I wish that time permitted me to sketch, however briefly, the mills to which I have last alluded. It must suffice to say that the devoted labors of Col. Barrows, President of the Willimantic Thread Co., have succeeded in creating, out of Irish labor, social conditions of industrial life which approach ideal perfection as nearly as the work of imperfect man can possibly do. And, better still, the high morality and intelligence of Col. Barrow's 1,600 operatives, the comfort and seemliness of their homes, the cleanly and cheerful character of the mill work, even the refinements of the music and art schools attached to the mill, can be proved, by hard figures, to be paying factors in the undertaking, viewed from a purely commercial standpoint.
So far, I have endeavored to show that a great contrast exists between what once was and now is the condition of factory labor in America. I have, further, described certain survivals of an earlier and happier state of things, and indicated the forces now at work tending to lift the Holyoke of to-day, for example, to the social levels of old Lowell. I have given my reasons for believing that the democratic institutions of America are incapable, unaided, of accomplishing such a task as this charge implies, and concluded that its accomplishment depends mainly on the action of the American employer. What this action as a whole, and what, therefore, the future of labor in America is likely to be, I confess myself in grave doubt - doubt from which I turn, with something like a sense of relief, to discuss those economical considerations affecting wage-earners which have hitherto been made to give place to social inquiries.
We have now to ask what are the wages of labor in the States, their relation to the cost of subsistence, and to wages and cost of subsistence in our own country? Finally, I shall briefly consider certain propositions of the American political economist which are so inextricably mixed up with the question of labor and wages in the States that it is impossible to discuss the one without taking some note of the other.
Until quite recently, no complete investigation, bringing the rates of wages paid in industries common to the United States and European countries, has ever been made, although the results of such an investigation have been constantly and earnestly called for both by the press and people of America. Permit me to remark, in passing, that we know little in this country of the desire for full, trustworthy, and accessible statistics, concerning all matters of national interest, which dominates the public mind of America; and as little of the willingness with which American citizens of all classes place the particulars of their private business at the service of the statistician. This desire for statistical bases whereon the statesman and economist may build, is vividly illustrated by that publication, perhaps the most wonderful in the whole world, entitled a "Compendium of the Census of the United States," issued with every decade. These volumes, accessible to everybody, and arranged with marvelous skill and lucidity, offer to the social observer a complete, accurate, and suggestive survey of every field comprised within the vast domain of the national interests.
An evening's address would not more than suffice to indicate the scope and appraise the value of this work, which is a mine wherein, the ore ready dressed to his hand, the politico-economic or industrial essayist might work for years without exhausting its riches.
But the United States Census does not treat specifically of wages and subsistence, and it is to the Massachusetts Labor Bureau that we must again turn for such information as we now require. Dr. Edward Young, indeed, the late chief of the United States Bureau of Statistics, published an elaborate work upon this subject in 1875, but his comparisons as to the relative cost of living in America and Europe, good in themselves, are rendered of little value by the absence of such statistics as would give the true percentage of difference between American and foreign wages. Several elaborate wages reports were also published between 1879 and 1882, which, while they gave the American side of the question with great fullness, presented foreign wages very incompletely.
Always, however, impressed with the importance of making an accurate comparison between wages and the cost of subsistence on the two sides of the Atlantic, but unable to undertake a very wide inquiry with the funds at its disposal, the Massachusetts Bureau determined, in the fall of 1883, upon reducing to narrower limits than heretofore the field of investigation. Instead of America and Europe, Massachusetts and Great Britain were selected for comparison, the former as the chief manufacturing State of America, the latter as her leading competitor.
With this view, a number of agents were sent to gather personally, from the pay rolls of American and English manufactories, the rates of wages paid in twenty-four of the leading industries which are common to the two districts respectively. It was, at first, sought to extend the inquiry to thirty-five different industries, a number which would practically have covered the whole ground, but nine of these were finally abandoned for want of sufficient British information.
It is a perfectly easy thing, as already indicated, to gather wage or other statistics in the counting-houses of Massachusetts manufactories, but quite a different matter when a collection of similar information is attempted in this country, where most proprietors are unwilling, and many altogether refuse, to give any information regarding their industries.
The following table, of which an enlarged facsimile, marked A, appears on the wall, specifies the twenty-four industries from which the returns in question were made, and the number of establishments making such returns in each industry in either country: