Facts for Socialists

The contention of the Socialist that the whole working class is sweated is amply proved by the evidence of even our opponents. The National Anti-Sweating League, organised in a vain attempt to deal solely with the worst effects of capitalism, provides in its “Report of the Guildhall Conference on a Minimum Wage,” information from which may be deduced not alone the futility of the League’s attempt to destroy effects without removing the cause, but also the fact that the description given by the Socialist of the position of the working class is not in the slightest exaggerated.

Mr. Stephen Walsh, M.P., in the course of a paper on “Present Steps towards a Minimum Wage”, said:

“The average wage paid by the employer in 1888 was 5s. a day for the collier in the Federation area. Even in the great lock-out in 1893, when the colliers’ earnings had been uplifted by 40 per cent., the collier could not be earning more than 7s. a day. That might be considered to be a big figure compared with other unskilled trades. But the trade was of a very fluctuating character. It must be remembered that the men were not working more than nine days in the fortnight—in the Midlands, pits were not worked more than three or four days a week. That means that the average wage of the coal hewer comes out at about 28s. a week—a figure borne out by statistics of the money paid in compensation claims. That is the very best class of workman.

“It was in 1894 that a Conciliation Board was formed consisting of twelve representatives from each side, with an independent chairman, who was called upon in the event of disagreement. In 1893 the employers asked for 25 per cent. reduction, and it will be remembered what a terrible lock-out ensued, causing suffering not only to the men but to the public. In 1894 the Conciliation Board was formed, and the men assented to a 10 per cent. reduction. In 1894-96 the Board continued. It lapsed for two years, was revived in 1898, and has since been renewed at periods of three years.

“Although the men have this means of defending themselves, they are still earning, roughly, about 28s. a week. Women and boys are very largely outside the union. The girls working on the surface are also not in the union. In fact, it may be said that something like 80 per cent. of the surface hands are not in any organisation, with the consequence that in negotiations with the employers the men are constantly told that these people must be excluded from consideration. The growing youth cannot have his wages determined by the Board, but they are fixed by the employer’s estimate of his usefulness.

“Girl labour on the surface has existed for more than 30 years, and Lancashire especially suffers from it. A few pits in the south-west district and a large number in Scotland also employ girl labour. Thirty years ago girls were paid anything from 1s. 4d. to 2s. 6d. on the pit banks, and they were working, certainly, not longer hours than at present—even shorter hours in Lancashire. The chances are that a woman will now earn from 1s, 3d. to 2s., 1s. 8d. being about the average. As the working hours are about nine and a half per day the wage cornea out very little better than 2d. an hour. It might be said that the work did not require much skill or physical energy. Cleaning the dross is not heavy work, and pushing the waggons has been done away with. But many of the women are exposed to the inclemency of the weather. The fact remains, too, that these girls are earning less than they did 30 years ago, and have to depend partly for a living upon the earnings of fathers and brothers in the mine. In no case, if we take Lancashire, are the women working, even in good years, more than nine days a fortnight; and a wage of 6s. 9d. a week, with a reduction for the club of which she is a member, is utterly insufficient for a woman’s subsistence wage. Twenty-eight shillings a week paid to a collier are practically wages paid to him and his girls, so that their combined wages may eke out a family living.

“Whereas twenty years ago day wage men were earning 4s. to 5s. a day we find that to-day little more than 40 per cent. is suggested to have been placed on their wages.

“I can only say that this apparent improvement in the men’s position is very illusory ; the generosity of the employer has not been applied. As a matter of fact, when the increased hours of work and the higher price of fuel, household commodities and house rent are considered, the day hands in the mine are in a worse condition than they were eighteen years ago.

“Although one of the most powerful of the trade organisations has been endeavouring to establish a minimum wage for the coal mining industry in the federated area, it has so far not succeeded in doing so. An attempt has been made to abolish the piece rate but there is the risk of inviting competition and bringing in the unemployed compelled by physical necessity. It has been generally found that if a man leaves work in a mine the man who takes his place earns sixpence a day or so lower than the wages his predecessor received. Again, the mining tonnage rate is no indication of the earning capacity of a man. The diversities are so infinite that it is impossible to say what a man can earn on a particular tonnage rate, and so the decision is left to the caprice of the official in the mine.

“We have, however, established over large areas not the mere field rate but price lists and working conditions that have focussed and crystallised payment for varying conditions in the mines. But there is a large section of the mines in which this particular work has not been done.

“Nevertheless, 18 years of continuous effort has failed to delete the present wages system, failed to establish a minimum wage. I can only ask the Conference to consider if a great organisation numbering well over three hundred thousand workers has failed to do this what must be the task of establishing a minimum wage in an industrial body which is hardly organised at all.”

