Home Steel Making Categories Manufacturing and the Economy of Machinery


On The Cost Of Each Separate Process In A Manufacture
253. The great competition introduced by machinery, and the ...

Exerting Forces Too Great For Human Power And Executing Operations Too Delicate For Human Touch
56. It requires some skill and a considerable apparatus to e...

On The Exportation Of Machinery
437. A few years only have elapsed, since our workmen were n...

Accumulating Power
20. Whenever the work to be done requires more force for its ...

Of Raw Materials
210. Although the cost of any article may be reduced in its ...

Of Copying By Stamping
128. This mode of copying is extensively employed in the art...

Regulating Power
27. Uniformity and steadiness in the rate at which machinery ...

Distinction Between Making And Manufacturing
163. The economical principles which regulate the application...

Sources Of The Advantages Arising From Machinery And Manufactures
1. There exists, perhaps, no single circumstance which disti...

On Combinations Of Masters Against The Public
376. A species of combination occasionally takes place among...

Saving Time In Natural Operations
47. The process of tanning will furnish us with a striking i...

On The Division Of Labour
217. Perhaps the most important principle on which the econo...

Of The Identity Of The Work When It Is Of The Same Kind And Its Accuracy When Of Different Kinds
79. Nothing is more remarkable, and yet less unexpected, than...

On Over Manufacturing
284. One of the natural and almost inevitable consequences of...

Of Copying By Casting
105. The art of casting, by pouring substances in a fluid st...

Enquiries Previous To Commencing Any Manufactory
298. There are many enquiries which ought always to be made ...

Of Copying With Altered Dimensions
147. Of the pentagraph. This mode of copying is chiefly used ...

On The Future Prospects Of Manufactures As Connected With Science
453. In reviewing the various processes offered as illustrat...

On The Position Of Large Factories
277. It is found in every country, that the situation of lar...

On The Influence Of Durability On Price
197. Having now considered the circumstances that modify what...

On Combinations Amongst Masters Or Workmen Against Each Other

Category: On the domestic and political economy of manufactures

353. There exist amongst the workmen of almost all classes,
certain rules or laws which govern their actions towards each
other, and towards their employers. But, besides these general
principles, there are frequently others peculiar to each factory,
which have derived their origin, in many instances, from the
mutual convenience of the parties engaged in them. Such rules are
little known except to those actually pursuing the several
trades; and, as it is of importance that their advantages and
disadvantages should be canvassed, we shall offer a few remarks
upon some of them.

354. The principles by which such laws should be tried are,

First. That they conduce to the general benefit of all the
persons employed.

Secondly. That they prevent fraud.

Thirdly. That they interfere as little as possible with the
free agency of each individual.

355. It is usual in many workshops, that, on the first
entrance of a new journeyman, he shall pay a small fine to the
rest of the men. It is clearly unjust to insist upon this
payment; and when it is spent in drinking, which is,
unfortunately, too often the case, it is injurious. The reason
assigned for the demand is, that the newcomer will require some
instruction in the habits of the shop, and in the places of the
different tools, and will thus waste the time of some of his
companions until he is instructed. If this fine were added to a
fund, managed by the workmen themselves, and either divided at
given periods, or reserved for their relief in sickness, it would
be less objectionable, since its tendency would be to check the
too frequent change of men from one shop to another. But it
ought, at all events, not to be compulsory, and the advantages to
be derived from the fund to which the workman is invited to
subscribe, ought to be his sole inducement to contribute.

356. In many workshops, the workmen, although employed on
totally different parts of the objects manufactured, are yet
dependent, in some measure, upon each other. Thus a single smith
may be able to forge, in one day, work enough to keep four or
five turners employed during the next. If, from idleness or
intemperance, the smith neglects his work, and does not furnish
the usual supply, the turners (supposing them to be paid by the
piece), will have their time partly unoccupied, and their gains
consequently diminished. It is reasonable, in such circumstances,
that a fine should be levied on the delinquent; but it is
desirable that the master should have concurred with his workmen
in establishing such a rule, and that it should be shown to each
individual previously to his engagement; and it is very desirable
that such fine should not be spent in drinking.

