« AnteriorContinuar »
The people of this State have just approved a constitutional provision which authorizes the Legislature to “regulate and fix the wages or salaries, the hours of work or labor, and make provision for the protection, welfare and safety of persons employed by the State” or a municipal corporation or by any contractor performing work for either. The vote on this amendment to Article XII, section 1, of the Constitution at the general election of 1905 was decisive, having been 338,570 for and 133,606 against. As this " enabling act " was adopted in consequence of judicial decisions which held legislation of the character mentioned to be beyond the competence of the Legislature when it interfered with the rights of municipalities, it appears to be the declared policy of the State to discard the theory that unregulated “supply and demand” will of themselves secure satisfactory conditions for wage earners employed on behalf of the State. The people have rejected the idea of the existence of a “natural law” that assures to workingmen the full product of their labor and have recognized the fact that wages will be just in the degree that the State, as the employer, intervenes to make them just.
The movement for the proper regulation of labor conditions on public work is not peculiar to this State or country, but is found also in European countries. Government bureaus
in France and Austria have published official reports on the subject, and in other countries there have been numerous reports by parliamentary committees and commissions. The latest comparative study--the report of the Austrian bureau of labor statistics of 1900—is in considerable part rendered out of date by recent progress and there is need of some authoritative account of the movement, which promises to attain even greater strength in the United States than it has already attained. It is the object of the succeeding pages to afford such an account.
The country whose experience is of most interest and value to Americans is France, where the movement first gained headway and where the doctrine of freedom of contract has been pushed to almost as great an extreme as it has in this country. From the year 1872 there has been in the city council of Paris a strong party in favor of the insertion in city contracts of clauses safeguarding the welfare of the workers. In 1886 the policy triumphed in the municipal council, but its enforcement was opposed by the French government. The dispute was ultimately brought before the council of state, the highest administrative court of France, which held that the principles of free labor and free contracts were embodied in the Civil Code as well as the Declaration of Rights of 1789, and any ordinances were therefore invalid that attempted to set aside the free determination of wages and hours by private contract. This decision, however, did not apply to companies
. holding franchises or other special privileges (for example, street railways) nor did it affect the prohibition of sub-contracting and the restriction of alien labor, which might still be embodied in contracts. Nor did it apply to public work done by the city on its own account.
At a much earlier period the French government departments had exercised the right of imposing conditions for the protection of labor in public contracts which they controlled. Thus in 1866 the minister of public works promulgated certain regulations to be observed by all such contractors, including biweekly payment of wages, a weekly day of rest, and preference of wages earned. Other departments adopted the same policy. Finally in 1899, while the Chamber of Deputies was debating the report of a commission on the entire subject, the Ministry promulgated three decrees covering the regulation of labor conditions on contract work for the state, the municipalities and the public institutions. In no case is the sub-letting of contracts to be permitted. State officials are required and municipal officials are permitted to insist upon these conditions in letting contracts: A weekly day of rest, restriction of alien labor to a certain proportion, and the prevailing rate of wages and hours of labor. When the contractor fails to pay the current rate of wages, the administrative official in charge may pay the difference to the workmen and deduct same from the amount due on the contract. In establishing these rules the state abandoned the position of non-interference which it had once taken in opposition to the municipal government of Paris.
Still more advanced ground was taken in the act of 1898 authorizing the construction by a private corporation of the Metropolitan Railway in Paris. Under this act the employees of the company are guaranteed not only a weekly day of rest, but also an annual vacation of ten days with pay and full wages while incapacitated by illness (of less than one year duration) or accident (until complete recovery). The company is also required to insure the employees against death by accident and to contribute to the old-age pension fund.
In Belgium, a small country almost wholly devoted to industry, and commerce, the idea of “fair” wages for workmen employed on public work won its way almost without discussion. The provincial governments one after another insisted that their contractors pay the normal or current wage; and when in 1896 the prevailing-rate-of-wages requirement was adopted by the Brussels city council, the subject was taken up in parliament. The government proposed and carried through a law requiring the prevailing rate of wages to be paid on the public work of the kingdom. That policy almost universally prevails among the cities of Belgium. The only serious difficulty that appeared in the enforcement of the law was with the older and poorer workmen, who were unable to earn the wage fixed by authority.
