Home > History, L Murbandono Hs, Sociology > LABOUR AND LABOUR LEGISLATION (1)



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Labour is work done by mind or body either partly or wholly for the purpose of producing utilities. This definition is broad enough to include the work of the actor, the physician, the lawyer, the clergyman, and the domestic servant, as well that of the business man, the mechanic, the factory operative, and the farmer. When used without qualification to-day, the word labour, commonly designates hired labor, and frequently hired manual labour. This is particularly true when the term is used to describe the persons who labour rather than the work or effort. The explanation of this narrower usage is that in most occupations hired labourers are more numerous than self-employing workers, and that among wage-earners manual labourers exceed in numbers those whose activity is predominantly mental. In this article labour always means the laboring classes. When used of the ages preceding the industrial revolution, it includes not merely hired workers, but all who get their living mainly through their own labour, and only in a slight degree by employing others. Hence it takes in the master artisans of the Middle Ages, and the agricultural tenants who worked partly on their own account and partly for the feudal lord; for the former did work that is now performed by hired labour, and the latter possessed even less economic independence than do the wage-workers of to-day. Moreover, usage justifies this extension of the terms, labour and labouring class.

Passing over the nomadic and pastoral stages of economic life, because there was then no distinct laboring class, we shall touch briefly upon the condition of labour among some of the great nations of antiquity that were engaged in agriculture, commerce, or industry. A few years ago the majority of scholars held that the earliest from of land-tenure everywhere was joint ownership and joint cultivation of land by all members of the community. According to the weight of present opinion, if such a condition existed, it has not been proved by positive and convincing evidence. Perhaps the nearest approach to this arrangement in historical times is the clan system, by which the clan, or tribe, or sept, owned the land in common, but allotted definite portions of it for individual cultivation by each member. So far as we know, this system has not played a great part in agrarian history. In ancient Egypt the Pharaoh owned the greater part of the land, and the tenant cultivators, though not in the strict sense slaves, were compelled to live and labour in conditions that differed but little from the most oppressive slavery. Their labour it was that built the Pyramids, the public works at Lake Moeris, and the Labyrinth; there, too, they were exploited to the limit of physical endurance, just as were the Hebrews by the Egyptian taskmasters of a later period. There were some large private estates which were cultivated by a servile population. Indeed, the history of labour down to a little more than one thousand years ago, is for the most part the history of slavery. Judea had few manufactures, and very little commerce; but its working class consisted to a great extent of slaves and compulsory labourers. On the whole, these seem to have been better treated than workers of the same condition in Gentile countries. However, the division of Solomon’s empire into two kingdoms was caused in large part by the contributions of labour and produce which the monarch exacted from his own people. In later times a large proportion of the independent Hebrew cultivators were deprived of their lands by rich capitalists, and compelled to become slaves or forced labourers. Some of the strongest denunciations of the Prophets were uttered against this form of exploitation. The great trading and manufacturing nation of antiquity was the Phoenicians, and most of their activities and achievements in this field seem to have based upon the labour of slaves.

The industrial and commercial supremacy of the world passed, in the fifth and fourth centuries before Christ to the Greeks, but slave labour continued to be its main support. Although a considerable proportion of the tillers of the soil seem to have been freeholders at the beginning of Greek history, the majority were slaves in classical and post-classical times. During the latter period the slaves considerably outnumbered the free population as a whole; consequently, they must have formed a large majority of the labouring class. Their condition, however, especially at Athens, was not nearly so wretched as that of the Roman slaves during the classical period of that country. They had some protection from the law against injuries, and considerable opportunities of emancipation. In fact, labour seems to have been less disdained in Greece in the fifth and fourth centuries than in any other country at that time, except Judea, and it was certainly held in higher respect than in Rome. A great deal is said concerning the organizations that existed among the Greek artisans, but they do not appear to have exercised much influence over the conditions of employment. Many of these associations which are reckoned as labour unions were chiefly religious and convivial. While the labourers of Athens who were citizens participated to some extent in the affairs of government, they do not seem to have obtained any legislation for the benefit of labour.

