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ART. I.-1. The Conciliation Act, 1896.
2. Fifth and Final Report of the Royal Commission on Labour, June 1894.
3. Second Report of the Board of Trade of Proceedings under the Conciliation (Trade Disputes) Act, 1896, July 11, 1899. 4. Industrial Democracy. By SIDNEY and BEAtrice Webb, London, 1897.
HE decided and gratifying advance in the prosperity of the trade of the United Kingdom which has characterised the last twelve months has done much to contribute to peace in the relations between capital and labour. For the moment, at least, less than usual is heard of the disputes which in less prosperous times have hindered trade, and, by the introduction of an unreal antagonism between employers and employed, have dealt an enduring if not, perhaps, a permanent blow to the true interests of both. Even, however, if the present prosperity lasts, and certainly if events should unhappily tend to check it, there is sure sooner or later to occur a recrudescence of disputes. But the present moment, when industrial contentment is widely prevalent, is not inopportune for considering some of the causes which contribute to quarrels-whether anything can be done to mitigate the effect of these causes, and whether any extension is possible of the methods available for the determination of differences when they actually arise.
In doing this it is necessary to recognise and admit the position which trade unionism occupies in the country. The time is past when the right of wage-earners to combine for their protection could be called in question. The practices adopted by many of the modern trade unions are undoubtedly capable of much improvement, and we propose
VOL. CXCI. NO. CCCXCI.
to refer to some of these which we think open to adverse comment. But the State could no more put down trades unions, or interfere with the right of workmen to combine, than it could interfere with the freedom of the press or of speech. Nor would it be desirable in the interests of employers that trade unions should cease to exist or that there should be no combination among workmen. A trade union, in the opinion of many of the wisest employers, helps to promote satisfactory business relations, provided that it be properly managed. If, in the opinion of the general public, trade unions fail to occupy as high a position as their advocates deem them to deserve, it is because in many instances bad management has been displayed, and methods have been adopted which have been rightly censured. But a wisely conducted trade union is a useful factor in the promotion of a proper understanding between managers of great business establishments and those who work for them, and in the prevention of the many personal troubles incidental to the employment of a large number of individuals, every one of whom is a law unto himself.
We have already had occasion to refer to the volume on 'Industrial Democracy' which we have included in the list of works referred to in this article; in it a careful effort is made to explain the views and the policy of trade unions by two persons who ought to know something about them, and who have every reason to regard them with favour. But we venture to doubt whether the objects and methods attributed to trade unions by Sidney and Beatrice Webb are portrayed by those two writers in terms which will commend itself to the majority of their readers. We should be sorry for the true friends of trade unions if it were so. Through the whole of the work there runs a disposition to regard trade unions as belligerents continually seeking to alter the conditions of their employment under guise of improving the condition of a class, and leaving no stone unturned in the promotion of discontent and unrest. Take, for instance, what is said about sick and burial clubs set up in connection with large business establishments.
At first sight,' say the writers, nothing seems more kindly ' and humane on the part of the employer, and less open to 'objection from the workman's standpoint than such clubs -to which there is frequently a substantial contribution
* Edinburgh Review, April 1898.
'from the firm.' Hostility to such an arrangement appears, we are told, 'ungrateful.' 'But to anyone who has ever 'understood the assumptions on which the whole trade' union movement is based the wage-earners' objection will 'be clear enough.' The separate interest thus created cuts off trade unionists from their fellow-workmen in other establishments. It renders men indisposed to pay again to the trade union,' and 'holds out to them a strong and 'growing inducement to remain where they are, and thus accept employers' terms. . . . Any general adoption of employers' benefit societies would, in fact, go far to render 'trade unionism impossible.'
Much the same thing is said of profit sharing. Separate arrangements with particular workmen' destroy community ' of interest.' The men employed by a specially benevolent 'firm with a really generous profit-sharing scheme will not be disposed to join heartily with the rest in any move'ment for higher wages.' In other words, the wisest and most benevolent efforts of employers to help their workmen, to improve their condition, to make them contented, and to diminish the consequences of sickness or the expenses connected with death, are to be resisted and banned, lest the individuality of the workman should be kept unimpaired, and the slavish sacrifice of his own interests inculcated by the union made to appear in its real colours. If individual freedom means anything, or has any value, the option of workmen to accept advantageous terms, to profit by the benevolence which softens the rigour of industrial life and gives workmen a direct interest in the success of the business at which he works, should be encouraged, not tabooed. The opposite policy can only tend to reduce men to the position of mechanical units, to curtail their judgement, to oust their discretion, and to set up a tyranny far more irksome than any which can be brought about by a despotic foreman or a narrow-minded employer. We have always thought that the charge brought against trade unions of reducing men to slavery, annihilating their free will, and destroying not only all contentment but all disposition to be ambitious of progress and advancement, was greatly exaggerated. But the chapter from which we have made the above extracts does little to disprove it.
Again, let us see what the policy leads to. The strong objection, we are told, of trade unionists to any blurring of the line between the capitalist and the wage-earner might seem at first sight to point to the desirability of concen
trating each trade in the hands of one great employer. But such concentration may, we learn, be carried too far. When in any trade the establishments are all sufficiently large to make it easy for the workmen to combine, the trade union fights at the greatest strategic advantage. How? When the employers combine also and meet organisation with organisation in a friendly discussion calculated to promote the best interests of both? When terms can be talked over and arranged under amicable conditions of equality? Not at all, but when it is confronted by a number of em'ployers varying considerably in their pecuniary resources and opportunities for profit-making. Thus, in any coal 'or cotton strike the circumstances of the employers differ so greatly that there is a strong tendency for some of them 'to split off from the rest.' We might stop here to point out the clear proof which Colonel Dyer and his colleagues gave of the utter futility of this advice. But that is not our present object. What we desire to emphasise is the intention avowed by Mr. and Mrs. Webb on behalf of trade unions to fight at the greatest strategic advantage by disintegrating their opponents. There is to be no measuring of swords before a duel, no seconds to see fair play, no umpires to keep a ring. The employers are to be taken in detail. Competition in wages is to be sternly checked. Competition in profit-making to be cunningly encouraged. Where this cannot be managed the law is to step in. Against the unlimited resources of railway companies, we are told, and the absolute unity of will enjoyed by these modern industrial leviathans, the accumulated fund of the richest trade and the clamour of even one or two hundred thousand obstinate and embittered workmen are as arrows against ironclads. We are not told why the workmen should be obstinate, or who it is that embitters them. No charge of oppression or even of lack of interest is brought against the 'Leviathan' railway companies. But of their strong combination, ill-will is held up as the natural outcome, and the law is to step in to fix a scale of prices and a code of conditions without any regard to the fluctuating circumstances of the market, or the changes in supply and demand.
So too when the State is the employer. Here the trade unions, we read, are powerless. A long strike will bankrupt 'dozens of employers, and seriously reduce the dividends of the wealthiest trust. But if all the workmen in the Admiralty dockyards stayed out for a year, neither the 'civil servant manager nor the citizen proprietor would find