§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. T. HUGHES
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the subject of Trades Unions had now been for some time a matter of serious consideration. It had been argued that it was too great a question for private Members to undertake, and that the Session was too far advanced. He therefore wished to explain the reasons why the promoters of this Bill persevered with it this Session, and did not leave the Government to deal with the question to which it related in another Session. It would be in the recollection of the House that, in the autumn of 1866, several outrages took place at Sheffield that startled and alarmed the whole country, and which were attributed to the trade organizations in that town. In consequence a deputation of employers waited upon the Home Secretary of the day to ask for a special inquiry. That application was 1345 seconded by the men themselves, and a Commission of Inquiry was appointed under an Act of Parliament. The Commission had scarcely commenced its labours when a sub-Commission was sent to Sheffield, and the investigation instituted there led to the terrible disclosures in connection with Broadhead and his associates. Those circumstances raised very naturally a strong feeling in the country. They were imputed to the operation of Trades Unions generally; and it was felt that the Unions were virtually on their trial before the country, and it became incumbent on them to take steps to remove the aspersions cast upon them. Obviously they had a very severe ordeal to undergo. Though admirably selected on the whole the Commission was in this respect defective, that whereas the employers of labour were directly represented by two large employers, one of whom was the president of a powerful association of employers, the men, on the other hand, tad no direct representation whatever on the Commission. The then Home Secretary, however, appointed Mr. Harrison to attend and watch the inquiry on behalf of the Trades Unions; and the ability, industry, and patience of that gentleman deserved the heartiest acknowledgments. The evidence taken before the Commissioners extended over eleven blue books, and it had now been before the public for upwards of six months; and the decision of the Commissioners, so far as any decision had been arrived at, had been before the country for upwards of five months. The persons accused numbered, at the lowest estimate, upwards of 500,000 of skilled artizans; and, the inquiry being finished, those men naturally looked for the verdict of the House of Commons, the highest Court of Inquest of the country, as to whether the bodies with which they were connected were really guilty of the crimes imputed to them. They had been asking for some years to have the criminal laws which applied to them, and to no other class of Her Majesty's subjects, repealed, and that their funds should be protected. The House would now be asked for a simple answer—"Aye" or "no," as to these demands. On the whole the Trades Unions had been much better conducted of late than they had been for many years before. What they now asked was to be put 1346 upon the same footing as other societies before the criminal laws of the country. By reading the Bill a second time the House would testify, in conformity with the evidence, that they did not believe that Trades Unions, as a body, were guilty of those offences that had been proved against the saw-grinders of Sheffield and the brick-makers of Manchester and would, at the same time, show their willingness to redress the real grievances of these societies. This was a question which he was afraid would never be properly discussed until the Trades Unions of the country were directly represented in that House; but in the absence of that representation he must put their case before the House as fairly as he could. His own attention had been first drawn to the question by the remarkable inquiry made, in 1849 and 1850, by the Morning Chronicle, as to the condition of the working classes of London. The revelations then made, especially as to their state at the East-end, were startling in the extreme, and attracted great attention. He and others made personal inquiries into the matter, and the result was that they found the state of things to be quite as bad as it was represented by the commissioner of the Morning Chronicle. In the slop trade, for instance, they found half-a-dozen men pigging together in a room, with but one hat and a coat between them for their joint use, and deeply in debt to the "sweaters," as the lowest class of masters were called. These men worked fourteen and fifteen hours a day, earning most miserable wages, scamping their work whenever they had a chance, and breaking out now and then, as might be expected, into drunkenness when they had 1s. to spare. On inquiring how they had fallen into such a frightful state, he found that it was owing to the breaking down of their Union, which had left the men entirely at the mercy of the hardest employers in that part of the town. He and the friends who were acting with him rendered them what assistance they could in their effort to establish associations; but he was sorry to say that, in consequence of there being no cohesion or union among the men, the money was simply wasted, and the workmen relapsed into their old state of abject misery, and remained subject to the power of the "sweaters." A reverse to 1347 this picture might, however, have been seen in a great trade society, which was then just making a new move on the labour question, and which had its offices in the same part of the East-end. He meant that which had since become known as the largest trade organization in the world, under the title of the Amalgamated Engineers. This central society at that time made a successful effort to convert the various societies scattered throughout the country into one union, in order that they might be more powerful. Nearly a year after this the Amalgamated Engineers unfortunately came into collision with the employers, and the first of those strikes took place which had since become so frequent—strikes not affecting mere localities, but spread over whole districts and affecting the whole of the people of this country. The result of that strike was that every penny of the accumulated funds of the society was lost, and a further sum was required to be raised to enable the society to meet its engagements. When the society was in this strait, and when, in fact, the strike was in the last week of its continuance, a gentleman, who felt great sympathy with the association and its objects, saved it from insolvency by advancing £500 in order to meet the deficiencies that had arisen in the funds, and pay the members what was owing to them. The men were paid what was due to them by the society; but a good many of them stuck out and protested that no consideration on earth would induce them to return to work upon the terms offered by the employers. This being so, another wealthy friend of the society came forward and stated his willingness to pay the expenses of such of the men who would not return to work as were ready to emigrate. Forty accepted the offer, and went to Australia, without any pledge or security being extracted from them by the gentleman who advanced the money, and what was the result? It told most favourably for Trades Unions, showing how much more reliable members of those bodies were than those who were non-society men. Those who were not members of such a society as that of the Amalgamated Engineers were found to be in misery and generally in a deplorable condition; but those who were members, on the other hand, were found to be 1348 industrious, self-reliant, and in a state of comparative prosperity. For what had happened in the cases he had just cited? The Amalgamated Engineers, after the temporary misfortune to which he had alluded, closed up their ranks, put on new subscriptions and levies, re-paid with interest within three months the £500 advanced to them in their distress, and the society was now in a flourishing condition. The men, again, who went to Australia founded there a branch Union, and not only paid back at the end of two years the money advanced for their outfit and journey, but also sent home a handsome piece of plate to the gentleman who had so generously befriended them. He (Mr. T. Hughes) could speak with certainty on these points, as the whole of the money passed through his hands. These and other facts of a similar character which he might mention had long ago convinced him of the fact that the Unions had improved the condition of the men, and had raised them in point of worldly position. He had no hesitation in saying that, taking England from one end to the other, it would be found that where, as in the case of the slop-workers, and the agricultural labourer, no Unions existed, the work-people were in a most miserable condition; and, on the other hand, where Unions did exist and were strong, the work-people enjoyed the position of free and independent citizens, whom it was a pleasure to recognize as citizens of the country. A great many charges had been brought against Trades Unions, some of which it was his duty to notice. It was alleged, for instance, that these societies were in a state of insolvency, and that by legalizing them the Legislature would only be tempting the young men of the working classes to join associations which must in the end break down. That was undoubtedly a very grave accusation to bring against these Unions; but had it any foundation in truth? He admitted that some of the witnesses examined by the Royal Commission, and who were actuaries, came to the conclusion that the payments to which some of the largest and the best societies had pledged themselves could not be made while the subscriptions remained as low as they then were. On this point, however, it must be remembered that there were conditions which it was not possible for actuaries to take 1349 into consideration; but, without entering into a discussion of these on the present occasion, he would content himself by remarking that the whole question was lucidly set forth in the Appendix to the Comte de Paris's book, Les Associations Ouvrières en Angleterre, to which hon. Members wishing to master the question would do well to refer. It was evidently the interest of the opponents of Trades Unions to bring forward every case in which an established Trades Union had broken down, but it was a significant fact that not a single instance had been adduced. Considering that many of these societies had been in existence for forty years and upwards, and the greater part for eighteen or twenty years, surely if it were true that they were in a miserably insolvent condition, some single case might have been adduced in which there had been a failure to meet the liabilities incurred. Then, again, it was declared that the leaders of these societies were generally highly paid agitators, who had never themselves been workmen, but who got up these associations for their own glorification and managed them for their own benefit. He was in a position to deny that statement. He had been acquainted with almost all the leaders for many years, and he had no hesitation in declaring that they as faithfully represented