In the early centuries of the Roman Republic its commerce and industry were of very little importance. Agriculture was almost the only occupation, and perhaps the majority of the cultivators were freeholders, or at least free tenants. By the beginning of the fourth century, however, there were so many large estates tilled by slave labour that the Licinian law forbade any citizen to hold more than 500 jugera of land, or to employ slaves out of due proportion to the number of his free workers. The tendency to large estates, cultivation by slaves, and the impoverishment of the freemen continued, however, until the period of the latifundia, when, as Pliny informs us, all the land of Italy was in the hands of a few persons, and the free tillers of the soil had almost entirely disappeared.

Most of the latter had gone into the city to swell the number of idlers who were supported at the public expense. Soon after the Roman wars of conquest the commerce of the country assumed large proportions, but the greater part of the labour was performed by slaves. In the last days of the republic there were more slaves than freemen in most of the towns of Italy. Concerning their treatment at the hands of their masters, Mommsen declares: “It is very possible that, compared with the sufferings of the Roman slaves, the sum of all Negro sufferings is but a drop” (History of Rome, III, 308). From the earliest historical period of Rome there existed, indeed, several associations of free craftsmen, called collegia, which later on were extended to most of the countries that were under the Roman dominion. A few years before the birth of Christ, these organizations became recognized and regulated by the law of the empire. Nevertheless, they comprised but an insignificant proportion of the working population. And their economic condition was probably not much superior to that of the enslaved labourers. It could not be otherwise, since they were everywhere in competition with the latter, whose labour under a policy of reckless and inhuman exploitation was evidently cheaper than that of freemen.

Such, in fact, was the lot of the free labourers in every country where slave labour predominated. As to labour legislation, there is no evidence that any measure for the benefit of the working classes was ever enacted in ancient Rome, except the Licinian law mentioned above. The proposition is generally true that the man who got his living by the sweat of his brow was held in more or less contempt by the nations of antiquity, and that legislation on their behalf was rarely if ever thought of by the ruling classes. The one conspicuous exception is furnished by the Hebrews.

As soon as the Christian teaching on the essential dignity and equality of men, and the nobility and obligation of labour began to take hold of the Roman mind, the condition of the toiler began to change for the better. The number of the slaves decreased both absolutely and relatively to the number of freemen. In the second and third centuries the slaves obtained certain legal rights, such as a partial recognition of their marriages and domestic relations, and redress in the courts for injuries suffered from the master. A considerable proportion of them were gradually transformed into serfs, that is, instead of being obliged to expend all their labour for the benefit of the master, they were enabled to work a part of the time on their own account on land which they rented from him. Instead of being subject to sale, they were merely bound to the soil. In a sense, they could indeed be sold with the land upon which they worked. From the time of Alexander Severus freemen and freedmen seem to have predominated in urban industry, although they were not free in the modern sense of that term.

They were members of associations which they were forbidden by law to abandon, and they were not allowed to leave their occupations. The State took this measure on the theory that these labourers were engaged in an industrial function which was necessary for the welfare of society. It was, therefore, the duty of the law to provide that this function should be properly discharged.

Although this particular restriction of the freedom of labour seems very unreasonable to the modern mind, the fact is that some form of minute regulation of industry has been the rule rather than the exception in Christian times. In the latter days of the empire the slave labourers were chiefly domestic servants, the employees of the large landholders, and the workers in the imperial mines and manufactures. At the beginning of the fourth century the emperor Diocletian issued an edict fixing the wages of artisans. According to the computations of Levasseur, the rates of remuneration prescribed in this edict were about the same as those that prevailed in France at the end of the eighteenth century, and a little more than half as high as the wages in that country at the end of the nineteenth century. It was not, however, the purpose of this rescript to benefit the labourer. The rates of wages laid down were maximum rates, and the object was to prevent the price of labour as well as of goods from rising above the point which the emperor regarded as sufficient.

