"With these observations, and thanking the House for the indulgence it had extended to him on this occasion, he should conclude by moving the amendment of which he had given notice, namely, 'That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the origin, nature, and extent of trades' unions or combinations of workmen or employers of workmen in the United Kingdom, and the tendency of such unions or combinations to affect the free distribution of wages, labour, and employment, and also their tendency to induce the commission of outrages against persons and property, and the perpetration of murder; and also to report such suggestions for improvement in the existing laws against illegal combinations or societies as they may deem requisite.'"
Mr. O'Connell, as well as the learned Gentleman who had just sat down, had also read the evidence with great attention, and he felt that it gave the House no right to impeach the conduct of either the bench, the jury, or the prosecutors. He thought his hon. Friend was right in not pressing his motion for a mitigation of punishment. He did not see that there was any fair ground stated for an inquiry into the Glasgow case in particular; but if the system which had been so properly denounced prevailed more extensively—if combinations, not only illegal, but despotic and tyrannical, existed in any part of the empire, it was the duty of the House to give protection to the labourer, so as to enable him to dispose of his labour freely. He believed that no laws could have been more unjust than the combination laws were before they had been repealed by Mr. Hume's Act. Two persons meeting together to raise to its highest price any commodity, if it were not for labour, might so combine; but the moment they met to raise the price of labour they were considered to be guilty of a crime in the eye of the law. It was true that employers might also be found guilty of a crime, but then it was almost impossible to detect them, and they were also protected by their wealth; but the poor man was easily detected and punished. He had felt it to be his duty, and a most painful one, to take an active part in the matter, and this at the risk of a great deal of his popularity. He had in doing so of course been misrepresented; and he would avail himself of the opportunity of stating what his objects were, He was quite content with Mr. Hume's Act, and was extremely anxious that the labouring classes should have the full benefit of it. It repealed an unjust law; and he did not wish for any more law, certainly, than was to be found in Mr. Hume's Act. He called it Mr. Hume's Act. He did believe that whenever the country lost that hon. Gentleman—and he conceived that whenever it did happen it would be a great loss—but that no more honourable inscription could be placed on his tomb than that he was the person that brought in that Act of Parliament. That at least was his belief. That Act stated what it was that was permitted to be done in future. It allowed combination to every class of workmen. They could combine and agree together to obtain more wages than they had before, or to prevent their wages from being lowered. It was fair for them to combine for such purposes. This they could do for themselves; but the moment they attempted to coerce others, the moment that they carried the effect of their combination to any other individuals, that instant crime commenced, and they were not only guilty of a crime in the eye of the law, but also of a moral crime, and they inflicted a robbery upon others. The hon. Member for Finsbury seemed to think that the sentence which had been passed was contradictory to the Act of Parliament, for having read those particulars which were not included within legal combination, the hon. Member said that the punishment for any of those offences was only three months' imprisonment. The hon. Member had not read the Act with the eye of a lawyer. The crimes were made so punishable by a summary process by the seventh section; but the Legislature, in allowing a summary process before magistrates, only limited the punishment to persons "being convicted thereof in the manner hereinafter mentioned." Where there were no judge and no jury to decide, and where the summary process was permitted, the punishment was not to exceed three months' imprisonment. But where there was an indictment for a conspiracy, then the case would be tried before a judge and a jury, both in England and Ireland; and if a conviction took place, a much longer punishment could be inflicted: and, as it seemed in Scotland, even transportation could be imposed. There was, then, no violation of the Act on the conviction that had taken place. The object of the Act was to secure individual freedom. The very recital of the Act showed that it was intended upon the one hand to make combination perfectly legal, and upon the other, to punish the infringement upon the rights of third persons. The Act had been called the great charter of the workmen of this country, and it was so. That charter distinctly recognised the right of each individual to his liberty, and the law protected that individual in the exercise of his labour. The efforts made by combinators to raise their wages when confined to themselves were legitimate, and as long as they kept within the bounds of the law they ought not to be disturbed; but it appeared that they had forgotten the maxims on which they ought to act. They were not entitled to wages out of capital; they were only entitled to them out of profits, and if their employers made no profits the wages must decrease. Wages, which were the price of labour, must depend upon the demand; and when the supply was greater than the demand, the price of labour of course must be lowered. This was the condition of Ireland; there was a great supply of labour, and a small demand for it. Labour was in such quantities that labourers were ready to accept the small wages of sixpence a day. Labour there was so cheap because there was no demand for it. The question, then, in Ireland was, how was the demand to be created? There was but one way of creating the demand. It was only to