the societies as the Members of that House represented their constituencies. As to their being highly paid, in the largest and wealthiest of all these societies—the Amalgamated Engineers—there were only two paid officers of the general society, and the highest paid of the two received very little more than he would be able to earn as a foreman of engineers; while in upwards of 200 branches of the society spread over the United Kingdom, the British colonies, and a part of the Continent of Europe, there was not a single officer exclusively paid by the society. To each branch there was a secretary, who managed the whole of the business of the branch; and the salary of the best paid, where the members numbered 300 or 400, only amounted to £10 a year, or less than 4s. a week. Moreover, those who filled these situations were, for the most part, men who worked with their own hands, and earned the ordinary wages of the trade. Another charge brought against Trades 1350 Unions was that they tended to encourage inferior workmanship. So far was this from being the case that he had no hesitation in declaring that the very best workmen in the country were to be found in these Unions. The object of the societies being to keep all their members at work at the highest possible wages, could anyone seriously believe that they would allow bad workmen to join their ranks? He could assert that strict inquiries were made as to the capabilities of men before they were admitted. Again, it was declared that they favoured strikes, whereas the very reverse was the fact; the councils of the Unions as a rule being for the most part very averse to strikes and discouraging them by every means in their power. They considered a strike to be like a Japanese duel, in which each man commences by killing himself. The councils were jealous of the funds of the Unions. As a rule no strike could take place without the express authority of the central body, and no strike was permitted to take place until arbitration had been offered and refused. Furthermore, it was alleged that these organizations had a tendency to drive trade out of the country; that in consequence of the cheapness of labour on some parts of the Continent, serious competition already existed, and that our manufacturers were scarcely able to hold their own against that competition. He admitted that the competition of foreign countries was becoming, and must become, much more serious than in past times, but on the present question he would refer hon. Gentlemen who were interested in this subject to the statistics collected in the Report of the minority of the Commissioners. From the Returns of the Board of Trade it appeared that as regarded the export iron trade, which had been specially instanced as one which was declining in consequence of foreign competition, an increase had taken place between the years 1860 and 1867 of nearly 50 per cent, and the Returns of the last six months showed that notwithstanding the recent depression the trade was still on the increase. Our iron exports to Belgium, for instance, other than pig iron—in which he admitted there had been a great falling off—amounted, in the year 1867, to £915,000 in value, whereas last year they were no less than £1,219,176, showing an increase, with- 1351 in that short period, of upwards of £300,000. Then it had been frequently asserted that we were losing our trade in machinery; but he found that, as regarded Belgium—the country specially instanced as our most formidable rival—we exported £819,000 worth of machinery in 1867. This, it was true, fell to £474,000 in 1868; but from the Returns of the last five months it appeared to have risen to £835,900 during the present year. The value of the machinery sent from Belgium to this country during that time was only £11,263. These figures were sufficient of themselves to disprove the statement that trade was being driven out of the country by the action of Unions. Passing from this subject he would now touch upon another of considerable importance. The Trades Unions complained of the present state both of the common law and of the statute law of the country, and of the manner in which it affected them. According to the common law, any agreement as to the terms upon which men would sell their labour was a wrong, as being in restraint of trade, and any attempt at combination to enforce that agreement became the crime of conspiracy. Therefore it was obvious that every Trade Union in the kingdom was not only, as it were, outside the common law, but was opposed to it, and was in fact illegal. Then again with respect to statute law, he found that from the Statute of Labourers in the reign of Edward III. down to the time of George III. there was a series of statutes directed against the combination of labourers The last of these—the 40th Geo. III.—stated in the Preamble, that workmen had by combinations endeavoured to obtain advances of their wages, and went on to enact that all contracts or agreements to obtain advances of wages should be absolutely illegal and void. Persons entering into any such contract were liable to two months' imprisonment, as were likewise all workmen who contributed funds for the maintenance of such combinations. Owing to these statute laws very disastrous consequences arose. During the first quarter of this century, when the industry of the country developed itself so rapidly, numbers of secret societies sprang up, the result being the burning of mills, the destruction of machinery, the vitriol-throwing, and the 1352 hangings which disgraced that period of our industrial history. Mr. Hume introduced and passed, in 1824, a short Bill designed to put an end to so sad a state of things. That measure would probably, if it had remained in operation, have set the question at rest for ever. It repealed all the old statutes on the subject of combinations, and enacted that the common law rules respecting restraint of trade and conspiracy should be no longer applicable to combinations of labourers; and, indeed, with the exception of certain provisions as to threats, it left masters and workmen to do exactly as they pleased in regard to their dealings with one another. The consequence of the passing of that measure was that all the secret societies came into the light, and so much alarm was caused on the extent of the combinations being made apparent that, in 1825, Mr. Huskisson, on the part of the Government of the day, introduced a Bill to repeal the measure passed in the previous year. Mr. Huskisson used many arguments which would sound strange at this moment; he thought the funds of the Unions would be better in the savings banks, and urged that if these combinations were allowed capital would leave the country. Mr. Hume stated that under the former law men had been frequently convicted, while evidence could not be obtained against the masters. Mr. Peel, then Home Secretary, said that workmen should be prevented from regulating what they knew nothing about. Under the provisions of the Bill, which in due course was passed into law and was the statute now affecting combinations, the old common law doctrines with regard to restraint of trade and conspiracy were again made applicable to combinations of workpeople, and by Section 3 a new set of misdemeanours was created which had been the cause of much subsequent irritation and litigation. In the Act 6 Geo. IV. the words "obstruction and molestation" were used, and were found almost incapable of legal definition. And what had been the result? Combination, it was clear, had not been hindered, for these amalgamated societies had increased in number in all branches of industry; but the statute had been found sufficiently oppressive in its working to keep the Unionists in a constant state of irritation and anger. In 1859, 22 Vict, 1353 a statute was passed in the hope that it would accomplish the almost impossible feat of settling what "obstruction and molestation" meant. He would refer to one or two decisions given since that time in order to show the sort of conduct which brought workmen under the jurisdiction of the courts of law. Last year, in the case of "The Queen v. Drewitt," where there had been no violence, and nothing more than coercion, which did not even extend to abusive language, Baron Bramwell laid it down that—Molestation must be held to be anything unpleasant or annoying to the mind operated upon, and it is clearly the law that if two or more persons by such means co-operate together they will be guilty of an indictable offence under the Act of 6 Geo. IV.In "The Queen v. Hinckley," a man had called out "Baa, baa, black sheep," and got for that three months' imprisonment. In "The Queen v. Hamilton," also decided last year, it was held that the defendant was liable to three months' imprisonment for telling a man that if he went to work at a certain shop there would be a row. This was manifestly unfair when it was considered that if an ordinary person threatened to murder another or to burn down a house he could only be held to bail. Surely the House would not allow such a state of the law to stand. He regretted to say that not only had the criminal courts interfered in these matters, but the Unions had even been brought into the Court of Chancery, and a Vice Chancellor had granted an injunction to prevent the putting up of placards in a town, stating that there was a strike at a particular mill, and requesting the workmen not to go there for work. If the extension of jurisdiction were the mark of a great Judge, that Vice Chancellor was the greatest Judge since the days of Lord Mansfield. What was the remedy proposed for the state of things he had described? The Bill before the House, in the first place, swept away all the combination laws of which he had been speaking. As it was not to be pressed further during the present Session he would not go into the clauses of the Bill, but that was its great principle. It left employers and work-people alike free to make whatever contracts they pleased with regard to their capital and labour, subject only to the ordinary law 1354 and the ordinary courts of the country. It further provided that protection should be accorded to the funds of Trades Unions. The necessity for that protection had surely been proved over and over again, and, if any further proof were wanted of it, the House was aware that during the last few days there had been a most important decision, which showed how absolutely necessary it was that something should be done. In the cases of "Hornby v. Close," and "Farrer v. Close," it had been decided by the magistrates that these societies being in restraint of trade, their officers could not be punished for embezzling the funds. This Bill proposed to restore the jurisdiction under which Trades Unions had thought themselves secure, but which had broken down in those cases. It was said that the Embezzlement Act of the learned Recorder of London, passed last year, met the difficulty; but this was not so, for it simply declared that a joint ownership should not be pleaded as a defence to a prosecution for embezzlement. The machinery of that Act was inapplicable to a class of offences which, for the last fourteen years, had been dealt with under the 44th section of the Friendly Societies Act. It was now alleged that the 44th clause of the Friendly Societies Act was not meant to apply to those societies; but that clause was drawn in his Chambers and it was the distinct intention—at any rate of those who framed the clause—that these societies should be brought within its scope. Immediately after the passing of the Friendly Societies Act the best of those societies registered themselves under the Act, and remained registered under it to the present day. If this were not sufficient proof that the Act was intended to apply to Trades Unions, he might mention that immediately after the passing of the Post Office Savings Bank Act the trade societies expressed a wish to invest their funds in the Post Office Savings Banks. Some difficulty arose, and he had the honour of introducing a deputation on the subject to the right hon. Gentleman now at the head of Her Majesty's Government, who, at that period, held the Office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman consented at once to do what the deputation wished, remarking that these trade societies were of a kind which 1355 clearly brought them within the purview of the Friendly Societies Act. What would be said if the House now refused to give back the jurisdiction under which these societies had been for fourteen years? It would be said that when the country wanted their money it was glad to call them friendly societies, but that the moment it came to protecting their funds it refused to consider them in that light. He did not believe that such a thing would be said, because he knew that those societies had too much confidence in the present Prime Minister to say anything of the kind; but still such a conclusion under the circumstances would not be unnatural. What were those societies after all? They were simply and purely friendly societies, with this addition, that they made certain specified allowances to members who were out of work for reasons approved by the central authority. The Royal Commission had considered all these points, and had come unanimously to the conclusion that the combination laws should be relaxed, the only difference of opinion being as to the extent to which that relaxation should go. There was no doubt that the majority of the Commission did not wish to legalize societies which had any rules refusing on the part of the members to work with particular persons; and they also desired not to allow a Union to support another Union in the event of a quarrel between employers and employed. Even that proposed restriction, however, was carried in the Commission by a bare majority. The House would, he thought, acknowledge that they must have a clear rule in the matter. It was impossible to stop short with a certain relaxation of the combination laws—they must be swept away altogether. If it were necessary—and he was far from denying that it might be necessary—the criminal laws of the country should be strengthened so as to prevent any such molestation and obstruction as were intended to be put down by the 3rd section of the statute of 1825; but that being done they should leave the combinations of employers and of men to make whatever terms they pleased as to the conditions on which they would employ their labour and their capital, subject only to the Common law of the country, which was quite sufficient for all purposes. He would only further give one or two rea- 1356 sons why those societies had deserved well of the country. Let the House consider the enormous expenditure many of them made for benevolent purposes. During the last few years the Amalgamated Engineers' Society to which he had already alluded had paid upwards of £100,000 per annum for the support of its members when out of work; and, in the past year, the Iron Workers' Society, consisting of 10,000 men, had paid £33,000 in the same way. Surely societies doing that were worthy of the consideration of the House. These societies encouraged all the virtues which prevented men from falling into pauperism, and he could not see why they should not have the benefit of the same law as applied to others. Again, these societies published statistics month by month which showed in what parts of the Kingdom work was slack, so that the labour market might be duly supplied, and workmen shown where to go and where not to go. They had also done very much to break down the prejudice which formerly prevailed against emigration. Emigration was a matter which, at one time, they could not get working men to think of, but now it was difficult to keep them from thinking of it. He confessed, however, that he looked with anything but favour upon the idea of expatriating the best part of our population, whose services we should certainly need when the present depression in trade was removed. The tendency on the part of these societies to resort to arbitration, for the settlement of their disputes with employers, had also been developed of late years. It would be impossible, however, to have that system, on which so much depended, unless they had some such societies as these to act as the representatives of the workmen. He had to ask the House now, and he did so with very great confidence, to read that Bill a second time. He asked it on grounds of expediency, because the combination laws were class laws, which had completely failed to answer the purpose for which they were intended, and had kept the people whom they affected in a constant state of irritation; and he asked it upon higher ground, because by reading the Bill they would only be doing that which was just to a large portion of the community. In 1844, Parliament repealed the Forestalling and Regrating Acts, and enabled any combination to 1357 take place among traders who dealt in the necessaries of life, without regard to the supposed interests of society; and he now asked it to pass a similar measure for the working people of this country. He asked them to bring the sympathies and interests of the members of these great organizations into entire conformity with the interests of the country. If they did so, they would effect a change in the feeling of those societies, making it a much more cordial one towards the Government and the laws of this country than it had hitherto been; and they would, he believed, see the dawn of peace in the industrial world of England. There could be no peace—he would go further and say there ought to be no peace—so long as those great societies, which had come out of the ordeal of recent inquiries in so creditable a manner, remained unrecognized and unprotected by the laws of their country, and so long as they continued to be suspected, hated, and misrepresented by every class in the community, except that great class to which they belonged, and whose ideas and wishes, notwithstanding what might be said to the contrary, they faithfully expressed. He moved that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ MR. T. BRASSEY
, in seconding the Motion, said, he was anxious, as the son of an employer of labour on a large scale, to offer a few remarks on the subject under the consideration of the House. Many influences operated to induce him to take of it an employer's view; but, on the other hand, he could not forget the long and faithful services which had been rendered to his father by members of the working classes. As to Trades Unions, the guilds of the Middle Ages were their forerunners, and, taking into account the great changes which had since been brought about—the substitution of machinery for manual labour and the concentration of workmen in great industrial centres—the formation of combinations with the view to carrying out objects in which they felt-interested was, he thought, but the natural result of what had occurred. It was further worthy of notice, that no law, however severe, had succeeded in putting a stop to such combinations, and that the severity of the enactments against them had simply had the effect of causing proceedings to be secret which it was for the general advantage should be public. In dealing with such a ques- 1358 tion, the principles on which legislation should proceed were, it appeared to him, tolerably clear. The Legislature could not very well, in the first place, in his opinion, refuse to the operative classes the right voluntarily to combine for the purpose of endeavouring to regulate the terms of their labour; while every possible protection which the law could afford would, he hoped, be furnished against coercion, so that all those operatives who wished to keep aloof from such combinations might be protected from intimidation. He was not, he might add, insensible to the great errors and follies which Trades Unions had committed. So far as their action had been brought to bear upon trade he regarded it, he must confess, as essentially illiberal, anti-social, and not conducive to the general advantage of society. Upon the other hand, he believed that the power of Trades Unions had been greatly exaggerated; nor did he think they had rendered that service to the working man in procuring an increase of the rate of wages which some of those whose guidance they followed would lead them to suppose, or that their agitation and organization could influence the rate of wages in a sense unfavourable to the interests of masters to an extent which some alarmists thought possible. The result of recent strikes, beginning with the great strike of engineers, in 1852, and ending with that of the colliers in Wigan, in 1868, went to show that they failed in their object, as far as a successful resistance to a reduction of the rate of wages was concerned. The employer, as a matter of fact, in many instances, from a kindly consideration of the interests of those who worked for him, put off to the latest possible moment that reduction which, unless he were contented to carry on his business at a loss, he was compelled to make. It was argued that because wages had been advanced in some cases at the request of Trades Unions, therefore Trades Unions were the cause of the increase of wages. It was, however, to the operation of the laws of supply and demand, rather than to the action of Trades Unions, that the increase in wages ought to be attributed. In support of that view he might mention that when the Grand Trunk Railway was being constructed in Canada, his father had taken out, at his own expense, a great number of operatives from this country to execute the work, and 1359 that they received an increase of wages amounting to 40 per cent without any interference in the matter on the part of Trades Unions. That increase of wages surpassed the most golden dreams of Trades Unionists; but it arose entirely from the natural laws of supply and demand. As to the statement that these societies had succeeded in establishing a rate of wages which caused the sums paid for work done in this country to be far higher than were paid abroad, he would merely observe that the amount of daily wages afforded no adequate criterion of the actual cost of production. His father's experience went to show that there was really a remarkable tendency to equality in the cost of labour throughout the world. He knew also of many cases in which an increased amount of wages had not increased the cost of the labour for which those wages were paid. At the outset of the construction of the North Devon Railway, for