutalized, pauperized, could never afterwards be the same man. Employment might revive; but no art of man, no power of government could reconstitute the shattered manhood.
It is probably safe to say that no Continental country has, at least within late years, maintained any law so injurious in its practical effects in producing a helpless immobility of labor, as the English law of settlement, the original object of which was to keep, not laborers, but paupers, in their place. But of laws directly seeking, in the interests of employers, to control the movements of labor, whether from place to place or from occupation to occupation, there is in the history of European legislation limit neither to number nor to variety. In France,*51 in spite of some contradictory features, it may be said that freedom of labor was achieved by the Revolution. In Germany, and among the Scandinavian*52 peoples, the system of restriction was strongly intrenched, and still survives with no little force, nothwithstanding the tremendous breaches made in it by the liberalizing tendencies of the last twelve or fifteen years. In Denmark, perhaps, of all these countries, free trade in labor is most nearly achieved.*53 In Austria laws instituting the "Genossenschaften," or guilds, are so far modified that these are no longer close corporations. They are still, however, compulsory associations, to which every Austrian workman is under legal obligation to belong.*54
II. The wage-laborer may be put at disadvantage by a fictitious currency. The laborer suffers, with other classes of the community, from the disturbances of industry which are always occasioned by an inflated and fluctuating circulation; but the injury to which I refer under the present title is due to the difficulty which the laborer experiences in adjusting his demand upon his employer to the rapid and violent changes in the currency cost of living, and to the illusions created by paper wealth, by which the laborer's expenditure is inevitably more or less perverted and distorted.
The most difficult mental operation which ordinary men are called upon to perform is that of discount. Even the book-educated and men of affairs find it laborious and painful. Mr. Laing, the well-known traveller, has left a curious bit of testimony on this point in a remark made in his Tour in Sweden, to the effect that he always caught himself thinking of a mile in that country as he would of a mile in England, although the Swedish mile is seven times as long. If such is the experience of a cultivated mind in so simple and familiar a matter, what can be expected of men of limited views and little information, subject unduly to the first impression of things and untrained to arithmetical computations, when called to render their wages into terms corresponding to the rapidly changing prices of the necessaries of life? It is a work which would task the powers of a philosopher; it is extremely improbable that a workingman will succeed in accomplishing it. The laborer's interest will not come to him: he must go to it; and to do so he must be able to identify and locate it with precision and assurance. In the absence, therefore, of clear and definite ideas on the relation of wages and prices, the laborer must under such a currency follow blindly around after prices, guided only by a general sense of the inadequacy of his wages in making his demands upon his employer. Acting without intelligence in the premises, it is a matter of course that he sacrifices in some degree his own interests. He either demands too much, and failing perhaps in a persistent demand injures alike himself and his employer; or, asking too little, he rests content with getting that.
It was doubtless with reference to this inability of the laboring class to meet such sudden and violent changes of conditions as are caused by a fictitious currency that Mr. Mill assigned to "custom" in economics the same beneficent function which it has performed in the sphere of politics as "the most powerful protector of the weak against the strong." Habit, usage, constitutes a barrier which in a degree preserves the economically weak from the hustlings and jostlings of the marketplace, and gives them room to stand.*55 A fictitious currency breaks down this barrier and involves all classes of the community in a furious and incessant struggle for existence in which the weakest are certain to be trampled down.
But it is not alone in competition with the employer that the laborer is placed at disadvantage by a fictitious currency. If it is difficult for the laborer to secure the adjustment of his wages to the varying cost of living, much more difficult is it for him to hold his own in the contest with the retail dealer from whom he obtains the necessaries of life. A laborer's earnings are expended in hundreds of small purchases. If his earnings come to him in depreciated paper, and are to be expended in commodities at inflated prices, he is, if he would judge either of the proportion between his present and past expenditures as a whole, or between the price of any one article and that which he has had to pay for it, obliged to perform operations of discount which would be laborious to an arithmetician. All hold being lost on "custom," how can he tell what he ought to pay per pound, per bushel, or per yard for articles of ordinary consumption? He knows nothing about the conditions of their production, and has no longer a traditional price to guide him. Formerly, if an article of domestic consumption advanced considerably, he was in the mood and in the position to resist the advance until it proved itself a genuine one. He disputed the higher price; he alleged the customary price; he held off purchasing as long as he could, because he disliked to pay the advance; he inquired elsewhere to ascertain whether other dealers were asking the same. With a community in this temper, retail prices will not be wantonly advanced; nothing less than a substantial reason in the state of the market will succeed in establishing a new price, and since every step will be taken against resistance, that new price will be kept down to something like the necessity of the case.
But under a fluctuating currency this hold of the retail buyer upon customary price is lost. It is with prescription as with a bank-bill: when once it is broken, the pieces are soon gone.*56 The laborer loses his reckoning. When prices go up far beyond what is usual, he can not presume to judge whereabouts they should stop. After finding advance upon advance established, in spite of his questioning and complaints, he becomes discouraged. He learns to pay without dispute whatever the shopkeeper demands, for he has no means of determining the justice of that demand. It is this temper which enables the retail dealer to gather his largest profits and work his worst extortions.
This it was, over and above the proper effects of currency inflation, which allowed retail prices to be carried up to such an unprecedented height in the United States during the war of secession, and to be kept up by combinations of dealers long after whatever reason had existed for the advance ceased. The extravagant profits thus realized had not, as is well known, the effect to invite true competition tending to reduce prices, but merely served to allow the multiplication of shops and stands at every corner and to support an army of middlemen.*57
This point is of so much importance in the philosophy of wages, that I take the further space to present some notable extracts from the writings of Mr. Mill and Prof. Cairnes relative to the function of "custom" in retail trade.
"Hitherto," says Mr. Mill, "it is only in the great centres of business that retail transactions have been chiefly, or even much, determined by competition. Elsewhere it rather acts, when it acts at all, as an occasional disturbing influence. The habitual regulator is custom, modified, from time to time, by notions existing in the minds of purchasers and sellers, of some kind of equity or justice... Retail price, the price paid by the actual consumer, seems to feel slowly and imperfectly the effect of competition, and where competition does exist, it often, instead of lowering prices, merely divides the gain among a greater number of dealers."*58
"Competition in retail markets," says Prof. Cairnes, "is conducted under conditions which may be described as of greater friction than those which exist in wholesale trade. In the wholesale market the sellers and purchasers meet together in the same place, affording thus to each other reciprocally the opportunity of comparing directly and at once the terms on which they are severally disposed to trade. In retail dealing it is otherwise. In each place of sale there is but one seller; and though it is possible to compare his terms with the prices demanded elsewhere by others, this can not always be done on the moment, and may involve much inconvenience and delay. A purchaser frequently finds it on the whole better to take the word of the seller for the fairness of the price demanded, than to verify his statements by going on the occasion of every purchase to another shop. It is probable, indeed, that if the charge be excessive, the purchaser will in time come to discover this, and may then transfer his custom to a cheaper market. This shows that competition is not inoperative in retail trade, but it shows also the sort of friction under which it works, and helps to explain what has often been remarked upon, and what, as a matter of fact, it is practically important people should bear in mind—the different prices at which the same commodity is frequently found to sell within a very limited range of retail dealing, almost in what we may call the same market. This is one circumstance that distinguishes retail from wholesale trading. The other lies in the advantage which his superior knowledge gives the seller over the buyer in the transaction taking place between them—a superiority which has no counterpart in the relations of wholesale dealers. In the wholesale market buyer and seller are upon a strictly equal footing as regards knowledge of all the circumstances calculated to affect the price of the commodity dealt in.... The circumstances of retail dealing are here again in contrast with those of the wholesale trade. The transactions do not take place between dealers possessing, or with the opportunities of acquiring, equal knowledge respecting the commodities dealt in, but between experts on one side, and, on the other, persons in most cases wholly ignorant of the circumstances at the time affecting the market. Between persons so qualified the game of exchange, if the rules be rigorously enforced, is not a fair one; and it has consequently been recognized universally in England, and very extensively among the better classes of retail dealers in Continental countries, as a principle of commercial morality, that the dealer should not demand from his customer a higher price for his commodity than the lowest he is prepared to take.*59 Retail buying and selling is (sic) thus made to rest upon a moral rather than an economical basis; and, there can be no doubt, for the advantage of all concerned."*60
Prof. Cairnes elsewhere refers to "the excessive friction in the action of competition in retail dealing." "The sluggish action of competition in this department of industry" (p. 132).