Despite the teaching and influence of Christianity, the laws and institutions, the ruling classes and public opinion, the intellectual classes, and, indeed, the bulk of the people were still pagan. A few years later, Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire, but he did not thereby make the people Christian. The majority were still dominated by selfishness, dislike and contempt for labour, and by the desire to exploit their fellows, especially through usurious practices. The language employed by Ambrose, Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom, and Jerome against the rich of their time, is at once a proof that the powerful classes were not imbued with the Christian spirit, that the labouring classes were suffering great hardships, and that the Christian teachers were the truest friends of the poor and the toilers. The doctrine laid down by these Fathers, sometimes in very radical terms, that the earth was intended by God for all the children of men, and that the surplus goods of the rich belonged of right to the needy has been the most fruitful principle of human rights, and the most effective protection for labour that ever fell from the lips of men. It is, in fact, although not always so recognized, the historical and ethical basis of the now universally accepted conviction among Christian peoples that the labourer has a right to a living wage, and that the owner of property may not do all that he likes with his own. During this brief period (the fourth century), likewise, large numbers of men and women who found it impossible to live a life of Christian perfection in the still semi-pagan society of the time, founded monasteries and convents, and there gave to the world its first effective lesson in the dignity and necessity of work. These foundations gradually became centres of industry and peace, and later on developed into those medieval towns in which labour became for the first time fully self-respecting and free.

By the time of the barbarian invasions in the sixth century, the majority of rural slaves had become either free tenants or serfs. The latter were soon reduced to their former condition, and all the legislation and customs which, under the influence of Christianity, had been introduced for the protection of the slave were ruthlessly set aside by the new masters of the Roman Empire. With the exception of the Visigoths and Burgundians, the barbarian tribes generally restored to the landlord the power of removing the serf from the land, and to the master the power of life and death over his slave. Speaking generally, this continued to be the situation down to the time of Charlemagne. From the beginning of his reign the lot of the slaves rapidly improved and their numbers rapidly decreased, so that by the middle of the tenth century they had almost been transformed into serfs throughout the Holy Roman Empire. One hundred years later, about seven per cent of the inhabitants of England were slaves, but the institution had practically disappeared in that country by the middle of the twelfth century. In the year 1170 the last remnant of it in Ireland was abolished by St. Lawrence O’Toole.

At the end of Charlemagne’s reign practically all the land within his dominions was held by the great warriors, the clergy, and the monasteries. The majority of the workers on these great estates were serfs, while the proprietors were feudal lords. Politically, the latter were not only the military defenders of their territory, but to a great extent legislators, administrators, and judges; economically, they had the right to receive from the cultivators of the soil a rent, either in services, produce, or money. Serfdom differed very much in its degrees at different times and in different places, but it always assumed that the serf, while not owned like a slave, belonged in a general sense to the lord, was obliged to expend a certain portion of his labour for the benefit of the latter, and was bound to the soil. Very often he was compelled to make other contributions to the lord, such as a fine on the occasion of his own or his son’s marriage. In the course of time the serf was relieved of these less regular burdens, his labour services were definitely fixed by custom, and his tenure of the land that he cultivated on his own account was made secure by custom, if not by law. Between the eighth and the twelfth century serfdom was the condition of the majority of the labouring class, not only throughout the Holy Roman Empire, but, with the exception of Ireland, all over Europe. Ireland had the clan system. During the period now under discussion town life was generally less important than it had been before the downfall of the old empire. Most Most of the towns were merely integral elements of the feudal estates.

Since there was very little commerce between one country and another or between different portions of the same country, the town handicrafts supplied as a rule only those comparatively few local needs that could not be met by labour within each household. The condition of the labouring class seems to have been on the whole better than at any previous time. The fact that the great majority of the workers were no longer slaves, and that they were enabled to till on their own account land of which their possession was fairly secure, represented a large measure of progress. With the exception of ordinances mitigating and abolishing slavery, there was no important labour legislation during this period.

Between the twelfth and the end of the fifteenth century, the great majority of the serfs of England became free tenants, that is, they were gradually relieved from the fines and petty exactions imposed upon them by the lord, and from other disabilities, economic and civil; they were permitted to pay their rent in money instead of in labour or produce; they were no longer bound to the soil, and their possession of their holdings was secured by law, or by custom which had the force of law. In France emancipation was not quite so rapid, nor was it so thorough in the individual case; still it had been extended to a great majority of the serfs by the time of the Reformation. It was effected much more slowly in Germany. At the beginning of the Reformation the condition of the majority of the tenants there was that of serfdom, and a particularly oppressive form of serfdom in the case of a considerable number. As a consequence of their revolt and its bloody suppression, their emancipation was set back for at least a century. The majority of the German peasants were still serfs at the end of the eighteenth century. Serfdom lasted in Russia until 1861.

