"The Miners' Conference at Leeds [in 1863] was in many respects a notable gathering. Instead of the formless interchange of talk which had marked the previous conference, [Alexander] MacDonald induced the fifty-one delegates who sat from the 9th to the 14th of November 1863 at the People's Co-operative Hall to organise their meeting on the model of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, and divide themselves into three sections, on Law, on Grievances, and on Social Organisation, each of which reported to the whole conference. . . ." -- Sidney and Beatrice Webb, The History of Trade Unionism.The transactions of that conference contain an equally notable section on long hours of work that the Webbs quoted a brief passage from. B. McCormick and J. E. Williams later relied on the fragment cited by the Webbs to conclude that "from an early date, the eight-hour day was seen as a means of restricting output and thereby maintaining or improving wages." Actually, the argument presented in the transactions -- and even the brief passage quoted by the Webbs and quoted second-hand by McCormick and Williams -- was much subtler and more nuanced than "restriction of output." It would better be described as "optimization of the ratio of output to effort." The key phrase is:
"Reduction of toil, and consequent improved bodily health, increases production in the sense of profit; and limits it so as to avoid overstocking; better wages induce better habits, and economy of working follows."That is, reduction of toil BOTH increases AND limits production. The joke is on McCormick and Williams, who falsely cited their source as the transactions themselves rather than the Webbs' history even as they replicated the Webbs' ellipsis and pagination error. The joke is that the original document presented a sophisticated satirical commentary on the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the "partizans" of capital who invoke "the infallible and inevitable result of demand and supply" to dismiss the miners' grievances as "proof of ignorance of the first principles of political economy."
The following excerpt is from the "Introductory Report" of the Transactions and Results of the National Association of Coal, Lime and Iron-Stone Miners of Great Britain Held at Leeds, November 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, 1863:
LONG HOURS OF WORKING, AND LEGISLATIVE INTERFERENCE.
The hours of work and the rate of wages were, in many instances, brought forward as grievously oppressive. Of course, the very mention of these as grievances will be set down as proof of ignorance of the first principles of political economy. The infallible and inevitable result of demand and supply will, we are told, regulate these perfectly and completely, and that any other regulations have always proved failures, and will always remain proofs of ignorance and folly. To the doctrine of perfection and infallibility we must bow, of course; but where the common instincts of human nature rebel, it may not be out of place to inquire a little further into the facts.
Legislation has interfered advantageously—limiting the age and time of labour and education in the Factories' Act; and instead of its failing, it has benefited greatly all that are concerned. With reduced time of working, production has advanced, profit and wages have increased, health and morals have improved, and, according to the evidence given at the Bradford Social Science Meeting (1859), where this subject was largely discussed, the Factories' Act has been, as nearly as human action can be, an unmitigated benefit and blessing. If, then, the evil of over-work time in factories has been checked by legislation, may not the same benefit be obtained in mines? Already boys are not admitted under 10, and that principle is sought to be extended to 12 years of age —limiting the time of work "to eight hours, and no more," daily, until 16 years of age.
EVIL OF OVERWORK.
Another result now follows overwork. Low wages and overwork go together;—indeed, they appear inseparable. The time of working in mines is exceedingly irregular. In Yorkshire and the North, the time is from 6, 8, 10, to 12 hours; southward and west, it extends to 12, 14, and even more hours daily; and exactly in the same ratio the miners are paid, better or worse. In Wales, Staffordshire, and Lancashire, the hours are long, and the pay disproportionately low; in some cases, not more than 2s. 6d. daily average. Where hours are shorter, it reaches 3s., 4s., and even 5s. average daily. Perhaps one of the best instances of regulation of time and results will be found in the account of a colliery of Messrs. Charlesworth's, at Rawmarsh, where it will be proved, according with what might be expected, that the right and the reasonable is also the most economical, paying, and most successful.
RESTRICTION AND ADVANTAGES OF REGULATION AND EDUCATION.
