« AnteriorContinuar »
factured 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 an ides 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 lahat 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 I In' 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 jn^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. Hia silk manufactory is
»a 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, lahich we must have had recourse to, to make up, for the deficiency of the earnings of the industrious 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 Parliament 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 flat, 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 lire 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 labour, to compete with the markets on the Continent.
1 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, that 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 1 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 burthens 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 gentleraen, 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 might 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?—6s. in the pound (at rack rent.)
* What were they at the time of the great distress twelvemonths ago :—No more, I believe. If we had attempted at that time to increase the rate, the aggregate amount of the sum collected, would have been less than it is now, (less at a seven shillings rate than at a six shillings rate) because most of them are poor people. At the same time we kept getting very much in debt.
'Was there not a very considerable contribution at that time, which materially assisted your expenditure for your poor ?—Yes; and at the same time relieved, many hundreds of deserving characters; but, as might be naturally expected, when it was made so public, many came and sought lodgings there, hearing money was to be given away, who, but for that circumstance, would not have come into the parish: when the public subscriptions ceased, they had recourse to parochial relief, and as a casual poor, we are under the necessity of maintaining them.
'In the course of your experience, have you observed, that when families have received parochial aid, they have afterwards been disposed to become independent of the parish again, and do without that help ?—I have very rarely met with an instance of the kind. When once an individual partakes of that relief, the little hedge of his in* dependence is broken down, and his usefulness is lost to society.
'Have you not found that those persons who are independent of parochial relief, pay more attention to the education of their children and the comforts of their family, than those who have been in the habit of applying to the parish for support ?—A great deal. I have invariably found, that when once a man or woman descends to partake of parochial relief, his usefulness to society is lost; it is the individuals who can say, " Thank God, I have never been a pauper," and who will try to get work, and will submit to many privations and live on a scanty supply of provisions, and undergo many severe trials, in order to keep up that little hedge of independence, who are valuable servants; when once they have submitted to pauperism, they will never strive half so much against it as they did before.
'Do you conceive, that from the operation of the Silk Acts in the county of Middlesex, a great number of individuals and families have been preserved from the parish, who otherwise would have applied for parochial relief?—Most assuredly, for had the Act been done away, vie should have got into such a system of paying a low price for wages, that our poor would have been placed upon a similar footing 'with those in agricultural countries, inhere many of them, txho do not receive half the wages they ought for their labour, have the other half from the parish; the consequence would have been, that numbers of individuals would have had to contribute largely to the parochial fund, to pay wages which they had no right legally to be called upon to pay; but the greatest mischief would have been this, it would tend to vitiate the habits of the poor, to break down their national independence, and to bring them into degradation and disaffection to the government.
'Have you had any revolutionary disposition in your parish ?— Never.
'There has been a general submission to the laws ?—More so than in any part of the country where so great a number of the poor have congregated together. There are many charitable societies in Spitalfiekls; and among others I cannot forbear mentioning the Benevolent Society, in which a number of gentlemen have gone from house to house, from cellar to garret, and from garret to cellar, investigated the causes of distress: and relieved persons at their own houses; and these unexpected reliefs, coming from unexpected benevolence, are more regarded and more thankfully received by the poor than ten times the sum from the poor rate, where they conceive they have a right to claim it.'—Minutes of Evidence, pp. 39—44.
To resume the general inquiry: We have shewn that the Poor Laws are not the primary cause of poverty; that poverty must necessarily exist, but that this necessity does not arise out of the alleged pressure of the principle of population upon the means of subsistence; that the fluctuation of capital or any material change in its application, must give rise to local distress and plunge the labourer into indigence; that the labouring; classes indeed have no right to demand employment, employment, or the purchase of labour, being regulated by the quantity of capital capable of being devoted, with advantage, to the particular branch of productive industry , but that the labourer is in the fullest sense worthy of his hire, and has a ri<jht to demand that share ot the produce of his labour which is requisite for his maintenance. The Poor Laws, in holding out the promise of employment, proceed, it has been admitted, upon an erroneous principle; but this affords not the slightest ground for condemning the whole system of relief. The Poor Laws have for their principal object to afford necessary relief to the impotent poor; and this is to a very great extent their actual operation. The indiscriminate condemnation of the system, entirely overlooks this, which is one of its most important features. 'No man,' however, as Mr. Courtenay well remarks, 'ought (o make up 'his mind to the abolition of the whole code of Poor Laws,
* without satisfying himself of the truth of one or other of the
* following propositions:
• 1. That miserable poverty will not occur.
• 2. That occurring, it will be relieved by private benevolence.
'3. That it ought not to be relieved, but left to operate as a punishment or as a warning.'
The first supposition no man in his senses will maintain. In proceeding to examine the second, a previous question arises as to the right of the indigent poor to relief. Before the idea of handing over the indigent population to the precarious patronage of private charity, can claim a moment's serious attention, the nature of the relation in which the poor in general stand to the State, deserves to be distinctly understood.
And first, as to the matter of fact, it may not be wholly superfluous to remark, that the poor of this country have a