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THE ENGINEERING WAR AT HOME., Issue 10466, 9 November 1897
THE ENGINEERING WAR AT HOME.
MR SIEMENS ON THE SITUATION. ■ Yesterday (writes a London representative of one of the Edinburgh papers of September 29) I found Mr Siemens, the head of the large engineering firnvof that name, and president of the London Employers' Association, just looking up references to the dispute, aud thereby refreshing his memory on certain points. He had jast been reading Mr John Burns's ' Times' letter, and readily consented to talk on some of the points raised in that communication, as well as on the general position.. "It is all very well," he said, "for Mr Burnsand others to quote Coldyer's remarks, made years ago, and apply them now, when the conditions are entirely different. When Coldycr said that we need not fear our foreign competitors, it was quite true. But now machinery has been greatly developed, syndicates place a new invention on the markets of the whole world simultaneously, and our competitors can get it as soon as we can. To take au illustration from the racecourse—you may hive a horse ■which can beat everything at certain weights, but when you increase its burden by handicapping, and raise it beyond a certuin weight, you cause it to be beaten. That is what unions have been doing with regard to this industry." Not that Mr Siemens objeote to unions, a3 he hastened to add, but ho would have them keep to their proper sphere and not try to dictate a3 to the management of the works. " What the men do not see is that while it is true they have the skill, it is the employers who have made a study of the business side, and must be allowed to carry it on as they think best for all. It is like our frontier war in India ; our soldiers are good fellows, and indispensable to success, but you can't allow them to usurp the position of the generals, or they will bring disaster. The fight is not one of eight hours or of wage 3; it is to decide whether the employers or the trade unions shall control business." the question of foreign competition Mr Siemens had also something to say. "Mr Burns and the other leaders say the cry is a bogey. That is where they are entirely mistaken. He says Germany has only done an amount of work equal to one or two English firms. That may be true, but what he forgets is that, whereas a few years back Germany did nothing at all, now they are doing 96,000 tons a year. "It has been sought to make it appear," he said, " that the Federation interfered, and made the question a national one. It was nothing of the sort. Here is just what happened. We got a circular asking for the eight hours day and an answer by the 26th June. We had no organisation, but a meeting was called by Messrs Maudsley and Company. On the 26th June we had not bean able fully to consider the matter, and we wrote the Joint Committee saying so, and asking for further delay. We got no answer to that, but a day or two later we received a notice that all overtime is stopped. What were we to do? We appealed to the Northern employers, and asked whether they would stand by us, and we joined them. Since then two letters have been sent to the Joint Committee, neither of which has been answered. That's the real history of the matter, and I wish it had been made more plain." THE RESULT OF AS EXPERIMENT. The following letter, which speaks for was communicated to the London Press by the Association of Engineering Employers : 30 Kirby street, Hatton Gardens, E.C., 22nd September, 1897. Dear Sir,—Wo are in receipt of your letter this morning asking our experience regarding the working or the eight hours in our shops during the experiment extending over three months which we have lately made, and we think we cannot do better than give you a quotation from a letter we have just written to Messrs Bertrams, Limited, Edinburgh, who asked us, among other questions, one similar to your own. " On Saturday- week last, the 11th inst., we called our men together and gave them a fortnight's notice to the effect that we could not go any longer under the existing conditions (a forty-eight hours week), and that on Saturday, the 25th inst, we should revert to the fifty - four hours week. The result has been that practically all our ma, unionist and non-unionist, laborers us well as members of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, have handed in notices, and next Saturday our shops will be practically empty as far as our regular and older hands are concerned. We did not enter upon this step without mature and careful consideration, but we have during the last three months been watching most closely the effect of the eight hours day in our shops and on the cost of production, and wo are sorry to say that we could not do otherwise than form a decided opinion of the fact that instead of the men doing more work per hour (we do not say more in eight hours than nine, but work per hour), they arc doing less, and our books amply show this, as a great deal of our work is of a special description, and such as we are constantly reproducing. It is consequently an easy matter to draw comparisons, and our books show us that tho work has cost us far and away more than the difference in wages paid between a forty-eight and a fifty-four hours, week. Whether the fact of getting less work out of tho men is due to some extent to the excitement which prevails, with the result that while at work they are more or less..di3Contented, we do not know, but certainly the same vexatious and very often obnoxious conditions still existed till at last we found it became practically ; Impossible to carry on our business under such conditions, and we concluded (if absolutely necessary) it would be better for us tor the time being, and until matters were on a more settled basis, to close our works altogether, or, at any rate, to do - the best we could with any chance assistants we could get hold of from non-unioni3t men. If