The Wages Question by Francis Amasa Walker

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In some Catholic countries the holidays more or less scrupulously observed exceed, including Sunday, one hundred. Among the Hindoos they are said to consume nearly half the year.


It is doubtless true that poverty sometimes joins with superstition 40 in imposing excessive fasts, and the want of work may account for the readiness with which a population surrenders itself to celebrating the virtues of a saint; yet there can be no doubt that a force not industrial operates in some countries in reduction of the number of days of labor. A very common multiplier taken in England and the United States in reckoning annual earnings is ; yet there can be little doubt that this is an exaggeration.

But there are also industrial causes of a general nature Edition: current; Page: [ 30 ] which of late years are operating more and more to interrupt the continuity of production and render employment precarious. These causes, though general in their origin, do yet affect localities and occupations very diversely, introducing thus a new element of great difficulty into the problem of wages. Thus there is no reason from the nature of the operations involved, why cotton-spinning should not proceed equably through all the months of the year, but in fact the demands of modern trade require that periods of heavy production shall alternate with periods of dulness and depression.

Among the industrial causes which introduce this disturbance into the employment of labor must of course be included strikes and lock-outs. John Watts has furnished some very instructive computations as to the first cost of strikes.

Thus, assuming five per cent addition to existing wages to be the matter in dispute between the employer and the laborer, he shows that if the strike succeeds its results will be, roughly speaking, as follows: Computations like these do not of themselves show that strikes can not advantage the working classes, but they do show the necessity of taking such elements into account in reducing nominal to real wages.

The joint effect of all the causes enumerated as affecting the regularity of employment is very considerable. Leone Levi, in his treatise on Wages, 43 estimates the lost time of all the persons returned as pursuing gainful occupations in England to be 4 weeks in the year, and deems this loss covered by the exclusion of all persons over 60 years of age, leaving those below employed full time.

To this Mr. Dudley Baxter, in his admirable work on "National Income," 44 rejoins that if this were so, there would be no able-bodied paupers in England. Baxter goes forward to show the inadequacy of Prof.

Levi's estimate in terms which I shall do well to quote:. These trades form a whole; and include carpenters, bricklayers, masons, plasterers, painters, and plumbers, and number in England and Wales about , men above twenty years of age. It is only the best men, working with the best masters, that are always sure of full time.

These trades work on the hour system, introduced at the instance of the men themselves, but a system of great precariousness of employment. The large masters give regular wages to their good workmen, but the smaller masters, especially at the east end of London, engage a large proportion of their hands only for the job, and then at once pay them off.

All masters when work grows slack immediately discharge the inferior hands and the unsteady men—of whom there are but too many among clever workmen—and do not take them on again until work revives. In bad times there are always a large number out of employment. In prosperity much time is lost by keeping Saint Monday and by occasional strikes. Let us turn to another great branch of industry, the agricultural laborers, whose numbers are: men, ,; boys, ,; women, ,; and girls, 36, Continuous employment has largely increased since the new Poor Law of , and good farmers now employ their men regularly.

But in many places such is not the custom. Near Broadstairs, in Kent, I was told that, on an average, laborers were only employed 40 weeks in the year. Purdy's figures of the influence of the seasons on agricultural employment show that the wages paid in the second quarter of the year, on a large estate in Notts, were 20 per cent more than in the first quarter. In the harvest quarter they were more than double.

He also mentions the significant fact that the pauperism of the five most agrarian divisions of England is greater in February than in August by , against ,, or 55, persons. These 55, represent a great prevalence of the custom of turning off laborers at the slack season. So that even so far as the men Edition: current; Page: [ 33 ] are concerned, there must evidently be a large deduction for time out of work. But when we come to boys and women, the case is still stronger.

I found in Kent and other places that boys' and women's employment is very irregular, and that they are not at work more than half their time; in fact, they are only employed as supernumeraries to the men, and only taken on at busy times.