III. The laborer may be put at a disadvantage through the incidence*61 of taxation.
A theory of taxation which has been urged somewhat widely asserts the entire indifference of the place or the subject of imposition. Instead of looking to the individual citizen to pay his personal contribution, in proportion to his means, towards the support of government, it is proposed to levy upon the agencies of production, or upon commodities in the course of exchange, or upon certain species of property visible and tangible, without consideration of the persons thus first called upon to pay the taxes, in the assurance that the burden will, through the operation of "the laws of trade," be diffused, in the course of time, equally over the entire community.*62
We have, however, reached a point of view from which we can discern the fallacy of this doctrine. The diffusion theory rests upon the assumption of perfect competition. It is true only under the conditions which secure the complete mobility of capital and labor. Just so far as any class of the community is impeded in its resort to its best market by ignorance, poverty, fear, inertia, just so far is it possible that the burden of taxation may rest where it first falls. In the language of Prof. Rogers,*63 "taxes tend to remain upon the person who immediately pays them; or, in other words, it requires an effort, which is made with varying degrees of ease or difficulty, to shift a tax which is paid by the first payer to the shoulders of another." Not only is the effort of the first payer made with varying degrees of ease or difficulty, but the resistance of the other person, on to whose shoulders he seeks to shift his own burden, may be of any degree of effectiveness, powerful, intelligent, and tenacious, or weak, ignorant, and spasmodic. The result of the struggle will depend on the relative strength of the two parties; and as the two parties are never precisely the same in the case of two taxes, or two forms of the same tax, it must make a difference upon what subjects duties are laid, what is the severity of the imposition, and at what stage of producduction or exchange the tax is collected.*64 There can, I think, be no question that under the old regime a direction was given to taxation in every country of Europe, except Switzerland and Holland, which was intended to relieve the law-making classes from their just share of the expenses of government; and there can, I think, be as little doubt that, clumsy and unintelligent as was much of the financiering of those evil days, in this respect at least the intention of the law-making classes was effectually accomplished. It is the opinion of Prof. Rogers, than whom, certainly, no man living is more competent to judge of such a point, that the real weight of taxation during the great continental wars of England, fell upon and was endured by the poorer classes.*65 If this was true of England, where the common people never lost their power of self-assertion, what shall be said of the misera plebs contribuens of the Continent?
Speaking of France under the old régime, Sir Arch. Alison says: "Heavy taxes on the farmer, from which the clergy and nobility were exempt, aggravated by the arbitrary manner in which their amount was fixed by the intendant, and the vexatious feudal privileges of the landed proprietors, depressed the laboring classes, and rendered prosperity and good management little more than a signal for increased assessment. Such was the accumulated effect of these burdens that the produce of an acre being estimated under the old régime at £3 2s. 7d., the king drew £1 18s. 4d., the landlord 19s. 3d., and to the cultivator was left the miserable pittance of 5s., or one twelfth of the whole, and one eighth of the proprietor's share; or if the proprietor cultivated his own land, the king drew £1 18s. 4d., and the proprietor only £1 4s. 3d. Whereas in England the produce of an acre being calculated at £8, the rent may be stated at £1 10s., land tax and poor rates 10s., and there remains £6 for the farmer, being twelve times the amount of the public burdens, and four times that of the rent to the landlord." (On Population, i. 412.) And the same writer (Hist. Europe, xxii. 490, 491) quotes from Balleydier as follows respecting the taxation of Hungary prior to 1848:
"To such a length had the abuse of these privileges been carried that the nobles and their servants paid no toll on passing the bridge into Pesth, though it contributed one of the principal sources of revenue enjoyed by the town. The peasants, bourgeoisie, and mechanics alone were burdened with it. The peasant alone paid the hearth-tax; he alone contributed to the expenses of the Diet and the county charges; he paid the dues of the schoolmasters, guards, notaries, clergy, and curates; he alone kept up the roads, the bridges, the churches, the public buildings, the dykes, and the canals; he alone paid the whole war taxes, and furnished the recruits to the army; and in addition to all this he was compelled to hand over a ninth of his income to his lord, and to give him fifty-two days' service in the year. Finally, besides the charges of transporting wood for his lord's family, he was burdened exclusively with the quartering of soldiers, and he was compelled at all times, and for a merely nominal remuneration, to furnish such to the county authorities or their attendants. The Spartan Helots were kings in comparison."
It may appropriately be added in this connection that while taxation, unequal in its incidence, may have the effect to place the laborer at a disadvantage, frequent changes of tax-laws are almost certain to prove prejudicial to his interests. We have seen that there is no assurance that excessive burdens imposed by taxation ill-considered or intentionally oppressive will be diffused by the course of exchange over the entire community in due proportion, but it can at least be claimed that there is a tendency to such a result, however far that tendency may be defeated or deferred. That this tendency should even begin to operate it is, however, essential that time should be given. It is only by a long course that the ameliorating effects looked for in the diffusion of burdens can be brought around, if at all. If tax-laws are often to be changed, the class which is from any cause already at disadvantage is sure to suffer further and increasingly. Those who are buying and selling, watching and manipulating the market, are certain to get all the benefit of the remissions, and to recoup themselves for all the substituted impositions. Those who are economically weakest, the ignorant, the very poor, and those who are distant from the centres of information and of trade, will suffer most.
IV. The wages class may be put at disadvantage by injudicious poor-laws. The subject is a large one, and I must be content with a "fierce abridgment." Let us go back at once to the elementary question, Why does the laborer work? Clearly that he may eat. If he may eat without it, he will not work. Simple and obvious; yet the neglect or contempt of this truth by the English Parliament, between 1767 and 1832, brought the working classes to the verge of ruin, created a vast body of pauperism which has become hereditary, and engendered vices in the whole labor-system of the kingdom which work their evil work to this day. The Law of Settlement has already been spoken of among the acts restraining labor in its resort to market; let us now contemplate the English poor-laws as destroying the very disposition of the laboring class to seek an opportunity to labor.
