A Plea for Liberty: An Argument Against Socialism and Socialistic Legislation
By Thomas Mackay
Thomas Mackay (1849-1912) was a successful English wine merchant who retired early from business so he could devote himself entirely to the study of economic issues such as the Poor Laws, growing state intervention in the economy, and the rise of socialism. Mackay was asked by the individualist and laissez-faire lobby group, the Liberty and Property Defense League (founded in 1882 by the Earl of Wemyss), to put together a collection of essays by leading classical liberals to rebut the socialist ideas contained in
Fabian Essays in Socialism edited by George Bernard Shaw in 1889. The result was a volume of essays called
A Plea for Liberty: An Argument against Socialism and Socialistic Legislation which appeared in 1891, and another volume of essays
A Policy of Free Exchange: Essays by Various Writers on the Economical and Social Aspects of Free Exchange and Kindred Subjects, which appeared in 1894.Two of the guiding intellectual lights of the Liberty and Property Defense League were Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), whose
The Man versus the State had appeared in 1884, and Auberon Herbert (1838-1906), whose
The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State had appeared in 1885. Both Spencer and Herbert were troubled by the direction in which the British Liberal Party was heading, away from strict adherence to policies of individual liberty and non-intervention in the economy and towards a “New Liberalism” which laid the intellectual foundations for the modern welfare state. The aim of Mackay and the members of the Liberty and Property Defense League was to use the occasion of the publication of a major defense of state interventionism in the economy, the
Fabian Essays, as an opportunity to oppose all advocates of these policies whether from the “right” (the Liberal Party) or the “left” the Fabian socialists and the Labour Party. The result were the two volumes mentioned above. The strategy adopted was to argue against both the morality and the practically of socialism. The latter resulted in many essays showing how specific examples of state intervention or control, such as electrical distribution or public housing, led to unintended, harmful consequences.The ideas expressed in the two volumes,
A Plea for Liberty and
A Policy of Free Exchange, are still timely even after the passage of some 110 years. In spite of the fall of communism and the discrediting of the idea of a centrally planned economy, myriad government interventions in the operation of the economy are still with us, seemingly entrenched and impossible to remove. It is thus interesting to see the response to socialism by free market people who were present at its birth.Dr. David M. Hart
Library of Economics and Liberty
December, 2002Recommended ReadingEric Mack,
“Foreword” to Herbert Spencer,
The Man versus the State, with Six Essays on Government, Society, and Freedom (Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1981).Eric Mack, “Introduction” to Auberon Herbert,
The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State, and Other Essays (Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1978).Jeffrey Paul, “Foreword” to
A Plea for Liberty: An Argument against Socialism and Socialistic Legislation, consisting of an Introduction by Herbert Spencer and Essays by Various Writers, edited by Thomas Mackay (1891) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).Edward Bristow, “The Liberty and Property Defence League and Individualism,”
The Historical Journal, 1975, vol. XVIII, no. 4, pp. 761-789.N. Soldon, ”
Laissez-Faire as Dogma: The Liberty and Property Defence League, 1882-1914″, in
Essays in Anti-Labour History: Responses to the Rise of Labour in Britain, ed. Kenneth D. Brown (Macmillan, 1974), pp. 208-233.J. W. Mason, “Thomas Mackay: The Anti-Socialist Philosophy of the Charity Organisation Society,” in
Essays in Anti-Labour History: Responses to the Rise of Labour in Britain, ed. Kenneth D. Brown (Macmillan, 1974), pp. 290-316.J. W. Mason, “Political Economy and the Response to Socialism in Britain, 1870-1914,”
The Historical Journal, 1980, vol. XXIII, no. 3, pp. 565-587.
Thomas Mackay, ed.
First Pub. Date
New York: D. Appleton and Co. In print: Liberty Fund, Inc.
Collected essays, various authors. Includes "From Freedom to Bondage," by Herbert Spencer.
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
- Preface, by Thomas Mackay
- Introduction, From Freedom to Bondage, by Herbert Spencer
- The Impracticability of Socialism, by Edward Stanley Robertson
- The Limits of Liberty, by Wordsworth Donisthorpe
- Liberty for Labour, by George Howell
- State Socialism in the Antipodes, by Charles Fairfield
- The Discontent of the Working-Classes, by Edmund Vincent
- Investment, by Thomas Mackay
- Free Education, by Rev. B. H. Alford
- The Housing of the Working-Classes and of the Poor, by Arthur Raffalovich
- The Evils of State Trading as Illustrated by the Post Office, by Frederick Millar
- Free Libraries, by M. D. OBrien
- The State and Electrical Distribution, by F. W. Beauchamp Gordon
- The True Line of Deliverance, by Hon. Auberon Herbert
by George Howell
Liberty for Labour
Few subjects have more profoundly exercised the minds of philosophic thinkers than the question as to the rightful sphere of law, in its application to daily life and labour. It is, indeed, an old, old tale, the threads of which are to be found running through all the centuries of British history, from Saxon times to our own days, in this year of grace, 1890. The warp of legal enactment was laid in the Ordinances of the Guilds, the weft being skilfully woven in by the shuttle of legislation in various reigns, until it produced the fabric known as ‘Statute Law.’ The earlier conception of the sphere of law was the restraint of lawlessness and brute force. Its second development was the limitation of power and authority, which had been used to limit liberty, and restrain individual freedom. It has taken long ages to repeal. the Acts passed for the suppression of personal liberty, and to restrict within reasonable limits the exercise of authority created by statute. But liberty and lawlessness should not be confounded, one with the other; they are separate and distinct, legally and morally. Individual liberty is consistent with law and order, and the ideal of a State is reached in proportion to the individual liberty attained, and the order which is maintained, in the commonwealth of a free people. State regulation was the third step in legislative achievement, but it developed early, and ran concurrently with the attempts to restrain individual liberty; with this difference, however, that the conception of regulation originated with the governed rather than with the governors, as the Ordinances of the Guilds testify. The work of succeeding generations has been to undo the mischief of State regulation; but the present century has been distinguished also by the substitution of other kinds of regulation in the place of that repealed.
It cannot be denied that individual liberty necessitates regulation, which, after all, means restraint. Each person in the State must be restrained from infringing upon, or interfering with, the liberty of another, all being equally protected in the exercise of their undoubted rights, constitutional and moral. But State Law, or legislation, cannot reach, nor should it reach, all the details, trivialities, or incidents of private life. Above and beyond law, there exist mutual restraints, for mutual protection, developed by civilised communities, and embodied in what may be called a code of Social Laws, all the more powerful and exacting, perhaps, by reason of the fact that they are unwritten laws, similar in one respect to what is termed the Common Law. ‘Society’ is a law unto itself, as the ‘family’ is a law unto itself. There are, however, breaches of the law which neither the family nor society can reach and adequately punish. The Common Law, and the Statute Law, are designed to reach and punish offences not effectually dealt with in any other way. How far these should operate and extend, is a matter of opinion, upon which there is great divergence among all classes. There is, however, a general consensus of opinion that law, properly so called, should enter as little as possible into the domain of every-day life. In the privacies of ordinary life there is a limit which instinct seems to indicate as a kind of boundary line, beyond which legislation should not extend. The tendency has hitherto been to stop short at such point, or to deal cautiously with any and every proposal to go beyond it. Recently, the tendency to extend the boundary has developed enormously, to such a degree, in fact, that it is doubtful whether, in the opinion of many, there should be any boundary line at all. The effacement of the individual seems to be their aim, the merging of the
man into the
mass; the fusion of atoms into a solid concrete body, moved and movable only by the State.
