London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Worse Paid Scavagers, or Those Working For ScurfThe Saxon Sceorfa, which is the original of the English Scurf, means a scab, and scab is the term given to the "cheap men" in the shoemaking trade. Scab is the root of our word Shabby; hence Scurf and Scab, deprived of their offensive associations, both mean shabby fellows. Employers.
THERE are in the scavagers' trade the same distinct classes of employers as appertain to all other trades; these consist of:—
. The large capitalists.
. The small capitalists.
As a rule (with some few honourable and dishonourable exceptions, it is true) I find that the large capitalists in the several trades are generally the employers who pay the higher wages, and the small men those who pay the lower. The reasons for this conduct are almost obvious. The power of the capital of the "large master" must be contended against by the small ; and the usual mode of contention in all trades is by reducing the wages of the working men. The wealthy master has, of course, many advantages over the poor . () He can pay ready money, and obtain discounts for immediate payment. () He can buy in large quantities, and so get his stock cheaper. () He can purchase what he wants in the best markets, and that of the producer, without the intervention and profit of the middleman. () He can buy at the best times and seasons; and "lay in" what he requires for the purposes of his trade long before it is needed, provided he can obtain it "a bargain." () He can avail himself of the best tools and mechanical contrivances for increasing the productiveness or "economizing the labour" of his workmen. () He can build and arrange his places of work upon the most approved plan and in the best situations for the manufacture and distribution of the commodities. () He can employ the highest talent for the management or design of the work on which he is engaged. () He can institute a more effective system for the surveillance and checking of his workmen. () He can employ a large number of hands, and so reduce the secondary expenses (of firing, lighting, &c.) attendant upon the work, as well as the number of superintendents and others engaged to "look after" the operatives. () He can resort to extensive means of making his trade known. () He can sell cheaper (even if his cost of production be the same), from employing a larger capital, and being able to "do with" a less rate of profit. () He can afford to give credit, and so obtain customers that he might otherwise lose.
The small capitalist, therefore, enters the field of competition by no means equally matched against his more wealthy rival. What the little master wants in "substance," however, he generally endeavours to make up in cunning. If he cannot buy his materials as cheap as a trader of larger means, he uses an inferior or cheaper article, and seeks by some trick or other to palm it off as equal to the superior and dearer kind. If the tools and appliances of the trade are expensive, he either transfers the cost of providing them to the workmen, or else he charges them a rent for their use; and so with the places of work, he mulcts their wages of a certain sum per week for the gas by which they labour, or he makes them do their work at home, and thus saves the expense of a workshop; and, lastly, he pays his men either a less sum than usual for the same quantity of labour, or exacts a greater quantity from them for the same sum of money. By or other of these means does the man of limited capital seek to counterbalance the advantages which his more wealthy rival obtains by the possession of extensive "resources." The large employer is enabled to work cheaper by the sheer force of his larger capital. He reduces the cost of production, not by employing a cheaper labour, but by "economizing the labour" that he does employ. The small employer, on the other hand, seeks to keep pace with his larger rival, and strives to work cheap, not by "the economy of labour" (for this is hardly possible in the small way of production), but by reducing the wages of his labourers. Hence the in almost every trade is that the smaller capitalists pay a lower rate of wages. To this, however, there are many honourable exceptions among the small masters, and many as dishonourable among the larger ones in different trades. Messrs. Moses, Nicoll, and Hyams, for instance, are men who certainly cannot plead deficiency of means as an excuse for reducing the ordinary rate of wages among the tailors.
Those employers who seek to reduce the prices of a trade are known technologically as "," in contradistinction to the standard employers, or those who pay their workpeople and sell their goods at the ordinary rates.
Of "cutting employers" there are several kinds, differently designated, according to the different means by which they gain their ends. These are:—
. "," or those who compel the men in their employ to do more work for the same wages; of this kind there are distinct varieties:—
, or those who make the men work longer than the usual hours of labour.
