18 MARCH 1865, Page 7


WHILST London clubs are speculating on the capacity of the Palmerston Cabinet to weather the Edmunds' scandal, a contest between labour and capital, the most serious that this country has perhaps ever seen, is going on,—a contest of which the focus is in Staffordshire, but which in fact extends throughout the whole of Great Britain, wherever ironworks are to be found. Because 1,000 men in North Staffordshire struck work, 70,000, we are told, have been or are threatened to be thrown out of employment by their masters, more than 200,000 persons are deprived of the means of subsistence, and nearly 100,000/. a week in wages are withheld from the working-classes. The occasion of this terrible contest, the outside world should clearly understand, is the slenderest possible. The masters, act- ing as one body, on the 31st of December last gave notice that they would reduce the wages of puddlers la. per ton (from 10s. 6d. to 9s. 6d.), those of millmen 10 per cent. The men, acting also as one.body, agreed to meet the masters half-way, and to accept a reduction of 6d. per ton for puddlers, 5 per cent. for millmen. The masters refused. The total reduction was now accepted by the men, except in North Staffordshire, where on the 16th January 950 paddlers, shinglemen, and rollers, with 250 millmen, struck work. The fennel issue therefore on which the employment or non- employment of 70,000 men in all parts of Great Britain now hangs, is whether 1,000 men in North Staffordshire shall or shall not swallow a reduction of is. per ton and 10 per cent. respectively, half of which they have already agreed to But the very disproportion between the two figures suffi- ciently shows that the formal issue is not the real one. Iron- masters in South Wales do not blow out their fires that their own competitors in North Staffordshire may be able to work somewhat cheaper. There must be some common interest to induce a sacrifice prima fade so contrary to the individual interest of each. Accordingly, the plea for the lock-out is, that the reduction in wages was fully justified by the fall in the price of iron ; that the North Staffordshire strike took place only as part of a concerted plan for worsting the masters in detail, district after district ; that it has been or is sup- ported by those who are working at the reduced wages ; that it can only be checked by throwing these also out of work. To this is added, in the phraseology usual in such cases, that the "dictation of the men" must be resisted, the "tyranny of the Union" put down ; and the paddlers are inveighed against as a peculiarly violent, unreasonable set of men. On the other hand it is alleged, on behalf of the strikers themselves, that the paddlers' employment generally is one not over-remunerated in proportion to its laboriousness ; that there are peculiarities in the North Staffordshire trade which would justify the men in claiming somewhat higher wages ; that the profits of the iron trade are such as still well to bear the rate of wages contended for ; that if men of other dis- tricts have chosen till lately, out of their own diminished wages, to help the North Staffordshire men to retain the higher rate, this of itself affords the strongest argument that the claim is a fair one.

The case of the "lock-outs," again, divides itself into two —1st, That of the men belonging to the "National Associa- tion of Ironworkers" in other districts ; 2nd, That of the men in trades not forming part of the Union, or of the non- society men of the trades in Union. To understand the former, it is necessary to bear in mind that the "National Association of Ironworkers" (as we are informed by the Beehive newspaper) has been in existence about two years, numbers about 14,000 members, and offers the singularity of being managed by two executives, the " Gateshead " and the " Brierley Hill "—or say the North of England and the Staffordshire ones. And it is alleged that if the North Staffordshire men in the first instance struck work with the assent of their own (the Briefly Hill) executive, followed afterwards reluctantly by the Gateshead one, the resolution to this effect was dis- tinctly rescinded, the men's strike-pay cut off, themselves urged by both executives to resume work ; that the Gates- head executive in particular has recommended the fol- lowing resolutions for adoption to its branches : " We, the members of the National Association of Ironworkers connected with the Gateshead Executive, do advise the men of North Stafford to resume work at once, being as- sured that if their unjustifiable conduct is persisted in, they will inflict injury and misery upon their brethren North and South. 2. We cannot, according to the true principles of union, tender to the men in North Stafford any support, directly or indirectly. Furthermore, we consider any support tendered to them after their refusal to comply with the order of the Executive Council would be aiding and abetting them in their cruel and suicidal policy, and it is also our desire to aid and assist in promoting such measures as will be the means of settling all disputes by arbitration."

Again, it is alleged that whilst the men's "National Associa- tion" has only been in existence about two years, the iron- masters' quarterly meetings had practically served the purposes of a masters' union for many years before that of the men was thought of, and have been supplemented by masters' associa- tions; and that a measure like the present lock-out, emanating from a single body of employers, and throwing out of work 70,000 men of all manner of trades and callings, many be- longing to Unions not in anywise connected with the dispute, many not in union at all, only serves to show that "The National Association of Ironworkers," with its 14,000 members, falls far short of the actually existing need for defensive combination against the arbitrary power wielded by the united capitalists. Lastly, the case of the "lock-outs" not belonging to the "National Association" is simpler still. Horse-drivers, colliers, labourers of all sorts, say, "We have done nothing, subscribed nothing, to create or support the North Stafford- shire strike. Why are we punished for it ?" As usual in such disputes, there seems to be some truth on all sides. Whether indeed the reduction was a necessary one it would probably be idle for an outsider to attempt to decide. We may say that the mere fact that it has been almost universally accepted is the strongest argument in its favour, though it is equally fair to say that the feet of the North Staffordshire men having held out against it,—especially if, as alleged by the masters, they were selected to do so by the Union,—affords some evidence that their case for holding out was deemed especially strong. Without entering into any details, it would really seem that, considering the nature of their employment, the puddlers are not generally over-paid. The blast furnaces are at work day and night. The hours of the men are long,—in South Staffordshire, for instance, eleven and a half to twelve hours nominally, with frequent overtime ; since Mr. Longe, in the 'Third Report of the Children's Employment C'ommissioners' (1864), speaks of "women work- ing the same long hours as the men, from 6 or 7 a.m. to 9, 10, and 11 p.m.," and of little girls even being "often kept at bellows-blowing (very hard, work for children) fourteen hours a day." Exposed to intense heat, the puddlers, Dr. Greenhow reported in 1859, "are said to be not unhealthy, but to become prematurely worn-out by reason of hard work." A puddler proper is generally broken down at fifty ; a shingler (generally confounded with the former by the outer world), i.e., the man who swings the hundred-weights of paddled iron under the forge- hammer, at forty. The drying up of the system under the' heat of the furnace leads to excessive thirst, generally re- lieved by most immoderate beer-drinking, whilst the extensive employment of children (especially in South Staffordshire) greatly hinders education. We have thus a class of men physically most powerful, justifiably keen to secure high wages during their short years of vigour, uneducated, consti- tutionally intemperate. Apter material for a strike could scarcely be imagined.

But whether the strike was originally justifiable or not is no longer th3 question. We must accept the judgment of their fellows on the North Staffordshire men, and say that they are now in the wrong. It is impossible to suppose that both the "executives" of the iron trades should without reason have jointly requested them to resume work. To refuse obedience to such a summons is of itself a kind of treason to the interests of the associated workers, looked at from their own point of view. No power is worthy of the name which cannot make itself obeyed. If trade societies are to be of any avail to the worker, he must learn to obey them.

Assuming, then, the strike to be wrong, by confession of the ironworkers themselves, the employers' lock-out, on the other hand, in presence of the condemnation passed upon the strike by the two executives—of the fact that the strike- pay of the men has fallen at once from 10s. a week to 4s. (3s. of which are supplied by their local fund)—instead of being a mere stroke of policy, becomes a crime. It is the act of men who will not be satisfied with justice, who will take nothing less than slavish obedience, who instead of separating from those whom they deem guilty those whom they cannot deny to be innocent, do all they can to force the innocent into guilt. For how can they claim to put down a Union of 14,000 men by locking out 70,000? The very attempt stands self-condemned. The mere fact that the masters' association can throw 70,000 men out of work at a blow forbids any fair-minded man from asking or advising the men to give up any Union they may have, to place them- selves as isolated units at their employers' mercy. So long therefore as the "National Association" continues to keep aloof from and discountenance the strike, it seems entitled to the full countenance of the public in supporting the lock-out, and that support should above all be extended to the tens of thousands of millmen, colliers, coal-wheelers, ash-wheelers, labourers of all sorts, who have been thrown out of employment through a dispute in which they have no hand. The men's offer that piddled bars should be sent into North Staffordshire, so as to give employment to all thrown out of work except the men on strike, —whether economically advisable or not—seems a perfectly sincere one. The masters' demand that the locked out men from other dis- tricts should go to work in North Staffordshire itself, simply shows that callousness to the ordinary feelings of human nature which the trade-spirit engenders. What would be said of the FederaLs if they only accepted the surrender of Confederate soldiers on condition of their immediately turn- ing their arms against their late comrades? 'How suclalaintality would be inveighed against in the Times and elsewhere ! Yet this is precisely what the ironmasters are asking of their men.

But there is division among the men, and these division3 are unfortunately fomented by a set of London agitators, whom the Beehive mainly represents. Playing the very game of the masters, these men—with whom one of the two executives, the " Brierley Hill," seems in agreement—at a meeting of London Trades Unionists, held on Wednesday last, have been urging the lumping together of the strike and of the lock-out, and the raising of contributions for the men of North Staffordshire. Short-sighted revolutionists—the very Secessionists of labour—they are in fact setting at naught the only organizations of any real power (and how de- fective still !) which the working-classes have yet set up for the protection of their own interests. What respect can ever be claimed for trade societies, if men are to be encouraged and supported in striking, not only against their employers, but against the very societies to which they belong ? M. L.