Skip to main content
Hide Articles List

12 articles on this Page

llktajpoliian gossip.








THE SHEFFIELD TRADES' UNION COMMISSION. Consequent upon the Sheffield Trades Union Commission, which has been instrumental in placing before the public the remarkable results of the Union," The Times has the fol- lowing:- The Sheffield Commission brings to light a state of things all the more formidable, because indignantly denied by the commonalty of the town, because actually thrust upon the ordeal of a public inquiry, and because, even now, to be seen only through a mass of contradic- tion. It is evident that we have been doing great in- justice to Ireland and to its land system in speaking of that as the only place where there prevailed a class code at sanguinary variance with the laws of the State, and where a population could be accomplices in crime. Sheffield, at least, disputes the distinction. It has long had an ill name for outrages of a peculiarly villainous character, involving not only cruel maiming and disfigurement, but as often as not the possible destruction of innocent families. By the time unifor- mity and rapid succession had established a sort of prescription, we were coolly requested to believe that these crimes were the casual freaks of private malice, or more probably still the acts of the alleged victims themselves, done to obtain sympathy and to throw odium on supposed foes. When the British public failed to see the probability of these suggestions, it was civilly requested to remember that there are" roughs" everywhere, that no organisation can prevent their entrance, much less their co-opera- tion, and that there always are people who will take the law into their own hands, whatever Parliaments, or Trades' Unions, may say to the contrary. But, whatever the value of these arguments, the matter was past logic, for a frightful moral disorder had broken out at Sheffield, and it had to be stopped as a man would take the promptest measures to stop the Cattle Plague in his farm. So a Special Commission was appointed, and is doing its work with vigour and keenness. The witnesses, though from the very class which challenged inquiry, and expected from it a Government certificate to their character, show unac- countable embarrassment. They are blinded by sun- light. Concert as they will, they are found out at once, and compelled to make a clean breast of it. The result cannot, be pleasant to the Sheffield employers, and has its significance for all other employers in this country. There are skilled artisans, sawgrinders and others. Like all other purely manual crafts, these are apt to be beaten down by competition, by new modes, by in- creased skill, and by machinery. The men must have bad times, and bad times, too, that threaten never to become good again. They form societies for mutual aid; and upon these societies, simple axd necessary enough in t4- first instance, they or the clever men they choose for officers, engraft all kinds of rules for the purpose of keeping up prices, protracting jobs, ex- cluding intruders, ousting irregulars, and maintaining things as they are, with the turn always in favour of the men. All this we need not now discuss, and there are writers who call us downright "Philistines," for holding that the employers olight to have a voice in these matters. The Sheffield Sawgrinders have not been able to bring all their employers under orders some are refractory, and have rules of their own others have set up machinery for economised labour; and from the evidence before us it is clear that the Union has been in difficulties, that fair means have hitherto failed, and that if the Union was shy of foul means, it must give up the game. It is evident that the Union was losing its power and in- fluence, and unable to maintain its own protective code against the ordinary rules of trade, unless it would strain a point and do a strong thing or two. The particular outrages just now under inquiry are an attempt to blow up an engine, chimney and all, and the mixing gunpowder with a grinder's emery almost to the destruction of his face and head. These, our readers are aware, are by no means the worst acts of the kind in the now notorious Sheffield calen- dar. Who did these things? A witness, who had been detected in perjury, having falsely sworn that he had not seen the Secretary of the Union just before giving his evidence, makes ample revelations under threat of prosecution. It is proper to add that his own evidence thereupon shows him thoroughly unprincipled, reckless, and treacherous, and quite as ready to inform against the Union as to do any deed of violence it might put into his hands. He says that he and a con- federate received three pint cans full of powder from the Secretary of the Union to mix with the emery in the trough of an "outcast "-that is, a non-unionist; that he and his confederate cheated the worthy Secretary by selling two cans and a hall to a pigeon-shooter, but that with the remaining half-pint they disabled the out- cast from his work for three weeks. It was probably their dishonesty, not the Secretary's mercy, that saved the poor fellow's life. The witness had boosted of the deed, and the Secretary had taken alarm; the witness had been compelled, under terror of his life, to sign a retractation of his boast; but upon finding himself at liberty, he had written a letter withdrawing this retractation, and this letter the Secretary was most unwilling to produce. The man's evidence is full of incoherencies and downright follies; indeed it shows hardly the wit and sense necessary for invention but it shows also just the instrument that might be used and repudiated for such a crime. The next witness is described as most unwilling. He begins by alleging that a long statement he had made was a fabrication from beginning to end; he then tardily confesses to the practice of rattening" —that is, making away with the tools of non- unionists and then, finding himself getting into diffi- culties, shuts up altogether. He was, however, removed in custody, and will have to explain how it was he had stated that he received money from the Secretary of the Union for the purchase of 281b. of gunpowder, that he dropped it with a string and a fuze under the shaft of a hostile firm, and waited on a bridge to see the result, which was rather dis- appointing. He will also have to explain how it was that on this statement being read in court, and the reader coming to the words, '"It was a very cold bitter night, and I had to run up and down to keep my feet warm," he exclaimed, "Ah! it wur, and all! and could only give confused answers when challenged with the evident confession. The whole story is a mass of wilful contradiction, varying according to the motive, or the occasion, and accidental coincidences just such as we might expect to find on approaching such a den of iniquity as it is plain there must be in Sheffield, whether this be it or not. The Secretary, if he wishes to defend himself from the rather serious charge of supplying money and gun- powder to ruffians on the books of his Society for the purpose of blowing up workshops, dwelling-houses, and men at their work for the abstraction of tools, and for all sorts of mischief to persons and property, will have to meet a good deal of evidence which the world will think serious, though certainly not un- exceptionable. It is, however, the only class of evi- dence usually to be obtained against a conspiracy. If, for example, a hundred men combine to make a tumult in the streets, in the train of a Militia regiment or a Reform demonstration, the combination could only be proved by getting hold of some of the fellows themselves who were disappointed in their share of the booty. The conspirator is always paid in his own coin by the informer, the malcontent, or simply the fool; for it requires not only a certain amount of wicked- ness, but also some degree of talent to be a good conspira- tor. The evidence in this case is of that very common sort which requires to be sifted, and which cannot be taken simply on the word of the witness. It must be taken as a mass of random statement, casual ad- missions, and accidental corroboration, lying before us, we cannot quite say how. How comes it here ? The only account of the matter is a certain hypothesis, and no hypothesis is more probable than that the fellows are really telling the substantial truth, from whatever reasons, and that Sheffield possesses, among its other institutions, an office, with books, lists, and subscriptions, where any fellow can upon application get gunpowder, or money to buy it, to blow up his neighbour's house or his head off his shoulders, or, at least, bury his tools or make a trifle by their appro- priation and sale. If this is the general order of things at Sheffield; if other trades have their Unions which take similar liberties with law and with life, even Londoners may prefer the more open violence occa- sionally suffered in their streets.


[No title]



[No title]