Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter XLI. — The Revolt of Labour

page 364

Chapter XLI.
The Revolt of Labour.

History tells the Story of the Nation Rulers.—The Story of the Toilers untold.—The Shadows of Forgetfulness.—The Builders of the Great Pyramid.—A Story in Stone.—Plebeian and Patrician.—Free Corn and Free Combats.—End of Roman Nation Making.—Servitude.—The Kings and Barons.—Progress of Personal Freedom.—Compulsory Combination.—Divinity in every Age.—It Still Lives.—Promise of a Brighter Day.—The Lens of Genius.—The Inspiration of Combination.—Frith Guilds.—Craft Guilds.—Laws against Labour Combination.—Change of Relations between Master and Workman.—The Feudal Baron.—The Factory Master.—The Serf and the Factory Hand.—Long Hours and Dependence.—Five hundred years of Tyranny.—The Revolt of 1811.—The Ten Hours Bill.—A Great Victory.—Combinations of Workmen fully Legalized.—Trades Unions.—The Revolt of Dock Labourers.—Labour Conquers.—Speech of Chairman of Dock Companies.—Allies of Labour.—'At the Mercy of the Mob.'—The Grand Lesson.—English Sentiment.—The Roll of Honour.—The Great Heart of the Nation Beats as of Old.—Results of the Revolt.

Until within our own times the records of the history of Nation Making have been chiefly confined to the story of the deeds of kings, conquerors and rulers. The story of the common people, the rank and file of the armies of humanity, of the toilers who page 365have produced the food and clothing which have fed and covered so many generations of men, has either not been written at all, or has been told in a fragmentary form.

In the long march of centuries, great empires have dominated the destinies of mankind, filled the world with their renown, and then have passed away.

A pyramid here and there, a ruined temple, a huge mound on a desert plain, bear their silent testimony to the pageants of the past, to the instability of dominions established with little regard to the welfare of the common people.

What the nature of the impulsive energy, what the vital force, which raised these old dominions above the horizon of life for a little while; what the forces which caused their sun of glory to set for ever beneath the shadows of forgetfulness, may well arouse the keenest interest in every student of man and his past. What were the social conditions under which these ancient men—the 'masses' and the 'classes' of those times—lived and died; what their portions of poverty and

splendour, of idleness and toil, of tyranny and slavery, of happiness and misery, the fragments of their story tell but a shadowy tale.

Did we but know the sweat and toil, the slavery and tears of the common people, their ignorance and helplessness under the tyranny of their times, upon which these empires of old were built, we should cease to wonder at their decay. Could we but see Khufu the builder of the Great Pyramid marching the com-page 366monpeople, like so many dumb, driven cattle, to the building of this great sepulchre; could we but learn the extent of the resources of the nation wasted the sacrifice of human life demanded by the tyrant, for the erection of this monument of pride and folly, what a tale of sorrow and suffering this story in stone would tell.

In Roman times, humanity lifted up its head Plebeian struggles surged against Patrician tyranny freedom and manhood rising to a higher tide mark than ever before, until the plunder of conquered nations filled the great city with luxury and vice; and the millionaires of the day, by free corn and free spectacles of bloody combats in the arena, pauperized, corrupted and degraded the common people, and prepared the way for the mingled splendour and misery of Imperial tyranny, for a society of idle millionaires and degraded millions.

When Augustus assumed the purple, the Making of the Roman Nation ended and its decline began The vigour of the old Roman had little place in a community of paupers and sybarites. The old freedom had vanished, and the degraded Empire reeled and fell beneath the fierce attacks of Goths and Vandals who, though barbarians, were men of nobler mould than those, whom they dethroned from a dominion degraded by effeminacy and tyranny; erecting on its rums a society, if ruder, yet freer than any which had preceded it.

page 367

The civilization of the times, if not destroyed, was shaken to its foundations, but Humanity remained. Servitude indeed continued, but its old bonds were loosened, and from the fragments of the Empire, Nation Making on nobler, stronger lines began once more.

