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Problems of Poverty by John A. Hobson

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following brief summary is in a large measure drawn from evidence
furnished to the recent Lords' Committee on the Sweating System. Since
the sweating in women's industries is so important a subject as to
demand a separate treatment, the facts stated here will chiefly apply to
male industries.

Tailoring.--In the tailoring trade the best kind of clothes are still
made by highly-skilled and well-paid workmen, but the bulk of the cheap
clothing is in the hands of "sweaters," who are sometimes skilled
tailors, sometimes not, and who superintend the work of cheap unskilled
hands. In London the coat trade should be distinguished from the vest
and trousers trade. The coat-making trade in East London is a closely-
defined district, with an area of one square mile, including the whole
of Whitechapel and parts of two adjoining parishes. The trade is almost
entirely in the hands of Jews, who number from thirty to forty thousand
persons. Recent investigations disclosed 906 workshops, which, in the
quality and conditions of the work done in them, may be graded according
to the number of hands employed. The larger workshops, employing from
ten to twenty-five hands or more, generally pay fair wages, and are free
from symptoms of sweating. But in the small workshops, which form about
80 per cent of the whole number, the common evils of the sweating system
assert themselves--overcrowding, bad sanitation, and excessive hours of
labour. Thirteen and fourteen hours are the nominal day's work for men;
and those workshops which do not escape the Factory Inspector assign a
nominal factory day for women; but "among the imperfectly taught workers
in the slop and stock trade, and more especially in the domestic
workshops, under-pressers, plain machinists, and fellers are in many
instances expected to 'convenience' their masters, i.e. to work for
twelve or fifteen hours in return for ten or thirteen hours' wage."[21]
The better class workers, who require some skill, get comparatively high
wages even in the smaller workshops, though the work is irregular; but
the general hands engaged in making 1s. coats, generally women, get a
maximum of _1s. 6d._, and a minimum which is indefinitely below 1s. for
a twelve hours' day. This low-class work is also hopeless. The raw hand,
or "greener" as he is called, will often work through his apprenticeship
for nominal wages; but he has the prospect of becoming a machinist, and
earning from 6s. to 10s. a day, or of becoming in his turn a sweater.
The general hand has no such hope. The lowest kind of coat-making,
however, is refused by the Jew contractor, and falls to Gentile women.
These women also undertake most of the low-class vest and trousers
making, generally take their work direct from a wholesale house, and
execute it at home, or in small workshops. The price for this work is
miserably low, partly by reason of the competition of provincial
factories, partly for reasons to be discussed in a later chapter. Women
will work for twelve or fifteen hours a day throughout the week as
"trousers finishers," for a net-earning of as little as 4s. or 5s. Such
is the condition of inferior unskilled labour in the tailoring trade. It
should however be understood that in "tailoring," as in other "sweating"
trades, the lowest figures quoted must be received with caution. The
wages of a "greener," a beginner or apprentice, should not be taken as
evidence of a low wage in the trade, for though it is a lamentable thing
that the learner should have to live upon the value of his prentice
work, it is evident that under no commercial condition could he support
himself in comfort during this period. It is the normal starvation wage
of the low-class experienced hand which is the true measure of
"sweating" in these trades. Two facts serve to give prominence to the
growth of "sweating" in the tailoring trades. During the last few years
there has been a fall of some 30 per cent, in the prices paid for the
same class of work. During the same period the irregularity of work has
increased. Even in fairly large shops the work for ordinary labour only
averages some three days in the week, while we must reckon two and a
half days for unskilled workers in smaller workshops, or working at

Among provincial towns Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds show a rapid
growth of sweating in the clothing trade. In each case the evil is
imputed to "an influx of foreigners, chiefly Jews." In each town the
same conditions appear--irregular work and wages, unsanitary conditions,
over-crowding, evasion of inspection. The growth in Leeds is remarkable.
"There are now ninety-seven Jewish workshops in the city, whereas five
years ago there were scarcely a dozen. The number of Jews engaged in the
tailoring trade is about three thousand. The whole Jewish population of
Leeds is about five thousand."[22]

Boot-making.--The hand-sewn trade, which constitutes the upper stratum
of this industry, is executed for the most part by skilled workers, who
get good wages for somewhat irregular employment. There are several
strong trade organizations, and though the hours are long, extending
occasionally to thirteen or fourteen hours, the worst forms of sweating
are not found. So too in the upper branches of machine-sewn boots, the
skilled hands get fairly high wages. But the lower grades of machine-
made boots, and the "sew-rounds," i.e. fancy shoes and slippers, which
form a large part of the industry in London, present some of the worst
features of the "sweating system." The "sweating master" plays a large
part here. "In a busy week a comparatively competent 'sweater' may earn
from 18s. to 25s. less skilful hands may get 15s. or 16s. but boys and
newly-arrived foreigners take 10s., 8s., 7s., or less; while the
masters, after paying all expenses, would, according to their own
estimates, make not less than 30s., and must, in many cases, net much
higher sums. Owing, however, to the irregularity of their employment,
the average weekly earnings of both masters and men throughout the year
fall very greatly below the amount which they can earn when in full
work."[23] For the lowest kinds of work an ordinary male hand appears to
be able to earn not more than 15s. per week. A slow worker, it is said,
would earn an average of some 10s. to 12s. per week. The hours of labour
for sweating work appear to be from fifteen to eighteen per diem, and
"greeners" not infrequently work eighteen to twenty hours a day. Women,
who are largely used in making "felt and carpet uppers," cannot, if they
work their hardest, make more than 1s. 3d. a day. In the lowest class of
work wages fall even lower. Mr. Schloss gives the wages of five men
working in a small workshop, whose average is less than 11s. a week.
These wages do not of course represent skilled work at all. Machinery
has taken over all the skilled work, and left a dull laborious monotony
of operations which a very few weeks' practice enable a completely
unskilled worker to undertake. Probably the bulk of the cheapest work is
executed by foreigners, although from figures taken in 1887, of four
typical London parishes, it appeared that only 16 per cent, of the whole
trade were foreigners. In the lower classes of goods a considerable fall
of price has occurred during the fast few years, and perhaps the most
degraded conditions of male labour are to be found in the boot trade. A
large proportion of the work throughout the trade is out-work, and
therefore escapes the operation of the Factory Act. The competition
among small employers is greatly accentuated by the existence of a form
of middleman known as the "factor," who is an agent who gets his profit
by playing off one small manufacturer against another, keeping down
prices, and consequently wages, to a minimum. A large number of the
small producers are extremely poor, and owing to the System which
enables them to obtain material from leather-merchants on short credit,
are constantly obliged to sell at a disadvantage to meet their bills.
The "factor," as a speculator, takes advantage of this to accumulate
large stocks at low prices, and throwing them on the market in large
quantities when wholesale prices rise, causes much irregularity in the

The following quotation from the Report of the Lords' Committee sums up
the chief industrial forces which are at work, and likewise illustrates
the confusion of causes with symptoms, and casual concomitants, which
marks the "common sense" investigations of intricate social phenomena.
"It will be seen from the foregoing epitome of the evidence, that
sweating in the boot trade is mainly traced by the witnesses to the
introduction of machinery, and a more complete system of subdivision of
labour, coupled with immigration from abroad and foreign competition.
Some witnesses have traced it in a great measure, if not principally, to
the action of factors; some to excessive competition among small masters
as well as men; others have accused the Trades Unions of a course of
action which has defeated the end they have in view, namely, effectual
combination, by driving work, owing to their arbitrary conduct, out of
the factory into the house of the worker, and of handicapping England in
the race with foreign countries, by setting their faces against the use
of the best machinery."[24]

Shirt-making.--Perhaps no other branch of the clothing trade shows so
large an area of utter misery as shirt-making, which is carried on,
chiefly by women, in East London. The complete absence of adequate
organization, arising from the fact that the work is entirely out-work,
done not even by clusters of women in workshops, but almost altogether
by scattered workers in their own homes, makes this perhaps the
completest example of the evils of sweating. The commoner shirts are
sold wholesale at 10s. 6d. per dozen. Of this sum, it appears that the
worker gets 2s. 11/2d., and the sweater sometimes as much as 4s. The
competition of married women enters here, for shirt-making requires
little skill and no capital; hence it can be undertaken, and often is,
by married women, anxious to increase the little and irregular earnings
of their husbands, and willing to work all day for whatever they can
get. Some of the worst cases brought before the Lords' Committee showed
that a week's work of this kind brings in a net gain of from 3s. to 5s.
It appears likely that few unmarried women or widows can undertake this
work, because it does not suffice to afford a subsistence wage. But if
this is so, it must be remembered that the competition of married women
has succeeded in underselling the unmarried women, who might otherwise
have been able to obtain this work at a wage which would have supported
life. The fact that those who work at shirt-making do not depend
entirely on it for a livelihood, is an aggravation rather than an
extenuation of the sweating character of this employment.

Sec. 4. Some minor "Sweating" Trades.--Mantle-making is also a woman's
industry. The wages are just sufficiently higher than in shirt-making to
admit the introduction of the lowest grades of unsupported female
workers. From 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d. a day can be made at this work.

Furring employs large numbers of foreign males, and some thousands of
both native and foreign females. It is almost entirely conducted in
small workshops, under the conduct of middlemen, who receive the
expensive furs from manufacturers, and hire "hands" to sew and work them
up. Wages have fallen during the last few years to the barest
subsistence point, and even below. Wages for men are put at 10s. or
12s., and in the case of girls and young women, fall as low as 4s.; a
sum which is in itself insufficient to support life, and must therefore
be only paid to women and girls who are partly subsisted by the efforts
of relatives with whom they live, or by the wages of vice.

In cabinet-making and upholstery, the same disintegrating influences
have been at work which we noted in tailoring. Many firms which formerly
executed all orders on their own premises, now buy from small factors,
and much of the lowest and least skilled work is undertaken by small
"garret-masters," or even by single workmen who hawk round their wares
for sale on their own account. The higher and skilled branches are
protected by trade organizations, and there is no evidence that wages
have fallen; but in the less skilled work, owing perhaps in part to the
competition of machinery, prices have fallen, and wages are low. There
is evidence that the sub-contract system here is sometimes carried
through several stages, much to the detriment of the workman who
actually executes the orders.

One of the most degraded among the sweating industries in the country is
chain and nail-making. The condition of the chain-makers of Cradley
Heath has called forth much public attention. The system of employment
is a somewhat complicated one. A middleman, called a "fogger," acts as a
go-between, receiving the material from the master, distributing it
among the workers, and collecting the finished product. Evidence before
the Committee shows that an accumulation of intricate forms of abuse of
power existed, including in some cases systematic evasion of the Truck
Act. Much of the work is extremely laborious, hours are long, twelve
hours forming an ordinary day, and the wage paid is the barest
subsistence wage. Much of the work done by women is quite unfit for

Sec. 5. Who is the Sweater? The Sub-contractor?--These facts relating to a
few of the principal trades in the lower branches of which "sweating"
thrives, must suffice as a general indication of the character of the
disease as it infests the inferior strata of almost all industries.

Having learnt what "sweating" means, our next question naturally takes
the form, Who is the sweater? Who is the person responsible for this
state of things? John Bull is concrete, materialistic in his feeling and
his reasoning. He wants to find an individual, or a class embodiment of
sweating. If he can find the sweater, he is prepared to loathe and
abolish him. Our indignation and humanitarianism requires a scape-goat.
As we saw, many of the cases of sweating were found where there was a
sub-contractor. To our hasty vision, here seems to be the responsible
party. Forty years ago _Alton Locke_ gave us a powerful picture of the
wicked sub-contracting tailor, who, spider-like, lured into his web the
unfortunate victim, and sucked his blood for gain. The indignation of
tender-hearted but loose-thinking philanthropists, short-visioned
working-class orators, assisted by the satire of the comic journal, has
firmly planted in the imagination of the public an ideal of an East
London sweater; an idle, bloated middleman, whose expansive waistcoat is
decorated with resplendent seals and watch-chains, who drinks his
Champagne, and smokes his perfumed cigar, as he watches complacently the
sunken faces and cowering forms of the wretched creatures whose
happiness, health, and very life are sacrificed to his heartless greed.

