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XX

PREFATORY ESSAY

pre-Reform era: “Yes, the actors will be the same: the only difference will be, that they will play to the gallery instead of to the stalls.” Careful students of politics will probably agree that the legislation of the last twenty-five years has been largely influenced by what may fairly be described as “ playing to the gallery.” This tendency has been most marked in Great Britain, owing to the simple fact that the working-man’s vote is, electorally speaking, more powerful there than it is elsewhere. The remedial legislation of Mr Gladstone with regard to Ireland, whether sound or unsound, was a distinct violation of the rights of property and of freedom of contract. The system of County Councils, by which local authority was transferred from the hands of the landed gentry to Boards elected in the mam by artisans and labourers; the appointment of a Government Commission authorized to determine the rent payable on any Irish estate by an arbitrary process, instead of by open competition; the substitution of State administration in domains hitherto left open to private enterprise; the preference shown in all fiscal arrangements for direct, as opposed to indirect, taxation; the interference with the liquor trade; the agitation against ground rents and in favour of the principle of betterment; the obligation placed upon railway companies to provide working-men’s trains at arbitrarily fixed rates; the measures adopted to provide improved dwellings for the working classes at rentals lower than could be obtained by leaving the construction of such dwellings to be regulated by the laws of supply and demand; the attempt to suppress usury by regulating the rate of interest the lender might be entitled to charge and the borrower might be bound to pay—may be cited as a few of the measures which would never have been adopted if the working-class vote had not become of paramount importance. We express no opinion as to the wisdom or unwisdom, the justice or injustice, of these measures. Both parties, Liberals and Conservatives alike, are responsible for the principle that legislation must henceforward be m favour of the masses rather than of the classes. It is only fair to acknowledge that, so far, the working classes have exercised their power with moderation. On the other hand, strikes have increased in number and in effectiveness. These disputes, almost without exception, have been initiated by the workmen, eithei to demand an increase of wages or to protest against a proposed diminution of wages. If the aggregate loss occasioned by these interruptions of labour could be ascertained, it would be found to exceed by far any gains that individual trades may have derived from successful strikes. A demonstration, however, that the blank tickets in a lottery far exceed in value the winning prizes has never stopped the public from investing in lotteries; and the fact that in the long run strikes are a losing business for the workmen will never deter Trades Unions from resorting to industrial warfare. The modifications of the AntiCombination laws have facilitated the promotion of Trades Unions, and the material condition of the working classes has beyond doubt improved in all trades which have been able to form powerful labour organizations. It may be questioned whether wages would not have risen without Trades Unions, or whether the purchasing value of wages to-day corresponds with their nominal rise. Still, the broad fact remains that under Trades Unions British workmen earn a larger wage than they did in an older and freer era; and the probability seems to be that these trade#organizations will in coming years become even more truly representative of the body of working men than they are at present. The doctrine of a “ living wage,” which has gained much ground during the period under consideration, is manifestly unsound in the form it has taken, as it is obvious that no business can be carried on permanently at a loss occasioned by an excessive cost of labour, while it is by no means equally obvious that labour would not be forthcoming for a lower remuneration than that actually demanded on the score of the real or supposed necessities of the labourers. The idea so prevalent in the days of the Christian Socialist school, that all labour difficulties could be solved by a system of co-operation, has been dispelled by the discovery that co-operation, as between capital and labour, means, when tested by experience, that the latter has the right to share in the profits when trade is good, but is unable to contribute towards the losses when trade is bad. The craze for compulsory arbitration in all labour disputes is equally fallacious, owing to the circumstance that no court of arbitration, however constituted, can compel capitalists to carry on mills, mines, or factories at a price they do not deem remunerative, or can coerce workmen into working for a wage they hold to be insufficient for their needs. In the future, as in the past, all trade disputes must be ultimately settled on the “ pull devil, pull baker ” principle, by strikes on the part of the men