instance, the rate of wages paid was 2s. a day; but as the work progressed the amount was increased to 3s., yet it was executed at a cheaper rate at the higher scale of wages. A similar remark applied to the works in Oxford Street, in connection with the drainage of the metropolis, which were constructed at a cheaper rate per cubic yard when the wages of the workmen were raised to 10s. a day than when they stood at 6s. In the case of the Paris and Rouen Railway, too, it was clearly shown that 4,300 English navvies who had been taken over to work on the line did the work cheaper, although they got 5s. a day, than the Frenchmen employed, who received only 2s. 6d.; in fact, there was nothing more feared in those parts of the Continent, even where wages were lowest, than English competition. Mr. Lowthian Bell, a great authority in the iron trade, had shown that the same rule held good in the case of iron smelting. He had found that a particular operation connected with that process occupied the labour of forty-two men in France, but that it was done by twenty-five men in England; and though the price of labour was 20 per cent cheaper in France than in England, the cost of smelting in the former country, was, on the whole, considerably greater. Mr. Commissioner Wells, in an able Report to the American Congress, discussed the same question. Taking the puddling of iron as 1360 the representative process of the trade, he found that the average price of labour per day was from 7s. 6d. to 7s. 10d. in Staffordshire; 6s. 4d. in France, and 4s. 9d. to 5s. in Belgium; but that the average price of bar iron was £6 10s. in France; £7 in Belgium, and £8 in England. It was equally true that the hours of labour were often no criterion of the amount of work done. In the great establishment at Mulhausen the proprietor reduced the working hours from twelve to eleven, and promised the men that no reduction should be made in their wages if the amount of work they performed was equal to what it was before. After a month it was found that the men did in eleven hours not only equal, but 5 per cent more than the amount they did in twelve hours. In comparing the rate of wages at home and abroad, they ought also to have regard to the fact that abroad employment was steadier than at home. The very spirit of enterprize which had made England what she is, tended to produce great fluctuations in the labour market. When trade was good enterprize revived, speculation flourished, labour went up, and over production took place, followed inevitably by a period of stagnation; and then the men were put on half-time. Trades Unions, he contended, however strong their organization, were powerless so to raise the rate of wages as to materially increase the cost of production. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers, for example, which was the greatest of those societies, and which was possessed of funds amounting to £149,000, had practically effected nothing whatever in the direction of increasing wages in that trade. In the mechanical trades in this country there had, indeed, been hardly any increase in the rate of wages during the last fifteen years. A very different result had, however, been brought about on the Continent within that period. Mr. Fane, in his Report to Lord Stanley, mentioned that M. Schneider, whose establishment in France had been spoken of as being enabled to compete successfully with us for the last three or four years, whereas formerly such was not the case, had found it necessary to increase the rate of wages to his workmen between 1850 and 1866 by 38 per cent. In the corresponding trades in this country there had been no increase; and it should not be forgotten that if we were 1361 unduly to diminish the rate of wages earned by our operatives we should see the result in that emigration to the United States which he felt assured the House would regret should occur. It was repeatedly stated, he might add, that the competition with foreigners was producing a disastrous effect on British industry, and he did not mean to deny that the foreign manufacturer was approaching us day by day, and that he stood more upon a level with the English manufacturer than formerly; but he would warn English artizans that the consequence of any artificial increase in the rate of wages at home would be that we should be beaten by the foreigner in neutral markets, and that capital, no longer obtaining an average rate of profit here, would seek for foreign investment. Should that occur, he should like to see what the Trades Unions, with all their assumed power, could do for the operative classes. As yet, however, it was not true that we were not able to compete with the foreign manufacturer. As much misapprehension prevailed on the point, he had taken the trouble to ascertain certain facts which would, he thought, serve to show the House that he was right in making that statement. In an article on the "Competitive Industries of Nations," which appeared in the Edinburgh Review a short time since, it was stated that two English contracts for railway engines had been given abroad, and it was added by the writer that this incontestably proved that English designs for engines could be executed abroad as well as in this country, and at a cheaper rate. Now, the real state of the case, he believed, was that, in 1865, fifteen engines had been ordered from M. Schneider, while forty had been ordered from English firms, the object of the engineer who ordered the fifteen being to keep down prices in England perhaps as much as anything else. Twenty-five engines more were afterwards ordered from M. Schneider; but he had not, it was thought, found the execution of his contract for the first order very profitable, for he availed himself, it was supposed somewhat gladly, of the financial embarrassments of the Great Eastern Company, and the twenty-five engines were never made. It was also the opinion of the engineer who gave the order, and who had some 1362 knowledge of French workmen, that the price of that class of labour was not really cheaper than it was in England. The other case, an order given for the East Indian Railway, also occurred in 1865. Mr. Meadows Rendell ordered eighty engines from an English firm, and twenty from the Messrs. Kischler, of Esslingen. Subsequently, he ordered twenty more, ten from an English and ten from a foreign house. In that case the foreign was paid the same price as the English manufacturer; but at the conclusion of the contract great complaints were made by the foreign firm of the loss which they had sustained, and they asked for a further order for engines at an increased price to compensate them for that loss; and it was to be observed that they employed English foremen, and that two-thirds of their material came from England. It had been also said that Belgian rails were being largely imported into England. He believed that that was the case in 1865, but the reason was that our own ironmasters were excessively busy; in Belgium the business was slack, and they were, consequently, able to take lower prices. Since that year rails had been and were now made in England cheaper than in Belgium. He might also mention that not very long ago his father put out tenders for forty engines for a Hungarian railway. The contracts were open to all the world, but of the forty engines thirty-five were given to English, and only five to foreign firms. He thought, therefore, the House, looking at these facts and the general state of trade, as shown by statistical Returns, had no reason to infer that foreign competition was able to drive us out of neutral markets in consequence of the higher rate of wages which we had to pay. He drew from what he had just stated the inference that if Trades Unions should succeed in raising the cost of production beyond that which it was abroad they would immediately produce the most disastrous consequences, so far as the interests of those whom they represented were concerned; while he denied their power permanently to raise the rate of wages beyond the point at which it left a fair rate of interest for the capital employed. As to the Bill before the House, he intended to vote for the second reading, on the broad ground that the combinations to which 1363 it related should not, in his opinion, simply as combinations, be punishable by law. But, on the other hand, he thought that legislation on the subject would be altogether incomplete unless steps were taken concurrently to extend the law respecting threats. There would be no difficulty in doing this. It was certainly proper that if a man publicly insulted another, or annoyed him so as to gather a crowd round his house, he should be liable to punishment; but he believed the present state of the law on these points was involved in much uncertainty. He believed that the Indian penal code contained provisions on the subject of threats which would fully meet the case. Then, if Parliament recognized the right of workmen to combine, it should protect the funds of their trade societies from embezzlement so long as these societies conformed to the law. Besides this bare protection, privileges might be given to Trades Unions which conformed to certain reasonable regulations. The Royal Commissioners prescribed four conditions, but he was not sure that all of these could be reasonably enforced. It would scarcely be consistent with public policy to give more than a bare protection to its funds in the case of a society which did not accept the use of machinery; without which it was impossible that we could maintain a successful competition with other nations—but others, which had no such rules in restraint of trade, might receive the privileges conferred by the Friendly Societies Act, provided that they registered their rules and obtained the proper certificates; and they might have power to buy an acre of land and build a trade hall for the purposes of their meetings. As far as the rate of wages was concerned, he repeated that no severity of legislation, no restriction on the part of Trades Unions, could overcome the necessary results of the operation of the law of supply and demand. And with regard to workmen who chose to work at a lower rate than Unionists did, he would leave them to be protected by the general law, and by that public opinion which, after all, was more powerful than any law.Quid leges sine moribus Vanæ proficiunt?Increased enlightenment among the working classes, and an improved state of feeling between work-people and em- 1364 ployers, were the best security against breaches of the law.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. T. Hughes.)
§ MR. CHARLEY
said, he should support the second reading of the Bill, on the ground that the present law was unsatisfactory; but he thought that certain clauses in the Bill were too widely framed, for instance the 2nd clause, which said that it should be lawful to make any agreement with respect to wages. The principle upon which they ought to proceed was to level, not downwards, but upwards. The Bill embodied two important principles, in both of which he agreed—first, that there should be a modification of the criminal law affecting Trades Unions, and next, that protection should be afforded to the funds of Trades Unions, so far as they were applied to lawful purposes.