Now a fair study of facts show this creature to be little else than a
myth. The miseries of the sweating den are no exaggeration, they are
attested by a thousand reliable witnesses; but this monster human spider
is not found there. Though opinions differ considerably as to the
precise status of the sweating middleman, it is evident that in the
worst "sweating" trades he is not idle, and he is not rich. In cases
where the well-to-do, comfortable sub-contractor is found, he generally
pays fair wages, and does not grossly abuse his power. When the worst
features of sweating are present, the master sweater is nearly always
poor, his profits driven down by competition, so that he barely makes a
living. It is, indeed, evident that in many of the worst Whitechapel
sweating-dens the master does not on the average make a larger income
than the more highly paid of his machinists. So, too, most of these
"sweaters" work along with their hands, and work just as hard. Some,
indeed, have represented this sweating middleman as one who thrusts
himself between the proper employer and the working man in order to make
a gain for himself without performing any service. But the bulk of
evidence goes to show that the sweater, even when he does not occupy
himself in detailed manual labour, performs a useful work of
superintendence and management. "The sweater in the vast majority of
cases is the one man in the workshop who can, and does, perform each and
any branch of the trade."

For the old adage, which made a tailor the ninth part of a man, has been
completely reversed by the subdivision of work in modern industry. It
now takes more than nine men to make a tailor. We have foremen or
cutters, basters, machinists, fellers, button-holers, pressers, general
workers, &c. No fewer than twenty-five such subdivisions have been
marked in the trade. Since the so-called tailor is no tailor at all, but
a "button-holer" or "baster," it is obvious that the working of such a
system requires some one capable of general direction.

This opinion is not, however, inconsistent with the belief that such
work of "direction" or "organization" may be paid on a scale wholly out
of proportion to the real worth of the services performed. Extremely
strong evidence has been tendered to show that in many large towns,
especially in Leeds and Liverpool, the "sweating" tailor has frequently
"no practical knowledge of his trade." The ignorance and incompetence of
the working tailors enables a Jew with a business mind, by bribing
managers, to obtain a contract for work which he makes no pretence to
execute himself. His ability consists simply in the fact that he can get
more work at a cheaper rate out of the poorer workmen than the manager
of a large firm. In his capacity of middleman he is a "convenience," and
for his work, which is nominally that of master tailor, really that of
sweating manager, he gets his pay.

Part of the "service" thus rendered by the sweater is doubtless that he
acts as a screen to the employing firm. Public opinion, and "the
reputation of the firm," would not permit a well-known business to
employ the workers _directly_ under their own roof upon the terms which
the secrecy of the sweater's den enables them to pay. But in spite of
this, whether the "Jew sweater" is really a competent tailor or is a
mere "organizer" of poor labour, it should be distinctly understood that
he is paid for the performance of real work, which under the present
industrial system has a use.

Sec. 6. Different Species of Middlemen.--It may be well here to say
something on the general position of the "middleman" in commerce. The
popular notion that the "middleman" is a useless being, and that if he
could be abolished all would go well, arises from a confusion of thought
which deserves notice. This confusion springs from a failure to
understand that the "middleman" is a part of a commercial System. He is
not a mere intruder, a parasitic party, who forces his way between
employer and worker, or between producer and consumer, and without
conferring any service, extracts for himself a profit which involves a
loss to the worker or the consumer, or to both. If we examine this
notion, either by reference to facts, or from _a priori_ consideration,
we shall find it based on a superstition. "Middleman" is a broad generic
term used to describe a man through whose hands goods pass on their way
to the consuming public, but who does not appear to add any value to the
goods he handles. At any stage in the production of these goods,
previous to their final distribution, the middleman may come in and take
his profit for no visible work done. He may be a speculator, buying up
grain or timber, and holding or manipulating it in the large markets; or
he may be a wholesale merchant, who, buying directly from the fisherman,
and selling to the retail fishmonger, is supposed to be responsible for
the high price of fish; he may be the retailer who in East London is
supposed to cause the high price of vegetables.

With these species of middlemen we are not now concerned, except to say
that their work, which is that of distribution, i.e. the more convenient
disposal of forms of material wealth, may be equally important with the
work of the farmer, the fisherman, or the market-gardener, though the
latter produce changes in the shape and appearance of the goods, while
the former do not. The middleman who stands between the employing firm
and the worker is of three forms. He may undertake a piece of work for a
wholesale house, and taking the material home, execute it with the aid
of his family or outside assistants. This is the chamber-master proper,
or "sweater" in the tailoring trade. Or he may act as distributor,
receive the material, and undertake to find workers who will execute it
at their own homes, he undertaking the responsibility of collection.
Where the workers are scattered over a large city area, or over a number
of villages, this work of distribution, and its responsibility, may be
considerable. Lastly, there may be the "sub-contractor" proper, who
undertakes to do a portion of a work already contracted for, and either
finds materials and tools, and pays workers to work for him, or sublets
parts of his contract to workers who provide their own materials and
tools. The mining and building trades contain various examples of such
sub-contracts. Now in none of these cases is the middleman a mere
parasite. In every case he does work, which, though as a rule it does
not alter the material form of the goods with which it deals, adds
distinct value to them, and is under present industrial conditions
equally necessary, and equally entitled to fair remuneration with the
work of the other producers. The old maxim "nihil ex nihilo fit" is as
true in commerce as in chemistry. In a competitive society a man can get
nothing for nothing. If the middleman is a capitalist he may get
something for use of his capital; but that too implies that his capital
is put to some useful work.

Sec. 7. Work and Pay of the Middleman.--The complaint that the middleman
confers no service, and deserves no pay, is the result of two fallacies.
The first, to which allusion has been made already, consists in the
failure to recognize the work of distribution done by the middleman. The
second and more important is the confusion of mind which leads people to
conclude that because under different circumstances a particular class
of work might be dispensed with, therefore that work is under present
circumstances useless and undeserving of reward. Lawyers might be
useless if there were no dishonesty or crime, but we do not therefore
feel justified in describing as useless the present work they do. With
every progress of new inventions we are constantly rendering useless
some class or other of undoubted "workers." So the middleman in his
various capacities may be dispensed with, if the organization of
industrial society is so changed that he is no longer required; but
until such changes are affected he must get, and deserves, his pay. It
may indeed be true that certain classes of middlemen are enabled by the
position they hold to extract either from their employers or from the
public a profit which seems out of proportion to the services they
render. But this is by no means generally the case with the middleman in
his capacity of "sweater." Even where a middleman does make large
profits, we are not justified in describing such gain as excessive or
unfair, unless we are prepared to challenge the claim of "free
competition" to determine the respective money values of industrial
services. The "sweating" middleman does work which is at present
necessary; he gets pay; if we think he gets too much, are we prepared
with any rule to determine even approximately how much he ought to get?

Sec. 8. The Employer as "Sweater."--Since it appears that the middleman
often sweats others of necessity because he is himself "sweated," in the
low terms of the contract he makes, and since much of the worst
"sweating" takes place where firms of employers deal directly with the
"workers," it may seem that the blame is shifted on to the employer, and
that the real responsibility rests with him. Now is this so? When we see
an important firm representing a large capital and employing many hands,
paying a wage barely sufficient for the maintenance of life, we are apt
to accuse the employers of meanness and extortion: we say this firm
could afford to pay higher wages, but they prefer to take higher
profits; the necessity of the poor is their opportunity. Now this
accusation ought to be fairly faced. It will then be found to fall with
very different force according as it is addressed to one or other of two
classes of employers. Firms which are shielded from the full force of
the competition of capital by the possession of some patent or trade
secret, some special advantage in natural resources, locality, or
command of markets, are generally in a position which will enable them
to reap a rate of profit, the excess of which beyond the ordinary rate
of profit measures the value of the practical monopoly they possess. The
owners of a coal-mine, or a gas-works, a special brand of soap or
biscuits, or a ring of capitalists who have secured control of a market,
are often able to pay wages above the market level without endangering
their commercial position. Even in a trade like the Lancashire cotton
trade, where there is free competition among the various firms, a rapid
change in the produce market may often raise the profits of the trade,
so that all or nearly all the employing firms could afford to pay higher
wages without running any risk of failure. Now employers who are in a
position like this are morally responsible for the hardship and
degradation they inflict if they pay wages insufficient for decent
maintenance. Their excuse that they are paying the market rate of wages,
and that if their men do not choose to work for this rate there are
plenty of others who will, is no exoneration of their conduct unless it
be distinctly admitted that "moral considerations" have no place in
commerce. Employers who in the enjoyment of this superior position pay
bare subsistance wages, and defend themselves by the plea that they pay
the "market rate," are "sweaters," and the blame of sweating will
rightly attach to them.

But this is not to be regarded as the normal position of employers.
Among firms unsheltered by a monopoly, and exposed to the full force of
capitalist competition, the rate of profit is also at "the minimum of
subsistence," that is to say, if higher wages were paid to the employes,
the rate of profit would either become a negative quantity, or would be
so low that capital could no longer be obtained for investment in such a
trade. Generally it may be said that a joint-stock company and a private
firm, trading as most firms do chiefly on borrowed capital, could not
pay higher wages and stand its ground in the competition with other
firms. If a benevolent employer engaged in a manufacture exposed to open
competition undertook to raise the wages of his men twenty per cent, in
order to lift them to a level of comfort which satisfied his
benevolence, he must first sacrifice the whole of his "wage of
superintendence," and he will then find that he can only pay the
necessary interest on his borrowed capital out of his own pocket: in
fact he would find he had essayed to do what in the long run was
impossible. The individual employer under normal circumstances is no
more to blame for the low wages, long hours, &c., than is the middleman.
He could not greatly improve the industrial condition of his employes,
however much he might wish.

Sec. 9. The Purchaser as "Sweater." A third view, a little longer-sighted
than the others, casts the blame upon the purchasing public. Wages must
be low, we are told, because the purchaser insists on low prices. It is
the rage for "cheapness" which is the real cause, according to this line
of thought. Formerly the customer was content to pay a fair price for an
article to a tradesman with whom he dealt regularly, and whose interest
it was to sell him a fair article. The tradesman could thus afford to
pay the manufacturer a price which would enable him to pay decent wages,
and in return for this price he insisted upon good work being put into
the goods he bought. Thus there was no demand for bad work. Skilled work
alone could find a market, and skilled work requires the payment of
decent wages. The growth of modern competition has changed all this.
Regular custom has given way to touting and advertising, the bond of
interest between consumer and shopkeeper is broken, the latter seeks
merely to sell the largest quantity of wares to any one who will buy,
the former to pay the lowest price to any one who will sell him what he
thinks he wants. Hence a deterioration in the quality of many goods. It
is no longer the interest of many tradesmen to sell sound wares; the
consumer can no longer rely upon the recommendation of the retailer as a
skilled judge of the quality of a particular line of goods; he is thrown
back upon his own discrimination, and as an amateur he is apt to be
worsted in a bargain with a specialist. There is no reason to suppose
that customers are meaner than they used to be. They always bought
things as cheaply as they knew how to get them. The real point is that
they are less able to detect false cheapness than they used to be. Not
merely do they no longer rely upon a known and trusted retailer to
protect them from the deceits of the manufacturer, but the facilities
for deception are continually increasing. The greater complexity of
trade, the larger variety of commodities, the increased specialization
in production and distribution, the growth of "a science of
adulteration" have immensely increased the advantage which the
professional salesman possesses over the amateur customer. Hence the
growth of goods meant not for use but for sale--jerry-built houses,
adulterated food, sham cloth and leather, botched work of every sort,
designed merely to pass muster in a hurried act of sale. To such a
degree of refinement have the arts of deception been carried that the
customer is liable to be tricked and duped at every turn. It is not that
he foolishly prefers to buy a bad article at a low price, but that he
cannot rely upon his judgment to discriminate good from bad quality; he
therefore prefers to pay a low price because he has no guarantee that by
paying more he will get a better article. It is this fact, and not a
mania for cheapness, which explains the flooding of the market with bad
qualities of wares. This effectual demand for bad workmanship on the
part of the consuming public is no doubt directly responsible for many
of the worst phases of "sweating." Slop clothes and cheap boots are
turned out in large quantities by workers who have no claim to be called
tailors or shoemakers. A few weeks' practice suffices to furnish the
quantum of clumsy skill or deceit required for this work. That is to
say, the whole field of unskilled labour is a recruiting-ground for the
"sweater" or small employer in these and other clothing trades. If the
public insisted on buying good articles, and paid the price requisite
for their production, these "sweating" trades would be impossible. But
before we saddle the consuming public with the blame, we must bear in
mind the following extenuating circumstances.

