SENIOR'S LETTERS ON THE FACTORY ACT AS IT AFFECTS THE
THIS pamphlet originated in a tour of Mr. SENIOR'S through the Manchester part of the cotton manufacturing districts, with a view to investigate the workings of the Factory Act. It consists 1st, of the author's Letters to the President of the Board of Trade, communicating the results of his observations and in- quiries; 2d, of a Letter of Mr. HORNER (the Factory Inspector) to Mr. SENIOR, commenting on the facts and conclusions of his cor- respondence, from part of which he differs ioto ccelo ; 3d, of a conversation held between Mr. SENIOR, Mr. THomsort of Clithero, and Mr. EDMUND ASHWORTH, on the subject of Educa•
akin, partly as it is, or can be conducted under the Factory Act, and partly upon the principle on which it might be generally en- forced. In a literary point of view, these Letters are very able. The subject has been comprehensively grasped ; its principles are stated largely, and in their natural order; and they are not drily laid down, but animated and enforced by the essence of an aggregation of particular facts. Some of these are the result of the writer's own observation ; others are derived from the infor- mation of the masters; and upon several of this latter class, or upon the conclusions resting on them, Mr. HORNER is at issue with Mr. SENIOR. In his preface, indeed, he seems to shake the assertions of the Factory Inspector as regards the profits of the cotton trade ; upon the subject of " relays," however, the latter
appears to have the advantage ; and as to the alleged instances of harshness in the working of the Act by the Factory Superin- tendents, only one instance is adduced in evidence, and that upon a case still pending.
The general conclusions to which we have come from a perusal of the pamphlet, do not greatly differ from those we expressed on
a former occasion, when reviewing Mr. WING'S Evils of the Fac- tory System. The hardships, or whatever else they may be called, inflicted upon the children, spring out of the condition of a
social system which cannot be remedied by partial legislation, that sometimes effects the very evil it was intended to remedy. "What are you doing here ?" said Mr. ASHTON to a little fellow,
whom he found working in one of his coal-mines. "Working in mine, till I am old enough to go into factory." As long as a state of grinding poverty renders the earnings of children an object of
importance to parents, they will compel them to work, if they can procure employment. Closing up one channel of employment will only force them into others, perhaps still more injurious. And if the exertions of legislators, humanely bolstering up the Corn-laws and every monopoly by which they genefit at the ex- pense of other people, should close up all, our lawmakers will have to deal with " an insurrection of the belly." Thus much for the general view, which Mr. SENIOR only em- braces incidentally ; his object being to ascertain if it were prac- ticable as regards the cotton-manufactory, and safe for the inte-
rests of the country at large, so far as they arc connected with that branch of industry, either to extend the provisions of the present
bill, or to render its machinery more stringent. And in both cases he decides in the negative, from reasons springing out of the nature of the manufacture (though he admits the advantage
of improvements in detail). As some of these are instructive in themselves, are stated with felicitous precision and clearness, and have a much wider application than to the mere matter in hand, we will take them in the writer's own words.
PECULIARITY OF THE COTTON 5IANUFACTURE.
I have always been struck by the difference between the hours of work usual Over the whole world in cotton factories and in other t mployments; and did not, until now, perceive the reasons. It seems to arise from two causes,—Iirst, the great proportion of fixed to circulating capital, which makes long hours of work desirable; and secondly, the extraordinary lightness of the labour, if labour it can be called, which renders them practicable. I will take them separately.
I. I find the usual computation to be that the fixed capital is in the propor- tion of four to one to the circulating ; so that if a manufacturer has 50,0001. to employ, he will expend 40,0001. in erecting his mill and filling it with ma- chinery, and devote only 10,0001. to the purchase of raw material (cotton, flour, and coals) and the payment of wages. I find also, that the whole capital is supposed in geneial to be tut tied over (or, in other words, that goods are pro- duced and sold representing the value of the whole capital, together with the manufacturer's profit) in about a year ; in favourable times in rather less—in others, such as the present, in rather more. I find also, that the net profit an- nually derived may be Militated at ten per cent. ; some computations placing it as low as seven and a half, others as high as eleven ; ten I believe to be about the average. But in order to realize this net profit, a gross ptofit of rather more than fifteen per cent. is necessary ; for although the circulating capital, being continually restored to its original form of money, may be considered as indestructible, the fixed capital is subject to incessant deterioration, not only from wear and tear, but also from constant mechanical improvements, which in eight or nine years render obsolete machinery which when first used was the best of its kind.
Under the present law, no mill in which persons under eighteen years of age are employed (and, therefore, scarcely any mill at all) can be worked more than eleven and a half hours a-day,—that is, twelve hours for five days in the week, and nine on Saturday.
Mr. SENIOR then enters into an analysis, from which it appears that the whole net profit is derived from the work done in the last hour. If the factory could be kept at work an hour and a half longer, the net profit would be doubled ; if the time were reduced one hour per day, net profit would be destroyed ; and if it were reduced an hour and a half, even gross prolit would go. The tendency of improvements in machinery, and in the means of transport, is to increase this disproportion of circulating to fixed capital; and Mr. SENIOR says—
Under such circumstances, I fully anticipate that, in a very few years, the fixed capital, instead of its present proportion, will be as 0 to 7 or even 10 to 1 to the circulating ; and consequently, that the motives to long hours of work will become greater, as the only means by which a large proportion of fixed Capital can be made profitable. " When a labourer," said Mr. Aahworth to me, "lays down his spade, he renders useless, for that period, a capital worth eighteenpence ; when one ot our people leaves the mill, be renders useless a capital that has cost IOW."
