7.9. Reasons adduced to the Committees in 1834 and 1835

The rapporteur of the “Analysis of the Evidence taken before the Select Committees on Hand-Loom Weavers’ Petitions (1834-1835)” gave a number of possible causes of the bad situation of the weavers, of which the most important were: reduction of wages, over-production of goods, home competition, want of combination, machinery, the power-loom, and twist exportation. As he says, the reduction of wages should more properly be considered as an effect resulting from some operating cause. 

As to the over-production of goods, we have a statement “the more you create an excess of supply of the commodities made up by an over-worked population, in so far you diminish the demand for their labour in producing that article; you diminish their wages and you increase their labour to enable them to purchase a sufficiency of food.” (p. 12).

Also the increase in the amount of yarn given to the weavers, requires them to produce more for the foreign market, which has a very low margin, and then decreases their wages. 

The competition alluded to is that between the individual masters and between the individual wholesalers. These are continuously trying to sell the cloth that have bought, and always have to underbid the other person; this is particularly so in the domestic market. Thus they have to hold down the price that they pay to the weaver.

The want of combination refers to the fact that the hand-loom weavers are not in a good position to make a common front against the masters and wholesalers who are buying the woven cloth.  All the other workers in the chain of production of cotton goods earn around 20 shillings a week, but the weavers only have 5 shillings a week. “The reason why the wages of spinners have not fallen in the same ratio that the weavers’ have, is, the spinners being assembled more under one roof are more capable of combining, and by combination they have opposed a barrier to reduction, inasmuch as the mill-owner having a capital invested he is interested in having his machinery moving, for it suffers from standing, and not being worked. So that in the other case the hand-loom weavers is the machine [sic], and the manufacturer does not suffer in like proportion.” (p. 17).

According to the rapporteur, machinery is the chief cause assigned for the prevailing distress of the hand-loom weavers. There are two variants: firstly, the machinery introduced in the cotton spinning industryhas caused a continuous reduction in prices, and at such a velocity that in many cases the cotton goods can be purchased, even retail, for less than the cost of production (p. 18).Thus the spinning mills have to discharge their best-paid workers, which causes a decrease in the average wages in the mills, and an increase in unemployment. Your author cannot follow this argument, as it is in contrast to the facts: the weekly wages in the spinning mills did not go down, rather the absolute wages went up, because the volume spun per day went up. Further, this does not explain anything to do with the hand-loom weavers.   

The second variant comes from Mr. John Marshall, the most important flax-spinner, who relates the problem to the machinery in the woollen spinning industry. The introduction of mechanical processes in a number of steps in the wool spinning process brought down the total cost of spinning, and made it impossible for the women, children, and old men in the villages in the whole of England to sell their spinning labour, and thus made them considerably poorer. According to Mr. Marshall, this meant that many people had to migrate to the textile manufacturing areas, and thus the enlarged pool of labour had to be content with lower unit wages. This then would cause a decrement in wages for the hand-loom weavers. Your author cannot follow this argumentation, because the decrease in the wages of the hand-loom weavers was not caused by an excess of persons in comparison to the amount of work to be done; there was so much work to be done that the weavers were working 12 hours a day, and the power-looms could not be constructed rapidly enough to take up the difference.

The rapporteur confirms that the power-loom, according to the testimony of a number of witnesses (owners and weavers), has not reduced the wages of the hand-loom weavers. This, because the power-loom does not and cannot work the type of cloth which is manufactured on the hand-looms, but rather is used for large-scale continuous production of simple and harder cloths. The advantage in costs – if there is one – to the power-loom, is not enough to make a changeover useful.     

The persons interviewed agree that the exportation of cotton twist harmed the competitive position of the English hand-loom weavers. Further, the fact that the continental manufacturers were able to use the English yarn, gave them a chance to put on a larger scale their weaving industry.    

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