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upon partial employment. But it is notorious, that, to a con: siderable extent, there has prevailed a systematic commutation of wages for poor's rates; a practice which the intelligent author of the “ Summary View" justly stigmatises as both injurious in its consequences, and scandalously dishonest.'
• If the actual value of a man's labour is 15s. per week; he is perhaps paid 5s. by his employer, and 10s. by the parish, i. e. if he has a family. Now as far as wages are paid by the rate, it is a positive injustice to those who do pay rate, but who do not employ labourers. It is equally unjust to a labourer without a family ; his work is worth 158., and he is to receive 5s. only, or 5s. with some small addition. He is obviously cheated of 8 or 10s. weekly. But he may go elsewhere—there is no labour (employment) elsewhere to be got, or the same fraud prevails.
• But the great mischief of the plan is, that the parochial part of the wages is given indiscriminately, so much per head. Every one is upon the parish; most persons receiving very largely; industrious or indolent, it is all the same. Here is very clearly an inherent system of progression, the wonder is, not that the rates amount to 8 or 98. in the pound; but that they amount to so little. In fact, all the poor are to be well fed at all events; the whole that can be expected in a parish acting thus, will be idleness, poverty, and poor rates.' p. 70.
The agricultural capitalists were, we believe, the class who first commenced this ruinous system. It was alleged to be bearing hard upon the farmer, that be should have to sustain the burden of maintaining all the poor in employment :-just as if he could possibly employ them without profiting by their labour ! When, therefore, the failure of crops and other circumstances occasioned a diminution in their profits, they hit upon the expedient of reducing the wages of labour, and making up the deficiency by a rate. This short-sighted policy, which in inany instances cost them, in the shape of an increased rate, more than they nominally saved by the reduction in the price of labour, bas been adopted in turn by other classes, to an extent far more injurious. The Minutes of Evidence relative to the Ribbonweaving trade, contain some highly important representations as to the effects of this system of depreciation. It appears that in the city of Coventry, the aggregate amount of the poor's rates, in the period between January, 1817, and January, 1818, was, nineteen shillings in the pound in the great parish called St. Michael, and fifteen shillings in the parish of the Holy Trinity. The population is about 18,000, out of which nearly one-third receive relief. Of 3,519 houses, 1,100 only are rated to the poor; the remaining inhabitants being incapable of contributing. The greater proportion of the persons relieved, are stated to be those who are employed in the Ribbon Trade, and the increase in the poor's rates is unequivocally ascribed by the witnesses,, to inadequate wages. The ribbon weavers in Coventry,' affirms
Mr. Carter, (the Town clerk of Coventry, and one of the Directors of the Poor,) are all inadequately paid.' There is a practice of taking what are termed half-pay apprentices, which has bad the effect of greatly increasing the rate. The master
(by the agreement) is to have one-half of the apprentice's
earnings, and the apprentice the other half, and to maintain * bimself or herself.' The consequence is, that not being able to maintain bimself, and the master not being bound to support him, the apprentice becomes a burden upon the poor's rate. Tbis system, of coarse, has the effect of employing and introducing into the business more hands than the business itself is capable of maintaining; and similar results will follow the adoption of a corresponding policy in other branches of labour. The farmer, by being allowed to employ more than be can afford to maintain, while the rate is looked to both by the employer and the labourer to make up the deficiency, is favouring, to an unnatural degree, the production of the supply of labour, beyond what is required by the capital which is to employ it. The half-pay apprentice scheme in the ribbon trade, bas inevitably had the effect of reducing wages, and the reduction of wages that of bringing the fathers of families to distress, and to the parish.
Two years ago, a general agreement was entered into by the masters, to pay the journeymen according to a fixed scale of prices; but this agreement was not uniformly adhered to for a single week, and above a year ago they altogether departed from it! Instances, similar to the one referred to in a preceding note, are affirmed to have occurred, in which weavers, defrauded of their fair pay, have in vain applied to the magistrates, who could give them no redress. The following question is put by the Committee.