Sec. 10. What the Purchaser can do.--The payment of a higher price is no
guarantee that the workers who produce the goods are not "sweated." If I
am competent to discriminate well-made goods from badly-made goods, I
shall find it to my interest to abstain from purchasing the latter, and
shall be likewise doing what I can to discourage "sweating." But by
merely paying a higher price for goods of the same quality as those
which I could buy at a lower price, I may be only putting a larger
profit in the hands of the employers of this low-skilled labour, and am
certainly doing nothing to decrease that demand for badly-made goods
which appears to be the root of the evil. The purchaser who wishes to
discourage sweating should look first to the quality of the goods he
buys, rather than to the price. Skilled labour is seldom sweated to the
same degree as unskilled labour, and a high class of workmanship will
generally be a guarantee of decent wages. In so far as the purchaser
lacks ability to accurately gauge quality, he has little security that
by paying a higher price he is securing better wages for the workers.
The so-called respectability of a well-known house is a poor guarantee
that its employes are getting decent wages, and no guarantee at all that
the workers in the various factories with which the firm deals are well
paid. It is impossible for a private customer to know that by dealing
with a given shop he is not directly or indirectly encouraging
"sweating." It might, however, be feasible for the consuming public to
appoint committees, whose special work it should be to ascertain that
goods offered in shops were produced by firms who paid decent wages. If
a "white list" of firms who paid good wages, and dealt only with
manufacturers who paid good wages, were formed, purchasers who desired
to discourage sweating would be able to feel a certain security, so far,
at any rate, as the later stages of production are concerned, which
ordinary knowledge of the world and business will not at present enable
them to obtain. The force of an organized public opinion, even that of a
respectable minority, brought to bear upon notorious "sweating" firms,
would doubtless be of great avail, if carefully applied.

At the same time, it must not for a moment be imagined that the problem
of poverty would be solved if we could insure, by the payment of higher
prices for better qualities of goods, the extermination of the sweating
trades. This low, degraded and degrading work enables large numbers of
poor inefficient workers to eke out a bare subsistence. If it were taken
away, the direct result would be an accession of poverty and misery. The
demand for skilled labour would be greater, but the unskilled labourer
cannot pass the barrier and compete for this; the overflow of helpless,
hopeless, feeble, unskilled labour would be greater than ever. Whatever
the ultimate effects of decreasing the demand for unskilled labour might
be, the misery of the immediate effects could not be lightly set aside.
This contradiction of the present certain effect and the probable future
effects confronts the philanthropist at every turn. The condition of the
London match-girls may serve as an illustration of this. Their miserable
life has rightly roused the indignation of all kind-hearted people. The
wretched earnings they take have provoked people to suggest that we
should put an end to the trade by refusing to buy from them. But since
the earnings of these girls depend entirely on the amount they sell,
this direct result of your action, prompted by humane sentiment, will be
to reduce still further these miserable earnings; that is to say, you
increase the suffering of the very persons whose lot you desire to
alleviate. You may say that you buy your matches all the same, but you
buy them at a shop where you may or may not have reason to believe that
the attendants are well paid. But that will not benefit the girls, whose
business you have destroyed; they will not be employed in the shops, for
they belong to a different grade of labour. This dilemma meets the
social reformer at each step; the complexity of industrial relations
appears to turn the chariot of progress into a Juggernaut's car, to
crush a number of innocent victims with each advance it makes. One thing
is evident, that if the consuming public were to regulate its acts of
purchase with every possible regard to the condition of the workers,
they could not ensure that every worker should have good regular work
for decent wages.

In arriving at this conclusion, we are far from maintaining that the
public even in its private capacity as a body of consumers could do
nothing. A certain portion of responsibility rests on the public, as we
saw it rested on employers and on middlemen. But the malady is rightly
traceable in its full force neither to the action of individuals nor of
industrial classes, but to the relation which subsists between these
individuals and classes; that is, to the nature and character of the
industrial system in its present working. This may seem a vague
statement, but it is correct; the desire to be prematurely definite has
led to a narrow conception of the "sweating" malady, which more than
anything else has impeded efforts at reform.

Chapter V.

The Causes of Sweating.

Sec. 1. The excessive Supply of Low-skilled Labour.--Turning to the
industrial system for an explanation of the evils of "Sweating," we
shall find three chief factors in the problem; three dominant aspects
from which the question may be regarded. They are sometimes spoken of as
the causes of sweating, but they are better described as conditions, and
even as such are not separate, but closely related at various points.

The first condition of "sweating" is an abundant and excessive supply of
low-skilled and inefficient labour. It needs no parade of economic
reasoning to show that where there are more persons willing to do a
particular kind of work than are required, the wages for that work, if
free competition is permitted, cannot be more than what is just
sufficient to induce the required number to accept the work. In other
words, where there exists any quantity of unemployed competitors for
low-skilled work, wages, hours of labour, and other conditions of
employment are so regulated, as to present an attraction which just
outweighs the alternatives open to the unemployed, viz. odd jobs,
stealing, starving, and the poor-house. In countries where access to
unused land is free, the productiveness of labour applied to such land
marks the minimum of wages possible; in countries where no such access
is possible, the minimum wages of unskilled labour, whenever the supply
exceeds the demand, is determined by the attractiveness of the
alternatives named above.

A margin of unemployed labour means a bare subsistence wage for low-
skilled labour, and it means this wage earned under industrial
conditions, such as we find under the "sweating system." In order to
keep the wage of low-skilled labour down to this minimum, which can only
rise with an improvement in the alternatives, it is not required that
there should at any time exist a large number of unemployed. A very
small number, in effective competition with those employed, will be
quite as effectual in keeping down the rate of wages. The same applies
to all grades of skilled labour, with this important difference, that
the minimum wage can never fall below what is required to induce less
skilled workers to acquire and apply the extra skill which will enable
them to furnish the requisite supply of highly-skilled workers. Trade
Unions have instinctively directed all their efforts to preventing the
competition of unemployed workers in their respective trades from
pulling down to its minimum the rate of wages. The strongest of those
have succeeded in establishing a standard wage less than which no one
shall accept; unemployed men, who in free competition would accept less
than this standard wage, are supported by the funds of the Union, that
they may not underbid. Unions of comparatively unskilled workers, who
are never free from the competition of unemployed, and who cannot
undertake permanently to buy off all competitors ready to underbid,
endeavour to limit the numbers of their members, and to prevent
outsiders from effectively competing with them in the labour market, in
order that by restricting the supply of labour, they may prevent a fall
of wages. The importance of these movements for us consists in their
firm but tacit recognition of the fact, that an excessive supply of
unskilled labour lies at the root of the industrial disease of

Sec. 2. The Contributing Causes of excessive Supply.--The last two chapters
have dealt with the principal large industrial movements which bear on
this supply of excessive low-skilled labour; but to make the question
clear, it will be well to enumerate the various contributing causes.

[Greek: a]. The influx of rural population into the towns constantly
swells the supply of raw unskilled labour. The better quality of this
agricultural labour, as we saw, does not continue to form part of this
glut, but rises into more skilled and higher paid strata of labour. The
worse quality forms a permanent addition to the mass of inefficient
labour competing for bare subsistence wages.

[Greek: b]. The steady flow of cheap unskilled foreign labour into our
large cities, especially into London, swollen by occasional floods of
compulsory exiles, adds an element whose competition as a part of the
mass of unskilled labour is injurious out of proportion to its numerical

[Greek: g]. Since this foreign immigration weakens the industrial
condition of our low-skilled native labour by increasing the supply, it
will be evident that any cause which decreases the demand for such
labour will operate in the same way. The free importation from abroad of
goods which compete in our markets with the goods which "sweated" labour
is applied to make, has the same effect upon the workers in "sweating"
trades as the introduction of cheap foreign labour. The one diminishes
the demand, the other increases the supply of unskilled or low-skilled
labour. The import of quantities of German-made cheap clothing into East
London shops, to compete with native manufacture of the same goods, will
have precisely the same force in maintaining "sweating," as will the
introduction of German workers, who shall make these same clothes in
East London itself. In each case, the purchasing public reaps the
advantage of cheap labour in low prices, while the workers suffer in low
wages. The contention that English goods made at home must be exported
to pay for the cheap German goods, furnishes no answer from the point of
view of the low-skilled worker, unless these exports embody the kind of
labour of which he is capable.

[Greek: d]. The constant introduction of new machinery, as a substitute
for skilled hand-labour, by robbing of its value the skill of certain
classes of workers, adds these to the supply of low-skilled labour.

[Greek: e]. The growth of machinery and of education, by placing women
and young persons more upon an equality with male adult labour, swells
the supply of low-skilled labour in certain branches of work. Women and
young persons either take the places once occupied by men, or undertake
new work (e.g. in post-office or telegraph-office), which would once
have been open only to the competition of men. This growth of the direct
or indirect competition of women and young persons, must be considered
as operating to swell the general supply of unskilled labour.

[Greek: z]. In London another temporary, but important, factor must be
noted. The competition of provincial factories has proved too strong for
London factories in many industries. Hence of late years a gradual
transfer of manufacture from London to the provinces. A large number of
workers in London factories have found themselves out of work. The
break-up of the London factories has furnished "sweating trades" with a
large quantity of unemployed and starving people from whom to draw.

Regarded from the widest economic point of view, the existence of an
excessive supply of labour seeking employments open to free competition
must be regarded as the most important aspect of the "sweating system."
The recent condition of the competition for casual dock-labour brought
dramatically to the foreground this factor in the labour question. The
struggle for livelihood was there reduced to its lowest and most brutal
terms. "There is a place at the London Docks called the cage, a sort of
pen fenced off by iron railings. I have seen three hundred half-starved
dockers crowded round this cage, when perhaps a ganger would appear
wanting three hands, and the awful struggle of these three hundred
famished wretches fighting for that opportunity to get two or three
hours' work has left an impression upon me that can never be effaced.
Why, I have actually seen them clambering over each other's backs to
reach the coveted ticket. I have frequently seen men emerge bleeding and
breathless, with their clothes pretty well torn off their backs." The
competition described in this picture only differs from other
competitions for low-skilled town labour in as much as the conditions of
tender gave a tragical concentration to the display of industrial
forces. This picture, exaggerated as it will appear to those who have
not seen it, brings home to us the essential character of free
competition for low-skilled labour where the normal supply is in excess
of the demand. If other forms of low-skilled labour were put up to be
scrambled for in the same public manner, the scene would be repeated _ad
nauseam_. But because the competition of seamstresses, tailors, shirt-
finishers, fur-sewers, &c., is conducted more quietly and privately, it
is not less intense, not less miserable, and not less degrading. This
struggle for life in the shape of work for bare subsistence wages, is
the true logical and necessary outcome of free competition among an over
supply of low-skilled labourers.

Sec. 3. The Multiplication of "Small Masters."--Having made so much
progress in our analysis, we shall approach more intelligently another
important aspect of the "sweating system." Mr. Booth and other
investigators find the tap-root of the disease to consist in the
multiplication of small masters. The leading industrial forces of the
age, as we have seen, make for the concentration of labour in larger and
larger masses, and its employment in larger and larger factories. Yet in
London and in certain other large centres of population, we find certain
trades which are still conducted on a small scale in little workshops or
private houses, and those trades furnish a very large proportion of the
worst examples of "sweating." Here is a case of arrested development in
the evolution of industry. It is even worse than that; for some trades
which had been subject to the concentrating force of the factory system,
have fallen into a sort of back-wash of the industrial current, and
broken up again into smaller units. The increased proportion of the
clothing industries conducted in private houses and small workshops is
the most notorious example. This applies not only to East London, but to
Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, and other large cities, especially where
foreign labour has penetrated. For a large proportion of the sweating
workshops, especially in clothing trades, are supported by foreign
labour. In Liverpool during the last ten years the substitution of home-
workers for workers in tailors' shops has been marked, and in particular
does this growth of home-workers apply to women.

A credible witness before the Lords' Committee stated that "at the
present moment it would be safe to say that two-thirds of the sweaters
in Liverpool are foreigners," coming chiefly from Germany and Russian
Poland. In Leeds sixteen years ago there were only twelve Jewish
workshops; there are now some hundreds.

Since a very large proportion of the worst sweating occurs in trades
where the work is given out, either directly or by the medium of sub-
contract, to home-workers, it is natural that stress should be laid upon
the small private workshops as the centre of the disease. If the work
could only be got away from the home and the small workshop, where
inspection is impracticable, and done in the factory or large workshop,
where limitations of hours of labour and sanitary conditions could be
enforced, where the force of public opinion could secure the payment of
decent wages, and where organization among workers would be possible,
the worst phases of the malady would disappear. The abolition of the
small workshop is the great object of a large number of practical
reformers who have studied the sweating system. The following opinion of
an expert witness is endorsed by many students of the question--"If the
employers were compelled to obtain workshops, and the goods were made
under a factory system, we believe that they could be made quite as
cheaply under that system, with greater comfort to the workers, in
shorter hours; and that the profits would then be distributed among the
workers, so that the public would obtain their goods at the same
price."[25] It is maintained that the inferior qualities of shoes are
produced and sold more cheaply in the United States by a larger use of
machinery under the factory system, than in London under a sweating
system, though wages are, of course, much higher in America. Moreover,
many of the products of the London sweating trades are competing on
almost equal terms with the products of provincial factories, where
machines are used instead of hand-labour.

Sec. 4. Economic Advantages of "Small Workshops."--The question we have to
answer is this--Why has the small workshop survived and grown up in
London and other large cities, in direct antagonism to the prevalent
industrial movement of the age? It is evident that the small workshop
system must possess some industrial advantages which enable it to hold
its own. The following considerations throw light upon this subject.

1. A larger proportion of the work in sweating trades is work for which
there is a very irregular demand. Irregularity of employment, or, more
accurately speaking, insufficiency of employment--for the "irregularity"
is itself regular--forms one of the most terrible phases of the sweating
system. The lower you descend in the ranks of labour the worse it is. A
large number of the trades, especially where women are employed, are
trades where the elements of "season" and fashion enter in. But even
those which, like tailoring, shirtmaking, shoemaking, furniture and
upholstery, would seem less subject to periodic or purely capricious
changes, are liable in fact to grave and frequent fluctuations of the
market. The average employment in sweating trades is roughly estimated
at three or four days in the week. There are two busy seasons lasting
some six weeks each, when these miserable creatures are habitually
overworked. "The remaining nine months," says Mr. Burnett, "do not
average more than half time, especially among the lower grade workers."

This gives us one clue to the ability of the small workshop to survive--
its superior flexibility from the point of view of the employer.

"High organization makes for regularity; low organization lends itself
to the opposite. A large factory cannot stop at all without serious
loss; a full-sized workshop will make great efforts to keep going; but
the man who employs only two or three others in his own house can, if
work fails, send them all adrift to pick up a living as best they

Since a smaller sweating-master can set up business on some L2 capital,
and does not expect to make much more profit as employer than as
workman, he is able to change from one capacity to the other with great

2. The high rent for large business premises, especially in London,
makes for the small workshop or home-work system. The payment of rent is
thus avoided by the business firm which is the real employer, and thrown
upon the sub-contractor or the workers themselves, to be by them in
their turn generally evaded by using the dwelling-room for a workshop.
Thus one of the most glaring evils of the sweating system is seen to
form a distinct economic advantage in the workshop, as compared with the
large factory. The element of rent is practically eliminated as an
industrial charge.

3. The evasion of the restrictions of the Factory Act must be regarded
as another economic advantage. Excessive hours of labour when
convenient, overcrowding in order to avoid rent, absence of proper
sanitary conditions, are essential to the cheapest forms of production
under present conditions. It does not pay either the employing firm or
the sub-contractor to consider the health or even the life of the
workers, provided that the state of the labour market is such that they
can easily replace spent lives.

4. The inability to combine for their mutual protection and advantage of
scattered employes working in small bodies, living apart, and
unacquainted even with the existence of one another, is another
"cheapness" of the workshop system.

5. The fact that so large a proportion of master-sweaters are Jews has a
special significance. It seems to imply that the poorer class of
immigrant Jews possess a natural aptitude for the position, and that
their presence in our large cities furnishes the corner-stone of the
vicious system. Independence and mastery are conditions which have a
market value for all men, but especially for the timid and often down-
trodden Jew. Most men will contentedly receive less as master than as
servant, but especially the Jew. We saw that the immigrant Jew, by his
capacities and inclinations, was induced to make special efforts to
substitute work of management for manual labour, and to become a profit-
maker instead of a wage-earner. The Jew craves the position of a
sweating-master, because that is the lowest step in a ladder which may
lead to a life of magnificence, supported out of usury. The Jewish Board
of Guardians in London, though its philanthropic action is on the whole
more enlightened than that of most wealthy public bodies, has been
responsible in no small measure for this artificial multiplication of
small masters. A very large proportion of the funds which they dispensed
was given or lent in small sums in order to enable poor Jews "to set up
for themselves." The effect of this was twofold. It first assisted to
draw to London numbers of continental Jews, who struggled as "greeners"
under sweaters for six months, until they were qualified for assistance
from the Jewish Board of Guardians. It then enabled them to set up as
small masters, and sweat other "greeners" as they themselves were
sweated. It was quite true that the object of such charity was the most
useful which any society could undertake; namely, that of assisting the
industrially weak to stand on their own legs. But it was unfortunately
true that this early stage of independence was built upon the miserable
dependence of other workers.

6. But while, as we see, there are many special conditions which, in
London especially, favour the small workshop, the most important will be
found to consist in the large supply of cheap unskilled labour. This is
the real material out of which the small workshop system is built. In
dealing with the other conditions, we shall find that they all
presuppose this abundant supply of labour. If labour were more scarce,
and wages therefore higher, the small workshop would be impossible, for
the absolute economy of labour, effected by the factory organization
with its larger use of machinery, would far outweigh the number of small
economies which, as we have seen, at present in certain trades, favour
and make possible the small workshop. Every limitation in the supply of
this low-skilled labour, every expansion of the alternatives offered by
emigration, access to free land, &c., will be effectual in crushing a
number of the sweating workshops, and favouring the large factory at
their expense.

Sec. 5. Irresponsibility of Employers.--The third view of the sweating
System lays stress upon its moral aspect, and finds its chief cause in
the irresponsibility of the employer. Now we have already seen that this
severance of the personal relation between employer and employed is a
necessary result of the establishment of the large factory as the
industrial unit, and of the ever-growing complexity of modern commerce.
It is not merely that the widening gap of social position between
employer and employed, and the increased number of the latter, make the
previous close relation impossible. Quite as important is the fact that
the real employer in modern industry is growing more "impersonal." What
we mean is this. The nominal employer or manager is not the real
employer. The real employer of labour is capital, and it is to the
owners of the capital in any business that we must chiefly look for the
exercise of such responsibility as rightly subsists between employer and
employed. Now, while it is calculated that one-eighth of the business of
England is in the hands of joint-stock companies, constituting far more
than one-eighth of the large businesses, in the great majority of other
cases, where business is conducted on a large scale, the head of the
business is to a great extent a mere manager of other people's capital.
Thus while the manager's sense of personal responsibility is weakened by
the number of "hands" whom he employs, his freedom of action is likewise
crippled by his obligation to subserve the interests of a body of
capitalists who are in ignorance of the very names and number of the
human beings whose destiny they are controlling. The severance of the
real "employer" from his "hands" is thus far more complete than would
appear from mere attention to the growth in the size of the average
business. Now it must not be supposed that this severance of the
personal relation between employer and employed is of necessity a loss
to the latter. There is no reason to suppose that the close relation
subsisting in the old days between the master and his journeymen and
apprentices was as a rule idyllically beautiful. No doubt the control of
the master was often vexatious and despotic. The tyranny of a heartless
employer under the old system was probably much more injurious than the
apathy of the most vulgar plutocrat of to-day. The employe under the
modern system is less subject to petty spite and unjust interference on
the part of his employer. In this sense he is more free. But on the
other hand, he has lost that guarantee against utter destitution and
degradation afforded by the humanity of the better class of masters. He
has exchanged a human nexus for a "cash nexus." The nominal freedom of
this cash relationship is in the case of the upper strata of workmen
probably a real freedom; the irresponsibility of their employers has
educated them to more self-reliance, and strengthened a healthy
personality in them. It is the lower class of workers who suffer. More
and more they need the humanity of the responsible employer to protect
them against the rigours of the labour-market. The worst miseries of the
early factory times were due directly to the break-up of the
responsibility of employers. This was slowly recognized by the people of
England, and the series of Factory Acts, Employers' Liability Acts, and
other measures for the protection of labour, must be regarded as a
national attempt to build up a compulsory legal responsibility to be
imposed upon employers in place of a natural responsibility based on
moral feeling. We draft legislation and appoint inspectors to teach
employers their duty towards employes, and to ensure that they do it.
Thus in certain industries we have patched up an artificial mechanism of

Wherever this legal responsibility is not enforced in the case of low-
skilled workers, we have, or are liable to have, "sweating." Glancing
superficially at the small workshop or sweating-den, it might seem that
this being a mere survival of the old system, the legal enforcement of
responsibility would be unnecessary. But it is not a mere survival. In
the small workshop of the old system the master was the real employer.
In the modern "sweating" den he is not the real employer, but a mere
link between the employing firm and the worker. From this point of view
we must assign as the true cause of sweating, the evasion of the legal
responsibility of the Factory Act rendered possible to firms which
employ outside workers either directly or indirectly through the agency
of "sweaters." Although it might be prudent as a means of breaking up
the small workshop to attempt to impose upon the "middleman" the legal
responsibility, genuine reform directed to this aspect of "sweating,"
can only operate by making the real employing firm directly responsible
for the industrial condition of its outdoor direct or indirect employes.

This responsibility imposed by law has been strengthened as an effective
safeguard of the interests of the workers by combination among the
latter. In skilled industries where strong trade organization exists,
the practical value of such combination exceeds the value of restrictive

"In their essence Trade Unions are voluntary associations of workmen,
for mutual protection and assistance in securing the most favourable
conditions of labour." "This is their primary and fundamental object,
and includes all efforts to raise wages or prevent a reduction of wages;
to diminish the hours of labour or resist attempts to increase the
working hours; and to regulate all matters pertaining to methods of
employment or discharge, and modes of working."[27] Engineers, boiler-
makers, cotton-spinners, printers, would more readily give up the
assistance given them by legislative restriction than the power which
they have secured for themselves by combination. It is in proportion as
trade combination is weak that the actual protection afforded by Factory
and Employers' Liability Acts become important. Just as we saw that
sweating trades were those which escaped the legislative eye; so we see
that they are also the trades where effective combination does not
exist. Where Trade Unions are strong, sweating cannot make any way. The
State aid of restrictive legislation, and the self help of private
combination are alike wanting to the "sweated" workers.

Chapter VI.

Remedies for Sweating.

Sec. 1. Factory Legislation. What it can do.--Having now set forth the
three aspects of the industrial disease of "Sweating"--the excessive
supply of unskilled labour, the multiplication of small employers, the
irresponsibility of capital--we have next to ask, What is the nature of
the proposed remedies? Since any full discussion of the different
remedies is here impossible, it must suffice if we briefly indicate the
application of the chief proposed remedies to the different aspects of
the disease. These remedies will fairly fall into three classes.