357. In some establishments, it is customary for the master
to give a small gratuity whenever any workman has exercised a
remarkable degree of skill, or has economized the material
employed. Thus, in splitting horn into layers for lanterns, one
horn usually furnishes from five to eight layers; but if a
workman split the horn into ten layers or more, he receives a
pint of ale from the master. These premiums should not be too
high, lest the material should be wasted in unsuccessful
attempts: but such regulations, when judiciously made, are
beneficial, as they tend to produce skill amongst the workmen,
profit to the masters, and diminished cost to the consumers.

358. In some few factories, in which the men are paid by the
piece, it is usual, when any portion of work, delivered in by a
workman, is rejected by the master on account of its being badly
executed, to fine the delinquent. Such a practice tends to remedy
one of the evils attendant upon that mode of payment, and greatly
assists the master, since his own judgement is thus supported by
competent and unprejudiced judges.

359. Societies exist amongst some of the larger bodies of
workmen, and others have been formed by the masters engaged in
the same branches of trade. These associations have different
objects in view; but it is very desirable that their effects
should be well understood by the individuals who compose them;
and that the advantages arising from them, which are certainly
great, should be separated as much as possible from the evils
which they have, unfortunately, too frequently introduced.
Associations of workmen and of masters may, with advantage, agree
upon rules to be observed by both parties, in estimating the
proportionate value of different kinds of work executed in their
trade, in order that time may be saved, and disputes be
prevented. They may also be most usefully employed in acquiring
accurate information as to the number of persons working in the
various departments of any manufacture, their rate of wages, the
number of machines in use, and other statistical details.
Information of this nature is highly valuable, both for the
guidance of the parties who are themselves most interested, and
to enable them, upon any application to government for
assistance, or with a view to legislative enactments, to supply
those details, without which the propriety of any proposed
measure cannot be duly estimated. Such details may be collected
by men actually engaged in any branch of trade, at a much smaller
expense of time, than by persons less acquainted with, and less
interested in it.

360. One of the most legitimate and most important objects of
such associations as we have just mentioned, is to agree upon
ready and certain modes of measuring the quantity of work done by
the workmen. For a long time a difficulty upon this point existed
in the lace trade, which was justly complained of by the men as a
serious grievance; but the introduction of the rack, which counts
the number of holes in the length of the piece, has entirely put
an end to the most fertile cause of disputes. This invention was
adverted to by the Committee of 1812, and a hope was expressed,
in their report, that the same contrivance would be applied to
stocking-frames. It would, indeed, be of great mutual advantage
to the industrious workman, and to the master manufacturer in
every trade, if the machines employed in it could register the
quantity of work which they perform, in the same manner as a
steam-engine does the number of strokes it makes. The
introduction of such contrivances gives a greater stimulus to
honest industry than can readily be imagined, and removes one of
the sources of disagreement between parties, whose real interests
must always suffer by any estrangement between them.

361. The effects arising from combinations amongst the
workmen, are almost always injurious to the parties themselves.
There are numerous instances, in which the public suffer by
increased price at the moment, but are ultimately gainers from
the permanent reduction which results; whilst, on the other hand,
the improvements which are often made in machinery in consequence
of 'a strike' amongst the workmen, most frequently do injury, of
greater or less duration, to that particular class which gave
rise to them. As the injury to the men and to their families is
almost always more serious than that which affects their
employers, it is of the utmost importance to the comfort and
happiness of the former class, that they should themselves
entertain sound views upon this question. For this purpose a few
illustrations of the principle which is here maintained, will
probably have greater weight than any reasoning of a more general
nature, though drawn from admitted principles of political
economy. Such instances will, moreover, present the advantage of
appealing to facts known to many individuals of those classes for
whose benefit these reflections are intended.

362. There is a process in the manufacture of gun barrels for
making what, in the language of the trade, are called skelps. The
skelp is a piece or bar of iron, about three feet long, and four
inches wide, but thicker and broader at one end than at the
other; and the barrel of a musket is formed by forging out such
pieces to the proper dimensions, and then folding or bending them
into a cylindrical form, until the edges overlap, so that they
can be welded together.

