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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

Labour and Machinery

Labour and Machinery.

There never was a time in the history of our race to compare with the present. There have been many revolutions, and bloody ones too; but the greatest of all social revolutions which the world will have seen, is that which has just commenced. 1 refer to the struggle between labour and capital; if this great question comes to be fought out to the bitter end with no keener weapons than those of arbitration guided by common sense, civilisation will have scored a greater success than has ever fallen to its lot in the past.

When we look for some of the causes of this great movement, at least so far as they affect the interests of those engaged in the tillage of the soil, it will be found that the introduction of labour-saving machinery is responsible for much of it. The introduction of machinery has page 4 revolutionised the business of agriculture; it has to a large extent dispensed with the human labour machine. It has increased the productive capacity of all agricultural countries to such an extent as to render the business of farming one requiring the closest attention to every detail, if any profit is to be made.

It may be asked why it is that with the lowering of the cost of food, coupled with the introduction of machinery all over the world, the cost of labour is higher now than it was a quarter of a century ago (I refer to European countries). To my mind, one of the reasons for this anomaly is, that labour in those days was disproportionately low when compared with the price of farm produce—the result of a superabundance of labour, naturally acted upon by the law of demand and supply.

As manual labour in the field came to be less required, caused by the introduction of machinery, the demand for labour was enormously increased in the workshops, thus diverting the labour stream into other and better paid channels.

It is interesting to go back to the pages of history to find the causes which first led up to the improvement in the condition of the labouring classes of Britain—I refer to the Crusades. As each successive warrior took his departure for the Holy Land, followed by his retainers, few of whom ever returned to their native land, those left behind became of more value and received more for their labour.

We, in New Zealand, may look on with comparative unconcern at the struggle now going on in other parts of the world to secure the eight hours movement. The late Mr. Andrew Duncan little thought how soon his doggrel rhyme about "eight hours work and eight hours play" would become the watchword of the labouring millions of America and of Europe.