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movement for higher wages and improved conditions of work comes from those who are relatively well off. The railway men who struck last autumn were able to point to the low wages earned in certain grades of the service, but even in the lowest grades the wages and general conditions of employment are so much better than those of agricultural labourers that the railway companies are besieged with applicants for employment. Moreover, it was noticeable that the strength of the railway strikers lay not with these poorly paid men at the bottom of the service, but with the more skilled men earning relatively high wages. In the same way with the coal strikers now, it is absolutely false to allege that the men are striking for a living wage.' This is proved by an examination of the detailed demands put forward. Within the area of the English Conciliation Board the minimum demanded by coal-getters varies from 6s. a day in North Wales to 7s. 6d. a day in Yorkshire. At the same time, the minimum for other adult workers in the mines throughout the same area is fixed at 58. a day. These variations show clearly that the minimum wage asked for is not the lowest that a man can afford to live upon, but the highest that the different grades of men think they can obtain as a guaranteed minimum. In practice the men under existing conditions earn more than the minimum demanded. They nearly always earn very much more than men living in the same villages whose work is overground, and a skilled coal-getter may even earn in a day almost as much as an agricultural labourer in some of the southern counties of England earns in a week. These are facts which it is well to bear in mind, but they do not affect the right of well-paid workers to strike for better pay, or for any other object that they think worth striking for. The producer is justified in getting the best terms he can for his work. That is his business. What the consumer has to consider is whether he can afford the terms asked.
Let us be clear that it is upon the consumer that the charge must fall. We are all so accustomed to the relationship of employer and employed-wage-payer and wage-receiver—that even thoughtful people frequently fall into the mistake of assuming that the whole wage problem can be settled by taking something off the employer's profit and adding it to the workman's wages. That is a gross error. In some cases, no doubt, employers are making such large profits that they could afford out of their own pockets to add appreciably to the wages of all their workpeople. But it will be found on examination that in these cases the number of workpeople is generally small in relation to the fixed capital employed in the business, and that there is also, as a rule, some special circumstance, such as a lucrative patent or an inherited goodwill, to account for the exceptional profits. In all such cases it may be suggested that the employers would be wise, not only in their own interests, but for the sake of the industrial welfare of their country, to give their employees a share of profits on some definite plan. Profit-sharing schemes are much more easily established and maintained when profits are high than when they are low and irregular.
Such cases as those just referred to are, however, exceptional. More often it will be found that the employer's profits, after deducting a reasonable rate of interest on capital, would not make any serious difference to each workman's wage if distributed equally among all the persons employed. Nor is it possible to leave out of account the very large number of firms which make no profits at all. I have before me the accounts of an important colliery company which has lost money year after year, and now is trying in vain to find some new group of persons with fresh capital and fresh optimism to take over the concern. In a recent year the company raised and sold coal to the value of 45,0001. Out of this total, labour received 29,6231. under the head of wages, plus 7071. under salaries. Capital received 8431. in the shape of interest on debentures. The ordinary shareholders, with a paid-up capital of 100,0001., received not one penny. Yet it was the enterprise of these share
. holders which opened up the colliery, and enabled the nation to obtain for its use many thousand tons of good coal which otherwise would have remained buried beneath the earth. These same shareholders by risking their capital also enabled a large number of colliers to earn wages far in excess of those paid to men doing similar work above ground. For these services to the community the owners of this 100,0001. have received no reward whatsoever. They have lost for many years the interest which they might have obtained in a score of safe investments, and now they are about to lose their capital too. Unless capitalists have the chance of off-setting such losses as these by occasional large gains they will not invest their capital in the establishment of new enterprises. There will consequently be a falling-off in the production of national wealth, and in the sum total of employment. These are considerations which may be commended to the attention of Socialists like Mr. George Lansbury, who, in the House of Commons and elsewhere, talk as if all the wealth annually created was due to the workman's pick. If Mr. Lansbury really believes this nonsense, let him take a workman, or a hundred workmen, to a field covering a coal seam a quarter of a mile down, and tell them to get out the coal
with their picks and to keep all the profits of their industry for themselves.
Neither the coal industry nor any other industry can be carried on unless an adequate supply of capital is annually forthcoming, and the supply will certainly fail if the capitalist cannot on the average obtain what he regards as a sufficient remuneration for his risk and forbearance. The workman is equally entitled to say that he will not go down into the pit unless he receives what he considers a sufficient wage; and it then remains for the community to consider whether it can afford to pay the aggregate price.
