Welsh Newspapers

Search 15 million Welsh newspaper articles

Hide Articles List

6 articles on this Page



ARE TRADE UNIONS BENEFI- CIAL TO THE COUNTRY AT LARGE? The following paper "was read by Mr. T. S. Thomas at the meeting of the Cadoxton Wesleyan Mutual Improvement Society, on the 1st inst. :— To treat this subject as it should be treated, and to convey to your minds the beneficial results of Trade Unionism in this country at the present time, it is necessary to take into con- sideration the condition of the working classes in the past, that is, before Trades Unions came into existence as we know them to-day. For 500 years from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century, there was very little alteration in the condition of what was called at that time the common people and I believe it would be difficult to find a civilized country in which there was so little change in the fortunes and habits of the inhabitants-as there was in this country up to the beginning of the present century. During the greater part of the 500 years mentioned the people depended to a great extent on agriculture, and when there happened to be a bad harvest, which was not infrequent, famine was the result. Historians tell us that in the early part of the fourteenth century, the people were constrained to live on disgusting food, and that numbers of them perished from starva- tion. On the 1st of August, 1348, the disease known as the black death made its appearance in the south, and then spread northwards and westwards, dealing out terrible destruction in its course. One third of the people perished, 60,000 perished in Norwich alone. But it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good says the proverb the plague had almost emancipated the remaining serf a, labour was very scarce, and the working classes, acting oa the principle that THE LAW OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND should govern the rate of remuneration for their labour, demanded increased pay. They succeeded for awhile, but their triumph was short-lived. As soon as Parliament could meet the first of a series of Acts of Parliament was passed, which pro- hibited combinations among the workers and fixed a maximum wage, and any one refusing to work at the fix rate was punished by imprisonment in the common gaol. This Act does not seem to have had immediate effect; the demand for labour continued, and all .at once, as at a. stroke, the peasants and artiza,ns became masters of the situation. The authorities continued to enforce the Statute of Labourers until the people, for the first time in English history, attempted to effect a. revolution by force. They seemed to be successful, for the English labourer at last became free and comparatively prosperous for more than a eentury. With the sixteenth century commenced a. reign of oppression that has hardly been excelled in any country which made any pretence to civilisation. First the currency was reduced, and the workman was paid in base money. Then the necessities of life were gradually getting dearer, and in about 60 years the general prices were more than doubled, while a miserable percentage of increase was effected in labour—certainly not more than 60 per cent. The magistrates in quarter sessions fixed the maximum wage, and at first sight it would appear that the labourer had an increase of wages. This, however, was a delusion, for it actually took him 40 weeks to earn provisions that he could have earned 60 years earlier in 15 weeks. The first half of the seventeenth century," writes the late Professor Thorold Rogers, M.P., is a magnificent drama, in which the stage of public life in England is crowded with those historical characters on whom the better-off and more educated dwell with a peculiar and lasting interest. We seem to see before us the Scottish King, who had dropped into an English throne, who looked and spoke like a fool, but was not such a fool as he looked and spoke, with his strange brogue and strange manners, his named and unnamed vices, and his son, who seemed grave and wise, but was hot- brained and foolish, and proud and false, like one of those unlucky liars who was found out. Then there is the first leader of the Constitutional eppo- sition—Phelips, and the wily, but dangerous, counsellor of the court--Cecil. There is Carr. with his wife—one of the harlots of the House of Howard, who had so bad an eminence in the century, and the grim Coke, loyal to the law and himself, and Bacon, whose splendid reputation has obscured the baseness of his life; the shrewd Cranfield, who almost made James absolute, and Buckingham, who ruined the treasurer, and, bringing his schemes to nought, assisted in pulling down what Cranfield had laboriously striven to build up, and behind, below, but infinitely above these, are those men of genius, whose writings are the choicest treasures of the human race and the special pride of the English tongue, for the same generation witnessed the maturity of Shakespeare and the precocious interlectual wealth of Milton. As time passes on the whole energy of the nation is concentrated on the struggle between absolutism and free institution, free alas, only for the few, but these as yet the best types of our race. The rare learning of Selden, the grave inflexible patriotism of Elliot, the dexterous tact of Pym, the resolute gentleness of Hampden, the stern prescience of St. John, the wise moderation of Bedford, and ultimately the military genius and .clear foresight of Cromwell, were to be arrayed against the perfidy of Charles, the passionate bigotry of Land, and the fierce energies of Strafford. The age was so dramatic, the men were so typical that Hyde was able in his first exile to sketch their portraits as no one has sketched individuals since. There has not been and there will not be a period in English history which commends and deserves