Mr. L. G. Chiozza Money, M.P., in dealing with “Sweating in relation to the National Dividend” said :

“The existence of an enormous number of poor people in what is reputed to be a wealthy country is vaguely known and as vaguely wondered at. It should be the endeavour of everyone who is interested in any one or all of the many phases of poverty to acquaint himself specifically with the best information which is available as to the actual amount of poverty which exists, and as to the facts relating to the manner of distribution of wealth which makes poverty so common. Armed with this material, those who sympathise with the sweated can show with near approximation what amount of underpayment of labour exists throughout the country as a whole, and the criminality of gross underpayment in view of the available resources of the nation.

“By the National Dividend we mean the aggregate of all the incomes, large and small, of the people of the United Kingdom. We can form an approximately correct idea of its extent by adding to the incomes of the income tax paying classes, as ascertained by the Inland Revenue authorities, an estimate of the total amount of wages and small salaries earned by those who have not the pleasure of paying income tax. I give a brief account of how I arrived at the income of the British people in 1904.

“First I take the gross assessment to income tax for 1903-4 which is nearly £903,000,000. I correct this, on the one hand, by deducting items which are not real income, such as the cost to a landlord of repairing his house, etc., and, on the other hand, for amounts of income which ought to come, but which do not come, under the attention of the authorities. These various corrections, with the details of which I do not burden this paper, reduce the £903,000,000 of gross assessment to £830,000,000, which figure represents the net income enjoyed by the income tax paying classes.

“Now that disposes of an enormous amount of income, but only of a very small number of people, for the income tax is levied upon those who are in receipt of upwards of £160 a year, so that we have not got very far in point of population. Below the income tax line we have to deal with not only the whole of what are commonly called the manual labour classes, but with those other orders of poor people who, in a very real sense, are working men, viz., small tradesmen, clerks, shopmen, travellers, canvassers, teachers, agents, small farmers, inn-keepers, lodging house keepers, civil servants, pensioners, and so forth. From a close examination of the census records I have arrived at the conclusion that there are about three millions belonging to those occupations who earn less than £3 a week. How much do they earn on the average ? I have gone over that very carefully and believe that their average earnings cannot be placed higher than £75 a year, ranging from the 8s. or 10s. a week of the office boy to the £3 a week of the superior clerk. Accepting this estimate tentatively, we get as the income of this particular part of the working population £225,000,000.

“It remains to deal with the greatest bulk of all, viz., the manual workers commonly so-called, including, in addition to all those engaged in agricultural, industrial, and domestic service, soldiers, sailors, policemen, and postmen.

“Those, using the census of 1901 as a basis, I estimate to number 15,000,000, men, women, boys, and girls, in the year 1904. Unfortunately, we have not in this country, as we ought to have, a permanent and continuous census of wages. We are very neglectful in the matter of records, and the only official census of wages which we have ever made was got out in 1886 by the Board of Trade. I have used this as a basis and allowed for the changes of wages which have taken place since that date.

“In 1886, the average wage, giving due weights to the respective proportions of men, women, and children, was only 17s. 6d. per week. In 1904, allowing for the general rise in wages in the interval, it amounted to 20s. 6d. per week. It should be borne in mind that this figure represents rates of wages and not earnings. If we want earnings we must make an allowance for idleness from whatever cause arising, whether from sickness, accident, lock-out, strike, weather, slack time, total unemployment, or drink. Allowing for these things, we cannot assume that the average wage is earned for more than 44 weeks out of 52 weeks in such a year as 1904—20s. 6d. a week for 44 weeks means £45 in the year.

“But we have to consider that not all those who figure in the census sheets as manual workers can be counted as normal workers. There is the great army of casuals, ne’er-do-wells, aged persons, men and women broken in health, and last, but not least, those employed in what are called sweated industries. I do not think that, of the 15,000,000 manual workers, we can estimate these most unfortunate of the industrial army at less than one-fifteenth of the whole, or say, 1,000,000 persons. The earnings of these 1,000,000 persons I estimate at £25,000,000 per annum, or an average of about 10s. per week per person.

“The remaining 14,000,000 manual workers I assume to draw the average earnings of £45 a year already referred to, which amounts to £630,000,000. With the £25,000,000 of the unfortunate 1,000,000 persons we arrive at £655,000,000 as the total earnings of the manual labourers in 1904.

“We have now got out the aggregate income of the United Kingdom, made up as follows :—
(a) Those with over £3 a week… £830,000,00
(b) Those with less than £3 a week (Manual workers £655,000,000 plus, lower middle classes,
£225,000,000) ……£880,000,000

“It will be seen that the income respectively above and below the income tax line of £3 per week is almost equal in amount. £830,000,000 lies above the line ; £880,000,000 lies below the line.