Through the Middle Ages, servitude in the milder form of serfdom still existed, for society was unable to cast off the chains it had so long hugged. But Feudalism with all its faults, had made one great step in advance. It abolished the system of standing armies, by which Rome first conquered the world, then enslaved it. It replaced the mercenary soldier by the man-at-arms, who tilled the lands of his lord and followed him to the wars.

In our own England, Feudalism having destroyed the ancient freedom of the nation, laid the foundation of another freedom. The Norman Kings having created the Barons, found in them a power which could only be controlled by restoring their rights in some small measure to the common people. The Wars of the Roses destroyed Feudalism with its attendant Serfdom. The Cromwellian wars shook the power of the Kings. These causes, together with the Reformation, raised the individual man to a personal freedom he had never before possessed, which the New Learning extended and consolidated, and there grew up in England a personal freedom, unknown over the greater portion of the Continent.

page 368

All through this long reign of tyranny, with its attendant suffering and slavery, despotism had held its power by the compulsory combination it wielded. But, though it ruthlessly disregarded the Rights of Man, it never succeeded in extinguishing the Divinity, which in every age and country, has more or less dwelt in Humanity. Through darkness, and tears, and suffering, the spark of Divinity lived in Man through all the ages. It glimmered in the teaching of Confucius and Buddha; it burned in the laws and morals of Moses; it beamed in the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato; it flickered in sunny isles and in dark continents; it shone with its brightest effulgence in the Gospel of Good-will taught by the Master, the greatest and the best of all the Teachers Humanity has known—the Man Christ Jesus.

It still lives. Doubt, unbelief and despair are casting their dark shadows over Humanity; difficult problems and enigmas are being presented by the new phases of enquiry and civilization; but these are but the gathering clouds, which the electric flash of the Divinity put within us by the Creator will disperse, with the promise of a purer, a brighter, a happier day.

The secret of the formation of the great empires of the past, lay not in the mere multiplication of an infinity of individual human units of ignorant thought and action, but in their concentration by the burning glass of the imperial mind of a Pharaoh, a Cyrus or a Caesar, which focussed the individual ray, impotent in itself, upon the nomadic, ignorant and aimless life of page 369old-world days, fusing them into the mighty armies of the past, which swept in tempests of conquest from nation to nation, or into armies of labourers who built up a pyramid, stone by stone, every stone the measure of a worn-out toiler's life.

If it be asked, why these ancient empires for a few centuries filled the world with their splendour, and then dissolved

Like an unsubstantial pageant faded,

the reply I think would be, that the concentrating lens of genius was naturally replaced by the window glass of mediocrity, which permitted, indeed, the rays to pass through it, but lacked the compelling force of compulsory combination wielded by one controlling mind.

In one direction, we see iron-willed despots combining the human units of their time, to carry out their own aggrandisement and glory, by a sacrifice of human lives on a scale, of which we have lost the measure.

In the other direction, we see vast numbers of men but feebly influenced by the inspiration of voluntarr combination to secure their own safety and happiness.

Nevertheless in the history of man, there probably never was a time, when Tyranny did not develope resistance. The Despot harassed the 'units.' The units, in a more or less feeble way, combined for mutual protection. In that combination, they found page 370strength to resist the oppressor, to secure in some small degree their freedom, and to redress partially, a few of their most flagrant wrongs.

In Greek and Roman times, the principle of combination by small sections of the people, was more or less in operation, partly for political purposes but more particularly for industrial safety and protection.

Our Saxon ancestors, with their ruder and stronger love of freedom, employed the principle of combination in the form of 'Frith Guilds,' or 'Peace Guilds.'

In the Middle Ages 'Craft Guilds' were extensively employed to protect the weak against the strong. The constitution and objects of these Craft Guilds were very similar to those of the 'Trades Unions' of our own times. For five centuries, from Edward the First's reign to the year 1800, about forty Acts of Parliament were passed to repress combinations of workmen. But though on the Statute Book, it was impossible rigidly to enforce them, for the Revolt of Labour had long ago commenced and in every century was slowly developing.

The great inventions of Watt and Arkwright rapidly changed the nature of the old relations between Master and Workman. The Spinning Wheel was supplanted by the Spinning Jenny, and the workmen and workwomen flocked from their cottage workshops to the New Factories. The Master of the Factory stepped into the place of the feudal Baron, with less pomp indeed, but more real power, and the enfran-page 371chisedSerf became the Factory hand, who worked not a certain number of days for his lord, as in the olden time, but all the days of the year, except Sundays and holidays, for his new master, and often far into the nights as well. As labourers in the Factory they became wage earners, and unlike their predecessors the Serfs, had no other resource but their daily pay. Long hours of continuous labour, and absolute dependence on the will of their masters, naturally caused a dissatisfaction which developed the new Revolt of Labour, leading to combinations of workmen to protect their rights by force.

In the year 1800 an Act of Parliament was passed, embodying the dormant provisions in the thirty or forty old Acts of Parliament, to prevent labour combinations. But without avail. For in 1811 various secret societies engaged in the destruction of machinery, the siege of Factories, and the shooting of their Masters, ending in the trial and execution of many of the conspirators.

In 1824, a better spirit prevailed, and in that year, an Act was passed partially legalizing Labour Combinations; and Trades Unions may be said to have been then first established in a modern form.

In 1826 however, the Act of 1824 was repealed, and the old laws against labour combinations were re-enacted. For a time, the Revolt of Labour was suppressed, and the Lords of the Factories worked their labourers, whether adults or children, just such page 372long hours, and under such conditions as suited their convenience.

Notwithstanding the power of Capital however, the Revolt of Labour continued, and, supported by public opinion, it secured the passing of Lord Ashley's Ten Hours Factory Act in 1847.

This great victory, won after the most resolute opposition, partially enfranchised Labour, and raised it from slavery to comparative freedom.

The Act of 1859 again partially legalized Labour combinations, but it was not till 1871 and 1876, that Acts of Parliament were passed which fully legalized combinations of workmen, and which led to the full establishment of Trades Unions as we now know them.

Under these conditions, Capital and Labour now met on more equal terms, their weapons being the 'Lock out' and the 'Strike.' Never before, have the opposing forces been so equally matched as they are to-day. Never before, could each combatant injure the other so much as they can do to-day.

The great questions between them are the reduction of the time for daily toil to Eight Hours and the increase of daily pay.

The latest instance of this Revolt of Labour against Capital, has just occurred in the pitched battle between the London Dock Companies and 100,000 Dock and other labourers.

page 373

Thanks to English and Australasian sympathy, the reasonable demands of the Dock Labourers ended in a victory which may well be regarded by Capital as an intimation of the coming struggle. As yet, the questions between Capital and Labour are matters for adjustment, which, by the timely consideration of each other's true interests, may be adjusted now on fair and reasonable lines. But, if Capital continues to be animated by the spirit manifested in the telegraphic summary of the speech of Mr. Norwood, Chairman of the Associated Dock Companies, on Oct. 4, 1889, the adjustment will be rendered needlessly difficult.

Mr. Norwood is reported to have said, 'that the London dock strike was a socialistic movement attacking the weakest link in the chain of employment.

'He also expressed the conviction that the result of the movement would be the obliteration of casual labour, and stated that the surrender made by the dock companies was the outcome of an assertion made by Cardinal Manning that a tumult was imminent, and a threat made by Lord Mayor Whitehead to open a relief fund, to pressure by the Customs, and unexpected assistance received by the strikers from Australia. He admitted that the payment of an increased rate of sixpence per day would attract superior men, and enable the companies to dispense with overtime.

'With an applause-hunting Government, an incapable Home Secretary, conniving on the part of the police, an apathetic plutocracy, an emotional public, page 374and designing agitators, he said London was at the mercy of the mob.'