The first class aim at attacking by legislative means, the small
workshop system, and the evils of long hours and unsanitary conditions
from which the "sweated" workers suffer. Briefly, it may be said that
they seek to increase and to enforce the legal responsibility of
employers, and indirectly to crush the small workshop system by turning
upon it the wholesome light of publicity, and imposing certain irksome
and expensive conditions which will make its survival in its worst and
ugliest shapes impossible. The most practical recommendation of the
Report of the Lords' Committee is an extension of the sanitary clauses
of the Factory Act, so as to reach all workshops.

We have seen that the unrestricted use of cheap labour is the essence of
"sweating." If the wholesome restrictions of our Factory Legislation
were in fact extended so as to cover all forms of employment, they would
so increase the expenses of the sweating houses, that they would fall
before the competition of the large factory system. Karl Marx writing a
generation ago saw this most clearly. "But as regards labour in the so-
called domestic industries, and the intermediate forms between this and
manufacture, so soon as limits are put to the working day and to the
employment of children, these industries go to the wall. Unlimited
exploitation of cheap labour power is the sole foundation of their power
to compete."[28]

The effectiveness of the existing Factory Act, so far as relates to
small workshops, is impaired by the following considerations--

1. The difficulty in finding small workshops. There is no effectual
registration of workshops, and the number of inspectors is inadequate to
the elaborate and tedious method of search imposed by the present

2. The limitation as to right of entry. The power of inspectors to
"enter, inspect, and examine at all reasonable times by day or night, a
factory or a workshop, and every part thereof, when he has reason to
believe that any person is employed therein, and to enter by day any
place he has reasonable cause to believe to be a factory or workshop,"
is in fact not applicable in the case of dwelling-rooms used for
workshops. In a large number of cases of the worst form of "sweating,"
the inspector has no right of entrance but by consent of the occupant,
and the time which elapses before such consent is given suffices to
enable the "sweater" to adjust matters so as to remove all evidence of
infringements of the law.

3. The restricted power in reference to sanitation. A factory inspector
has no sanitary powers; he cannot act save through the sanitary officer.
The machinery of sanitary reform thus loses effectiveness.

Compulsory registration of workshops, adequate inspection, and reform of
machinery of sanitary reform, would be of material value in dealing with
some of the evils of the small workshop. But it would by no means put an
end to "sweating." So far as it admitted the continuance of the small
workshop, it would neither directly nor indirectly abate the evil of low
wages. It is even possible that any rapid extension of the Factory Act
might, by limiting the amount of employment in small workshops, increase
for a time the misery of those low-skilled workers, who might be
incapable of undertaking regular work in the larger factory. It is, at
any rate, not evident that such legislative reform would assist low-
class workers to obtain decent wages and regular employment, though it
would improve the other conditions under which they worked.

Again, existing factory legislation by no means covers even
theoretically the whole field of "sweating." Public-houses, restaurants,
all shops and places of amusement, laundries, and certain other
important forms of employment, which escape the present factory
legislation, are in their lower branches liable to the evils of
"sweating," and should be included under such factory legislation as
seeks to remedy these evils.

Sec. 2. Co-operative Production.--The organization of labour is the second
form of remedy. It is urged that wherever effective organization exists
in any trade, there is no danger of sweating. We have therefore, it is
maintained, only to organize the lower grades of labour, and "sweating"
will cease to exist. There are two forms of organization commonly
advocated, Co-operation and Trade Unionism.

The suggestion that the poorer grades of workers should by co-operative
production seek to relieve themselves from the stress of poverty and the
tyranny of the "sweating system," is a counsel of perfection far removed
from the possibility of present attainment. No one who has closely
studied the growth of productive co-operation in England will regard it
as a practicable remedy for poverty. Productive co-operation is
successful at present only in rare cases among skilled workmen of
exceptional morale and education. It is impossible that it should be
practised by low-skilled, low-waged workers, under industrial conditions
like those of to-day. It is surprising to find that the Lords' Committee
in its final report should have given prominence to schemes of co-
operation as a cure for the disease. The following paragraph correctly
sums up experience upon the subject--

"Productive societies have been from time to time started in East
London, but their career has been neither long nor brilliant. They have
often had a semi-philanthropic basis, and have been well-meant but
hopeless attempts to supersede 'sweating' by co-operation. None now
working are of sufficient importance to be mentioned."[29]

The place which productive and distributive co-operation is destined to
occupy in the history of the industrial freedom and elevation of the
masses doubtless will be of the first importance. To look forward to a
time when the workers of the community may be grouped in co-operative
bodies, either competing with one another, or related by some bond which
shall minimize the friction of competition, while not impairing the
freedom and integrity of each several group, is not perhaps a wild
utopian vision. To students of English industrial history the transition
to such a state will not appear more marked than the transition through
which industry passed under the Industrial Revolution to the present
capitalist system. But the recognition of this possible future does not
justify us in suggesting productive co-operation as a present remedy for
the poverty of low-skilled city workers. These latter must rise several
steps on the industrial and moral ladder before they are brought within
the reach of the co-operative remedy. It is with the cost and labour of
these early steps that the students of the problem of present poverty
must concern themselves.

Sec. 3. Trade Unionism. Ability of Workers to combine. Trade Unionism is a
more hopeful remedy. Large bodies of workers have by this means helped
to raise themselves from a condition of industrial weakness to one of
industrial strength. Why should not close combination among workers in
low-paid and sweating industries be attended with like results? Why
should not the men and women working in "sweating" trades combine, and
insist upon higher wages, shorter hours, more regular employment, and
better sanitary conditions? Well, it may be regarded as an axiom in
practical economies, that any concerted action, however weak and
desultory, has its value. Union is always strength. An employer who can
easily resist any number of individual claims for higher wages by his
power to replace each worker by an outsider, can less easily resist the
united pressure of a large body of his workmen, because the
inconvenience of replacing them all at once by a body of outsiders, is
far greater than the added difficulty of replacing each of them at
separate intervals of time. This is the basis of the power of concerted
action among workers. But the measure of this power depends in the main
upon two considerations.

First comes the degree of effectiveness in combination. The prime
requisites for effective combination are a spirit of comradeship and
mutual trust, knowledge and self-restraint in the disposition of united
force. Education and free and frequent intercourse can alone establish
these elements of effective combination. And here the first difficulty
for workers in "sweating" trades appears. Low-skilled work implies a low
degree of intelligence and education. The sweating industries, as we
have seen, are as a rule those which escape the centralizing influence
of the factory System, and where the employes work, either singly or in
small groups, unknown to one another, and with few opportunities of
forming a close mutual understanding. In some employments this local
severance belongs to the essence of the work, as, for example, in the
case of cab-drivers, omnibus-drivers, and generally in shop-work, where,
in spite of the growth of large stores, small masters still predominate;
in other employments the disunion of workers forms a distinct commercial
advantage which enables such low-class industries to survive, as in the
small workshop and the home-labour, which form the central crux of our
sweating problem. The very lack of leisure, and the incessant strain
upon the physique which belong to "sweating," contribute to retard
education, and to render mutual acquaintanceship and the formation of a
distinct trade interest extremely difficult. How to overcome these grave
difficulties which stand in the way of effective combination among
unskilled workers is a consideration of the first importance. The rapid
and momentarily successful action of organized dock labourers must not
be taken as conclusive evidence that combination in all other branches
of low-class labour can proceed at the same pace. The public and
localized character of the competition for casual dock labour rendered
effective combination here possible, in spite of the low intellectual
and moral calibre of the average labourer. It is the absence of such
public and localized competition which is the kernel of the difficulty
in most "sweating" trades. It may be safely said that the measure of
progress in organization of low class labour will be the comparative
size and localization of the industrial unit. Where "sweating" exists in
large factories or large shops, effective combination even among workers
of low education may be tolerably rapid; among workers engaged by some
large firm whose work brings them only into occasional contact, the
progress will be not so fast; among workers in small unrelated workshops
who have no opportunities of direct intercourse with one another, the
progress will be extremely slow. The most urgent need of organization is
precisely in those industries where it is most difficult to organize. It
is, on the whole, not reasonable to expect that this remedy, unless
aided by other forces working against the small workshops, will enable
the "hands" in the small sweater's den to materially improve their

Sec. 4. Trade Union Methods of limiting Competition.--So far we have
regarded the value of combination as dependent on the ability of workers
to combine. There is another side which cannot be neglected. Two
societies of workmen equally strong in the moral qualities of successful
union may differ widely in the influence they can exert to secure and
improve their position. We saw that the real value of organization to a
body of workmen lay in the power it gave them to make it inconvenient
for an employer to dispense with their services in favour of outsiders.
Now the degree of this inconvenience will obviously depend in great
measure upon the number of outsiders qualified by strength and skill to
take their place without delay. The whole force of Unionism hangs on
"the unemployed." The strongest and most effective Unions are in trades
where there are the smallest number of unemployed competitors; the
weakest Unions are in trades which are beset by crowds of outsiders able
and willing to undertake the work, and if necessary to underbid those
who are employed.

Close attention to the composition and working of our Trade Unions
discloses the fact that their chief object is to limit the competition
for work in their respective trades. Since their methods are sometimes
indirect, this is sometimes denied, but the following statement of Trade
Union methods makes it clear. The minimum or standard rate of wages
plays a prominent part in Unionism. It is arbitrarily fixed by the
Union, which in its estimate takes into account, [Greek: a]. prices paid
for articles produced; [Greek: b]. a reasonable standard of comfort;
[Greek: g]. and remuneration for time spent in acquiring necessary
skill.[30] This is an estimate, it must be remembered, of a "fair wage,"
based upon calculations as to what is just and reasonable, and does not
necessarily correspond to the economic wage obtainable in a
neighbourhood by the free competition of labour and capital. Now this
standard wage, which may or may not be the wage actually paid, plays a
very prominent part in Unionism. The point of importance here is its
bearing on the admission of new members. The candidate for membership
has, as his principal qualification, to show that he is capable of
earning the standard rate of wages. It is evident, however, that the
effect of any large new accession to the ranks of any trade must, unless
there is a corresponding growth of employment, bring down the rate of
wages, whether these be fixed by a Trade Union standard or not. Hence it
is evident that any Trade Union would be bound to refuse admission to
new applicants who, though they might be in other respects competent
workmen, could not find work without under-bidding those who were at
present occupied. This they would do by reason of their standard wage
qualification, for they would be able to show that the new applicants
would not be competent to earn standard wages under the circumstances.
How far Trade Unions actually have conscious recourse to this method of
limiting their numbers, may be doubted; but no one acquainted with the
spirit of Trades Unions would believe that if a sudden growth of
technical schools enabled large numbers of duly qualified youths to
apply for admission into the various Unions so as to compete for the
same quantity of work with the body of existing members, the Unions of
the latter would freely and cheerfully admit them. To do so would be
suicidal, for no standard rate of wages could stand against the pressure
of an increased supply of labour upon a fixed demand. But it is not
necessary to suppose that any considerable number of actually qualified
workmen are refused admission to Trade Unions of skilled workers. For
the possession of the requisite skill, implying as it does a certain
natural capacity, and an expenditure of time and money not within the
power of the poorest classes, forms a practical limit to the number of
applicants. Moreover, in many trades, though by no means in all,
restrictions are placed by the Unions upon the number of apprentices,
with the object of limiting the number of those who should from year to
year be qualified to compete for work. In other trades where no rigid
rule to this effect exists, there is an understanding which is equally
effective. Certain trades, such as the engineers, boiler-makers, and
other branches of iron trade, place no restrictions, and in certain
other trades the restrictions are not closely applied. But most of the
strong Trades Unions protect themselves in another way against the
competition of unemployed. By a System of "out of work" pay, they bribe
those of their body, who from time to time are thrown out of work, not
to underbid those in work, so as to bring down the rate of wages.
Several of the most important Unions pay large sums every year to "out
of work" members. By these three means, the "minimum wage" qualification
for membership, the limitation of the number of apprentices, and the
"out of work" fund, the Trade Unions strengthen the power of organized
labour in skilled industries by restricting the competition of
unemployed outsiders.

