As it was in the beginning

On Friday, February 24th, 1914, Mr. R. D. Denman, Liberal member for Carlisle, moved the second reading of a bill having for its ob­jects (1) cutting down facilities exempting chil­dren from school attendance; (2) doing away with half time employment; (3) regulating child employment up to 16 years of age, and (4) abo­lishing street trading by males under 17 years of age, and by females under 18 years of age.

Of course, the Labour Party had a voice in the discussion—or rather they had voices. Mr. Goldstone as the spokesman of the Labour Party was in favour of the second reading, but Mr. A. Smith, the Labour member for Clitheroe, in the course of his remarks against the abolition of the half time system spoke “of the necessity that the weaving trade should be got hold of when the fingers were supple and could be adapted to the industry, but did not think a year would make a great deal of difference on this point !”

Strange, is it not, how history repeats itself ? The argument Mr. Smith, Labour Member of Parliament, uses to day in favour of the textile industry (mostly cotton), was identical with that used by the silk manufacturers in 1833 and 1844.

Listen to this iten from “Capital,” p. 279-280.

“In 1833 they had howled out in threatening fashion ‘if the liberty of working children of any age for 10 hours a day were taken away, it would stop their works.’
“It would be impossible for them to buy a sufficient number of children over 13. They extorted the privilege (under Factory Acts, &c.) they desired. The pretext was shewn on sub­sequent investigation to be a deliberate lie. It did not, however, prevent them, during 10 years, from spinning silk 10 hours a day out of the blood of little children who had to be placed upon stools for the performance of their work. The Act of 1844 certainly ‘robbed’ them of the ‘liberty’ of employing children under 11 longer than 6½ hours a day. But it secured to them, on the other hand, the privilege of working children between 11 and 13, 10 hours a day, and of annulling in their case the edu­cation made compulsory for all other factory children. This time the pretext was ‘the delicate texture of the fabric, on which they were employed requiring a lightness of touch only be acquired by their early introduction to these factories.’
“The children were slaughtered out-and-out for the sake of their delicate fingers, as in Southern Russia the horned cattle for the sake of their hide and tallow.”

Here ends our quotation from “Capital” and there are two questions rise to our minds. One is, has the Labour member for Clitheroe advanced any different argument for the retention of half time labour in the cotton factories than did the rapacious and bloodthirsty profit hun­ting silk manufacturers ; and can one term the Labour Party a party of progress even, whilst it contains people who advance (supposedly in the workers’ interests) “pretexts” advanced by capitalists 70 years ago ia their interests ?


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