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Art. 10.—THE WAGES PROBLEM IN AGRICULTURE.

1919.

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1. A History of the English Agricultural Labourer,

1870–1920. By F. E. Green. King, 1920. 2. Village Trade Unions in Two Centuries. By Ernest

Selley. Allen & Unwin, 1921. 3. Report of the Agricultural Policy Sub-Committee. Cd.

9079. 1916. 4. Corn Production Act, 1917. 5. Orders of the Agricultural Wages Board, 1918–20. 6. Wages and Conditions of Employment in Agriculture.

Cmd. 24 and 25. 7. Report on Financial Results of Farming and Cost of

Living. Cmd. 76. 1919. 8. Report and Evidence of Royal Commission on Agri

culture, 1919–20. Cmd. 345, 365, 391, 445, and 665. Is the turmoil of social, political, and economic complexities which is vaguely termed the Labour question,' wages form only one ingredient, although necessarily the most apparent. Agricultural workers being the latest class of wage-earners to become organised, have so far been pre-occupied with a struggle for higher wages; and while having, through their leaders, some contact with industrial Trade Unions, cannot be said to have developed at present any line of action outside the improvement of their economic status. It follows that a consideration of the wages problem in agriculture comprises in effect a consideration of the general position of the farm labourer under present conditions.

It is desirable, at the outset, to note the fact that there is in connexion with agricultural wages a problem which differs in some respects from that presented in other industries, although certain broad principles are common to all classes of wage-earners. A living wage —using that ambiguous term as signifying a wage sufficient to maintain a reasonable standard of life-and hours of employment which leave time for a fair amount of leisure, with provision for extra payment if such hours are exceeded, are among the demands of all workers, whether in the factory or the field. In the cultivation of the soil or the care of live stock, the conditions of employment are less under the control of the employer than in other industries. There are, course, other occupations in which the weather is important factor. The work of a builder, for examp may be interrupted and his men become idle for cc siderable periods. But in farming there is not on interruption of work at certain times, but there is a the need for a compensatory excess of work at oth times. If the building of a house is delayed by weath its ultimate completion may be delayed for a simi period; but if work on a crop is stopped at one seas it by no means follows that its harvesting can be deferr for an equivalent time. Nature, not the employ decides when it must be in-gathered. With live sto the helplessness of the employer is still more evide A postponement of milking means not merely t breaking of a contract to supply milk, but in a ve short period the total loss of the cows, which represe the cow-owner's capital. There is no other form enterprise in which the employer's organisation labour-power is so liable to disturbance from caus beyond his control. The special difficulties which ar in connexion with work on the land or with live sto do not, of course, prevent fair and satisfactory arrang ments being made between employers and workers meet them; but they necessitate recognition of the fa that the terms of employment in agriculture are subje to conditions which are exceptional and inexorable.

Another point of difference which has an importa influence on the present problem is the fact that ag culture is the last of the great industries in which ti workers have become organised. Attempts, beginnin with the tragedy of Tolpuddle in 1833, were made fro time to time to organise the agricultural labourers; b although some success was achieved it was but temporar Six or seven years ago it is probable that not more tha 10,000 farm workers were enrolled in any union, althoug in the time when Joseph Arch's campaign reached i highest level, about 1873, it was claimed that his unic had a membership of nearly 90,000. It is natural, in ti light of present-day knowledge, to look back, wil regret, on the sorry history of the efforts of the agr cultural labourers to combine, and the way in whic those efforts were met. While it is possible charitab

to credit with honest convictions those who so strenuously opposed the men, it is not possible to acquit them of unwisdom. Their action left behind cruel memories, and the relations of farmers and labourers in many districts were embittered for a generation.

The nemesis of this delay has come in the guise of a farther difficulty in dealing with the present situation. lo other great industries the unions of the workers have been built up during a considerable period, with the result that their members have gradually acquired experience, and as numbers increased the organisation developed accordingly. In the case of agriculture, the growth of the unions has been so rapid that with the exception of a few leaders who have had an education in trade unionism outside agriculture, the whole body of members are inexperienced; and it is difficult to find amongst them a sufficient number of men qualified to represent the views of their fellows. In this connexion recognition should be made of the difficulty and responsibility of the task which has fallen upon the leaders of the National Agricultural Workers' Union and the Workers' Union. Any one who realises the possibilities which arise when, within the course of a couple of years, two or three hundred thousand men are organised, filled with expectations of immediate and tangible results, and excited by visions of a new heaven and a new earth, must recognise that they might be easily led into hasty and inconsiderate action. It is to the credit of those who have guided the counsels of the men that under circumstances of much difficulty, and at a time of great social and industrial unrest, they have carried on their campaign, on the whole, with moderation and discretion.

