London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the influence of Free Trade on the Earnings of the Scavagers.
AS regards the influence of Free Trade upon the scavaging business, I could gain little or no information from the body of street-sweepers, because they have never noticed its operation, and the men, with the exception of such as have sunk into street-sweeping from better-informed conditions of life, know nothing about it. Among , however, I have heard statements of the blessing of cheap bread; always cheap "There's nothing like bread," say the men, "it's not all poor people can get meat; but they get bread." Cheap food all labouring men pronounce a blessing, as it unquestionably is, but "somehow," as a scavager's carman said to me, "the thing ain't working as it should."
In the course of the present and former inquiries among unskilled labourers, street-sellers, and costermongers, I have found the great majority of the more intelligent declare that Free Trade had not worked well for them, because there were more labourers and more street-sellers than were required, for each man to live by his toil and traffic, and because the numbers increased yearly, and the demand for their commodities did not increase in proportion. Among the ignorant, I heard the continual answers of, "I can't say, sir, what it's owing to, that I'm so bad off;" or, "Well, I can't tell anything about that."
It is difficult to state, however, without positive inquiry, whether this extra number of hands be due to diminished employment in the agricultural districts, since the repeal of the Corn Laws, or whether it be due to the insufficiency of occupation generally for the increasing population. thing at least is evident, that the increase of the trades alluded to cannot be said to arise directly from diminished agricultural employment, for but few farm labourers have entered these businesses since the change from Protection to Free Trade. If, therefore, Free-Trade principles operated injuriously in reducing the work of the unskilled labourers, street-sellers, and the poorer classes generally, it can have done so only that is to say, by throwing a mass of displaced country labour into the towns, and so
|displacing other labourers from their ordinary occupations, as well as by decreasing the wages of working-men generally. Hence it becomes almost impossible, I repeat, to tell whether the increasing difficulty that the poor experience in living by their labour, is a consequence or merely a concomitant of the repeal of the Corn Laws; if it be a consequence, of course the poor are no better for the alteration; if, however, it be a coincidence rather than a necessary result of the measure, the circumstances of the poor are, of course, as much improved as they would have been impoverished provided that measure had never become law. I candidly confess I am as yet without the means of coming to any conclusion on this part of the subject.|
Nor can it be said that in the scavagers' trade wages have in any way declined since the repeal of the Corn Laws; so that were it not for the difficulty of obtaining employment among the hands, this class must be allowed to have been considerable gainers by the reduction in the price of food, and even as it is, the hands must be acknowledged to be so.
I will now endeavour to reduce to a tabular form such information as I could obtain as to the expenditure of the labourer in scavaging before and after the establishment of Free Trade. I inquired, the better to be assured of the accuracy of the representations and accounts I received from labourers, the price of meat then and now. A butcher who for many years has conducted a business in a populous part of and in a populous suburb, supplying both private families with the best joints, and the poor with their "little bits" their "block ornaments" (meat in small pieces exposed on the chopping-block), their purchases of liver, and of beasts' heads. In , the year I take as sufficiently prior to the Free- Trade era, my informant from his recollection of the state of his business and from consulting his books, which of course were a correct guide, found that for a portion of the year in question, mutton was as much as per lb. ( prices), now the same quality of meat is but This, however, was but a temporary matter, and from causes which sometimes are not very ostensible or explicable. Taking the butcher's trade that year as a whole, it was found sufficiently conclusive, that meat was generally per lb. higher then than at present. My informant, however, was perfectly satisfied that, although situated in the same way, and with the same class of customers, he did sell so much meat to the poor and labouring classes as he did or years ago, , although perhaps "pricers of his meat" among the poor were more numerous. For this my informant accounted by expressing his conviction that the labouring men spent their money in drink more than ever, and were a longer time in recovering from the effects of tippling. This supposition, from what I have observed in the course of the present inquiry, is negatived by facts.
Another butcher, also supplying the poor, said they bought less of him; but he could not say exactly to what extent, perhaps an , and he attributed it to less work, there being no railways about London, fewer buildings, and less general employment. About the wages of the labourers he could not speak as influencing the matter. From this tradesmen also I received an account that meat generally was per lb. higher at the time specified. Pickled Australian beef was or years ago very low— per lb.—salted and prepared, and "swelling" in hot water, but the poor "couldn't eat the stringy stuff, for it was like pickled ropes." "It's better now," he added, "but it don't sell, and there's no nourishment in such beef."
But these tradesmen agreed in the information that poor labourers bought less meat, while pronounced Free Trade a blessing, the other declared it a curse. I suggested to each that cheaper fish might have something to do with a smaller consumption of butcher's meat, but both said that cheap fish was the great thing for the Irish and the poor needle-women and the like, who were never at any time meat eaters.
From respectable bakers I ascertained that bread might be considered a quartern loaf dearer in than at present. Perhaps the following table may throw a fuller light on the matter. I give it from what I learned from several men, who were without accounts to refer to, but speaking positively from memory; I give the statement per week, as for a single man, without charge for the support of a wife and family, and without any help from other resources.