“The important consideration now arises, how many people enjoy these respective amounts of income—how many people in our nation of 43,000,000 people have over £3 per week ? This important question I have been able to answer, and as the method of obtaining the answer has survived a great deal of both friendly and hostile critisism, it may be taken as being as nearly accurate as is needed for a proper judgment to be formed in the matter. The number of income tax paying individuals is, as nearly as possible, one million. It follows that nearly half of the income of the nation is possessed by one million people, who, if each of them be taken as a representative of a family of five, stand for only 5,000,000 people in the nation of 43,000,000 people. The second half of the national dividend is shared up by the balance of the nation, viz., 38,000,000 of people.

“These are exceedingly significant and extraordinary facts, but even more significant and extraordinary is the further calculation which I will now put before you.

“I have been able to split up the one million income tax payers at the £700 a year line. Between £160 a year and £700 a year there are 750,000 taxpayers, representing 3¾ millions of people, who take only £245,000,000 out of the £830,000,000. The balance of the £830,000,000 is £585,000,000, and this enormous sum is the annual income of only 250,000 taxpayers, who represent with their families not more than 1¼ million of the entire population. Broadly speaking, one-thirtieth of the entire population take more than one-third of the entire national dividend of the country. To put it in another way, 1¼ million people take in rent and interest a sum as large as the entire earnings of the manual labour classes, who, with their dependents, number 30,000,000 of people.

“The 250,000 taxpayers who take nearly £600,000,000 worth of income, include in their number, of course, the owners of practically all the factories, docks, warehouses and workshops of the country. The small number of income tax payers will, perhaps, not seem so surprising if it is remembered that there are only 100,000 factories in the whole of the United Kingdom, while the total number of factories, workshops, docks, wharves, quays, and warehouses registered in the United Kingdom does not amount to more than about 250,000.

“There is much talk of small shareholders, but as a matter of fact, shareholders, both large and small, are remarkably few. There is a firm in the City—Messrs. George S. Smith and Son—who collect all shareholders’ names, and make an alphabetical list of them for advertising purposes. Mr. George Smith informs me that there are only 500,000 names on his lists, which are practically complete, so that of the 1,000,000 people above the income tax line, only one-half are shareowners. The whole of the railway stock of the country is owned by only 180,000 people.

“It would be the easiest possible matter, if I had time, to put before you hundreds of current balance sheets, and to show you by existing examples the manufacture in detail of the contrasting elements of Riches and Poverty, which I have already shown you in the gross. The process is going on every where around us, and I hold that it is futile to talk about remedies for sweating while we consent to methods which produce poor people who, in their turn, are catered for by the supply of sweated products. The poor are the chief customers of the sweater.

“I do not propose to place many examples before you, but content myself by presenting several striking ones which may be taken as illustrative rather than exceptional. I have examined for 1904 the balance sheet of Messrs J. Lyons and Co., who employ a very large number of young girls at low wages. I find that the Company’s gross profits on trading for that year are £474,000, while salaries, wages, rents, rates, repairs, horse-keep, maintenance, etc., only come to £327,000. There was, therefore, a net profit of £147,000. I don’t know exactly what salaries and wages come to, but it is clear from the balance sheet that they were less than the £147,000 worth of profit. Thus the sleeping partners got more than the working partners.

“The case of the Newcastle-on-Tyne Electric Supply Company Limited is even clearer. I have the balance sheet for 1905 which shows that the people of Newcastle paid the Company £145,000 for Electric current, etc., and that the Company paid for rent, coal, etc., only £37,000 ; for wages only £34,000, leaving a profit of £74,000. Here the sleeping partners took far more than the working partners.

“Take again the National Telephone Company’s balance sheet for 1904. The public paid the Company £2,000,000, and the total outlay for rents, wages, materials, management, etc., was £1,150,000 leaving a net profit of £850,000. It is perfectly clear from these figures that the sleeping partners took far more than the working partners.

“I should like it to be particularly observed that when I refer to wages in connection with these balance sheets I mean not only wages for manual labour but for mental labour also.

“I repeat that it is unnecessary to multiply examples but these lamentable contrasts between profits and wages are a common-place of limited ability balance sheets.

“It is the fact that the underpayment of labour is deliberately counted upon which makes it possible for company promoters to promise large dividends. Thus, in a gas company prospectus issued in the public press in 1905, it was deliberately calculated that labour, manual and mental, would cost less than £2,000 per annum, while nearly £6,000 of profit per annum would result from the operations.

“It should not be forgotten, also, that ursury grows by what it feeds on. As soon as the big dividend is realised, ursury can claim its capital value in the stock market and the rise in value of the shares, instead of adding to the remuneration of the worker, actually becomes a weapon to be used against him. This, again, I may illustrate. I wrote in the Daily News of the 30 per cent. dividends and the low wages of Messrs. Lyons and Co. An indignant shareholder immediately wrote to me to point out that: “Most of the shareholders have paid £6 or £7 per share, and so get a return of not more than 5 per cent.”

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