be created by tempting capitalists to the country, in order that having cheap labour they might have profits from it. The misfortune of Ireland was, that workmen, impatient of their present state of suffering, did not wait for a gradual and progressive improvement, but they endeavoured by monopoly to obtain that which ought to arise from the competition of employers. The workmen of the city of Dublin (for his attention was directed to Ireland) sought a remedy in monopoly. They had endeavoured to narrow the supply, in order that the demand might be kept up and the amount of the wages preserved. The demand did not equal the quantity of labour in the market. The combination had for its object to close the market of labour; it sought to keep persons from entering into a competition in the market of labour, and to raise the wages by diminishing the supply. The monopoly was almost complete in Dublin. There was nothing to equal the regulations and the arrangements for keeping up that monopoly. The right hon. Gentleman had well said, that there was no tyranny equal to that which was exercised by such persons over their fellow-labourers who endeavoured to carry their own labour into the market. He had wished to show those persons the folly of their course, as well as its illegality and wickedness. He had wished to show them the evils and the defects of their monopoly. He had interviews for hour after hour with the deputation of different trades, and he must say, that he had never met with men of more ability, seldom with men of more information, and never with men of more talent in putting their views of their own case; but, instead of discussing individual cases, he had wished for a public discussion. He had sought for, he had challenged public discussion. The authorities of the city of Dublin had sanctioned it; he had made two efforts at discussion; the employers all attended for the purpose of discussion; they were ready to discuss the subject, and to show how injurious the monopoly was to the tradesmen themselves. These attempts were vain; for the workmen, by an organized arrangement, overpowered the employers, the authorities, and himself. They refused to hear him; they would not listen to him, as they acknowledged; they did not deny the violation of the law, and they expressed their determination to persevere in it. They had objected to the discussion—they refused it. He had at least done his duty, and the fault was not his, the crime was theirs, and if punishment followed from it they must blame themselves for it. He had stated that there was combination in Dublin, the workmen were associated in regular bodies, and he had now to show the effects of that combination. The plan they adopted was this:— It consisted of several parts; first, there was a large sum charged for admission into the regular bodies. The object of this was to make the monopoly as close as possible. The next was to limit, as much as possible, the number of apprentices. His hon. Friend had talked of his being an enemy to the limiting the number of apprentices. The law said there shall be no limit to the number of apprentices. The tradesman said that if they did not limit the number of the apprentices the avarice of the masters would induce them, for the purpose of receiving a fee, to take a great number of them, and thus to overstock the trade. He wanted to know if there were not in the nature of things a remedy for this. The masters took, it was said, the apprentices for the sake of the fee. Surely it was the duty and the wish of the parent to take care of his child. Was not the guardianship of the parent a good and sufficient remedy for any such case? Surely the father would not throw away his money and the time of his child by sending him to a trade likely to be overstocked. Surely this would be much better than any regulations of trade. Surely, if any human being had a regard for anything, it must be for his money and his child; and yet the legislators of the trade said it was necessary for them to have the guardianship of grown-up parents over their own children, and to prevent them throwing away their money. The next regulation was to compel workmen not to work under a minimum rate of wages. These were so high that no employer could have sufficient profits to enable him to give any man more than a minimum rate of the wages. They prescribed a minimum rate of wages, so that the best workmen would not receive more than the worst. This was one of the rigid and iron rules of the carpenters, that no man was to receive less than 4s. 8d. a day; while uneducated labour was not paid more than 6d. a-day. The carpenters insisted upon having 4s. 8d. a-day, and they took away the funds for paying the skilful workmen who might and ought to be paid twice as much as the unskilful workmen. Many men could earn much more than others, and the employers would be glad to give higher wages, but that they were compelled to give high wages to the worst men. The next rule was, not to leave the choice of workmen to employers. Each workman's name was put down in a certain order in a book, and, if an employer wanted a workman, he had to take that person whose name was the first in the order of the book; and if the employer refused that person he could not get any other workmen. That was the tyranny exercised over the master. The employer, to be sure, might turn away that man, but then he must go back to the book and get another. The carpenters carried it to this extent, that no man could take less wages than that settled by them, even if turned away a unskilful; if the same man were turned away a second time as unskilful, he must still receive the same rate of wages. If the same man was then turned away, and a third employer objected to give him the same rate of wages, he would do so at the risk of having his business stopped. Then, if turned away a third time as unskilful, there was a jury, consisting of three of his comrades, to decide upon the complaint of his unskilfulness, and if he was found not to be a skilful man, then "the indulgence" was allowed to him of taking a less rate of wages. The rules of the carpenters illustrated the system of combination in Dublin, and if the House would indulge him he would read some of their rules. The first rule was this:— "That every person from the country, not having worked more than one month in the city of Dublin, or within ten miles thereof, being desirous of becoming a member of this community, shall be admitted on paying the sum of seven guineas; and ten guineas to be the admission of colts, each person paying half the sum at first payment."