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making an application therefore for sixty days in the year, coupled with the burdensome condition that the employers receiving such permission must forward an intimation to the Home Office each night that the extension is taken advantage of.
The Bill was illogical to begin with. If long hours are so injurious to women that the State is obliged to over-ride all those considerations of individual liberty, so deservedly dear to the English heart, taking them under its control as if they were children, why attack only the shops where textile fabrics are sold? Provision shops employ a large number of women, and are open much longer than ten hours. The bars of public houses and gin palaces are chiefly served by women, and they are open for a longer time than any shops. Why not, above all, legislate for domestic servants who are, with comparatively few exceptions, women, and enact that the housemaid should not begin to light her fires before 8 a.m., or wash up the teacups after 6 p.m., unless upon
, sixty days in the year, and that the little maid-of-allwork, who is generally a young person phrase, shall not be allowed to answer any lodger's bell after the regulation ten hours? The answer would be prompt. The enormous inconvenience to the employers of domestic labour would make such supervision and control impossible, and a similar consideration for the convenience of customers was the basis of the objections raised by some of the noble peers against the Bill.
Two Right Honourable Members of the House, the Duke of Somerset and Earl Fortescue, however, opposed the Bill for sounder reasons.
“ It should be borne in mind," said the former, “that women found it very difficult to obtain employment, and the Bill would probably have the result of still further reducing their opportunities of service.” Earl Fortescue went even deeper into the principle, while he approved of limiting by law the employment of children and young persons, ‘it was a different thing” he said “ to interfere with the employment of women.” We owe him gratitude for recognising, as so very few of our well-meaning legislators do recognise, that adult women may be safely trusted
to look after their own interests—that while it is the duty of the State to protect its children and minors, who are unfit to exercise their own judgment and freewill, its sole duty towards adult men and women is to leave them free to protect themselves, to take away, rather than to impose, restrictions and limitations which lower the value of their labour, and therefore lessen their chance of disposing of it at a fair price.
It is one of the first principles of political economy that the duty of government being to render secure the property of its subjects, and their industry being their most undeniable property, all interference of government with the direction of industry is a violation of its duty towards its subjects. This is understood with regard to men's labour; no government would now be tolerated for a session which should attempt to curb by arbitrary legislation the right of an “adult male” to the control of his own industry. The case is different with “adult female" labour. Our kindly-intentioned legislators, hold that a woman is not competent to protect herself, that she must not make a contract for as much of her time as she chooses, that she must not undertake every sort of employment she may feel herself competent to--that, in short, her industry shall have an arbitrary value fixed by law, irrespective of the demands of the labour market, or her own capacity for toil. We need not have recourse to theory to see how these restrictions would at once lessen a woman's chance of employment. It is not only the arbitrarily shortened hours which an employer of female labour would be compelled to submit to, though in these days of keen competition it needs but a small acquaintance with arithmetic to ascertain that it would be better worth his while to pay higher wages to men assistants and keep his shop open as long as he likes, than to have cheaper labour with the disadvantage of compulsory closing. Many a shopkeeper would dismiss his female hands at once on this ground alone, but there is more than this. A prohibitory law cannot be carried into effect without an army of inspectors. Indictments and prosecutions would multiply fast. Fines would be imposed for each offence which
ho msan, Beview would completely do away with any profit ensuing from the employment of cheaper labour. These effects have already followed the Factory and Workshops Act of 1878. Confectioners and other tradesmen have turned away their female hands and taken men on, because they could not endure the irritating interference of inspectors. Millipers have given up business for the same reason. Printers have employed fewer female compositors, because their business often needed an extra press of work, and they “could not afford to incur the constant fines. The vexatious provision that every shopkeeper employing women must send a special intimation to the Home Office every night be availed himself of his permission of extension of time, would alone be sufficient to make the employment of women distasteful and irksome. Lord Rosebery had a perception of this when he urged their lordships “not to make the employment of women more repulsive to employers than it was at present.”
