On Combinations Amongst Masters Or Workmen Against Each Other

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 pursui
g 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