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For Info on Workers, see Reilly, v.2 p. 202.

For Info on Marxists, see Stearns, p. 553 and/or Reilly,

v.2 p.206

Laissez-Faire Capitalists
Subscribers of this philosophy believed it was not the government’s place to take
action and try and regulate the factories and dictate wages and working conditions
to the entrepreneurs. Following Adam Smith, they believed that any interference
would throw off the workings of the market.

Furthermore, some like Samuel Smiles, stressed that it was up to an individual to

work hard and improve their own circumstances. Smiles himself came from a
working class background, and after being apprenticed to a physician, became a
doctor, later a journalist, and finally manager of a railroad company (He was
friends with the inventor of the locomotive.)

Samuel Smiles. Self Help 1859 The object of the book briefly is, to re-
inculcate these old-fashioned but wholesome lessons-which perhaps cannot be too
often urged, that youth must work in order to enjoy,-that nothing creditable can be
accomplished without application and diligence,-that the student must not be
daunted by difficulties, but conquer them by patience and perseverance,-and that,
above all, he must seek elevation of character, without which capacity is worthless
and worldly success is naught.

"Heaven helps those who help themselves" is a well-tried maxim, embodying in a

small compass the results of vast human experience. The spirit of self-help is the
root of all genuine growth in the individual; and, exhibited in the lives of many, it
constitutes the true source of national vigour and strength. Help from without is
often enfeebling in its effects, but help from within invariably invigorates.
Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus
and necessity of doing for themselves; and where men are subjected to over-
guidance and over-government, the inevitable tendency is to render them
comparatively helpless.

Even the best institutions can give a man no active help. Perhaps the most they
can do is, to leave him free to develop himself and improve his individual
condition. But in all times men have been prone to believe that their happiness
and well-being were to be secured by means of institutions rather than by their
own conduct. Hence the value of legislation as an agent in human advancement
has usually been much over-estimated… To constitute the millionth part of a
Legislature, by voting for one or two men once in three or five years, however
conscientiously this duty may be performed, can exercise but little active influence
upon any man's life and character…. [N]o laws, however stringent, can make the
idle industrious, the thriftless provident, or the drunken sober. Such reforms can
only be effected by means of individual action, economy, and self-denial; by better
habits, rather than by greater rights…

National progress is the sum of individual industry, energy, and uprightness, as

national decay is of individual idleness, selfishness, and vice. What we are
accustomed to decry as great social evils, will, for the most part, be found to be
but the outgrowth of man's own perverted life; and though we may endeavour to
cut them down and extirpate them by means of Law, they will only spring up again
with fresh luxuriance in some other form, unless the conditions of personal life and
character are radically improved. If this view be correct, then it follows that the
highest patriotism and philanthropy consist, not so much in altering laws and
modifying institutions, as in helping and stimulating men to elevate and improve
themselves by their own free and independent individual action. . . .

Laissez Faire Responses to idea of Parliamentary Legislation to regulate /

limit child labor.

John Charles Spencer, speech, House of Commons (16th March, 1832)

I am of the opinion that the effect of the measure proposed by the honourable
member (Michael Sadler), must necessarily be a fall in the rate of wages, or, what
is more probable, that children would cease to be employed at all in
manufactories. Now I appeal to the honourable member whether a measure which
would prevent children from obtaining any employment in factories would not be
more injurious than beneficial to the labouring classes?

As long as we have a manufacturing population in the kingdom it will be impossible

to render their occupation as wholesome as that of agricultural labourers, or
persons engaged in out-door labour. This is an evil that cannot be remedied. It is
too late now to argue about the unwholesome nature of manufacturing
employment. We have got a manufacturing population, and it must be employed.
Any measure which shall have the effect of diminishing the means of employment
to labourers engaged in manufactures will produce extensive misery.

William James, speech, House of Commons (16th March, 1832)

I have no doubt that the right honourable member (Michael Sadler) is actuated by
the best intentions and motives, but I think that the course which he pursues will
fail in attaining the object which he has in view. Undoubtedly the system which is
pursued in these manufactories relating to the working of young children is a great
evil; but it appears to me that the remedy which the honourable gentleman
proposes to apply is worse than the disease. There appears to me to be only a
choice of evils - the children must either work or starve. If the manufacturer is
prevented working his mill for more than a certain number of hours together, he
will often be unable to execute the orders which he may receive, and
consequently, the purchaser must go to foreign countries for a supply. The result
will be that you will drive the English capitalist to foreign countries, where there is
no restrictions upon the employment of labour and capital.

Henry Thomas Hope, speech, House of Commons (16th March, 1832)

It is obvious, that if you limit the hours of labour, you will, to nearly the same
extent, reduce the profits of the capital on which the labour is employed. Under
these circumstances, the manufacturers must either raise the price of the
manufactured article or diminish the wages of their workmen. If they raise the
price of the article the foreigner gains an advantage. I am informed that the
foreign cotton-manufacturers, and particularly the Americans, tread closely upon
the heels of our manufacturers.

The right honourable member (Michael Sadler) seems to consider that it is

desirable for adults to replace children. I cannot concur with that opinion, because
I think that the labour of children is a great resource to their parents and of great
benefit to themselves.
Trade Unions
Union leaders believed the solution to the terrible working and living conditions of
the Industrial workers lay in organization. If they joined together in a union,
collectively they would have more power. They could negotiate higher wages from
their employers, get the work day shortened, improve the safety of the workplace
etc. If the employers refused they could strike. The goal was to link the workers
not just at one particular factory, but throughout an entire industry, or even across
industries. For instance, in 1792 the Stockport and Manchester Spinning Society
was established and conducted strikes in 1810 and 1818. The 1818 strike saw the
first attempt to set up a General Union of the Trades. The Lancashire textile
workers contacted London shipwrights and the Spitalfields silk weavers then got in
touch with skilled workers such as colliers, hatters, bricklayers and shoemakers.
The organization was called the Philanthropic Society; however it collapsed when
its five leaders were arrested.

Unions faced tremendous obstacles. In 1799 and 1800 the Combination Acts
made it illegal to form or even join a trade union. A worker could be shipped to
Australia just for joining a union. (You could argue this shows entrepreneurs and
the upper classes recognized just how potentially powerful unions could be.)
Organizations were formed anyway, in secret or under the banner of “friendly
societies” Even once the Combination Acts were repealed (in 1824 after much
public agitation) many of the attempted strikes were successfully broken with scab
workers, blacklisting of union members, and because the early unions had no
strike funds to help their members with income while out of work.

A second wave of union activity beginning in the 1850s had greater success (after
the short term failure of the Chartist movement). These “New Model Trade
Unions” were each focused on skilled workers in single craft, people it would be
hard for employers to replace. They collected high dues from their members to
provide benefits to them. Over time, they were able to win many concessions from
employers and gradually expanded to include more and more unskilled workers as


1) John Doherty, speech in January 1831.

Fellow Workers. The fearful change, which the workings of the last few years have
produced in the condition of every class of labourer, summons you to a serious
investigation of the cause. Your power as regards the operations of society is
omnipotent. You are the great lever by which everything is effected. Let British
operatives become firm and united and their unanimous voice of complaint will
command respect.

Will Thorne, speech at a meeting of gas workers in London (31st March,


Let me tell you that you will never get any alteration in Sunday work, no alteration
in any of your conditions or wages, unless you join together and form a strong
trade union. Then you will be able to have a voice and say how long will work, and
how much you will do for a day's work.

It is easy to break one stick, but when fifty sticks are together in one bundle it is a
much more difficult job. The way you have been treated in your work for many
years is scandalous, brutal, and inhuman. I pledge my word that, if you will stand
firm and don't waver, within six months we will claim and win the eight-hour day, a
six-day week and the abolition of the present slave-driving methods in vogue not
only at the Beckton Gas Works, but all over the country.

(3) In his book My Life's Battles Will Thorne explained how he persuaded
his fellow members of the National Union of Gas Workers & General
Labourers to campaign for the eight-hour day (1925)

"Shorten the hours and prolong your lives," was my plea. I declared that the eight-
hour day would not alone mean a reduction of four hours a day for the workers
then employed, but that it meant a large number of unemployed would be
absorbed, and so reduce the inhuman competition that was making men more like
beasts than civilized persons.

Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners Accounts, published in

The Bee-Hive (25th March, 1871)

For the year 1869, £5,008 16s 4d was expended in sick pay; £8,802 18s 10d was
allotted to members out of work, and for travelling expenses; £829 10s 0d was
expended in funerals. The whole expenditure amounted to £21,355 15s 2d. The
Income was £21,802 13s 7d; Reserve Fund £17,626 14s 6d. Sums up to £100 are
granted to members rendered incapable of following their employment for life,
either from accidents or other causes, and in 1869 the sum of £500 was so

Various amounts are granted for the relief of members who are in distress, also to
their widows and children, and in 1869 the sum of £436 3s 9d was so distributed,
and £101 7s 9d was expended in sending members to situations, and £423 7s 10d
was expended in buying tools for members, and £60 4s 4d was granted for
superannuation in weekly sums of 8s, 7s and 5s.
Luddites believed that the cause of the workers’ misery was the machines. The
machines took the place of skilled workers who were able to make decent money
and take pride in their work. Instead people have been reduced to unskilled,
replaceable cogs, paid barely enough to keep themselves alive. And more and
more machines were replacing people entirely, causing them to lose their jobs.
Their mission was to attack the machinery that the entrepreneurs used to make
money off of the working class. They got their name from Ned Ludd – who may or
may not have been an historical figure who supposedly was the first to destroy
industrial machinery in 1779. The Luddites, beginning around 1811, did lead many
raids in Northern England against factories, destroying millions of dollars worth of
machinery and property.


Archibald Prentice, wrote about the Luddite disturbances in April 1812,

in his book Historical Sketches and Personal Recollections of Manchester.

On 27th April a riotous assembly took place at Middleton. The weaving factory of
Mr. Burton and Sons had been previously threatened in consequence of their mode
of weaving being done by the operation of steam. The factory was protected by
soldiers, so strongly as to be impregnable to their assault; they then flew to the
house of Mr. Emanuel Burton, where they wreaked their vengeance by setting it on
fire. On Friday, the 24th April, a large body of weavers and mechanics began to
assemble about midday, with the avowed intention of destroying the power-looms,
together with the whole of the premises, at Westhoughton. The military rode at full
speed to Westhoughton; and on their arrival were surprised to find that the
premises were entirely destroyed, while not an individual could be seen to whom
attached any suspicion of having acted a part in this truly dreadful outrage.

From: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRluddites.htm