Hodgskin Serial – Continued

Quite a bit to get through, and this part doesn’t really need any introducing, so let’s have another tranche of Hodgskin’s opening passages.

Labour Defended, &c. Episode Three

(Follow these links for Episode One and Episode Two.)

Combination is of itself no crime; on the contrary, it is the principle on which societies are held together. When the government supposes its existence threatened, or the country in danger, it calls on us all to combine for its protection. “Combinations of workmen,” however, it says, through Mr. Huskisson, “must be put down.” Frequently has it contracted alliances with other governments or made combinations to carry on war and shed blood; frequently has it called on the whole nation to combine when the object has been to plunder and massacre the unoffending subjects of some neighbouring state; and frequently have such combinations had heaped on them all the epithets of the vocabulary of glory. No other combination seems unjust or mischievous, in the view of government, but our combinations to obtain a proper reward for our labour. It is a heinous crime in the eyes of a legislature, composed exclusively of capitalists and landlords, and representing no other interests than their own, for us to try, by any means, to obtain for ourselves, and for the comfortable subsistence of our families, a larger share of our own produce than these our masters choose to allow us. All the moral evils that ever plagued a society have been anticipated by the Ministers from our persevering in our claims. To put down combination they have departed from principles held sacred for upwards of 200 years. They have made also a law handing us over to the magistrates like vagabonds and thieves, and we are to be condemned almost unheard, and without the privilege and formality of a public trial.

All that we are compelled to suffer, all that we have had inflicted on us, has been done for the advantage of capital. “Capital,” says Mr. Huskisson, “will be terrified out of the country, and the misguided workmen, unless they are stopped in time, will bring ruin on themselves and on us.” “Capital,” says the Marquis of Lansdown, “must be protected. If its operations be not left free, if they are to be controuled by bodies of workmen it will leave this for some more favoured country.” Capital, if we believe these politicians, has improved England, and the want of capital is the cause of the poverty and sufferings of Ireland. Under the influence of such notions, no laws for the protection of capital are thought too severe, and few or no persons, except the labourer, see either impropriety or injustice in the fashionable mode of despising his claims, and laughing at his distresses.

In fact the legislature, the public at large, and especially our employers, decide on our claims solely by a reference to the former condition of the labourer, or to his condition in other countries. We are told to be contented, because we are not quite as badly off as the ragged Irish peasants who are suffering under a more grievous system even than the one which afflicts us. By them also we are destined to suffer; for they are imported here in crowds, and beat down the wages of our labour. We can have no hope, therefore, either of convincing the public or of calling the blush of shame into the cheek of those who are opulent by our toils, and who deride the poverty and sufferings they cause, by referring to the customs of any other society, either in times past or present. To obtain better treatment the labourers must appeal from practice to principle. We must put out of view how labour has been paid in times past, and how it is now paid in other countries, and we must show how it ought to be paid. This I admit is a difficult task, but the former condition of the labourer in this country, and his condition at present in other countries, leaving us no criterion to which we can or ought to appeal, we must endeavour to perform it.

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