The principal object of the following pages is to deal with law as applied to labour, or the interference by the State with the individual man in the exercise of his skill, intelligence, faculties, and strength, for the purpose of getting his living, increasing his store, and promoting his own and his family’s prosperity and happiness in his own way, so long as he does not interfere,
de facto, with his neighbour. To the latter, as a matter of fact and of argument, reference will be more specifically made further on. In order to understand the question in all its bearings, it is essential to trace the origin and growth of legislative interference, the roots of which lie deeply buried in the past. The tree has been lopped here and there, but while its branches have been cut, the roots have expanded, and these have sprung up, with even greater luxuriance, bearing fruit after its kind, and sometimes of a kind which seemed foreign to its nature and the character of the soil out of which it grew.
I. The earlier interference with labour was by mutual consent and arrangement in the old guilds, for the mutual protection of its members, each being responsible for each, and all for all, as regards conduct, support, protection, and advancement. The guild was also responsible to the State, the frank-pledge being accepted in all cases. As society expanded, and newer developments arose which could not be dealt with by the associated members in the guild, ordinances were enacted, by which the members were bound to abide, whether or not they were within the district in which the guild existed and exercised jurisdiction. Those earlier guilds subsequently expanded into fraternities, generally composed of similar classes, each class or fraternity having objects in common, for the benefit of all. These again extended in their turn, until we find associated guilds, or fraternities of the same class or classes, with ramifications in various parts of the country, and sometimes even in other countries, in different parts of the world. As time wore on there arose separate guilds of distinctive classes, the political element finding a place in their deliberations and determinations. The earlier social guild was not restricted to a class, or to a section. The Merchants’ Guild was an off-shoot, sectional and restrictive. The Burghers’ Guild contested for political rights; they sought for equal privileges with the feudal barons in the government of the townships. From these sprang into existence the Craft-Guilds, in which the workmen sought equal rights with the merchants and burghers of the towns.
Those guilds were essentially protective. They sought the welfare of the particular individuals of which the guild was composed, or of the section or class to which they belonged; and they sought to perpetuate their advantages, their craft-rights, and their privileges as distinctively as the peerage does by descent of title, of lands, and of other entailed or devised property incident thereto. The guilds were a law unto themselves, but they enforced their ordinances and guild statutes upon others not in their own circle. Many of their objects were good, and were excellently administered; but they had in them the seeds of decay, even at their birth. The very life-germ of their existence was exclusion; and they grew more and more exclusive as time went on, until they became little less than mere corporate trading associations, whose object was the monopoly of power and authority over all the crafts of the time, and the enjoyment of all the privileges and immunities which that power and authority gave, quite irrespective of all and sundry outside the guild. Socialistic in their origin and birth, these fraternities degenerated into intolerable monopolies, cliques, and factions, even to the defiance of law, order, and custom, being often their own avengers in case of wrong, or supposed wrong, wresting privileges where they could, and purchasing them when they could not, until their final suppression in the reign of the Tudors.
By such institutions, under what may be described as primeval conditions, in the very infancy of society and of industry in this country, the ordinances and statutes respecting labour were first formulated and promulgated. As time wore on, and the conditions of society and of life changed, those ordinances did not fit the circumstances of the times. They were not expansive enough; there was no elasticity in them. It is, indeed, extremely doubtful whether the industry of modern England could have developed to any large extent under the guild system. The guilds were too clannish to be national, and too limited in their scope to be cosmopolitan. When they were instituted they doubtless fulfilled their mission. They enlarged the family and its responsibilities to groups of families, then to a class. But diversified interests arose as soon as the expansion began; and those diversified interests became more and more distinctive and accentuated with each inclusion, until the original guild split into fragments, which fragments established their own guild. The formulas and regulations which were accepted by the initial guilds did not completely satisfy the needs and aspirations of the coteries which the extended family embraced, and they became irksome whenever they were applied to, and were enforced upon, persons and families beyond the range of the exclusive circle by which they were instituted and promulgated. Secession followed; new combinations arose; other guilds were established, and contentions were rife, as to the incidence of power and authority, in a variety of forms. The battles of the guilds form an instructive chapter in the history of association, and especially as identified with labour, compared with which the contentions of trade-unions sink into insignificance, bitter as some of the feuds have been among the unions of modern times.
II. The ordinances of the guilds ultimately gave birth to statute laws pertaining to labour. The earlier Labour Laws, such as the Statutes of Labourers, directly resulted from their action. It was but the natural outcome of regulation, the fruit after its kind. Figs do not grow on thorns, nor grapes on thistles—thorns grow thorns, and thistles, thistles. The attempts to fix the price of labour, to limit the number of laborers in a particular industry, to regulate by ordinance or official sanction the hours of work, and to restrict the individual rights of the labourers, produced a reaction, which reaction found vent in counter-statutory enactment, the results of which continued to operate for centuries. For a long period, the ordinances of the guilds and legal statutory enactments ran side by side. Sometimes they had the same objects, and operated concurrently; at other times they were opposed to each other, the one being a check upon the other. One effect of their operation was to establish customs which had the force of law. Those dual forms of regulation continued in various, and often diversified forms, until the ‘dissolution of the monasteries,’ and the final suppression of the guilds. It was not until after that date that legislative enactment supplanted the ordinances of the guilds, and usurped their functions. If the legislature of that period had resisted the prompted inducements to an interference with labour, and had restricted its actions to such provisions as would have ensured freedom to all, and protection to each, in the exercise of that freedom, many of the evils of what is termed grandmotherly Legislation would have been averted. The modern forms of interference are the direct result, the natural and inevitable result, of conditions which were created by State regulation, following upon the failure of corporate regulation as imposed by the craft-guilds of the middle ages.
Legal enactment took two distinct forms; there were (1) the Statute Law, as embodied in the Statutes of Labourers, commencing with the 23 Edw. III, and continued throughout the thirteenth century by various statutes, and in the fourteenth century by further regulations, as to wages and prices and hours of labour. Those enactments reached their fullest development in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when the laws were consolidated into what might be termed a code, and were made binding upon all the trades and industries of that time. And (2) charters, which were granted in some of the early reigns, and were continued down to very recent times, many-of which were obtained by purchase, as is the case of the companies of the city of London, and some other corporate towns. The rage for legislative regulation is an outgrowth of those earlier conditions, a reverting back to the infancy of civilised society. This tendency is always strong in proportion to the lack of intelligence among the masses to perceive the true relation between cause and effect, and the inevitable results of a given policy, whatever that policy may be. The history of that interference seems to be but a hazy dream to most men, even to those tolerably educated, or we should find greater hesitancy to embark on the same treacherous stream.