About twenty years ago, the workmen, employed at a very
extensive factory in forging these skelps out of bar-iron,
'struck' for an advance of wages; and as their demands were very
exorbitant, they were not immediately complied with. In the
meantime, the superintendent of the establishment directed his
attention to the subject; and it occurred to him, that if the
circumference of the rollers, between which the bar-iron was
rolled, were to be made equal to the length of a skelp, or of a
musket barrel, and if also the groove in which the iron was
compressed, instead of being of the same width and depth
throughout, were cut gradually deeper and wider from a point on
the rollers, until it returned to the same point, then the
bar-iron passing between such rollers, instead of being uniform
in width and thickness, would have the form of a skelp. On making
the trial, it was found to succeed perfectly; a great reduction
of human labour was effected by the process, and the workmen who
had acquired peculiar skill in performing it ceased to derive any
advantage from their dexterity.

363. It is somewhat singular that another and a still more
remarkable instance of the effect of combination amongst workmen,
should have occurred but a few years since in the very same
trade. The process of welding the skelps, so as to convert them
into gun barrels, required much skill, and after the termination
of the war, the demand for muskets having greatly diminished, the
number of persons employed in making them was very much reduced.
This circumstance rendered combination more easy; and upon one
occasion, when a contract had been entered into for a
considerable supply to be delivered on a fixed day, the men all
struck for such an advance of wages as would have caused the
completion of the contract to be attended with a very heavy loss.

In this difficulty, the contractors resorted to a mode of
welding the gun barrel, for which a patent had been taken out by
one of themselves some years before this event. The plan had not
then succeeded so well as to come into general use, in
consequence of the cheapness of the usual mode of welding by hand
labour, combined with some other difficulties with which the
patentee had to contend. But the stimulus produced by the
combination of the workmen, induced him to make new trials, and
he was enabled to introduce such a facility in welding gun
barrels by rollers, and such perfection in the work itself, that,
in all probability, very few will in future be welded by hand

This new process consisted in folding a bar of iron, about a
foot long, into the form of a cylinder, with the edges a little
overlapping. It was then placed in a furnace, and being taken out
when raised to a welding heat, a triblet, or cylinder of iron,
was placed in it, and the whole was passed quickly through a pair
of rollers. The effect of this was, that the welding was
performed at a single heating, and the remainder of the
elongation necessary for extending the skelps to the length of
the musket barrel, was performed in a similar manner, but at a
lower temperature. The workmen who had combined were, of course,
no longer wanted, and instead of benefiting themselves by their
combination, they were reduced permanently, by this improvement
in the art, to a considerably lower rate of wages: for as the
process of welding gun barrels by hand required peculiar skill
and considerable experience, they had hitherto been in the habit
of earning much higher wages than other workmen of their class.
On the other hand, the new method of welding was far less
injurious to the texture of the iron, which was now exposed only
once, instead of three or four times, to the welding heat, so
that the public derived advantage from the superiority, as well
as from the economy of the process. Another process has
subsequently been invented, applicable to the manufacture of a
lighter kind of iron tubes, which can thus be made at a price
which renders their employment very general. They are now to be
found in the shops of all our larger ironmongers, of various
lengths and diameters, with screws cut at each end; and are in
constant use for the conveyance of gas for lighting, or of water
for warming, our houses. 364. Similar examples must have
presented themselves to all those who are familiar with the
details of our manufactories, but these are sufficient to
illustrate one of the results of combinations. It would not,
however, be fair to push the conclusion deduced from these
instances to its extreme limit. Although it is very apparent,
that in the two cases which have been stated, the effects of
combination were permanently injurious to the workman, by almost
immediately placing him in a lower class (with respect to his
wages) than he occupied before; yet they do not prove that all
such combinations have this effect. It is quite evident that they
have all this tendency, it is also certain that considerable
stimulus must be applied to induce a man to contrive a new and
expensive process; and that in both these cases, unless the fear
of pecuniary loss had acted powerfully, the improvement would not
have been made. If, therefore, the workmen had in either case
combined for only a small advance of wages, they would, in all
probability, have been successful, and the public would have been
deprived, for many years, of the inventions to which these
combinations gave rise. It must, however, be observed, that the
same skill which enabled the men to obtain, after long practice,
higher wages than the rest of their class, would prevent many of
them from being permanently thrown back into the class of
ordinary workmen. Their diminished wages will continue only until
they have acquired, by practice, a facility of execution in some
other of the more difficult operations: but a diminution of
wages, even for a year or two, is still a very serious
inconvenience to any person who lives by his daily exertion. The
consequence of combination has then, in these instances, been, to
the workmen who combined--reduction of wages; to the public -
reduction of price; and to the manufacturer increased sale of his
commodity, resulting from that reduction.

365. It is, however, important to consider the effects of
combination in another and less obvious point of view. The fear
of combination amongst the men whom he employs, will have a
tendency to induce the manufacturer to conceal from his workmen
the extent of the orders he may at any time have received; and,
consequently, they will always be less acquainted with the extent
of the demand for their labour than they otherwise might be. This
is injurious to their interests; for instead of foreseeing, by
the gradual falling-off in the orders, the approach of a time
when they must be unemployed, and preparing accordingly, they are
liable to much more sudden changes than those to which they would
otherwise be exposed.

In the evidence given by Mr Galloway, the engineer, he
remarks, that,

When employers are competent to show their men that their
business is steady and certain, and when men find that they are
likely to have permanent employment, they have always better
habits, and more settled notions, which will make them better
men, and better workmen, and will produce great benefits to all
who are interested in their employment.

366. As the manufacturer, when he makes a contract, has no
security that a combination may not arise amongst the workmen,
which may render that contract a loss instead of a benefit;
besides taking precautions to prevent them from becoming
acquainted with it, he must also add to the price at which he
could otherwise sell the article, some small increase to cover
the risk of such an occurrence. If an establishment consist of
several branches which can only be carried on jointly, as, for
instance, of iron mines, blast furnaces, and a colliery, in which
there are distinct classes of workmen, it becomes necessary to
keep on hand a larger stock of materials than would be required,
if it were certain that no combinations would arise.

Suppose, for instance, the colliers were to 'strike' for an
advance of wages--unless there was a stock of coal above ground,
the furnaces must be stopped, and the miners also would be thrown
out of employ. Now the cost of keeping a stock of iron ore, or of
coals above ground, is just the same as that of keeping in a
drawer, unemployed, its value in money, (except, indeed, that the
coal suffers a small deterioration by exposure to the elements).
The interest of this sum must, therefore, be considered as the
price of an insurance against the risk of combination amongst the
workmen; and it must, so far as it goes, increase the price of
the manufactured article, and, consequently, limit the demand
which would otherwise exist for it. But every circumstance which
tends to limit the demand, is injurious to the workmen; because
the wider the demand, the less it is exposed to fluctuation.

The effect to which we have alluded, is by no means a
theoretical conclusion; the proprietors of one establishment in
the iron trade, within the author's knowledge, think it expedient
always to keep above ground a supply of coal for six months,
which is, in that instance, equal in value to about L10,000. When
we reflect that the quantity of capital throughout the country
thus kept unemployed merely from the fear of combinations amongst
the workmen, might, under other circumstances, be used for
keeping a larger number at work, the importance of introducing a
system in which there should exist no inducement to combine
becomes additionally evident.

367. That combinations are, while they last, productive of
serious inconveniences to the workmen themselves, is admitted by
all parties; and it is equally true, that, in most cases, a
successful result does not leave them in so good a condition as
they were in before 'the strike'. The little capital they
possessed, which ought to have been hoarded with care for days of
illness or distress, is exhausted; and frequently, in order to
gratify a pride, at the existence of which we cannot but rejoice,
even whilst we regret its misdirected energy, they will undergo
the severest privations rather than return to work at their
former wages. With many of the workmen, unfortunately, during
such periods, bad habits are formed which it is very difficult to
eradicate; and, in all those engaged in such transactions, the
kinder feelings of the heart are chilled, and passions are called
into action which are permanently injurious to the happiness of
the individual, and destructive of those sentiments of confidence
which it is equally the interest of the master manufacturer and
of his workman to maintain. If any of the trade refuse to join in
the strike, the majority too frequently forget, in the excitement
of their feelings, the dictates of justice, and endeavour to
exert a species of tyranny, which can never be permitted to exist
in a free country. In conceding therefore to the working classes,
that they have a right, if they consider it expedient, to combine
for the purpose of procuring higher wages (provided always, that
they have completed all their existing contracts), it ought ever
to be kept before their attention, that the same freedom which
they claim for themselves they are bound to allow to others, who
may have different views of the advantages of combination. Every
effort which reason and kindness can dictate, should be made, not
merely to remove their grievances, but to satisfy their own
reason and feelings, and to show them the consequences which will
probably result from their conduct: but the strong arm of the
law, backed, as in such cases it will always be, by public
opinion, should be instantly and unhesitatingly applied, to
prevent them from violating the liberty of a portion of their
own, or of any other class of society.