such attention as the first 50 years of the seventeenth century for memory sees gods ascend- ing out of the earth." THE CONDITION OF THE PEOPLE during the same period was anything but magnificient. On the 9th day of April, 1684, the magistrates met at Warwick, and assessed the wages for the year, under the Act of Elizabeth, and in this assessment they were to pay special regard to the cost of food and clothing. Artizans were assessed at Is. per day of twelve hours. Persons who gave more than the sum mentioned were to be imprisoned tea days, and fined £ 5; persons taking more than the pre- scribed Is. were to be imprisoned 21 days. The price of food at this time would be for a. year's' provisions A14 lis. 6d.; the wages would be jei5 13s. Od.. giving a margin of £ 1 Is. 6d. to buy clothing, and any little luxury one might wish to enjoy. It is to be hoped the labourer was not extravagant. This state of things continued very much the same with one exception, that while the wages remained almost the same, the price 'of food went up rapidly. Professor Rogers again says-" I protest against the idea that because the health of the upper classes has been greatly improved, because that of the working-man has been bettered, and appliances unknown before have become familiar and cheap that, therefore, the country in which these improvements have been affected, must be considered to have made for all its people regular and continuous progress. I contend that from 1563 to 1824 a con- spiracy concocted by the law, and carried out by people interested in its success was entered into to cheat the British workman of his wages, to tie him to the soil, to deprive him of hope, and to degrade him to irremediable poverty. For more than 250 years the English law, and those who administered the law, were engaged in grind- ing the British workman down to the lowest pittance, and in multiplying penalties upon him when he thought of his natural rights. By con- struction of the law of conspiracy ic was extended to those associations of workmen whose purpose it -was to raise the wages by such a combination. But at the conclusion of the eighteenth century all Act of Parliament was carried which declared all contracts, except between master and man, for obtaining advances of wages, altering the usual hours of labour, decreasing the quantity of work, and the like, illegal. This Act was passed, remem- ber, when wheat was at famine prices, ranging Irom 100s. to 150s. a quarter, and the magistrates were beginning to confess the atrocious cruelty of Quarter Session j assessments of wages by adopting that system of Poor-law allowances, which meant that owing to the wages being so little and the price of food so high-, that instead of allowing an increased pay, which would be the common sense idea, the authorities supplemented the wages with grants from the Poor Law, to enable the people to Itave a hare subsistence. Thus THOUSANDS OF WORKING MEN WERE MADE PAUPERS through no fault of their own. If the law of supply and demand should govern prices—which is the doctrine of all professional political econo- mists—then surely the workman was entitled to better treatment than what he was subjected to, for at no period of English history were fortunes made so rapidly as during the 40 years dating from 1794 to 1824. Owing to the new methods of manu- facture. such as the inventions of Arkwright, Peel. and others, manufacturers were enabled to accu- mulate zreat wealth, but to a great extent at the expense of the poor workman, the labour of women and children of almost tender age. For the pur- pose of resisting the aggressions of the rising manufacturers, and to prevent the spread of the gross abuses which the workman was subjected to, Trade Unions were formed. Trade Unions are not modern institutions by any means there were trade societies in ancient Rome, and the Craft Guilds of Anglo-Saxon days were to some extent workmen's societies, but they soon degenerated into capitalist societies, and are principally known to-day by the vast sums of money they spend on banquets and other luxuries. It was at the com- mencement of the nineteenth century that the Trades Union movement began to take root, the result of which is the splendid organisations which we have in this country at the present time. Although previous to 1824, these combina- tions were illegal, and the members were punished severely, THE WORKMAN'S FIGHT FOE FREEDOM ] did not pass by unnoticed. A few men in Parlia- mcnt, with Joseph. H ume at their head, had ob- served the struggle of the people for industrial freedom, and succeeded in getting appointed a Select Committee of the House of Commons to consider the laws relating to workmen and arti- zans. The result of the Select Committee being formed was the repeal of the combination laws. This Act, although it left much to be desired, was a step in the right direction. The repeal of the combination laws did not go down with the em- ployers, for they could see fn this moderate law their former power to crush the workmen gone. The employers, therefore, exerted their great in- fluence with the Whig Government of that day, and succeeded in getting the members of the Unions convicted under the law of conspiracy. In 1834 six Dorchester labourers were convicted and sentenced to seven years' transportation, the law said, for giving unlawful oaths, but really for the "crime of combining." This conviction was condemned on all hands, and in and out of Parlia- ment the remission of this sentence was resolutely demanded. After a deal of opposition from the Whig Ministry and the manufacturers the men were "Hardened" and ordered to be liberated. But the men had been hastened out of the country and sold in Sydney as slaves at £ 1 per head, and v even when they were pardoned some of them did not hear of it for years afterwards, and these might never have heard of it until the