Original Correspondence 1
- Parent Category: Carlisle Patriot
- Hits: 403
(to the Editor of the Carlisle Patriot)
THE MANUFACTURERS AND THEIR LABOURERS
SIR, - I am grateful to you for the opportunity you have offered me of bringing before the public, what I, and a great majority of the working classes, believe to be the true cause of the distress prevailing amongst the manufacturing operatives -- and which it is the interest of a selfish faction to attribute to a totally different source. Although hooted at the late public meeting here by the well dressed bullies on the hustings, I trust before I have done to make it appear that my views are, at least, as well founded, and my motives as commendable, as those of the monopolists, in talk, MESSRS. COBDEN, ASHWORTH, AGLIONBY, &c., who figures on that occasion.
I will notice first the most prominent and positive of the axioms of the free-traders, as advanced by MR. COBDEN, viz : That the prevalent distress in the manufacturing and other districts is solely attributable to the existence of a protective system of Corn Laws, and that the application of machinery to our manufacturers has been an unqualified blessing. In connection with this, it is a fact deserving of some attention that the sliding duties on the import of corn, and the general use of machinery in manufactures, so as to supersede manual labour to any great extent, commenced at nearly the same time, viz., 1815.
Previous to that time an adult operative in full employ produced as the result of his labour about TWO pieces of calico in a week. NOW, with the aid of machinery, two lads of fifteen or sixteen years of age can produce TWENTY pieces of the same article in the same time - and I may here observe that the wages of labour have been reduced in proportion. This of itself goes far to account for the depreciation in the condition of the manufacturing operative, and the Anti-Corn Law faction are so well aware of the fact that they will never meet the question; on the contrary -- as in the recent instance, whenever they have the power, they clamor down all allusion to it.
It is plain, however, that if two BOYS, in a given time, can manufacture ten times as great a quantity of any commodity, by the aid of machinery, as a full grown MAN can without, that the money value of the adult's wages is ruinously reduced in proportion as the system prevails. It is true the manufactuers say calico is cheaper in consequence, and, therefore, the workmen can buy it more readily than before; but surely this does not atone for the evil.
It is nothing that a man should be able to buy a single article like calico at a very cheap rate, if his means of purchasing all the necessaries, and all other comforts, be so seriously curtailed. The manufacturers say, nevertheless, although they reduce the means of buying, and although a man may get ten times as much cotton for his shilling as he could thirty years ago - yet, if the production of such cheap goods yields him no more than that shilling, they are very dear to him.
The working man knows this well, and becomes more alive to the fact every day; and when the cry is raised that "comforts are cheaper", - which, by the way, means nothing more than that "cotton goods are cheaper", - the poor man need but inquire whether, with all this cheapness, he can boast of as many shirts as his father, or the workman of "dearer" days ? and to this questionn his answer must be in the negative. But there is another and a worse result from the excessive use of machinery - it supersedes adult labour altogether.
Fathers, and those, who, by the laws of Nature and of God, are bound to provide for the wants of their families, are deprived of all chance of doing so, and the whole burden of labouring for the maintenance of the poor man's family devolves upon the children, whose tender age demands culture, and is unfit for toil. This of itself strikes at the root of the social system - exalts those whom Nature meant to be subordinate, and humiliates those whom it intended to have control; and I am firmly convinced that a very large portion of the crime now unhappily so rife in this kingdom, is traceable to this unnatural system which the introduction of machinery to the exclusion of adult labour has introduced.
When pressed upon this point, I know the manufacturers, in this neighbourhood at least, turn round and say, "why these complaints ? there is full employment for the handloom weavers - nay, there is a demand for their labour " But, although this is true, there is nothing, perhaps, that illustrates more clearly the evils of the present system, or exposes more glaringly the shallow pretences of the mill-owners to philanthropy; for it is a fact, which every workman will confirm, that the material now given out to the operatives is such only - as is too weak to bear the stress of machinery ! It is a fact that the poor man, whose labour as a commodity is nearly valueless, in consequence of his inability to compete with the machine, has to toil doubly, day after day, in manufacturing a material too inferior for the machine, and which cannot be wrought without his aid; and what are his wages after all -- some seven or eight shillings a week !