, or those who make the men (by extra supervision) "strap" to their work, so as to do a greater quantity of labour in the usual time.
. , or those who compel the workmen (through their necessities) to do the same amount of work for less than the ordinary wages.
The reduction of wages thus brought about may or may not be attended with a corresponding reduction in the price of the goods to the public; if the price of the goods be reduced in proportion to the reduction of wages, the consumer, of course, is benefited at the expense of the producer. When it is not followed by a like diminution in the selling price of the article, and the wages of which the men are mulct go to increase the profits of the capitalist, the employer alone is benefited, and is then known as a ""
Some cutting tradesmen, however, endeavour to undersell their more wealthy rivals, by reducing the ordinary rate of profit, and extending their business on the principle of small profits and quick returns, the "nimble ninepence" being considered "better than the slow shilling." Such traders, of course, cannot be said to reduce wages directly—indirectly, however, they have the same effect, for in reducing prices, other traders, ever ready to compete with them, but, unwilling, or perhaps unable, to accept less than the ordinary rate of profit, seek to attain the same cheapness by diminishing the cost of production, and for this end the labourers' wages are almost invariably reduced.
Such are the characteristics of the cheap employers in all trades. Let me now proceed to point out the peculiarities of what are called the scurf employers in the scavaging trade.
The insidious practices of capitalists in other callings, in reducing the hire of labour, are not unknown to the scavagers. The evils of which these workmen have to complain under scurf or slop masters are:—
. , or being compelled to do more work for the
. , or being compelled to do the same or a greater amount of work for
. Under the head, if the employment be at all regular, I heard few complaints, for the men seemed to have learned to look upon it as an inevitable thing, that way or other they submit, by the receipt of a reduced wage, or the exercise of a greater toil, to a deterioration in their means.
The system of driving, or, in other words, the means by which extra work is got out of the men for the same remuneration, in the scavagers' trade is as follows:—some employers cause their scavagers after their day's work in the streets, to load the barges with the street and housecol- lected manure, without any additional payment; whereas, among the more liberal employers, there are bargemen who are employed to attend to this department of the trade, and if their street scavagers so employed, which is not very often, it is computed as extra work or "over hours," and paid for accordingly. This same indirect mode of reducing wages (by getting more work done for the same pay) is seen in many piece-work callings. The slop boot and shoe makers pay the same price as they did or years ago, but they have "knocked off the extras," as the additional allowance for greater than the ordinary height of heel, and the like. So the slop Mayor of Manchester, Sir Elkanah Armitage, within the last year or , sought to obtain from his men a greater length of "cut" to each piece of woven for the same wages.
Some master scavagers or contractors, moreover, reduce wages by making their men do what is considered the work of "a man and a half" in a week, without the recompense due for the labour of the "half" man's work; in other words, they require the men to condense or days' labour into , and to be paid for the days only; this again is usual in the strapping shops of the carpenters' trade.
Thus the class of street-sweepers do not differ materially in the circumstances of their position from other bodies of workers skilled and unskilled.
Let me, however, give a practical illustration of the loss accruing to the working scavagers by the method of reducing wages.
A is a large contractor and a driver. He employs men, and pays them the "regular wages" of the honourable trade; but, instead of limiting the hours of labour to , as is usual among the better class of employers, he compels each of his men to work at the least hours per diem, which is - more, and for which the men should receive - more wages. Let us see, therefore, how much the men in his employ lose annually by these means.
Here, then, we find the annual loss to these men through the system of "driving" to be per annum.
But A is not the only driver in the scavagers' trade; out of the masters having contracts for scavaging, as cited in the table given at pp. , , there are who are regular drivers; and, making the same calculation as above, we have the following results:—
Thus we find that the gross sum of which the men employed by these drivers are deprived, is no less than per annum.
. The or indirect mode of reducing the wages of the men in the scavaging trade is by that is to say, by making the men do the same amount of work for less pay. It requires nothing but a practical illustration to render the injury of this particular mode of reduction apparent to the public.
B is a master scavager (a small contractor, though the instances are not confined to this class), and a "" He pays a week less than the "regular wages" of the honourable trade. He employs men; hence the amount that the workmen in his pay are mulct of every year is as follows:—
Here the loss to the men is per annum, and there is but such grinder among the master scavagers who have contracts at present.
. The and last method of reducing the earnings of the men as above enumerated, is by a combination of both the systems before explained, viz., by and united, that is to say, by not only paying the men a smaller wage than the more honourable masters, but by compelling them to work longer hours as well. Let me cite another illustration from the trade.
C is a large contractor, and both a grinder and driver. He employs men, and not only pays them less wages, but makes them work longer hours than the better class of employers. The men in his pay, therefore, are annually mulct of the following sums.
Here the annual loss to the men employed by this master is
Among the master scavagers there are altogether employers who are both grinders and drivers. These employ among them no less than hands; hence, the gross amount of which their workmen are yearly defrau—no, let me adhere to the principles of political economy, and say deprived—is as under:—
Here we perceive the gross loss to the operatives from the system of combined grinding and driving to be no less than per annum.
Now let us see what is the aggregate loss to the working men from the several modes of reducing their wages as above detailed.
Now this is a large sum of money to be wrested annually out of the workmen—that it is so wrested is demonstrated by the fact cited at p. in connection with the dust trade.
The wages of the dustmen employed by the large contractors, it is there stated, have been increased within the last years from to per load. This increase in the rate of remuneration was owing to complaints made by the men to the Commissioners of Sewers, that they were not able to live on their earnings; an inquiry took place, and the result was that the Commissioners decided upon letting the contracts only to such parties as would undertake to pay a fair price to their workmen. The contractors accordingly increased the remuneration of the labourers as mentioned.
Now political economy would tell us that the Commissioners with wages in a most reprehensible manner—preventing the natural operation of the law of Supply and Demand; but both justice and benevolence assure us that the Commissioners did perfectly right. The masters in the dust trade were forced to make good to the men what they had previously taken from them, and the same should be done in the scavaging trade—the contracts should be let only to those
|masters who will undertake to pay the regular rate of wages, and employ their men only the regular hours; for by such means, and by such means alone, can be done to the operatives.|
This brings me to the The scurf trade, I am informed, has been carried on among the master scavagers upwards of years, and arose partly from the contractors having the parishes for the house-dust and street-sweepings, brieze and street manure at that period often selling for the chaldron or load. The demand for this kind of manure years ago was so great, that there was a competition carried on among the contractors themselves, each out-bidding the other, so as to obtain the right of collecting it; and in order not to lose anything by the large sums which they were induced to bid for the contracts, the employers began gradually to "grind down" their men from (the sum paid years back) to a week, and eventually to , and even weekly. This is a curious and instructive fact, as showing that even an increase of prices will, , induce a reduction of wages. The greed of traders becomes, it appears, from the very height of the prices, proportionally intensified, and from the desire of each to reap the benefit, they are led to outbid another to such an extent, and to offer such large premiums for the right of appropriation, as to necessitate a reduction of every possible expense in order to make any profit at all upon the transaction. Owing, moreover, to the surplus labour in the trade, the contractors were enabled to offer any premiums and reduce wages as they pleased; for the casually-employed men, when the wet season was over, and their services no longer required, were continually calling upon the contractors, and offering their services at and less per week than the regular hands were receiving. The consequence was, that or of the master scavagers began to reduce the wages of their labourers, and since that time the number has been gradually increasing, until now there are no less than scurf masters ( of whom have no contracts) out of the contractors; so that nearly -fifths of the entire trade belong to the class. Within the last or years, however, there has been an increase of wages in connection with the city operative scavagers. This was owing mainly to the operatives complaining to the Commissioners that they could not live upon the wages they were then receiving— and a week. The circumstances inducing the change, I am informed, were as follows:— of the gangers asked a tradesman in the city to give the street-sweepers "something for beer," whereupon the tradesman inquired if the men could not find beer out of their wages, and on being assured that they were receiving only a week, he had the matter brought before the Board. The result was, that the wages of the operatives were increased from to and weekly, since which time there has been neither an increase nor a decrease in their pay. The cheapness of provisions seems to have caused no reduction with them.
Now there are but "efficient causes" to account for the reduction of wages among the scurf employers in the scavagers' trade:—() The employers may diminish the pay of their men from a disposition to "" out of them an inordinate rate of profit. () The price paid for the work may be so reduced that, consistent with the ordinary rate of profit on capital, and remuneration for superintendence, greater wages cannot be paid. If the be the fact, then the employers are to blame, and the parishes should follow the example of the Commissioners of Sewers, and let the work to those contractors only who will undertake to pay the "regular wages" of the honourable trade; but if the latter be the case, as I strongly suspect it is, though some of the masters seem to be more "grasping" than the rest—but in the paucity of returns on this matter, it is difficult to state positively whether the price paid for the labour of the working scavager is in all the parishes proportional to the price paid to the employers for the work (a most important fact to be solved)— if, however, I repeat, the decrease of the wages be mainly due to the decrease in the sums given for the performance of the contract, then the parishes are to blame for seeking to get their work done
The contract system of work, I find, necessarily tends to this diminution of the men's earnings in a trade. Offer a certain quantity of work to the lowest bidder, and the competition will assuredly be maintained at It is idle to expect that, as a general rule, traders will take less than the ordinary rate of profit. Hence, he who underbids will usually be found to underpay. This, indeed, is almost a necessity of the system, and which the parochial functionaries more than all others should be guarded against— seeing that a decrease of the operative's wages can but be attended with an increase of the very paupers, and consequently of the parochial expenses, which they are striving to reduce.
A labourer, in order to be self-supporting and avoid becoming a "burden" on the parish, requires something more than bare subsistencemoney in remuneration for his labour, and yet this is generally the mode by which we test the "A man can live very comfortably upon that!" is the exclamation of those who have seldom thought upon what constitutes the of self-support in this country. A man's wages, to prevent pauperism, should include, besides present subsistence, what Dr. Chalmers has called "his secondaries;" viz., a sufficiency to pay for his maintenance: , during the slack season; , when out of employment; , when ill; , when old. If insufficient to do
|this, it is evident that the man at such times must seek parochial relief; and it is by the reduction of wages down to bare subsistence, that the cheap employers of the present day shift the burden of supporting their labourers when unemployed on to the parish; thus virtually perpetuating the allowance system or relief in aid of wages under the old Poor Law. Formerly the mode of hiring labourers was by the year, so that the employer was bound to maintain the men when unemployed. But now journey-work, or hiring by the day, prevails, and the labourers being paid—and that mere subsistence-money—only when wanted, are necessitated to become either paupers or thieves when their services are no longer required. It is, moreover, this change from yearly to daily hirings, and the consequent discarding of men when no longer required, that has partly caused the immense mass of surplus labourers, who are continually vagabondizing through the country begging or stealing as they go—men for whom there is but some or weeks' work (harvesting, hoppicking, and the like) throughout the year.|
That there is, however, a large system of for the house-dust and cleansing of the streets, there cannot be the least doubt. The minute I have cited at page gives us a slight insight into the system of combination existing among the employers, and the extraordinary fluctuations in the prices obtained by the contractors would lead to the notion that the business was more a system of gambling than trade. The following returns have been procured by Mr. Cochrane within the last few days:—
A more specific and later return is as follows:—
Since the streets have been cleansed daily, it will be seen that the average has been The smallest amount, in , was ; and the largest, in , ; which was a sudden increase of
Here, then, we perceive an immediate increase in the price paid for scavaging between and of nearly per cent., and since the wages of the workmen were not proportionately increased in the latter year by the employers, it follows that the profits of the contractors must have been augmented to that enormous extent. The only effectual mode of preventing this system of jobbing being persevered in, , is by the insertion of a clause in each parish contract similar to that introduced by the Commissioners of Sewers—that at least a fair living rate of wages shall be paid by each contractor to the men employed by him. This may be an interference with the freedom of labour, according to the economists' "cant" language, but at least it is a restriction of the tyranny of capital, for free labour means, when literally translated, , which is (especially when the moral standard of trade is not of the highest character) perhaps the greatest evil with which a State can be afflicted.