absolute figures or extracts from our cost-books would be of any service to you we should be glad to furnish such, or show you or representatives of ' the Masters* Federation the actual entries and I memorandum of the work carried on in our works during the last three months." We are, yours faithfully, Joseph Richmond axd Co., Limited. THE ENGLISH AND AMERICAN COMPARISON. Mr John Burns, M.P., has a letter extending to two columns in «The Times' of yesterday on this subj' c 1;. Mr Burns says : I have been so busy helping the locked-out engineers that I have been unable to reply to some of the statements on behalf of the employers that have appeared in your columns. There is, however, a limit to what even a busy man can stand, and that is reached in the anonymous contribution on the " Engineering Industry in England and America "in your issue of the23rd inst. The article begins by declaring that in America " there are no trade union rules insisting that all men should be paid alike." My answer to that is : there are no trade unions in Britain that demand that all men should be paid alike, and I challenge your anonymous correspondent to produce the rule 3 of any such union in the engineering trade. What trade unions do in Britain is to establish a minimum wage for day labor only, ■ leaving skill of workmen and recognition thereof to be a mitter of bargain and free play between employer and emploved, the union not objecting thereto; on"the contrary, rejoicing thereat and concurring therein. The establishment of a minimum wage per hour or day is qualified by the (union letting the employer have full, free, and unrestricted power to dismiss a man on minimum wage the quantity and quality of whoso work he dislikes. Unions'do not and ni-vor did establish a maximum wage which the employers must pay to good, bad, and indifferent workmen alike. On piecework a workman is paid an agreed price for each article or part of work he produces, unreatricted by minimum or maximum, tho average generally being 10 to 15 per cent, above day work till his output is known ; then he is put on task work at day work rates,. and piece payment is abolished. In a word, piecework in the engineering industry is but a traml.nt method of stimulating a workman to greater intensity of toil, often to inefficient work thereby; and when the swamp of scamped and slavish toil is reached the will-o'-the-wisp of luring piece price disappears, and task work, often brutal and severe, is the reward of the engineer. The next point proves, what is in favor of the British engineers; that in America wages are hour for hour 30 to 40 per cent, higher than in Britain. With regard to overtime, on your correspondent's own admission, the extra pay in America is at the same rate as in Britainion a 40 per cent, higher day wage. Oa both points, therefore, the British artisan receives less than his American fellow-workmen, who in many cases are Englishmen and members of English unions. So far, so bad for your correspondent's contentions.' The next point is the question of " stoppages for meals." On that point your correspondent puts himself in line with the, eight'houra advocates, who want tho mpn to have breakfast before they start workjVand one break in the day for dinner. On this point your correspondent eloquently and pertinently, says:—" The break in the day destroys the even flow of the work, it being always difficult without loss of time to take up a job at the precise point where it
was left off. The beginning at six o'clock in the morning seems moat absurd. In the first place, the men come to work without any breakfast, and in no very cheerful condition, during the cold winter months, certainly not fit to commence any job requiring close attention and energetic treatment; after working two hours on an empty stomach they stop for half an hour for breakfast, after which they recommence, and by the time they are again working at full speed the bell riDgs for dinner, and commences break No. 2. Whereas in America the men come to work at seven o'clock, after having breakfast, they do a Bpell of five hours' useful, straightforward work, go for an hour to dinner, then put in another five hours, and the day is finished. I think there is a great advantage in this system, both for the men and the employers'." And so say all of the trade union advocates of eight hours. I have been denounced by employers for saying the same d uring this dispute ; all the advocates of eight hours have said it for years, and the above is the experience of all firms who have tried both systems, and is the universal result in private and Government work. So far, so muoh better for the locked-out engineers and the eight hours day. Your correspondent then says :—"I consider that it is impossible for any man to do business here in this country as an engineer and manufacturer of machinery of good quality working eight hours per day and compete with like machinery made either in France, Germany, or America, even if he pays the same rate of wages per hour as is paid in those countries. Take France, for instance ; it is well known that they work ten hours a day, and the wages on the Continent are considerably lower than in England or in America." » My answer to that is that neither hours worked nor wages paid alone are the test of cheap or good production ; these are determined by other considerations, as is proved by Colonel Dyer, who said in April, 1897—and not the l3t of April either : " It is a great mistake to suppose that cheap wages always means cheap production. My experience is quite the contrary : that where you want large production and you want a high class of work, you must employ properly skilled men to do it, and the higher the skill the higher the market price of wages." That disposes effectually of low wages being a dominant factor in cheap and efficient production.
THE ENGINEERING WAR AT HOME., Issue 10466, 9 November 1897
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