368. Amongst the evils which ultimately fall heavy on the
working classes themselves, when, through mistaken views, they
attempt to interfere with their employers in the mode of carrying
on their business, may be mentioned the removal of factories to
other situations, where the proprietors may be free from the
improper control of their men. The removal of a considerable
number of lace frames to the western counties, which took place,
in consequence of the combinations in Nottinghamshire, has
already been mentioned. Other instances have occurred, where
still greater injury has been produced by the removal of a
portion of the skill and capital of the country to a foreign
land. Such was the case at Glasgow, as stated in the fifth
Parliamentary Report respecting Artizans and Machinery. One of
the partners in an extensive cotton factory, disgusted by the
unprincipled conduct of the workmen, removed to the state of New
Y ork, where he re-established his machinery, and thus afforded,
to rivals already formidable to our trade, at once a pattern of
our best machinery, and an example of the most economical methods
of employing it.

369. When the nature of the work is such that it is not
possible to remove it, as happens with regard to mines, the
proprietors are more exposed to injury from combinations amongst
the workmen: but as the owners are generally possessed of a
larger capital, they generally succeed, if the reduction of wages
which they propose is really founded on the necessity of the

An extensive combination lately existed amongst the colliers
in the north of England, which unfortunately led, in several
instances, to acts of violence. The proprietors of the coalmines
were consequently obliged to procure the aid of miners from other
parts of England who were willing to work at the wages they could
afford to give; and the aid of the civil, and in some cases of
the military, power, was requisite for their protection. This
course was persisted in during several months, and the question
being, which party could support itself longest on the diminished
gains, as it might have readily been foreseen, the proprietors
ultimately succeeded.

370. One of the remedies employed by the masters against the
occurrence of combinations, is to make engagements with their men
for long periods and to arrange them in such a manner, that these
contracts shall not all terminate together. This has been done in
some cases at Sheffield, and in other places. It is attended with
the inconvenience to the masters that, during periods when the
demand for their produce is reduced, they are still obliged to
employ the same number of workmen. This circumstance, however,
frequently obliges the proprietors to direct their attention to
improvements in their works: and in one such instance, within the
author's knowledge, a large reservoir was deepened, thus
affording a more constant supply to the water-wheel, whilst, at
the same time, the mud from the bottom gave permanent fertility
to a piece of land previously almost barren. In this case, not
merely was the supply of produce checked, when a glut existed.
but the labour was, in fact, applied more profitably than it
would have been in the usual course.

371. A mode of paying the wages of workmen in articles which
they consume, has been introduced into some of our manufacturing
districts, which has been called the truck system. As in many
instances this has nearly the effect of a combination of the
masters against the men, it is a fit subject for discussion in
the present chapter: but it should be carefully distinguished
from another system of a very different tendency, which will be
first described.

372. The principal necessaries for the support of a workman
and his family are few in number, and are usually purchased by
him in small quantities weekly. Upon such quantities, sold by the
retail dealer, a large profit is generally made; and if the
article is one whose quality, like that of tea, is not readily
estimated, then a great additional gain is made by the retail
dealer selling an inferior article.

Where the number of workmen living on the same spot is large,
it may be thought desirable that they should unite together and
have an agent, to purchase by wholesale those articles which are
most in demand, as tea, suger, bacon, etc., and to retail them at
prices, which will just repay the wholesale cost, together with
the expense of the agent who conducts their sale. If this be
managed wholly by a committee of workmen, aided perhaps by advice
from the master, and if the agent is paid in such a manner as to
have himself an interest in procuring good and reasonable
articles, it may be a benefit to the workmen: and if the plan
succeed in reducing the cost of articles of necessity to the men,
it is clearly the interest of the master to encourage it. The
master may indeed be enabled to afford them facilities in making
their wholesale purchases; but he ought never to have the least
interest in, or any connection with, the profit made by the
articles sold. The men, on the other hand, who subscribe to set
up the shop, ought not, in the slightest degree, to be compelled
to make their purchases there: the goodness and cheapness of the
article ought to be their sole inducements.

