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In dealing with the unemployed, if our efforts are to meet with success, we must consider the whole body of our workers, and not merely the minority who happen to be out of work at the moment. This point is very important, but is one which nearly every unemployed schemer seems to miss. All workmen are liable to unemployment. The employed of to-day may be the unemployed of to-morrow. For that reason we want an unemployment scheme, or schemes, to embrace every wage-earner in the country. To meet the needs of the real unemployed we want a national scheme, supported by and covering all our workers, employed and unemployed. We want a non-pauperising and non-degrading scheme. We want a scheme that will benefit the bona fide workman without loss of dignity or independence. We want a scheme which will put no premium upon indolence, or lying, or begging. We want a scheme which will not damage private enterprise. We want a scheme that will leave the unemployed man where he is—in the labour market, free to seek ordinary work on his own account. The only scheme capable of fulfilling these conditions would be one of national and compulsory insurance against unemployment, or, more correctly speaking, against hunger in the event of unemployment. We cannot abolish unemployment, therefore we ought to insure against it.
But we could do much to lessen unemployment. While it is difficult to control the fluctuations of trade, and impossible to arrest the invention of labour-saving appliances-impossible completely to solve the problem of the unemployed—it is by no means impossible to reduce the numbers of the unemployed. Our unemployed army is too large. It is growing too fast. It is much larger and growing more rapidly than many gentlemen in high authority seem to imagine. In this country we are not merely afflicted with that ordinary industrial-fluctuation unemployment common to all commercial and manufacturing nations, but we are cursed with constant, chronic, and growing unemployment such as is not to be found elsewhere. In the last thirty years we have failed, as no other great country has failed, to provide productive employment for the people. We have bought and sold increasing quantities of goods—our foreign commerce has grown enormously—but our chief productive industries have practically stood still. Measured by the employment of labour test, we have been losing ground in all the chief industries-agricultural, textile, and metal. In agriculture, mankind's most essential occupation, we lost ground as follows in the last two census periods :
NUMBER OF PERSONS EMPLOYED IN AGRICULTURE IN THE
2,574,031, equal to 738 per 10,000 of the population 2,262,454,
546 A loss of 192
If we take agriculture and textiles together—that is, the production of food and clothing materials--we get this result:
NUMBER OF PERSONS EMPLOYED IN THE AGRICULTURAL AND
TEXTILE INDUSTRIES OF THE UNITED KINGDOM 1881
4,004,816, equal to 1148 per 10,000 of the population 1901 3,724,455,
899 A loss of 249
If we add to these the metal industries—trades in which we ought to have made positively enormous headway, in view of the rapidly growing demand for iron, steel, &c.—the result is still deplorable. Here are the figures :
NUMBER OF PERSONS EMPLOYED IN THE AGRICULTURAL, TEXTILE,
AND METAL (IRON, STEEL, ENGINEERING, SHIPBUILDING, &c.) INDUSTRIES OF THE UNITED KINGDOM
Here, in the three principal branches of productive industry, there was recorded a loss of the employment of 173 wage-earners per 10,000 of the entire population, notwithstanding the fact that in those twenty years 4,300,000 of our people emigrated. Such a deplorable set of figures could not be quoted in connexion with the chief industries of any other country! This is proof, to those who require proof, that unemployment is worse here than elsewhere. Consider. In the last thirty years 6,000,000 of our people have emigrated, and on the average about 5 per cent. of the skilled, and a much higher percentage of the unskilled, among our workers remaining at home have lacked employment. And the figures just quoted in connexion with our chief industries, bad as they are, do not tell the whole deplorable story. Not only has there been a huge loss in numbers employed, but there has been growing casualisation of employment--a circumstance which merits special note.
I have been charged by several high authorities recently with exaggeration. I invite those authorities to weigh the evidence carefully and impartially. There is no need to exaggerate the range and extent of this problem ; but it will be useful to recognise the truth, as ugly as it is. Unless we have a correct diagnosis it is useless to prescribe remedies. Our agriculture goes backward, and our chief manufacturing industries barely mark time. In the last census period alone the number of our farmers and farm labourers and servants decreased by 220,000—22,000 a year; and the number of our textile operatives decreased by nearly 100,000. In those ten years, despite growth of population and demand, not only did our agriculturists decline by 220,000, but our workers engaged in the manufacture of silk decreased by 15,000, of cotton by 19,000, of linen by 21,000, and of wool by 42,000—total loss in agriculture and textiles, 317,000.
After agriculture and textiles we come to iron, now the chief of the world's manufacturing trades. Within a period of twenty-five years, or thereabouts, the world's per capita consumption of ironits demand for iron and steel goods—has increased by 150 per cent. ; therefore, as a manufacturing nation particularly well adapted and most favourably situated for the production and manufacture of iron, we ought to have made great progress in this branch of industry. Indeed, we ought to have made sufficient progress in this line to counterbalance our losses in agriculture and textiles. But what are the facts? Here they are :
While the world's demand for, and our rivals' production of, iron and iron goods have increased enormously, we have made no substantial headway. Whether we take a period of ten, or twenty, or thirty years, we shall find that in such time we have merely marked time while our rivals have gone ahead by leaps and bounds. In the last twenty-five years, while the Germans have increased their per capita output-and, we may add, their manufacture and consumption -of iron by 200 per cent., and while the Americans (U.S.) have increased theirs by 300 per cent., we have not increased ours by one fraction! Although the number of workers engaged in our iron trades has increased, according to census returns, the amount of employment has not expanded.
