Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

more to cover the cost of the State aid granted to private insurance offices. Even, then, the burden entailed by unemployment on the community as a whole will be less by 40,000 francs a year than it is now. And they who have to raise the money will have the satisfaction of knowing that it will do good in the world, not harm, and will go to decent men, not to lazy vagabonds. Thus, even financially, Basle City will gain by organising insurance against unemployment, while socially it will gain immeasurably, if for nothing but that, under the new system, loafers will be forced either to work or to starve, and 'hunger marches' will cease to be lucrative.

EDITH SELLERS.

1909

BRITISH WORK FOR BRITISH WORKERS

FREE TRADERS never tire of telling us that the British workers are the happiest and most prosperous workers in the world. They tell us that Free Trade means high wages, that our workers receive the highest wages in Europe, and that these high wages go much farther in this country than they would in any other country, because the cost of living is much lower in Great Britain than anywhere else, thanks to Free Trade. These assurances are, as a rule, supported by statistics according to which British workers earn on an average about thirty-five shillings a week, whereas the workers in protected countries, such as Germany and France, earn considerably less.

Unfortunately, the statements and statistics which are habitually given by Free Traders in proof of the prosperity of our workers are not in accordance with the facts. The high British wages which are usually quoted are the wages paid to a minority of our workers. They are paid to a relatively small number of Trade Unionists, who occupy an exceptionally favourable position among our workers, and in giving these high wage figures no allowance is ever made for frequent and prolonged spells of unemployment, which reduce the high nominal wages of our Trade Unionists to a substantially lower level.

Great Britain has more than 12,000,000 wage-earners. Of these only about 2,000,000 are Trade Unionists. Let us leave aside the deceptive Trade Union statistics, which apply only to a favoured section-one-sixth, if not less of our workers ; let us examine the general national condition of labour in Great Britain, and let us then glance at the conditions of labour in other countries. Such an examination will show that our workers are not better off, but are probably much worse off, than are the workers in the great industrial and protectionist countries.

Adam Smith taught :

In a country where the funds destined for the maintenance of labour are sensibly decaying, every year the demand for servants and labourers would, in all the different classes of employments, be less than it had been the year before. Many who had been bred in the superior classes, not being able to find employ. ment in their own business, would be glad to seek it in the lowest. The lowest class being not only overstocked with its own workmen, but with the overflowings of all the other classes, the competition for employment would be so great in it as to reduce the wages of labour to the most miserable and scanty subsistence of the labourer. ... The liberal reward of labour, therefore, as it is the necessary effect, so it is the natural symptom of increasing national wealth. The scanty maintenance of the labouring poor, on the other hand, is the natural symptom that things are at a stand, and their starving conditions that they are going fast backwards. I am afraid that Adam Smith's description applies to a very large part of our workers.

We can easily ascertain whether, as the Free Traders assert, our workers are well employed, well paid, and prosperous, or whether they are not well employed, ill paid, and poor.

In a country in which wages are high and prices low there should be little poverty. Nevertheless, the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman told us on the 5th of June, 1903 : “ Thanks to the patience and accurate scientific investigations of Mr. Rowntree and Mr. Charles Booth, we know that there are about 30 per cent. of our population underpaid, on the verge of hunger.' Free Traders have tried in vain to explain away that fearfully damaging statement of their leader, which rather understated than overstated the case. In the ninth volume of Mr. Booth’s work Life and Labour of the People we read on

page 427 :

The result of all our inquiries makes it reasonably sure that one-third of the population are on or about the line of poverty, or are below it, having at most an income which, one time with another, averages twenty-one shillings or twentytwo shillings for a small family (or up to twenty-five or twenty-six for one of larger size), and in many cases falling much below this level.

I would draw attention to the fact that the average earnings of at most twenty-one shillings to twenty-two shillings apply not to onethird of our wage-earners, but to one-third of our wage-earners' families ; that the scanty income of twenty-one shillings to twenty-two shill ngs a week which is “enjoyed' by one-third of our workers is earned by the united exertions of all the members of the family.

On page 21, volume II., of his work, Mr. Booth gives us the result of his investigations into the labour conditions of London in the following summary :

[blocks in formation]

Inmates of Institutions (workhouses, hospitals,

etc.)

99,830 4,309,000

a

In explanation of the foregoing table, Mr. Booth writes in volume i. page 33 :

By the word 'poor' I mean to describe those who have a sufficiently regular, though bare, income, such as eighteen shillings to twenty-one shillings per week for a moderate family; and by 'very poor' those who, from any cause, fall much below this standard. My 'poor' may be described as living under a struggle to obtain the necessaries of life and make both ends meet; while the 'very poor' live in a state of chronic want.

