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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 71

Chapter XXXI. — The Hopefulness of the Reform to Wage-Earners Compared with the Expectations from Trades Unionism

Chapter XXXI.

The Hopefulness of the Reform to Wage-Earners Compared with the Expectations from Trades Unionism.

The advantages which have been shown to be likely to follow the introduction of the Single Tax reform must appear to wage-earners generally as offering much more solid ground for improvement in their condition than any of the more popular aims of the past and present. Some of these latter have the effect of reducing the production of wealth, whereas the more hopeful plan must surely be to increase it. If there is more for all, there must be more on the average per head, and therefore a greater likelihood of more falling to the share of the wage-earner. On the other hand, a reduction of the total must reverse this probability. Other aims, again, seek by official regulation to inspect and control many operations. This method involves the multiplication of public officers and the limitation of the freedom of both employers and employed. Let not the employee think that in practice it will all work in his favour, because in the nature of things this is impassible. He must therefore elect which he would prefer; either to be looked after by an ever-increasing official system, or else to have certain vicious laws and all taxes repealed, and government simplified, so that he can look after himself by obtaining a real chance of self-employment. The proposed reform, by affording him this alternative, would make "freedom of contract" an actual possibility.

Look at trades unions. In the first place, they entail a considerable cost for organisation, for strike funds, and for assistance to other associations, and this has to be met by a levy upon each member. Then the discipline which must be maintained places some restriction upon the individual freedom of members. In the event of a strike being entered upon, wages cease, and the funds are drawn upon to afford a bare maintenance; the production of wealth is stopped for the time being, and the trade is seriously disorganised—in some extreme eases it has been driven from a district or a country. Sometimes, as an alternative, the output in a trade has been artificially reduced, in the hope that scarcity would increase prices and wages. Such attempts are always doubtful of success, and are made at the expense of an evident present sacrifice. A reduction in the hours of labour, desirable as it is on many grounds, entails, under existing conditions, a sacrifice of production, and therefore of earnings. There page 76 is a point, undoubtedly, beyond which an extension of hours will not lead to an increased manual output, but this does not apply to the products of machinery. The limitation of the number of apprentices cannot be a permanent remedy for the evil at which it is aimed. It logically points to putting a certain number of our youth out of existence altogether. When brought to this point, it cannot obtain the assent of any organisation. The device is therefore stamped as a temporising expedient, and not as a genuine attempt to grapple in a far-seeing way with a present difficulty. The Opposition to free labour must stand in the same category. The fact of the existence of free labourers shows that there are a great many men outside of the organisations who consider themselves worse off than those who are inside, and they are consequently ready, whenever a strike occurs, to bid for the employment which has been vacated. While such free labourers exist, and while trades unions are increasing the number of them by restricting boy labour in union trades, it is pretty evident either that the difficulty is insuperable, or that the efforts to cure it are misdirected.

Look, again, at the proposals of the Single Taxers, as explained in the chapter headed, "The Resulting Increase," etc. They propose, in the first place, that all taxes and local rates should be abolished. No one needs assuring that it would be a gain to him to cease to pay such imposts as he now pays direct in cash: but this cannot yet be said of indirect taxes which are collected through the Customs, and especially of such of their number as are imposed in order to encourage home industries. The latter point must be left to the consideration of each, according to his lights, but free trade must be understood by all to be involved in the Single Tax programme. But it is certain that the saving of taxes and rates would increase the purchasing power of everyone, and thus lead to more employment.

The next point is one upon which there is very little room for doubt. It is universally admitted that a tenant, by reason of his tenure being short, and because he is subject to various uncertainties, does not produce as much as he would if he was the owner of the land. It has been shown that landlordism would soon become extinct when ground rent was nationalised, and that a system of working proprietorship would succeed to it and take the place of tenancy. The result would be that production would become greater, owing to the improved conditions. Over-production need not be feared when general purchasing power is increased. But further than this, it is almost certain that a large proportion of the taxes saved by every one who used land would in the future be devoted to improvements. These in addition to requiring labour to bring them into existence, would enable the owner to add another instalment of annual increase to his productions and profits. How different is this expansixeness to the contracting influence of trades unionism, and how much brighter the prospect which it offers! A reduction of self-seeking antagonism, a page 77 relaxation of discipline, an enlargement of opportunity, and a certainty of better economic results, must follow. Unless the whole basis of the Single Tax can be upset, there' appears to be no room for two opinions as to its being the better course open to wage-earners.