At a recent meeting, I repeatedly pressed the question, whether it was just that the child should work, and the parent be forced into idleness ? but I could not get an answer. The fact could not be denied -- the practice could not be defended. Yet I submit to you, and your readers, whether this system alone is not sufficient to condemn the present abuse of machinery, and to warn us against making any further sacrifices for its advancement ?
But even the manufacturer is not blind to the mischievous results of his system as regards children. When it suits him, he can bewail the use of children's labour -- and we find a notable instance of this at the time when the "Jacquard" machine was introduced.
In those towns of Great Britain where figured work is produced, children had been long - and in many are still - employed as "drawboys"; but when the improvement was introduced from France, it promised to save time as well as labour, and the manufacturers adopted it with avidity. In consequence, the children lost their work. But the manufacturers then found it convenient to become loud in their expressions of concern at the uneducated state of the children of the industrious poor.. Sympathies that had lain dormant for years became suddenly active, and the well-being of the rising generation was apparently the principal aim of the millocrats.
The weavers listened, and were, as usual, deceived. They adopted the machine, although very expensive, and fitted up wholly at their own cost, but their wages were the same as before, although their production was greatly increased; and they were further deprived of the small pittance earned by their children. I might mention numerous other cases of a similar kind, but I believe it to be unnecessary. It is pretty well known - at least all the working classes know it - that there is no fabric which machinery does not or cannot be made to produce, or if any such there be, then the castaways from other branches of manufacturers betake themselves to it, and a serious depreciation of wages is the consequence.
Take an instance. Twenty years ago the weavers of Bolton were receiving "fifteeen shillings" for weaving twelve yards of 6.4th cambric. Now they get less than "three shillings" ! - and what compensation have they received for this ? Have house-rent, light, food, and fuel been reduced in proportion, or "eighty per cent ? Most assuredly not - and no repeal of the Corn Laws will ever produce the reduction; but the weavers are beggared, and MR. COBDEN sings the praises of machinery !!
HE may -- the operatives cannot. Paid, as we are, the task of the Israelites, to make bricks without straw, ceases to excite our pity.
Give us a fair remuneration for our labour, and then if the stringency of the Corn Laws were doubled, the operative would have more comforts at his command than now. Granting, for a moment, that the farmers in the far off Utopian climes of the League's creation were "to ship us food for nothing", are our present wages sufficient to clothe and educate our families, as becomes rational and immortal beings " We know they are not, and no Anti-Corn Law Leaguer has yet pretended that our wages will increase when the Corn Laws are abrogated - or if such a pretence were urged, we know the men and the true value of their promises too well to trust them.
I have now shown how it is that the working classes suffer, and that the cause of their suffering is wholly unconnected with the Corn Laws.
I shall conclude with a supposition grounded on a fact which, I think, proves that, in a national point of view, the reduction of wages incidental to the excessive use of machinery is a public loss. Take the working classes prejudiced by machinery to be not more than four millions - if each of these gets one shilling a week less wages than he would do if his labour were not exposed to a ruinous competition with machinery - the money lost to the nation is not less than £200,000 a week..........or £10,400,000 annually.
This, which is full a fourth of entire foreign trade, is lost to the home market, which is the most valuable market of all - and yet the advancement of the foreign trade is the sole professed object of the Anti-Corn Law Agitation ! A trade which is in its very nature fluctuating and temporary, and on which we frequently suffer immense losses. The working classes, at all events, know the difference between an English "sovereign" and a yankee "shin plaster" ** .
I am, Sir, yours, &c.,
November 7, 1843
** a dollar bill - generally of no real value.