Legislation was inaugurated by two distinct parties: (a) By that portion of the community opposed to the restrictive action of the guilds; and (b) by the guild fraternities, in order to maintain their power, privileges, and immunities. The former contended that guild law, by ordinance or statute, was opposed to public policy, and they sought to suppress all kinds of associative effort, as mischievous and dangerous to the State. The latter desired to perpetuate monopoly by law. As the Israelites sighed for the flesh-pots of Egypt, during their journey through the wilderness, so the guild-brothers sighed for the continuance and maintenance of their power and authority over the trades and industries represented by their crafts. The demand for protective law by the guild marks the period of their decay. They had recourse to legislation by statute, or regulation by charter, because they had failed, or were failing, to enforce their ordinances as theretofore. But this very failure of mutual control, by guild-law, is proof positive that it was bad law in actual practice, either because it was ill-timed and unsuited to circumstances, not embodying enactments such as those for whose special benefit they were framed desired, or because the provisions were in themselves vicious. In either case the law was ineffective, and in the end it was disabling in its operation and results.
With the suppression of the guilds, legislation took the place of guild ordinances and regulations. As the legislature at that period was non-representative, the legislation initiated was prompted by a class, for a class, as it was natural that it should be under the circumstances. Act was piled upon Act. One trade after another was brought within the sphere of the statute law, until all handicrafts, and nearly all kinds of labor, were subject either to statute or to ordinances under charter. As population increased, as society progressed, and as industries grew and expanded, there arose a revolt against those statutes and charters. The misfortune was, however, that instead of merely repealing restrictive laws, the employers, then all-powerful in Parliament, sought to substitute, and did substitute very often, other restrictive laws generally adverse to labour. The masters desired, by law, to inflict disabilities upon workmen, and the workmen similarly desired to impose conditions upon masters which were intolerable. This contest was continued for centuries, sometimes one and sometimes the other gaining ascendancy.
The victory ultimately remained with the masters. Statute after statute was repealed, in so far as they were favorable to the workman, with the result that the latter were left wholly unprotected by law, and were unable to protect themselves by mutual association, because of the Combination Laws and other statutes. On the other hand, most of the laws which were in the interest of the masters remained unrepealed, thus leaving the workman in a hopeless state of dependence and disability. A period of transition is nearly always a desperate time for the weak and unprotected. So it was under the repealed laws referred to, ere association by the workman was possible, to mitigate the evils consequent upon the industrial changes then taking place in this country. For a long time the workpeople tried to defend the law and the institution, as their sole means of protection. The masters wanted freedom from the law—for themselves, but with the power to prevent combinations among the men. This unequal struggle continued up to the end of the first quarter of the present century, when, in 1825, the Combination Laws were repealed. Even then, however, the Master and Servant Acts were still in force and were administered with unwonted severity. These were not finally dealt with, in any liberal spirit, until 1867.
The movement amongst the workpeople for freedom to combine began after all efforts to keep in force the old protective law had failed, which was towards the close of the last century. At first, and for a very long period, the tendency was to repeal disabling laws. The Statutes of Apprentices, the particular Acts relating to special trades, the old Combination Laws, Acts relating to Corresponding Societies, and subsequently the Master and Servant Acts, were either partially, some wholly, others temporarily repealed, until, in 1875, after persistent efforts for nearly one hundred years, the remnant of the old Labour Laws, together with the Master and Servant Acts, till that date suspended, were wholly repealed. At the same date the Conspiracy Laws were abolished, in so far as they applied to labour disputes. Ere this had been accomplished, trade-unions were accorded the protection of the law by the Trade Union Act, 1871, and further, as regards their funds, by the Amending Act of 1876. Some other obsolete statutes were repealed last session, by the Master and Servant Act, 1890. All through this long struggle one sentiment was predominant; the healthy sentiment of freedom was paramount. The workmen in effect said: We want no favour; we only want fair play; and by their attitude they declared—we will have it. The demand was simply for the repeal of restraining and disabling laws, with liberty to act, either individually or collectively, for their mutual advantage, whichever was deemed to be best.
III. But long ere the freedom to combine was granted there arose a demand for protective law. And protective law, as then conceded, appears to have been an absolute necessity, remembering the state in which industry was left by the action of the legislature, as before recorded. The system of domestic manufacture, which had been the universal practice for centuries, under the guild system, and under legislation by statute and charter, had almost suddenly changed to a form of factory life, in which women and young children were largely employed in several important industries. These changes were due mainly to the discoveries and inventions, and the application of mechanical powers and means to productive labour in the eighteenth century, whereby motive power, first by water, and subsequently by steam, was utilised to extend and increase production. The newer processes had the effect of bringing together young and old, of both sexes, to work under the new industrial system. These were aggregated together in out-of-the-way places, where they were often brutally treated, worse frequently than slaves in American plantations, and were absolutely without power of redress. The vivid pictures of that period, as portrayed in the pages of Michael Armstrong, tell the tale of their woes; it is further told in the Reports of the Royal Commissions and of Select Committees, appointed by Parliament to inquire into these matters, not in the glowing language and glaring colours of Mrs. Trollop, but in the sober blue-book language and truth, usual in such publications of the Government. The scenes there depicted were common in many industries nearly to the middle of the present century.
With the dawn of the nineteeth century came the first Factory Act, ‘for the Preservation of the Health and Morals of Apprentices and others employed in Cotton and other Industries.’ The necessity for this Act had deeply impressed Sir Robert Peel, himself a manufacturer, who had made a careful study of the subject. From that date, 1801-2 to 1878, when the long series of Acts were consolidated and amended, the provisions of the earlier Act were extended and amended until they embraced all factories and workshops in which women, young persons of both sexes, and children were employed. They are no longer confined to the textile trades, but extend to all classes and kinds of manufacture. The Mines Regulation Acts, in their earlier conception and application, were similar in character, and had almost precisely the same objects. For a period of ninety years there have been three concurrent movements—one for the protection of women and children; another for the protection of life and limb, and health of all engaged in industry; and the other for the repeal of old restrictive laws, in so far as they pertained to adult males in their daily avocations in life. These have progressed side by side, all through the present century, and are still operating without cessation in nearly all trades.
Those movements were not and are not inconsistent or incompatible one with the other. A politician or statesman might support each without violating his principles or endangering his reputation for consistency. But two opposing forces have arisen in this connection; the one would undo the legislation of the past, as vicious and mischievous, the other would so extend it as to embrace within the sphere of its influence not only women and children but adult males, in substitution for, or as going back to, the ordinances and statutes of earlier times. The action of both parties is provocative of diversified antagonism. In the struggle for ascendancy, the chances are either that the good accomplished will be rendered nugatory by repeals of useful statutes, or that the principles underlying them will be so enlarged and applied as to become harmful to the mass of the people. This is the danger to be apprehended, and to be guarded against.
IV. The principles which underlie the Factory and Workshop Acts, and all similar Acts, are clear, definite, and distinct. Generally, they have for their object the
protection of women and children, who were, and still are, to a great extent, the latter wholly, and the former partially, unable to protect themselves. If the Acts, instead of protecting, disobey, or if they are no longer needed for protection, then they become vicious and mischievous. But it must be remembered that the whole tenor of public law has been adverse, in several important respects, to women. The conditions under which they laboured were altogether different to those of men. Combination by women was almost totally unattainable. Isolation and weakness were their lot, until marriage gave them a ‘protector.’ Even then the protection was nearly nil, especially when engaged in any occupation. Often indeed they supplanted their husbands, and became the bread-winners for the family. The extent to which this operated is now scarcely conceivable, certainly it is not realised or appreciated by those who oppose all such legislation. The Reports of the Royal Commission, 1840-43, give an inkling of the extent, baneful influences and effect, of child labour and women labour, in various industries of that time, in so far as the conditions of employment were concerned, while the reports on the sanitary condition of the labouring population, at the same date, show the direful results in the home-life of the people. These reports are seldom perused now, but no one can understand to what fearful depths of degradation, greed and need pressed down the workers in factories and workshops, in collieries and mines, and in other occupations in the industrial centres of Great Britain. Health and morals were the chief objects of the series of statutes to which reference is made, including sanitation, meal times, separation of the sexes, number of hours worked, night work, overcrowding, &c., &c.