It is true that some of the leading exponents of Trade Unionism deny
that the chief object of the Unions is to limit competition. Mr. Howell
considers that the "standard wage" qualification for membership is
designed in order to ensure a high standard of workmanship, and regards
the "out of work" fund merely as belonging to the insurance or
prudential side of Trade Unionism. But though it may readily be admitted
that one effect of these measures may be to maintain good workmanship
and to relieve distress, it is reasonable to regard the most important
result actually attained as being the object chiefly sought. It is fair
to suppose, therefore, that while Unionists may not be indifferent to
the honour of their craft, their principal object is to strengthen their
economic position. At any rate, whatever the intention of Trade Unions
may be, the principal effect of their regulations is to limit the
effective supply of competing labour in their respective branches of

Sec. 5. Can Low-skilled Workers successfully combine?--Now the question
which concerns our inquiry may be stated thus. Supposing that the
workers in "sweating" industries were able to combine, would they be
able to secure themselves against outside competition as the skilled
worker does? Will their combination practically increase the difficulty
in replacing them by outsiders? Now it will be evident that the
unskilled or low-skilled workers cannot depend upon the methods which
are adopted by Unions of skilled workers, to limit the number of
competitors for work. A test of physical fitness, such as was recently
proposed as a qualification for admission to the Dock-labourers Union,
will not, unless raised far above the average fitness of present
members, limit the number of applicants to anything like the same extent
as the test of workmanship in skilled industries. Neither could rules of
apprenticeship act where the special skill required was very small. Nor
again is it easy to see how funds raised by the contribution of the
poorest classes of workers, could suffice to support unemployed members
when temporarily "out of work," or to buy off the active competition of
outsiders, or "black-legs," to use the term in vogue. The constant
influx of unskilled labour from the rural districts and from abroad,
swollen by the numbers of skilled workmen whose skill has been robbed of
its value by machinery, keeps a large continual margin of unemployed,
able and willing to undertake any kind of unskilled or low-skilled
labour, which will provide a minimum subsistence wage. The very success
which attends the efforts of skilled workers to limit the effective
supply of their labour by making it more difficult for unskilled workers
to enter their ranks, increases the competition for low-skilled work,
and makes effective combination among low-skilled workers more
difficult. Though we may not be inclined to agree with Prof. Jevons,
that "it is quite impossible for Trade Unions in general to effect any
permanent increase of wages," there is much force in his conclusion,
that "every rise of wages which one body secures by mere exclusive
combination, represents a certain extent, sometimes a large extent, of
injury to the other bodies of workmen."[31] In so far as Unions of
skilled workers limit their numbers, they increase the number of
competitors for unskilled work; and since wages cannot rise when the
supply of labour obtainable at the present rate exceeds the demand,
their action helps to maintain that "bare subsistence wage," which forms
a leading feature in "sweating."

Are we then to regard Unions of low-skilled workers as quite impotent so
long as they are beset by the competition of innumerable outsiders? Can
combination contribute nothing to a solution of the sweating problem?
There are two ways in which close combination might seem to avail low-
skilled workers in their endeavours to secure better industrial

In the first place, close united action of a large body of men engaged
in any employment gives them, as we saw, a certain power dependent on
the inconvenience and expense they can cause to their employers by a
sudden withdrawal. This power is, of course, in part measured by the
number of unemployed easily procurable to take their place. But granted
the largest possible margin of unemployed, there will always be a
certain difficulty and loss in replacing a united body of employes by a
body of outsiders, though the working capacity of each new-comer may be
equal to that of each member of the former gang. This power belonging
inherently to those in possession, and largely dependent for its
practical utility on close unity of action, may always be worked by a
trade organization to push the interests of its members independently of
the supply of free outside labour, and used by slow degrees may be made
a means of gaining piece by piece a considerable industrial gain. Care
must, however, be taken, never to press for a larger gain than is
covered by the difficulty of replacing the body of present employes by
outside labour. Miscalculations of the amount of this inherent power of
Union are the chief causes of "lock-outs" and failures in strikes.

Another weapon in the hands of unskilled combination, less calculable in
its effectiveness, is the force of public opinion aided by "picketing,"
and the other machinery of persuasion or coercion used to prevent the
effective competition of "free" labour. In certain crises, as for
example in the Dock strike of 1889, these forces may operate so
powerfully as to strictly limit the supply of labour, and to shut out
the competition of unemployed. There can be no reason to doubt that if
public authority had not winked at illegal coercion of outside labour,
and public opinion touched by sentiment condoned the winking, the Dock
strike would have failed as other movements of low-skilled labour have
generally failed. The success of the Dockers is no measure of the power
of combination among low-skilled labourers. It is possible, however,
that a growing sense of comradeship, aided by a general recognition of
the justice of a claim, may be generally relied upon to furnish a
certain force which shall restrict the competition of free labour in
critical junctures of the labour movement. If public opinion, especially
among workmen, becomes strongly set in favour of letting capital and
labour "fight it out" in cases of trade disputes, and vigorously resents
all interference of outsiders offering to replace the contending
labourers, it seems likely that this practical elimination of outside
competition may enable combinations of unskilled workmen to materially
improve their condition in spite of the existence of a large supply of
outside labour able to replace them.

Sec. 6. Can Trade Unionism crush out "Sweating"?--But here again it must be
recognized that each movement of public opinion in this direction is
really making for the establishment of new trade monopolies, which tend
to aggravate the condition of free unemployed labour. Unions of low-
skilled labour can only be successful at the expanse of outsiders, who
will find it increasingly difficult to get employment. The success of
combinations of low-skilled workers will close one by one every avenue
of regular employment to the unemployed, who will tend to become even
more nomadic and predatory in their habits, and more irregular and
miserable in their lives, affording continually a larger field of
operation for the small "sweater," and other forms of "arrested
development" in commerce. It must always be an absorbing interest to a
Trades Union to maintain the industrial welfare of its members by
preventing what it must regard as an "over-supply" of labour. No
organization of labour can effect very much unless it takes measures to
restrict the competition of "free labour"; each Union, by limiting the
number of competitors for its work, increases the competition in trades
not similarly protected. So with every growth of Trade Unionism the
pressure on unprotected bodies of workmen grows greater. Thus it would
seem that while organization of labour may become a real remedy for
"sweating" in any industry to which it is vigorously applied, it cannot
be relied upon ever entirely to crash out the evil. It can only drive it
into a smaller compass, where its intenser character may secure for it
that close and vigorous public attention which, in spite of recent
revelations, has not been yet secured, and compel society to clearly
face the problem of a residue of labour-power which is rotting in the
miserable and degraded bodies of its owners, because all the material on
which it might be productively employed is otherwise engaged.

Sec. 7. Public Workshops.--Those who are most active in the spread of
Unionism among the low-skilled branches of industry, are quite aware
that their action, by fencing off section after section of labour from
the fierce competition of outsiders, is rendering the struggle more
intense for the unprotected residuum. So far as they indulge any wider
view than the interest of their special trades, it may be taken that
they design to force the public to provide in some way for the
unemployed or casually employed workers, against whom the gates of each
Union have been successively closed. There can be little doubt that if
Unionism is able to establish itself firmly among the low-skilled
industries, we shall find this margin of unemployed low-skilled labour
growing larger and more desperate, in proportion to the growing
difficulty of finding occupation. Trade Union leaders have boldly avowed
that they will thus compel the State to recognize the "right to
employment," and to provide that employment by means of national or
municipal workshops. With questions of abstract "right" we are not here
concerned, but it may be well to indicate certain economic difficulties
involved in the establishment of public works as a solution of the
"unemployed" problem. Since the "unemployed" will, under the closer
restrictions of growing Trade Unionism, consist more and more of low-
skilled labourers, the public works on which they must be employed must
be branches of low-skilled labour. But the Unions of low-skilled workers
will have been organized with the view of monopolizing all the low-
skilled work which the present needs of the community require to be
done. How then will the public provide low-skilled work for the
unemployed? One of two courses seems inevitable. Either the public must
employ them in work similar to that which is being done by Union men for
private firms, in which case they will enter into competition with the
latter, and either undersell them in the market and take their trade, or
by increasing the aggregate supply of the produce, bring down the price,
and with it the wage of the Union men. Or else if they are not to
compete with the labour of Union men, they must be employed in relief
works, undertaken not to satisfy a public need or to produce a commodity
with a market value, but in order that those employed may, by a wholly
or partially idle expenditure of effort, appear to be contributing to
their own support, whereas they are really just as much recipients of
public charity as if they were kept in actual idleness. This is the
dilemma which has to be faced by advocates of public workshops. Nor can
it be eluded by supposing that the public may use the unemployed labour
either in producing some new utility for the public use, such as
improved street-paving, or a municipal hot-water supply. For if such
undertakings are of a character which a private company would regard as
commercially sound, they ought to be, and will be, undertaken by wise
public bodies independently of the consideration of providing work for
unemployed. If they are not such as would be considered commercially
sound, then in so far as they fall short of commercial soundness, they
will be "charity" pure and simple, given as relief is now given to able-
bodied paupers, on condition of an expenditure of mere effort which is
not a commercial _quid pro quo_.

If the State or municipality were permitted to conduct business on
ordinary commercial principles, it might indeed be expected to seize the
opportunity afforded by a large supply of unemployed labour, to
undertake new public works at a lower cost than usual. But to take this
advantage of the cheapness of labour is held to be "sweating." Public
bodies are called upon to disregard the rise and fall of market wages,
and to pay "a fair wage," which practically means a wage which is the
same whether labour is plentiful or scarce. This refusal to permit the
ordinary commercial inducement to operate in the case of public bodies,
cuts off what might be regarded as a natural check to the accumulation
of unemployed labour. If public bodies are to employ more labour, when
labour is excessive, and pay a wage which shall be above the market
price, it must be clearly understood that the portion of the wages which
represents the "uncommercial" aspect of the contract is just as much
public charity as the half-crown paid as out-door relief under the
present Poor Law. Lastly, the establishment of State or municipal
workshops for the "unemployed" has no economic connection with the
"socialist" policy, by which the State or municipality should assume
control and management of railways, mines, gas-works, tramways, and
other works into which the element of monopoly enters. Such a
"socialist" policy, if carried out, would not directly afford any relief
to the unemployed. For, in the first place, the labour employed in these
new public departments would be chiefly skilled, and not unskilled.
Moreover, so far as the condition of the "workers" was concerned, the
nationalization, or municipalization of these works would not imply any
increased demand for labour, but merely the transfer of a number of
employes from private to the public service. The public control of
departments of industry, which are now in private hands, would not, so
long as it was conducted on a commercial footing in the public interest,
furnish either direct, or indirect, relief to "the unemployed." A
reduction of hours of labour in the case of workers transferred to the
public service, might afford employment to an increased number of
skilled labourers, and might indirectly operate in reducing the number
of unemployed. But such reduction of hours of labour, like the payment
of wages above the market rate, forms no essential part of a "socialist"
policy, but is rather a charitable appendage.

Sec. 8. State Business on uncommercial terms.--It cannot be too clearly
recognized that the payment by a public body of wages which are above
the market price, the payment of pensions, the reduction of hours of
labour, and any other advantages freely conferred, which place public
servants in a better position than private servants, stand on precisely
the same economic footing with the establishment of public workshops for
the relief of the unemployed, in which wages are paid for work which is
deficient in commercial value. In each case the work done has some
value, unless the unemployed are used to dig holes in the ground and
fill them up again; in each case the wages paid for that work are in
excess of the market rate.

If it were established as a general rule, that public bodies should
always add a "bonus" to the market wage of their employes to bring it up
to "fairness," and take off a portion of the usual "working-day" to
bring it down to "fairness," it would follow quite consistently that a
wage equal to, or exceeding, the minimum market rate might be paid to
"unemployed" for work, the value of which would be somewhat less than
that produced by the lowest class of "employed" workers. The policy
throughout is one and the same, and is based upon a repudiation of
competition as a test of the value of labour, and the substitution of
some other standard derived from moral or prudential considerations.