By statute of the 27th year of Henry VIII. giving of alms was forbidden, and collections for the impotent poor were to be made in each parish. By 1st Edward VI. bishops were authorized to proceed against persons who should refuse to contribute or dissuade others from contributing. By 5th Elizabeth the justices were made judges of what constituted a reasonable contribution. By 14th Elizabeth regular compulsory contributions were exacted. But the more famous act of 43d Elizabeth created the permament poor-system of England. By it every person was given a legal right to relief, and the body of inhabitants were to be taxed for this object.*66 By subsequent legislation the burden was thrown entire upon the landowners. Voluntary pauperism was vigorously dealt with; the able-bodied were compelled to work; while by the act of 9th George I. parishes or unions of parishes were authorized to build workhouses, a residence in which might be made the condition of relief. This system, fairly administered, reduced the necessary evil of pauperism to the minimum. But, unfortunately for the working classes, a different theory directed legislation in the latter half of the eighteenth century, and a different temper of administration began to prevail. Six acts, passed in the early part of the reign of George III., intimated the changed spirit in which pauperism was thereafter to be dealt with. This spirit found fuller expression in Gilbert's act (22d George III.). Guardians were to be appointed to protect the poor against the natural parsimony of parish officers. The workhouse test was repealed for the able-bodied poor. Guardians were required to find work for all applicants as near their own homes as might be, and to make up, out of the rates, any deficiency in wages. By this latter provision, says Sir George Nicholls,*67 "the act appears to assume that there can never be a lack of profitable employment, and it makes the guardian of the parish answerable for finding it near the laborer's own residence, where, if it existed at all, the laborer might surely, by due diligence, find it himself. But why—it may be asked—should he use such diligence when the guardian is bound to find it for him, and take the whole responsibility of bargaining for wages and making up to him all deficiency? He is certain of employment. He is certain of receiving, either from the parish or the employer, sufficient for the maintenance of himself and his family; and if he earns a surplus, he is certain of its being paid over to him. There may be uncertainty with others and in other occupations. The farmer, the lawyer, the merchant, the manufacturer, however industrious, active, and observant, may labor under uncertainties in their several callings; not so the laborer. He bears, as it were, a charmed life in this respect, and is made secure, and that, too, without the exercise of care or forethought. Could a more certain way be devised for lowering character, destroying self-reliance, and discouraging, if not absolutely preventing, improvement?"
The experience of England, under the operation of the false and vicious principle of Gilbert's act, answers the inquiry with which this quotation closes, in the negative. By 1832 the principle had been carried logically out to its limits in almost universal pauperism. In the case of one parish, the collections of the poor-rates had actually ceased, because the landlords preferred to give up their rents, the clergyman his glebe and tithes, the farmers their tenancies.*68 In numerous other parishes the pressure of the poor-rate had become so great that the net rent was reduced one half and more, while it was impossible for land-lords to find tenants. The pauper class had been elevated by a system of liberal relief, unaccompanied by a work-house test, far above the condition of the independent laborers,*69 who had only to drop-down upon the rates to be better fed, clothed, and lodged than their utmost exertions could effect while working for hire. Thus not only did industry lose its natural reward, but a positive premium was put upon indolence, wastefulness, and vice. All the incidents of the English system were bad: the allowance for each additional child was so much out of proportion to the allowance for adults, that the more numerous a man's family the better his condition;*70 while the allowance for illegitimate children was more liberal than for those born in wedlock.
Such was the system which the wisdom of Parliament, under the influence of the squirearchy, substituted for the economic law that he that would eat must work. The natural effects of this system were wrought speedily and completely. The disposition to labor was cut up by the roots; all restraints upon increase of population disappeared under a premium upon births; self-respect and social decency vanished under a premium upon bastardy.*71 The amount expended in the relief and maintenance of the poor had risen to £7,036,969, or 10 shillings per head of the population. In this exigency, which in truth constituted one of the gravest crises of English history, Parliament, by the Poor-Law Amendment Act (4th and 5th William IV.), returned to the principle of the earlier laws; that principle being, as expressed by Prof. Senior, that it is "the great object of pauper legislation" to render "the situation of the pauper less agreeable than that of the independent laborer."*72 The workhouse test was restored, allowances in aid of wages were abolished, paid overseers were to be appointed, and a central commission was instituted for the due supervision of the system. Illegitimacy was discouraged by making the father responsible, instead of rewarding the mother, as under the former system. The conditions of "settlement" were mitigated so as to facilitate the migration of laborers in search of employment.
By this great legislative reform the burden of pauperism, notwithstanding that the evil effects of the old system still remained in a great degree, had by 1837 become so much reduced that the expenditure, per head of the population, sank to 5s. 5d. Mr. Baxter in his work on Local Taxation*73 gives some of the details by counties:
There is no need to draw, at any length, the moral of this episode in the industrial history of England. It is of the highest economical importance that pauperism shall not be made inviting. It is not necessary that any brutality of administration shall deter the worthy poor from public relief, but, in Prof. Senior's phrase, the situation of the pauper, whether in or out of the workhouse, should always be made less agreeable than that of the independent laborer. The workhouse test for all the able-bodied poor, and genuine labor up to the limit of strength within the workhouse, are imperatively demanded by the interests of self-supporting labor. One might, indeed, hesitate to carry the labor test quite so far as Pennant observed it in his Second Tour in Scotland, where he writes: "The workhouse is thinly inhabited, for few of the poor choose to enter: those whomever necessity compels are most usefully employed. With pleasure I observed old age, idiocy, and even infants of three years of age contributing to their own support by the pulling of oakum."*74 There is no reason that I know of, why the principle of the factory acts should not be extended to the poor-asylum, to excuse infants of tender years from work, or any danger to helpful labor in allowing repose to old age or idiocy; but wherever there is a possible choice between self-support and public support, there the inclination of the poor to labor for their own subsistence should be quickened by something of a penalty, though not in the way of cruelty or of actual privation, upon the pauper condition. "All," says Mr. George Woodyatt Hastings, "who have administered the Poor Law must know the fatal readiness with which those hovering on the brink of pauperism believe that they can not earn a living, and the marvellous way in which, if the test be firmly applied, the means of subsistence will be found somehow."*75
V. May the laborer be put at disadvantage through the form in which his wages are paid? A great deal of public indignation and not a little of the force of law*76 have been levelled at TRUCK. How, in an effort to treat the wages question systematically, are we to regard this practice?
To truck (Fr. Troc) is to exchange commodities, to barter. The truck system of wages, then, is the barter system introduced between the laborer and his employer. What objection can there be to this? How can it be supposed to injure the laboring class? I shall discuss this question at length, not more on account of its intrinsic importance, than because it affords an excellent practical application of important principles relating to the distribution of wealth.
The truck system may take two forms. First, there may be given to the laborer a portion of that which he actually produces, whether that product be suitable to his wants or not, leaving him, in the latter event, to exchange it as he can for whatever he may desire, food, drink, clothing, fuel or shelter. Second, under the truck system the laborer may receive, not what he produces, but what he is to consume; he is paid in commodities supposed to be more or less suited to his wants.