In butter, bacon, potatoes, &c., and beer, I could hear of no changes, except that bacon might be a trifle cheaper, but instead of a good quality selling better, although cheaper, there was a demand for an inferior sort.
In the foregoing table the weekly consumption of several necessaries is given, but it is not to be understood that man consumes them all in a week; they are what may generally be consumed when such things are in demand by the poor, week after another, or day after another, forming an aggregate of weeks.
Thus, Free Trade and cheap provisions are an unquestionable benefit, if unaffected by drawbacks, to the labouring poor.
The above statement refers only to a fully employed hand.
The following table gives the change since Free Trade in the earnings of casual hands, and relates to the past and the present expenditure of a scavager. The man, who was formerly a house painter, said he could bring me men similarly circumstanced to himself.
Here, then, we find a positive saving in the expenditure of per week in this man's wages, since the cheapening of food.
His earnings, however, tell a different story.
Thus we pereeive that the beneficial effects of cheapness are defeated by the dearth of employment among labourers.
It is impossible to come to statistics in this matter, but all concurrent evidence, as regards the unskilled work of which I now treat, shows that labour is attainable at almost any rate.
Another drawback to the benefits of cheap food I heard of in my inquiries (for the Letters on Labour and the Poor, in the ) among the boot and shoemakers—their rents had been raised in consequence of their landlords' property having been subjected to the income tax. Numbers of large houses are now let out in single rooms, in the streets off Tottenhamcourt-road, and near , as well as in many other quarters—to men, who, working for West-end tradesmen, must live, for economy of time, near the shops from which they derive their work. Near and in Cunningham-street and other streets, men, father and son, rent upwards of houses, the whole of which they let out in or rooms, it is believed at a very great profit; in fact they live by it.
The rent of these houses, among many others, was raised when the income tax was imposed, the sub-lettors declaring, with what truth no knew, that the rents were raised to them. It is common enough for capitalists to fling such imposts on the shoulders of the poor, and I heard scavagers complain, that every time they had to change their rooms, they had either to pay more rent by or a week, or put up with a worse place. man who lived at the time of the passing of the Income Tax Bill in , found his rent raised suddenly a week, a nonresident landlord or agent calling for it weekly. He was told that the advance was to meet the income tax. "I know nothing about what income tax means," he said, "but it's some —— roguery as is put on the poor." I heard complaints to the same purport from several working scavagers, and the lettors of rooms are the most exacting in places crowded with the poor, and where the poor think or feel they must reside "to be handy for work." What connection there may be between the questions of Free Trade and the necessity of the income tax, it is not my business now to dilate upon, but it is evident that the circumstances of the country are not sufficiently prosperous to enable parliament to repeal this "temporary" impost.
From a better informed class than the scavagers, I might have derived data on which to form a calculation from account books, &c., but I could hear of none being kept. I remember that a lady's shoemaker told me that the weekly rents of the rooms in the house in which he lived were higher than before the income tax, which "came to the same thing as an extra penny on over loaves a week." It is certain that the great tax-payers of London are the labouring classes.
I have endeavoured to ascertain the facts in connection with this complex subject in as calm and just a manner as possible, leaning neither to the Protectionist nor the Free-Trade side of the question, and I must again in honesty acknowledge, that to the hands among the scavagers and dustmen of the metropolis, the repeal of the Corn Laws appears to have been an unquestionable benefit.
I shall conclude this exposition of the condition and earnings of the working scavagers employed by the more honourable masters, with an account of the average income and expenditure of the better-paid hands (regular and casual, as well as single and married), and , of the unmarried regular hand.
The following is an estimate of the income and expenditure of an operative scavager employed, working for a large contractor:—
The subjoined represents the income of an operative scavager employed by a small master scavager months during the year, at a week, and weeks at sand and rubbish carting, at a week.
The expenditure of this man when in work was nearly the same as that of the regular hand; the main exceptions being that his rent was instead of , and no dogs were kept. When in work he saved nothing, and when out of work lived as he could.
The scavagers are differently circumstanced from the their earnings are generally increased by those of their family.
The labour of the wives and children of the scavagers is not unfrequently in the capacity of sifters in the dust-yards, where the wives of the men employed by the contractors have the preference, and in other but somewhat rude capacities. of their wives I heard of as a dresser of sheep's trotters; as being among the most skilful dressers of tripe for a large shop; as "a cat's-meat seller" (her father's calling); but I still speak of the regular scavagers—I could not meet with woman "working a slop-needle." , indeed, I saw who was described to me as a "feather dresser to an out-and-out negur," but the woman assured me she was neither badly paid nor badly off. Perhaps by such labour, as an average on the part of the wives, a day is cleared, and "on tripe and such like." Among the "casual's" wives there are frequent instances of the working for slop shirt-makers, &c., upon the coarser sorts of work, and at "starvation wages," but on such matters I have often dwelt. I heard from some of these men that it was looked upon as a great thing if the wife's labour could clear the week's rent of to
The following may be taken as an estimate of the income and outlay of a employed operative scavager, with his wife and children:—
The subjoined, on the other hand, gives the income and outlay of a operative scavager () with his wife and boys in constant work:—