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THE LABOR QUESTION., Issue 7983, 12 August 1889
THE LABOR QUESTION.
Professor A. L. Halkett-Dawson lectured in Timaru on Friday on • Some Aspects of the Labor Question." The lecturer referred to the vast improvement made in the condition of the laborer since 500 and 1,000 years ago, and'argued that here there is uo finality, no "rest and be thankful." There 13 evolution in all social arrangements, and the improvements effected are the precursors of still more. Some of the chaDges had been effected too quickly. Formerly the laborer was a slave, or serf, and aB such was fed and housed at least as carefully as the employer's horse, but with freedom'the employe" took responsibilities for which ho was not prepared, and some philosophers were ready to hark back. But there could be no harking back now. The improvements of the future, however, will be slow unless directed. Laissezfaire —let things alone—is a perfectly good doctrine in commerce, but not in the labor market, may answer perfectly well in regard to a bale of cotton does not answer when applied to the cotton spinner. One feature of labor was its mobility. Ignorance, inertia, and timidity prevented labor being so mobile, so free to move as it might be. But for these restraints the teeming millions of China and India would quickly spread over America and Außtralasia. British labor was the most mobile of all, yet not mobile enough. Every man ought to be like a Tartar, saddled, packed, ready for flight whenever occasion arose. A consideration of the destruction of our civilisation which must inevitably ensue if the Chinese, say, were to flood these colonies, would satisfy any reasonable woman and any unprejudiced man[jthat the laissez fairs doctrine would be ruinous if the natural restraints upon the movements of the Coolie were reduced. There must if needful be legislative interference to prevent the lowering of the standard of comfort to which white labor had attained. Similar interferenco was needed to prevent the "degradation of labor," by which term is meant the degradation of men who are reduced to lower and lower standards of living till they reach the slums, each step making the next move easy and more sure. In the slums of large towns at Home, and he grieved to say in the large towns of New Zealand—it was not unknown even in Timaru—there were to be found men who once were respected and selfrespecting workmen, but who from loss of employment or reduction of wages had fallen lower and lower, and ended by becoming recipients of charity. Once a man reached this stage he was never the same man afterwards. He was permanently degraded. His industrial chance might come round again, but he could not take advantage of it. The church might step in to help him, the poor law provide its palliative, but they could not save him. The State must step in, not to palliate the effects of this degradation, but to prevent it. The sudden lowering of wages not only injures the individual, it injures the community. The time might not yet be ripe for it, but it must come, when a lowering of wages would be looked upon as a national calamity a lowering, that is, of the real (not the nominal) wages a lowering of the standard of comfort among the laborers. The first thing a man dispenses with when his means are straitened are those which mark the difference between the civilised and the uncivilised ; ho drops his paper, his subscription to a library, he ceases to go to church, his pride and self-respect are weakened, and then he runs a risk of having his wages further lowered, for he is not as good a man as he was; he must go into a poorer house; and so the degradation continues until the poor man becomes a tatterdemalion, a poor squalid creature good for nothing. It was the duty of the State and of every municipal body to step in, when a very large number of men were thrown out of employment, and give them work to prevent this degrading prp:ess, and instead of doing this for the benefit of the individual, it should be done for the benefit of the t community. The State would also have to regulate wages to some extent. If commo- \ dities were reduced in price, the nominal wages could be reduced without reducing the workman's standard of living. This would be a matter of adjustment. This adjustment could not be made by the competition or agitation of the laborers; certainly not by the cupidity of em : ployere. The State, by publishing from time to time the real wages of the community, might righteously interfere in this matter. The question of the real and nominal post or value came in here, and the importance of technical training, to make labor more valuable. It was not likely that Mr Fisher's Technical Education Bill would pass this year ; but it would be passed ere long, and then instead of three or four district high schools, teachiog scraps of dead Latin and Greek and other useless things, the Board of Education would have five or six technical Bchools, teaching something really useful. The lecturer next referred to the oft-debated question •• How do wages arise ?" and contended that they are paid, not from capital, not from any supposititious "wages fund," but from the products of the labor paid for. This was illustrated by the example of a mill, and the truth was seen in the fact that employment was as easily obtained and as constant in a poor as in a wealthy country. The lecturer next justified strikes for higher wages, as the history of the past thirty or forty years had shown that the ameliora--1 tion of the conditions of labor had been chiefly secured by means of strikes, and so long as the laborer made good use of his ' money no one 'was injured. It was much better for the community that 1,000 men should be more comfortably off than that five or six should be rolling in luxury. The consequences of the reverse of this—of tho deterioration of a race—was seen in the case of Greece, once highly civilised, now reduced to a very low standard: "The slave who would be free himself must strike the blow." The women of Dunedin had found the truth of this. There were only two means of increasing wages—combinations of the laborers, and improved education. These were the roots of the amelioration of the lot of tabor in the future; But with them must go the virtues of temperance, prudence, «nd thrift. Some of the schemes which' have been proposed were next briefly described. The first has been tried—the charity or poor law scheme. This had operated in the direction of lowering wages. It has enabled em-' ployers to grind down' labor to the lowest possible extent; men accepted what was barely enough to keep body and soul together while they could work, and were taught thriftlessness by the prospect of the poor-house as a festing-place in their old age. The capitalist and employer bad all the advantage in this degrading process. They did not make up the wages by keeping the poor; but threw the burden upon the whole community. The evils of this system bad been seen, yet a poor law had been thrust upon New Zealand. It certainly is more blessed to give than to receive, for chririty degrades the receiver. Other schemes were communism, in all ages of popular theory; but it outraged too many human instincts to be fit for general adoption Nihilism, the doctrine of universal destruction, and return to primeval innocence—and misery—was not worth discussing. Anarchy (popular in Germany), the destruction of State government, would make roguery triumphant. ' "In France collectivism was favored—a scheme under which all properties, all industries, would belong to the community, but each man be paid according j to his ability. 'This was very different from communism, and there was really something in it; but we were a long way from it. Cooperation had been tried, and there were some successful instances, but the majority failed through the dishonesty of managers, j The co-operative societies seemed disinclined to pay their managers enough to keep them | honest. There was also lacking the element of authority. The elected captain of a military body never commanded the same prompt obedience as the appointed and independent one. He had only sketched a few things in connection with a subject which, he could plainly see, would in the future command a great deal more attention than it had done in the past. The laborers themselves had established a great many of the principles that were now admitted, and bearing this in mind,'and the fact that there was no standing still in this matter, the popular cause must be expected to succeed more and more in the future; wealth will be more fairly and evenly distributed; But
the changes must come slowly, by evolution ; not by revolution. One of the greatest hindrances to labor obtaining the greatest advantages possible was its immobility; the laborer must be more ready to go where his labor was needed from a pbee where it was not.—(Applause.) In reply to questions, Mr Dawson said ho believed in SirH. Atkinson's national insurance scheme. It was not by lowering wages that the country could be made prosperous. The doctrine of Malthus was not now considered of much importance in the discussion of the labor question. Henry George did not believe in it at all. There was no reason why women's wages should not be the same as men's provided they did the same work. He could not understand, for instance, why a woman who conducted a country school and obtained an equal number of passes, should not have the same salary as a man.— * Herald.'
THE LABOR QUESTION., Issue 7983, 12 August 1889
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