Both these forms of truck are as old as labor; but in the earliest times they were generally found not separate but united. What the workman produced he also desired to consume, and for his labor in tending sheep and cattle, and in sowing and reaping grain, he received wool for his clothing, and meat and bread for his food. And so to-day are the laborers of many countries mainly paid; and doubtless in the majority of cases the practice is both necessary and beneficial. But when distinction came to be made of labor as agricultural and as mechanical, and when employments came to be much subdivided, it would happen that a laborer's production was calculated to supply but a part only, or perhaps none at all, of his wants; for it might be that an artisan of Birmingham or Sheffield would be employed in making an article which he not only never used but never even saw used. Hence, if he were to be paid in kind, he would be obliged to sell or exchange the same for commodities more suitable to his necessities, and this, it will be seen, he might have to do at a very great disadvantage, having no place of trade, no business acquaintance, and no time to spend in bartering off his wares. So we find, in the fourth year (1464) of King Edward IV. of England, an act passed in which occurs the following:
"Also whereas, before this Time, in the occupations of Cloth-Making, the Laborers thereof have been driven to take a great part of their Wages in Pins, Girdles, and other unprofitable wares, under such price that it did not extend unto... therefore it is ordained and established that every man and woman being cloth-makers, from the (said) feast of St. Peter, shall pay to the carders, spinsters, and all such other laborers, in any part of the said trade, lawful money for all their lawful wages."
This is the first English act aimed at the truck system. Between that and the act of 1st and 2d William IV. (c. 37) intervened nearly four centuries, during which this system, in one or both its phases, prevailed in respect to a great part of English labor, and apparently the British Parliament has not even yet done legislating about it.
I have said that the second form of truck is where the laborer is paid in commodities supposed to be suitable to his wants as a consumer, irrespective of the question whether he has helped to produce the identical articles or similar articles himself. This is done where board is given as a part of wages, but truck to this extent was expressly excepted*77 from the prohibitions of the great English truck act—namely, that of William IV., already referred to. Another form of partial payment which is in the nature of truck, is the allowance of perquisites and privileges, such as the keep of a cow, the gleaning of the wheat-field, the cutting of turf, and others which we have had occasion to mention in speaking of the difficulty of estimating the real wages of the laborer. This kind of payment prevails, from the nature of the case, mainly in respect to agricultural labor, and agricultural truck was not forbidden*78 by the act of William IV. One form of agricultural truck deserves especially to be noted. It is found in the beer or cider allowances so prevalent in England.*79 The farms in that country where such payment is not stipulated or is not customary would doubtless be found, on a count, to be in a decided minority. In many cases the allowance is in amount reasonable, if we assume that the use of these drinks in any quantity at all is desirable; but in a vast number of instances the figures of these allowances as reported are startling to minds unfamiliar with the statistics of beer-gardens. In some places Mr. Purdy reports*80 that the men have from 2 to 4 quarts of beer daily; women and children half that quantity. The cider-truck would seem to be carried to a far greater extent. Mr. Edward Spender states*81 that the agricultural laborers of the cider-producing countries, particularly Herefordshire and Devonshire, receive from 20 to 50 per cent of their wages in cider! Eight to twenty pints a day he indicates as the actual range.*82 With such a state of things, no wonder Mr. Spender can quote the statement of a medical gentleman, long resident in the cider district, that "the failure of the apple crop has the same favorable effects on the health of the laborer as the good drainage of a parish has on the health of the inhabitants generally."
But the form of truck which has especially excited the opposition of the working classes, and which has been stringently prohibited*83 by law in England, is the furnishing by the employer to the mechanical laborer, of goods for his personal and family consumption, the charges for the same being set off against the wages due. It is of truck in this sense only that we shall hereafter speak.
The custom of part-payment in goods, which at one time prevailed almost universally in many districts in England and very generally in the United States, did not fail to find excuse for itself in the supposed advantage of both parties. It was claimed that, in many branches of industry, the proximity of stores and shops kept by persons disconnected with the employers could not be relied on to the degree required for the supply of the laborers' wants. This plea was urged with most assurance, and probably with the greatest degree of truth, in respect to truck-stores for navvies engaged upon canals and railways, as the gangs employed on such works are, from the nature of the work, continually shifting their place, and often pushing into districts settled sparsely or not at all. At the same time, evidence was presented in the Commons Report on Railway Laborers (1846) going to show that the supposed necessity for truck did not exist even here.*84 But as the building of canals and railways had reached no great proportions in 1831, when the act of 1st and 2d William IV. prohibiting truck passed, this department of industry was omitted from the enumeration in that act, and the truck system was kept up in full vigor on the canals and railways of the kingdom long after it had ceased elsewhere, or had sunk into an illicit traffic maintained, under disguise and at risk, by the least reputable employers.
The department of industry which, next to that mentioned, put in the strongest plea for truck, was coal and iron mining. In the nature of the case, works of this character are found principally at considerable elevations, upon difficult and broken ground, and often at considerable distances from market towns.*85 Hence the proprietors were not without a show of reason in holding that the prompt and sure supply of a large and perhaps fluctuating body of workmen required that shops for the sale of the necessaries of life should be established in immediate connection with the works themselves.
But the opportunity to add to the profits of manufacture the profits, and (through the unscrupulous exercise of the influence and authority of the employer) more than the ordinary profits, of trade, did not suffer truck to be confined to departments of industry presenting so much of an excuse for the system as the building of canals and railways, and the mining of coal and iron. Truck long prevailed, to a vast extent, in connection with many branches of manufacture, and in many communities, where no reason but the greed of employers existed for the practice. Workmen were compelled to buy at the master's store, on pain of discharge. Sometimes hints accomplished the object; sometimes threats were necessary; sometimes examples had to be made. However strong the disapprobation of the workmen, or of the larger community around, the profits of truck were so enormous as to overcome the scruples and the shame of many employers. Those profits were five-fold. First, the ordinary profit of the retail trader, large as that is, and larger as we know it becomes, in proportion to the ignorance and poverty of the customer. Second, there was a great diminution of ordinary expenses, due to the compulsion exercised. The trader, who was also the manufacturer, did not have to resort to costly advertising to draw custom, to maintain an attractive establishment in a convenient location, or to keep up an efficient body of clerks and attendants. The only advertisement needed was the ominous notice to trade there: the store might be the merest barn, the service might be reduced to a degree involving the greatest inconvenience, and even hardship, to the customer.*86 Third, it seems to be abundantly proved, by the evidence before the several commissions and committees, that the charges at the truck-shops were generally higher by 5, 10, or 15 per cent than at the ordinary retail stores. Fourth, the employer, having the absolute control of the laborers' wages, incurred no bad debts such as eat up the profit of the open trader. Fifth, the quality of the goods furnished was likely to be as best suited the interests of the employer, who, for the best of reasons, feared no loss of custom.
Such was truck in England before the act of 1st and 2d William IV.; and there can be no question in the mind of any candid person who peruses the painful evidence adduced in the course of the several inquiries which took place before and after that legislation, and who carefully considers the nature of the case, that, whether the system be intrinsically mischievous or not, abuses*87 shameful and even horrible were perpetrated under it. Doubtless there was much passionate exaggeration by men smarting under its evils, as there was in respect to the abuses of the old unreformed jails; to the wrongs of American slavery; to the outrages of the Confederate prison-pens; but if the simple truth respecting truck in England in the early days of this century could be written out, it would form one of the most painful chapters in the long and dreary story of "man's inhumanity to man."
Another wrong which it is charged is done to laborers through the form of their payment, is by the so-called rental by the employer to the laborer, of the tools and machines necessary to production, the wages being stopped to the amount of the "rent." This alleged abuse attracted attention from economists and legislators in England particularly in connection with the hosiery manufacture, and we will, for brevity, draw our illustrations wholly from that branch of industry.
The system of Frame Rents, as exposed by the evidence before the Commission of 1844 and the Committee of 1855, was this:
Instead of the employer hiring laborers to work upon his own machines, paying them net wages for their service, the knitting is let out to middlemen upon contracts; "the middleman supplies the workman with frames and other machinery, sometimes belonging to himself and sometimes hired of the manufacturer or other owner, and when he settles with the workman, he deducts out of the gross price per dozen of the work performed, first, a sum as rent for the use of the frame; secondly, a sum for winding the yarn, which is a necessary operation for each workman; a third sum to remunerate himself for the use of the premises where the work is performed, and for the standing-room of the frame; and a fourth for his trouble and loss of time in procuring and conveying to the workman the materials to be manufactured, for his responsibility to the manufacturer for the due return of the materials when manufactured, for superintending the work itself, and for his pains in sorting the goods when made, and in redelivering them at the warehouse of the manufacturer." The language quoted is that of the Committee of 1855.
That this system of gross wages, with deductions to be made for the use of machinery employed and on the other accounts specified, was not necessary to protect the owners of the machinery was abundantly proved by the fact that in trades requiring the use of even more costly and delicate machinery, the plan of clear net wages prevailed. The real reason for the frame-rent system, as brought out unmistakably by the evidence, was the profit to be made from the use of the frames, owned partly by the manufacturers and partly by the middlemen. This was admitted by the manufacturers themselves, who even claimed that but for this profit they could not carry on their business in a depressed condition of trade.*88
The fact of rents so high as to make this profit often enormous was abundantly proved. Mr. Muggeridge presented authentic accounts of transactions where the annual rent charged approached, equalled, or even exceeded the value of the frames. Thus one workman in 22 years paid as rent upon a frame worth but £8 or £9 between £170 and £180.*89 Another paid ninepence a week for 30 years, on a frame costing at the beginning but £7, and requiring but £6 or £7 for repairs during the entire period. Still, again, Mr. William Biggs, a member of the Committee of 1855, had testified before the Commission of 1844 that during the two years 1835-36 his firm owned £8000 of frames; that the rents amounted to £5100, which, after deducting 5 per cent interest per annum on the capital invested, and the cost of all repairs and incidental expenses, left a clear profit of £1950, or 24½ per cent for the two years.
Such was the system by the admission of those interested in its maintenance. But there can be no question that abuses were easily perpetrated under it. "The amount of this deduction," says Mr. Muggeridge,*90 "is regulated by no fixed rule or principle whatever; it is not dependent upon the value of the frame, upon the amount of money earned on it, or on the extent of the work made; it has differed in amount at different times, and now does so in different places; the youthful learner or apprentice pays the same rate from his scanty earnings as the most expert and skilful workman in the trade from his of four-fold the amount." Moreover, the workman, obliged to hire the machine if he would have employment at all, was compelled, not infrequently, to pay the rent not only when prevented by sickness from labor, but also when no work was furnished him by the middleman, who had a direct interest not only in "spreading the work over a greater number of frames than were requisite,"*91 the amount given out being, accordingly, in some cases, "what would be three full days' work in a week, in others four, in some as little as two,"*92 but also in keeping inferior machines of antiquated pattern worn to the very edge of absolute inefficiency, since the less each machine could perform, the larger the number which would be required; and the more hands he could hold in dependence on him for an inadequate occupation, the more complete his control over these unfortunates; the more meagre the living they were able to get off their frames, the less likely they were to have either the spirit or the material means to remove.
I have given so much space to the questions of Truck and Frame Rents, both because of their prominence in the history of labor and in economical literature, and because they afford illustrations of certain very important principles in the philosophy of wages.
To the appeals of the working classes for legislation abolishing these systems, the economists of the Manchester school have replied with the doctrine of laissez faire. Asserting, as they did in their contest for free trade, the self-sufficiency of capital, they felt bound to vindicate their consistency by asserting the self-sufficiency of labor. To them truck and frame-rents were a mode of ascertaining the wages of labor; and they deemed the hours and methods of labor and the amount and kind of wages matters to be left to employers and employed,*93 subject only to the "law of supply and demand." By the operation of this law, they claimed, the employer gets the laborer's services for the least sum possible under the conditions of supply; and on the other, the laborer secures the greatest sum for his services consistent with the existing demand. The employer's least price and the laborer's greatest price are therefore the same, and no injustice can be done so long as both parties are left free by law.
It is, however, fairly a question whether the writers and statesmen of this school, in their valorous disposition to stand by their principle in every case where issue on it might be joined, have not mistaken their ground in the matter of frame-rents and truck. Surely, freedom of contract, on which the Manchesterians insist so strongly, does not involve freedom to break contracts or to evade contracts; nor does the most advanced advocate of laissez faire propose that breach of contract shall be left to be punished by natural causes—that is, by the loss of business reputation, by the withdrawal of confidence, or by public reprobation. But if exactitude of performance may be enforced by law without any interference with industrial freedom, why, pray, may not precision in terms be required by the law, as the very first condition of a due and just enforcement of contracts? Precision in terms is, however, manifestly incompatible, in the very nature of the case, with truck; for if the employer says to the laborer, "I will pay you for your work twenty shillings a week, but you shall take it in commodities at my prices," he does not in fact agree how much he will pay the laborer; the use of the term twenty shillings becomes purely deceptive: it may mean more or less according as the employer chooses to fix his prices at the time; the laborer can not tell what his wages really are; the law can not tell, and therefore can not enforce the laborer's right if litigated.*94 Perhaps we can not say that precision in terms is incompatible with the very nature of the system of machine rents; but there is ample evidence to prove that it has been so in fact, and therefore the law, which is bound to enforce the contract, may justly demand that the contract shall not contain an element unsusceptible of exact determination. This is not interference with freedom of contract, but with looseness and uncertainty of contract, or with the power of one party to a contract to break, evade, or pervert its terms.
But I am not anxious to reconcile the prohibition of truck and machine rents with laissez faire. The authority accorded to that precept is not, in my opinion, to be justified on strictly economical principles.
We have previously (p. 168-9) discussed the principles on which it should be judged whether a law prohibitive or regulative in form really impairs competition, and prevents the resort of labor to its market. It was there seen that such a measure, though unquestionably obstructive as against a supposed pre-existing condition of perfect practical freedom, might, by removing important moral or intellectual obstacles to free action, which actually exist in human society as it is, have the effect to promote, and not retard, industrial movement.
Now, let us apply this principle to a proposed law in regulation or restraint of truck. It is, say Mr. Bright and Prof. Fawcett, an interference with freedom of contract and an obstruction to trade, and therefore mischievous—laissez faire, laissez passer. But is it really or only formally obstructive? There will not be absolute freedom of movement with it. Granted. But is there absolute freedom of movement without it? Assuredly not. Shall not, then, the question be, whether there will be more freedom with or without such a law?
Now, if we ask the question respecting truck and frame-rents in England as they were in the first half of the century, it must, I think, be answered that interference with the formal freedom of contract in these particulars served to enhance, in a most important degree, the substantial freedom of movement among the laboring classes. The laborer's practical ability to seek his best market is made up of a material element—the means of transportation and present subsistence—and of intellectual and moral elements quite as essential, the knowledge of the comparative advantages of the different occupations and locations offering themselves, and the courage to break away from place and custom to seek his fortune elsewhere. Ignorance and fear keep far more men in a miserable lot than does the sheer physical difficulty of getting from place to place, and sustaining life meanwhile.
At the laborer's knowledge of the comparative advantages of different occupations and locations, the truck and machine-rent systems struck a deadly blow. In addition to the inevitable difficulties in determining the real wages of labor, which were detailed in Chapter II., this system introduced a new and most hopeless element of uncertainty. The laborer's wages, paid nominally in money, were to be converted into commodities for his consumption, by an illicit process, at rates governed by the pleasure of the individual employer at the particular time. The truck system was maintained for the purpose chiefly, as was admitted, of enabling the employers to "sweat" their laborers' wages, as counterfeiters "sweat" the coin of the realm. It was claimed that in this way employers might make themselves good, if the nominal wages they were paying were too high, more easily than they could obtain a reduction in the nominal wages themselves. Moreover, the degree to which wages should be thus reduced would depend upon the rapacity or the necessities of individual employers, and also upon the state of manufacture and trade.*95 The great flexibility of these charges was universally admitted; and, indeed, the readiness with which they could be adapted, in form and degree, to the times and exigencies of the master's business was made one of the chief recommendations.
If workmen are to seek their own interests, they must know them. Every thing that tends to simplify wages makes it easier for the laborer to dispose of his service to the highest advantage. Every thing that tends to complicate wages puts the laborer at disadvantage. A system of gross wages, with deductions "regulated by no fixed rule or principle whatever" (Muggeridge), varying with times and places, and, as Sir A. Alison admits, varying with the state of trade and the disposition of employers, makes it impossible for the most enlightened workman to act intelligently respecting his interests, while the uneducated workman loses his reckoning completely: his senses are deceived, and he is put wholly at the mercy of the extortioner.*96
But it is said the workman may not, indeed, be able to compute with exactness his net wages and those of his fellows, through all this system of allowances and deductions and payments in kind; but he surely can appreciate the result so far as his own comfort and well-being are concerned; he surely knows whether he is well off or not; and if he feels himself wronged, he will seek a better employer. But how, I ask, is he to judge in advance, under such a system of combined truck and machine rents as oppressed the framework-knitters of England fifty years ago, whether his condition would be more tolerable under another master or in another place? Suppose him to have the rare intelligence and enterprise to ascertain the gross wages paid by other employers, perhaps in distant localities, and to find some more favorable than his own, how can he have the slightest assurance that greater severity in the administration of the system of stoppages and deductions, and greater greed in pursuing the profits of truck, might not make the difference, and perchance more than the difference, in nominal rates? He can not tell until he has tried, and how often would a workman, on such a narrow margin of living, and it may be with a family, be able to change employers and shift his place in order to better his lot? How surely would he, after one or two bitter disappointments, relinquish the effort, and sink without a struggle into his miserable place, getting what wages he could, and taking for them what he might, at "the master's store." The fact is, the system of truck and machine rents, as administered in England in the early part of the century, completely blindfolded the workman, and left him to grope about in search of his true interest, in peril of pitfalls and quagmires, or, as was most likely, to submit in sullen despair to every indignity and injury of the position in which he found himself.
Surely, then, we are entitled to say that laws in restraint of these practices differ from those other laws affecting labor which have been described in this chapter, in the one all-important particular, that the latter were intended to diminish that mobility by which laborers could seek their best market, while the former have the effect to make competition more easy and certain.
Is truck, then, always subject to economical censure? I answer, No. Truck is a form of barter; and he would be a bold man who should say that barter is always and everywhere prejudicial. When truck arises naturally, is compatible with the general usages of exchange, and is maintained in good faith by common consent, it may not only be unobjectionable but highly advantageous to all classes.*97 When, however, truck is forced upon a body of impoverished and ignorant workmen against the general usages of exchange, and maintained by intimidation as the means of "sweating" their wages, and keeping them down to the barest subsistence and under an incapacity to migrate, then truck becomes a horrid wrong and outrage. This varying aspect of truck, according to the circumstances and character of the community among which it is introduced, exemplifies the futility of setting up as economical principles what are in truth mere rules of expediency.
Thus, if barter be the general condition of exchanges in a new community, as it ordinarily is in the scarcity of currency, we may fairly say that it constitutes no special hardship to the laboring classes that they have to receive their wages in kind. Doubtless, in the further development of society and industry, the introduction of money payments in such a community will prove a real and great industrial advantage to all classes. Doubtless, also, the wages class, as presumably the poorest class, and that, also, the members of which have least time and opportunity for rendering the commodities they may chance to receive in payment, into the commodities they desire to consume, would be most helped by such an advance. Yet, prior to that consummation, the wages class, or the economist speaking for them, could scarcely make complaint that they were obliged to share in the general inconvenience, even though, from their industrial position, they might feel it more severely than others; or demand that exemption from truck be secured them by law. Indeed, in such a general condition of exchange, it is quite conceivable that a class which should be enabled to enforce money payments to itself might thus secure an undue advantage which would be resented by others as obtained at their expense. An amusing illustration of this is furnished by Gov. Winthrop in his History of New-England, as follows:
"One Richard ——, servant to one —— Williams, of Dorchester, being come out of service, fell to work at his own hand, and took great wages above others, and would not work but for ready money. By this means, in a year or a little more, he had scraped together about twenty-five pounds, and then returned, with his prey, into England, speaking evil of the country by the way," etc., etc. (Vol. ii. 98, 99.) The good governor notes with apparent gusto the fact that he was met by the cavaliers and eased of his money—his prey—on his arrival.
But if we come, now, to consider a state of industrial society in which exchanges are generally effected through the use of money, and inquire as to the results to a single class of the community of being reduced, through some force operating upon them when in a position of disadvantage, to accept payment for their services in commodities*98 instead of currency, those, at least, who discard the theory of diffusion can easily see that wrong amounting to robbery might be wrought by this means. To deny to one class the advantage they would naturally derive from the introduction of a universal "standard of value and medium of exchange," while allowing it to the classes with which that single class is to compete for the possession of wealth, would be not unlike prohibiting to one merchant the use of the railway, and sending him back to the stage-coach, while his competitors were permitted to use the telegraph and the steam-car. So long as the coach was common to all, none had equitable cause of complaint of the want of a better means of transportation. The hardship, such as it was, lay in the constitution of things. When the steam-car and telegraph came, they did not benefit all alike; on the contrary, they tended to inequality;*99 to make the great greater, the small, by comparison at least, smaller, yet no one could rightfully charge blame in that he received less than others of the great addition to human well-being. It would be quite another thing, however, were one individual or class to be prohibited from participating, in his measure, in what should be the gain of all. This would be ground for complaint; this would be gross, palpable injustice. And such a wrong was that truck against which the statute of 1st and 2d William IV. was levelled. Truck prevailed, not because it consisted with the general system of exchange in the country at the time, not because it was for the convenience of both parties, not from any scarcity of currency to allow cash payments, but, in the vast majority of instances, it had been forced*100 upon the working classes simply and solely because it enabled the employers to add the profits of trade to the profits of manufacture; because it kept the laborers always poor and in debt, and diminished the ease, or practically destroyed the possibility, of migration.
