Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fawcett: "The Regulation of the Hours of Labour by the State" (abridged) III

by the Sandwichman

Henry Fawcett concluded his lecture with an apparently heartfelt panegyric on the humanitarian benefits of shorter hours and the defects of excessive hours.
In making these remarks I should much regret if it were thought that I did not most entirely sympathize with those who desire to see a great diminution in the excessive toil of so many of our workmen. There is nothing perhaps more to be regretted than the fact that extraordinary commercial prosperity and an unprecedented accumulation of wealth have hitherto done so little to shorten the workmen's hours of labour.

As previously remarked, the undue length of time which men have been accustomed to work represents, so far as many branches of industry are concerned, a thoroughly mistaken policy. In many instances it is undeniable that men would not only get through more work, but would do it more efficiently, if they had more opportunity for mental cultivation and for healthful recreation.

No small part of the intemperance which is laid to the charge of our labourers is directly to be traced to excessive toil. When strength becomes exhausted, and the body is over fatigued, there often arises an almost uncontrollable desire to resort to stimulants. Again, it is unreasonable to expect that the moral qualities in man's nature can be duly developed, if life is passed in one unvarying round of monotonous work.

We are constantly being reminded of the ennobling and elevating influence produced by contemplating the beauties of nature, by reflecting on the marvels which science unfolds, and by studying the triumphs of art and literature. Yet no inconsiderable portion of the toiling masses are reared in such ignorance, and surrounded from early childhood to old age by so much squalor and misery, that life could be to them scarcely more dreary or depressing, if there were no literature, no science, and no art, and if nature had no beauties to unfold.

At a meeting recently held at Newcastle by some of the prominent advocates of the nine hours' movement, artisans were encouraged to look forward to a time when the condition of labourers generally throughout the country would be so much improved that they would have time for mental cultivation and various kinds of recreation; a hope was even expressed that the day might come when they and their families would be able to enjoy an annual holiday, gaining health and vigour either from the sea breeze or the mountain air. It is, however, particularly to be remarked, that those who shadowed forth these bright anticipations showed no tendency whatever to seek State intervention.

The leaders of the nine hours' movement at Newcastle, having won a great triumph, have just confidence in their own powers; they truly feel that what they have done might also be done by others, and they therefore object to the demands for State interference, which are constantly being put forward by the members of the International, and by many other workmen.

The speeches, to which I have just referred, were delivered at a meeting of the members of a co-operative engineering company. This society had grown out of the nine hours' dispute. The leaders of the movement, having once learnt the invaluable lesson of self-help, had the practical wisdom to see that the best way to emancipate themselves from what the International calls the tyranny of capital is not to indulge in idle declamation, nor to embark in schemes which are either impracticable or mischievous. They, on the contrary, came to the conclusion that if they wished to render themselves independent of capitalists they might do so by supplying the capital which their own industry requires. They have had little difficulty in gathering together a sufficient amount of money to commence business on their own account.

There is no reason why an establishment thus founded should not gain as great a commercial success as that which has been achieved by any private firm. Even if it should fail, there would be no grounds to feel discouraged. The experience which is obtained from failure often enables the road to be discovered which leads to future success. But whatever may be the fate of this particular experiment, there will still be good ground for the belief that the spirit of self-reliance displayed by these Newcastle workmen will not only do much to improve the lot of the labourer, but will act more powerfully than any other agency to promote the general well being of the whole community.

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