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decision to form a union. The men demanded 28. 8d. a day; hours 6 to 5, except on Saturday, when they were to be 6 to 3; and 4d. an hour overtime. Little notice seems to have been taken of their demand, and in March they struck. Public sympathy with their action was aroused; Archibald Forbes, fresh from his triumphs in the Franco-Prussian War, pleaded their cause in the press; considerable sums were subscribed for their support. After three months, they won a partial victory. Wages were advanced-in some cases to the 16s. which had been demanded.

At the height of its prosperity the Union mustered 70,000 members. From being purely economic, it became largely political in its scope. Many sympathisers were alienated by fear of its ultimate objects. During the great lock-out of 1874, which lasted eighteen weeks in the Eastern Counties, this loss of public support contributed to the ultimate defeat of the National Union. It never recovered the blow, and dwindled into insignificance. It had not altogether failed. It won the vote for the agricultural worker; it obtained some slight advance in wages; it demonstrated the possibility of combination

a large scale; it relieved the congestion of agricultural labour by emigrating, between 1873 and 1881, some 700,000 persons.* But, during the twenty years of agricultural depression with which the 19th century closed, no expansion of the movement could possibly be expected. As prices dropped, wages fell.

Land passed out of cultivation. Thousands of men were only kept in employment by the kindly feeling of employers, who were themselves tottering on the verge of bankruptcy. From 1896 onwards, the tide was turning and the industry beginning to revive. Wages crept upwards, following the gradual rise of prices. In 1914 the weekly earnings of adult male labourers in England, not being men in charge of animals, may have approximately averaged 20s. But in many counties the rates were far lower. An Oxfordshire labourer, in receipt of 15s. 3d., or less, found but hungry comfort in an average.

For months before August 1914 and the outbreak of

on

* The figures were given by Arch in his evidence before the Royal Commission in 1881 (Parl. Papers, 1882, vol. xiv, p. 51).

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war, the agitation for an advance in wages, shorter hours, and a half-holiday was gathering strength. A minimum wage, and the machinery to enforce it, began to be discussed by politicians. In a large number of counties strikes were threatening. Trade Unions promised support to their agricultural brethren. Agriculture had the unenviable reputation of a sweated industry, underpaid and undermanned. ,

With the declaration of war it became evident that, when every pound of food was of value, the risk of prolonged disturbance of labour conditions was not to be lightly faced. It was at first hoped that the demand for labour would enable workers to obtain substantial advances proportioned to rising prices. On this ground the Milner Committee of 1915 decided not to recommend a minimum wage. Fifteen months later, the Selborne Committee of 1916-17 advocated minimum wages and a Wages Board. Still the Government hesitated, But the policy of stimulating production necessitated the immediate establishment of machinery to deal with wages. The Corn Production Act of 1917 created Wages Boards and fixed as a starting point the minimum wage of 255. a week, which was offered to National Service Volunteers. In fairness to agricultural workers, no other course seemed possible. The Government was making every effort to increase labour on the land, and every additional man or woman weakened the worker's position in bargaining and in profiting by the demand for his skill. From the point of view of the agricultural worker, soldier companies, village women, the Women's Land Army, old-age pensioners, schoolboys from the public schools, National Service Volunteers, interned aliens, German prisoners, though the wages were paid by farmers, were State-assisted blacklegs.' Nor was the introduction of this mass of subsidised labour the only handicap which the State, in the campaign of food production, imposed on agricultural labourers in their freedom of bargaining for a rise in wages. Many of the men were exempted from military service as being indispensable on particular farms. Every one of these exempted workers knew that, in the event of his dismissal, he would at once become liable for military service. If Wages Boards and minimum wages were,

in the exceptional circumstances of the war, an absolute necessity, they have, in the opinion of many competent judges, justified their continuance, in some form or other, under peace conditions. It is scarcely possible to believe that they will ever again be abandoned.