§ MR. PLATT
said, the Bill concerned three classes of persons—Trade Unionists, employers, and non-Unionists. He, for one, did not think there was much in the apprehension of foreign competition; he had no fear of it in this country. But at the same time he felt that restraints on trade, if carried out to the extent to which many of the Trades Unions desired to carry them, would be productive of disastrous results. "When the Trades Unions used their funds to support strikes, or in other words, in restraint of trade, he looked upon them as most mischievous. On the other hand, they could not shut their eyes to the fact that many things in the Trades Unions were highly deserving of commendation—such, for example, as the aid given to sick and unemployed members, the funds applied to burials, and the information given to members of the places where work was plentiful and where it was scarce. All these results were good and beneficial, and he, as a large employer of labour, went entirely along with the Trades Unions in these respects. He certainly considered that the combination laws, at present in existence, were of no benefit to the employers. The employer derived no protection from them, and he could see no use in continuing them upon the statute book. But there was another party whose interests ought not to be forgotten in this House—the great body of the labourers. It was to be remem- 1365 bered that however numerous the Trades Unionists might be, considered by themselves, they were still a small minority of the working classes of the country. He thought every practice in restraint of trade was disadvantageous to the main body of the working classes, and robbed them in some measure of the employment which was their due. Many improvements might be made in the customs of trade; for instance, he looked upon it as a great evil that the system of apprenticeship should exist in any trade, and the sooner it was abolished the better. It tended to foster in the minds of working men the idea that they had some right or vested interest in the trade which they had learned, and it stood in the way of the progress of inventions that might displace the skilled labour which they had learned to exercise. He could well appreciate the feelings of a person who, having served a long apprenticeship to some species of skilled labour, found that by the invention of some new machine the vested interests to which he thought he had acquired a right by his apprenticeship were taken from him. But it was for the interest of all parties that a machine which reduced the cost of production one-half should be employed, even though the immediate interests of the labourer might suffer. The hon. Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes) had alluded to the Society of Amalgamated Engineers. Now it happened that the strike of 1852, of which the hon. Member drew so pathetic a picture, originated in his (Mr. Platt's) establishment. The main cause of that strike was not a question of reduction of wages; and he might add that he did not believe any of the great strikes ever rose out of a question of wages. There was a more important principle than wages involved in that strike. The object of the Amalgamated Engineers was, in the first place, to limit the employers to a certain number of apprentices; and, secondly, to secure, that if any new machine were invented and adopted it should be worked by a skilled person, even though a carter or farm servant might learn how to use it in twenty-four hours as well as the best skilled man in the country. That was the principle on which the strike took place which ended so disastrously for the engineers. Soon after the close of the 1366 strike the engineers held a great meeting in Glasgow, and from Mr. Allen's evidence before the Royal Commission it seemed that those two rules to which the masters took exception were expunged. Since that time the society had gone on increasing; its funds were more flourishing, and it numbered more members than ever. But though the society deserved credit for its prudence, he was not prepared to say that they had abandoned their designs in regard to restraints on trade, though certainly they had not been made a prominent part of their proceedings. With respect to employers, he considered that when the Trades Unions became troublesome, and insisted on rules which were in restraint of trade, it would provoke among the masters a spirit of opposition; and whenever that spirit was evoked, and the two parties met face to face he agreed with the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey) that the victory would remain with the employer. But if a medium course could be suggested it would be better for all parties; for there could be no doubt that the interests of employers and employed were one. A principle had lately been brought forward, which was in antagonism to that of Trades Unions, and that was the principle of co-operation. Now, co-operation was not antagonistic to labour, or in restraint of trade, because it was the interest of all the members of a co-operative society to produce at the lowest possible rate. It appeared to him that the day was not far distant when Trades Unions and cooperation would come into competition, and he predicted that when that day came co-operation would beat Trades Unions. He should vote for the second reading of this Bill, because he wished to do away with all class legislation. He wanted the Trades Unionists to see that the Legislature was willing to give them every possible facility for the purpose of combination. But at the same time there must be a clause in the Bill to protect those who were not Trades Unionists, and who were willing to work at lower wages or on other conditions; there must be no system of picketing or practical intimidation. The non-Unionist wanted protection, and he looked to this House to place him on equal terms with the Unionist.
§ MR. PLIMSOLL
said, the importance of this question must be the apology for 1367 his breaking the rate he had laid down for himself of not addressing the House during the first Session. When the Reform Bill was passed apprehension was felt that the working men would act together as a class and send representatives of their own to Parliament. That they had not done so was owing, he believed, to the happy effect of the legislation of the last twenty years, which had satisfied them that they might safely follow the lead of the middle classes. There was first the Factory Act, relieving women and children from unreasonable toil; and for that he was bound to say the working classes, Liberal though they were, were more grateful to the Members on the Opposition than to the Members on his side of the House. But they were not less grateful to Members on his side for the efforts that had been made to relieve their food and the materials of their labour from taxation, so that the people were better fed and housed now than they ever were before. He claimed for the working classes who now asked for this legislation that they were industrious—because they were supposed to desire a monopoly of labour—they were thrifty and self-reliant, as was shown by the accumulated funds of these societies. And they made great sacrifices for one another; because they sometimes submitted to deductions of 3s. or even of 6s. a week for the maintenance of the unemployed members of their Unions. They were courageous and gallant. He had been connected with collieries for many years, and knew something of colliery accidents. Now, although there was the extremity of peril in descending into a pit immediately after an explosion, there was never a lack of volunteers to rescue those who were injured. For instance, at the Oaks Colliery explosion thirty-seven men went down at the great risk of their own lives. Could nothing be done for the welfare of these noble men? It appeared to him that if the Government were to appoint some scientific man, such as the hon. Member for the Universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews (Dr. Lyon Play-fair) to investigate the matter no long time would elapse before the miner would be able to pursue his calling in as great security as the haymaker. The working classes were generous and tender as was seen in the aid they gave out of their earnings to those who had been made 1368 widows or orphans by those dreadful accidents. He did not pretend that that characteristic was peculiar to the colliers, for he believed it to be pretty general. These classes possessed political honour in the highest degree. There were orderly, and peaceable, and also much more temperate than public opinion generally supposed. The working classes, he assured the House, were grateful for what had been done by the Legislature during the last twenty years to improve their condition, but he contended that much still remained to be done. It was desirable to examine the condition of life of these people. Dr. Playfair had stated the average length of life of a gentleman to be forty-four years and that of a working man twenty-two. Other authorities had made similar statements. But that remarkable diminution of life amongst the operatives did not obtain in the country, for whilst in London the proportion was 44 to 22, in Hertford it was 49 to 39. He believed the reason of the difference was to be found in the excess of infant mortality. The average life of the working men was now five years less than at the beginning of the century—a diminution which he attributed to the defective sanitary state of the places where they worked and lived. That was the condition of life of the working classes. What was their condition as to the means of living? Their position was not bad because the general wealth of the country had decreased; for, since 1801, the capital of the country had increased by 350 per cent, whilst the population had only increased at the rate of 81 per cent. The annual income of the country was estimated at £814,000,000, of which £408,000,000 was enjoyed by 1,250,000 of the population, whilst the other portion was enjoyed by 12,500,000. The income tax showed a similar result. It was clear that the distress amongst workmen was not the result of a diminution of the national wealth. Parliament was bound to consider with serious attention every possible means of bettering the condition of the working man. Everybody had an opinion or fancied he had an opinion on the subject of Trades Unions. Some persons said that they were formed by idlers, who lived on the contributions of the industrious; that they interfered vexatiously with the employers of labour, and sometimes involved them in ruin. But those 1369 who belonged to the Trades Unions—and who constituted nine-tenths of the working population of the country that was good for anything—were firmly convinced that their interests were greatly promoted by means of these Unions; and if that were so, and if, as he had heard one employer state that day, these Unions could not hurt the employers, he hoped the House would be of opinion that a clear case had been made out for legalizing them. It would be idle to deny that there was not a good feeling between the class that earned their living by toil and those who lived by directing their labour and distributing its results. The feeling of jealousy between the two classes, though not, perhaps, so great as it had been, was much greater than many persons supposed. There were some masters who wished for Trades Unions. He knew one in Sheffield in the table-knife trade, who had written to him to say that he was ashamed of the wages he paid his men—only 11s. a week—but unless there was a Trades Union to compel other masters to raise wages, he could not. It was said that they destroyed competition; he hoped the time would come when a noble emulation to make self-sacrifice for the common good would take the place of that less generous principle of competition. It was said also they tried to limit the number of apprentices, and so they did; but he did not think we need trouble ourselves much about that, as with the increase of employment these restrictive rules had become less and less operative, and were now enforced in very few Unions. But it was said that Trades Unionists exercised coercion. If that were so they must be punished, and made to understand that the rights of the minority were just as sacred as those of the majority; but he believed that the public entertained an exaggerated notion of the extent to which coercion was employed. Sheffield was the head-quarters and centre of Trades Unions; there were about sixty societies there, and more than 20,000 workmen engaged in the various trades. They had heard enough of the atrocities committed in the various Trades Unions of Sheffield—and God forbid that he should say anything in palliation of those atrocities; but it was one thing to palliate an atrocity and quite another to show that certain men were not guilty of it, and by the inquiry which took place at 1370 Sheffield it was established that only 1,300 men of the 20,000 were at all affected or concerned in the outrages which had been committed. He altogether denied the assertion that Trades Unions raised wages above their natural level, but the principles of political economy required modification. The laws of nature were sometimes suspended. It was a question whether the lowest rate of wages to which the working people could be driven down was the best for the community, for when wages fell to a low point the poorer classes were obliged to come upon the poor rates. He maintained that working men, acting in combination and possessing a fund beforehand, were better able to cope with a time of difficulty and to give their industry breathing-time, as it were, than men who stood alone and separate from each other. They could bring to each other comfort and courage in times of adversity. The Trades Unionists desired that they might not be handed over to the judgment of any body of persons; and they asked the House to consider that workmen might sometimes be in the right, and that employers might sometimes be in the wrong.