• Would it in your judgment and belief, be attended with advantage, were the justices in quarter sessions to regulate the prices of labour in the silk trade, in the same way as in London and Dublin ?-I have no doubt of it; and I have been assured also, that that will be the effect, by most of the principal manufacturers in Coventry, provided it could be done as a general measure for the whole of the silk manufacturers through the kingdom.'
One very important remark deserves to be noticed, since it seems to bear immediately upon the fact, that the rise or fall of wages, is a circumstance having no necessary connexion with the demand for the commodity. In reply to the question, What would be the effect of a regulation of prices by the magistrates, upon the interests of the journeymen, when trade was very slack, the witness, Mr. Peter Gregory, states that he has
• endeavoured to ascertain whether those persons, paying the lowest price in a depressed state of trade, on that account manufactured more goods than when they paid a higher, and the result of these inquiries has been in the negative ; that those paying the lowest price did not thereby employ their hands any better.'
The same witness gives it as his opinion, that the low rate of wages will never, in a general way, operate with the manufacturer, as an inducement to employ hands in making articles on speculation ; the chances of an advantageous opening which shall adequately remunerate such an employment of capital, being too small to operate as a temptation.
A respectful address is inserted in the Minutes, from the Weavers, the Retailers, and the Community, to the Ribbon Manufacturers of Coventry, containing a manly and dispassionate remonstrance on the unprecedented and unjustifiable reduction in the price of labour.
• The trade,' say these Gentlemen, we know, is depressed ; but when equally depressed on former occasions, was it deemed necessary, was it ever attempted, was it even in the heart of the manufacturers, to reduce their hands to vassalage and ruin, by lowering the price of their labour beneath the standard of the trade? We do not intreat you to give out more work than you can sell, but we ask you in the name of generosity, of citizenship, and of equity, to give a living price for what you
do make.' Those masters who are desirous to pay fair prices, are, it is obvious, where such a plan is generally acted upon, compelled to the contrary, in order to be able to compete with their neighbours. The emigration of the most ingenious workmen, both throwsters and machinists, the loss of machinery, and eventually the loss of market, all naturally follow as the consequences of this ruinous system.
We now turn to the evidence of Mr. William Hale, in respect to the contrast presented by the state of things in Spitalfields. There is perhaps no individual in the kingdom, to whom the poorer classes are under so substantial obligations, as they are to this intelligent philanthropist ; no one who has displayed more practical knowledge and experience on all parochial and charitable concerns. His evidence on subjects connected with the Poor Laws, has been repeatedly called for by, Committees of the House of Commons, and it is always highly deserving of attention. As the point to which we may appear to have too long diverted from the main subject, is, in fact, one of radical importance, as the alarming increase of the poor's rates, has taken place chiefly, if not exclusively, in manufacturing districts, and as the principle which we are now examining, has begun to be universally acted upon, we shall make no apology for detaining our readers a little longer with the details of evidence produced before the Committee, but proceed to lay before them the substance of Mr. Hale's testimony. His silk manufactory is
in Spitalfields, and of course falls under the operation of the local Acts, passed in the 13th, 31st, and 51st of the present reign, for regulating the wages of the weavers within the county of Middlesex.
« Previous to the Act of the 13th of the present King, were there frequently disputes between the masters and men in the silk trade, in regard to the prices of labour ?-Very frequently; they increased at last to such an alarming degree, that the Legislature thought it right to interfere, for there were many acts of violence and some murders committed, and a great deal of property was destroyed by the journeymen, which belonged to the respective masters that did not pay what was considered the standard price; certain individuals were sent out of a night with cutlasses, swords or knives, to cut up the silk and weaving utensils, and thus property was destroyed to the amount of one or two hundred pounds a night.
Was it in consequence of those disturbances that that Act was made!-Yes.
• What have been the results of that Act with respect to the Trade? - The results of that Act have secured to the industrious journeymen what may be considered as a fair price for their labour, has kept the district perfectly quiet, and in a great measure has prevented the exorbitant rise of poor rates, which we must have had recourse to, to make up for the deficiency of the earnings of the industrimus poor, had they been oppressed to that degree, which it was very evident, if left without any kind of legislative interference, many manufacturers would have availed themselves of in the hour of distress.