The Wages Question : Francis Amasa Walker :

Still further, Nominal and Real Wages may be made to differ through the longer or shorter duration of the power to labor. We have seen that it is not what the laborer obtains for a single day of the week or a single month of the year which fixes his real remuneration, but that regularity of employment from month to month and quarter to quarter is a most important element in the wages problem.

But neither is it what the workman receives in a single year or in a term of years which alone can determine the question of high or low wages. We need, besides, to know the total duration of his laboring power, that we may be able to compare the term of his productive with that of his unproductive life. It is evident, supposing two persons begin to labor productively at fifteen years of age, and continue actively at work, with the same rate of nominal wages, until death, that the one receives a higher real remuneration who lives the longer, since the cost of his maintenance during the first 15 years of helpless life must, in any philosophical view of the subject, be charged upon his wages 45 during Edition: current; Page: [ 34 ] his period of labor.

It is true that the expense was, in fact, borne by his parents, while he will himself bear the cost of the maintenance, in childhood, of his own offspring; but no one will, I believe, question that, in the economical sense, the support of each generation of laborers should be charged against its own wages, 46 just as truly as that a farmer, in solving the question whether a cow dying at a certain age had paid for herself, would set against the proceeds of the sales of her milk or butter the expense of rearing her.

If this principle of estimating the wages of a lifetime be accepted as just, its great practical importance will not be denied. In a paper on the Political Economy of Health, Dr. Edward Jarvis has given some most instructive tables which can not be better introduced than in the language of the British Poor-Law Commissioners of 47 "The strength of a people does not depend on the absolute number of its population, but on the relative number of those who are of the age and strength to labor.

The following table 48 shows the number of years spent under 20 for every persons attaining that age:. Again, the Life Tables of the several States show the average number of years lived after the age of 20 to be as follows:. Again Dr. Jarvis says, "Having the number that are lost in the maturing period and the number of years they have lived, and also the number that die in the effective stage and the duration of their labors, it is easy to draw a comparison between them and show the cost, in years, of creating and maturing human power, and the return it makes in labor in compensation.

By this double measurement of life in its incompleteness and in its fulness it is found that for every years expended in the developing period upon all that are born, both those who die and those who survive the period from birth to 20, the consequent laboring and productive years are: In Norway, years; in Sweden, years; in England, years; in the United States, years; in France, years; and in Ireland, years. But it is not only between the populations of distinct countries that such differences in the duration of the economic force appear.

Important differences in this respect are shown by mortuary statistics to exist between occupations. Thus the excessive mortality of the "dusty Edition: current; Page: [ 36 ] trades" has long been the subject of scientific and official inquiry. The highly injurious effects upon the lungs of the dust of cotton and flax mingled with "China clay" and other poisonous ingredients, producing a haze in the atmosphere of some factories, and rising in a palpable cloud in others, have been thoroughly investigated and exposed by Drs.

Hirt 50 and Buchanan. It not only covers the roof and windows on which it settles with a brown rusty coat, till in time the glass becomes obscured almost as if it were painted, but so corrodes them as to make the slates and even the glass crumble away.

The Wages Question : A Treatise on Wages and the Wages Class

The dust collects in the flues which carry it from the stove in large black stalactite-like lumps. Two such were given me, weighing over two pounds each. Mining may be given as an instance of an occupation where nominal wages must be heavily discounted by reason of its destructive effects on human life. When it is remembered that in addition to the great liability to fatal accident, 54 the amount of carbonic acid gas, which in nature Edition: current; Page: [ 37 ] is in 1,,, and does not ordinarily exceed in the stifling atmosphere of factories and workshops, often goes up to 20, in the air of mines, 55 the excessive mortality within this occupation will not be a matter of wonder.

Scott Allison found the average age of the living male heads of families of the collier population at Tranent, so far as the same could be ascertained, to be 34 years, while the average age of the living male heads of the agricultural families was nearly 52 years. Allison expressed the belief that these proportions would serve as fair indications of the relative conditions of the different populations.

