Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

and the state was so busy winning the war against France that for nearly 20 years the factory children were forgotten. Here and there employers gave better conditions, but only one man took up the work of factory reform with any zest. The man was Robert Owen.

Robert Owen, 1771–1858. Owen stands out as the father or sponsor of nearly all modern working-class movements; co-operation, trade unionism, the eight-hour day, friendly societies, factory laws, and socialism, all began with him or received much invaluable stimulation from him in their early days. The son of a Welsh saddler, Owen migrated to Manchester, where for a time he managed a spinning mill. In 1798 he visited David Dale's spinning factory at New Lanark, near Glasgow, married Dale's daughter, and became managing partner of the firm. Dale had ranked, in comparison with neighbouring employers, as a model master, and yet Owen found 500 children, from six years upward, working from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and therefore worn out by the age of 15; parents were idle and dissolute, living largely on the earnings of their children, and the whole population was sunk in poverty, misery, and crime. Owen at once made many reforms; he raised wages, reduced adult hours from 16 to 10, improved the housing accommodation, and provided good food at cost price. For the children he did more. The younger ones were kept out of the mill, and the older ones alternated work and school. Owen's schools laid stress on singing, dancing, gardening, and story-telling. Reading and writing were taught only when the child reached 10 years of age. In short, Owen built up a model industrial community, and demonstrated to the country that humane conditions and a substantial profit were not incompatible. His object-lesson converted many; New Lanark became one of the wonders of Scotland, and helped to win popular support for a new effort towards factory reform.

From 1815 to 1819 Owen fought for a good factory law; a bill was introduced and Parliament debated it at great length. Opposition was plentiful, such a law would interfere with “the great principle of political economy that labour ought to be free”); it was an interference with the liberty of parents; it would lead to a demand for higher adult wages; it would give i'oreign manufacturers' a chance to flood the market with their sweated products, it was inhumanity to the children themselves, for it would compel them to spend the first nine years of their lives in enforced idleness. - All experience proves,” said a pamphleteer (1818), “that in the lower orders the deterioration of morals increases with the quantity of unemployed time of which they have the command. Thus the bill actually encourages vice-it establishes idleness by act of parliament." There were many who used such arguments. Still, in 1819, the bill became law, after considerable mangling in each House. The Act, which had stirred such deep resentment, was really a very inild measure:---(1) No child under nine was to be employed in cotton factories. (2) From 9 to 16 years the maximum day was to be 12 hours. (3! Ceilings and walls were to be whitewashed twice a year. In an act of 1825, Saturday work was limited to nine hours, and in 1831 the age for “young persons” was raised from 16 to 18. There wils no mention of women, and no system of inspection. Thus after nearly 30 years' struggle, children of 9 to 18 were limited to a 69-hour week in cotton factories only. Nothing could prove better the strength of the industrial interests in Parliament, and the prevailing devotion to laissez-faire.

Oastler and Shaftesbury. The centre of interest now shifted from Lancashire to Yorkshire, where the woollen industry was passing into the

factory, reproducing in many cases the worst conditions of labour know to the cotton mills. These conditions were first exposed by Richard Dastler, who for over 20 years had been fighting for the emancipation of negro slaves. In 1830 Oastler's attention was called to the factory conditions prevailing in Bradford, and at once he began a new agitation, this time for the emancipation of the “factory slaves."). A long letter to The Leeds Mercury, headed “ Yorkshire Slavery,?' painted in dark colours the lot of the local children. Oastler cook as his text an extract from a speech in favour of negro einalcipation, “It is the pride of Britain that a slave cannot exist on her soil,'' and showed that children were working in the West Riding under conditions alongside which the negroes of the West Indies were in Arcadia. This letter, followed by others, did what few newspaper letters do: it started a movement. From that time onward for twenty years the “Ten Hours” Movement” played a big part in industrial and political life. The cause of the factory children was championed in Parliament by Lord Shaftesbury, and supported by the Tory landlords, who were angry, at the Whig manufacturers' attempt to abolish the Corn Laws. There was abundant opposition; critics declared that factory work for children was, light, healthy, productive of thrift and good morals, and not nearly so black as it was painted; others maintained that with a 10-hour day industry would cease to be profitable, since the profit was made in the eleventh hour's work; the force of foreign competition and the hardness of the manufacturer's lot owing to taxation were held up for consideration, and an alternative to factory laws was offered in free trade; finally, individualist arguments were brought forth, and the laziness and vice of the working-classes discussed.

Against such "arguments” the reformers placed the damning evidence collected by two official enquiries made in 1832 and 1833. This evidence showed that children from five years upwards were working 11 to 15 hours a day, in cramped positions, amid unhealthy surroundings. Limbs becamemis-shapen, and health gave way; children went to sleep alongside their machines, utterly exhausted, while accidents, due to fatigue, were the order of the day. Some foremen revelled in acts of cruelty, and a low moral tone pervaded the worst mills.

