“Free” and Forced Labour


According to the “Board of Trade and Labour Gazette” for February there was a decrease during 1908 of 24,926 in the number of Chinese employed in the Transvaal. But it must not be thought that there has been a corresponding increase in the number of whites, as was anticipated by those who clamoured so loudly for the “abolition of Chinese slavery and the employment of white labour in the Transvaal.” The same authority says there has been an increase 31,176 coloured labourers and an increase of only 1,560 whites ! But we were told that the withdrawal of the Chinese from South Africa, would spell ruin to the country, and that it would be impossible to profitably work the mines. However, what are the facts ? The Cosmopolitan Financier for January says “South African shares are just ready for an all round rise. The industry is now in a sound condition as regards labour, economic working, capital and profits.” Again, “Mr. Leopold Albu in his Van Byn speech said he was ‘looking forward with absolute confidence to a continuous increase in the production of gold and in the profits from the mines, and would be greatly disappointed if, within the next five years, the production of the Rand had not reached £50,000,000 per annum, and the average working costs had not been reduced by a further 5s. to 12s. 6d. per ton.’ . . The reduction of cost is chiefly due to the labour-saving appliances and also to the supply of native labour.” The saving, says another writer in in the same journal, will be about £1,000,000 per annum. No wonder there is a rapid diminution in the number of Chinese employed.

It is well known that free labour is often far more profitable to employers than slave labour. Mr. Brassey in “Work and Wages” cites some interesting cases, and informs us on authority that prior to the emancipation of the slaves in Jamaica, 18 cwt. of sugar per acre was thought excellent, while under free labour it averaged 1 ton. He further attributes to the British Consul at Pernambuco a detailed statement of the comparative cost of work done by slave and free labour, which shows that sugar costing £4,251 to produce by slaves, would have cost only £1,080 by free labour. To further emphasize the point that free labourers, or slaves with the opportunity of earning their freedom, are more profitable than ordinary slaves, he says of some coffee-carriers in the Brazils, carrying bags of
coffee weighing 2 to 3 cwt., that they worked with intense vigour in order to earn a sufficient sum to purchase their freedom, and generally succeeded in accumulating the amount in three or four years—an effort which too often broke their health. It was the knowledge of such facts as these that caused the abolition of chattel slavery, and not the sentimentalism of moralists and alleged Christians.


(Socialist Standard, April 1909)

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