• You are satisfied, from your own experience, that the regulation of the price of wages by the magistrates, has been beneficial to the masters and the men ?-It has secured to the journeyman, what I conceive to be a fair reasonable price for his labour, and which he is justly entitled to. I am not aware that if there had been an Act of Par. liament in favour of the journeymen, that more plain goods would have been made in Spitalfields ; but it has operated in this manner; when trade has been very fat, manufacturers in the country have availed themselves of the distress, and have suddenly made more figured goods, because they could get them done so very cheap, whilst we are obliged to pay the full price in Spitalfields ; that has operated to the injury of the journeymen in our district, by removing many of the figured or fancy works, and they are made at reduced prices in the country; but as it regards the staple works, or plain goods, that we make in Spitalfields, I do not apprehend that it has been any injury to the manufacturers or journeymen in our district.
• Are you aware of any serious inconvenience to the Trade, if any general enactment should take place, to regulate the price of labour in the silk trade throughout the country ? - I wish to be understood, as confining my observations entirely to the silk trade in this respect, because there is an amazing difference in the linen, cotton, and woollen business, where it is a nice point how low you can bring them to market, so as to compete in foreign markets, but the duties on the importation of the raw silks are so very high, it is morally impossible for us, if we could make them without paying any thing for Jabour, to compete with the markets on the Continent.
• What is your own opinion with respect to the repeal of the Acts in question, as it regards Spitalfields ? -I think it would be a most unfortunate circumstance, as connected with the journeymen themselves : I allude to no individual, but my experience has led me to know,
many would be tempted in the time of adversity to screw them down so much, that men would be under the necessity of working very hard for what would not procure them bread enough to eat; they would then be driven to the poor's rates, and thus sink in the scale of society; and it would operate much to the deterioration of their morals, as well as produce an alienation from that country and government under which they could not live by honest means.
• You have served parochial offices in Spitalfields ? -Yes, I have; I have been treasurer of the poor's rates many years.
• You have had great opportunities of investigating the state of the poor in that district ?-I have ; and I have seen the effect of the principles which I have now stated, when acted on in other trades ; and have witnessed their very baneful effect on the morals of the people, as well as the injury done to the parish in which they reside.
Was there not a very considerable distress a year or two ago amongst the labouring classes in Spitalfields ? - The distress which is alluded to now, was not confined to the silk trade. Indeed, if I were to speak as treasurer of the parish, I should give it as my opinion, that the silk trade, under the severest pressure, never brings us half the burtbens that other trades do; for, generally speaking, the weavers are better paid for their labour ; when there comes a general depression of all descriptions of trade, we suffer a great deal more from journeymen shoemakers, journeymen bricklayers, carpenters, bricklayers' labourers, and others. It is a mistaken notion in many gen. tlemen, to suppose that the distresses of Spitalfields arise entirely from the silk manufacture : it is the local situation of the place, in consequence of the multitudinous cheap lodgings to be obtained there, which cannot be had in the city, and which naturally force all the labouring poor of every description to the eastern part of the district, from the city; consequently, in a very peculiar season of distress, our chief resource is to assess the poor to support the
poor. • Then you do not attribute the distress which prevailed at that time in Spitalfields, at all to those Acts of the 13th and 51st of the King, which regulated the wages of the weavers ?-I do not, I think if it had not been for those Acts, it is possible a few more people miglit have been partially employed in Spitalfields ; but this would have increased the quantity of goods unsold at the same period, so that there would have been less made some months after; besides, the universal reduction of wages would have greatly increased pauperism, and produced a moral degradation in the sufferers, which can be sufficiently appreciated only by those who have witnessed its baneful effects in swelling the tide of human depravity; therefore, taking the whole together, I think the Acts are very beneficial to the district.
What are your poor rates ?-68. in the pound (at rack rent.)