If the general position of the ordinary adult labourer to-day is compared with that which he held in 1814–36, it has improved beyond comparison or recognition. Even as compared with 1872 or 1907 the improvement is striking. To-day the agricultural worker-and, it may be added, his wife-enjoy full rights of citizenship; they can make their influence felt in the government of their parish, the administration of their county, the direction of the affairs of the Empire. He is no longer isolated from his fellow-workers in remote country districts; he is, or can become a member of an efficient organisation which extends to every county in England and Wales. He has himself received a free education, and his children are being educated free of cost to himself. His outlook has widened. He can read, and take an intelligent interest in the affairs of the world. Largely at the expense of the nation and his employer, he is insured against sickness, and can count on a pension in his old age. His industry is no longer overcrowded; it is, on the contrary, undermanned. His necessary hours of labour have been shortened by at least 15 hours a week. If he chooses, and his employer desires, he can work overtime beyond the 50 hours of summer and 48 hours of winter, at the rate of 1s. 2d. an hour. He has a half-holiday every week. As compared with 1815, his minimum wages—and his actual wages are often higher-have increased six times; as compared with 1872, or with 1907, they have been, in what were the low-paid counties, approximately trebled. Necessity no longer drives his wife and children to labour in the fields. Though the decline in the purchasing power of money has largely discounted the reality of the nominal advance in wages, there is a greater margin in his favour after providing the necessities of life. He is better housed than at any previous period in his history. That there is a shortage of cottages is true. But it is in urban and semi-urban areas, and not in agricultural

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districts that the shortage of accommodation is most serious and the over-crowding most intense. The proportion of insanitary and defective cottages has been greatly reduced. At the same time, his tenure of his home has been strengthened, both in respect of the length of notice to quit, and, in certain circumstances, of compensation for disturbance. In a great majority of cases, he has a garden or an allotment on which his greater leisure may be profitably bestowed. If he chooses to apply, and can satisfy the moderate requirements of the local authority, he has a chance of a small holding. Finally, the health conditions in which he lives are superior to those of urban populations. The Returns of the Registrar General for 1911 and 1912 prove that this superiority is maintained at all ages of childhood up to the age of 15, and at all subsequent ages up to 70—with one exception. That exception is phthisis between the ages of 20 and 25, and the Registrar General explains it by the number of young unmarried persons who return to their rural homes having contracted the disease under urban conditions.

Yet contentment has not been attained. Rumours are rife, on the one hand, that increases of wages will be demanded in the spring, and, on the other, that unemployment is growing and that many small farmers are on the verge of ruin. Can the industry stand a further advance, or even the continuance of present rates? The decision rests with the Wages Board, whose members are possessed of such facts and figures as are available. If all farmers kept strict accounts, and were able to produce evidence of the state of their business, much mistrust and suspicion among workers would be removed. Even then, however, there would remain the question whether, with more efficient methods of management, the land might not sometimes be made to yield larger profits. A farmer has no keener or more capable critics than the men whom he employs. On the other hand, the analogy between agriculture and other industries cannot be pressed too far. There are important differences. A farm has no tally or check-weigher, no roof, no clock, no artificial light, no nerve-racking conditions of employment. On the farm there exist no means of measuring the output of labour. The land is

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unprotected against rain and frost; its cultivation
depends on weather conditions, and for weeks together
in the winter months there is not work enough to keep
the staff fully employed. On a farm the men cannot be
marked in and out at the beginning and end of the day,
as they can be, and are, at the gate of a factory, though
agricultural time-sheets might well be introduced. In a
factory, hours of labour can be made uniform by artificial
light; on the land they must, of necessity, vary.
factory the working hours are a time of concentrated
strain, often spent under nerve-exhausting conditions; on
the land if, at certain seasons, the hours are inevitably
longer, they are less exhausting, both physically and
nervously. Between agricultural and industrial problems
there are essential differences which are necessarily
reflected in rates of wages. The future of the industry
depends on the good sense and moderation of the
organised bodies of employers and employed.

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