—The sixth rule is this—"That no carpenter employer be allowed to take or hold more than three apprentices at any time, that is two indented and one transferred, or two transferred and one indented; the transferred boy or boys must be in all cases those who were originally bound to regular employers or regular operatives. No firm to take advantage of this rule, as there are no more apprentices allowed to any firm than there are to any single or individual employer." He believed that a more glaring, or more daring violation of law than this had never been heard of. He could show the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the effect of such regulations had been to lessen the number of employers. There was another rule (the 17th) which precluded any member from giving a detailed return for any work, except for jobbing. So that an employer could not have a detail of the day's work from one of his men. He now turned to the twenty-sixth rule;— "That any member of this community, on proof of his being discharged from three different employments for inability, to be proved by three of his shopmates, one from each employment, men of known integrity, may get indulgence for what wages the committee and his shopmates may think him worthy of." Now, who, he asked, having capital would not dispose of it, as soon as he could, rather than submit to this dictation. What had occurred since this species of combination had commenced? The cotton-printing had been established in Belfast; it had since been transferred to Dublin by Mr. Henry. The cotton-printing was carried on in Belfast by Mr. Grimshaw; and the combination had reached to such an extent in two years that the proprietor was not allowed to pay higher wages to one man than to another. The proprietor had 107 persons in his employment. He stopped his manufacture for some short time; the workpeople would not relent; the proprietor eventually abandoned the business, and that number of persons were thrown out of employment. In Bandon an extensive manufactory was established; the proprietor obtained a large contract. He bought machinery, the workmen waited until he had erected the machinery and they then turned out for higher wages — they said to him, "We know that you have got a contract in Spain and in Portugal, and you must therefore give us higher wages. The proprietor worked out the quantity which he was by writing bound to supply, and then abandoned the manufactory. The consequence was, that there was lost to Bandon ever since, wages to the amount of from 10,000l. to 12,000l. a-year. What was the consequence of the proceedings of the tradesmen of Dublin? Why, that wages to the amount of 500,000l. a-year was driven out of Dublin. Give him inquiry, and he had witnesses ready to prove this fact. Not only was this the fact, but portable articles were brought ready made into Dublin to an extent that would be actually ludicrous if it were not horrible. In the foundry trade alone he would be able to prove to demonstration that 10,000l. a-year in wages was lost to Dublin. Mr. Classon, a most respectable gentleman connected with that business, stated this at a public meeting. Another gentleman, a manufacturer in the same line, of the name of Sheridan, made a statement at a parochial meeting in Dublin, which if the House would permit him he would read. After stating a few facts relating to the Eagle Foundry, Mr. Sheridan went on to state that in consequence of the rules and regulations of the tradesmen in his employ, they were completely his masters, and he was obliged to bow to them in every respect; that business was driven out of the country every day inconsequence of the manufacturers being prohibited from employing boys, and other rules of a similarly restrictive nature, and the consequence was, that Dublin lost the advantage of having many articles manufactured in it. In order further to show the degree of tyranny that was exercised over the employers, Mr. Sheridan stated a particular instance in which an industrious man who had been long in his employment, and who had given great satisfaction, on being asked if he wished to have anything done for him, replied that he had a boy, his son, who could read and write, and that he would be obliged to his employers if they would take him as an apprentice. Mr. Sheridan agreed to take the boy as his apprentice, but his workmen immediately turned out and he was obliged to turn off the boy. The combination of tailors in Dublin had raised the price of clothes so high, that young men found it worth their while to go to Glasgow and stop a couple of days there to get their clothes, and they actually paid the entire expenses of this trip by the saving in a single suit of clothes. [A laugh.] This was ludicrous enough, but it was true. There were a number of other instances of this kind, and the result was, that business of this description had totally left Dublin. No business could better illustrate this subject than that of ship-building. He remembered that there were at one time in Dublin four principal ship-builders; there were a number of ships built there, and docks existed which were very convenient for that purpose. There was not a single shipbuilder there at present, and not a single ship was built there. There were nothing but boats built; and when any vessel put into Dublin in need of repair it was merely cobbled up so as to insure its safety across the channel, or to Belfast or Drogheda. Thus was the trade of Dublin annihilated. The employers were prevented from taking apprentices, and from employing any but the regular men, and one man who worked in opposition to the regulations of the combinators, on