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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 61

Labour to Move

Labour to Move

to whither it is wanted, at the time it is wanted, and it would enable workpeople to travel much longer distances in search of employment

page 67

This question of shifting labour is one of vast social importance, and it ought to be most carefully considered.

By far the greater portion of the poverty in the great cities of the old country is owing to the inability of the people to obtain work within the distance they can travel over.

You ask me what is the remedy for all this evil, and how is the social condition of the masses to be elevated? To me the answer appears to be a very easy one. It lies in the words Uniform Rating as opposed to Differential Rating and in bringing transit charges down to the lowest possible point, instead of pursuing the present system of wringing from every customer the utmost farthing.

By Uniform Rating, I do not mean an equal mileage rate in every instance, nor do I mean that goods of all classes should be carried at the same rates. I simply mean that all men and all districts placed under similar circumstances should be treated in the same manner. Under the present system, any six men requiring similar services rendered are liable to be charged six different amounts.

If as I propose, fares and freights were made uniform, and reckoned by stages instead of by mileage, a great deal of the massing-up evil would be got rid of, for it would manifestly be to the advantage of the railway owners to deliver at the nearest points within those stages,—indeed the only advantage left for running through would be the avoidance of stoppages. If, too, a man could get himself and his produce carried to any point, say within a distance of 20 miles, as regards cost of production, it would matter little to him whether he were 3 or 20 miles out from his market town; the time occupied in transit being the only thing for or against, in either case.

When freight is reckoned by mileage, every mile saved lessens the cost of production, and consequently induces crowding upon the centres.

Reckon by stages and you not only do away with this great social evil, but you go a long way towards solving the greatest of all social problems—the bringing about a more equal distribution of wealth. For you must see that if transit charges were the same over any given space, that all land within that space of the same quality and useable for the same purposes, would be of very nearly equal value.

I believe it to be wrong, and a cruel injustice to the people, for the Government of any country to country to allow its railway to remain in the hands of private speculators, and to be used by them for page 68 their personal profit and advantage, and that, so long as they are so used, the great mass of the people must suffer socially; and if this is the case when the railways belong to private companies, how much more is it so when, belonging to the whole community, they are made to serve private as against public interests.

How unutterable is the folly of allowing men, whose only object is to make money for themselves, to levy as they please a direct embargo on the transit of the people and produce of the country. What can be the ultimate result but commercial and social ruin? Those who rule the roads must rule the commerce of the country. They hold it in their hands with an iron grip.

Remember that railways are a new institution. It is only half a century since they were introduced, and not more than 20 years since they were fully developed. We have not yet felt the full effects, it is the next 10 years that will try us; and I say that, during that period, one of two things will happen—either a complete change in the system, or commercial and social ruin such as we have never seen before.

I have endeavoured to show that, by the introduction of steam power, the commercial and social condition of the people has been vastly improved. And why has it been improved? Simply because steam has given us greatly cheaper and more speedy means of transit than we possessed formerly. Therefore, it appears to me to be evident that if we could make a similar reduction in cost and improvement in the means of transit, that a similar improvement in social affairs must also take place.