V. The other object sought by protective law was the safety of the workers. Sometimes health, morals, and safety were sought in one and the same measure; as, for example, when fencing of machinery and ventilation of mines were provided for in the same Act which prohibited the employment of women and children in mines; or where regulations were enforced as to the employment of men and women, boys and girls in the mine or factory, under conditions provocative of immorality, and where common decency could scarcely be said to possibly exist. In addition to personal safety of life and limb, responsibility in cases of injury while engaged in the ordinary occupation for which the workers were hired, was added. This, however, was not a new law; it was rather statutory limitation and application of the principles of Common Law, derived from the Roman Law, which were general throughout Europe and America. Thus protective law, in this instance, was designed to prevent fatal accidents or injury, or to punish under civil process those who were responsible, but who neglected proper safeguards for the employés’ safety.
VI. The Public Health Acts are of a different class, but their aim was in the same direction, their provisions being on the general lines. Instead, however, of being solely, or even mainly, instituted for the protection of workers engaged in a particular employment, they were designed for the benefit of the whole community, of which the workpeople form but a section. Nevertheless, under the Public Health Acts, the Nuisances Removal Acts, and numerous other general Acts, all classes of workers are directly, as well as indirectly, benefited, in addition to the special protection given to them under the Factory and Workshop Acts, and other specific Acts. To this category might be added many groups of Acts of a general character, such as the Railway Acts, Building Acts, Drainage Acts, Housing of the Working Classes Acts, and others, all of which extend protection to workers, as part of the whole community, while some contain clauses for their especial benefit.
VII. The motives which actuated those by whom all such legislation was inaugurated and extended in various directions, were good, and the objects sought were definite and generally commendable. The promoters assumed, as a matter of course, that the individual could not protect himself in such cases; that many of the circumstances which had arisen, necessitating interference by law, had been created by law, or were the direct or indirect results of law. The argument was, and is, that inasmuch as the conditions of modern society are mainly the outcome of legislation, in one form or another, those least benefited by such legislation should be protected against encroachments on their liberty of action, and of mutual association, by those who had reaped the greatest advantages from enactments by positive law. How far, and to what extent, the position thus taken up is a right one maybe open to argument; and some of the facts alleged in support of either side or view may be challenged. In any case no one will contend that all such interference by statutory enactment is vicious. The questions in dispute mainly are: when, where, and how the interference shall take place; and under conditions and to what extent? The general view is that, in matters relating to labour, the line shall be drawn at adult males; that legislation for the protection of women and children is justifiable, and quite within the sphere of Legitimate and positive law; but that interference with the rights and liberties of grown men is an impertinence and a danger which ought to be resented and resisted. Such legislation is undoubtedly an innovation in the strict sense of the term. Indirectly adult males have been protected by Factory and Workshop Acts, and by Mines Regulation Acts, Truck Acts, and similar Acts. For the most part such Acts were not passed ostensibly for the protection of men, except in so far as health and safety are concerned, the one exception being the Truck Acts. In all such legislation the whole community is concerned, as well as the workers. In this respect it was not class law for a section, but general law for the mass. The Truck Acts are of a different class, but they really aimed a blow at a system of fraud, perpetrated by those who had supreme control over the labour market, and against whom the workers were powerless to compete. Many of these conditions were manifestly created by, or were the outcome of law, by which masters were free to combine, and under which workmen were refused the right of combination, and consequently of resistance.
VIII. The demand for an extension of the provisions of positive law to cases not heretofore within its pale, or domain, is, it is to be feared, as much due to unwise attempts in the direction of limitation as to unwise attempts to run in advance of public opinion by its extension. For instance, there was an outcry against what is called ‘grandmotherly legislation’ by the
Laissez-faire school of political economists, as they are termed, with the object of restricting such legislation. The Liberty and Property Defence League of to-day is regarded by many as carrying to the very extreme the principle of non-interference by law in matters of ‘contracts of service’ in the realm of labour. The adherents of this school appear to be inclined to appeal to philosophical principles only in so far as they are protective of their own interests. This is not perhaps intentional, but proceeds from forgetfulness of what they owe to earlier legislation and regulation. They protest, and in many cases rightly, against the enactment of fresh restraints on individual liberty, but they are not enthusiastically eager to part with advantages which earlier legislation has conferred upon the class from which the members of that school are drawn. For example, the State undertakes to maintain entails and settlements, and provides facilities for the collection of debts, therein conferring advantages on the landowning, trading, and capitalist class. If progress is to bring with it a gradual diminution in the use of legal machinery in the affairs of every-day life, it is obvious that these and similar agencies provided by the State must be modified, as being harmful to the development of human character, and be excluded just as much as enactments which seek to confer advantages upon, and to protect and advance the interests and status of, the labourer. There should be some reciprocity among all classes, thus showing confidence in the expanding tree of liberty as a refuge for the protection of all. Such dogged resistance to any extension of the domain of law leads the advocates of extension to discard all notions of limit, and in reality it reacts in favour of the wildest conceivable schemes of Municipal and General Law, for all kinds of purposes, and for all sections of the people. Both parties seem to have a very confused notion as to the true basis of law, and of the issues involved therein. They are divided into two armies, for attack and defence; they aim wildly at each other, neither having a very clear idea where the other is in the fray. They have no conception of a golden mean in matters of State policy, or that there is a plateau of debatable land on either side of the imaginary boundary line of legislative interference, which may still be open for demarcation and delimitation. The political philosopher, and the social statist or political economist, must attempt to trace the exact line, if an exact line can be traced, where the State shall act or interfere, and where it shall be neutral, resisting alike those who seek to pass the boundary in whatever direction, whether by further extension of legislation, or by the repeal of legislation in force. This is now all the more necessary, seeing that ‘statesmen’ and those who seek ‘parliamentary honours’ are subject to continuous external pressure for new legislation, on old or new lines, as the case may be. Every member of the popular branch of the legislature is being forced, almost against his will, to support this or that measure, the exact bearing of which, beyond its more immediate objects, he does not see, or in the least degree perceive. Such pressure is exercised quite irrespective of other pressure in a contrary direction, by another set of enthusiasts.
The requisition for legislation during the last six years has been enormous, it is becoming more and more irresistible and dictatorial each year, and it will be perpetual and growing, until some principle of policy is formulated by which thoughtful men can stand. Whether or not this be possible is a question for debate; but the absence of a policy is dangerous to all concerned—to the State, as a living organism, and to the various sections of the community of which it is made up.