coming into Dublin across the canal bridge, was in the presence of upwards of twenty persons, assassinated. One of the consequences was, that shipbuilding was totally driven out of Dublin; and notwithstanding the failure of trade, when on a late occasion Mr. Fagan had two boats built on a new principle, and finding them useful gave an order for ten more, the moment he did so the workmen turned out and prevented him from building them in Dublin. The contract was taken to Belfast and executed there, and the very timber to make the boats was conveyed from Dublin to Belfast. Since the passing of the combination law four murders had occurred in Dublin, and though the combinators did not with their own hands commit these murders, yet they paid three shillings a week out of their wages for the hire of these assassins. This he was fully able to prove. He had asserted it in the presence of the parties themselves, and though certain persons said that they had nothing to do with it, yet no one denied the existence of the fact. These men, then, who paid the murderers, did not individually commit the crimes themselves, but they contributed, by payment, to the commission of crimes from which individually they would shrink. In Cork, within the last two or three years, no less than thirty-seven persons had been burnt with vitriol so as to lose their eyes, while in Dublin four murders had been committed between the time of passing and the repeal of the combination law, and three more recently. There were daily outrages, and who, he would ask, committed those outrages? It was well known that they were committed by a body of men called Welters. It would be very hard to get legal evidence against these men. There had been so little sympathy in Ireland between the governed and governors for many years, that no man who came forward in aid of a Government prosecution would feel himself safe. It was therefore difficult to get legal evidence; but there was abundant to satisfy any man of the number and nature of the crimes of these men. There was not a day but some crime was committed. On Thursday last the House of a timber-merchant was set on fire, after he had received twenty-two notices. Thus, though the tradesmen themselves did not actually commit murder, they were enabled by means of these Welters, who were ready to commit any crime, to control their employers. About a fortnight before he left Dublin, he was informed by a manufacturer that a man and his wife in his employment had died of the cholera, leaving two orphan children. The master agreed to take these orphans as apprentices without any fee, and to support them during their apprenticeship; but his men turned out and obliged him to discard the two orphans. So terrible was the power of the Welters that this gentleman did not dare to resist their mandates. If the House would allow him, he would read two cases that had occurred within the last two months before the courts in Dublin. They would give a better idea than any thing he could say of the extent of the power of the system instituted by those men. On the 4th of January two men, of the names of Quin and Murphy, were tried for beating a man violently. The evidence went to show that the only offence of the prosecutor was his not belonging to the combination, he not being able on demand to give the sign of recognition. The other case occurred on the 11th of January, when a man and his wife were severely beaten, merely because the man was not a combinator. Did he complain of the police of Dublin? A change had taken place, and the police of Dublin was now as different as possible. But he thought he had a right to say, that the magistracy of Dublin required to be changed. He did not complain of any designed faults, but Mr. Blacker was now ninety years of age, and was still a police magistrate. Major Sirr was eighty-two years old, and Alderman Darley was seventy-five. Men who had served fifteen, twenty, or thirty years in the police, ought to be removed by the Government, and why did not Government remove them? Police magistrates were entitled to retire after a certain term of service, but with only two-thirds salary. This was a false economy. It would be much better, after men had served for twenty or thirty years, to allow them to retire with their full salary. He hoped Government would consider this, and allow those gentlemen to retire on a full salary, and to appoint an efficient magistracy. He thought he had made out a complete case for inquiry. Had he made out his case as if he were the enemy of the tradesman? He had made out his case as the friend of the child whom he wanted to have educated in trade. He had made out his case as the friend of the good workman, who ought to receive large wages. He had made out his case as one who wished to see capital and the number of employers increased, by which the labourers would legitimately obtain larger wages. Could any thing be more abominable than the present monopoly; and were men to be allowed to enter into these combinations for the purpose of committing injury and injustice upon others? Was there any other country in the world in which it was so desirable to encourage the employment of labour as in Ireland? The capital in labour was immense, and the increased wealth would be immense if the capital were employed. If he had not made out a case satisfactorily he would refer to a statement made by the merchants of Dublin, which was of a terrific nature. The hon. and learned Member read certain resolutions passed at a meeting of the merchants of Dublin, denouncing in strong terms illegal combinations, and setting forth many of the regulations of the combinators which were in direct violation of the law of the land. He saw in a petition which had been presented by his hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury, that this meeting, at which these statements were made, was composed of repealers. Who were these repealers? The Lord Mayor of Dublin, the sheriffs, the aldermen, the entire corporation, with whom He had been battling all his life, bankers who had several of them taken an active part in politics against him, a