There is an intimate connexion betwixt physical and moral relations. Over-toil produces over-supply; low prices and low wages follow; bad habits and bad health follow, of course; and then diminished production and profits are inevitable. Reduction of toil, and consequent improved bodily health, increases production in the sense of profit; and limits it so as to avoid over-stocking; better wages induce better habits, and economy of working follows. Whatever, therefore, injures labour, ends in injuring capital also;—whatever permanently advantages the labourer, must in the end benefit the capitalist. The evil of over-toil and over-supply upon wages, and upon the labourer, is therefore a fair subject of complaint; and, we submit, as far as these are human by conventional arrangements, are a fair and proper subject of regulation. Regulations must, of course, be two-fold. Part can be legislated for by compulsory laws; but the principle must be the subject of voluntary agreement. Parliament may now be appealed to for the restriction of youthful labour, and the men themselves may properly fix their own working hours. This is what miners are now attempting, and in which they give great offence. Whatever may be said by opponents of the radical error of Parliament interfering with the relations of labour and capital, supply and demand, at all, or in any shape; we have the admission of Lord John Russell that such interference has proved in the Factory Acts eminently advantageous to all concerned—[See address of his lordship at the Birmingham Social Science meeting, 1857, vol. 1, p. 32],—and was shown most triumphantly at the Social Science meeting at Bradford, before quoted, that while the hours of labour had been restricted in every department of that employment, production had enormously increased. It should be taken into account that education had been extended by the same Act which restricted the labour of the young, and the two together are, we believe, the connecting causes or conditions of the economic improvement. On the evidence of these indisputable facts, we argue also that similar results would follow in the coal trade. The human and natural conditions are the same; and the social might be, if men would but agree to make them so.
ALL REGULATION OPPOSED.
Deplorable, however, is the fact that, while the ignorant and degraded miner has constantly and uniformly advocated both restriction of time, and extension of education, the more learned and enlightened employer and capitalist has been as uniform in opposition to both. This is remarkably shown in the discussion given by Mr. Tremenheere, the chief mining inspector, in his report for 1858; and especially in the bill prepared by the coal employers for the session of 1860, in which the education clause introduced by Government was entirely (in their own words)— "Education Clauses omitted" altogether. And, acting under this spirit, after the Education Clauses had been passed by the Commons, it was opposed by the employers, and struck out in the Lords; and when the Commons rejected the alteration, a negative compromise was only reluctantly submitted to. How that has been worked, is well worthy of the attention of the reader in the various reports presented to the Conference. The almost uniform return is, that it has excluded the ignorant, but it has not furnished education, or promoted its extension.
PROPOSED EDUCATION CLAUSES.
The reports' committee believe that although negative educational clauses have considerable advantage, a constructive arrangement providing education would be better still. In a former condition of things, this would have been imperative; but at present it is not so. The general extension of education, the means and facilities promoted and provided by the Government measures, have put the opportunities of education in almost every place required. Schools and good teachers are very general in coal districts; and hence, in the educational recommendation of the Conference, it will be perceived that the measures are but a further carrying out of the principle of the Miners' Educational Legislation of 1860. This course was followed after much consideration, and on the counsel of some of the most judicious and competent advisers and friends of the miners. Laws must have a relation to the condition of men and things; and if we cannot have all we would, the thing next best is, to attain to the best practicable mode of working.
VOLUNTARY RESTRICTIONS OF LABOUR.
Asking for Legislation thus far to restrict working and to induce education, we think the next step rests with the miners themselves. Men may do much for themselves that Parliament could not do. There is no Act of Parliament to compel colliers to work long hours; and if long hours' working is proved to be an evil, the remedy is in their own hands. We have the opinion of the miners universally as to the fact of the evil; and the evil has itself suggested the remedy. Perhaps the conviction of the evil has been strengthened by the constant teaching and evidence of the coal owners, and of political economists themselves. They have been constantly telling the men that wages must be reduced in consequence of over-supply. Over-supply of labour and production has been their constant song for years; and they ought to be scarcely surprised at the seed taking root and growing to a restriction of both. Of course, carried too far,—and restriction indeed in any shape is a restriction to the wealth, power, and production, if the division of wealth to labour followed in any adequate proportion the production—it would be an evil in the degree exercised. But, in practice, this is not so; indeed, it is in a remarkable degree exactly the contrary. Scarcity enhances price; production reduces it. This, of course, applies to labour; and thus the labourer has found that 8 hours' work has actually advanced wages over the toil of 12, 14, or 16. It is anomalous, but not less a fact; and a fact that it would be folly in the miner not to avail himself of. We are not desirous of pushing this restriction too far, and of thereby affecting the public interests and well-being. True, by the doctrines of the economists, even this is legitimate. "Self-interest, however far followed up in this way, is, in the long run, an advantage even to the public."* But if a public evil, it would, we are told, correct itself by the perfect and the inexorable law of supply and demand, and be all right at last; and we leave those who have taught such doctrines on the side of capital, to answer it when applied to the use of labour. We know that "sauce for the goose is 'not' sauce for the gander," i.e., capital and labour ought not to be open to the same actions and arguments in the eyes of the partizans of the former. Of the consistency of such ideas, operatives are, however, apt to judge, and therewith not to agree.
* See School Book of Political Economy published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.