expiration of their sentence had it not been for the merest accident of one of them falling across an English newspaper in the colony at the Governor's house. Such persecutions as these tended to strengthen the Unions, and they grew apace. In 1837 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into certain outrages, and also into the conduct generally of Trade"Unions. The investigation was very com- plete. The result is embodied in 16 volumes of reports, but the Unions came out of the trying ordeal without a stain. The result of this Com- mission were the Acts of 1869, 1871, and 1875, which gave the Trade Unions the freedom they enjoy to-day.' How dearly this freedom has been won, I have tried my best to show, as far as the limited space will allow, and those who enjoy the freedom to-day have very much to be thankful for to those true heroes who devoted their lives to THE EMANCIPATION OF THE WORKING CLASSES. There are many people to-day who seem to have strange ideas with regard to the objects of Trade Unions. To think of Unions, with them, is to think of strikes, and to see a member of a Trade Union is to see one whose sole object is to harass and to continually be in antagonism with his employer. A glance at the facts will soon dispel that idea. That the unions has had to use extreme measures must b6 admitted, and to attain their present position as well as the present social con- dition of their members has been a great ex- pense to the various societies. But the sums of money paid out to support strikes is nothing to be compared with the benefits of some of the leading unions. The principle on which Trade Unions are founded is that of the mutual assurance society, the object being to enable its members to do by combination that without which they would otherwise be unable to do. To this end a weekly contribution is paid, varying from twopence in some of the poorer trades, to one shilling in engineers, carpenters, and other similar trades. The benefits vary accordingly. WHAT HAS BEEN DONE IN THE PAST. The Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners (of which I am a humble member) has a membership of 38,000 scattered all over the world. The great bulk of that number is in this country. With a contribution of one shilling a week the members are entitled to the following benefits Sick pay, 12s. a week for 26 weeks, and then 6s. a week as long as the member is ill unemployed benefit, 10s. a week amount paid at death, £12 superannuation, 8s. and 7s. a week; and any member leaving his employment under circum- stances satisfactory to his branch or the Executive Council is entitled to 15s. a week during the time he is out of work. This Society has paid in benefits since its formation in 1860 to 1891, £ 939,030. The engineers, with a longer record than the carpenters, from 1851 to 1889, have paid out in benefits the enormous sum of £ 3,074,653. The two principal items in these two large sums of money are the sick and unemployed benefits. The unemployed benefit is not connected in any way with strikes or trade movements, a separate account is kept of moneys paid out in strike pay, &c. The unem- ployed benefit is only paid out to those who are thrown out of work through depression of trade, and other causes which they have no control. The carpenters out of the total sum of benefits paid de381,181 in this way. The engineers for the same purpose paid, £ 1,492,264. If there is one argument more than another which goes to prove that Trade Unions are beneficial to the community, it is those benefits which encourage its members to lay aside something for a rainy day, for the shilling he pays when he can best afford it comes back to him with interest when he is most in need of it. Thus you see that THE SOLE OBJECT OF TRADE UNIONS is to consider the general welfare of their mem- bers, and the workmen in forming themselves into unions are simply united to protect their own interests not combined to injure. Many stories could be told of the unswerving fidelity which the members had for their unions in the days of adversity. They have been known to levy them- selves to the extent of 5s. a week in order to keep their society afloat. During the terrible depression in trade which followed the failure of Overend, Gurney and Co. in 1866, that firm having failed for over 100 million, and carried down with them scores of other firms. The Ironfounders' Society not only levied themselves but some of them actually took the savings of years to the amount of £ 2:500, and deposited it with the committee in order to save the union from insolvency, and enabled it to meet all dues and demands, and the members of the Executive themselves became sureties for much larger amounts in order to save the society. At the end of 1869 they were actuallv in debt to the extent of £ 5,450, but they stood manfully together, and weathered the storm, and to-day they have a cash balance of some- thing like £ 35,000. Another of the principle features of Trade Unions is the very small cost of management. The salaries paid to the principle officers are moderate in the extreme. If we compare the salaries paid by assurance companies, limited liability companies, and even charitable institutions, we cannot discover any undue ex- penditure on the part of the unions. The terms bloated delegates," il fat officials," living on the backs of the poor workman are terms we often hear applied to union officials. But it is a cruel slander on some of the most disinterested of men-men whose names will live in the hearts of their fellow-membeis when those who slander them will be forgotten. A few days ago the following paragraph appeared in the daily papers Mr. Robert Knight, who is well known as the able and energetio secretary of the Boilermakers' Society, has resisted the pressure put upon him by a Government appointment, but preferring to continue to give his