Such evidence made factory reform inevitable, and Shaftesbury brought in a Bill to establish the 10-hour day in all factories. The government compromised, and passed a milder Act in 1833. This Act applied to all textile factories. No child under nine years of age was to work; from 9 to 13 years a 48-hour week was fixed, and from 13 to 18 a 69-hour week. From 9 to 13 factory children must spend three hours a day in a school, and could not go to work unless they produced a certificate showing that this clause had been obeyed. Thus the beginning of compulsory education was found in factory legislation. Finally, the Act of 1833 provided machinery to ensure its enforcement. Age certificates were to be required of all children who asked for work, and four factory inspectors were appointed to visit the mills.

To pass an act is one thing, to enforce it another, and the new factory inspectors soon discovered that they had to fight the apathy of parents and the cunning of some employers. At first the law was evaded in every clause. Children seldom knew how old they were, or had a birth certificate, and forged or bogus certificates, given by veterinary surgeons or dentists, were often presented. The inspectors were defied openly, scouts were posted to watch for their coming, and on at least one occasion the inspector was

[ocr errors]

violently ejected from a factory. Should an inspector secure the conviction of an offending employer, the fine levied was generally so small as to encourage law-breaking. Finally, the school clause was useless at first because there were no schools. Dames' schools and mock schools sprang up everywhere, to which the children went in order to get a certificate. Anybody might be a schoolmaster so long as he or she was able to fill in a certificate of attendance. In many instances schools were established in the factories, with any odd person as teacher. Of instruction there was little, since the teachers were usually uneducated themselves. Only gradually were these evasions of the Act suppressed. The best employers supported the inspectors in their work; fines were made heavier, and the money thus received was given to deserving schools. Stress was placed by the inspectors on the fencing of machinery, the provision of more sanitary surroundings, and the general safeguarding of the health of the employees.

During the years following 1833 the ten hours agitation was kept very much alive. In 1844 it secured for children from 8 to 13 the half-time system, by which one half of the day was spent in school and the other half at work. In this Act women's work for the first time was regulated by the imposition of a 12-hour maximum day. Finally in 1850 the 10-hour day was secured for all women and young persons—i.e., those under 18.

Extension of Industrial Legislation. The above laws applied only to textile factories. It now remained to perfect those laws and to extend their scope to other branches of employment. In 1842 women and children under ten were forbidden to work in mines. In later years all other kinds of factories and workshops were brought under control. The minimum age for children was gradually raised to fourteen, and provision made for the inspection of the smallest workshops. Since 1890 sweated industries and dangerous trades have received special attention, with a view to stamping out the long hours and insanitary conditions of the former and the engagement in dangerous or poisonous processes of the latter.

Recent Developments. The most recent developments in British industrial legislation have been the regulation of men's work and the fixing of minimum wages. In 1908 the legal eight-hour day was imposed on coal mining. In 1909 trade boards were established to fix minimum wages for certain sweated industries. These boards resembled the wages boards of Australia, but on each of them were a few experts who represented neither employer nor employee. Three years later the demand of the coal miners for a legal minimum wage was met by the establishment of wages boards in each of the coal-mining areas. In the same year (1912) the National Insurance Act came into operation, and provided for insurance against sickness and unemployment of employees between the ages of 16 and 70. The scheme was contributory and compulsory. To the sickness fund the workman paid 4d. a week, the employer 3d., the state 2d. Free medical attendance, medicines, appliances, and sanatorium treatment were provided, with weekly payments of 10/- for men and 7/6 for women in time of sickness. The sickness provision covered about 14,000,000 workers, but the unemployment clauses referred to a smaller section.

Regulation During the War. The War, with its acute problems of production, caused a wide extension of regulation of work and wages. At first the factory acts were virtually suspended at almost every point, but the results were so disastrous on both the work and the worker that a change of policy became necessary. Hence began the study of industrial fatigue and

[ocr errors]

the official encouragement of welfare work. (See Chapter XXV.) 'An act of 1916 gave the Home Office power to issue Orders requiring special provisions to be made for securing the workers' welfare; these included arrangements for preparing and eating meals, the supply of drinking water, protective clothing, ambulance and first-aid appliances, seats in workrooms, facilities for washing and changing clothes, and the appointment of welfare supervisors. This power was widely used by the Home Office. Then the Education Act of 1918 provided for compulsory part-time education up to 18 years, and thus further limited the employment of young persons.

Wages regulation became general. Under the Munitions Act strikes in most industries were illegal, and so machinery for the adjustment of wages had to be provided. The Corn Production Act (1917) established an Agricultural Wages Board to fix minimum wages for farm hands. After the Armistice wages were maintained by law at their November, 1918, level till September, 1920, and in 1919 the war-time wages machinery was replaced by an Industrial Court, to which bodies of workers might apply, if they wished, for revisions of wages rates. A' national conference of employers and employees early in 1919 recommended the legal adoption of the 48-hour week, but the opposition of the farming and land-owning interests prevented this recommendation from passing into law.

