This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
In connection with the subject of wages, it seems necessary to inquire somewhat in regard to the rights of the laborer, since upon these his compensation must to some extent depend.
Under a government acknowledging the rights of all men, the laborer must, of course, have the same rights as his fellow-citizens, neither more nor less. He asks no favor, and grants none. He demands the same justice, the same freedom, accorded to others. He should be able, so far as law is concerned, to work when and for whom he chooses, and for such consideration as he can get in the great competition of industry. The law cannot say how much he shall accept for wages, how many hours shall constitute a day's work, nor how much the employer shall give him. Each is left perfectly free, and the competition is simply between labor and capital.
But the laborer is not under obligation to act as an insulated individual, any more than the capitalist. If the latter is permitted, and even authorized and encouraged, to combine with his fellows in order to enhance the power and profits of capital, it is equally the right of the laborer to do the same, and equally the duty of the legislator to give him any facilities for doing this he may justly demand.
If capital is incorporated, labor should have the same privilege. If favors in any case are awarded to one party, they should certainly be furnished to the other.
Laborers, then, may combine, if they deem it best to act in concert in regard to their interests.
As a matter of fact, they do form associations for mutual benefit. In England, these "friendly societies," as they are called, are numerous, and often exert a very happy influence. They are formed for a great variety of specified objects. One class, for example, provide,—
1st, For assisting members when they are obliged to travel in search of employment.
2d, For granting temporary relief to members in distressed circumstances.
3d, For the relief and maintenance of members in case of blindness, lameness, or bodily hurt through accident.
4th, For the purchase of necessaries to be supplied to the members.
5th, For the purpose of assuring the members against loss by disease or death of cattle employed in trade or agriculture.
6th, For the purpose of accumulating at interest, for the use of the member, the surplus fund remaining after providing for his assurance.
Some societies provide for a variety of other contingencies,— sickness, old age, and death. These associations are so numerous and important in Great Britain that the government has appointed a registrar (John Tidd Pratt, Esq.) for their general supervision, and his reports are annually made to Parliament. All associations like these, if properly managed, have a tendency, not only to relieve the misfortunes of the laboring classes, but to enhance their wages by making them more independent.
Societies are also formed for the diffusion of intelligence amongst these classes, and for their moral and social elevation,— like temperance associations, lyceums, mechanics' institutes, &c. These, too, have the effect to influence favorably the rate of wages, since they tend to bring laborers more upon a level with the more favored classes, to increase their intelligence, and especially to divert them from low and degrading occupations and amusements.
Associations of this kind will, in the progress of events, undoubtedly contribute more and more towards an equal distribution of the wealth which labor produces in conjunction with capital, provided they are formed for proper purposes, and conducted in an orderly manner.