Notes for this chapter
See p. 169.
Rogers, Hist. of Agr. and Prices.
"Because a great part of the people, and especially of workmen and servants, late died of the pestilence, many, seeing the necessity of masters and great scarcity of servants, will not serve unless they receive excessive wages," etc., etc.
Namely, those wages which had been paid in the 20th year of King Edward's reign, or the average of "five or six other common years next before."
I select the following examples from the laws of the Massachusetts Colony:
1630, 23d August.—"It was ordered that carpenters, joiners, brick-layers, sawyers, and thatchers shall not take above 2s. a day; nor any man shall give more, under pain of 10s. to taker and giver."
28th September.—"It is ordered that no master carpenter, mason, joiner, or bricklayer shall take above 16d. a day for their work, if they have meat and drink, and the second sort not above 12d. a day, under pain of 10s. both to giver and receiver."
Two other acts had been passed of a similar nature, when, on the 22d March, 1631, the General Court "ordered (that whereas the wages of carpenters, joiners, and other artificers and workmen were by order of court restrained to particular sums) shall now be left free, and at liberty as men shall reasonably agree." In September, however, the Court suffered a relapse, and for four years longer continued to fix specifically the wages of labor.
The Massachusetts General Court reached the same conclusion some hundreds of years later, and having repealed, September 3d, 1635, the law "that restrained workmen's wages to a certainty," enacted in 1636 "that the freemen of every town shall from time to time, as occasion shall require, agree among themselves about the prices and rates of all workmen, laborers, and servants' wages; and every other person inhabiting in any town, whether workman, laborer, or servant, shall be bound to the same rates which the said freemen or the greater part shall bind themselves unto."
Many of these acts were doubtless passed in the spirit of 2 and 3 Edward VI. (c. 9): "Therefore, as the malice of man increaseth to defrand the intent of good laws, so laws must rise against such guile with the more severity, day by day, for the due repress of the same."
Rogers, Pol. Econ., p. 122.
M. Ducarre's Report of 1875, to which I have several times referred, presents a good view of the course of measures by which labor in France has been emancipated (pp. 22-64).
"The corporation system exists with more vigor in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden," wrote Mr. Laing in 1851, "than in any other country."—Denmark and the Duchies, p. 301.
Since 1862. See Report of Mr. Strachey on the Condition of the Industrial Classes, 1870, p. 505.
Report of Mr. Lytton, 1870, p. 522.
I am here speaking of wage-laborers as they are and not as they might be. There could be a better state of things still than that in which "custom" protects the poor—that is, a condition in which the laboring class should be so intelligent, and hence so strong, that they could not afford and would not endure to take a defensive position, but should welcome the utmost that competition could do. But so long as the working classes remain, as in most countries, ignorant and inert, it is possible that causes reducing the severity of competition may be properly correspondent to their weaknesses, and thus beneficial. However that may be, it stands by itself, that the working classes, being inadequately prepared to follow around after changes of price, must be injured by whatever makes those changes more frequent and violent.
The Northern Monthly, May, 1868; article, "The Greenback Era."
It appears that while the total number of persons reported as of gainful occupations at the census of 1870 was but 18 per cent greater than the corresponding number at 1860, the number engaged in trade and transportation had increased in the decade 44 per cent. "Some Results of the Census." (Soc. Science Journal, 1873, p. 91.)
Pol. Econ. i. 291, 292.
"In the great majority of cases, nowadays, the debate about the value of an article, called by Adam Smith, the higgling of the market, is confined to wholesale purchases and sales. But a generation or two ago, the habit of bargaining in matters of retail trade was general. It still is a custom in many European countries. It is all but universal in the East."—Prof. Rogers, Pol. Econ., p. 186. "The value of any thing in Spain is what you can get for it; consequently, every purchase, from the most expensive articles of luxury down to the poorest vegetable, entails a system of haggling and bargaining."—Mr. Ffrench's Report on the Condition of the Industrial Classes, 1871, p. 606.
Some Leading Principles of Political Economy, pp. 128-30.
I do not speak here of the degree of taxation. Whether government shall take much or take little is a political question. In some countries, even in the present day, the only limit to exactions appears to be the limit of the people's means, and all above bare subsistence is carried away by the strong arm of the law, to be spent in pomp, luxury, or war. But this, as has been said, is a political question, and so long as taxation presses on each class of the community with weight proportional to its strength, I do not see that the economist can take account of the amount, any more than of the objects, of such expenditures.
"I hold it to be true that a tax laid in any place is like a pebble falling into and making a circle in a lake, till one circle produces and gives motion to another, and the whole circumference is agitated from the centre."—Speech of Lord Mansfield, 1766, on the right of Parliament to tax the colonies.
Cobden and Political Opinion, pp. 83, 84.
The Nation, June 11th, 1874.
Notes to Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, i. 349.
J. W. Willis Bund on Local Taxation, p. 17.
History of the English Poor-Laws, ii. 96, 97.
Ibid., p. 253.
The commissioners of 1832, as the result of extended comparisons, found that, while the pauper received 151 ounces of solid food per week, the independent laborer received but 122 ounces.
"In some instances," says Dr. Chalmers, " the vestries have felt themselves obliged to rent and even to furnish houses for the reception of the newly-married couple."—Pol. Econ. 307.
"The English law has abolished female chastity."—Mr. Cowell's Report.
"It may safely be affirmed that the virtue of female chastity does not exist among the lower orders of England, except to a certain extent among domestic servants, who know that they hold their situations by that tenure, and are more prudent in consequence."—Report of the Commissioners of 1831.
"In many rural districts it was scarcely possible to meet with a young woman who was respectable, so tempting was the parish allowance for infants in a time of great pressure."—Martineau, Hist. England, iii. 168.
Foreign Poor-Laws, etc., p. 88.
Pinkerton, iii. 197.
Soc. Sc. Transactions, 1871, p. 146.
About sixty acts of the British Parliament have dealt with Truck.
It was made lawful to stop wages on account of victuals dressed or prepared under the roof of the employer and there consumed by the artificer.
"Nothing herein contained shall extend to any domestic servant, or servant in husbandry" (xx.). This exception was due in part to the reason of the case, and in part, we can not doubt, to the want of political power in the agricultural labor class.
The words of the Massachusetts General Court are worthy to be commended to the high and mighty Parliament of England. "Whereas it is found, by too common and sad experience, in all parts of the colony, that the forcing of laborers and other workmen to take wine in pay for their labor is a great nursery or preparative to drunkenness and unlawful tippling,... it is therefore ordered and ordained by this Court that no laborer or workman whatsoever shall, after the publication and promulgation hereof, be enforced or pressed to take wine in pay for his labor." (May 14, 1645.)
