Not since the rubber boom of 1910 has such a flood of company prospectuses appeared asking for subscriptions. . . .
Many important industries have drawn together so that for several years there has been a continuous absorption of smaller concerns by bigger neighbours . . .
Over and above these special considerations, it must be remembered that the higher range of prices for commodities and of values in the country, which has accompanied the inflation of credit produced by the expenditure connected with the war, has played a great part in assisting the boom in business under takings during the past few years. . . . Profits, represented in the new money now circulating, are much larger, while fixed charges on Debenture and Preference capitals have often remained unchanged, with the result that the divisible profits of these under takings have been largely increased.
Never, I suppose, in the world’s industrial history has there been a parallel to the cotton boom in Lancashire to-day. It dazzles the imagination like a new goldfield. . . . Lancashire is in a position to squeeze humanity. And to be brutal, Lancashire fully intends to squeeze. . . .
Humanity is crying out for cotton as it has never cried before. Not only its chest of drawers, but its hack is bare. Africa, India, China, Australia, South America—all those populous regions where cotton goods are the chief clothing material—need cotton, after five years of short supply, with an unexampled urgency, and the demand of the colder countries is only less eager. They are willing to pay from three to four times as much as five years ago, and the quantity they are prepared to take at this price has no limit that can yet be fixed.
It is hardly necessary for me to tell you that there is only one boom that approaches the Lancashire cotton boom, of which I wrote recently, and that is the Yorkshire wool boom. Indeed the manufacturers of woollen goods are, if anything, better pleased than those of cotton goods, because their supply of raw material is more certain, both as to quantity and quality. Profits in some branches of the wool trade rule, too, a good deal higher than in any section of the cotton trade.
A case of poverty so distressing that the police officer who went to the house to make an arrest himself offered money to buy food and firing was before the Guildhall magistrate yesterday. . . .
When Detective Bryant visited the house there was no furniture, food, fire, or light, and Mrs. Page, her husband and five children were absolutely destitute. The husband, crippled with rheumatism, had been unable to find work. ” (“Daily News,” 21.11.19.)
The man’s wife was nearly blind and partly deaf, and he had eight children, whose ages ranged from six months to 16 years. The furniture in the house, said Mr. Biner, consisted of beds, four chairs, and a table— nothing else. Ten were sleeping in one room. The children had poor clothing and boots and were under-led, and there was no coal in the house. ” (“Daily News,” 11.11.19.)
There are long hours of work under unhealthy conditions, the exploitation of female and child labour, and Lancashire’s methods of screwing out the last ounce of production at the lowest possible price by speeding up machinery and by actual robbery of the operatives. Add to these the recurring periods of unemployment, low wages, often bad housing, and you have the explanation of the high death rate . .
The work has to be carried on amidst the ceaseless roar of machinery in artificially heated and often humidified room. It is monotonous and enervating. As to its monotony, it is sufficient to point out that mechanical invention has reached such a pitch of perfection that the machine is almost human and the human is little more than a machine. . . .
The temperature of the mill is often from 80 to 90 degrees. In such an atmosphere youths and girls are forced into maturity before their time, like plants in a hothouse. And they pay the penalty by becoming old before their time. They also pay for the contrast between the heat of the mill and the inclemency of the Lancashire climate by a great burden of sickness. They are, many of them, pallid, stunted, and narrow-chested, easy victims of consumption and bronchial affections.
It may be said that the great masses of the industrial population of Lancashire are ailing from the cradle to the grave. Nowhere do the quack doctors, the herbalists, and the venders of pills and patent medicines reap such a rich harvest as in the cotton towns.