Economic Development in Denmark Before and During the World War/The Commission of 1875

The Commission of 1875

Other factors had long been at work to create in Denmark a development of class relations corresponding to the demands that had grown up all over the world. In September, 1875, a commission was appointed to investigate and report on the circumstances of workmen. The report, which was submitted at the end of three years, did not lead to any practical measures of importance, but by its motley contents it aroused a wide discussion of many questions. Its recommendations and proposals reveal a truly remarkable conflict between old and new ideas. Declaring that the Trade Act of 1857 was too radical a departure from the established policy, it demanded greater restriction of trade. A few members even proposed a reversion to the conditions existing at the time of the guilds. Some advocated co-operative unions, and others declared themselves in favour of a system of profit-sharing between employers and employees. The latter idea was just at that time engaging the attention of political economists, some of whom upheld it as the panacea for all social ills. Some members advocated a strengthening of contract relations between employer and employee by the introduction of a contract book with definite rules as to time of notice, prohibitions against employing any workman who had not been formally released from his previous contract, etc. Some of the members advocated workmen's courts to which workmen and employers might have recourse for the settlement of labour questions of all kinds. No special mention was made, however, of the important question of wages. The proposals referred mainly to local questions and consequently could not be of any real value for problems of the next generation. As regards funds for the relief of sick workmen, a minority of members proposed the re-introduction of compulsory contributions or assessments, while others advocated voluntary contributions from the workmen themselves. Finally, there was proposed an Employers' Liability Act whereby compensation should be granted to men injured at work or to their surviving families in cases of fatal accidents. While some members advocated the furthering of old-age pensions by voluntary contributions to a public fund, a minority declared itself in favour of compulsory contributions in this case as well. Of the new measures proposed were those for Savings Banks for poor people; easier access to school education, and limitations of work on Sundays. Moreover, in consideration of the increasing importance of machinery in industry, recommendations were also made for the introduction of low power engines in small manufacturing establishments. This last recommendation shows more distinctly than anything else the contrast between the old and new ideas. The industrial census of 1914 shows that even then only 7 per cent, of the quite small concerns, conducted by a single proprietor without assistants, had introduced engine power, in spite of our great technical progress along other lines. Between 1906 and 1914, however, the increase in the use of machinery, calculated in horse power, was from 113,000 to 230,000 an increase of more than a 100 per cent, in not more than eight years.