Let me now speak of the The moral and social characteristics of the working scavagers who labour for a lower rate of hire do not materially differ from those of the better paid and more regularly employed body, unless, perhaps, in this respect, that there are among them a greater proportion of the "casuals," or of men reared to the pursuit of other callings, and driven by want, misfortune, or misconduct, to "sweep the streets;" and not only that, but to regard the "leave to toil" in such a capacity a boon. These constitute, as it were, the cheap labourers of this trade.
Among the parties concerned in the lowerpriced scavaging, are the usual criminations. The parish authorities will not put up any longer with the extortions of the contractors. The contractors cannot put up any longer with the stinginess of the parishes. The scavagers, upon whose shoulders the burthen falls the heaviest—as it does in all depreciated tradings—grumble at both. I cannot aver, however, that I found among the men that bitter hatred of their masters which I found actuating the mass of operative tailors, shoemakers, dressmakers, &c., toward the slop capitalists who employed them.
I have pointed out in what the "scurf" treatment of the labourers was chiefly manifested—in extra work for inferior pay; in doing or days' work in ; and in being paid for only days' labour, and not always at the ordinary rate even for the lighter toil—not , but or even a day. To the wealthy, this or a day may seem but a trifling matter, but I heard a working scavager (formerly a house-painter) put it in a strong light: "that or a day, sir, is a poor family's rent." The rent, I may observe, as a result of my inquiries among the more decent classes of labourers, is often the primary consideration: "You see, sir, we must have a roof over our heads."
A scavager, working for a scurf master, gave
|me the following account. He was a middle-aged man, decently dressed, for when I saw him, he was in his "Sunday clothes," and was quiet in his tones, even when he spoke bitterly.|
"My father," he said, "was once in business as a butcher, but he failed, and was afterwards a journeyman butcher, but very much respected, I know, and I used to job and help him. O dear, yes! I can read and write, but I have very seldom to write, only I think never forgets it, it's like learning to swim, that way; and I read sometimes at coffee-shops. My father died rather sudden, and me and a brother had to look out. My brother was older than me, he was or then, and he went for a soldier, I believe to some of the Ingees, but I've never heard of him since. I got a place in a knacker's yard, but I didn't like it at all, , and should have hooked it, only I left it honourable. I can't call to mind how long that's back, perhaps or years, but I know there was some stir at the time about having the streets and yards cleaner. A man called and had some talk with the governor, and says he, says the governor, says he, 'if you want a handy lad with his besom, and he's good for nothing else'—but that was his gammon—'here's your man;' so I was engaged as a young sweeper at a week. I worked in Hackney, but I heard so much about railways, that I saved my money up to , and popped [pledged] a suit of mourning I'd got after my father's death for , and got to York, both on foot and with lifts. I soon got work on a rail; there was great call for rails then, but I don't know how long it's since, and I was a navvy for or years, or better. Then I came back to London. I don't know just what made me come back, , and I thought I could get work as easy in London as in the country, but I couldn't. I brought gold sovereigns with me to London, twisted in my fob for safeness, in a wash-leather bag. They didn't last so long as they ought to. I didn't care for drinking, only when I was in company, but I was a little too gay. night I spent over in the at , and that sort of thing soon makes money show taper. I got some work with a rubbish carter, a regular scurf. I made only about a week under him, for he didn't want me this half day or that whole day, and if I said anything, he told me I might go and be d—d, he could get plenty such, and I knew he could. I got on then with a gangsman I knew, at street-sweeping. I had a week, but not regular work, but when the work wer'n't regular, I had a day. I then