So far as the State or Municipality chooses to regulate by an
"uncommercial" or moral standard the conditions of labour for the
limited number of employes required for the services which are a public
monopoly, it is able to do so, provided the public is willing to pay the
price. There is much to be said in favour of such a course, for the
public example might lend invaluable aid in forming a strong public
opinion which should successfully demand decent conditions of life and
work, for the whole body of workers. But if the State or Municipality
were to undertake to provide work and wages for an indefinite number of
men who failed to obtain work in the competition market, the effect
would be to offer a premium upon "unemployment." Thus, it would appear
that as fast as the public works drew off the unemployed, so fast would
men leave the low-paid, irregular occupations, and by placing themselves
in a state of "unemployment" qualify for public service. There would of
course be a natural check to this flow. As the State drained off all
surplus labour, the market value of labour would rise, greater
regularity of employment would be secured, and the general improvement
of industrial conditions would check the tendency of workers to flow
towards the public workshops. This consideration has led many of the
leaders of labour movements to favour a scheme of public workshops,
which would practically mean that the State or Municipality undertook to
limit the supply of labour in the open market, by providing for any
surplus which might exist, at the public expense. The effect of such a
policy would be of course to enormously strengthen the effective power
of labour-organizations. But while the advocates of public workshops are
fully alive to these economic effects, they have not worked out with
equal clearness the question relating to the disposal of the labour in
public workshops. How can the "protected" labour of the public workshops
be so occupied, that its produce may not, by direct or indirect
competition with the produce of outside labour, outweigh the advantage
conferred upon the latter by the removal of the "unemployed" from the
field of competition, in digging holes and filling them up again, or
other useless work, the problem is a simple one. In that case the State
provides maintenance for the weaker members in order that their presence
as competitors for work may not injure the stronger members. But if the
public workmen produce anything of value, by what means can it be kept
from competing with and underselling the goods produced under ordinary
commercial conditions? Without alleging that the difficulties involved
in these questions are necessarily fatal to all schemes of public works,
we maintain that they require to be clearly faced.

Even if it be held that public workshops can furnish no economic remedy
for poverty, this judgment would of course be by no means conclusive
against public emergency works undertaken on charitable grounds to tide
over a crisis. Every form of charity, public or private, discriminate or
indiscriminate, entails some evil consequences. But this consideration
is not final. A charitable palliative is defensible and useful when the
net advantages outweigh the net disadvantages. This might seem self-
evident, but it requires to be stated, because there are not wanting
individuals and societies which imagine they have disposed of the claim
of charitable remedies by pointing out the evil consequences they
entail. It is evident that circumstances might arise which would compel
the wisest and steadiest Government to adopt public relief works as a
temporary expedient for meeting exceptional distress.

Sec. 9. Restriction of Foreign Emigration.--Two further proposals for
keeping down the supply of low-skilled labour deserve notice, and the
more so because they are forcing their way rapidly toward the arena of
practical politics.

The first is the question of an Alien law limiting or prohibiting the
migration of foreign labourers into England. The power of the German,
Polish, or Russian Jew, accustomed to a lower standard of life, to
undersell the English worker in the English labour market, has already
been admitted as a cause of "sweating" in several city industries. The
importance of this factor in the problem of poverty is, however, a much
disputed point. To some extent these foreign labourers are said to make
new industries, and not to enter into direct and disastrous competition
with native workers. In most cases, however, direct competition between
foreign and native workers does exist, and, as we see, the comparatively
small number of the foreign immigrants compared with the aggregate of
native workers, is no true criterion of the harm their competition does
to low-waged workers. Whether this country will find it wise to reverse
its national policy of free admission to outside labour, it is not easy
to predict. The point should not be misunderstood. Free admission of
cheap foreign labour must be admitted _prima facie_ to be conducive to
the greatest production of wealth in this country. Those who seek to
restrict or prohibit this admission, do so on the ground that the damage
inflicted upon that class of workers, brought directly or indirectly
into competition for employment with these foreigners, overbalances the
net gain in the aggregate of national wealth. It is this consideration
which has chiefly operated in inducing the United States, Canada, and
Australia to prohibit the admission of Chinese or Coolie labour, and to
place close restrictions upon cheap European labour. Sir Charles Dilke,
in a general summary of colonial policy on this matter, writes,
"Colonial labour seeks protection by legislative means, not only against
the cheap labour of the dark-skinned or of the yellow man, but also
against white paupers, and against the artificial supply of labour by
State-aided white immigration. Most of the countries of the world,
indeed, have laws against the admission of destitute aliens, and the
United Kingdom is in practice almost the only exception."[32]

The greater contrast between the customary standard of living of the
immigrants and that of the native workers with whom they would compete,
has naturally made the question seem a more vital one for our colonies,
and for the United States than for us. There can, however, be little
doubt that if a few shiploads of Chinese labourers were emptied into the
wharves of East London, whatever Government chanced to be in power would
be compelled to adopt immediate measures of restraint on immigration, so
terrible would the effect be upon the low class European labourers in
our midst. Whether any such Alien legislation will be adopted to meet
the inroad of continental labour depends in large measure on the course
of continental history. It is, however, not improbable that if the
organization of the workers proceeds along the present lines, when they
come to realize their ability to use political power for securing their
industrial position, they may decide that it will be advisable to limit
the supply of labour by excluding foreigners. Those, however, who are
already prepared to adopt such a step, do not always realize as clearly
as they should, that the exclusion of cheap foreigners from our labour-
market will be in all probability accompanied by an exclusion from our
markets of the cheap goods made by these foreigners in their own
country, the admission of which, while it increases the aggregate wealth
of England, inflicts a direct injury on those particular workers, the
demand for whose labour is diminished by the introduction of foreign
goods which can undersell them. If an Alien law is passed, it will bring
both logically and historically in its wake such protective measures as
will constitute a reversal of our present Free Trade policy. Whether
such new and hazardous changes in our national policy are likely to be
made, depends in large measure upon the success of other schemes for
treating the condition of over-supply of low-skilled labour. If no
relief is found from these, it seems not unlikely that a democratic
government will some day decide that such artificial prohibition of
foreign labour, and the foreign goods which compete with the goods
produced by low-skilled English labour, will benefit the low-skilled
workers in their capacity as wage-earners, more than the consequent rise
of prices will injure them in their capacity as consumers.

Sec. 10. The "Eight Hours Day" Argument.--The last proposal which deserves
attention, is that which seeks to shorten the average working-day. The
attempt to secure by legislation or by combination an eight hours day,
or its equivalent, might seem to affect the "sweating system" most
directly, as a restriction on excessive hours of labour. But so far as
it claims to strike a blow at the industrial oppression of low-skilled
labour, its importance will depend upon its effect on the demand and
supply of that low-skilled labour. The result which the advocates of an
eight hours day claim for their measure, may be stated as follows--

Assuming that low-skilled workers now work on an average twelve hours a
day, a compulsory reduction to eight hours would mean that one-third
more men were required to perform the same amount of work, leaving out
for convenience the question whether an eight hours day would be more
productive than the first eight hours of a twelve hours day. Since the
same quantity of low-skilled work would require to be done, employment
would now be provided for a large number of those who would otherwise
have been unemployed. In fact, if the shorter day is accompanied by an
absolute prohibition of over-time, it seems possible that work would
thus be found for the whole army of "unemployed." Nor is this all. The
existence of a constant standing "pool" of unemployed was, as we saw,
responsible for keeping the wages of low-skilled labour down to a bare
subsistence wage. Let this "pool" be once drained off, wages will
rapidly rise, since the combined action of workers will no longer be
able to be defeated by the eagerness of "outsiders" to take their work
and wages. Thus an eight hours day would at once solve the problem of
the "work-less," and raise the wages of low-skilled labour. The effect
would be precisely the same as if the number of competitors for work
were suddenly reduced. For the price of labour, as of all else, depends
on the relation between the demand for it and the supply, and the price
will rise if the demand is increased while the supply remains the same,
or if the supply is decreased while the demand remains the same. A
compulsory eight hours day would practically mean a shrinkage in the
supply of labour offered in the market, and the first effect would
indisputably be a rise in the price of labour. To reduce by one-third at
a single blow the amount of labour put forth in a day by any class of
workers, is precisely equivalent to a sudden removal of one-third of
these workers from the field of labour. We know from history that the
result of a disastrous epidemic, like the Black Plague, has been to
raise the wages and improve the general condition of the labourer even
in the teeth of legal attempts to keep down wages. The advocates of an
Eight Hours Act assert that the same effect would follow from that

Setting aside as foreign to our discussion all consideration of the
difficulties in passing and enforcing an Eight Hours Act, or in applying
it to certain industries, the following economic objection is raised by
opponents to the eight hours movement--

The larger aggregate of wages, which must be paid under an eight hours
day, will increase the expanses of production in each industry. For the
increased wage cannot in general be obtained by reducing profits, for
any such reduction will drive freshly-accumulated capital more and more
to seek foreign investments, and managing ability will in some measure
tend to follow it. The higher aggregate of wages must therefore be
represented in a general rise of prices. This rise of prices will have
two effects. In the first place it will tend to largely negative the
higher aggregate of money wages. Or if organized labour, free from the
competition of unemployed, is able to maintain a higher rate of real
wages, the general rise in prices will enable foreign producers to
undersell us in our own market (unless we adopted a Protective Tariff),
and will disable us from competing in foreign markets. This constitutes
the pith of the economic objection raised against an eight hours day.
The eight hours advocates meet the objection in the following ways--
First, they deny that prices will rise in consequence of the increased
aggregate of wages. A reduction in interest and in wages of
superintendence will take place in many branches of industry, without
any appreciable tendency to diminish the application of capital, or to
drive it out of the country.

Secondly, the result of an increased expenditure in wages will be to
crush the small factories and workshops, which are the backbone of the
sweating System, and to assist the industrial evolution which makes in
favour of large well-organized factories working with the newest

Thirdly, it is claimed that we shall not be ousted either from our own
or from foreign markets by foreign competition, because the eight hours
movement in England must be regarded as part of a larger industrial
movement which is proceeding _pari passu_ among the competing nations.
If the wages of German, French, and American workers are advancing at
the same rate as English wages, or if other industrial restrictions in
those countries are otherwise increasing the expenses of production at a
corresponding rate, the argument of foreign competition falls to the

These leading arguments of the advocates of an eight hours day are of
very unequal value. The first argument is really based upon the
supposition that the increased aggregate of wages can be "got out of
capital" by lowering interest and profits. The general validity of this
argument may be questioned. In its application a distinction must be
drawn between those businesses which by means of the possession of some
monopoly, patent, or other trade advantage are screened from the full
force of competition, and are thus enabled to earn profits above the
average, and those businesses where the constant stress of close
competition keeps interest and profits down to the lowest point which
suffices to induce the continued application of capital and organizing
ability. In the former cases the "cost" of an Eight Hours Day might be
got out of capital, assuming an effective organization of labour, in the
latter cases it could not.

As to the second argument, it is probable enough that the legal eight
hours day would accelerate the industrial evolution, which is enabling
the large well-equipped factory to crush out the smaller factory. As we
have seen that the worst evils of "sweating" are associated with a lower
order of industrial organization, any cause which assisted to destroy
the small workshop and the out-work system, would be a benefit. But as
the economic motive of such improved organization with increased use of
machinery, would be to save human labour, it is doubtful whether a
quickening of this process would not act as a continual feeder to the
band of unemployed, by enabling employers to dispense with the services
of even this or that body of workers whose work is taken over by brute

The net value of these two eight hours arguments is doubtful. The real
weight of the discussion seems to rest on the third.

If the movement for improving the industrial condition of the working
classes does proceed as rapidly in other industrial countries as in our
own, we shall have nothing to fear from foreign competition, since
expenses of production and prices will be rising equally among our own.
If there is no such equal progress in other nations, then the industrial
gain sought for the working classes of this country by a shorter day
cannot be obtained, though any special class or classes of workers may
be relieved of excessive toil at the expense of the community as a
whole. Government employes, and that large number of workers who cannot
be brought into direct competition with foreign labour, can receive the
same wages for shorter hours, provided the public is willing to pay a
higher price for their protected labour.