The employment in a cotton factory is not, however, so severe as has been asserted.
The exceeding easiness of cotton-factory labour renders long hours of work practicable. With the exception of the mule spinners, a very small portion of the operatives, probably not exceeding 12,000 or 15,000 in the whole kingdom, and constantly diminishing in number, the work is merely that of watching the machinery, and piecing the threads that break. I have seen the girls who
thus attend standing with their arms folded during the whole time that I stayed in the room—others sewing a handkerchief or sitting down. The work, to fact, is scarcely equal to that of a ahopman behind a counter in a frequented shop—mere confinement, attention, and attendance.
Under these circumstances, cotton factories have always been worked for very long hours. Front thirteen to fifteen, or even sixteen hours, appear to be the usual hours per day abroad. Our own, at their commencement, were kept going the whole twenty-four hours. The difficulty of cleaning and re- pairing the machinery, and the divided responsibility—arising from the neces- sity of employing a double staff of overlookers, book-keepers, Ice. have nearly put an end to this practice ; but until Itolthowre's Act reduced them to sixty- nine, our factories generally wotked from seventy to eighty hours per week. Any plan, therefore, which should reduce the present comparatively short hours, must either destroy profit, or reduce Wage,' It, the Irish standard, or raise the price of the commodity, by an amount which it is not easy for me to estimate.
The estimate in the paper signed by the principal fine ispinners, is, that it word(' raise prices by 10 per cent. That the increase of price would be such as to occasion, even in the home market, a great diminution of consumption, I have no doubt ; and from all that I read awl hear, on the subject of foreign competition, I believe that it would, in a peat measure, exclude us from the foreign market, which now takes ref three-fourths of our annual production.
Every increase of price will further diminish consumption • and every further iliminntion of consumption will occasion an increased relative cost of production, and consequently a further increase of price. First will go the foreign market—already in 3 precarious state, and, once lost, irrecoverable; since, according to the law to which I have referred, the more our rivals pro- duce—the wider the II13ikets which are opened to their c petition in conse- quence of the rise of Etta's!' prices—the cheaper they will be able to produce. This again, by diminishing the quantity produced at home, will increase its relative cost of production ; and that again will increase prices and diminish consumption; until I think I see, as in a map the succession of causes which may render the cotton manufactures of England mere matter of history.
I have no doubt, therefore, that a ten hours bill would be utterly ruinous. And I do not believe that any restriction whatever of the present hours of work could be safely made.
RESULTS OF THE FACTORY SYSTEM CPON ITS " VICTIMS."
The general impression on us all as to the effects of factory labour has been unexpectedly favourable. The factory workpeople in the country districts are the plumpest, best clothed, and healthiest looking persons of the labouring class that I have ever seen. The girl., especially, are far more goiablooking (and good looks are fair evidence of health and spirits) than the daughters of agricultural labourers. The wages earned per family are more than double those of the South. We examined at Egerton three of the lileillow pauper migrants. Being fresh to the trate, they cannot be very expert ; yet one family earned It. 19s. rig., another 21. 13s. 04., and the other I/. Iris. per week. At Hyde we saw another. They had six children, under thirteen ; and yet the earnings of the father and two elder children were 80s. it week. All these families live in houses to which a Gloucestershire cottage would be a mere outhouse. And not only are factory wages high, but, what is more im- portant, the employment is coaistant. Nothing, in fact, etwept the strikes of the workpeople theinaelves, seems to interrupt it. Even now, when the hand- loom weavers and lacemakeis are discharged by thousands, the factory opera- tives are in full employ. This is one of the consequences of the great propor- tion of fixed capital, and the enormous loss which follows its standing idle for a single day. Nothing can exceed the abserdity of the lamentation over the children as "crowded in factories." Crowding in a factory is physically im- possible. The machinery occupies the bulk of the apace • the persons who have to attend to it are almost too distant to converse. Itirl'ey's weavingsroona, covering an acre of ground, hail not space amoug the looms for mute than I'M persons. Bailey's factory, covering two acres and a half one story high, and therefore, taking together the ground floor and first floor, containing live acres of apartment, was to be worked by about 800 operatives, which gives more than 15 y talk swine to earl,. I only wish that my work.rooni in Southampton Buildings had as touch space, in proportion to the people iii it.
The" personel" of a large factory is a machine as complicated as its " ma- teriel," and is, I think, on the whole, the great triumph of Sir It. A rkwright's genius. In out+ an establishment, from 74,0 to 1400 persons, of all ages and both sexes, almost all working by the piece, and earning wages of every amount between two shillings i,iI foi ty sl I itigs a week, ale cogged in pro- ducing one ultimate effect, which is dependent on their c bined exertions. Any stoppage, even any irregularity in one 41 partinent, derange* the whole. A strict and almost superstitious disetpliae is necessary to keep this vast instru- ment going for a single day. Now how, ask the mill-owners, could this discipline be kept up, if the sub an.pecturs were at liberty to walk over our establishments at ;d1 hours; listen to the complaints and jealousies of all our servants, and at their instigation summon us as criminal, before the Magis- trates? Could the discipline, they ask, of a regiment or of a ship be carried on, if we hail sub•inspectors of regiments, with power to ask all the privates for grievances, and sum ((((( n their officers for penalties?
There are other passages that might be quoted, and points that might be made, especially in the Dialogue on Education : but the tract is very short, and our notice is long ; so we must refer .the reader to a pamphlet, for the perusal of which the busy should find time and the idle resolution.