According to Mr. Booth's investigations no less than 8.4 per cent. of the people of London, or 354,444 men, women, and children, lived in chronic want, subsisting, at the time of Mr. Booth's investigations (between 1887 and 1892), on less than eighteen shillings a week per family, whilst 22:3 per cent. of the people of London, or 938,293 men, women, and children subsisted on less than twenty-one shillings per family. We can gauge the depth of the poverty of these people only if we remember that London is the most expensive town in Great Britain. As the real wages of unskilled labour have scarcely risen during the last fifteen years, I think that poverty has not seriously

I diminished in London since the time when Mr. Booth made his investigation; possibly it has increased.

In the autumn of 1899, at a time when, as Mr. Rowntree tells us, trade in York was unusually prosperous, that gentleman made, by house-to-house visits, a most painstaking investigation into the labour conditions of York—a town which, according to Mr. Rowntree, is 'fairly representative of the conditions existing in many, if not most, of our provincial towns.' He divided the cases of poverty into two classes : primary and secondary poverty. Families living in primary poverty are by his classification those whose total earnings are insufficient to obtain the minimum necessaries for the maintenance of merely physical efficiency.' Mr. Rowntree arrived at the conclusion that of the total population of York, 9.91 per cent. were living in primary poverty and that 17.93 per cent. were living in secondary poverty.

Whilst Mr. Booth found that 30-7 per cent. of the people were living in poverty in London, Mr. Rowntree found that 27-84 per cent. of the people were living in poverty in York, and it seems more than a coincidence that both investigators, working on independent and different lines, and in different towns, arrived at so closely similar results. Indeed, Mr. Booth wrote to Mr. Rowntree on the 25th of July 1901 : 'I have long thought that other cities, if similarly tested, would show a percentage of poverty not differing greatly from that existing in London. Your most valuable inquiry confirms me in this opinion.' It should be borne in mind that both Mr. Booth and Mr. Rowntree exclude from their census of poverty the large army of the poorest of the poor who live in workhouses, lunatic asylums, and other institutions. If these be added, the percentage of people living in poverty would be very materially increased.

On page 117, Mr. Rowntree sums up the result of his investigations as follows : 'It was found that families comprising 20,302 persons, equal to 43•4 per cent. of the wage-earning class, and to 27.84 per cent. of the total population of the city, were living in poverty.' If, in autumn 1899, during ‘unusually prosperous times,' 27.84 per cent. of the inhabitants, and 43-4 per cent. of the workers, in a representative provincial town, were living in poverty, how great, then, must be the prevalence of poverty among our workers at the present moment, when employment is very bad !

Now let us look into British wages.

The Labour Department of our Board of Trade might properly be called a Trade Union Labour Department because, in respect of unemployment, wages, &c., it takes into its purview only the two million Trade Unionists, and takes practically no notice of the ten millions of unorganised workers. The wages statistics which are regularly issued by the Board of Trade are exclusively Trade Union statistics. However, some official estimates of general wages are available which show the deplorable and pitiful state of our wageearners as a whole. On page 10 of the Final Report of the Royal Commission on Labour, published in 1894, we read: “Nearly 24 per cent. of men in employment receive wages not exceeding twenty shillings a week.' What will be the real average wage of these 24 per cent. of our working men if allowance is made for short time and unemployment ?

The very conscientious Mr. Rowntree gives the following statement regarding labourers' wages in York in 1899, a year of unusual prosperity :

Allowing for broken time, the average wage for labour in York is from eighteen shillings to twenty-one shillings ; whereas the minimum expenditure necessary to maintain in a state of physical efficienoy a family of two adults and three children is twenty-one shillings and eightpence, or, if there are four children, the sum required would be twenty-six shillings. It is thus seen that the wages paid for unskilled labour in York are insufficient to provide food, shelter, and clothing adequate to maintain a family of moderate size in a state of bare physical efficiency. The above estimate of necessary minimum expenditure (twenty-one shillings and eightpence per week) is based upon the assumption that the diet is even

generous than that lowed to able-bodied paupers in the York workhouse, and that no allowance is made for any expenditure other than that absolutely required for the maintenance of merely physical efficiency.

Messrs. Cadbury and Shann write in their book Sweating :

The average wage for an unskilled labourer in this country is from 178. 6d. to ll. per week, so that even with regular work such a man cannot keep himself and his family above the poverty line. . . . Generally, in the United Kingdom an unskilled labourer doos not obtain a wage to enable him to koop himself and family in a state of efficionoy-that is, he is a sweated worker. . . . An unskilled woman's wage is_about 108. per week. ... The present systom tends to con

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »