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At present such confusion exists as to the enforcing of recommendations that the value of previous Commissions and Select Committees has been largely nullified. It is bewildering to have the Home Office responsible in some instances, the Board of Trade in others, the Local Government Board and Municipal authorities in others, resulting in confusion and dismay. Labour matters should be dealt with by one responsible authority, who should properly direct the energies of officialdom through the most effective channels.
The question of raising the age at which boys should be allowed to commence work requires further attention. The mere passing of a standard of book knowledge is not sufficient ; for full timers the age of fifteen years should, in my opinion, be fixed, no matter what standard they had passed, and for half timers thirteen years.
The condition of the agricultural labourers must also be dealt with. It is true Select Committees have sat and reported upon the advantages of small holdings, and that a Bill is now before the House of Commons to enable labourers to obtain small holdings by the payment of one-fourth of the value and interest upon the remainder, but land is of small value unless there is some capital with which to work it, and to call upon labourers to pay one-fourth of the value as well as to provide capital to work it is ludicrous. It is true that a small section of farm labourers have, by means of an allotment, been able to supplement their wages so that they have a few pounds by them, but the great army of them, some 750,000 in number, have had no such luck. They are getting a wage varying from gs. a week in the worst paid counties to 18s. in the best. What can be saved out of 13s. 6d. a week, and all lost time through bad weather deducted out of this ? During the month of March cases were brought before my own notice in Lincolnshire where men had walked three consecutive days five miles each way to get work, and only secured one day's work out of the three, for which they received 2s.
What these men want are easily obtained allotments at fair rents with fixity of tenure. Ten millions of acres of cultivable land is lying idle in Britain ; thousands of willing labourers with agricultural knowledge would be glad to get at this and produce much of that we now import from abroad. Let the Royal Commission report upon the futility of the present Allotments Act as passed in 1887, and annended in 1889 ; let it be made clear by the labourers how unfairly they are handicapped by having to pay such excessive rents that it is next to impossible for them to cultivate allotments with advantage.
In the few instances where labourers have been successful in getting allotments by voluntary arrangement with the farmers they have proved beyond any doubt that an extension of allotments is the right direction in which to travel. By proper cultivation, land under the allotment system is producing as much as 50 per cent. more than similar land in the same neighbourhood under the farmers. May not the Commission fitly inquire into the cause of farmers producing only three and a half quarters of wheat per acre, while labourers make similar land, properly worked, produce six quarters per acre? A general impression prevails that farming in this country does not pay and cannot be made to pay. Let us have from the Commission not only a clearly expressed opinion as to the fairness of the landlords taking £60,000,000 a year from the land, but also let us know whether the present method of cultivation adopted by farmers is the correct one. It is admitted that some farmers are making the most of the land ; but these are not the ones who complain that farming cannot be made to pay. But it is contended by those who know the facts that in the vast majority of instances the land is labour-starved. Four men only are employed where six men are required; the result is improper cultivation, low wages, small profits, and playing into the hands of our foreign competitors. Is incompetency on the part of the majority of English farmers to be allowed to block our home food supply entirely? Is it not to the interest of the British community that an abundance of cereals, roots, fruit, and dairy produce should be produced in our own land ; and is not the interest of the British community superior to that of the British farming community? If so, we may fairly claim from the Royal Commission that the country shall be told in plain terms that the land of England is capable of producing the food supply of England, and that, though we have yielded the palm for the best dairy produce to Denmark, yet the same principles and methods so successfully adopted by Denmark are open to us for our adoption. If ever the laisses faire principle proved a terrible failure, of all instances this of farming is the most terrible. £100,000,000 a year is sent away to other countries for the purchase of foodstuffs by the people of these islands and our own food producers are permitted to starve. Such utter incompetency was surely never before exhibited ; it is sufficient to make every Britisher blush with shame at the very thought of it.