The other countries of the Continent have not as yet regulated the conditions of employment on public work by a general statute, but have progressed in that direction through the promulgation of decrees or department ordinances by the government bureaus chiefly concerned. There is an interesting variety in these regulations as one goes from one country to another. In Switzerland, for example, one of the cantons has emphasized its sympathy with the movement for the prevention of trade diseases by prohibiting the use of white lead in the painting of public buildings. Austria in authorizing the construction of a railway line in Vienna provided that the construction work should be subject to all of the pertinent provisions of the factory and labor laws. Certain branches of the administration in the Netherlands included among their regulations the limitation of the number of minors to one-fourth of all workmen, etc. The only “labor” regulation that has found its way into the contract work of the imperial government of Germany, curiously enough, is the decision to admit as bidders on certain printing only those employers who observe the trade agreement between the journeymen and employing printers of Germany (i. e., proprietors of “union” shops). But many of the German states and more especially the cities have adopted extensive regulations for the protection of labor employed on public contract work. The most common rule is probably the requirement that workmen shall be insured against accident, this requirement being practically universal in private as well as public employments in Germany. A minimum-wage ordinance in Strassburg had an interesting origin. The city officials discovered, in a period of unemployment and distress, that laborers were working for a wage altogether insufficient to maintain a normal family, and in some cases had applied for poor relief. a result of the discovery public opinion demanded that the
city should ensure a “living wage " to all workmen employed by it or in its behalf.
In England, the classical land of trade unionism, the movement is more recent. The building trades in England were well organized and were therefore generally in a position to maintain wages on public contracts as well as private undertakings. Now and then complaints arose that contracts were let to “unfair” employers, i. e., those who did not pay the current or union rate of wages. First the London County Council in 1889, and then Parliament two years later, following disclosures of " sweating ” in the manufacture of army clothing, passed "fair wages" resolutions, which embrace other require ments than the living wage. The program of the Progressives who are responsible for the "fair wages" policy in England will be of interest here:
(1) A normal eight hour day for all public employees.
This would give a powerful impetus to the general movement for shorter hours. Town and county councils must set a good example to other employers.
(2) Payment of not less than trade union wages for each occupation. We must at any rate not “sweat ” our own employees. (3) Full liberty of combination.
The servants of the public may often need protection against the publie, as in the postofiice.
(4) One day's rest in seven, and sufficient holidays.
The public service must often be kept going on Sundays as well as on weekdays, but we must teach railway and tramway directors and other emplcyers that this does not necessarily involve a seven days' week.
(5) Prohibition of overtime except in unexpected emergencies. Shortening hours is not of much use unless overtime is put down. (6) Pronibition of " home work" in the sweated trades.
We must protect workpeople employed by contractors tendering for public works equally with workpeople directly employed by public authorities.
While in England it is customary for contractors to include in their bids a statement of the wage rates which they propose to pay, in Canada the rates are listed in the specifications and must be accepted by all bidders as the minimum rates. These rates are established by the Fair Wages Officer of the Labor Department, who looks also to their observance, ordering when necessary the deduction of wages from the payments to contractors.
In the l'nited States labor has not needed the same amount of legal protection that has been formulated in Europe where the level of wages is comparatively low. The earliest statutes in this country were designed merely to secure the payment of wages earned, on the theory that the forces of supply and demand would work out a satisfactory wage rate. Subsequently, when the eight-hour movement came to embody the highest aspiration of American workingmen, it almost of necessity took tbe form of an eight-hour day on public work by reason of the fact that American constitutional law does not permit statutory regulation of the hours of work in private employments, save in the case of women and children or of unusually injurious or hazardous trades pursued by men. In Europe, particularly on the Continent, the eight-hour day until lately has been a mere dream of a distant future, and regulations of the kind under review undertook to secure a weekly day of rest in countries where Sunday is not a holiday or in some cases to make ten hours the maximum day's work.
The emphasis that is laid on the eight-hour day in American statutes is the main distinction between the United States and Europe in this movement. In both Europe and the United States there is found considerable legislation for the protection of citizens or native laborers.--in Europe the regulations commonly limit the employment of aliens to a certain proportion of the entire force, while the American statutes give preference to citizens and have attempted also to exclude aliens altogether from the field of public work.
There is a legitimate reason for giving preference to local workmen in the construction of public works. Where men are brought in from the outside, especially foreigners of a low standard of living, they frequently enhance the expense of the local hospitals and charities, if not the police expenses. Public health authorities have time and again called attention to epidemics of contagious diseases which they have traced directly to such imported laborers, who had been hired in infected districts in absolute disregard of considerations for the public health. least one state (Virginia, chap. 186 of the Laws of 1904) has provided for the compulsory vaccination of laborers employed in large bodies on public improvements.
The direct regulation of wage rates, as already noted, is less frequent here than abroad, altho two states, California and Nevada, have established a minimum of two dollars a day for workmen employed by or on behalf of the state. New York enacted such a law in 1890 but repealed it the following year. The prevailing rate of wages laws of New York, Kansas and Delaware may be regarded as corollaries of the eight-hour laws, their purpose being the maintenance of the daily wage in the face of attempts by contractors to cut it down one-fifth whenever forced to reduce the hour's of labor from ten to eight a day.
Perhaps the most general tendency apparent on both continents is the endeavor to do away with that excessive competition of workmen for employment which leads to low wages