William Thompson, ‘Address to the Industrious Classes of Britain and Ireland’ (1826)

William Thompson. ‘Address to the Industrious Classes of Britain and Ireland; Particularly to our Neighbours, the Distressed Spitalfields Weavers.’ The Co-operative Magazine and Monthly Herald. Vol.1 no.11 (November 1826), pp 2-6.

“The system of labor, by which your productive powers have been hitherto misdirected, is fast coming to its close. All kinds of labor, agricultural and manufacturing, Irish and English, are rapidly approaching their fated equality, the level of competition, or the starvation price, the lowest that, even in times of average employment, will support a miserable existence. The first years of the lives of those of you who are esteemed the most fortunate, are spent, at an absurd sacrifice of time and wealth, in acquiring a peculiar species of manufacturing skill: scientific improvements, mechanical, chemical, or otherwise, render in a moment all this skill useless.

Peculiar circumstances give activity to some branch of trade, and your wages begin to advance: your employers, speculating every man for himself, as you are working every man for yourselves, invite by bounties and premiums of conveyance poor laborers from Ireland and Scotland to bring down your advancing wages; this temporary activity ceases: the strangers are left to perish, by those who invited them and by all the world, from diseases brought on by poverty; and your superior lot is that of a pauper starvation-preventing maintenance, or starvation-preventing wages. You produce all the wealth yearly consumed in the country, as well as that of a more permanent nature ; and yet you, the producers, are in constant peril of perishing from want. Are not these things true? Look around you. How long shall these things be thus? Ought these things to remain thus? How long will you permit them to remain thus? It is in your power, without violence, to reverse this state of things, once and for ever.

Yet remain thus for ever they must, as long as you all continue, every individual working in opposition to every other, laboring for you know not what consumers in all parts of the globe ; and as long as every trade and every individual in the same trade, whether living in the same or different places, continue the rivals and foes in competition of every other trade and of every other laborer. In vain, while this system of divided and jarring interests lasts, will you struggle against the evils that oppress you. Even your peaceable voluntary combinations or unions, legalized as they are, will not bear you up out of poverty and want, out of ignorance and vice, out of continued or encreasing wretchedness.
You struggle in vain against capitalists and landowners, who besides the overwhelming influence of their private wealth, are necessarily the makers of the laws, which regulate and tax your labor and controul all your actions, even your words and opinions, to their supposed advantage.You struggle in vain against the competition of scientific power, which is every year rendering useless the acquired skill of your lives and rendering larger masses of your labor uncalled for, and thus in both ways bringing down the wretched renumeration of your toils. You struggle in vain against the free intercourse of persons and goods, which are necessary-for the equal diffusion of knowledge and of mechanical and other species of scientific skill, throughout the globe, and for the purpose of raising, at the least cost of labor, the varied products of the earth for the use ofi ts whole inhabitants—a freedom which not the united power of yourselves and any rulers you might appoint, could now restrain. Poor laborers or cheap goods, will, whether you or your rulers consent to it or not, continue to bring down to their own level your always decreasing wages. Not even the benevolence of your employers, unless that benevolence extended all over the globe, could remedy the evils that arise to you from this source.

How long, then, will you be the dupes of politicians and speculators, themselves the sincere dupes of their own want of knowledge and acquired habits? each of whom is only looking forward to make what is called his fortune, that is to say, a large yearly command of the products of your labor for his exclusive use by some of the thousand expedients of individual competition ?

Did they not long ago and often promise you that peace would make you comfortable and happy? Did they not promise that those who were prudent as to marriage, would infallibly be comfortable and happy? Did they not promise that free trade would make you comfortable and happy? Are they not now promising you that a free trade in corn, will make you comfortable and happy? Do they not tell you that an abolition of tithes, a reduction of taxation, a fixed metallic currency, a real representative system of government as affording the only solid foundation for the hope of these and other useful measures and a continuance of them, will make you comfortable and happy ?

None of these measures will make you comfortable and happy, while the three paramount causes of your degradation, individual exertion and competition, scientific improvements superseding labor, and free intercourse of poor men or cheap goods, remain in union. Of these three obstacles, which now united oppose your happiness, the first, your only real foe, the misdirection of the others, individual exertion and competition, your own voluntary agreement may remove: but happily, no human power can now arrest the progress of scientific improvement and freedom of intercourse.

None of the above nor any other proposed measures, though all in themselves very useful measures, will, in any degree worth your consideration, amend your situation, until you yourselves adopt, in conjunction with these measures, or even without them, other and more efficient measures, which are in your power, without real injury to any, but with an ultimate increase of real happiness to all, which will altogether banish the wretched higglings and antipathies of competition; and will net only surmount the evil effects which you now experience from scientific improvements and free intercourse, but will at once convert them for you into the greatest blessings.

Who now consume—they do not enjoy—the products of your never-ending cheerless toils ? Those who are in the actual possession of the land which supplies the basis and raw materials for all labor; those who are in possession of the machines, clothes, food, and articles to work upon, necessary to put your labor in motion and to support you while employed; factors, carriers, wholesale and retail dealers ; those who contribute to your amusement by word, writing, or gesture; those who take the trouble to do what they are pleased to call instructing you, and those who take the trouble of ruling and taxing you and distributing to those whom they think proper, with or without services, the amount of such taxation.

