« ПретходнаНастави »
towns, owing to the riots, to be left out of the account. The operatives, indeed, have suffered a first time in the losses which the absence of wages have inflicted on themselves, a second time in that which the loss of profit has caused to their employers, a third time in the wanton havoc of mills demolished, valuable machinery spoilt, private houses fired, and a vast variety of the elements of wealth thus subducted from the resources of the district. One indirect benefit, indeed, may be ascribed to mob-violence in this case, viz., that by alienating the sympathies of the community from the operatives, it cut off many sources of supply to their funds, and thus shortened a struggle which might otherwise have been protracted with greater suffering, though with no hope of a different issue. But there is another and wider class of sufferers less frequently thought of, the trading community, who are all the more worthy of sympathy as being neutrals in the strife, and, on whichever side the fault may lie, absolutely exempt from all complicity with its agents, or responsibility for its existence. The strike forces them into the unhappy position of being forced to give credit but unable to obtain it. The wholesale dealer is remote from local sympathies, declines to enter into the merits or hardships of the case, abides by the rules of commerce, has his own bills to meet, and cannot spin three months into six, and when the retailer pleads trade losses in the strike, merely bids him look to his bond.' The latter may choose between letting his customer run into his books, or letting the society on which he depends for his subsistence be broken up for want of ways and means to hold on. Thus the unhappy tradesman is in a double forceps, that which is pressed upon him by the merchant on the one hand, and that which is plied by the customer on the other. It has been estimated that 200,000 persons were deprived of their ordinary resources of subsistence by the strike, and that 75,000l. per week, or 675,000l. in the nine weeks, was forfeited in wages. This we take, however, to be an over-estimate, and should put it at a total of about 500,000l. for the nine weeks, or something under 60,000l. weekly. The withdrawal of this large amount of circulating medium usually spread in the form of wages over the surface of society cripples and prostrates the energies of the shopkeeper. Empty tills, bad debts, embarrassment, insolvency, paralyze the resources of trade and will probably be felt in various degrees of strain and exhaustion, even if that revival of the cotton trade should come to pass which hardly the most sanguine seems to regard as likely for some time to come.
On the general theory of strikes we may here venture to quote the authority of Professor Jevons, of Owen's College, Manchester, who says :
'I have not the least doubt that strikes, on the whole, produce a dead loss of wages to those who strike, and to many others. I believe that if there had not been a strike during the last thirty years, wages would now be higher in general than they are, and an immense amount of loss and privation would also have been saved. It has in fact been shown by Dr. John Watts, of Manchester, in his Catechism of Wages and Capital, that even a successful strike usually occasions loss. He has said :“Allowing for accidental stoppages, there will not be in the most regular trades above fifty working weeks in the year. If a strike for a 4 per cent. rise of wages succeeds in a fortnight, it will take twelve months' work at this improved rate to make up for the lost fortnight ; and if a strike for 8 per cent. lasts four weeks, the workman will be none the richer at the end of twelve months ; so that it frequently happens that even when a strike succeeds, another revision of wages takes place before the loss is made up ; a successfull strike is therefore, like a successful law-suit, only less ruinous than an unsuccessful one." If we remember that a large proportion of strikes are unsuccessful, in which case of course there is a simple loss to every one concerned ; that when successful, the rise of wages might probably have been gradually obtained without a strike ; that the loss by strikes is not restricted to a simple loss of wages, but that there is also a loss to the employer's business and capital, which is sure to injure the men also in the end ; it is impossible to doubt that the net result of strikes is a dead loss. The conclusion to which I come is, that, as a general rule, to strike is “ an act of folly":Science Primers, Political Economy, pp. 66–7.
The fact is, when trade is brisk, the demand for labour increases, employers bid against each other to secure hands, and the price of labour must go up. When trade stagnates, that demand slackens, fewer hands find employment, and the price of labour must fall. The combination of any number of thousands of men can no more resist this law than they can prevent the action of gravitation. But they can throw a whole branch of trade, perhaps with many kindred branches, into confusion, they can alarm the capitalist, perhaps scare him away, they can make the consumer feel insecure of his supply, they can drive away profitable business and carry custom to the rival shop. The same thing is of course true, mutatis mutandis, of a 'lock-out.' This axiom holds at all times; but the cotton operatives selected a specially inopportune time for striking—in short, one when success was on the face of things impossible.
Before reviewing, however, the general aspect of the trade in proof of this, let us see what the men had to say for them
selves. They urge that there was no plethora of labour in the cotton districts of Lancashire, in fact a short supply, barely enough to fill existing mills. Therefore the incline of the market was naturally in their favour at the time reduction was proposed. They urge that the employers had never taken them into partnership, nor offered them in palmy times a dividend of profits : why then now seek to make them share the losses of capital when times were bad? They had never received more than the market price of labour, why should they now take less ?