IX. The sphere of legislation is now sought to be extended in various directions, covering a wide field. Some of the measures demanded belong to a class which has had the sanction of all parties in the State, and also of the majority of economists, to whichever school they may belong. There have been differences of opinion as to the degree and exact extent of the legislative interference to be conceded; and some few have protested against the kinds, and the methods adopted; but actual resistance to its principles has been small. The particular branches of subjects embraced in the new demands may be classified and summarised as follows:—
(a) Acts for extending existing provisions relating to the safety of persons engaged in more or less dangerous occupations. This series of enactments is based upon principles which are not generally called in question, as being in any sense an infringement of legitimate law. It is universally admitted that no man has a right to contribute to the injury of another, whether the person injured is in the employ of such other person, or is a ‘stranger,’ not in his employ. This personal protection is indeed the essence of all law. The State exists for no other rightful purpose; all else is usurpation, no matter what euphonious name may be applied to the condition of things in which such protection is denied.
(b) Compensation for injury is of the same class, and is the natural sequence of the foregoing. The Common Law has always held the person causing the injury responsible, and liable to pay compensation. The Employers’ Liability Act does not extend the responsibility; on the contrary, it rather limits its application, and also the amount of compensation to be awarded. As a set-off to this limitation, it gives an easy remedy by summary process for the amount claimed. Instead of expensive litigation in the Superior Courts, the County Court may assess damages up to a certain restricted amount. Against measures of this sort there can be no legitimate objection, provided they are framed and administered with equity. The limitation of responsibility and liability only dates back some five and forty years, and was not even then the subject of positive law, but of interpretation by the highest legal tribunal, the House of Lords.
(c) The Public Health Acts endeavour to ensure, as far as practicable, immunity from dangerous conditions arising from unhealthy occupations, carried on in unsanitary dwellings, or premises, where the work has to be performed; and also protection to the inhabitants from the effects of unhealthy areas, bad drainage, or other defects dangerous or injurious to health. When a person undertakes to do certain work he runs the risks usually incidental to such employment. But it is always understood that such risks are limited to those that are not preventable. To endanger a man’s life needlessly is upon a par with manslaughter. The worker has a right to expect that all reasonable care shall be taken to lessen the danger, and prevent accidents wherever possible. In accepting a tenancy, the tenant has the same rights as against his landlord. All this is old law, and is good law; nor can it be abrogated without danger to the community, and to the State.
(c) The Factory and Workshop Acts constitute the special group to which exception is mainly taken. In this class of legislation there is a growing tendency towards expansion and extension, and of including objects and purposes not within the purview of existing law. Many regard this tendency with strong disfavour; even those most favorable see in it a great danger. Demands are being daily made for the extension of these Acts. The advocates thereof urge that such legislation shall be logical, and face the full consequences of recognised principles, in enactments already in force. It is not always clear that the proposals made are the logical outcome of legislation now in force. And even were it so, there may be, and often are modifying circumstances or conditions that prevent the application of the specific ‘principle’ alluded to; while there are many cases to which such principle does not logically apply. Each case must be taken on its merits, and no man need feel any obligation, moral or otherwise, to support new proposals because he has felt it incumbent upon him to support similar legislation in other cases to which such Acts apply, Circumstances alter cases in numberless instances and ways, certainly not less in matters of legislation than in affairs relating to conduct, and of every-day life. Those who urge legislation on the ground of logic, must be prepared to face the logical sequence of their own proposals, both in life and conduct, and in Statute Law. We shall presently see where such proposals will land us, and shall ask those who seek to discredit the action of reformers who do not see eye to eye with them, whether they are prepared to accept the full consequences of the legislation demanded, not only in the realm of labour, but in the domain of social and private life. The question must be faced, for the nation is verging to the point of danger in this connection.
X. The recent inquiry by the Lords’ Committee into the Sweating System, as it is called, has opened up a wider field. Not that there is anything absolutely new in connection with it, except perhaps that it has developed more widely, and evoked a deeper interest on the part of the public. Those who will turn to the pages of
Alton Locke, published forty years ago, will find that the Rev. Charles Kingsley laid bare the chief features of the Sweating System. Mr. Henry Mayhew also, in his ‘London Labour and London Poor,’ showed to what extent it had crept into the furnishing trades, especially in all that pertained to cabinet-making and fancy work connected therewith; and also into the tailoring trades and some other industries. Those men preached to deaf ears. The public conscience was not touched. There was no response to the earnest appeals then made, which were treated either as the appeals of fanatics, or were regarded as of so sentimental a character as not to come within the pale of practical politics. The ‘Sweating System’ in itself is hard to define; even the Select Committee of the Lords hesitated to commit themselves to any definition. Mr. Arnold White gave the highly philosophical description of ‘grinding the faces of the poor’; but the Committee felt that this definition was not sufficiently precise for legislative purposes. All the witnesses were able to adduce evidence as to the evils of the system. The Lords’ Committee were deeply impressed by the voluminous evidence given before them, as to the extent of the evils, and the baneful effects, in various ways. But they were not able to formulate any plan for dealing with them by enactment. They advised combination, cooperative production, and sanitary inspection, the latter only being in the direction of positive law. But to be able to deal with any subject of statutory enactment, the promoters thereof should be in a position to define the objects aimed at, and the precise extent of the contemplated interference. It is not sufficient to state the evils to be remedied, because these may arise from various causes, some of which are scarcely within the sphere of practical legislation and some remedies might intensify rather than cure the disease.
XI. The Sweating System is mainly the outgrowth of a domestic system of industry, but apparently not wholly so. At any rate, it attains its highest development in those trades in which the family can perform the work independently at home. This is seen in the tailoring trades, the boot and shoe trades; and in the cabinet-making trades; and also in the chain-making, nut and bolt-making industries, in Staffordshire and parts of Worcestershire. It is almost universal in connection with women’s work, of all kinds, especially so where they are able to do the work at home. The ‘sweater’ is the outcome of many elements, the result of many causes; some of these might come within the domain of legitimate law, but many are beyond the province of positive enactment. The head of the family, the responsible bread-winner, has been the chief promoter of sweating. He has preferred independence and isolation as a home worker, where he has the freedom to work when he likes, and to idle when he pleases. He has utilised the skill of his wife, and then of his children, to enable him to produce quickly, while the competition of other men, similarly placed, has compelled him to produce cheaply—too cheaply perhaps to enable him to live decently, as a skilled workman should live. This system of domestic manufacture, has in recent times been carried on under such conditions as to become a positive danger to health, not only to those who live immediately under such conditions, but to the locality in which they dwell, and often to the whole surrounding district. This has led to the demand for sanitary inspection, with power to ‘invade the sanctuary of the home,’ even when the family only are employed. Workers, in very despair, invoke this power, and sanitary reformers seek it as a means, in their opinion the only means, of abating a widespread evil, the consequences of which might become dangerous, or at least very injurious to the whole community.
XII. The desire for legislative interference has of late been growing to such a degree that it has become a passion, in many breasts an all-pervading passion, which is apparently insatiable. It is with many a mere dilettante longing for some change, which shall bridge the gulf of classes, now separated by an almost impassable chasm. With others it is the cry of despair. They feel the terrible struggle for existence so acutely, and see no possible means of escape from the intensified and continuous strain, mentally and physically, that they look to the State to interfere, for protection and support. If it be not despair, it is decadence, true manhood being crushed out, in so far as its higher attributes are concerned. Others, again, seek the aid of the State out of utter idleness, and ingrained laziness; their idea of life seems to be not to do anything for themselves, except that which they are compelled to do from sheer necessity. The most serious proposal in recent times, is the application of the principle of State interference with the labour of adult males, and the fixing of their hours of labour by law. The proposals at present before the country are various; some propose to go only a little way, others go the ‘whole hog.’ Of the two the whole hog people are the most logical and consistent. They seek a universal law of Eight Hours, for all sections of the people, without distinction of class or industry. The possibility of its application is quite another matter. The advocates of this ‘principle’ do not trouble themselves with such trifling questions as possibilities; what they demand is the principle of a uniform day of Eight Hours; it is for the legislature to find out the way, and the methods of its application. If, they say, the thing is right, Parliament can formulate the provisions and the means. It is the duty of Parliament to put into language, and give expression to the aspirations of the people. The conclusion is simple, and, may we say, profound.