A resolution was passed by the meeting thanking the directors for their action in connection with the strike, and censuring Mr. Matthews.

In this speech, the Chairman of the London Dock Companies has not accepted defeat with either good humour or wisdom. But he has done a greater and a better deed.

He has enumerated the forces arrayed against Capital, as represented by the Dock Companies. He has shown that the City of London—the ancient home of the 'Guilds,' the old defender of English freedom against the attacks of King and Baron—is once more arrayed against tyranny; he has shown that these poor labourers had the sympathy and help of the English head of the Roman Catholic Church; that they had the sympathy of the British Government, of the police, even of the plutocracy, and more than all, of what the Chairman terms 'an emotional public;' and finally, that these poor toilers, striving for a little fair play, had the sympathy and generous help of their Australasian kin across the sea.

The Chairman sums up his case, by saying that these influences had placed London at the mercy of the mob.

'At the mercy of the mob,' and yet, so far as we know on this side the world, not a shilling's worth of page 375damage was done to property, not a drop of blood was spilt.

The grand lesson to be drawn from Mr. Norwood's graphic and true—though surly—summary, is, that the disputes between Capital and Labour may still be adjusted by peaceable means; and that, so long as this grand English sympathy and love of fair play dominates the Nation, the Revolt of Labour will accomplish its rightful objects, without the intervention of force, confiscation or bloodshed.

This preliminary skirmish has probably cost Labour 300,000l., but it has involved a loss to Capital estimated at 3,000,000l., and apart from the direct results, it will not be without a special value, if it affords an indication of what a general struggle between Capital and Labour may involve.

That noble English sentiment, which in the past has struck so many blows for European freedom; which has restored liberty to the Black race; which has enfranchised its own people by increasing the electors by millions—is not dead.

Of late days indeed, it was beginning to be chilled by the deadening influence of trade; which appeared to consider that the Board of Trade Return, with its five hundred millions of exports and imports, was England's new Roll of Honour, and which regarded Capital as the life blood of the Nation.

page 376

No. English sentiment is not dead. It is awaking from a mercenary dream. In the wide sympathy and generous help given to these poor Dock Labourers in their great contest, Englishmen have shown that the great heart of the Nation beats as of old in the cause of freedom, and is preparing to abolish White slavery, even as in the past it set the Black race free.

This great contest, so generously supported, so bravely won, has vibrated throughout the English world with a beneficent force and power, which for long years to come, will be felt in the work of Nation Making. For hundreds of years, even in free England, labour combinations were unlawful. Even after their legalization they were regarded as the enemies of Capital, as obstacles to progress. Rightly directed, they are the friends of both.

The recent struggle has not only secured its primary object—the relief of 100,000 Dock Labourers—it has done much more. It has called forth the sympathy of the English Nation in such a way, as to have marked a great step in advance in the noble feeling of consideration for others. It has, through this sympathetic help, shown the working classes that they do not stand alone in their efforts to secure shorter hours and better pay. It has demonstrated, that just rights can be won without a revolution, without anarchy, without bloodshed, without even a disturbance.

The impetus this grand sentiment of 'considera-page 377tion for others 'has received, is one of the strongest indications that a new and blessed power is coming into action in the work of Nation Making. The conviction has taken hold of the heart of England that not Capital only, not inventive genius alone, not universal suffrage even, are the only potent influences in building up a Nation, but that Right and Good-will are at last recognized as the surest and most durable foundations upon which a Nation can be made and continued.

Upon these foundations no Nation of the past has been made, therefore no Nation has survived. In the diffusion of knowledge, in the growing power of the common people, no Nation can long exist which disregards them.

If, together with the knowledge and the power to enforce it, there be developed the knowledge of mutual Duty, and the cultivation of mutual Goodwill, between the 'Classes' and the 'Masses,' then, what has hitherto been a dream, will, in some coming time, be a blessed reality.

In a Nation so made there may be less of splendour, but there will be less of misery; there will be less slavery but more freedom; there may be less inequality, but there will be more happiness.

So may it be.