Methods of social advance; short studies in social practice by various authors online

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essential part of modern apprenticeship is unchanged and is
embodied in it, for the essence of apprenticeship is that it is a
contract enforceable at law, betiveen the master, on the one hand,
to teach or have taught, and the boy, on the other hand, to serve.
All else is incidental. There may or may not be a premium
to pay. The duration of apprenticeship may be anything
from one year to seven. The boy may serve all his time with
one master, or provision may be made for him to serve
several in succession. He may have no wages, or very small
ones, the first year, or he may start with from 6s. to 10s. a
week. What is fixed is that he cannot change his trade or
employer without the consent of that employer, while his
employer cannot get rid of him or have him taught less than

As to the hardship to the boy involved in his condition of
servitude, this is practically no greater than that endured by
every public schoolboy at a corresponding age. His parents
select a school, well or ill, and the boy is practically bound to
stay there and obey his masters whether he likes it or not.
Who can question the great advantage to the boy of the
moral discipline of apprenticeship where a wise selection of a
firm is made ? The mere existence of an indenture will not,
of course, secure that the apprentice is turned out a skilled
workman. A trade must be selected which the boy is capable
of acquiring, and a master competent to have him properly

Granted these conditions, it lies in the boy's own power
and that of his guardians to secure that he become a skilled
workman and no * waster.'

But even if the apprenticeship system were full of draw-
backs, the question would remain whether it is not by far the
best system of training at present obtainable or devisable.

Let us examine the actual alternatives to apprenticeship.

1. First, there is the system of 'picking up a trade.


Among the hosts of auxiliary labourers in certain trades
(but by no means in all) the specially industrious or clever or
fortunate may learn the trade. The plumber's or bricklayer's
labourer does occasionally rise to be a plumber or a brick-
layer. Where technical classes admit him, he is helped to rise
by their means. Unfortunately, the men who thus rise have
not often a thorough knowledge of their trade, and it is not
mere class prejudice which makes trades' union officials try
so hard to do away with this ladder between labourers and

2. Then there is the system of ' regulated progression ' in
some trades, described by Mr. Sidney Webb. In certain
industries in a very large firm the processes of manufacture
may be graded in difficulty and the wages of the workmen
correspondingly graded. A regular system may exist in the
firm of promotion from one grade to another. Theoretically
all enter alike at the lowest grade, and each is promoted or
not, according to ability. Mr. Webb compares the system to
that of promotion in the Civil Service. Where it exists and is
impartially carried out it would seem to be unexceptionable ;
but it is obvious that it cannot exist to any very large extent.
The manufacture of most things does not lend itself to this
gradation in the difficulty of processes. Moreover, where it
does, what is to ensure the promotion of the averagely com-
petent boy unless it be a deed of apprenticeship ? It will
always pay an employer to promote exceptional ability. For
the boy possessing it all that is needed is the chance of pro-
motion. Put him into a large progressive firm of any sort,
and he is safe to make his way upwards without indentures.
But for the average boy the case is different.

3. Thirdly, there is the right prevailing in certain trades
of the father to introduce his own son. This is good so far
as it goes ; but as with the mediaeval system of apprentice-
ship, when the right is made exclusive it involves a hardship
to outsiders and an economic loss of talent to the community
in this case simply because craft skill is not hereditary.


4. Lastly, there is by far the most usual, and hence the
most important, system, the system of learners. It is the
learner who has taken the place of the old apprentice. He
usually starts as an errand-boy in a firm where a skilled
trade is carried on. Every ambitious errand-boy is fired by
his employer's suggestion that if he gives satisfaction he will
learn the trade. As a rule, however, it is only the sharpest
of these lads, or those who have some private interest, who
are put to the bench. The rest become unskilled labourers.
How much trade skill the learner acquires will depend upon
his own character and that of the trade, the particular house,
the manager, and the foreman. There are a few trades, such
as silversmithing, which it does not pay the master to have
the boy taught less than thoroughly. There are many, such
as cabinet-making or engineering, where it may pay the master
to keep the boy to some one small branch of the trade some
easy process which a boy soon learns to do as well as a man
while drawing boy's wages. There is, then, no method about
this system of training. It is largely a matter of luck. The
boy may any day lose his place through no fault of his
own. He may never get the chance to learn important pro-
cesses. If he does, he is tempted by higher wages to leave off
learning and start as a * hand ' in one branch of the trade
before he has mastered its other branches. The danger is
very great that the ' learner ' of only average intelligence and
luck becomes the incompetent workman.

To wind up with, we will venture to discuss some of the
current objections to apprenticeship.

As we stated at the outset, we think that the objections
raised by writers on economics are mostly beside the mark.
Throughout their discussion of the subject they assume that
alongside with apprenticeship there must be rules : (1) Unduly
restricting the proportion of apprentices to journeymen in a
trade ; and (2) restricting the entrance to a trade to inden-
tured apprentices. These restrictions existed under the Act
of Elizabeth, and it was natural that Adam Smith and


thinkers of his generation, smarting under the abuses of this
Act, should not distinguish them from its uses.

(1) One objection raised against apprenticeship in London,
in certain trades, is that such minute division of labour exists
here that it is impossible for a lad to receive an all-round
training in one house. This objection can be met by
arranging for the apprentice to serve under different masters
in succession, with one indenture, and so learn the different
branches and methods in the trade.

But the most serious objections on both sides are, we
think, to be met by local apprenticeship societies. Such are
the Apprenticeship Committee of the Jewish Board of
Guardians and the East End Apprenticeship Fund, and,
starting as a young and humble imitator of these two societies,
our own Apprenticeship Committee at the Women's Univer-
sity Settlement. A body of this sort acts as an impartial
third party to the indenture, anxious to meet the wishes of
the employer, anxious to do well by the boy ; with discre-
tionary power to settle disputes, and if need be, to cancel the
indenture. (2) The existence of such a body is found to meet
the objection commonly raised by the employer, that the
apprentice is likely to be a nuisance and unamenable to
discipline. (8) It also meets the objection raised on behalf
of the apprentice that he cannot, in fact, ensure that he is
properly taught the trade.

If such a body have funds at its disposal wherewith to
lend premiums, the following grave objections are re-
moved :

(4) On the employer's side, that apprentices are an undue
expense to the firm, seeing that they take up valuable space
and the time of a skilled mechanic. In many trades, it is
further argued that the expense is unnecessary because
workmen can be got who have learned the trade thoroughly
in the provinces.

(5) On the apprentice's side, that his family cannot afford
the small wages during the earlier years of apprenticeship.


It must be admitted that, from a short-sighted point of view,
the employer's objection is unanswerable that apprenticeship,
even where there is a premium, does not pay. Especially
where the subdivision of labour is great, it pays him better
to select the most promising of his errand-boys, to put a very
few of them through the trade (to become foremen), and to
turn the rest on to minute and mechanical subdivisions of the
work, trusting to a supply of all-round men from the country
to fill any gaps which may occur. But we submit that this
view, though unanswerable so far as it goes, is short-sighted.

The action of an employer who holds it has two results,
which tend to depress industry in general and must in the
long run react upon his own trade and his own firm.

First, it induces a flow of the best blood from the pro-
vinces, which in a couple of generations is seen to deterio-

Secondly, it floods the labour market with semi-skilled

He might well give consideration to the opinion of other
employers, who, like Mr. Holloway, find that apprentice-
ship pays them in the end, because their apprentices become
good mechanics and usually remain in the firm's employ ; or
who, like the Government dockyards, turn out from amongst
their apprentices ' men who take the highest professional
position in the country ' in their own trade. The main
objection from the side of parents of apprentices is also a
short-sighted one. It is an exercise of thrift for which they
may never directly reap the benefit, when poor parents put
their son to a good trade, starting with 3s. 6d. a week, instead
of making him a vanguard at 8s. or 9s., or an office-boy at
9*. or 10s.

It is not, however, working-class parents, and still less is
it trades' union officials, who need conversion on the subject
of apprenticeship. There are thousands of parents who
would be ready to take advantage of it for their sons and
daughters, while trade unionists are amongst its strongest



advocates. The opposition which has hitherto prevented its
revival comes from the large class of employers, who, with
notable exceptions, pursue a policy in this matter of training
their employees which is both short-sighted and unpatriotic.

The hope for modern apprenticeship is not that it may be
forced on employers by strong trades' unions, nor that it may
be fostered by ' charity,' but that it may come into fashion
from its being generally recognised that in each case its
' ultimate effect on the welfare of the trade and the future of
the boy ' is beneficial. The habit of looking to the more
remote rather than the more immediate effect of action, both
on the part of employers and parents, is one that may be
expected of them in an increasing degree. To doubt this is
to doubt one of the essentials of human progress.


The Annual Report of the Jewish Board of Guardians for 1902
shows a total of 251 apprentices bound within the year, as against
218 in 1901. Of these forty-two are girls as against twenty-five in
1901. These were bound to eighty-three different trades.

The East End Apprenticeship Fund since it started fourteen
years ago has apprenticed 640 boys and girls. About forty are
bound each year.

The Apprenticeship Committee of the Women's University
Settlement started seven years ago for the purpose of apprenticing
physically defective children and children of widows. In March
1908, its scope was extended to all children needing help of the
kind and living within or attending schools within the district ;
twenty-nine children have been apprenticed, of whom four were
deaf mutes, seven cripples, three very delicate. Besides these
thirty have been placed as ' learners,' of whom six were deaf mutes,
three blind, ten very delicate, two crippled.

M. K. B. & F. H. D.



THE difficulty of maintaining a proper equilibrium between an
income and the needs it has to meet is, of course, not con-
fined to the wage-earning classes ; it is a difficulty which
every responsible person must have felt at one time or
another. But it assumes its chief importance where failure
means failure to provide the necessaries of an effective human
life, rather than where it merely means deprivation of
luxuries; and that speaking very generally is mainly in
the case of the wage-earners. It is this point of view which
one has in mind in speaking of the sufficiency or otherwise of
wages ; from another point of view one may of course say
that no income is sufficient which leaves a single want
unsatisfied, and it is from this latter point of view that we
welcome the prospect of any and every rise which the
recipients are capable of using advantageously.

The question as to whether wages are sufficient is one
which can never be long absent from the consciousness of an
industrial community ; and wherever there is a class whose
income seems obviously inadequate to its needs there will be
much anxious questioning as to how the deficiency may be
met and equilibrium restored. The friends and advisers of
those who have difficulties in making both ends meet, who are
' poor,' will then direct their energies in one of two ways :
they may insist mainly upon the importance of increasing
this income, or they may strive to inculcate the lesson of
cutting down needs until the present income is sufficient to
meet them.

K 2


It was natural enough that a century or two ago, when
the ' iron law ' of wages was still accepted, the latter method
was most in men's minds. If, as was then thought, it was
impossible that there should ever be more than a temporary
rise in the rate of wages, then obviously the position of the
poor could be improved, and their struggles made easier, only
by an increased economy and a reduced scale of wants.
Ihe use of wheaten bread, tea-sipping, drunkenness, large
families, finery in dress, all were condemned in much the
same terms as wasteful and unnecessary. No doubt many
lessons of economy were taught, but it was an economy which
aimed more at mere restriction than at expansion in the
right direction. Then as now model dietaries were drawn up,
but with the opposite intention of showing that the normal
diet low as it seems to us was excessive. It would be
interesting to work out Arthur Young's ' Seven days' messes
for a stout man ' in modern terms of calories, &c. ; in price
it works out at 3d. a day, and in consistency seems wholly
inadequate, even to the unscientific eye. And yet the author
was a practical farmer of very wide experience, and hardly
likely to have been altogether wild in his estimates.