§ MR. E. POTTER
admitted that he had very strong opinions upon this measure. He had been an employer of labour for many years, and forty-five years' experience had taught him that Trades' Unions did no good to the men, and certainly no good to the masters. During the whole of that period he did not remember having had hardly a single day's uneasiness through or any quarrelling with his workmen. He had always been on good terms with his men, and he had many times conceded more than he had enforced. He opposed this Bill for several reasons. In the first place he believed it would destroy the great benefit derivable from the friendly societies. If a good Bill were brought in the Trades Union funds might easily be protected without interfering with the friendly societies at all. Many of the Trades Unionists did not belong to the friendly societies—indeed he thought the majority of them did not. One of the ablest men connected with these societies, Mr. Applegarth, had admitted that the funds of Trades Unions were not so much intended for the assistance of sick members as to enable the Unionists to wage a successful contest with the masters. 1371 The Bill bore on the face of it that it was in favour of combination, to prevent competition, and to enable the Trades' Unions to impose certain restrictions and to raise the rate of wages. The Bill would prevent the increase of apprentices in certain trades, and also prevent the employment of non-Unionists in those trades. Mr. Harrison stated, at a meeting at the Sussex Hotel, that those objects had been provided for in the measure now before the House. He (Mr. E. Potter) was perfectly satisfied that the Bill was an anti-free-trade Bill; for all combinations which prevented competition were in their nature antagonistic to Free Trade. At a public meeting convened at Chelsea a short time ago by the council of the Trades of Great Britain Defence Association, to consider the question of the depression of trade and the increase of pauperism, a Petition was adopted which showed that the Trades Unions themselves regarded such combinations as anti-free-trade. The hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Thomas Hughes) at a meeting of the Carpenters' Association held a few weeks ago, said that no one could deny that the old commercial system of unlimited competition had broken down, and that a new system must be inaugurated before England could be as happy and as trusted as they would wish her to be. The growing commercial prosperity of the country, however, as indicated by the increasing quantity of our exports, did not bear out that conclusion. The hon. Member for Frome attributed much of the improvement which had occurred in the condition of the working classes to Trades Unions and combinations; but he believed that was a very great mistake; on the contrary, it was mainly attributable to Free Trade, which had given cheaper provisions, higher wages, and better education. Our exports had increased since 1842, when they represented £47,000,000 to £180,000,000, at which they stood last year. There had been a great increase in the export of machinery—for we made the best machines—and those machines became the very means of increasing the competition we had to meet. That competition would, of course, become all the more difficult if wages were to be kept up by combination. The capitalist did not profit by ill-paid labour; it was not the rate of wages so 1372 much as dictation and interference with all his internal arrangements that perplexed and annoyed him. The House should consider the relative importance of the Trades Unionists when compared with the bulk of the working classes. The number of Trades Unionists was stated in the Report to be 850,000. He doubted if it was so great, but taking it at the number stated, this was but a fifteenth part of the entire working population of the country, which was between 11,000,000 and 12,000,000. He had not the least objection to combination for the protection of the workmen, but that was a very different thing from combination for the prevention of competition. He was most anxious that the Government should fairly and calmly take up this question, which must come upon them eventually. The great commercial interests had more to gain than any from a settlement of the question, which should get rid of all irritation and annoyance. If all the Trades Unionists were as well educated and as courteous as their leaders, the matter would be very different; but, unfortunately that was not the case, and they were spread throughout the country, a large uneducated body, but wielding an enormous influence. To show the influence which they could bring to bear even upon a large town such as Manchester, he might allude to the brick making trade. The consumption of bricks in Manchester was about 70,000,000 a year, and the wages paid for brickmaking amounted to about £35,000; but—would the House believe it?—the city of Manchester could not get a single machine-made brick. No brickmaker dared introduce such a thing into the town. Machine-made bricks might be produced at a reduction of one-third in price, while their quality was 50 per cent better; so that Manchester would have been a gainer by paying the hand-brickmakers their wages and letting them walk about like gentlemen. So long as they allowed one-fifth of the population to remain in intense ignorance, and consequent poverty, they could not avoid such a state of things. The Trades Unionists were not all of the better educated class, as represented by Mr. Hughes, but many of them must be uneducated men. The Government must, therefore, not only legislate next year for Trades Unions; they must bring in a strong education measure; for 1373 it was only by a very strong compulsory Education Bill—he did not care how strong—that they could hope to make much impression on Trades Unions.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
begged to say a few words in explanation of the Petition alluded to by his hon. Friend who had just sat down as having been agreed to on a recent occasion at a meeting in the Vestry Hall, King's Road, Chelsea. The Petition consisted of three parts—in the first, certain statistics of trade were asked for; in the second, certain monetary reforms were prayed for; and in the third, what the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. E. Potter) described as the determination of the working men to have no more Free Trade was merely a declaration that Free Trade was not Free Trade at all so long as other countries showed no reciprocity. This was not an anti-free-trade Bill. It was nothing of the kind. It was rather a Bill in the direction of Free Trade, for it tended to do away with all special legislation in regard to trade.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. E. Potter) had made many statements in which he entirely concurred, but there were others with which he could not agree. His hon. Friend was of opinion that the Bill would destroy friendly societies. Now he (Mr. Mundella) could not imagine on what ground that opinion was founded, because friendly societies had existed and prospered along with Trades Unions. His hon. Friend had at least proved that a good master needed no Trades Union, as a good citizen needed no law; but he was mistaken when he supposed that this measure would authorize an interference with non-Unionists and apprentices. He (Mr. Mundella) would not be a party to any interference with the freedom of any man's labour. His hon. Friend said that the progress of the country was owing to Free Trade, and that they must be careful not to reverse it. Now, the progress of Free Trade had been concurrent with the existence of Trades Unions, and the question now before the House was purely a question of Free Trade in labour. It was only by slow degrees that he had shaken off the prejudices of his class, and had come to the conclusion that the only way in which masters and workmen could come to a good understanding was by placing them upon a perfect footing of equality before 1374 the law. As long as the combination laws disgraced the statute book it was impossible that a good understanding should subsist between them. The cry of free labour meant only that the capitalist should have the sole control of the labour market. A master was a corporation and could deal with his men if they went to him singly. But if they went to him as a Trades Union they were a body equal to himself, and a bargain could be made on equal terms. He did not think it right that the capitalist should have the sole control of the labour market, and that the labourer should have no control whatever. It had been said that the 850,000 Trades Unionists were only a small proportion of the 12,000,000 who formed the labouring population. But it should be remembered that the 12,000,000 included men, women, and children, and the 850,000, who represented families, should be multiplied by five to give a fair proportion. The Trades Unions had been very much misrepresented. He had spoken in almost every industrial centre of England to tens of thousands of working men, and had denounced all kinds of restrictions, and the working men had favourably listened to him. His presence in that House attested the fact that the men of Sheffield detested and abhorred the atrocities committed in that town. The instigator of those atrocities had come into a room when he was addressing the working classes of Sheffield, and was driven from it by a howl of execration. He refused to meet any who had brought disgrace on the town, and he had to encounter the bitter hostility of the Saw Grinders Union. He believed he had now the support of all other sections of the Unionists. With respect to the brickmakers of Manchester, no man in his senses could defend their conduct; but these things would exist in spite of legislation—and not in consequence of it. In that case the men adhered to the system complained of in consequence of an arrangement on the part of the Manchester bricklayers that they would never lay any but hand-made bricks. The masters conspired with the men, and assisted the men when on strike on certain conditions, and the men had kept their engagements. The Brickmakers' Union was a most powerful one; but the members of it were so ignorant that there was not a man amongst them who could 1375 act as secretary and keep the books. Their children went to work at six or seven years of age. When the men were so ignorant, and were addicted to drunkenness and all other kinds of vices, it was unreasonable to expect them to act like gentlemen of refinement and to understand the principles of political economy. It was necessary to educate them to make them understand their own interests more clearly. With regard to the outrages committed by Trades Unions an end would be put to them if the masters were wise in time, and manifested a more kindly feeling. The great difficulties which existed had arisen from the men having been so long held in a servile position, in a state of feudalism; and he asked the House to wipe from the statute book these blots by which it was disfigured. Combination was as fair for the men as for the masters; and an organization existing among the men conducted on moderate and reasonable principles would enable the employers to keep abreast of one another as well as the employed. Now, he would ask, was there one master who really believed that the passing of this Act would change in the slightest degree the relations between him and his workmen, except that it would remove suspicion and a sense of caste and of inequality, which the law had created? Every argument which was used against the repeal of these laws was urged against the repeal of the old combination laws, which were the parent of conspiracy and crime, for, in his own neighbourhood, not less than 3,000 machines had been destroyed. But from the time of the repeal of the combination laws to the present time not a single machine had been broken. In that district there had been no strikes; and why? Because the masters had recognized these Trade Unions. No doubt when trade was bad the master put on the screw as tightly as he could; and Acts of Parliament had been passed to remedy the distress of the men. What had been the result? Why, that the Acts died as soon as they were born. It was as impossible by legislation to make masters and men act harmoniously as to