worked under another master for a week, and was often abused that I wasn't better dressed, for though that there master paid low wages, he was vexed if his men didn't look decent in the streets. I've heard that he said he paid the best of wages when asked about it. I had another job after that, at , and then a week, with a contractor as had a wharf; but a black nigger slave was never slaved as I was. I've worked all night, when it's been very moonlight, in loading a barge, and I've worked until and in the morning that way, and then me and another man slept an hour or in a shed as joined his stables, and then must go at it again. Some of these masters is ignorant, and treats men like dirt, but this was always civil, and made his people be civil. But, Lord, I hadn't a rag left to my back. Everything was worn to bits in such hard work, and then I got the sack. I was on for Mr. —— next. He's a jolly good 'un. I was only on for him temp'ry, but I was told it was for temp'ry when I went, so I can't complain. I'm out of work this week, but I've had some jobs from a butcher, and I'm going to work again on Monday. I don't know at what wages. The gangsmen said they'd see what I could do. It'll be , I expect, and over-work if it's
Yes, I like a pint of beer now and then, and requires it, but I don't get drunk. I dusted for a fortnight once while a man was ill, and got more beer and twopences give me than I do in a year now; aye, twice as much. My mate and me was always very civil, and people has said, 'there's a good fellow, just sweep together this bit of rubbish in the yard here, and off with it.' That was beyond our duty, but we did it. I have very little night-work, only for master; he's a sweep as well. I get a job for it. Yes, there's mostly something to drink, but you can't demand nothing. Night-work's nothing, sir; no more ain't a knacker's yard.
I pay a week rent, but I'm washed for and found soap as well. My landlady takes in washing, and when her husband, for they're an old couple, has the rheumatics, I make a trifle by carrying out the clothes on a barrow, and Mrs. Smith goes with them and sees to the delivery. I've my own furniture.
Well, I don't know what I spend in my living in a week. I have a bit of meat, or a saveloy or , or a slice of bacon every day, mostly when I'm at work. I sometimes make my own meals ready in my room. No, I keep no accounts. There'd be very little use or pleasure in doing it when has so little to count. When I'm past work, I suppose I must go to the workhouse. I sometimes wish I'd gone for a soldier when I was young enough. I shouldn't have minded going abroad. I'd have liked it better than not, for
I go to chapel every Sunday night, and have regularly since Mr. —— (the butcher) gave me this cast-off suit. I promised him I would when I got the togs.
Things would be well enough with me if I'd constant work and fair pay. I don't know what makes wages so low. I suppose it's rich people trying to get all the money they can, and caring nothing for poor men's rights, and poor men's sometimes forced to undersell another, 'cause half a loaf you know, sir, is better than no bread at all" (a proverb, by the way, which has wrought no little mischief).
In conclusion, I may remark, that although I was told, in the instance, there was sub-letting in street sweeping, I could not hear of any facts to
|prove it. I was told, indeed, by a gentleman who took great interest in parochial matters, with a view to "reforms" in them, that such a thing was most improbable, for if a contractor sub-let any of his work it would soon become known, and as it would be evident that the work could be accomplished at a lower rate, the contractor would be in a worse position for his next contract.|
 These items wages must include to prevent pauperism, even with providence. But this is only on the supposition that the labourer is unmarried; if married, however, and having a family, then his wages should include, moreover, the keep of at least three extra persons, as well as the education of the children. If not, one of two results is self-evident—either the wife must toil, to the neglect of her young ones, and they be allowed to run about and pick their morals and education, as I have before said, out of the gutter, or else the whole family must be transferred to the care of the parish.