The emancipation of the serfs during the later Middle Ages was due in great measure to the growth of towns and town industries. Attention has already been called to the fact that many of the towns owed their origin to the settlements made and the industries built up by the monks. The latter not only exercised handicrafts themselves, but taught their neighbors to do likewise. In the course of time groups consisting of several hundred, and sometimes of several thousand, persons were centered about the monastery, many of whom were artisans more or less independent of any lord, and having a fairly good realization of their freedom and their importance. Not all, indeed, but very many of the medieval towns arose in this manner. In the twelfth century the towns in England began to purchase charters from the king, the lord, or the monastery, according as each happened to control the land upon which the town was situated. In this way they obtained a considerable measure of self-government. About the same time the merchants and the artisans began to combine in associations called, respectively, merchant guilds and craft guilds (see GUILDS). The latter, which were much the more important, comprised master-workmen, journeymen, and apprentices. They had, generally speaking, a monopoly of their respective trades or crafts, and regulated not only the general conditions in which work was performed, but even the wages of the journeymen and the prices of the product. Their ordinances had for a long time a semi-legal character and all the practical force of a civil law. Thus the towns became the abode of populations that were not subject to the lord, and that were a standing check upon his power, not only because they were free themselves, but owing to the contagion of their example. Moreover, the serf who escaped from a lord and maintained a residence in the town for a year and a day, was thereby made a freeman. The development of the towns and guilds in England was typical, with some differences, of time and detail, of Europe generally. In most places the guilds reached their highest degree of efficiency in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The condition of the labouring classes both in town and country during these two centuries was much better than it had ever been before. In the first place, the worker enjoyed considerable security of position, either on the land that he tilled or in the craft that he pursued. According to the theories of the time, the members of every class performed a social function which gave them a social claim to a livelihood in conformity with their needs and customs. Hence the feudal lord and the monastery were charged with the care of all the inhabitants of their estates, while the guilds were required to find work or relief for their members. Although the workers enjoyed as a whole less individual freedom than they do to-day, their economic position was more secure, and their future less uncertain. There was no proletariat in the modern sense, that is, no considerable number of persons for whose welfare no person or agency was held socially responsible. As to the content of the livelihood obtained by the average labourer of that period, any attempt at a precise statement would be misleading. Nor is it possible to institute any general comparison that would be of value between the welfare of the labourer then and now. This much, however, may be asserted with confidence: the poorest one-tenth of the laboring population were probably better fed and better clothed, if not better housed, than is the poorest one-tenth to-day; for the grinding and hopeless poverty, just above the verge of actual starvation, so often prevalent in the present time, did not belong to medieval life (Gibbins, Industry in England, 177); the labouring class (meaning all persons who got their living as wage-earners or through self-employment, and not by employing others) received a larger share per capita of the wealth then created than our wage-earners obtain from the wealth produced in our time; and, finally, the guild system which governed town industry did for a time, and in large measure, succeed in reconciling the interests of consumers and producers (Ashley, English Economic History, II, 168).

Legislation pertaining to labour during the three centuries immediately preceding the Reformation was mostly enacted by the towns, the feudal lords, and the guilds. Its main results were the emancipation of the serfs and the privileges by which the guilds were enabled to become the real, if not the nominal, lawmakers in all things affecting the economic welfare of their members. The towns frequently, and the national governments occasionally, regulated the prices of bread and other articles of food. For the industrial principle of the time was regulation, not competition. In 1349 the English Parliament enacted the first of the many statutes of labourers that have been passed in that country. It prohibited higher wages than those that had prevailed in 1347, the year before the Black Death. A similar law was enacted at the same time in France. Both ordinances aimed at keeping down the remuneration of the labourer, but neither was very successful.

From the Reformation until the industrial revolution at the end of the eighteenth century, the history of labour for the most part records a decline from the conditions of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The confiscation of the monastic and guild lands in England under Henry VIII and Edward VI, the eviction of large numbers of the tenants from their holdings, the enclosures of these lands and a large part of the common lands into great estates, and the substitution of competitive for customary rents, caused immense hardships to the agricultural population. In Germany much the same process of spoliation and impoverishment occurred, although it had begun in that country before the time of Luther. Owing to the Hundred Years’ War and other causes, the rural population of France underwent many vicissitudes of fortune, the net result of which seems to have been unfavourable. As a result of the great increase of capital, and the immense expansion of commerce and industry during this period, the labouring population in the towns and cities increased greatly in numbers and importance. Their condition was as a whole less happy than in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This is particularly true of England, where, in the first half of the sixteenth century, the guild lands were confiscated, and the guilds themselves all but disappeared. Although they continued in France until the Revolution, and in Germany somewhat later, their control over industry in these countries was not as thorough as it had been before the Reformation. It must be remembered, however, that the power of the guilds would have been checked even if there had been no Reformation; for they were becoming too exclusive and too indifferent to the welfare of the consumer. In fact, these tendencies had already caused a great decline in the English guilds before the end of the fifteenth century. Nevertheless, it remains true that both in England and Germany the Reformation inflicted great injury on the guilds, and through them upon the whole labouring class. There was no legislation during this period that was of any marked benefit to the labourer. In France and Germany laws were passed restricting the activities of the guilds. In England the Statute of Labourers, which had been re-enacted and amended at least ten times in the course of two centuries, was supplanted in 1563 by the famous statute of Elizabeth. It embraced all the most stringent provisions of the preceding laws, with some clauses that were intended for the protection of the worker. But its principal fault lay in the stipulation that wages should be fixed and the law administered by the justices of the peace. The latter generally were keenly interested in keeping wages down, and in exploiting the labourer. So thoroughly did they enforce the law for their own benefit that by the beginning of the eighteenth century they had made low wages, famine wages; traditional, and these wages insufficient by themselves, were supplemented from the poor rate (Rogers,  The Economic Interpretation of History, 43). This reference to the poor rate calls to mind the Elizabethan Poor Law, which had been rendered necessary through the confiscation of the guild and monastic lands, and the destruction of the monastic system of poor relief.

The modern industrial era, the factory system, the age of machine production, began, properly speaking, with the industrial revolution. The latter phrase describes that series of changes which was effected by several notable inventions, chiefly the steam-engine, spinning machinery, and the power-loom, during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Among their most important immediate results were: the grouping of workingmen into factories where they tended machines instead of working in their homes with the old and simple tools; the ownership of the factories and machinery by capitalist employers, instead of by the labourers themselves; a great increase in the dependence of the labourer upon the employer; and congestion of the working population in the cities which grew up close to the factories and commercial establishments. Hereafter, labour in this article is to be understood of wage-earners only. Simultaneously with the revolution in industrial processes and relations, there occurred a revolution, as thorough if not as sudden, in economic theory and legislation.

The teaching of the physiocrats and the eighteenth-century political writers in France, the economico-political theories of Smith and Ricardo in England, and the self-interest of the English capitalists, all combined to inaugurate a regime of complete freedom of contract, complete freedom of competition, and almost complete non-intervention of Government in industry. The old legislation fixing wages, and requiring a seven-year’s period of apprenticeship, was abolished in 1813 and 1814, and nothing was substituted for the protection of the labourer. While every law that in any way restricted the freedom of the employer or regulated the conditions of employment was abolished, the old Combination Acts, which made labour organizations criminal, were re-enacted in 1799. This act prohibited even the contribution of money in furtherance of a strike. In fact, the prevailing theory of industrial liberty seemed to require that the individual employer should always deal with the individual worker, and to assume that this would be for the best interests of all. Undoubtedly, many of the old regulations, such as the law of apprenticeship, had outlived their usefulness and ought to have been repealed, but some of them were still valuable or could have been made so by amendment. What was needed was new and appropriate regulation, not the absence of all regulation. As a result of the policy of non-intervention, the working classes of England experienced during the first half of the nineteenth century a depth of misery and degradation which has obtained the name of “English wage slavery”.