These are cogent arguments for ordinary circumstances. But we shall further show that the circumstances were far from ordinary, and that in April last the cotton trade was, through a long period of accumulated losses--not to put too fine a point upon it-nearly on its last legs. There was, speaking generally, no fund from which to pay wages. That is to say, the firms which still paid dividends did not more than make up the losses of those who paid none; taken all round, therefore, there was no margin, and relief or collapse were, we believe, the manufacturer's alternatives. When this is so, to close the mills, an act which at once causes a dearth of employment, becomes, under the conditions of the case, the only natural resource. It would ordinarily be condemnable as an artificial stimulus to dearth, but, given the above alternatives, the objection ceases to be valid. So, conversely, if wages drop below the subsistence point, the men may reasonably decline the labour, and seek employment in a remunerative field. They appear to have so fallen in America. The fall is variously estimated at from 25 to 40 per cent., certainly a good deal below what the men in Lancashire were refusing. Nay, before the last American reductions, business, it is believed, had for some time been going on at a wage-rate below that proposed by the Lancashire manufacturers. At any rate, re-migration from Boston and New York to Liverpool was reported among the cotton hands, at the time when the Lancashire strike was imminent. Thus the employers here were fairly entitled to try the question, whether labour would be forthcoming at a rate which they thought might save them from ruin.
But the men further urge that in Lancashire weekly wages had been unaltered in their rates since 1853. They say, however, nothing about the number of hours worked per week, which, we believe, has, by the Factory Acts passed since
1 See Cotton, April 20, 1878, p. 239, 'The Spectator on 'Change.'
1853, been reduced considerably; while they admit that the amount of weekly earnings has by speedier machinery (introduced, of course, at the employers' expense), by the adoption of piece-work, and by improved economy of industry, greatly increased. In illustration of this we append two tables of wages taken from The Practical Manufacturer for May 1878, p. II.
* At the earlier period in our district the wages earned were as follows:-Lapfeeders, iis. per week; jobbers, ros. 6d.; roving tenters, 8s. 3d.; minders, 18s.; whereas the same classes of operatives were in March last earning, respectively, per week 225., 235. gd., 18s., and 36s. 6d.
*The manager of a mill in another district gives the following as the percentages of increase during the same period in wages earned :--Lapfeeders, 90 per cent. ; grinders, 100; drawing-frame workers and other frame-workers, from 70 to
self-actor minders, from 25 to 40; rulers and makers-up, 50. Taking the two lists together, an increase of over 90 per cent. on the average is the result. Against this has to be set, of course, the rise in the price of most of the necessaries of life. In illustration, however, of the habits of the operatives, we notice a statement that in one of the Lancashire towns affected by the late strike fresh butter speedily became a drug in the market, falling from is. 7d. to is. 2d. per lb.
Let us now briefly review the position of the Cotton manufacture as a whole. Its accredited trade returns show. that the annual value of cotton goods produced in Great Britain, which had steadily increased by due gradations from 86 millions of money in 1869, up to 104} millions in 1873, since that year has regularly declined, being represented approximately by 100} millions, 95}, 89, and 850 millions respectively in successive years till 1877 inclusive. We may assume that not less capital was invested in 1877 than in 1873. Probably more was invested ; but assuming it no less merely, we here register a steady and gradual decrease of productiveness, reaching, at last, about 182 per cent. of the previous total produced. It may safely be said that there has been no such change either in the value of cotton or in the value of money within those years, as will account for more than a very small fraction of this. This, then, is the first grave count in the reckoning: capital which had produced in 1873 1001. worth of value, yielded only 811l. worth in 1877.
Again, take the total value exported. The same tables
Ellison and Co.'s Annual Review of the Cotton Trade for 1877, p. 8.
show for 1872, the maximum year, a little over 80 millions. Then the totals decline successively, as 771, 744, 714, 67, 694 millions respectively, the last only being a slight recovery. This estimate confirms the former sufficiently nearly. British looms and spindles, which yielded for exportation over 80 millions of value in 1872, had sunk to less than 70 millions in 1877—a diminution of about 13 per cent.
Again, take the total value of home consumption. In 1872. it was over 48 millions, in 1877 it was slightly over 323, a decrease of about 325 per cent. Take the total value of stock on hand at the close of the year. In 1873 it was over 98 millions, in 1877 it was under 6 millions, a decrease of about 38} per cent. Take the weekly averages of cotton bales delivered in this country. In 1874 this was just under 62 million bales; in 1877 it had sunk to just over 56 million bales, a falling off of about 9 per cent. Thus the figures approximately confirm one another all round. We consumed less raw material, we produced a greatly less total value, we exported less, and we supplied vastly less for home consumption, and yet we had a still lighter balance of stock on hand at the close of the year. We need look no further to convince us that the capitalist had been going down hill for five or six years together at the close of 1877.1
But the trade returns show still more conclusive evidence of depression in 1877. The Oldham Chronicle contains a compiled table showing the actual dividends declared by about 40 Companies' mills in its own neighbourhood. Of these 40 only four declared any dividend at all in the last two quarters of 1877, and the average dividend for the whole number was in that year 38 per cent. against II per cent. in 1876. Thirteen Companies, or all but one-third of the whole number, declared no dividend whatever throughout the year. They return zero in every one of its four quarters successively. And who knows what further loss this zero covers ? We merely have the fact of nil as profit; how often under this nil there lurks a minus quantity, there is no index to show. Companies do not proclaim their losses; the return of nil profit covers, as with a modest veil, the gulf of deficiency, the depth of which we suspect, but cannot probe. As a last index of the depression manifested in 1877, we adduce the fact that, out of those forty mill-firms only four in its last two
1.The year 1871 was no doubt a very profitable year for the cotton trade, but 1874 was only moderately profitable ; 1877 was therefore very bad, while 1878 was simply disastrous. -Cotton, April 20th, 1878, p. 238 : 'The Profit and Loss Account of the Cotton Trade.'