compel husband and wife to live amicably together. It was said that combination had not raised wages, but it certainly had often quickened the operation. When men went in a powerful and united phalanx and asked for 1376 their rights it was impossible to refuse them. He believed that, on the whole, the country had been greatly the gainer by combination. With regard to the leaders of the working men in these Unions, he had often heard it said that they were persons who lived on the working men, and whose business it was to foment strikes. Now, he had known scores of those men, and he would assert that they did a great deal to prevent strikes, and especially to prevent outrages in support of strikes. When a spontaneous outbreak like that at Mold the other day occurred, and when the men rose en masse, it was generally found that they did things which would have been prevented if there had been an organization to hold them in check. What happened in France and Belgium? The combination laws of France were exceedingly rigid, and no meeting could be held without the presence of the Prefect or his deputies. The result was secret conspiracies and scenes such as occurred at St. Etienne the other day, where fifteen men were shot down, and at Roubaix, where machines were broken and all sorts of outrages upon property were committed. In Belgium there were frequent attempts on the part of the Government to repress combination among the workmen, and the result was that the miners were either shot down or chased about the country by the Cavalry. We often heard that 10,000 men in the mining districts were on strike; but the country did not know why. The strike did not always arise from caprice; it was caused much more frequently by injustice. The North British Daily Mail had appointed a commission to investigate the complaints of the working men about Glasgow respecting the truck system which was carried on in complete violation of the law. One person who was paying £300,000 received nearly the whole of it back under the truck system, under which the men were obliged to put up with inferior articles. The men were the slaves body and soul of the masters. Some day the public would be scandalized to hear that 10,000 men in Scotland were on strike; but he said they ought to be on strike when such things occurred. He trusted the Lord Advocate would turn his attention to the evasion of the Truck Act, which was now notoriously going on in some parts of Scotland, and that, as the public 1377 prosecutor in that country, he would do something to put a stop to such practices. He hoped the House would not suppose that he was in favour of strikes, for he had done all he could to prevent them; and a substitute had now been found for the old system, arising from a feeling of equity, and a desire to promote the mutual interests of employers and employed, and to see how they could best aid and assist each other. The Royal Commission said they had investigated everything brought before them on the question of arbitration; and they concluded their Report in these words—The establishment of Boards of Conciliation, such as those brought before us in Mr. Mundella's evidence, seems to offer a remedy at once speedy, safe, and simple, requiring no complicated machinery, no new mode of conducting business, no new Act of Parliament, or legal powers. All that is required is that certain employers and workmen should meet at a stated time to amicably discuss the common interests of their common trade and business.Under such a system a peaceable and happy future might be anticipated. If the Commission should have no other result than the establishment of good relations between the master and the labourer, that would form a worthy substitute for the old practice. He, and others in his district, had tried it over and over again; and the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair, who knew the district, said that, whereas fifteen years ago it was the most turbulent district in England, it was now the most peaceful. That morning he had received a letter from the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Henderson), who was largely concerned in the carpet trade, expressing his regret that he was unable to be present that day, and adding that his own firm had adopted the new system some years ago, and the result had been that, from the first day to the present, there had not been a single strike. The same hon. Member was largely concerned in the iron trade, and employed, directly or indirectly, 10,000 workmen. At Stockton, Darlington, Newcastle, Middlesborough, and other places, the masters had met the men, they had established boards of arbitration, they met together and settled matters, amicably, and there were no disputes. Ten years ago he (Mr. Mundella) stood almost alone on this subject; now fifty Boards of Arbitration were in existence, including several in various trades at Manchester, where the County Court 1378 Judge was usually the arbitrator. It was then hardly fair to take the black sheep and exhibit him to the House as a specimen of the flock. Within the last few weeks the great Parliament of North Germany had completely abrogated their combination laws, and Trades Unions were springing up among them with a rapidity of which we in England knew nothing. There were seventy Boards established in Berlin. "What a capital thing," said the English manufacturer—"in Germany;" but it was bad in England. He (Mr. Mundella) appealed to his countrymen through that House to give what aid they could to put an end to the terrible conflict between capital and labour. There was a disinclination among employers to sit down with their workmen; but they were equal in the sight of God: and when the two met together they worked heartily for each other. The English were the most practical workmen he ever met with. Talk to a French workman who wanted to improve his position, and he replied about the re-construction of society—that property was robbery, that he wanted a complete reorganization of the social system. The German was in favour of national labour. The Englishman went to work practically, and established co-operative stores. Within twenty miles of Manchester the workmen were conducting a business to the extent of £5,000,000 a year by cooperative stores. Again, the Amalgamated Engineers had spent a large sum of money in the maintenance of their sick. Masters and workmen ought to be equally free by law to combine, and all that was necessary was a law to guard well the rights of third parties who might be interested.
§ VISCOUNT GALWAY
said, a Petition, signed by 468 workmen, who were non-Unionists, had been presented to the House a few days ago, stating that a Bill was before the House giving protection to Trades Unions. The petitioners, who were workmen employed at Mr. Hantsman's collieries, in and near Sheffield, stated that they, as Englishmen—Feel indignant at the treatment they have received from their countrymen during the last twenty-two weeks, during which time many of their fellow-workmen have been on strike. The petitioners state that they have been daily insulted in the streets with opprobrious epithets, and have been repeadly struck on their way to and from their work; two of them have been shot at, and 1379 the petitioners' wives have been insulted, and outrages committed upon them; while some of the perpetrators of these acts are known to have received the counsel and support of Trades Unions.The petitioners therefore prayed—That while the House is legislating for the interest of Trades Unions such clauses may he inserted in the Bill as will give to the petitioners, and all Her Majesty's subjects, just and reasonable protection in their rights to 'freedom of labour.'That was a most reasonable prayer. He should offer no objection to the second reading, but the clauses would require great alteration in Committee. While relaxing the laws of combination, it would only be fair that the law should provide for the protection of the workmen, who did not belong to Trades Unions.
said, he was certain that no Member of the House grudged the time that had been taken up in a discussion of so much importance. The House was especially indebted to the Mover (Mr. T. Hughes) and Seconder (Mr. T. Brassey) of the Bill, who had thrown so much light upon many disputed points connected with these societies, and who had supplied information which would assist the Government in future legislation. A general opinion had been expressed, in which he fully concurred, that a matter like this, affecting rival and competing interests, ought to be dealt with by the Government. If so, he might be asked why the Government had not been prepared with a Bill? The reason was that the Report of the Royal Commission was not made until the 15th of March, and from that time to the present the Government had been daily and hourly engaged on subjects of the greatest difficulty as well as of the greatest importance. They were grateful to private Members who facilitated the work of legislation by introducing measures to the House; and several Acts of importance had passed this Session by the judicious employment of the time devoted to private Members. It was not, therefore, on account of its introduction by private Members that the Government would offer any obstruction to the progress of the Bill; but he thought it must be felt by the House, and even by the Mover and Seconder of the Bill, that though it dealt with some of the difficulties of the case it would not be a complete and satisfactory settlement of the question before them. No one had stated 1380 more clearly than the hon. Seconder that if it became law further legislation would be necessary. The objects of the Bill were—first, to give the fullest security to the funds of Trades Unions; and, secondly, to do away with all the special legislation that injuriously affected the working classes. Upon the first point he thought there was little difference of opinion in that House; the great majority of the House was in favour of complete protection to the funds of Trades' Unions, although they might be applied to other objects than the funds of friendly societies. The recent decision in the Court of Queen's Bench drew attention to a state of things which must create astonishment in the minds of those who considered the matter. It was now admitted that great as were the evils of strikes, they were, in the present state of society, just as necessary evils as wars. In the recent case before the Queen's Bench the rules of the Trades Union authorized a part of the funds to be applied to the support of those who might be engaged on strike. Whether a strike was wise or unwise was a matter for the workmen to judge of, but could anyone say that it was illegal? He thought that while on many occasions strikes had been entered into foolishly, yet, on the other hand, they were often justified by the circumstances of the case; and not unfrequently they had led to the advantage of the workmen and of the employers themselves. The hon. Member who seconded the Bill had shown that increased wages were not necessarily injurious to the employer, and that high wages were often consistent with cheap production. And yet, because a portion of these funds could, under the rules of the Union, be applied to the support of those on strike, the Court of Queen's Bench had decided that they were beyond the protection of the law. That was a contradiction which ought to exist no longer. With regard to the limitation, of the hours of labour, piecework, apprentices, and so on, there had been a universal consent of opinion that on these matters the Trades Unions had not been wisely advised. But the Unions were becoming wiser every day, and some of the best of them were abandoning principles which had brought discredit on them. He thought there would be no difficulty in altering legislation so as to give due protection 1381 to those societies whenever their objects were not of a criminal nature. The Bill, however, went further, and proposed absolutely to repeal the Act of George IV. upon which the legislation with respect to combinations rested. He admitted that the laws relating to this subject required re-consideration and change, and. that a portion of them might safely be abrogated. He could not, however, say that it would be wise to adopt the language of the Bill and entirely repeal the present law, without