Long before these conditions had reached their lowest level, however, some steps had been taken to protect the labouring class by legislation. In 1802 a law was passed which aimed at giving some relief to the pauper children in the cotton factories, and in 1824 the prohibition of labour combinations was repealed.

Between 1833 and 1878, the famous English Factory Acts were enacted, amended, and re-enacted, until they provided for safety and sanitation in all workshops, and regulated the hours of labour of women and children, and the age at which the latter were permitted to work. In the other countries of Europe the change from the system of handwork to the factory system came somewhat later and somewhat more slowly than in England, and consequently caused less hardship to the weaker members of the labouring class. Moreover, the theory of legislative non-intervention was not so fully carried out, except in France and Belgium, where the political philosophy of the Revolution had obtained a strong foothold.

The guilds were abolished in France in 1789, and labour unions, strikes, and lock-outs were prohibited during substantially the whole period between that date and the year 1884. The first effective factory legislation was enacted in 1841, but it was not seriously enforced for thirty years. In Belgium the guilds were abolished in 1795, and there was no very important labour legislation until 1886. Most of the laws for the protection of labour in Switzerland came into existence during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Effective labour laws were not enforced in Italy until 1886. In Prussia the complete abolition of the monopolistic privileges in certain trades enjoyed by certain towns, classes, and organizations took place in 1845, while a general code providing for industrial freedom was adopted in 1869 by the North German States, and afterwards extended to the whole of the present German Empire. In 1881, however, a law was passed which gave to the volunteer guilds a certain privileged position, and the tendency since then has been to confirm that position. Austria likewise retained the guilds and the old industrial regulations longer than England or France, and enacted new legislation during the first half of the nineteenth century. At no time did Austria attempt to carry out the disastrous policy of “complete industrial freedom”.

At the present time laws regulating the hours of labour exist in all the countries of Europe. Except in Great Britain and Belgium, the State asserts the right to apply such legislation to the labour of all adult males, as well as to that of women and children. As yet, however, this regulation has not applied to adult males generally, but only to those in certain arduous and dangerous occupations. The hours for women and children in mines, factories, and workshops, and frequently in some other occupations, are restricted by most European states to ten per day, while the age at which children may be employed varies from eleven to thirteen in most employments. Regulations providing, with varied degrees of efficacy and comprehensiveness, for safety and sanitation in factories, workshops, and mercantile establishments are practically universal. Many of the countries have compulsory state insurance against sickness and accidents; Germany and Italy have in addition a system of old-age insurance. England requires employers to compensate their employees for industrial accidents, and has a system of old-age pensions. Switzerland and Belgium insure against unemployment. In most of the European countries there are laws providing for the arbitration of industrial disputes, but in one of them is the arbitration compulsory. All the countries permit, and some of them give special privileges to, labour unions or guilds. In German and Austria membership in a guild is indispensable for certain trades. Generally speaking, peaceful strikes and boycotts are everywhere lawful. Boycotting was made legal in Great Britain in 1906.

The theory of non-intervention has exercised a stronger influence in the United States than even in England, owing to the fact that it was incorporated into the National Constitution, and in the Constitutions of most of the states. The constitutional prohibitions of class legislation and of interference with freedom of contract have caused American labour laws to be for the most part, “a collection of exceptions to these general provisions” (Adams, Labor Problems, 464). Between 1840 and 1850, laws were passed in some of the states limiting the hours of labour for women and children, and in 1877 Massachusetts enacted a code of factory legislation. Since then more than half the states have followed the example set by Massachusetts, and the general tendency points constantly toward more and better regulations for the protection of labour. In no state, however, is there a general law limiting the hours of labour for adult males. Such legislation would undoubtedly be construed as contrary to the constitutional guarantee of freedom of contract. The few states that have enacted provisions of this sort have limited their application to occupations involving special danger to health, safety, or the public welfare. In many of the states the working day of women is restricted, usually to ten hours, on the theory that this is a legitimate exercise of the police power in the interest of public or private health, or on behalf of a peculiarly weak section of the population. The hours of labour of children have been limited in all the states, in the majority of cases to ten per day, but in a few instances to eight, nine, eleven, or twelve.

Almost all the states set a minimum age at which children may be employed, at least in certain places, such as factories and stores. In the majority of cases the limit is fourteen years, although it is sometimes one or two years less, and sometimes one or two years higher for certain employments. Laws governing the safety and sanitation of factories exist in more than half the states. As yet, there is no legislation providing for insurance against disabilities of any sort nor for old-age pensions. The only legal regulations of this nature are based on the common law concerning the employer’s liability for accidents occurring to his employees while at work. In many of the states tribunals have been created for the voluntary arbitration of industrial disputes, but none of these boards has been of much service. The national Arbitration Law, which applies only to railroads, has been more successful. Labour unions are given no special privileges, except that in some states they are encouraged to incorporate.

Strikes are not prohibited, but occasionally the sympathetic strike and frequently the boycott have been forbidden by the courts through the process of injunction.

This brief review of the history of labour seems to make a few conclusions tolerably safe. If the labouring class of to-day be taken in the wider sense which we have given it in discussing the ages before the industrial revolution, it is undoubtedly better off than it has ever been since the world began. If we use the phrase in the narrower sense of wage-earners, we can still say that the majority of these are now in a better position materially, socially, and politically, than the labouring class, whether widely or narrowly interpreted, has ever been before. While it is very probably true that the poorest section of the manual workers of the later Middle Ages was in a happier condition materially than the poorest workers of to-day, it is also true that the latter have the advantage socially and politically. And when we recall the sufferings that the toilers have endured through the contumely of the socially powerful classes, and through the injustice of legislation, we will not be inclined to make light of the better and more hopeful social and political position that belongs even to the lowliest among us to-day. When we remember that about one thousand years ago the majority of the workers were either slaves or serfs, we realize that, in spite of set-backs, there has been great and encouraging progress. When we compare the condition and status of the labouring class during the best days of Greece and Rome with its condition and status to-day, we cannot doubt that the improvement is mostly due to Christianity, and that continued progress will be in proportion to the influence of Christian ideals in the social order. Some of these ideals are stronger to-day than ever before. The medieval doctrine that the price of goods ought to be sufficient to afford the producers a decent living has emerged from the obscurity of three centuries, and is once more accepted by the majority of persons in every Christian country.

Finally, when we recall that the condition of the toilers has improved notably and steadily for the last seventy-five years, and that, while some of the economic forces to which that improvement is due are not so strong as they once were, other beneficent forces, moral and political, have grown stronger, we cannot deny that the outlook for the future is one of sane, if moderate, optimism.


CUNNINGHAM, Western Civilization in its Economic Aspects (Cambridge, 1900) ;

IDEM, A History of English Industry and Commerce (Cambridge, 1905);

WARD, The Ancient Lowly (Washington, 1889-1900);

MOMMSEN, History of Rome (New York, 1905); BROWNLOW, Slavery and Serfdom (London, 1892);

HASBACH, History of the English Labourer (London, 1909);

GIBBINS, Industry in England (London, 1898);

ADAMS AND SUMNER, Labor Problems (New York, 1905);

WILLOUGHBY, Bulletin of the Bureau of Labor (Washington), nos. 25-30;

STIMSON, Report of the Industrial Commission, XVI (Washington); Twenty-Second Annual Report of the Commissioner of Labor (Washington); GUIRAUD, La main-d’oeuvre industrielle dans l’ancienne Grce (Paris, 1900);

LEVASSEUR, Histoire des classes ouvrires et de l’industrie en France avant 1789 (Paris, 1900); INAMA STERNEGG, Deutsche Wirthschaftsgeschichte (1879);

RATZINGER, Volkswirthschaft (Freiburg im Br., 1895);

JANNSEN, Geschichte des deutschen Volkes (Freiburg im Br., 1893).



Transcribed by Gerald Rossi

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII

Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company

Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight

Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor

Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

  1. September 25, 2011 at 6:15 am

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