In this country we have a fertile soil, a good climate, a wealth of industrial minerals most conveniently deposited; we have coal, iron, and shipping ports practically side by side, a combination of favours possessed by no other country; we have a most advantageous geographical situation, and a plethora of skilful and willing labour ; yet our agriculture languishes and our manufactures fail to respond to the needs of our people. In agriculture we go backward, and in manufactures we barely mark time. This is the root cause of our chronic unemployment problem-the unprogressive character of our productive industries. While in other countries-countries no more favoured by Nature than we are-we find agriculture and manufactures growing side by side, and employment increasing, here we have agriculture withering and manufactures failing to grow. The result is that we starve, pauperise, exile, and drive to suicide more willing workers than any other country. In no other country with a willing and skilful people has it been possible in recent years to find so many unemployed men, so many hungry children, so many beggars, so many paupers, so many persons preparing to emigrate, or so many workless men committing suicide, as in the United Kingdom! It is a condition of affairs which ought to put us to shame. We have the soil, the minerals, the men, the money, and the markets-every essential of progressive industrialism-yet we drive our capital by the hundred million, and our workers by the hundred thousand, to other countries for employment—the employment denied them here.
Obviously, the failure of our industries to keep pace with either the growth of population or demand is the primary cause of excessive unemployment; and, if we would lessen unemployment and its evils, we must devise some system of taxation that will better encourage and more fully develop our productive industries. We must encourage and be prepared to pay for, if need be—the investment of British capital in British industry. We must cultivate more of our land, and we must cultivate it better. Our mineral resources must also be better developed. Agricultural rents, mining royalties, and railway rates must be fixed in the interests of enterprise and industry. Home production must be cultivated. Taxation upon home production must be lessened. Taxation must be imposed upon the products of foreign competitive industry. We must buy less and make more. We must import less and produce more. We must provide less employment and wages for foreign labour, and more for our own labour. Importation must be lessened and home production increased. Concurrently, we must sell less and use more. We must export less and consume more. For example, we import wheat and steel while our own agricultural labourers and steel-smelters either emigrate or starve; and we export cotton and woollen goods and coal while our own people tramp the streets in rags and starve in hovels fireless. This is the very kernel of our poverty problem-our inflated and unnatural foreign commerce conducted at the expense of home industry. While our markets are deluged with the products of tariff-protected and bounty-fed foreign industries, our ports are crowded with departing emigrants, our streets with unemployed men, our schools with hungry children, and our poorhouses with paupers. Concurrently, while our ships are carrying coal and clothing to other countries, our own willing workers starve.
But much of the suffering inflicted upon our working classes through bad industrial, commercial, and fiscal conditions is hidden from public view. The bulk of our workers become prouder and prouder. This growing pride, due to education and civilisation generally, obscures much of the real state of affairs. The methods by which many of our most deserving poor endeavour to hide their poverty, even from friends and neighbours, are at once heroic and pathetic. If there was half as much distress in some countries as there is here there would be constant rioting and much bloodshed. A section of the Press has taken me to task for the assertion that the conditions of labour are becoming worse in this country. Board of Trade unemployment returns and pauper statistics have been quoted to disprove my statements. My statements remain true, nevertheless. Our official unemployment returns do not faithfully represent the state of our labour market. Not only is there a great disparity, but there is a rapidly growing disparity, between the percentage of tradeunionists unemployed (of which we have official records) and the percentage of general workers similarly situated (of which we have no records). Let me explain, for the benefit of those whose knowledge of unemployment is gained second-hand. In the first place, the limitation of apprentices in the organised industries tends unduly to contract the supply of skilled, and to swell the supply of unskilled, labour. On any ordinary morning, at the gates of our industrial establishments, for every skilled trade-unionist seeking work there may be found a score of unorganised and unskilled men. In recent years a vigorous speeding-up policy has been adopted in many of our industries; but this policy does not apply to our trade-unionists, and is not, therefore, reflected in our unemployment returns. Given quantities of work are being performed in less and less time, and with fewer and fewer hands, with the result that men are more often unemployed, and for longer periods, than hitherto. But as our tradeunionists refuse to be hustled in their work, it naturally follows that the effects of this speeding-up policy are suffered by the unorganised and unprotected workers whose conditions of employment are not faithfully reflected in official returns. The average trade-unionist, I admit, works no harder, no faster, and is not more often unemployed than was the case twenty or forty years ago; but the unorganised worker—and he forms the majority—is considerably worse off in these respects than he formerly was. Within the last ten years alone-largely as a result of one-sided and short-sighted labour legislation-the toil of the general worker has been intensified, his risks increased, and his employment rendered more intermittent. I could quote case after case where labourers who ten or fifteen years ago had something like regular employment at weekly wages, and
Vor, LXV-No, 383