There is a greater evil than overwork for women, and that is underpaid work or no work at all. The withdrawal of any particular branch of employment to which they have been accustomed, even if that employment is toilsome and unhealtful, entails consequences that are far more injurious. Let us take an extreme
It was difficult to find anything to say in favour of the employment of women in mines—it was excessive, coarse, and hurtful, but yet it was far better than the misery and privation which these women have endured after the law had prohibited their employment in districts where no other kind of work could be found, even if they had been competent to do it. Some men who had been active in promoting this legislation, afterwards regretted, when they saw the misery and degradation endured by women who were suddenly deprived of their ordinary means of livelihood when too old to learn another trade, that those already engaged in mines had not been allowed to remain at the work to which they were used, and the prohibition solely directed to the employment of fresh hands. The shops and warehouses dealing in textile fabrics employ an enormous number of women, and it is hard to limit the
Shop Hours Regulation Bill. 101 March 15th, 1882. extent of misery that would be endured by them if any great impulse were given to their general or even frequent dismissal:
We are not surprised that some of the young girls so employed are not keen to foresee consequences, and suffering from the present evils of overhours and long standing, do not picture to themselves the weary days when, if this Act passes, they may go from shop to shop asking for employment, and receive the answer only engage men now." The average of women's wages is already only about two-thirds or, at most, three-fourths of what is paid to men for the same length of time, how much less will it be when they are legally incapacitated from working as long as men do. It is a pleasant fallacy, adopted by many men as well as many women, that an Act of Parliament can make everything right, and even many men shop-assistants, at their recent meetings to secure shorter hours of labour, have appealed impatiently for Parliamentary interference to do for them by an immutable decree what they might 80 much better do for themselves by combination and agitation.
We have every sympathy with all philanthropic endeavours by social means to shorten the hours and lessen the tediousness of labour for both men and women. We should like to see the shop assistants form themselves into trade unions and benefit societies for mutual protection. We are glad to hear of customers binding themselves to give the preference to shops where seats are provided. We should like to see the shop owners, by mutual agreement, closing earlier, and if Saturday is in some trades too busy for a half-day, setting aside another day in the week for early closing, as is done already in some country towns. All these social methods are co-operative, and when properly managed are effectual, and they have the advantage possessed by other regulations which society makes to protect itself, in being elastic, yielding to the pressure of occasional necessity, and capable of contraction or expansion as the laws of supply and demand require. But an Act of Parliament is irresistible and overwhelming; it cannot make allowance for exceptions; its in
spectors must be paid, its machinery must be kept in working order. Local customs, individual exigencies, all go down before its iron inflexibility. In reading of the shop-assistants' appeal to Parliament to come to their rescue, we are reminded of the two Hindoo shepherds in Johnson's "Rambler” who prayed for water. The one, whom we may liken to the shop-assistant who relies on co-operation, public opinion, and other social means to secure better terms for himself, is Hamet, who prays “for a little brook which in summer shall never be dry, and in winter never overflow.” The well-meaning, but mistaken philanthropist who agitates for an irresistible, unyielding Act of Parliament which shall carry all things before it with regiments of inspectors and batteries of fines and prosecutions, is Raschid, who requested “that the Ganges might be turned through his grounds with all his waters and all their inhabitants.” “As he was looking with contempt upon his neighbour, on a sudden was heard the roar of torrents. The flood rolled forward into the lands of Raschid, his plantations were torn up, his flocks overwhelmed, he was swept away before it, and a crocodile devoured him.”
The Raschids of the present day, as a rule, are "cute" enough to prefer the Ganges to go through their neighbours' grounds. Men are usually quick to see that Government interference is not good for themselves, but they are still prone to fancy it may benefit women. Women may expect to meet with this good-hearted, meddlesome interference again and again, until the time comes when they will be looked upon as citizens who have attained their majority, and are competent to care for their own interests. That a grown woman should not be able to make her own contracts, dispose of her own time, person, and property, and enjoy the same returns for her industry, which a man is by common consent entitled to do, is one of those absurdities which have come down to us from the rude times of feudalism, and is totally inconsistent with the common sense and common fairness on which alone civilization can be securely based.