valuable services to the society with which he has been so long identi- c' fied, he has declined the offer. The salary offered was e 400 a year, with more to follow, and the pro- posed hereafter of a pension. It failed to induce Mr. Knight to sever his life-long connection with Trade Unions. Mr. Knight has been connected with the Boilermakers' Society for 35 years, and h&s been general secretary for 22 years. As may be seen by his exhaustive reports, that union, with its splendid schemes of self-help, in times not only of trade adversity but trouble from sickness or accident, has increased under his guidance from 94 branches and 7,000 members to 253 branches and 38,000 members. On the Tyne, where he resides, Mr. Knight is idolised by the men, and by his wisdom and prudence he has gained both the con- fidence and esteem of employers." Mr. Knight's salary is £ 208 per annum, which is one of the largest salaries paid to a general secretaiy. Mr. Knight is not the first official who has been offered better situations some have accepted these situa- tions but only to enlarge their sphere of labour in the cause of the workman. ANOTHER FEATURE OF TRADE UNIONS is the part they take in labour movements, com- monly known as strikes. Certain people from time to time have questioned the policy of these strikes, but the whole question is centred on whether the employers or the workman should fix the rate of wages. Professor Rogers on this point thus expresses himself A Trade Union conducted on legal principles does not economi- cally differ from any joint-stock partnership. When a number of persons combine their capitals, their energies, and their experience in constituting a commercial undertaking, when they carry it on with integrity and gain all the advantage they can by regulating supply so as to secure the greatest possible profit to themselves, the business is welcomed as legitimate, and the managers and agents of it are applauded. If the undertaking is greatly successful, the promoters of it are styled merchant princes, pioneers of industry, creators of public wealth, benefactors of their country, and guarantors of its progress. Examine into the process by which in- dividual or joint stock wealth is created, and you will always find that it has been developed by buy- ing or producing judiciously, and by selling at as high a price as the market will consent to give. Now, this is what a Trade Union does for that which their workmen possess-their labour. They have something to sell in their strength and their skill. Like the capitalist, they would wish to sell their property to the best advantage-that which will leave them, something above the cost of keep- ing them in fit condition for their labour. I main- tain that workmen have as much right in refusing to work until they get satisfactory wages as a shopkeeper has not to sell his goods except at his own prices. In one particular they were worse off than the merchant. That in which they deal is very costlv to keep. In order to make this loss as light as possible, they require to adopt the joint stock principle of mutual insurance. They seek to enlist the largest number of men into their associa- tion to include all into the same trade, and to take into a corporation all trades at the end, so that they may be able to strengthen, as far as pos- sible, the exceptionable weakness of their position. According to popular notions, STRIKES ARE PECULIAR TO WORKING MEN. This may be true in a certain sense, but they are not confined to Trade Unions. Sometimes strikes have occurred in high pla,ces-even extending to the judges of England. Strikes (says Mr. Howell, M.P.) are occasioned by a sense of injustice, or a supposed injustice, in one form or another, and they can never be stamped out until men act fairly, honestly, and equitably in all their dealings -do unto others as they would that men should do unto them." For 250 years the capitalist had conceded them by law the right to fix a maximum wage for the workmen and how they worked it to their own advantage, grinding the workmen down to the lowest pittance. I have tried my best to show. At the present time, to a great extent, the Trade Unions are ackndwledged as the authority on wages. Numerous public bodies, led by the London County Council, in making their contracts, stipulate that the current rate of wages must be paid. The House of Lords Com- mittee on the Sweating System recommended in their reports Trade Unions as the one great remedy for that evil. Instead of being per- sistently denounced in the press/the platform, the pulpit, and in Parliament as they were in the past, their influence is now sought on all hands, both sociably and politically. Yet there is much left to be desired. Owing to the absence of Trade Unions in some parts of the country wages are very low, consequently there is a great rush from these parts to the large towns were Trade Unions are strong, and very much higher wages are paid. What is wanted is a UNIFORM WAGE IN EACH PARTICULAR TRADE through the country, considering, of course, the cost of living, with the same hours of labour. With this state of things work would be more general and steady, and would be infinitely better to every one eoncerned. Then again there is a steady growth of Trade Unions in other countries. With the growth of these unions there will arise a brotherly feeling between the toilers of nation, and nation which will do much towards breaking down the present state of things, and instead of nations being perpetually armed against each other to the infinite loss of all eoncerned, there will be in existence a bond of unity which no government will be able to break. Thus will be brought about the season. By gifted men foretold, When men shall live by reason, And not alone for gold. When man to man united, And every wrong thing righted, The whole world shall be lighten As Eden was of old..