Experience has taught us something during the last
century. We have learned from actual facts that wages can
rise greatly and can rise permanently ; and we have learned
also to doubt the expediency of attempting to repress the
natural expansion of human wants. Both Irish and Indian
famines have taught us, again, that a people whose diet is
reduced to the lowest point of simplicity stands in constant
danger of a failure of supply which will leave it with no
alternative food. Partly for these reasons, there has been a
great reaction in our point of view; and we now tend to
insist on the necessity of increasing incomes almost to the
exclusion of a consideration of wisdom in expenditure. The
importance of trade unions and strikes as a means of
coercing employers, the possibility of enforcing a national


minimum wage, the desirability of supplementing wages by
Poor Law relief, by charities, or by old age pensions : these
are the questions which now occupy public attention and
interest popular philanthropists ; while some writers, if not
exactly eminent yet certainly notorious, have gone so far as
to execrate thrift as tending to lower wages, and extol
excessive drinking as tending to raise them.

Perhaps the time has now come when it is safe to com-
bine the two points of view, and to inquire whether there is
not room for improvement in the expenditure of wages, as
well as for an increase in wages themselves. Fortunately
there have always been large sections of the wage-earners who
have not paid too much heed to the views of their friends and
advisers, but, meeting their own difficulties as they arose,
have steered a middle course and found their own solutions.
From them we may learn much in our endeavour to see
where the truth lies in this dispute. For the fact remains
that notwithstanding philanthropic declamations to the con-
trary wages have proved sufficient, and still do, with respect to
the mass of the people, to enable them to make a satisfactory
life. How is this done ? And how can it be that incomes
which seem so inadequate to the middle-class housekeeper or
philanthropist yet prove sufficient in the hands of those who
earn them ?

Before proceeding to consider this we must meet the
objector who raises the previous question and maintains that
they are obviously and glaringly not sufficient ; who points to
the returns of pauperism and to the flagrant cases of poverty
so familiar to those who work in large towns as proof of the
insufficiency of wages.

We must, of course, concede at once that in many
instances, and notably in the case of unskilled women, wages
are still insufficient even to supply the necessaries of an
efficient life, though not nearly to the extent popularly
supposed. But we also maintain that the more flagrant cases


of poverty, which are generally supposed to be evidence of
this, are on the contrary comparatively seldom due to
insufficient earnings. In the great majority of these cases a
wise economy is all that is needed to remedy the poverty.
That this is so seldom realised is due to imperfect observation ;
it needs the skilled observer to distinguish between the
poverty due to insufficient income and that due to unwise
economy. Such a skilled observer we find giving evidence
before the Eoyal Commission on Physical Training in Scot-
land. He is the medical officer to the Glasgow School Board,
and quotes the following cases which he has come across in
visiting the homes of school defaulters :

(a) Maitland Lane, two apartments in close. Kitchen,
two beds, fairly clean. Eoom said to be damp, contains frame
of an old bedstead and some other articles of broken furniture.
The floor is littered with small coal. Household consists of
husband, who won't work ; wife (with a black eye) nursing a
baby ; girl, fourteen years, who cleans stairs ; boy, eleven
years (school defaulter) , sells newspapers ; two younger children
at present in hospital with scarlet fever ; and a sickly baby in
cradle at bedside seven inmates in all. The wage-earners
are the boy and girl. Food breakfast : tea, bread, and jelly;
dinner : ' any scraps the girl picks up after telling her story,'
or gets from people whose stairs she cleans ; supper (if any) :
tea, bread, and jelly.

(b) Milton Street, two apartments. Kitchen looks to back
court, room looks to lane, both dark. Household consists of
husband, wages 35s. a week ; wife, domestic ; boy, seventeen
years, 6s. per week ; girl, fifteen years, 2s. per week ; and four
younger children. Food breakfast: porridge and milk;
dinner : bread and milk ; supper : broth, beef, and potatoes.

(c) Soho Street, East End, two apartments, rent 11s. per
month ; furniture, two small tables and stool, mattress in
kitchen with bedcover, mattress in corner of room. This is
all the furniture. Household : husband and wife and five


children. Eldest boy, twelve years, at school ; another boy,
ten years, in bed, dirty and naked, with counterpane for only
covering, said to take fits. Food breakfast: porridge and
milk ; dinner : tea and bread ; supper : potatoes, and some-
times with meat. Earnings, 23s. weekly.

