The argument which we have so far pursued may seem nevertheless to point to a physiological minimum wage. It must be admitted that a society is not economically sound where large numbers of regular workers fail to get one. And proposals to establish one are not insusceptible of thought-out and attractive formulation. The ablest scheme on these lines with which the present writer is acquainted is that propounded by the Fabian Society in 1906. Its authors fully and frankly recognised the great differences between the cost of living in different districts. They did not advocate that there should be one universal minimum wage applying equally to rural Wiltshire and to London. Their plan was to map out the country into suitable areas, in each of which an authority should, by precise methods like Mr. Rowntree's, ascertain and fix the physiological minimum for that area. There would thus be a hierarchy of areas, some with low minimum wages, some with intermediate, and some with high; and as the low-wage districts would tend to be the sparsely populated ones and the high-wage districts the overcrowded ones, a sort of premium would be given to manufacturers to move away from crowded centres. So far, so good; but on nearer inspection two great difficulties present themselves. One is that of fixing the worker's standard of life. Though the money awards would vary from district to district and from year to year, the standard of life which they sought to express would presumably be uniform. Such stereotyping would be very undesirable, for the progress of society depends largely upon standards of life being variable and progressive. The other great difficulty would be unemployment. The enforcement of an adequate physiological minimum would ruin a great many existing trades, or at least a great many existing employers. Now as a permanent system the existence of trades or employers dependent on paying wages below a physiological minimum cannot be defended. In the national interest they ought to be compelled either to mend their ways or to disappear. But it makes a world of difference how it is done. If it were done by an abrupt universal enforcement of physiological minima, statesmen would find themselves creating a sudden contraction of trade and expansion of unemployment with which they were powerless to cope. The gentler method of the trade minimum wage, which has regard to each trade and aims at gradually compelling the worst employers to reach the standards of the best, possesses advantages in this respect upon which it is superfluous to enlarge.

The trade minimum wage has also for the statesman the great merit, that it is not a mere figment of the study, but has 3 Fabian Tract, No. 128.

VOL. LXXII-No. 426


been extensively and successfully tried. Experience falls under two heads (1) experience as to the feasibility of fixing minima, gained by voluntary agreements fixing them in many trades; (2) experience as to the feasibility of the State's enforcing minima, gained under various Colonial or British Acts. Both points are important, for the two broad objections oftenest made against minimum wage proposals have been, first, the impossibility of fixing minimum wages in complicated trades; secondly, the impossibility of the State's getting them fairly fixed if the parties have failed to fix them.

Now on the first point our own experience in these islands to-day is much fuller and more remarkable than is commonly realised. Minimum time wages or minimum piece rates play a large and minutely varied part in nearly all our greatest industries; cotton, cloth, coal, engineering, printing, building, boots and shoes, lace, linen, tinplate and many others. In the very numerous trade agreements effected under the Conciliation Act, 1896, the principle of a trade minimum wage has proved flexible enough to be adapted to the most puzzling industries. Let us quote a remarkable instance given by Sir George Askwith from his own experience when acting as conciliator under the 1896 Act-that of Nottingham lace weaving.

The due rate of wages in classes of work had to be found by joint request of employers and employed. The whole industry was entitled the lace weaving trade of Nottingham; it has three branches or sections-the plain net, the lace curtain, and the fancy laces. The plain net section is not so complicated as the other sections, but the curtain has eight different cards on which work is produced, and the fancy lace had twenty-one and now has fifteen-thick thread laces, plain bobbin fining and Valenciennes, Torchons, Maltese, blondes, Spanish, Chantilly, cotton loop, sprigs, and many others. There had to be taken into account the classes of lace being made, the number of points to the inch, the number of bars, and the length of the rack and many matters besides. The wages of each class and branch of lace workers required separate consideration, and were discussed and fought word by word and line by line upon these numbers of cards. Well, after eight weeks, I think, of conversation, I am not going to say that the twist hands of Nottingham are failing in eloquence, or give up any point whatever on which they have the slightest chance of founding an argument, but I do say-and it points not only my argument but the common sense of some of the most able workmen in the United Kingdom-that both employers and employed seemed to agree on the classes of workers to whom a minimum wage should be applied, and on what cards it was necessary, and in few instances did dispute arise as to the amount of a minimum wage where such minimum was required.4

This is by no means a unique example. The boot and shoe trade is perhaps even a better one. Its technical intricacies and variations to-day are enormous. 'I have myself,' says Sir

4 Paper read at Guildhall Conference of the Anti-Sweating League, October 24, 1906. The trade in question has had peace ever since.

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George Askwith, fixed scores of minimum wages for every kind of boot in all kinds of localities-all different.' And here, too, the method has been followed by a prolonged spell of peace in the trade. The significance of such facts is too little appreciated by the middle-class newspaper-reading public. They are told of the outbreak, the incidents, and the end of a great dispute, as of a bit of sensational news; they vaguely revere whoever settles it as a beneficent medicine-man; but they know and care surprisingly little about the methods which procure peace and the terms upon which workmen are commonly employed. Their indifference extends to those who write for them, as a single illustration may show. When the Miners' Federation pressed its demand last winter, that piece-workers in the pits should be guaranteed a minimum daily wage as well as minimum piece rates, more than one writer in the London Press denounced the claim for a minimum 'both ways' as unprecedented and impossible. Yet in every London daily newspaper's office the compositors were working on just those terms; they have minimum piece rates and at the same time a minimum time rate; so that the glib newspaper argument against the colliers could not even be set in type without being silently confuted!