It may perhaps be objected, that this plan is only employing
a portion of the capital belonging to the workmen in a retail
trade; and that, without it, competition amongst small
shopkeepers will reduce the articles to nearly the same price.
This objection would be valid if the objects of consumption
required no verification; but combining what has been already
stated on that subject(1*) with the present argument, the plan
seems liable to no serious objections.

373. The truck system is entirely different in its effects.
The master manufacturer keeps a retail shop for articles required
by his men, and either pays their wages in goods, or compels them
by express agreement, or less directly, by unfair means, to
expend the whole or a certain part of their wages at his shop. If
the manufacturer kept this shop merely for the purpose of
securing good articles, at fair prices, to his workmen, and if he
offered no inducement to them to purchase at his shop, except the
superior cheapness of his articles, it would certainly be
advantageous to the men. But, unfortunately, this is not always
the case; and the temptation to the master, in times of
depression, to reduce in effect the wages which he pays (by
increasing the price of articles at his shop), without altering
the nominal rate of payment, is frequently too great to be
withstood. If the object be solely to procure for his workmen
better articles, it will be more effectually accomplished by the
master confining himself to supplying a small capital, at a
moderate rate of interest; leaving the details to be conducted by
a committee of workmen, in conjunction with his own agent, and
the books of the shop to be audited periodically by the men

374. Wherever the workmen are paid in goods, or are compelled
to purchase at the master's shop, much injustice is done to them,
and great misery results from it. Whatever may have been the
intentions of the master in such cases, the real effect is, to
deceive the workman as to the amount he receives in exchange for
his labour. Now, the principles on which the happiness of that
class of society depends, are difficult enough to be understood,
even by those who are blessed with far better opportunities of
investigating them: and the importance of their being well
acquainted with those principles which relate to themselves, is
of more vital consequence to workmen, than to many other classes.
It is therefore highly desirable to assist them in comprehending
the position in which they are placed, by rendering all the
relations in which they stand to each other, and to their
employers, as simple as possible. Workmen should be paid entirely
in money; their work should be measured by some unbiassed, some
unerring piece of mechanism; the time during which they are
employed should be defined, and punctually adhered to. The
payments they make to their benefit societies should be fixed on
such just principles, as not to require extraordinary
contributions. In short, the object of all who wish to promote
their happiness should be, to give them, in the simplest form,
the means of knowing beforehand, the sum they are likely to
acquire by their labour, and the money they will be obliged to
expend for their support: thus putting before them, in the
clearest light, the certain result of persevering industry.

375. The cruelty which is inflicted on the workman by the
payment of his wages in goods, is often very severe. The little
purchases necessary for the comfort of his wife and children,
perhaps the medicines he occasionally requires for them in
illness, must all be made through the medium of barter; and he is
obliged to waste his time in arranging an exchange, in which the
goods which he has been compelled to accept for his labour are
invariably taken at a lower price than that at which his master
charged them to him. The father of a family perhaps, writhing
under the agonies of the toothache, is obliged to make his hasty
bargain with the village surgeon, before he will remove the cause
of his pain; or the disconsolate mother is compelled to sacrifice
her depreciated goods in exchange for the last receptacle of her
departed offspring. The subjoined evidence from the Report of the
Committee of the House of Commons on Framework Knitters'
Petitions, shows that these are not exaggerated statements.

It has been so common in our town to pay goods instead of
money, that a number of my neighbours have been obliged to pay
articles for articles, to pay sugar for drugs out of the
druggist's shop; and others have been obliged to pay sugar for
drapery goods, and such things, and exchange in that way numbers
of times. I was credibly informed, that one person paid half a
pound of tenpenny sugar and a penny to have a tooth drawn; and
there is a credible neighbour of mine told me, that he had heard
that the sexton had been paid for digging a grave with sugar and
tea: and before I came off, knowing I had to give evidence upon
these things, I asked this friend to enquire ofthe sexton,
whether this was a fact: the sexton hesitated for a little time,
on account of bringing into discredit the person who paid these
goods: however, he said at last, 'I have received these articles
repeatedly--I know these things have been paid to a great extent
in this way.'


1. See Chapter XV, p. 87

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