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Just now it is harvest time, and ten men are employed where they would be idle two weeks before or after harvest.
Q. But during the season Mr. Boyd says they are employed ?-A. I have friends in Minnesota who inform me differently.
Q. In the manufacturing districts there has been idleness, no doubt, but the estimate of 2,000,000 is so large have Dun, Barlow & Co. quoted that to you ?-A. Not directly.
Q. It does not appear in their circulars. I have seen a copy of their circulars.-A. I don't think it appears in it.
Q. Have you seen the labor bureau statement of the number, in Massachusetts, of idle men and women ?-A. I know this much: My son was visiting Boston on business quite a time ago, and when he came back he handed to me a long list of persons that wanted clerkships.
The CHAIRMAN. That is usually the case, in all my experience, that numerous people want clerkships; that is my experience at all times.
Mr. VAN TUYL. My deliberate judgment is that Congress should act on these suggestions at their earliest possible opportunity, or, in their superior wisdom, to establish other and perhaps better modes of relieving the distressed laboring classes who are now unemployed, and with no immediate prospect of securing remunerative employment, except by means suggested, or others tending to the same result.
The CHAIRMAN. I have asked you all the questions I think proper as we went along, because I knew, as you had it written, it would not disturb the current of your remarks.
Mr. Van TUYL. I am very much obliged to you, sir. The CHAIRMAN. We are very much obliged to you and to every witness that comes here to give us information. To-morrow will be the last session of this voluntary testimony. We will then hold a further session, in wbich we will select witnesses from the leading business men of the country to come here and give their testimony.
Adjourned to August 6, 1878, at 11 a. m.
NEW YORK, August 6, 1878. The committee met pursuant to adjournment. Present, Messrs. Hewitt (chairman), Rice, and Boyd.
VIEWS OF MR. GEORGE E. MCNEIL.
GEORGE E. MCNEIL appeared and made the following statement:
By the CHAIRMAN: Question. What is your occupation :—Answer. My occupation at present is varied; I have charge of certain unproductive property of a BrookĪyn bank; I have some land which I hire and cultivate; I also manufacture certain goods in my own family for sale.
Q. Are you a representative of any organized body of workingmen or of employers :A. I am the president of the International Labor Union of America.
Q. How large a body is that?-A. It is a new organization, formed this spring, and has branches in thirteen States of the Union, numbering somewhere from 7,000 to 8,000 members.
Q. Will you be good enough to tell the committee whether you have had any special experience on questions relating to capital and labor?—A. I have had the opportunity of serving as deputy of the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor from 1869 to 1873.
Q. Who was the chief of the bureau at that time?-A. General H. K. Oliver, of Salem.
Q. Have you since that time given special attention to the condition of the workingmen of the country ?-A. I have.
Q. Where do you live now?-A. In West Somerville, Mass., ten miles from Boston.
Q. Have you studied the causes of the present depression of labor and business in the United States ?-A. I have.
Q. Be good enongh to give the committee your opinions on that subject as concisely as possible.-A. I wish first, with your permission, to make a statement. I have come here to New York on other business, and have not with me the proper data to make a full and complete statement, such as I feel is due to the committee. I will, therefore, to-day, with your permission, simply make a certain number of assertions which I will demonstrate at some other hearing, and give you what, in the opinion of the organization I represent, and in my own opinion, is the proper remedy for those difficulties. I think, Mr. Chairman, that it is unfair (I am not speaking of the committee) to give undue weight to the fact that nearly every person who presents himself before you has some different cause and some different remedy for this difficulty. When we remember that the political economists of the several nations have so widely disagreed on these matters, it is no wonder that the working people, and those who have given but a very small amount of attention to it, should so widely differ. You know John Stuart Mill and Mr. Thornton both disagree on the operations functionally of the law of demand and supply. The people of the Manchester school differ in regard to the question of tariff, and the French and German political economists also disagree on political matters.
Q. We would like to know what you think of the causes.-A. The origin of this difficulty, or the origin or commencement of the time of this difficulty, goes back to the time when the laborer lost the power to sell the product of his labor, or, in other words, when he was forced to sell his labor; that is, to sell himself; or, in other words, at the commencement of the wage system of labor.
Q. Then the difficulty is the wage system of labor ?-A. The difficulty is the wage system of labor. Now, to go over the intervening time and point out some of the causes would occupy more than an hour.
By Mr. RICE: Q. When do you understand that we lost that power?-A. It is a question that there is some difference of opinion upon. Some claim that it was in Italy about the fourteenth century. I think it practically commenced with the congregation of laborers in England within at least 100 years to all practical purposes.
By the CHAIRMAN: Q. Do you mean that before 100 years wages were known as the reward of labor in England ?-A. No, sir; it is difficult to find out when the wage system commenced. The first I know of it was, it was paid to armies in Rome, and afterwards paid to artisans; armies were employed at that time sometimes at productive industry; but for all practical purposes, for the purposes of this commission, it seems to me it is well enough to say it commenced with the introduction of labor-saving machines, or the congregation of laborers in England.
Q. In other words, the wage system and the steam-engine were contemporaneous !A. Yes, sir; practically so.
By Mr. RICE: Q. And thence dates the depression of labor ?-A. Thence dates the present form of the depression of labor. Labor was very much more depressed before steam came in. The wage system is an advance on the old system.
By the CHAIRMAN: Q. Then the present system is an improvement on the old one ?-A. Very much.
By Mr. Rice: Q. A stepping-stone to a better system?-A. A stepping-stone to a better system. Now, the present difficulty is consequent upon the fact that machinery is discharging laborers faster than new employments are provided, or, in other words, the productive capacity has exceeded the power of consunption in the masses. I should like, knowing the long list of persons who are to appear before you, to stop here, as far as the causes are concerned.
By the CHAIRMAN: Q. You say that, owing to machinery, consumption cannot keep up with production ?-A. I don't like to state it that way, because it might appear I was opposed to inachinery.
Q. I wish to get your idea.-A. I should state it this way, that the power to consume has not kept pace with the power to produce. It is not the fault of the power of production; it is a fault on the other side.
Q. Was there any excess of production, in other words any glut of goods, in 1872!A. That is asking for data that I have not with me.
Q. But as a general fact?-A. There is what is called a glnt. Q. There was in 1872 a glut?--A. There was about 1873 what is termed a glut. Q. A glut in 1872. In 1872 was the power of consumption so inferior to the power of production that there was a glut of manufactured articles in the market 1--A. I could not answer that to-day,
Q. Do you not know that the year 1972 was a year of great demand for manufactured articles, and that there was a deficiency of mannfactured articles throughout the world ?-A. I wish very much this commission could demonstrate that statement. I think our statistics are very faulty indeed.
Q. When there is a glut, prices fall to a lower rate, don't they ?-A. Yes, sir.
Q. When the demand exceeds the supply there is no glut; on the contrary, prices go up ?-A. That is your method of stating it.
Q. Suppose there were six pocket-knives in this place, and every man in the room
wanted a pocket-knife, would not the price of them go up in this room ?—A. Very likely; that is, if the people had the capacity to buy pocket-knives.
Q. In 1872 was there not a state of trade in which you had to wait to get orders filled in almost all staple branches of industry? In other words, didn't the demand exceed the immediate supply?-A. It may be so; I have not got the data before me. I still make the assertion that the cause of this trouble is consequent upon the excess of the power of production over the power of consumption, and will demonstrate it, if the committee will give me an opportunity to do so. I make that assertion, and will only attempt to demonstrate it at another hearing, and not at the present hearing.
Q. I want to know whether this has been a continued excess in the power of production over consumption, or whether it has been an intermittent excess; and, in order to arrive at that fact, I ask you what was notoriously the condition of business in 18721-A. I should say it was an intermittent excess.
Q. Then it proceeds not by a uniform law, but by an intermittent law ?--A. It is intermittent.
Q. Do you not suppose there will be, some time or other, a period when the present excess (for it is admitted to be an excess) will disappear, and that there will be a demand, not only sufficient to absorb the present excess, but to make a deficiency, judging by the system of the past ?-A. It is probable the present system can continue on for some further time, and that the present difficulty may disappear, to be followed again very shortly by similar panics and distress.
Q. What you desire to do is to get rid of this intermittent period of excessive demand :-A. I wish to get rid of the system that causes the intermittent period.
Q. You think the wage system causes this intermittent period ?-A. Yes, sir; it is very possible in 1872 there might not have been a wide divergence between the power of production and consumption, and still a panic occurred in 1873. It does not necessarily follow there might not have been the condition of things that you describe. It is simply the constant recurring of financial panics.
Q. You think this intermittent state of things is the result of the wage system ?--A. I do.
Q. Explain to the committee what that better system is.-A. I cannot explain to the committee now what that better system is, because I believe we have got to grow out of this system into that better system. I only wish to point your attention to the next step out of this system toward the better system. I will say here, in the opinion, also, of nearly all the organizations of labor, whether of the socialistic labor party, or nearly every other form of real labor organizations, one of the most important steps is a reduction of the hours of labor; and I will say here that that demand, or the demand for that step, is not simply a national but an international demand.
By Mr. Rice: Q. Do you think Congress has any power to legislate upon that question, so that there shall be a uniform legislative rule throughout the country?-A. I do.
Q. Please explain how.-A. Yes, sir. In the first place, I would have the present national eight-hour law so amended as to be made to apply to all persons employed by the government, whether directly or indirectly, by contractors or otherwise.
Q. No one employed in carrying out a contract should work over eight hours a day 1-A. Yes, sir; that should be a condition of the contract so that, in furnishing the iron for this building, the iron-founders must work their employés under the eight-hour system.
Q. Supposing a man contracted to build this building, could he control the ironworker in his work? Would you have it go as far as that—the lumberman who saws the lumber in the mills of Michigan, or wherever it may be, or the wood-chopper who chops it?-A. I would have it go as far as possible and practicable.
Q. Could you practically have it go any farther than to those who were directly employed by the government and to those who were directly employed by the contraetor! Would you not have difficulty even in going as far as the last ?-A. I think there would be no difficulty in having the system applied to all styles of contracts, to all iron mills, and to all the other large manufactories where materials are furnished for the construction of public buildings.
By the CHAIRMAN: Q. If we had a contract for a public building, would you compel us to go to the miners and say, “For the ore that goes into this job you must only work eight hours a day"?-A. Yes, sir.
Q. When any other job came along, what would you do! Would you compel us to do the same thing? We could not do it. All the ore that is mined is mined in mines and put in heaps and transported to furnaces. How are we to keep separate the ore mined for the government contractors and the ore mined for other purposes ! And the ore is often mined two and three years ahead, in order to keep the workmen busy when there is no demand for the iron; how could we meet that difficulty !-A. We would go as far as practicable; if it was demonstrated that it was impracticable I don't urge it. The idea is to force you to employ men only eight hours all the time, and if it causes any difficulty we would rather have the difficulty come on you than on the miner.
Q. But laws are of no use unless penalties are attached to them ?–A. Yes, sir.
Q. Would you put a penalty upon iron-makers who had the contract to furnish iron for a building the moment it was proved that any of the ore that went into that iron was worked more than eight hours a day?-A. If it was practicable to do so.
Q. Is it practicable to do so ?-A. That is for the future investigation of this question to settle. It is a question, and I will come by and by to the idea of the establishment of a national bureau of statistics of labor. Many things that appear impracticable to us may appear practicable when we have demonstrated by statistical inquiry the facts in the case.
Q. Now, when we come to legislate we ought to consider those matters. In making iron, we have to make wooden patterns in order to shape a form. In making wooden patterns, we have to buy glue to glue the wooden patterns together. Glue is made from waste material, but is very largely got from the butchers around great cities. Would you carry this proposition of yours to the point of investigating whether the men that butchered the meat for the consumption of the city of New York or any other city had given more than eight hours' labor to that task ?--A. Most certainly I would; I want to carry this point to the lowest foundation.
Q. Then, when a man took a government contract under a penalty, which you would have fixed, he must sit down and investigate whether any portion of the material that goes into the work has been produced by labor of more than eight hours a day, and if it is found anywhere that that has happened he is to be punished 1-A. I say the bureau of statistics of labor, which we will petition for, will have presented the facts in the case, and he will not necessarily be forced to make an investigation into the matter, and we are going to go just as far as practicable. At first it may be only possible or practicable simply to say that in the construction of this building the iron foundry inust work under eight hours a day, and not go back of that. It might say that the quarries should work eight hours, and not go back of that. That is a matter of detail which must necessarily be left to the legislators as to the question of the practicability of it.
Q. Would not the men who owned the iron factories and stone quarries have reason to complain if the rule was not applied to every other contract in the building ?-A. Every other contract would be under the same consideration. *I should say the man who furnished the gas-fixtures should employ the men who manufactured the gasfixtures under the eight-hour system; and the man who supplied the glass should manufacture it under the eight-hour system.
Q. Gas-fixtures and glass are also manufactured in other countries than the United States !-A. Very true.
Q. Suppose yon restrict him to eight hours, and another contractor comes along from where there is no eight hour law, and he says: “I will furnish the glass for 20 per cent. less, and I will furnish the bronze work for 25 per cent. less ; would you prohibit a contract being made with him ?-A. That would depend largely on other matters. I might be a protective man and say, “I want to encourage home industries, and so I will have the gas-fixtures that are manufactured here." I would give the preference to the man who manufactured under the eight-hour system, whether it was 20 per cent. cheaper or dearer.
Q. In other words, you would compel the government to take only goods manufactured under the eight-hour system, and buy no other goods in any department of the government?-A. As far as possible.
By Mr. Rice: Q. How would the man that made the gas-fixtures for this building be able to confine his workmen to eight hours when it was government work without confining them to cight hours when making gas-fixtures for your house ?-A. The more difficulties we surround them with the better.
Q. Would not the difficulties surround us ?-A. Some would surround him. You are called upon to legislate, and I say it necessarily follows that I should make an argument to show that it is more important that our people should be employed under the eight-hour system than it is important whether the manufacturer of these things is surrounded with difficulties, or whether we will pay 20 per cent. more or less. That is the question Congress must settle-which is the most important factor.
Q. You desire to effect a limitation of the hours of labor to all laborers ?-A. That is what we desire.
Q: It is not specially to those that work for the United States any more than it is to those who work for Mr. Hewitt 1-A. Certainly not.
Q. It is to all ?--A. Yes, sir.
Q. If you are confined to those working for the government, and cannot get an inch beyond them, then you would not care to apply it to those and to no others? If the
government could not alleviate the condition of the rest, you would not want to make those who work for it the favored class, would you ?-A. If you wait till I have concluded you will see I have reached practically nearly all the persons employed. We are all attempting to make an investigation into a difficult problem. We have had difficulties on our side, and the legislators on their side, and the manufacturers on theirs. We are trying to get over the difficulties. The next point in the eight-hour system is this, to have a law so framed that all patents granted by the United States Government should contain a clause that no person employed in the manufacture of those patents, or employed in producing commodities by the use of those patents in any factory or worksliop in the United States, should work except under the eight-hour system.
Q. In other words, the patent should involve the obligation to employ labor eight hours, and no more?-A. Yes, sir.
Q. And that should be the condition of the issue of a patent?-A. Yes, sir.
Q. Supposing two persons own the same machine-a sewing-machine for instancewould you not let me work eight hours on it and another eight hours during the same twenty-four hours 1-A. No, sir; I don't believe in the relay system, if that is what you mean.
Q. That was not what I meant. I was merely suggesting the difficulty of keeping a sewing-machine from running more than eight hours during a day.-A. In a factory? Q. Anywhere ?—A. I stated in a factory or workshop.
By the CHAIRMAN: Q. Take a rolling-mill, which has to run day and night. There are many patents on rollers. The moment there is a patent on rollers you would compel it to work eiglit hours a day, and stop it during the night?–A. Yes, sir.
Q. Then the mill could not run, because the cost of fire is so enormous they could not carry on the business. What would you do?-A. If it is impracticable, which is a question of investigation-you know more about that than I do.
Q. Take my word for that.-A. Whatever is practicable must be done. If a rolling-mill cannot be run on the eight-hour system, then it cannot.
Q. You can make three relays of men, and work eight hours each. As to a patent roller, you said you would not let a patent machine run more than eight hours out of the twenty-four. Now, there is a machine, and you would compel me to have three sets of machines instead of one, whereas one would do all the work.-A. I don't mean that.
Q. Would I have to stop 16 or 18 of those patented machines, and let the men stand there!-A. I don't know, I don't undertake to say that I know all the details of every business.
Q. But you lay down a proposition for the information of this committee, and the committee confronts you at once with a practical difficulty, and I have no doubt every gentleman in this room can confront you with another difficulty in his line of business.-A. My point is this, that this machinery must run under the eight-hour system. Now, every different industry has certain details, certain definite things, which must, of course, be understood; difficulties that come to it must be understood.
Q. Suppose I should produce thousands of cases where the difficulty would arise ; now, I have to legislate about it-what would you have ine do as a legislator?-A. I would have you sit down carefully and calmly to consider this question, as to which is the most important interest set before you—the considerations that are placed bo. fore you by those thousands of manufacturers, or the very stability of our government under which we live.
Q. Now, I have got in my employ, say, a thousand men who are now not earning as much as they ought to, but are living in comfort. I can run them on the present system of using the patent machine through the day and the night. This law is passed, and I can no longer employ the men; who suffers—the employer or tho men who are tnrned out of work ?-A. I stated early in this matter that I simply wished to make assertions, and to point out legislation. I do not desire to occupy the time of this committee to-day in the discussion of that question. · I will promiso this committee, if I live, to attempt to meet those difficulties. I will say here that I have considered the difficulties that the gentleman states, and I believe they are all difficulties that can be overcome, and that they must be overcome.
By Mr. RICE: Q. You see they are not imaginary difficulties from the fact that you, with all your study, are not able to answer them at once ?-A. I know they are real difficulties; there is no one pretends they are imaginary difficulties. They are real difficulties; but the trouble is that outside of the wage labor our socialists, the educated classes, have not considered the other side of the difficulty in the case.
Q. Have you read Mr. Thornton's book on labor !–A. I have.