class of merchants of the same description, and, in fine, many who agreed with him in his general politics, but who totally differed with him in his struggle for a separate Parliament; but all of them had agreed to the resolutions to which he referred. It was manifest that the House could not refuse this inquiry. The only question appeared to him to be whether the inquiry should be extended to Great Britain, or confined to Ireland? He claimed that it should be extended to Great Britain, and for these reasons:—It was from Manchester that these unions came; and in a proclamation which had lately issued from the unionists of that town, he (Mr. O'Connell) was called the deadly enemy of the tradesman, and the tradesmen of Dublin were told that until they freed themselves from him they could never obtain their social rights, that with him they were not safe, but that without him they would be able successfully to struggle for their rights. This seemed very much like an invitation to make short work of him, but he did not think that such could have been the intention. Look, again, at the murder of Smith, in Glasgow, one of the chief towns in moral and educated Scotland. Was it true or false what the witnesses of the Crown had sworn to on the late trial? Were not the facts of a nature imperatively to call for inquiry? But were there no recent instances in England? Had they not read, in the newspapers of the week, language applied to the Poor-law of a most dreadful nature? Had not that measure been misrepresented in every possible way, in order to inflame the minds of the people? At the meeting held at Manchester, on Monday, the 5th of February, delegates from forty-eight places attended, amongst others from Bolton, Macclesfield, Salford, Liverpool, Wigan, Oldham, Preston, Stockport, Warrington, Hyde, Huddersfield, &c. The Rev. Mr. Stephens spoke in this strain —"If this Bill were established, it should be eye for eye, tooth for tooth, wife for wife, child for child, man for man, and blood for blood, so help him God." At Stockport, on Tuesday, February 6, 1838, the Rev. Mr. Stephens figured again, and in concluding a speech on the same subject, said:— "A man whom he had never seen before, told him he had come froth an agricultural district, and that rather than be separated from his wife he had prepared a knife for the parties who made the separation. He had come into this district to obtain work, and having done so, he had a knife ready for any guardian who should attempt to separate his wife from him. This was the universal feeling of the district; and although he did not coincide with it, it was sufficient to show the law would not be submitted to." Mr. Oastler followed in like spirit: —"He knew that hunger and insult would produce effects more oppressive and awful to certain individuals than even the Commissioners' conduct had been to the people. He knew that the assassin's knife would be used." At Rochdale the Rev. Mr. Stephens said, "If it were right to confiscate the property of the people, by abrogating the 43d of Elizabeth, it would be right to confiscate the property of Rochdale, and it is right if the law of Elizabeth is to be destroyed, it is right for the poor to take a dagger in one hand, and a torch in the other, and do the best for themselves." Mr. Fergus O'Connor alluded to the "arch-fiend, Mr. O'Connell." Every allusion to Mr. O'Connell at this meeting was received with loud disapprobation. Several called out that Mr. O'Connell ought to be shot. Mr. Oastler said—"I tell you, Churchmen and Dissenters, before I would submit to such an act, I would set the whole kingdom in a blaze. I am no incendiary but I have affection in my heart; I am willing to work, and should not blush to ask for my parish pay; but if I am told I should not receive it unless I consented to be separated from my wife, I would, if I were to be hanged for it, kill him on the spot." These were specimens of the language held out to the working people of this country and of Scotland—the knife, the torch, and the dagger, were the weapons recommended; and the Rev. Mr. Stephens said at Glasgow, that he would involve the whole country in a flame before he suffered this act to come into operation. If this state of things was proved in England and in Scotland, was it not desirable that an inquiry should be instituted to ascertain the extent to which it had gone not only in Great Britain, but in Ireland also? Did he want to re-enact the laws against combinations? No; he desired no such thing, for some combinations were not only harmless, but meritorious; and he wished to separate unions of this kind from those of a pernicious character. He did not care for being called the enemy of the working classes, whilst he felt satisfied in his own conscience that he was acting as their best friend. He had not yielded to the taunts and malignity of the aristocracy when he thought that he was in the right, and he should certainly not now give way to the working classes upon a point in which he considered that they were decidedly in error. It had been reported of him that he intended only to direct his observations against the working men, and to exclude their employers from inquiry. Such was not his intention, as was clearly proved by the terms of his notice on the paper; his object was to make the inquiry as complete and searching as possible, and to bring it home to all parties. With these observations, and thanking the House for the indulgence it had extended to him on this occasion, he should conclude by moving the amendment of which he had given notice, namely, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the origin, nature, and extent of trades' unions or combinations of workmen or employers of workmen in the United Kingdom, and the tendency of such unions or combinations to affect the free distribution of wages, labour, and employment, and also their tendency to induce the commission of outrages against persons and property, and the perpetration of murder; and also to report such suggestions for improvement in the existing laws against illegal combinations or societies as they may deem requisite."