XIII. The definite formulated proposals now before the country are limited to certain employments; but the advocates, for the most part, regard those as only initial steps towards the grand consummation, by them devoutly wished for. The first measures suggested are:
(a) An Eight-Hour day for all Government employés. It is not quite clear whether the advocates of this policy seek to enforce eight hours’ continuous work upon all Government employés, or whether they only desire that those who work longer than eight hours shall be brought within that limit, leaving those who work less than eight hours, the full enjoyment of present privileges. This is a point upon which they are discreetly silent.
(b) There is a further demand that all persons employed by Municipal Corporations, and all Local bodies and Authorities, shall be employed for eight hours only. Here, again, it is not quite clear whether the rule shall be universal, or only partial, in its application. The demand is general, the advocates disdaining to descend to particulars, either as to the application of the regulations, or the limitation (if any) of their operation.
With regard to these two classes of employés, there is no kind of pretension that they are over-worked, or that their labour is exhausting or dangerous. The contention merely is that the State, or the Municipal Institution or Local Body, should show an example to other employers, by working the men fewer hours, and paying them at the highest rates of remuneration. No one will contend that the State should under-pay, or over-work, its employés. But, on the other hand, few will assert that the State should so deal with labour, as practically to regulate the hours of labour, and fix its price. Yet the contention of those who seek such interference involves these conditions, in its operation and results. Custom has the force of law; and a State-regulated day, and a fixed rate of wages for such working day, would in effect govern the labour market generally, certainly for the same kind of labour, in all parts of the country.
(c) A section, and it must be admitted that they constitute a very considerable section, of the miners, seek for a State-regulated day of Eight Hours. Their various Associations have prepared a Bill for that purpose, which Bill has been introduced into Parliament. The representatives of the counties of Durham and Northumberland have, with the general assent of their mining constituents, withheld their sanction to the measure; but the representatives of other mining districts support it, and they denounce all those who withhold their support. The supporters of the Bill contend that the mining industry is a dangerous occupation, and that labour in the mine is exhaustive, and, therefore, that the hours of work in the mine should be limited. With regard to the question of danger, the law is pretty severe at present, and any plea on the score of danger will command attention and respect. But legislation in this direction comes under a totally different head, and ought not to be pleaded on behalf of State regulation of the hours of labour. The exhaustive nature of the work is admitted, but the plea holds good in other industries. Yet the supporters of the Bill declare that the measure is limited to mining, and is not intended to apply to other trades. Leaving the question of danger out of the calculation, it might be asked whether iron-workers and steelworkers, blast-furnacemen, and some others, could not put in as reasonable a plea on the score of exhaustion, and the laboriousness of their occupation. Some of those employed on railways could also plead both danger and exhaustion, and therefore the limitation proposed, for miners only, will scarcely hold good. Besides, no class of men in this country have done so much for themselves, by themselves, as the miners. To their credit be it said, they have shown an example, worthy of all praise, of self-help, and mutual help by associative effort, such as might be advantageously followed by the workmen of all classes in the country.
(d) The Shop Assistants of the country, especially those in the metropolis, have formulated demands for the early closing of shops, either generally, on all days of the week, or specifically, on certain days, with half-holidays, because, as they assert, they have found it impossible to adequately curtail their hours of labour otherwise. The fact is that the pressure of long hours has not been felt sufficiently to induce them to combine for shorter hours, or they would ere this have gained their ends. In many houses the hours of labour have been reduced considerably, without State interference, and the tendency is still further to reduce the working hours of this class of employés. Where women and young persons are employed, the law operates as it stands, under existing legislation.
(e) But the most curious requisition of all is the demand, by a large number of Shopkeepers, that shops shall be closed at a certain hour by Act of Parliament, under Municipal or Local regulation, by the majority of the votes of those engaged in the particular business to be regulated. Sir John Lubbock’s measure admits the difficulty by omitting certain establishments, and shops, from its operation. Those omitted are, in point of fact, the very places in which the hours are the longest, such as public-houses, hotels, restaurants, eating-houses of all sorts, tobacconists, newsagents, and some others. The exceptions prove that State regulation is difficult and dangerous. Many of those who clamour for the interference would resent any attempt to put in force a law prohibiting Sunday trading, yet this would give one whole day’s rest in seven. All these proposals practically admit that voluntary regulation is not possible to the extent demanded. Does not this imply that State regulation is impracticable? Is it not an admission that statutory enactment is not required by those for whose benefit it is ostensibly intended? The power to close at a given hour exists in all places.
(f) Another of the proposals made is to insist that in all Railway Bills and Tramway Bills, and of course, naturally, in all Bills involving the employment of labour, and requiring Parliamentary sanction, provisions shall be inserted fixing the hours of labour at eight per day, as a condition precedent to the passing of such measures. Notice to that effect was given in the session of 1890, but the question was not the subject of debate upon any Bill, nor was any attempt made to raise it. This mode of Parliamentary interference and regulation is perhaps the most extraordinary ever submitted to the House of Commons. The proposal bears no resemblance to the provisions inserted in Railway and Street Improvement Bills relating to the housing of the working-classes, as powers are given in such Bills to compel the vacating of dwellings within the area taken compulsorily, and that too without any compensation or consideration to the poor families evicted under the Acts. By the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, some provision is made for the costs of removal, when the dwellings are required for demolition, in order to clear the area; but even this proviso does not really amount to compensation. There is, however, no analogy whatever between the two sets of cases; nor can that enactment be quoted in support of the former demand, upon any logical or reasonable grounds. If Parliament is to be called upon to interfere in matters relating to labour in all Bills brought before the Legislature for Parliamentary sanction, there is an end to the respective ‘rights,’ whatever these may be, of capital and labour. It would be better at once to fix the hours of labour, and its wages or price, by legal provisions which shall be binding upon all classes, employers and workmen alike, in all departments of industry, all over the kingdom.
XIV. There are four very serious objections to this kind of legislation, all of which must be removed before it can be initiated and carried into effect. These are:
(1) The impracticability, nay impossibility, of its universal adoption and application. All laws which are partial in operation are made by a class, for a class; and class legislation is generally condemned, most of all by the working-classes, and rightly so. For more than a century we have been busily engaged in undoing the class legislation of previous centuries—in repealing the statutes, and in removing the obstacles they had created. The work is not yet completed, for the effects remain long after the statutes are repealed. Everybody who may be at all acquainted with the history of past legislation, admits that the earlier legislation in this direction hampered trade, hindered the advancement of the people, and operated adversely to labour. It took an entire century to repeal the Labour Laws, and some of them are not even now repealed. We are asked to revert back to similar legislation; to fix the number of hours of the working-day, and to practically set up a standard of wages. Can this be done effectually for all trades? One would like to see the draft of a measure, setting forth in detail, in a schedule, all the industries of the country, with the number of hours to be worked as the normal working day for each trade, and the minimum rates of wages to be paid. In such schedule, what should govern the length of the day, or the rate of wages? Should it be skill, the exhaustive character of the labour, the cleanliness or dirtiness of the occupation, the insanitary conditions under which it is carried on, or what? It would be an interesting session in which all these questions were discussed and settled, if settled they ever could be. Each class and section would have its accredited experts, whose duty it would be to show that his clients deserved to be put in this or that class, or to be exempt from this or that regulation. That time is not yet come.
(2) The inelasticity of positive law is adverse to the development of human intelligence and skill. An Act of Parliament is necessarily directed more to the restraint of liberty than to its expansion. Hence the principle upon which it is, or ought to be, conceived, is that caution is better than recklessness, and that it is above all things advisable to hasten slowly in matters of legislation. The great majority of people do not at all understand the nature and character of an Act of Parliament. Working-men especially seem to regard it merely as an ordinary resolution, registered by both Houses of Parliament, and capable of being as easily and readily rescinded or amended as any resolution passed at a public meeting, or by the committee or council of the body with which they are associated, and with whose acts and resolves they are more or less familiar. An Act of Parliament is certainly not like a law of the Medes and Persians; it is not an enactment which cannot be abrogated or set aside. But it frequently takes a longer time, and involves more agitation and expense, to repeal an Act, even when its effects have admittedly been pernicious, than it did to place it on the statute book originality. It is no light matter either to enact or repeal a statute; even to amend it often requires years of earnest and persistent effort. Of legislation generally it might with truth be said that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. The House of Commons is slow, frequently very slow, to embark on new experimental legislation; and when such is initiated the expedient of ‘temporary law’ is often resorted to, requiring that its assent shall be renewed year after year, in order to see how it works before it is made a permanent statute. Many such laws are renewed session after session by an Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, at the close of each session; an indication of the extreme caution of the Legislature in any new departure in positive enactment.
(3) supposing there was no question as to the ‘principle’ of such legislation, the administration of the law would frequently involve hardships more intolerable than the evils they were meant to cure. The inspection required, to see that the laws were enforced, would necessitate an army of inspectors, all of whom would, in the very nature of things, become more and more dictatorial, inasmuch as they would be the masters of employers and employed alike. Labour would have to cease at the sound of the State gong, and any work performed beyond the legislative limit would bean infraction of the statute. If the necessities of the hour required that work should be continued after the fixed point of time, a permit would have to be granted by the inspector, magistrate, town council, or some other recognised authority constituted for the purpose. Overtime would have to be abolished in all cases, except in instances of great emergency. Overtime, with a fixed legal day, would be impossible, or the legislation itself would be a farce. Those workmen who chuckle in their sleeve at the prospect of putting in more overtime, at higher rates of pay, would find that an Eight Hour Law was a law to be administered and enforced; not an elastic regulation, capable of indefinite interpretation and modified application. Besides which, an Eight Hour Law would be a hollow sham which permitted working beyond the normal fixed day. Eight hours, and no more, must be the motto of those who seek it, if they are honest in their contention that such an enactment is needed as a means of providing work for the workless. This aspect of the case is kept back by the advocates of the ‘legal day’ of eight hours, but it must be insisted on, as part of the bargain. One month’s experience of the administration of such a law would cure many of its advocates of their phrensy for State regulation, by a State official, in the ordinary affairs and conduct of every-day working life.
(4) Such legislation would fail, as all similar legislation has failed in the past. It is useless to say that the conditions are changed—human nature is not changed—certainly not for the better in these respects. The greed of gain is as rife to-day as when Christ drove the money-changers out of the Temple, or as it was in the Middle Ages, when the Guilds regulated, or sought to regulate, labour and wages. The history of the Guilds discloses the fact that for centuries there was an intensely bitter contest between the Guild members of the various fraternities for the supreme control and for ascendancy. The feuds only ended with their suppression. The contests did not subside, but were continued under the enactments which were substituted for the earlier ordinances, until those were, in their turn, repealed. The charters from time to time granted were but abuses of power, by the creation of monopolies and privileges, and these for the most part had either to be abrogated, or so abridged as to be incapable of doing much mischief. Where they still partially exist the abuses linger and continue; and even the advocates of legislative interference apparently desire the final extinction of chartered monopolies and of power. In what way have the conditions of labour changed, or the character of workmen, to lead us to believe that legal enactment will be more fruitful of benefits now than of yore? Even the conduct of many of the advocates of such legislation belie the contention, for they are more bitter in their attacks, more unscrupulous in their action, and more offensive in their conduct, than were the antagonists of a bygone age, when such labour legislation was in force, and in the struggles when it was sought to be abrogated. Fitness for restraint is a condition precedent to legal enactment; that fitness is not discoverable in the language and conduct of the chief advocates of Acts of Parliament for the regulation of labour, and for determining how long a man, in the plenitude of his strength, shall work at his trade, or what he shall earn by his industry.
XV. The advocates of further legislative interference in labour questions urge, above all things, as previously indicated, that we shall be logical in the matter of positive law. They quote Acts, and parts of Acts, in order to show that the ‘principle’ of interference has been adopted and applied; and they accuse all who hesitate to extend the ‘principle,’ on the lines they indicate, of cowardice in withholding assent to the newer forms of legislative action which they suggest. ‘We are all socialists now,’ said an eminent Parliamentary hand. Yes; in a sense that is so. Some are socialists by conviction, no matter upon what inadequate grounds; others may be regarded as socialists by their silence, and an attitude of noncommittal, because they shrink from combating socialistic views and tendencies; and many are socialists from lack of knowledge, lack of energy, and the absence of self-sustaining power. The growth of socialism is due to the enormous expansion of our wealth resources, the advantages and benefits of which are only shared by the comparatively few, instead of the many and by the consequent contrast of poverty and riches, which may be seen on every hand. This state of things is to be deplored, and as far as practicable to be remedied; the only question is—how? The two distinctive proposals put forward by the Fabians and the Socialists are, firstly, the extension of the provisions of the Factory and Workshop Acts to all the trades of the country, where only adult males are employed, as well as where women and children are employed; and they seek to apply the provisions of those Acts to domestic manufacture of all kinds, where the family only are engaged in productive labour, as well as to industry where persons are hired by an employer. And, secondly, they seek the regulation of the hours of labour by statute-law, generally and uniformly, or partially, as the case may be, as before stated. Those two points may be said to cover the present demands relating to labour.