In conclusion, it may be well to add that the economic difficulties
which beset this question cannot be lightly set aside by an assertion
that the same difficulties were raised by economists against earlier
factory legislation, and that experience has shown that they may be
safely disregarded. It is impossible to say how far the introduction of
humane restrictions upon the exploitation of cheap human labour has
affected the aggregate production of wealth in England. It has not
prevented the growth of our trade, but very possibly it has checked the
rate of growth. If the mere accumulation of material wealth, regardless
alike of the mode of production or of the distribution, be regarded as
the industrial goal, it is quite conceivable that a policy of utter
_laissez faire_ might be the best means of securing that end. Although
healthy and happy workers are more efficient than the half-starved and
wholly degraded beings who slaved in the uninspected factories and mines
during the earlier period of the factory system, and still slave in the
sweater's den, it may still be to the interest of employers to pay
starvation wages for relatively inefficient work, rather than pay high
wages for a shorter day's work to more efficient workers. It is to the
capitalist a mere sum in arithmetic; and we cannot predict that the
result will always turn in favour of humanity and justice.

At the same time, even if it is uncertain whether a shorter working day
could be secured without a fall of wages, it is still open to advocates
of a shorter working day to urge that it is worth while to purchase
leisure at such a price. If a shorter working day could cure or abate
the evil of "the unemployed," and help to raise the industrial condition
of the low-skilled workers, the community might well afford to pay the

Chapter VII.

Over-Supply of Low-Skilled Labour.

Sec. 1. Restatement of the "Low-skilled Labour" Question.--Our inquiry into
Factory Legislation and Trade Unionism as cures for sweating have served
to emphasize the economic nature of the disease, the over-supply of low-
skilled labour. Factory legislation, while it may abate many of the
symptoms of the disease, cannot directly touch the centre of the malady,
low wages, though by securing publicity it may be of indirect assistance
in preventing the payment of wages which public opinion would condemn as
insufficient for a decent livelihood. Trade Unionism as an effective
agent in securing the industrial welfare of workers, is seen to rest
upon the basis of restriction of labour supply, and its total
effectiveness is limited by the fact that each exercise of this
restriction in the interest of a class of workers weakens the position
of the unemployed who are seeking work. The industrial degradation of
the "sweated" workers arises from the fact that they are working
surrounded by a pool of unemployed or superfluous supply of labour. So
long as there remains this standing pool of excessive labour, it is
difficult to see how the wages of low unskilled workers can be
materially raised. The most intelligent social reformers are naturally
directing their attention to the question, how to drain these lowlands
of labour of the superfluous supply, or in other words to keep down the
population of the low-skilled working class. Among the many population
drainage schemes, the following deserve close attention--

Sec. 2. Checks on growth of population.--We need not discuss in its wider
aspect the question whether our population tends to increase faster than
the means of subsistence. Disciples of Malthus, who urge the growing
pressure of population on the food supply, are sometimes told that so
far as this argument applies to England, the growth of wealth is faster
than the growth of population, and that as modern facilities for
exchange enable any quantity of this wealth to be transferred into food
and other necessaries, their alarm is groundless. Now these rival
contentions have no concern for us. We are interested not in the
pressure of the whole population upon an actual or possible food supply,
but with the pressure of a certain portion of that population upon a
relatively fixed supply of work. It is approximately true to say that at
any given time there exists a certain quality of unskilled or low-
skilled work to be done. If there are at hand just enough workers to do
it, the wages will be sufficiently high to allow a decent standard of
living. If, on the other hand, there are present more than enough
workers willing to do the work, a number of them must remain without
work and wages, while those who are employed get the lowest wages they
will consent to take. Thus it will seem of prime importance to keep down
the population of low-skilled workers to the point which leaves a merely
nominal margin of superfluous labour. The Malthusian question has in its
modern practical aspect narrowed down to this. The working classes by
abstinence from early or improvident marriages, or by the exercise of
moral restraints after marriage can, it is urged, check that tendency of
the working population to outgrow the increase of the work for which
they compete. There can be no doubt that the more intelligent classes of
skilled labourers have already profited by this consideration, and as
education and intelligence are more widely diffused, we may expect these
prudential checks on "over-population" will operate with increased
effect among the whole body of workers. But precisely because these
checks are moral and reasonable, they must be of very slow acceptance
among that class whose industrial condition forms a stubborn barrier to
moral and intellectual progress. Those who would gain most by the
practice of prudential checks, are least capable of practising them. The
ordinary "labourer" earns full wages as soon as he attains manhood's
strength; he is as able to support a wife and family at twenty as he
will ever be; indeed he is more so, for while he is young his work is
more regular, and less liable to interruption by ill-health. The
reflection that an early marriage means the probability of a larger
family, and that a large family helps to keep wages low, cannot at
present be expected to make a deep impression upon the young unskilled
labourer. The value of restraint after marriage could probably be
inculcated with more effect, because it would appeal more intelligibly
to the immediate interest of the labourer. But it is to the growing
education and intelligence of women, rather than to that of men, that we
must look for a recognition of the importance of restraint on early
marriages and large families.

Sec. 3. The "Emigration" Remedy.--The most direct and obvious drainage
scheme is by emigration. If there are more workers than there is work
for them to do, why not remove those who are not wanted, and put them
where there is work to do? The thing sounds very simple, but the
simplicity is somewhat delusive. The old _laissez faire_ political
economist would ask, "Why, since labour is always moving towards the
place where it can be most profitably employed, is it necessary to do
anything but let it flow? Why should the State or philanthropic people
busy themselves about the matter? If labour is not wanted in one place,
and is wanted in another, it will and must leave the one place and go to
the other. If you assist the process by compulsion, or by any artificial
aid, you may be removing the wrong people, or you may be removing them
to the wrong place." Now the reply to the main _laissez faire_ position
is conclusive. Just as water, though always tending to find its own
level, does not actually find it when it is dammed up in some pool by
natural or artificial earthworks, so labour stored in the persons of
poor and ignorant men and women is not in fact free to seek the place of
most profitable employment. The highlands of labour are drained by this
natural flow; even the strain of competition in skilled hand-labour
finds sensible relief by the voluntary emigration of the more
adventurous artisans, but the poor low-skilled workers suffer here again
by reason of their poverty: no natural movement can relieve the plethora
of labour-power in low-class employments. The fluidity of low-skilled
labour seldom exceeds the power of moving from one town to a
neighbouring town, or from a country district to the nearest market
towns, or to London in search of work. If the lowlands are to be drained
at all, it must be done by an artificial system. Now all such systems
are in fact open to the mistakes mentioned above. If we look too
exclusively to the requirements of new colonies, and the opportunities
of work they present, we may be induced to remove from England a class
of men and women whose services we can ill afford to lose, and who are
not in any true sense superfluous labour. To assist sturdy and shrewd
Scotch farmers, or a body of skilled artisans thrown out of work by a
temporary trade depression, to transfer themselves and their families to
America or Australia, is a policy the net advantage of which is open to
grave doubt. Of course by removing any body of workers you make room for
others, but this fact does not make it a matter of indifference which
class is removed. On the other hand, if we look exclusively to the
interests of the whole mass of labour in England, we should probably be
led to assist the emigration of large bodies of the lowest and least
competent workers. This course, though doubtless for the advantage of
the low class labour, directly relieved, is detrimental to the interest
of the new country, which is flooded with inefficient workers, and
confers little benefit upon these workers themselves, since they are
totally incapable of making their way in a new country. The reckless
drafting off of our social failures into new lands is a criminal policy,
which has been only too rife in the State-aided emigration of the past,
and which is now rendered more and more difficult each year by the
refusal of foreign lands to receive our "wreckage." Here, then, is the
crux of emigration. The class we can best afford to lose, is the class
our colonies and foreign nations can least afford to take, and if they
consent to receive them they only assume the burden we escape. The age
of loose promiscuous pauper emigration has gone by. If we are to use
foreign emigration as a mode of relief for our congested population in
the future, it will be on condition that we select or educate our
colonists before we send them out. Whether the State or private
organizations undertake the work, our colonizing process must begin at
home. The necessity of dealing directly with our weak surplus population
of low-skilled workers is gaining more clear recognition every year, as
the reluctance to interfere with the supposed freedom of the subject
even where the subject is "unfree" is giving way before the urgency of
the situation.

Sec. 4. Mr. Charles Booth's "Drainage Scheme."--The terrible examples our
history presents to us of the effects of unwise poor law administration,
rightly enjoin the strictest caution in contemplating new experiments.
But the growing recognition of the duty of the State to protect its
members who are unable to protect themselves, and to secure fair
opportunities of self-support and self-improvement, as well as the
danger of handing over their protection to the conflicting claims of
private and often misguided philanthropy, is rapidly gaining ground
against the advocates of _laissez faire_. It is beginning to be felt
that the State cannot afford to allow the right of private social
experiment on the part of charitable organizations. The relief of
destitution has for centuries been recognized as the proper business of
the State. Our present poor law practically fails to relieve the bulk of
the really destitute. Even were it successful it would be doing nothing
to prevent destitution. Since neither existing legislation nor the
forces of private charity are competent to cope with the evils of
"sweating," engendered by an excess of low-class labour, it is probable
that the pressure of democratic government will make more and more in
favour of some large new experiment of social drainage. In view of this
it may not be out of place to describe briefly two schemes proposed by
private students of the problem of poverty.

Mr. Charles Booth, recognizing that the superfluity of cheap inefficient
labour lies at the root of the matter, suggests the removal of the most
helpless and degraded class from the strain of a struggle which is fatal
not merely to themselves, but to the class immediately above them. The
reason for this removal is given as follows--

"To effectually deal with the whole of class B--for the State to nurse
the helpless and incompetent as we in our own families nurse the old,
the young, and the sick, and provide for those who are not competent to
provide for themselves--may seem an impossible undertaking; but nothing
less than this will enable self-respecting labour to obtain its full
remuneration, and the nation its raised standard of life. The
difficulties, which are certainly great, do not consist in the cost. As
it is, these unfortunate people cost the community one way or another
considerably more than they contribute. I do not refer solely to the
fact that they cost the State more than they pay directly or indirectly
in taxes. I mean that altogether, ill-paid and half-starved as they are,
they consume, or waste, or have expended on them, more wealth than they

Mr. Booth would remove the "very poor," and plant them in industrial
communities under proper government supervision.

"Put practically, my idea is that these people should be allowed to live
as families in industrial groups, planted wherever land and building
materials were cheap; being well-housed and well-warmed, and taught,
trained, and employed from morning to night on work, indoors or out, for
themselves, or on Government account."

The Government should provide material and tools, and having the people
entirely on its hands, get out of them what it can. Wages should be paid
at a "fair proportionate rate," so as to admit comparison of earnings of
the different communities, and of individuals. The commercial deficit
involved in the scheme should be borne by the State. This expansion of
our poor law policy, for it is nothing more, aims less at the
reformation and improvement of the class taken under its charge, than at
the relief which would be afforded to the classes who suffered from
their competition in the industrial struggle. What it amounts to is the
removal of the mass of unemployed. The difficulties involved in such a
scheme are, as Mr. Booth admits, very grave.

The following points especially deserve attention--

1. Since it is not conceivable that compulsion should be brought to bear
in the selection and removal out of the ordinary industrial community of
those weaker members whose continued struggle is considered undesirable,
it is evident that the industrial colonies must be recruited out of
volunteers. It will thus become a large expansion of the present
workhouse system. The eternal dilemma of the poor law will be present
there. On the one hand, if, as seems likely, the degradation and
disgrace attaching to the workhouse is extended to the industrial
colony, it will fail to attract the more honest and deserving among the
"very poor," and to this extent will fail to relieve the struggling
workers of their competition. On the other hand, if the condition of the
"industrial colonist" is recognized as preferable to that of the
struggling free competitor, it must in some measure act as a premium
upon industrial failure, checking the output of energy and the growth of
self-reliance in the lower ranks of the working classes. No scheme for
the relief of poverty is wholly free from this difficulty; but there is
danger that the State colony of Mr. Booth would, if it were successful
as a mode of "drainage," be open to it in no ordinary degree.

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