Nor are the difficulties arising from the rapid development of agricultural unionism confined to the workers' side. British farmers are the embodiment of individualism. They are probably the most obdurate class in the community to stir into collective action. They may be easily induced by some sense of grievance to hold meetings and express violent condemnation of the Government (whatever it may be); their indignation Deing frequently most hot against those who are attempting to further their interests. But for sustained action to achieve a definite and well-considered policy

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they have in the past shown little aptitude. T majority of farmers have also inherited attitude towards labour which renders it difficult them to realise the change in all social relationshi which the war

so greatly accelerated. The dor nance of the proletariat, to which all political for have been tending during the past fifty years, E become complete and overwhelming. Like all politi changes in this country, it came so gradually, that those who lived in the backwaters of life it was almo imperceptible. The end of the war, and the return civil life of the youth who had been for five yea maturing in the hot-bed of war, brought about t completion of the development with apparent sudde ness. The extension of the franchise, with its inclusi of women, signalised the event, but its full significan was not appreciated by farmers. Indeed, the experien of the war and the blandishments of which he was t object tended to arouse a belief in the farmer's mir that he would be in future a privileged person–a kir of national pet—to be humoured and helped and exempt from all the troubles which are the common lot of tho who attempt to earn their living. The shock, therefor was severe, when he realised that in the one phase of b business in which he had always felt free and unfetter -that of dealing with his men--he was to be subjecte to drastic interference. That the law should comphim to pay a certain wage and should forbid him fro making his own bargain with a man who wished to employed, was almost inconceivable. No doubt, ti control exercised over his freedom of dealing with b land and the produce thereof, had done something to inu him to State intervention in the conduct of his busines but, nevertheless, the idea of authority coming betwer him and his men was very startling.

On the whol farmers have accepted the new conditions, if not wit cheerfulness, with surprising celerity. That the Orde of the Wages Board are obeyed with reluctance, and the attempts to ignore or evade them are common, is true but this is not infrequently due as much to bewildermer as to deliberate resistance. The acceptance with so litt disturbance of what is, in fact, a revolution in th economic relationship of farmers and labourers,

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largely due to the rapid growth of the National Farmers' Union and the wisdom of its directors.

No one now attempts to defend the rates of wages paid to agricultural labourers throughout the 19th century. In the current Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society,' Mr A. W. Ashby collects such materials as exist and gives the following figures, which represent the result of inquiries made at different periods by various authorities. They may be taken as approximately accurate, in the absence of complete data: Year.

Average weekly Authority.

rate of wages.

S. d. 1767-70 Arthur Young .

7 3 1850-51 James Caird

9 7 1860 F. Purdy (Journal, R.S.S.)

12 3 1870-71 S. B. L. Druce (Journal, R.A.S.E.)

12 2 1880-81 S. B. L. Druce (Journal, R.A.S.E.)

14 2 1892–93 W. C. Little (R. Commission on Labour) 13 5 1898 A. Wilson Fox (Cd. 346)

14 5

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Rates of wages, taken by themselves, are of little value unless they are related to the cost of living at the time, and to other factors which affect the economic position of the wage-earner. It is evident, for instance, that the rise in the real wage from 1860 to 1898 was much greater than appears from the mere average rate. The price of the 4-16. loaf in 1860 was 9d., whereas in 1898 it was 54d. Mr Green writes :

"Towards the end of this decade [the 'eighties], for the first time in their lives thousands of labourers who had hardly ever tasted any other meat than that obtained from the pig rhich they kept in their sties, or the rabbit which they spared in the field, began to taste mutton and beef sent frozen to England from the ends of the world. It is an ironical reflection on civilisation that the English labourer who fed the bullock in the yard which he overlooked from his cottage, and folded the sheep on the roots under his ese, had to wait until frozen meat came to him from the

or the ranches of America before butcher's meat became part of his diet, even once

This is no exaggeration, for men to-day have told me that the frozen meat which arrived in this country in the late 'eighties was the first time they had tasted mutton in their lives.'

a week.

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