It is for the Commission to point out the quickest way to remedy this serious evil. It would appear to lie in the direction of at once extending the sphere of Local Government, so that District, Village, or Parish Councils shall be established all over the country, with power to compel the sale of land at proper market prices to the local authority, to be let by the local authority to the labourers as allotments and small holdings, at fair rents with fixity of tenure. The labourers have demonstrated their desire to get control of land ; they have proved their power to pay fair rents for the same, and to derive no small advantage for themselves and at the same time add materially to the food supply of the country. Although it does not appear to be generally recognised, it cannot be questioned that in this direction lies salvation for the masses of Britain's workers.
It is true that farmers are fearful of the consequences if the agricultural labourer should be placed in such a position that he will no longer be the hired slave, but if the farmers are wise they will recognise that slavery in this country must cease actually as well as nominally, and they will endeavour to at once establish those conditions that will admit of good development all round. In every agricultural district there should be established creameries, where competent butter-makers should be constantly employed with the best machinery obtainable. Technical education is indeed required. Farmers' wives and daughters of to-day learn to play pianos instead of learning how to make butter ; in very few places in England can good home-made butter be obtained. If farmers' daughters do not find the occupation genial, let the daughters of the labourers be taught, and they may be trusted to give a good account of themselves, if they get fairplay. It is not quite clear why we should import so many pigs from Chicago when every requisite the pig requires can be produced in such abundance here ; and why we should continue to import the millions of eggs we do, when our own people would be glad to get the profits of fowl-keeping, is a matter that also requires clearing up. Laissez faire is shockingly faulty in these matters. We have waited and waited for home supply to meet the home demand, but the discrepancy still exists. The very fact that a Commission of inquiry should be established is an admission of this faultiness. We will therefore hope that tangible results will be the outcome.
One other matter should be cleared up, if possible, by the Commission, viz., how it comes about that in skilled trades the wages of workmen vary from 5 per cent. to 30 per cent on the same class of trade. Thus engineers in London, who are not well paid for their work, get 395. a week for fifty-four hours work, whilst in Leeds the same men will get only 30s. for the same work ? Why should not the Leeds employer be called upon to pay as good a rate of wage as the London employer, or rather, a higher rate, remembering that he is so much nearer to the raw material. To say that the London workman's cxpenditure is so much higher than the Yorkshireman's does not settle the matter. If the productions of the Leeds and London firms go to the same market, ought not the Leeds firm to pay as high a rate as London? The Commission, no doubt, will help us.
The question of women's labour will surely receive due attention. However cold and unconcerned towards the female population the House of Commons and the Royal Commission may be, they surely will no longer turn a deaf ear to the terrible facts that still disgrace our country. The low wages and long hours which are the common lot of most women workers are, indeed, sufficient to make the blood boil with indignation. And as laissez faire men are willing to grant that Governmental interference is justifiable and necessary where women are concerned, and as the opponents of laisses faire are strongly urging the necessity for such interference, we will hope that the Commissioners will make such practical recommendations as will commend themselves to the general public, that the stigma may be removed of the shameful way in which working women are treated. Not only in manufacturing industries is this supervision
and control necessary, but also in distributive occupations. Shop assistants are still kept at counters for sixteen hours a day, and the health of thousands of young women is ruined in consequence, according to medical testimony. Respecting the textile trades, it has already been urged that the scope of the Commission should extend to India. The necessity for Factory Acts in our Indian dependency is recognised by employers and employed alike. Unless this is dealt with ere long, a burst of indignation will spread over the land which may not tell advantageously in the interests of a Government which had the opportunity to deal with the question in 1891 but would not.
Thus we ask that the Royal Commission shall collect information with a view to steadying employment, providing a remedy for those out of work, and dealing with the difficult questions of season trades and periods of trade depression.
And we ask that especial attention shall be given to the following points
1. The advisability of a permanent Board of Commissioners, who shall deal with labour disputes as they arise.
2. An exhaustive inquiry into the values of sliding scales as a means for regulating wages.
3. The necessity for a considerable increase in the number of factory inspectors—women and men—and the necessity for extending the scope of the Factory Acts.
4. To inquire into the working of docks under public control, with a view to recommending the municipalisation of the docks and wharves in London should public control commend itself.
5. The advisability of raising the age when children shall be allowed to commence work, both as half and full timers.
6. The necessity of establishing Village or Parish Councils, with a view to altering the land system of this country, so that our consumption of food shall be met by home production.