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CHEAP LABOR., Issue 7921, 31 May 1889
TO THE EDITOR.
Sir,— lt would appear to be your opinion, as it is that of the “Democratic” member for Timaru, that this magnificent country will never be properly developed unless by the aid of cheap labor —that it can never prosper unless wages come down. Now, there is nothing singular in this. The same idea crops up perennially in the columns of newspapers, and is uttered oracularly at public meetings by men who credit themselves with having at heart the best interests of the working classes. Yet it seems to me that there is something passing strange and eminently unsatisfactory about the matter. How is it that land, labor, and capital cannot engage in production unless labor is robbed ? And if it be true, would it not be better that the country should remain undeveloped? For how are we to measure the prosperity of a nation ? Is it by an estimate of the total wealth produced, or by an examination of the actual condition of the units forming the population ? Is that country prosperous where obese and gouty wealth leaves to emaciated poverty not even the crumbs that fall from the tables of luxury ; where the daughters of the industrious poor have to choose between the sweater and the streets; and where, to quote from the report of a Commission appointed to examine into the condition of the working poor: “ Bread is cheap, but people go without for days ” ? Surely not. Yet this is the condition of things sought to be brought about by those who advocate the development of our island home by cheap labor. Who would benefit, for instance, by the working of the iron ore at Para Para—about which Mr Turnbull is so distressed—except that great ironmaster and the syndicate who secured the monopoly ? Manifestly the workmen would not; for, although there would be more of them, each would get less pay. Labor has been robbed in other countries, and unless we also will consent to be robbed, wealthy monopoly will pass by on the other side. That it may keep far from us until we have population to work our own mines with our own capital, under conditions that will ensure an equitable distribution of the produce, is my sincere prayer. lu that word “monopoly” is the key to our problem. Capital cannot rob labor unless it can secure a monopoly, for capital and labor are reversible terms—one can be turned into the other so expeditiously that neither can secure more than an equal share; and even when a monopoly is secured it cannot truly be said that capital robs labor, for the proceeds of monopoly are not properly interest at all. Land, in its economic sense, includes all natural opportunities and every spontaneous offering of Nature, and it is the monopolisation of land that renders possible the robbery of labor and interest properly so-called, for production cannot be carried on without land. Until the right of every unit in the community in every foot of land in the country is fully recognised labor and interest will continue to sink with increasing population ; whereas, under properly adjusted social conditions each addition to the population would also be an addition to the reward of each individual engaged in production, and the larger the population the higher would wages and interest bo Trades unions and combinations of workmen but act as temporary barriers against the flood of unemployed labor which, as natural opportunities are shut off, presses against the more highly paid occupations, and with ever iqcreasing force tends to’ bring them to the common level—the level at which the laborer can just live. I warn my fellow-workmen solemnly, and with the earnestness of absolute conviction, that they must look to the land laws for relief from the evils that are looming on every side. Lard is the only thing worth voting about or talking about; and as its monopolisation goes on it becomes progressively harder for labor to recover its lost ground. That they may open their eyes to this fact before this country is “ developed ” by cheap labor should be the desire of every lover of humanity.— l am, etc., Land Fad, Dunedin, May 31.
CHEAP LABOR., Issue 7921, 31 May 1889
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