Statistical Journal, xxvii. 526.
Statistical Journal, xxiv. 333, cf. 339.
"In Herefordshire it has happened that a farmer paid his laborers 9 shillings a week in money, and during harvest-time 9 gallons of cider a week." Mr. Spender's computations assume that the cider was a good merchantable article. On this point see Heath's English Peasantry. One of the "clergy returns" published in the Report of the Convocation of Canterbury on Intemperance, states the allowance of cider to a laborer at harvest-time at 2½ gallons daily; another at nearly 2 gallons (p. 39). In one of the "workhouse returns" the governor speaks of laborers as "swallowing, some of them, as much as 3 or 4 gallons a day." (Ibid., p. 40.)
The Act of 1st and 2d William IV. provides that "in all contracts for the hiring of any artificer in any of the trades enumerated, the wages of such artificer shall be made payable in the current coin of the realm, and not otherwise." The trades enumerated are the manufactures of iron and steel; the mining of coal or iron, limestone, salt-rock; the working or getting of clay, stone, or slate; manufactures of salt, bricks, tiles, or quarries; hardware manufactures, textile manufactures, glass, china, and earthenware, manufactures of leather, and others.
There was excepted the right to supply to artificers medicine and medical attendance; fuel, materials, tools, and implements in mining; also hay, corn, and provender to be consumed by any horse or beast of burden employed by the artificer in the occupation; also, to furnish tenements at a rent to be thereon reserved; also, to advance to artificers money to be contributed to friendly societies and savings-banks or for relief in sickness, or for the education of children.
Sir Morton Peto, then a great contractor, and one of the partners of Thomas Brassey, testified that there was no difficulty in provisioning men on the most remote sections of railway. (Report, p. 75.)
Commons Committee on Payment of Wages Bill, 1854. Report, pp. 37-9.
Mr. Seymour Tremenheere, in his exhaustive evidence before the Select Committee of 1854, stated that the truck-shops were so small, and the persons retained to serve customers so few, that the women attending to get supplies for their families, on the credit of their husbands' wages, frequently could not enter, but that fifty or one hundred would be seen collected outside, waiting their turn to be served. He had himself seen women with children in their arms standing in the open air in bad weather, and on asking had been told they had been waiting for hours. (Report, p. 8.)
Other witnesses placed the time for which a woman might thus be compelled to wait at the truck-shop at two, four, or six hours, or even longer. (Report, pp. 42, 128, 156-7, 322, 330, 371.) Meanwhile the children not in arms were locked up at home.
Mr. J. Fellows, Registrar of Births, Marriages, and Deaths at Bilston, but also, it ought to be mentioned, a retail grocer, stated that in sixteen years he had had occasion to record a number of deaths, which he placed, from memory, at eleven, of young children burned in the absence of their mothers while waiting at these shops. (Report, p. 43).
Sir Archibald Alison appeared before the Committee of 1854 as the champion of truck.
"I think," he said, "generally speaking, the people are furnished with subsistence, and with articles of use for themselves and their families infinitely better than from the stores of private dealers."—Report, p. 229.
"From all that I have seen I think the establishment of stores has been followed by a great improvement in the condition of the workmen."—Ibid.
"I have known instances of workmen going miles to the master's stores in preference to dealing with the private shops."—P. 234. "... the immense advantage of the truck system in compelling the workman to spend a large portion of his earnings in food for himself and his family."—P. 245.
"I think the workmen in the great manufactories and collieries are just like a great ill-disciplined army. It is just as impossible to make them dispose of their money properly as it would be to provide an army with adequate subsistence if you were to abolish the commissariat and pay every man in money, and let him buy his provisions where he pleased."—Pp. 237, 238.
Just as Sir Archibald Alison admitted, the masters made use of the opportunities of the truck-system. Thus he speaks of "periods of great distress, when the masters are driven to be sharp with their furnishings." (Report of the Committee of 1854, p. 232.) "I have no doubt that under these circumstances, during these periods of distress, they sometimes furnish inferior articles, at least to what they have furnished before."... The complaints which I have heard have almost always been complaints about measure; or, in some instances, I have heard complaints, in periods of distress, that the quality of the goods was inferior."... I think when a master is receiving high prices for his articles, for iron and coal, then his pockets are full of money, he is in affluent circumstances, and he is not, therefore, under the necessity of being strict with his furnishings; that is to say, when trade is good, he gives good measure, he gives the best articles, and is liberal with his workmen; he does not feel the pressure himself. If in bad times he is out at elbow and feels the pressure, as he always does in a monetary crisis, then he is obliged to be more strict with his workmen, and then complaints are made." There is something beautiful in this Tory confidence in human nature, leading to the assurance that masters will never cheat their workmen in measure or quality unless it is positively necessary to save themselves.
Report of the Committee of 1855, p. 160.
Report of the Committee of 1855, pp. 163, 164, cf. p. 22.
Ibid., p. 165, cf. p. 24.
Fawcett's Speeches, p. 130.
For instance, suppose in a truck establishment a workman to die having undisputed claims on the employer, for work done, to the nominal amount of 100 shillings: what amount would his widow be entitled to recover in money at law, or would the employer be entitled to pay the debt into court in groceries and provisions, in quantities and at prices to suit himself? If the man had lived, the 100 shillings would have been paid, wholly or in part, in truck. His death certainly does not change the nature of his claim; yet is it conceivable that a court should award a payment in kind?
See Sir A. Alison's remarkable admissions on this point, quoted in note to page 333.
"This is a great oppression," quoth Arthur Young. "Farmers and gentlemen keeping accounts with the poor is a great abuse. So many days' work for a cabin, so many for a potato-garden, so many for keeping a horse, and so many for a cow, are clear accounts which a poor man can understand well; but further it ought not to go,—and when he has worked out what he has of this sort, the rest of his work ought punctually to be paid him every Saturday night."—Pinkerton, iii. 815.
M. Ducarre's report notices with approbation the attempt of the Orleans Railway Company to supply their 14,000 employees with food and clothing. The results seem to show that the workmen thus obtained their supplies thirty per cent cheaper than they could have done at the shops. There is no reason why such enterprises should not be carried out to a much greater extent, to the highest advantage of employers and workmen, and with general consent.
Clearly the evil, if there is any evil in the system, will be somewhat according to the variety of the articles thus forced upon the laborer. The greater that variety the greater his disadvantage. One of the arguments against abolishing or abating agricultural truck has been that the arrangement was generally restricted to "one, two, or three distinct things."—Testimony of Mr. Tremenheere before the Committee of 1854. Report, p. 102.
The effects of railways in taking the life out of small country towns, and drawing trade and manufactures to junctions and termini, are too familiar to need illustration.
In some cases even the pretence of adapting the commodities, in which the laborer was paid, to his wants was abandoned, and the laborer was paid in whatever was most convenient to the employer. Evidence was given before the Committee of 1854 that workmen were sometimes forced to receive such an excess of flour, for instance, as to have to pay their rent in this article, of course at inconvenience and with a loss. (Report, p. 6.)
Part II, Chapter XVIII
End of Notes
Return to top