Lest the point should be raised, it is worth while to add parenthetically that this broad way of stating the problem is not affected by the question of mining royalties. For example, in the case of the colliery referred to above, rent and royalties together amounted to 27021., so that even if this item had been wiped out entirely the shareholders would only have received the altogether inadequate return of 2.7 per cent. on their investment of 100,0001. Royalties throughout the kingdom vary from 24d. per ton up to 1s. 3d., the average working out to about 6d. The total amount of the royalties is the comparatively insignificant sum of about 6,000,0001. a year. On no principle would it be justifiable to hand over this sum either to the capitalist or to the collier. If the royalties are to be taken away from their present owners—in defiance of legally established rights—they can only be assigned to the nation as a whole, and used in reduction of general taxation. Already, by the way, mining royalties pay to the State a tax of over 10 per cent. Since there is so much popular misconception on this subject, it is perhaps worth while to add that the Royal Commission on Mining Royalties--which included such well-known spokesmen of the miners as Mr. Thomas Burt and Mr. William Abraham, besides representatives of colliery companies and impartial economists like Professor Munro-reported as follows :
We are of opinion that the system of royalties has not interfered with the general development of the mineral resources of the United Kingdom or with the export trade in coal with foreign countries.
We do not consider that the terms and conditions under which these payments are made are, generally speaking, such as to require interference by legislation.
We come back, then, to the point that the question of increasing the wages of coal-miners is one between the miners and the community. The miners want to get as high a wage as possible : the community wants to obtain coal as cheaply as possible. Both aspirations are equally natural and legitimate : the question
is on what principle should the controversy be settled. That there is no justification for the use of force on either side ought to be universally admitted. The nation has no right to compel miners to hew coal for a less wage than they consider sufficient : and, equally, the miners have no right to prevent the community from obtaining coal as cheaply as it can be got.
It is upon the second of these propositions that the present controversy really turns. In effect the miners are preventing the community from obtaining coal a's cheaply as it can be got, and they are doing this by the use, or by the threat, of force. There can be not the slightest doubt that if every collier in the kingdom knew that he was free from all risk of personal violence or molestation for disregarding the orders of the trade union, there would be no strike. It is inconceivable that miners in one county would voluntarily go on strike in order to secure for miners in another county a higher minimum wage than they are themselves earning. Altruism does not run to these lengths even in English trade unions. The threatened coal strike of this year, like the railway strike of last year, has been engineered by very skilful leaders, who have captured the machinery of the unions and have behind them a fighting force of enthusiasts who by their energy dominate the more apathetic majority. These elements dictate the policy of the unions, and if any individual member ventures to oppose that policy, life is made extremely uncomfortable for him. There is, consequently, no chance of obtaining a fair settlement of the wages question until adequate police and military protection is given to the individual working-man.
That is exactly what the present Government has so far refused to give. In previous labour disputes extra police have, it is true, been sent to disturbed districts, but they have been little use against armed mobs. Soldiers, who alone possess the weapons necessary for quelling a riot, have generally been withheld until the mischief has been done and a whole district has been terrorised. On no occasion has the Government made it clear from the outset of the dispute that, whatever might be the cost, the liberty of the individual workman to work or not to work would be protected. Yet the same Government did not scruple to send 5000 soldiers to Belfast in order to secure the right of free speech for Mr. Churchill. By all means let freedom of speech be protected, but freedom of labour is even more important.
This does not in the least mean that the work of trade unions is to be set aside. It only means that this very valuable work must be based on the willing assent of the members of the union. If not, it becomes possible for a well-organised union to establish an effective tyranny over its members, and to exercise that tyranny
in such a way as to inflict the gravest injustice on the rest of the community. The moment the output of coal from the mines of the country ceases, a large number of workmen engaged in other industries will be thrown out of employment. Many of these workmen under ordinary conditions would be earning very much less than the wages which coal-getters demand as a minimum. When thrown out of work they will be earning nothing at all. If perfect liberty existed throughout the community a considerable proportion of these men would immediately find their way to the coal-pits, there to undertake the work which the members of the Miners' Federation refuse to discharge.
In this way the question of the remuneration of miners would settle itself automatically. If the work is so hard, and requires so much skill that a sufficient supply of competent men cannot be obtained, except by offering a wage far in excess of that earned in other occupations, then that high wage must be paid by the community. But if a large number of men are competent and willing to do miners' work at lower rates than those demanded by the Miners' Federation, it is unjust to them and to the community that they should be deprived of the liberty of doing so. For in that event the Miners' Federation will be able not only to destroy the existing occupations of a vast number of innocent men, but also to prevent these same men obtaining coal either for sale or for their own domestic use. The proposal to exercise such an intolerable tyranny as this is all the more unjustifiable in view of the particular ground on which the present dispute is based. For the miners are not now demanding a better reward for the work of supplying the community with coal. What they are demanding is that they shall be paid upon a system which will certainly tend to reduce the output of coal, and so injure every coal consumer in the kingdom without necessarily adding a penny to the earnings of the coal producers.
This anti-social and unjust demand ought to be resisted at any cost, not only because it is in itself injurious to the nation, but also because a concession made to the Miners' Federation-not on account of justice but on account of fear-will only increase the grip of that body over the coal resources of the country, and intensify the tyranny which it is able to exercise over the rest of the community. Radical orators are fond of letting themselves go in perorations about the way in which the landlords have monopolised the natural resources of the country. So far as coal is concerned, the only monopolists are the Miners' Federation. Hundreds of different landlords are eagerly offering their pits in competition with one another : hundreds of enterprising capitalists are willing to risk their money in order to get out the