Fear of widespread unemployment after the Armistice drove the government to establish a temporary scheme of unemployment payments. In early 1920 the unemployment insurance plan of 1912' was amended and extended to practically all who were under the state sickness scheme.

Thus six years of strife left deep marks on British industrial policy.

German Industrial Legislation. As German industries developed, especially after 1871, many of the evils of unregulated industrialism began to appear. Long hours, low wages, insanitary factories, dangerous machinery, etc., all were to be found. These conditions soon attracted attention, and opinion ran into three moulds. The individualists preached laissez-faire with all the zeal of Ricardo or Bentham, though individualism never gained so strong a grip on Germany as on France and Britain. The social democrats advocated socialism and democracy, and as their movement gathered force it began to excite official anxiety and trouble the dreams of Bismarck.

Between the two extremes of individualism and social democracy arose the school of state socialism. It accepted the political state as it was, and the system of autocratic government prevailing in the land. But it sought to turn the activities of the state towards the amelioration of the lot of the working classes. It found good points in individualism and in socialism, and tried to fuse these virtues into a workable plan. The early state socialists were chiefly university professors, who used their talents to urge the extension of state activity and the introduction of ethical and moral considerations into economic life. As Professor Wagner wrote: "To regard labour power merely as a commodity, and wages as its price, is not merely un-Christian, but is inhuman in the worst sense of the word.” The movement created a strong humanitarian sentiment; it captured Bismarck, and thus moulded German social legislation for many years.

Bismarck and State Socialism. Bismarck's influence on social policy was as far-reaching as his influence on foreign affairs. At first he was conservative, and shared the prejudices of the landlord class against workingclass aspirations. But during the seventies he came to see the need for social legislation. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he refused to be frightened

66

by the word “socialism.” In 1882 he recited, for the confusion of his critics, a long list of state actions which he regarded as socialistic. “But,” he said, “if you believe that you can frighten anyone or call up spectres with the word “socialism,' you take a standpoint which I abandoned long ago, and the abandonment of which is absolutely necessary for our entire Imperial legislation.”

Bismarck was a state socialist on principle; but his belief in the need for state activity rested also on expediency. The growth of social democracy was to him a national menace, which must be stopped at all costs. In 1878. therefore he secured the passage of an act by which socialist newspapers and meetings were to be suppressed and the organization of the party broken up. Having thus forbidden the social democrats to woo the wage-earners, Bismarck set out to woo them himself. His attitude was well expressed in a speech in 1884. “Give the working-man the right to work as long as he is healthy; assure him care when he is siek; assure him maintenance when he is old. If the state would show a little more Christian solicitude for the working-man, then I believe the gentlemen of the social democratic programme will sound their bird-call in vain, and that the thronging to them will cease as soon as the working-men see that the government and the legislative bodies are earnestly concerned for their welfare.").

Bismarck's Social Programme. Acting on this policy of “dishing” the socialists, Bismarck set to work during the eighties to elaborate a scheme of state ownership and control. He tried, in vain, to set up a state monopoly of tobacco and brandy; but in the extension of state ownership of railways, canals, and coal mines he was successful. · When he faced the task of improving conditions of employment Bismarck hesitated between two lines of approach. The British plan, with its prohibitions, its restrictions forced on unwilling employers, and its corps of inspectors, did not appeal to him. He believed that the better method was to place on the employer's shoulders. part of the burden of supporting his workers if they were sick, became invalids, or met with accidents. Then employers, in order to reduce the cost of such support, would of their own accord make their factories so safe and healthy that the risk of sickness and accidents would be reduced to the lowest possible point. Bismarck therefore preferred insurance to regulation, and gave little support to schemes of factory legislation. Not till 1891 did Germany seriously set out to regulate industrial conditions. The Industrial Code of that year was the basis upon which subsequently a scheme of control was built up, similar in many respects to that we have examined in England. At some points German policy is in advance of British praetice, but in others, especially the regulation of wages, it is far behind the legislation passed in England since 1909.

Insurance. In her factory acts Germany largely imitated England, but in her insurance work she pioneered. Bismarck saw that one of the greatest evils of employment was its insecurity. What provision could the low-paid wage-earner make against possible sickness, accidents, invalidity, or old age Very little, and yet these things were the workman's nightmare, the sword which hung constantly over his head. To remove the worst features of that insecurity was Bismarck's chief aim in initiating his schemes of national insurance, and he endeavoured to make provision for any kind of industrial misfortune that might befal the worker.

: The principles adopted by Bismarck were: -(1) Compulsion; all workmen in certain trades must be compelled to insure themselves.'' (2) Contribu

« AnteriorContinuar »