If, then, so much can be done by voluntary agreement to bring in standard minimum wages, why appeal to the State? The answer is that in certain trades and in certain branches of most trades the workers have not been and are not strong enough to compel an agreement, and also that the only engine of compulsion which they possess, viz. the strike, cannot be applied without a heavy cost to the general community. Where the State takes no action, the workers who obtain minimum wages are not those for whom it is easiest to fix them, but simply those who are strongest. The weakest, i.e. the poorest and least organisable, are those who need them most, and precisely those who do not get them. Take the engineering trade. The skilled and higher-paid artisans in it have elaborately calculated piecework minima. The labourers, the calculation of whose minimum wage means in most cases nothing more elaborate than deciding the least amount which an able-bodied male adult should receive for his time, are seldom protected by any minima. Last year in the Manchester engineering district, now probably the most important in England, there was a series of labourers' strikes to obtain a minimum of 11. a week. 11. a week is so far below. a physiological minimum for able-bodied men in Manchester, that the demand would be incredible, were it not the case that before the strikes great firms were paying their labourers as little as 16s. 10d. and 17s. 6d. per week. The 11. asked was generally secured, but only after strikes which hit the whole

industry, skilled workers included; moreover, its maintenance is precarious, and it is far too low. Meantime in the great Birmingham district labourers' wages are even worse than they were in Manchester, and the inferior fighting grit of the Midland workers has failed to raise them even so much. Let no one suppose that in these cases, or in cases where excessively low wages affect a whole trade, the appeal for State intervention is an appeal solely for the employed against the employer. Largely it is an appeal for the good employer against the bad. Many an employer, whose low-wage rates are an injury to the community, knows and deplores it, but is helpless in the grip of competition. Much evidence of this was shown during the Antisweating League's agitation, which led to the passage of the Trade Boards Act in 1909; employers in trades affected were among the firmest supporters of the agitation.

Mention of the Act brings us to our second great field of experience the actual history of State-enforced minimum wages. Some people when they approach this side of the subject become very antiquarian. They hark back to the wages laws of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries or the famous legislation of Elizabeth. Interesting as these are, they have no practical bearing on modern conditions. For our purposes the first Act which matters is the Factories Act passed in 1896 in Victoria. That Act originally applied to only five trades, all notoriously sweated trades. Its principle was the establishment in each of Wages Boards, composed of equal numbers of representatives of employers and employed, with an outside chairman appointed by agreement or, failing agreement, by the Government. The primary business of the Boards was to fix minimum wages, their awards being given the force of law; they had some cognate powers, which have been varied from time to time. The system worked so well that it was soon widely extended; and from being an instrument to suppress the worst sweating has become one to fix the bottom wages of nearly every trade." Some failures have been recorded, but very few in comparison with the work done; and many lessons have been learned, which are invaluable when one comes to details. The example of Victoria was copied closely by the neighbouring colony of South Australia; and its extension over Australasia has only been limited by the vogue of the rival system, started in New Zealand and since adopted by New South Wales and by the Australian Commonwealth, of compulsory arbitration; a much more elaborate system of State interference, which involves much more coercion both of em

5 In the first eleven years Wages Boards were constituted in Victoria for over fifty trades.

ployers and employed, but which, where it exists, excludes a Minimum Wage Law, as the greater excludes the less.

To the late Sir Charles Dilke, one of the most patient and practical students of industrial problems whom we have ever had, belongs the credit of first effectively ventilating the Victorian idea in England. In 1905 the Exhibition of Sweated Trades held at the Queen's Hall by the Daily News gave a great impetus to the movement; the Anti-Sweating League was formed; Bills were promoted; in 1908 a Select Committee of the House of Commons on Home Work reported in favour of the Victorian principle; and in 1909 Mr. Churchill's Trade Boards Act, against which no vote was ever cast on its way through Parliament, carried that principle into law. Boards were set up in four trades -(a) ready-made and wholesale bespoke tailoring; (b) paperbox-making; (c) machine-made lace and net finishing; (d) certain kinds of chain-making. The last two are small simple trades carried on mainly at Nottingham and Cradley Heath respectively. The first two are large trades, widely dispersed over the United Kingdom and most intricately organised with a great variety of processes. Taking the four together, they should afford a fairly representative test as to what the method can accomplish. If it succeeds in firmly establishing minimum wages for them, it should be capable of much wider extension.

What success has it had so far? Very considerable. In the two smaller trades, Cradley Heath chain-making and Nottingham lace-finishing, minimum piece lists are now in force, under which sweated workers are receiving prices from 30 to 100 per cent. above the old ones. Evasions of the rate have been stamped out at Cradley Heath and will be at Nottingham with improved inspection. Meantime there is no evidence that the trades suffer; what is happening is that wasteful factors, e.g. the work of middlewomen at Nottingham, are being diminished. In the great box-making and tailoring industries, employing between them hundreds of thousands of workers, progress has necessarily been slower. It is a larger task. No general minimum piece lists are yet in force, but minimum time rates for the for the whole country have been fixed by the Boards. They are lower than the workers hoped, and have caused some disappointment on their side, but represent nevertheless a substantial advance on the previous lower rates. Steps have also been taken, inadequate, yet better than none, to limit the number of juvenile 'learners,' and secure that they shall learn something and not be merely so much cheap labour. Various trade abuses have been removed, such as deducting from wages in the tailoring trade the cost of sewings,' or from wages in the box-making trade the cost of glue and paste. On

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