Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Man vs. Machine": Mr. Tufnell's Report From Lancashire (1834)

The following excerpt from E. C. Tufnell's Report to the Central Board of the 1833 Royal Commission on the Employment of Children in Factories deals with what Tufnell alleged was the nefarious "trick" -- "neither more nor less than a trick to raise wages" -- behind the Lancashire cotton spinners' support for the Ten Hour Bill. He elaborated on his theory in the anonymously published tract, Character, Object and Effects of Trades Unions.
If, then, factory work injures neither the health, the morals, the appearance, nor the education of those engaged in it, the Board will probably wish me to explain why the workmen wish for legislative restrictions. This question has been partly answered in a former page, but it may be necessary to state their reasons more at length.

They reckon, and perhaps justly enough, that a law compelling the master to turn away all under eighteen after ten hours’ work, will compel him to turn away the adults also at the same time, and stop the mill. They see that the fixed expences of the establishment remaining the same, and a smaller quantity being produced, the prices of the cotton goods would probably rise. A rise of prices they have usually found to cause an increase of wages, and therefore they conclude that a rise of prices caused by. the Ten Hour Bill will do so: thus committing the blunder of confounding a rise caused by increased demand with a rise caused by increased difficulty of production; whereas it is clear that the two cases would be attended with the essential distinction of an increased consumption accompanying the one,— a decreased the other. They go on to argue, that, in consequence of less being produced, new mills will be erected to supply the deficiency; that this will cause a demand for fresh hands; and thus the workmen out of employ will be engaged, and prevented from beating down wages by their present competition for employment. So the Ten Hour Bill is to cause all to be in work for ten hours instead of twelve, and wages are to be the same for the former time as the latter.

To refute in detail the glaring absurdity of this reasoning would be to waste the time of the Board; but it is my firm belief that could the operatives, who are now such strenuous advocates for Lord Ashley’s Bill, be persuaded of the fallacy of these opinions, -- could they be made to understand what must be the real effect of the measure on wages, -- they would form committees throughout the manufacturing districts to oppose it. Owing, I suspect, to the discussions to which our arrival in Manchester. gave rise, many of the operatives towards the conclusion of our stay seemed to have some doubts of the correctness of their first opinions respecting the effect which Lord Ashley’s Bill will produce, and-particularly as to whether the masters could not manage to work their mills beyond the ten hours with adults alone, in which case they would doubtless resort to night-work. The possibility of this result taking place has thrown them into consternation; and well it may, for I believe that of all the modes of demoralizing a manufacturing district the practice of working all night long is the most effectual. This probably is not the reason with the Ten Hour Bill operatives for dreading this result; it is sufficient for them that it would upset all their schemes for the advancement of wages. But whatever be their motives, there are certainly ample grounds for regarding such a prospect with unfeigned terror Mr. Robinson, the proprietor of a large spinning and weaving establishment at Duckenfield, who tried night-working once, says, in his evidence, that he would “rather give up manufacturing than try it again." Mr. Aaron Lees states, that during two years, when his father worked a mill in the country by night, "more bastards were produced than had ever been known in the same period before; the quantity was doubled."

This apprehension, that the masters may find means of working their factories for a longer period than ten hours, employing only hands above eighteen, or during night with hands above twenty-one, (that is, with hands who say they are above eighteen or twenty-one,) has induced many of them to advocate the plan of putting a restriction on the moving-power, and thereby preventing the steam engines or water-wheels, which set the mill machinery in motion, from working more than a certain number of hours daily. It cannot be necessary to enumerate the insurmountable objections to this proposal. Mr. Hindley says in his evidence, that on his pressing Sir John Hobhouse to make this alteration, when the Factory Bill of 1831 was under discussion, he was told by Sir John that “it would be ridiculous to mention it in the house.” The Gloucestershire manufacturers characterise the proposal as “ worthy of the darkest ages, when governments took on themselves to control, direct, and punish all handicrafts, trades, and callings for any diversity in their operations.” This is not strongly enough expressed.

It will doubtless be asked, how the stories of factory cruelty have had their rise? So far as they come from the Factory Committee of last year, and refer to my district, I think I can explain it. The selection of witnesses to be examined before that body was most extraordinary. Of the eighty-nine who gave evidence, only three came directly from Manchester, though it is the largest manufacturing town in the kingdom; and being almost wholly devoted to the cotton trade, which is as yet the only business subjected to a factory bill, some important information respecting the experience of former factory bills, and the probable effects of the change it was proposed to make, might reasonably be expected from it. Of these three witnesses, not one was a medical man, a manufacturer, or a clergyman. The first was a dresser of yarn, and is now one of the two delegates sent by the Lancashire workpeople to London to forward the passing of the Ten Hour Bill, and whose colleague is a man named Doherty, who (it is right that the character of the leaders in this business should be known) originally came to Manchester with a forged character, and was subsequently imprisoned for two years for a gross assault on a woman; the second is the keeper of a small tavern in the purlieu of the town; the third is an atheist.

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