XVI. The extension of the provisions of the Factory and Workshop Acts to domestic industries, where the members of the family only are employed, will inevitably destroy domestic manufacture in all trades. Some affect to deny this, but all the better informed advocates of such extension acknowledge that such will be its effects and results; and they even rejoice at the prospect. It is not necessary for present purposes either to attack or defend the system of domestic industry. Great evils are connected with the system, many are the natural outcome of it. It is, however, essential that all classes and sections of the community should know what is sought, and what is inevitable, if the legislation proposed is carried into effect. If all places and premises where work is carried on are to be inspected; if a certain cubical space is to be insisted upon in all such rooms; if the hours of labour, of meal-times, and the provision especially that meals are not to be taken in the same room, are enforced, how is it possible for any kind of work to be done at home? The thing is impossible. This fact must be clearly understood by all who are likely to be affected by such legislation. The sleeping room of the family will have to be as open to the inspector as an ordinary workshop, for it is well known that in numberless instances one room serves for all the purposes of living, working, cooking, and sleeping. Are the mass of the people prepared for so drastic a measure—will they submit to it? And not only will the domestic ‘workshop’ be absolutely abolished, but the small masters will have to go, just as the small private schools practically ceased to exist with the institution of School Boards. The effect will be that industry of all sorts will be concentrated, centered in fewer hands; huge establishments will monopolise trade, and the workers will, in consequence of their own action, be at the mercy of a few large firms, or great trading companies, with the result that in the event of being discharged, for certain reasons, no other establishment will be open to them.
XVII. It might be thought that the demands of the new school of labour advocates have been exaggerated, and that the possible evils resulting from such demands have been maximised. One fact alone will disabuse either notion, if it exists. Recently, as late as August, 1890, the newly formed Dockers’ Union, led by the men who claim to be the originators of what they are pleased to describe as the ‘New Trade Unionism,’ decreed that their books should be closed; that no new members were to be enrolled; that they were now sufficient in numbers to perform the work at the docks, and that any addition would but impede their progress, by being brought into competition with the accredited members of the Union. Any departure from this decree was to be left in the hands of the Executive of the Union. This autocratic ukase is worthy of the most unscrupulous despotic tyrant that ever disgraced the pages of history; no parallel for it can be found in the annals of labour, except, perhaps, in the more degenerate days of the trading corporations of the Middle Ages, or possibly in some of the commercial ‘rings’ of modern times. It says, in effect: We, the members of the Dockers’ Union, are quite sufficient in numbers to do all the dock-work of the port of London, or other ports; we only are to be employed; no other men shall come into competition with our labour, and we will dictate the terms and conditions upon which we shall be employed. If you don’t like it, we will stop all industry until you cave in. Supposing all other Unions adopted the same policy, and shut out all labour except that which had been enrolled in the books of the Union—what is to become of the unemployed? Beggary, or the workhouse, is to be the lot of all new comers into the field of industry, unless they can be banished into other lands. If any doctrine so abominable had been propounded by employers the world of labour would have been up in arms. The monopoly of the land, or of the Upper Chamber of the Legislature, sinks into insignificance by the side of this unexampled piece of wicked stupidity on the part of the new leaders, the apostles of the new trade unionism.
The mere fact that such apiece of stupendous folly could be seriously entertained by any body of sane persons is bad enough; but that it should be promulgated, and be treated by any portion of the press otherwise than as the ravings of fanatics, shows to what depths of utter imbecility, ignorance, and presumption men can be found to descend when blinded by passion, led by bigotry, and actuated by mere selfishness in the attainment of their objects. Men of this stamp, if once they had supreme control over the legislative machine, would annihilate individual liberty, and reduce God’s image to a mere photograph of one human pattern, as lifeless as clay, to be reproduced mechanically, as the sole type of manhood in the world. They seem not to know that the Great Creator has impressed upon the human soul an individuality as complete, and as multifarious, as is to be found in the forms and features of the myriads of men and women which constitute the mass of humanity; and they appear not to be aware of the fact that it is as impossible to mould the human mind to one stereotyped pattern, as it would be to shape the form and features in one iron mould, to the same model. It is not only impossible; it is undesirable, even were it possible. In all nature variety is charming; certainly it is not less so in human character than in other animate, and in all inanimate objects. Dull uniformity realises the highest conception of life, conduct, and character in the breasts of those who have no distinct individuality of their own. When Pope said of the female sex, ‘Most women have no character at all,’ he was regarded as having libelled the sex; but absence of character would seem to be the acme of perfection, according to the new gospel of socialism, in which manhood is to be crushed out of humanity, and the State is to regulate the desires, attainments, and needs of all, individually and in the concrete. To rise at morn to the sound of a State gong, breakfast off State viands, labour by time, according to a State clock, dine at a State table, supplied at the State’s expense, and to be regulated as to rest and recreation, do not realise a very high conception either of life or conduct. Yet this is the dream of the new social innovators, whose aim is to suppress individuality, and substitute therefor State control and Municipal regulation in all that concerns private life.
XVIII. Lest it should be thought that the foregoing remarks are somewhat strong, as regards the leaders of the new labour movement, it is only necessary to refer to the action of the Unionists towards those who abstain from joining the Union, or refuse to be bound by its rules and regulations. The claim of the pioneers in the cause of labour hitherto has been that no man shall be tabooed socially, or be placed under the ban of the law, because of his belonging to a trade union. This was always the plea of those who sought the repeal of the Combination Laws. That plea was for liberty to act, not for the power to coerce. Unionism is being used for the latter purpose of late, to a degree which is dangerous and wicked. To what extent it might be used if the unions, controlled by such men, were powerful enough to exercise their authority, especially if they had behind them the sanction of statute law, which the new leaders invoke, it is not possible to conjecture, but we can have some faint idea from what has taken place, and is taking place, in various parts of the country. Law and liberty ought to exist side by side, the former protecting and guaranteeing the latter. When the two are divorced, law degenerates into tyranny, and liberty into license. Progress without order is impossible, and law is simply regulation, order being its essence. The endeavour should therefore be so to regulate, that the highest and noblest instincts and aspirations of man shall have full scope for their development and exercise, in every department and condition of life. This is always difficult enough, for society is in conspiracy against non-conformity; how much more difficult then will it be when positive law is invoked to enforce and maintain uniformity in the domain of labour, and in the affairs of social life? It might be urged that the regulation of the hours of labour will not necessarily involve the abnegations of individual rights in the manner described. But we reply that as the logical outcome of the regulation sought it would be inevitable.
XIX. The domain of law as applied to labour may be generally described under two heads: (1) Protective law, the object and purposes of which are to protect the weak against the strong, as exemplified in the Factory and Workshop Acts, for the protection of women and children; and all extensions of such law to cases where life and limb are concerned. (2) Enabling law, the aim and purposes of which are to remove obstacles to, and provide facilities for, the promotion of the well-being and happiness of the individual and of the mass of the people. To these might be added preventive law, whose province it is to interpose when any citizen, or any number of citizens, attempt to interfere with the legitimate rights of others. Herein is the rightful province of law; beyond is always doubtful, mostly dangerous. The multiplication of laws is perilous; each new Act, almost of necessity, creates the need for further. legislation; it propagates itself, until newer circumstances arise to render it obsolete or useless. We have too much law, and too little justice. Additional law will scarcely tend to augment equity, in the true sense of the term. Therefore, instead of increasing the bulk of statute law, or extending it in newer directions, of bringing it to bear upon labour, in the manner proposed by its recent advocates, the object rather should be to curtail it, to simplify it; to codify that which is useful and approved; to repeal what is bad and mischievous, and to give a fuller freedom to the faculties of man in all that is noble and good. The demand for more law indicates a decadence of manhood, an absence of self-reliant, self-sustaining power. It marks an epoch of dependence, the sure precursor of decay in men and in nations. Labour has been strong under persecution, has won great victories in the conflict of industrial war. Its successes seem to have bewildered many, and they seek repose under the baneful fungi of legislative protection and regulation.