SOME REFLECTIONS ON A LIVING WAGE
AW went to th’ Failswo’th conference last Sethurday. They co’ed it th’ Manchester District Conference, but aw couldn’t see heaw they made that eawt. It wur nar th’ Failswo’th Pow nor it wur to Manchester, an’ Failswo’th Pow’s i’ Failswo’th, as onybody knows ’at’s walk’d fro’ Manchester to Owdham before the’re trams on th’ road.
Beside, yo’ know, Failswo’th has a name of its own, as weel as Manchester, an’ it’s as preawd on it, too. Who hasn’t yerd o’ Walmsley Fowt? Why, it’s one o’ th’ mooist famous places i’ English history. Aw dunnot know of ony teawn i’ Lancashire, or even Yorkshire, wheer sich important events have happened as have happened i’ Walmsley Fowt. If yo’ connot believe me, read Ab-o’-th’-Yate’s “History o’ Walmsley Fowt.” It’ll be a revelation to some on yo’.
Talk abeawt Failswo’th stondin’ on its bottom! Why, it’s big enoof to let other teawns stond on it, too. Aw used to think so when aw wur a little wench, helpin’ my mother to bear whoam to Manchester, an’ aw thowt so last Sethurday, when aw went to th’ Conference.
There’s noane so mony loom-heauses neaw, but there’s plenty o’ fact’ries, an’ aw sometimes wonder whether folks are happier neaw, workin’ i’ big fact’ries, driven by ‘lectricity, nor they wur when they drove their own looms i’ their own loom-heauses, an’ when they didn’t start o’ their wark before it wur dayleet, an’ when they could have a hauve-a-day off when they wanted beawt runnin’ th’ risk o’ bein’ bagg’d.
O these thowts kept runnin’ thro’ my mind as aw look’d reawnd Failswo’th last Sethurday.
But aw started to tell yo’ abeawt th’ Conference. Well, after a bit o’ spirrin’, aw f’und th’ store, an’ aw wur shown th’road to th’ back dur. Aw dunnot know heaw it is, but it often happens ’at yo’ have to go reawnd to th’ back dur to get to a Conference.
There wur a good toothri’ o’ folks i’ th’ reawm when aw geet theere, an’ a y’ung felley wur busy makkin’ a speech on th’ platform. Aw could see ’at aw wur a bit late, an’ as aw didn’t want to disturb onybody, aw clapp’d mysel’ deawn o’ th’ fust form aw coom to. Aw sit an’ hearkent a bit till aw f’und mysel’ gooin’ in a cowd sw’at. Aw thowt aw’d getten i’ th’ wrung shop. Aw’d set off, dunnot yo’ see, to go to a Conference, but it wur soon evident that aw wur mista’en. Fust one an’ then another geet up an’ had a ﬂing at stores an’ their committees. It appears ’at they’re a bad lot. What aw yerd made my mind go back a lung way, an’ aw thowt abeawt thoose folks ’at aw’d read abeawt ’at had to mak’ bricks beawt straw, an’ abeawt the miserable lives o’ th’ fact’ry workers what Robert Owen tried to improve. An’ neaw it seems ’at the very instrument what wur made to ease their burden is bein’ used to increase it. Aw felt deawn-hearted, an’ when aw thowt abeawt eaw shopmen in eawr grocery stores, an’ eawr butchers in eawr butchery stores, an’ eawr y’ung ladies in eawr millinery stores, an’ or th’ others, an’ heaw hungry an’ parish’d they look an’ what pale an’ thin faces they han, an’ heaw regg’d, an’ weary, an’ haggard they awlus seem, aw felt a twitch o’ conscience, an’ aw ax’d mysel’ if aw wur partly guilty for o this misery.
There wur a felley ’at sit next to me what seem’d unyezzy, too, for he kept ﬁdgettin’ abeawt on th’ form as tho’ he wur feeart on it bitin’ him. He kept mutterin’ to hissel’ summat abeawt “rubbish” an’ “nonsense,” till aw made bowd to ax him if that wur really th’ conference.
He said it wur. “At leeost,” he added, “it should be.”
Then he went on to say ’at “if one-hauve o’ what had been said wur true, it wur a disgrace to th’ movement, an’ if they couldn’t swear ’at it wur true, it owt not to have been said.”
“But dun yo’ think ’at twenty-four shillin’s a week is a livin’ wage?” I ax’d him.
“It o depends heaw yo’ want to live,” he onsert. “If yo’ want to live at th’ rate o’ twenty-four peawnds a week, it meeons a starvation wage. Mind yo’,” he continued, “aw’m noane gooin’, to say ’at twenty-four shillin’s a week is a good wage, an’ aw’m noane gooin’ to say ’at it’s a bad ’un. It met be better, an’ it met be worse. But they han one or two things i’ their favour ’at they hannot mention’d this afternoon.”
“An’ what are thoose?” I inquired.
“Well,” he said, “the usual practice o’ store wages is to go up. Yo’ never know ’em come deawn. Yo’ll often yer abeawt reductions o’ wages i’ th’ iron or cotton trade, when proﬁts are deawn, but yo’ never yer abeawt it i’ th’ store trade. Yo’ never yer tell on ’em workin’ short time, oather, on acceawnt o’ bad trade. Then they’re noane too owd at forty. These are grand things, missis, an’, they shouldn’t be forgotten. But, mind yo’, they shouldn’t be an excuse for a poor wage. Neawe, neawe; aw dunnot believe i’ that. At th’ same time, aw connot say ’at aw’m otogether i’ favour o’ what they coe a minimum wage.”
“An’ why not? It seawnds o reet,” aw said.
“So it does,” he replied; “but it doesn’t awlus act o reet. Yo’ll ﬁnd ’at where a general minimum is ﬁx’d, it becomes the general maximum, too. That meeons ’at some folks get moore nor they’re worth, an’ some get less. Neawe, that may be o reet i’ what they coe socialism, but it winnot apply otogether to co-operation. But aw connot understond this at o, missis. Accordin’ to my readin’, co-operation wur gooin’ to sattle o these things of itsel’. Yet there’s the same owd, owd question up, an’ strange to say, a co-operative trade union has been started to watch co-operative committees an’ protect co-operative workfolks. It’s very strange, isn’t it?”
“It is,” aw said, “an’ aw’m very sorry to see co-operators fratchin’ o’ this road.”
“Oh, that’ll soon be o reet,” he said, wi’ a smile. “Just wait till they get sit reawnd th’ tea table, wheer there’s noather minimum nor maximum, an’ wheer there’s sweatin’ beawt tyranny, an’ theau’ll ﬁnd ’at a moore jovial an’ happy family never sit deawn together.”
An’ it wur so. They were like a lot o’ lawyers what had been coin’ one another too ill to brun, when th’ case wur o’er, they took one another’s arm, an’ march’d jollily off to lunch.