Neison, in a recent paper, 57 "is the influence of occupation that the mortality in one avocation exceeds that of another by as much as per cent. Thus taking the period of life 25 to 65, Dr. Neison finds the mean mortality in the clerical profession to be 1. In domestic service the mortality among gardeners was but. The effect of out-door exposure in all kinds of weather is here shown alike in the case of the physician and the coachman.

Of several branches of manufacture, the paper manufacture showed a mean mortality of 1. Among the different kinds of mining Edition: current; Page: [ 38 ] industry the range is even greater. Thus the mean mortality of iron-miners is 1. But it is not alone by death that the laboring power is prematurely destroyed.

The agricultural laborer of England, for example, who is long lived, often becomes crippled early by rheumatism due to exposure and privation. Such is, I will not call it the life, but the existence or vegetation, of the Devon peasant. He hardly can keep soul and body together. In the same country, Mr.

Dudley Baxter states, there are 40, men out of less than , in the building trades who between 55 and 65 are considered as past hard work. In other trades, he says, a man is disabled at 55 or A coal-backer is considered past work at I can not better close this protracted chapter than with the following words taken from the address of Sir Stafford Northcote, as President of the British Social Science Association: "A man who earns a pound a week is not necessarily twice as well off as a man who earns 10 shillings.

Edition: current; Page: [ 39 ] You must take into account the amount of work which they respectively have to do for their money, the number of hours they are employed, the amount of strain upon the body and on the brain, the chance of accident, the general effect upon the health and upon the duration of life. In treating wages as high or low we occupy the laborer's point of view; in treating the cost of labor as high or low we occupy the point of view of the employer.

wages and overtime question

Wages are high or low according to the abundance or scantiness of the necessaries, comforts, and luxuries of life which the laborer can command, without particular reference to the value of the service which he renders to the employer therefor. The cost of labor, on the other hand, is high or low according as the employer gets an ample or a scanty return for what he pays the laborer, whether the same be expressed in money or in commodities for consumption, and this without the least respect to the well-being of the laborer.

Now this distinction is not of importance merely because such a distinction can be drawn, and the same object looked at from different points of view. Not only are the points of view here diametrically opposed, but the objects contemplated are not necessarily the same, so that high wages do not imply a high cost of labor, or low wages a low cost of labor. A sufficient demonstration of this, for the present moment, is found in the well-known fact that employers usually take on their lowest-paid laborers last, and Edition: current; Page: [ 41 ] discharge them first. The extent to which this consideration is popularly neglected may be seen by recurring to any discussion of the question of "protection," whether in the legislature or in the public press.

A day's labor is almost universally taken as the unit of measure in determining the cost of similar products in different countries. In fact, "a day's labor" conveys scarcely a more definite idea than the boy's comparison, "big as a piece of chalk," or "long as a string. Yet it has been held by a large party in the United States to be conclusive of the question of "protection," that laborers in other countries are more scantily remunerated than in our own. The avowed object of protective tariffs here has been to keep wages from sinking to the level of Europe and Asia.

The allusions to "pauper labor" which crowd the speeches of Clay, Stewart, and Kelley have significance only as it is assumed that a day's labor in one place is the economical equivalent of a day's labor anywhere, and that one man's labor is effective in the same degree as that of any other man. It is, however, very far from the truth that a day's labor is always and everywhere the same thing. We can scarcely take the estimate adopted by Lord Mahon, 2 that Edition: current; Page: [ 42 ] an English wood-sawyer will perform as much work in the same time as thirty-two East-Indians, as giving the general ratio 3 between labor in the two countries; yet, on the other hand, the comparison is not absolutely an extreme one.

The Wages Question by Francis Amasa Walker
The Wages Question by Francis Amasa Walker
The Wages Question by Francis Amasa Walker
The Wages Question by Francis Amasa Walker
The Wages Question by Francis Amasa Walker

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