Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/82

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

ing to his business or property can not be interfered with, by legislation. It has been declared by the courts that liberty, in its broad sense, as understood in this country, means the right not only of freedom from actual imprisonment, but the right of one to use his faculties in all lawful ways, to live and work where he will, to earn his livelihood in any lawful calling, and to pursue any lawful trade or vocation. All laws, therefore, which impair or trammel these rights, which limit one in his choice of a trade or profession, or confine him to work or live in a specified locality, or exclude him from his own house, or restrain his otherwise lawful movements, except where the public health or safety intervenes, are infringements upon his fundamental rights of liberty, which are under constitutional protection. (People vs. Warren, 34 N. Y. Supp. Superior Court, Buffalo, 942.)

The impossibility of regulating the rate and hours of labor by legislation unless in the exercise of the police power, or law of public health and safety, was recognized years ago by Chief-Justice Ruger, in McCarthy vs. Mayor, who said in reference to the original eight-hour law then under discussion:

"It is well to premise that this act was not intended to affect or regulate the rate of wages which should govern as between employer and employee. That subject is left by the act, as it always must remain, open, to be fixed by the agreement of the parties intending to enter into those relations. Experience has shown that legislation on the subject must always be futile and ineffectual, for the reason that it is controlled by the natural laws determining the value of labor and property, and which are as much beyond the power of statutes to affect as they are above the control of the wishes of the parties interested therein."

I do not mean to imply from the foregoing statements that I am opposed to shorter hours for labor; on the contrary, I believe that a shorter working day, wherever it is practicable, is beneficial alike to employee and employer; but under present conditions, it appears to me, after a careful survey of the field, that there are some prominent obstructions which must be removed before an eight-hour day can be universally adopted, or before the operatives who now work ten hours a day can reasonably hope for a general reduction to eight hours without a corresponding reduction of wages.

Wise men usually count the cost of any new undertaking before embarking in it, and a very simple calculation will show surprising figures as to the additional cost of manufacture should employers be called upon to pay the same wage for eight hours' that they now pay for ten hours' work. Let us assume that an establishment employs a thousand hands (there are factories having capacity for four or five times this number), a reduction of two hours per day per man would mean an aggregate of two thousand hours' reduction per day in the shop. Assuming the average wage to be ten cents an hour (this is much below the true average), the additional cost for this item alone would be two hundred dollars per day; while the loss from decreased output and increased fixed charges, rate of interest on plant, etc., per unit of product, would, I believe, extinguish any margin of profit obtained under present prices in any manufactured article where competition is keen. It is of course possible that in those occupations in which the output depends more upon manual dexterity than upon the mere tending of automatic machinery a decrease of hours may be partly offset by an increase of effort; but this would, I think, prove an exception, the effect of