Would you get out from a wretched contest with all those classes, who are now preying upon your labor, without any discussion or quarrelling with them? Would you like to be your own masters and your own employers? Would you like to be secure of employment, and of abundant remuneration for that employment, every day of your lives? Would you like that the labor of your wives should be in as constant demand, and while employed should be made as productive and as well remunerated as your own: Would you like that your children’s labor, from the age of five to fifteen, should support and educate them more happily and better than the children of the richest are now supported and educated? Would you like that your hours of labor should be limited to the time compatible with health and the daily enjoyment of social and intellectual pleasures? Would you like to be freed from all employments consuming your health, and cutting short your lives, and to enjoy an alternation of labor inside and outside of doors? Would you like to be provided for and taken care of, when accident, disease, or old age overtakes you? Would you like that your children should, during your lives and after your deaths, enjoy all the same advantages that you would enjoy? Would you like that your orphans should be provided for as well as if you lived? Would you like, yourselves to be the possessors in a few years, of the land from which your labor extracts food and materials, of the houses in which you live, of all the machinery and raw materials necessary to render your labor productive? Would you like, by these means to enjoy yourselves the whole products of your labor; and to obtain from that labor every means of comfort and enjoyment which rational beings would deem it worth their while to take the trouble of producing ? If you would like to acquire these things, you have nothing more to do than simply to alter the direction of your labor. Instead of working for you know not whom, work for each other. Instead of all of you making silks, or shoes, or cottons; let some raise food, let some make and keep in repair your dwellings, manufacturing buildings, machinery, and furniture, let others make your clothing of linen, woolen, and cotton cloths, shoes, stockings, hats, &c. and let some of you continue to make silks or other articles in general demand, for acquiring by exchange those articles of convenience or comfort, which our climate or soil will not permit to be produced at home, or for the payment of necessary charges; or dispose of the surplus articles of your ordinary consumption for these purposes. Or Iet a competent number of you silk-weavers join a much larger number of agriculturists and other artisans, and thus supply each other’s wants, being producers and consumers, masters and employers, to each other.

For this purpose you must take land, at a perpetuity, or for a very long lease, or with liberty to purchase, within a given time, at a percentage on the rent, sufficient to afford, by your labor, food in abundance to support the whole of you and supply the most of the raw materials requisite for the making of the various articles of your clothing. Some of you must on this land erect your buildings, first for the most necessary manufactures, then for dwellings beautiful as your judgment and fancy may desire them; while the rest of you will be employed in raising food, making machinery, and providing for everyone all the comforts, and ultimately all the desirable elegances of life. You must honestly and equally distribute to every member of your community all the means of happiness at your command, particularly all the means of happiness arising from wealth produced by your united labor, the faculties of all being equally cultivated and directed in the way most conducive to the happiness of all.

You are called upon, in order to accomplish these great objects, to no greater exertion than to contribute or gradually to save and accumulate, at the rate of five shillings down to sixpence a week, five pounds for every adult individual, and fifty shillings for every child under ten years of age. The rest of the funds, but a few thousand pounds, necessary to make your labor productive, and ultimately to secure to yourselves the whole of its products (taxation excepted) will be contributed by those who now live, vexatiously to themselves, on the products of your labor, but would wish to cease so to live and to join with you in a scheme of equal and universal justice and happiness, or will be advanced on simple loan to you by benevolent persons who may possess them. Pay therefore either into a saving bank, or to a treasurer of your appointing, or to the secretary of the London Co-operative Society, 36, Red Lion Square, (who will attend for this and other purposes every Tuesday evening and Sunday morning) such subscriptions as you can afford, entering your names, with your occupation and residence, as members of a community for the supply of each other’s wants, and mutual and permanent insurance and independence. Should you wish in a few years to retire, you will be entitled on retiring to your full share of the increased value of the establishment, which even in three or four years, though the first and most inefficient years of production, cannot be less than one hundred pounds each individual. — It is intended that a tract of land will be taken during this winter of some hundred acres, in proportion to the number of individuals contributing, and that early in the ensuing spring operations will be commenced on the ground. A community on these principles will be begun in the spring of 1827, with any number of the industrious classes who may come forward, from 200 to 2000 individuals. For details apply to the secretary, 36, Red Lion Square.

All your affairs are now managed by those whose immediate short-sighted interests—the only interests that the circumstances of their situation permit them to comprehend—are opposed to yours. Take into your own hands the management of your own concerns, Let the management and the interest go hand in hand. Look amongst yourselves; cast off the opinion of your own degradation, and you will find amongst yourselves skill of the head as well as of the hand. Let these two, henceforth, be equally cultivated and support each other. Resolve; make a beginning. Persons having skill in every line of exertion will aid you. Your own happiness and that of your descendants will be secured: and the selfish principle of competition will soon everywhere give way to the benign principle of mutual universal co-operation. In this great work you will have the happiness of leading the way in England.”

Cork, September 22, 1826. Wm. T.

William Thompson, ‘Address to the Industrious Classes of Britain and Ireland’ (1826)

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