providing something in its place. He admitted that all class legislation was, to some extent, offensive to the class affected by it; that it was objectionable in itself, and ought only to be resorted to in cases of great necessity. But Parliament had always been guided by experience, and the House had passed laws of class legislation which had met with special approval. What were the Factory Acts and the Truck Act but class legislation, passed in the interests of the working man? The present law, apart from the combination laws, made punishable all threats, intimidation, molestation, or obstruction exercised by workmen against each other in order to prevent them from engaging in employments and for other purposes. Was that law just and necessary or not? If it was necessary they might say it was just. The noble Lord who had just spoken (Viscount Galway) had read a Petition calling for increased protection against violent practices committed by Unionists against non-Unionists. Well, it seemed to him (Mr. Bruce) impossible to carry the law further than was now done; acts of violence, such as were described in the Petition read by the noble Lord were punishable—would be punishable even if no special law existed. The question the Government had to consider was whether any special legislation was required as to the proceedings of workmen towards each other. While he thought it desirable that all class legislation should disappear, he also thought that this particular legislation could not be dispensed with. Several instances of molestation had been given that were not punishable by the common law, and which everybody would desire to see punished. Acts which were innocent or harmless under some circumstances were of very serious importance under others. The 1382 hissing of workmen had been referred to. Sydney Smith, in his lecture upon association, said hissing might be foolish, tremendous, or sublime—The hissing of a pancake," he says, "is absurd; the hissing at the first representation of a play sinks the soul of the author within him; the his a of a cobra di capella is sublime—it is the whisper of death.Most of them had been hissed on the hustings and regarded it with utter contempt, and he could not say that he felt much, aggrieved when he was recently hissed in his own room by an ardent Sabbatarian deputation. When, however, a body of three or four hundred men continued, day after day, to dog three or four workmen to and from their work, the case was very different. It would inflict on those men an amount of moral torture and terror which would deter them from gaining their bread in the way they pleased. He believed that, in many instances, the parties who were guilty of these practices did not belong to Unions. He had long resided in a part of the country where there were no Unions, but where a strike had lasted for twenty-one or twenty-two weeks. During that time, every species of outrage had been committed, from simple molestation up to murder. Murder was committed, and the body of the murdered man was followed to the grave by hundreds of workmen, who, instead of feeling the solemnity of the occasion, joined in hissing and hooting, as if they were following a living renegade. Against this, and other outrages, there was only one general law which could be made applicable. But there were other outrages less violent, less capable of exact definition, which yet could not be safely overlooked. After a strike of some ten or twelve weeks, a great number of workmen gave way and returned to their work. By this time it had become dangerous to use actual violence. Another mode of molestation was accordingly resorted to; and the workmen were accompanied to their work by crowds of men, women, and children, who serenaded them with frying-pans and other noisy instruments, until they were either driven from the district, or forced to renounce their work. Now, the question was, were the workmen to be protected against offences of that sort? If so, they must have special legislation, directed, not against the class, but against 1383 the offence, though it would happen that the offence would be chiefly committed by one class. The Commissioners felt, indeed, that the law was sometimes carried too far, but were of opinion that some such law should be maintained for the protection of non-Union men and others. They were unable to suggest any alteration of the law. His own opinion was that alterations might be made in the law which would be acceptable to the whole community, even to the workmen themselves. Having recently seen many workmen, he could say they admitted that the evil was a great one, though, they said—"Guard against it, if possible, by other means than class legislation." Well, if it were possible to deal with this question without class legislation, Her Majesty's Government would be glad so to deal with it. He had only stated the doubts and difficulties in his own mind. The object was one which would require a great deal of calm and mature consideration, which could hardly be given to it during the bustle of the Session; but the whole subject would be carefully looked into, and he could not conclude without expressing his regret that, during the present Session, the Government had been unable to give effect to the suggestions that had been made to give security to the funds of these associations, and to define more accurately the offences of workmen against each other. But the Government were of opinion that this question should be dealt with once for all; wisely, comprehensively, and justly, and next Session he hoped, at the earliest moment, to lay on the table a measure founded on the principles he had stated.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, he had listened with great pleasure to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department upon this Bill, with the objects of which he had a deep sympathy. He had a great desire to see the funds of the working classes protected by legislation in all cases where those funds were applied to legitimate purposes. It was supposed by many that this Bill proposed to deal with the antagonistic interests of capital and labour; but when the principles of political economy were thoroughly understood, it would be found that those interests, instead of being antagonistic, were identical. How did the law stand 1384 at the present moment, with regard to this question. The Acts of George IV. and of Victoria might be regarded as having done away with the combination laws, subject to certain restrictions. Those Acts now gave workmen the most ample permission to combine upon all matters except those calculated to operate in restriction of trade, or against public policy. The majority of the Trades Union Commissioners proposed to maintain these restrictions, but still further to limit their scope—to this view he assented—and, beyond that point, he thought that the law should not be carried. During the last forty years, the power of fixing the amount of wages had passed from the masters to the Trades Unions, which he regarded as being very unfortunate, because it was calculated to interfere with the power of the employer and the employed to make their own bargains. It was not always that the Trades Unions were able to fix upon the just share that labour should receive out of the gross sum earned. For instance, in the case of the Thames shipbuilding trade, wages had been raised by means of the Trades Unions, about 15 per cent in seven or eight years, under the belief that the undertakings were very profitable, and that the workmen were not getting their fair share of the profits; and the result had been that the majority of the firms became bankrupt; and when their accounts came to be investigated, it turned out that no less than £1,000,000 had been paid for wages, over and above the amount that had been earned, by the advance of wages so demanded and obtained by the Unions; for the amount of labour which those establishments I have referred to as having disappeared employed could not have been less than 4,000 heads of families—which represented 20,000 persons supported by their industry. They could not have paid less than £5,000,000 in wages. They had failed, and their deficiencies were certainly over £1,000,000—I think nearly £1,500,000—and as £1,000,000 represented about 15 per cent upon the total wages paid, it led to the conclusion that if that 15 per cent had not been added to the wages, the catastrophe which had taken place might have been averted or greatly mitigated. In that case, owing to the action of the Trades Unions, both capital and labour had been over- 1385 whelmed in one common ruin. If matters were permitted to go on in that way, the whole of the export trade upon which this country relied would be lost. Under these circumstances, he was quite prepared to accept the view of the right hon. Gentleman, and to wait patiently for the introduction of some comprehensive measure on the subject during the next Session. He should offer no opposition to the Bill being read a second time, on the understanding that it would not proceed further.
§ MR. BONHAM-CARTER
said, he trusted that, in the Government measure to be brought forward next Session, this question would not be mixed up with the question of friendly societies.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he thought no blame could attach to Her Majesty's Government for not introducing a measure upon this important and difficult subject during the present Session, and he quite approved of the general principles on which they proposed to deal with it next year. He only regretted that the right hon. Gentleman (the Secretary of State for the Home Department, had not informed the House what course the Government would take with respect to the present Bill. As he (Lord John Manners) regarded the Bill as utterly inadequate to meet the case, either of those who were within, or of those who were without the Trades Unions, he thought it would be preferable that the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes) should withdraw the Motion for the second reading.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he rose at the request of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department to supply an accidental omission in the speech that right hon. Gentleman had just delivered, as to the course that her Majesty's Government proposed to adopt with regard to the measure before the House. Should the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes) not withdraw his Motion for the second reading it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to support that Motion upon the ground that the time had come when the House should affirm these principles—first, that there was nothing in Trades Unions that should deprive their members of protection against robbery; and secondly, that the laws respecting combination, as they at present stood, should be repealed. 1386 After those laws had been repealed the Government would consider how far it was necessary to legislate for the prevention of coercion. In the opinion of the Government the working classes should have perfect freedom to combine, but all coercion should be prevented. Under ordinary circumstances, he admitted that where there was no chance of the measure becoming law in the course of the current Session, it was better not to pass its second reading; but in the present case, when such a great interest was felt upon the subject throughout the country, he thought the hon. Member would only be right in giving the House an opportunity of expressing its approval of the principles which had received the almost unanimous assent of both sides of the House. As an employer of labour himself he felt that the conclusion come to by the House upon this subject would operate in promoting a good feeling between masters and workmen throughout the country,
said, he only rose to express his regret that this agitating question, which kept employers and employed so far apart, was to be left in abeyance until next Session. What had taken place since 1866 had confirmed him in the opinion that Trades Unions had been treated most harshly and most unjustly, the law being allowed to remain in such a state that any one could rob them with impunity. The existing law should therefore be altered in their favour as speedily as possible.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.