(d) Marshall Street, City. Farmed-out house, one room
in close, looks into court, very dark, rent 5s. a week. Furni-
ture provided, which consists of table with school form, an
ordinary kitchen table, two chairs, two plates, two jelly mugs,
two bowls, two tin dish covers, and some broken hyacinth
bottles, two pots and one frying-pan, wool mattress, one sheet,
two pillows, one thin bed-cover (no blankets). Household :
husband and wife, two children; boy, ten, at school; boy,
seven, deformed (rickets) ; wages, 28s. per week. (Intem-
perance.) Food breakfast : porridge and milk ; dinner :
potatoes and stew ; supper : tea, bread and cheese.

'-These cases are cited to show the squalor and discomfort
of the homes, the intemperance and improvidence of the
parents, and the consequent hardship suffered by the chil-
dren.' (EEPORT, pp. 591-2.)

Now in these cases, which are typical of a large class, the
actual or possible incomes are such as in skilful hands are
found sufficient to rear healthy families in good conditions ;
and the question as to where the difference lies becomes of the
greatest interest and : importance. It is to be found in the
wise economy, or good housekeeping, which does not seek to
narrow the range of satisfactions, but knows how to distribute
the income to the best advantage. In some cases restriction
is of course a necessary precedent of this ; useless or injurious
channels of expenditure must be stopped. Excessive expendi-
ture in drink, which not only tends always to absorb the
whole income, but by its injurious effects actually diminishes
wage-earning power, is the most striking instance, but it is
only one amongst other holes through which the family re-
sources are too often allowed to leak. Betting and gambling
are less harmful in their effect upon health, but perhaps


hardly in their effect upon the moral nature. On a small
scale, the expenditure by the children upon sweets is
analogous to that upon drink, and in its incessant indulgence
of an unwholesome craving is a fitting prelude to the con-
tinual ' boozing ' of later years ; certainly the money which
might be saved in this direction would go far to supply the
milk the children so greatly need. Tea drinking, again, is
more of an evil than ever before, inasmuch as it has been
substituted for milk in the children's diet, and any remission
of taxation which encourages expenditure in this direction
will be of very questionable benefit.

To stop the channels of expenditure which are in themselves
sheer waste would do much towards improving the sufficiency
of wages ; but it would not do all. It is in supplying the real
needs of the family that the art of good housekeeping consists,
and it is an art to which we might well pay more attention in
the education of our girls.

Perhaps the first chapter in this art should be that of
equalising over long periods an income which is likely to be
irregular in payment. The weekly wage has an illusory
appearance of regularity, which has much to do with the
difficulties of the ' poor.' Their mental horizon tends to be
limited to a stretch of seven days, and many feel that they
have amply satisfied the claims of providence if they can see
their way clear to next Saturday. It would be interesting to
know whether the custom which prevails in some places of
paying wages at a longer interval of a fortnight, or a month
is found helpful in enabling the earners to take longer views,
or whether they merely find some expedient for forestalling
them. Certainly the weekly payment does seem to encourage
a ' hand to mouth ' way of life amongst the less thoughtful,
which is very hard to combat, and which leads to the para-
doxical result that many a man will be far more prosperous if
he earns 25s. a week for 52 weeks than if he can earn the
same amount of money by working for only 46 weeks and
resting the other six. The habit of short views seems to make


it impossible for him (or his wife) to save for the weeks out
of work, and so to enjoy a well-earned holiday instead of sink-
ing into debt and misery.

The worst method of equalising the income is one which
is only too easily learned at any rate in towns. It is that
of raising money by pawning articles from the home. As a
method of meeting sudden emergencies, something might be
said in its favour, though hardly enough to justify it. As a

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Online LibraryUnknownMethods of social advance; short studies in social practice by various authors → online text (page 11 of 16)