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TWO ENGLISH VISITORS.
1. JOHN EURNS: LABOR LEADER, MUNICIPAL STATESMAN AND
BY ROBERT DONALD.
WHAT John Bright was to the commercial a factory, and having picked up a smattering of eco
classes in London forty years ago, John nomic doctrines began to retail it at the street corners. Burns is to the working-people to-day. Bright's am- He was always a student, and read industriously. bition was to strike off the shackles which prevented When he was apprenticed as an engineer he threw the expansion of trade. Burns' object is to widen himself into the trade union movement; his principal the field of social opportunity for the workers. He agitating was done on behalf of unemployed workmen. is the leading type of the new democracy, which In 1884 and 1885 he went all over London in the evenings advocates reform along social and municipal lines without disturbing the system of political institutions-simply adapting it to the social needs of the time.
During the last ten years John Burns has bulked larger in the eyes of the working people of England than any other popular leader. First as agitator and demagogue he was to be found in the spare hours which he spent outside the engineer's shop speaking at street corners and commons in Battersea and coming into conflict with the police. He was the “Man with the Red Flag,” who became the orator for the crowds of unemployed who gathered in Trafalgar Square, and got himself many times arrested, twice tried, and once convicted for seditious conspiracy. He pleaded for the poor and thundered against the privileged in the people's forum of Hyde Park, and wherever there was work to be done in strikes or in agitations, or wherever there were heads to be broken, Burns was to be found in the midst of the discontented ready to run any risks, legal or physical.
All this stormy work in the early years of the agitator has been changed for calmer but not less deterniined tactics. Burns has become a power in the land. Classes who formerly despised him now respect him ; the police who batoned him now bow to him; Battersea, which was ashamed of him, now glories in him ; London, which looked upon him with alarm and felt safer when he was in Pentonville Prison, now treasures him as a valuable public servant. The agitator, demagogue, and socialist has become a municipal statesmen and parliamentarian without losing his individuality, or without sacrificing his opinions.
and on Sundays spreading the Gospel of Discontentmaking the workless feel more keenly their misery,
and pointing out what he thought was the remedy. John Burns -a Scotsman in origin, a Londoner in He joined the Democratic Federation in 1884 and birth and a cosmopolitan in syinpathies—began agi- came first into national notice by contesting Nottingtating when he was in his teens. Battersea-his ham as a social democrat in 1885. It is curious to birth-place—the scene of his later triumphs, was the note now that Mr. Andrew Carnegie was one of the centre of his early operations. He imbibed the rudi- subscribers to his election fund. In 1886 the London ments of education at the parish school, but continued police made a determined effort to put down the to burn the midnight oil when as a boy he worked in dangerous agitator. He was arraigned along with
BATTERSEA TOWN HALL.
three others for seditious conspiracy on the occasion of a riot when shop windows of the West End were broken, and bread stolen from bakers' shops. He was then known as the “Man with the Red Flag,” and the powerful speech which he made at his trial got him acquitted along with his colleagues in the dock. A year later he was again in the clutches of the police on the occasion of the Trafalgar Square riot. The government had closed the Square and the Radicals organized an attack upon it. Burns and Cunninghame Graham, M. P.-a stormy petrel in Parliament, half Celt, half Moor-were the only two who risked a conflict with the police. They were knocked on the head and locked up.
Burns made another big speech at the trial, but was c nvicted and sent to prison for three months-an experience which has enabled him to agitate in Parliament in favor of prison reform, and obtain a departmental inquiry. AS TRADE UNIONIST AND ORGANIZER.
then in a small but powerful minority, and Mr. Burns has been always a strong advocate of trade Henry Broadhurst, then secretary of the Parliamentunionism. He has been a leading member of the ary committee, led the attack against them. Burns Amalgamated Engineers ever since he learned the and his colleagues, Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, and others trade. He thought that the unskilled as well as the were excluded from the cabinet of trade unionskilled workers should combine, and the great Dock ism. Three years later, at Belfast, the new unionism strike of 1889 gave him his opportunity. Casual labor had not only permeated the old, it had absorbed the at the docks had been always a pitiful spectacle. Dock old, and Burns was elected at the top of the Parliaworkers, 'longshoremen and others of that class were mentary committee and made its chairman, and the most helpless of workingmen-always at the Henry Broadhurst was defeated. This year, at Normercy and caprice of their employers. Burns took wich, the advanced party were dominant, and the parthe leading part in the strike which resulted in the liament of British trade unionists, instead of demandformation of the Dock Union ; he worked night and ing simply peddling political reforms, declared pracday and turned himself prematurely old. His coal tically in favor of socialism, and Burns was again black hair was gray when the struggle was over and elected at the top of the Parliamentary committee. he was only turned thirty.
Henry Broadhurst meanwhile having been twice de
feated at elections turned opportunist and followed THE NEW UNIONISM.
the party he three years before abused. This was the foundation of the new unionism. It
BURNS AND BATTERSEA. was successful because it was not merely an industrial question, but a humanitarian problem. It was Battersea, the birthplace and home of John Burns, a demand for a " living wage "—for a moral minimum is one of the administrative units of London, a parish of sixpence an hour and for eight hours a day. The with a population of 160,000, of whom 90 per cent. new unions collected funds for protection or fighting belong to the industrial and laboring classes. It was, only. They were not mutual benefit concerns. Dur- therefore, a first rate place for a labor agitator. ing the next two years there was great expansion of Burns never took part in the Local Municipal Counthe new unionism, although there has been reaction cil-known as the Vestry—but has organized the since then. Many of the unions have been dissolved. democracy in the district and molded the municipal This kind of unionism, which does not rest upon policy carried out by the Vestry. It was not till 1887 purely industrial questions, and which is not main- that Battersea obtained local autonomy, and enjoyed tained by mutual benefit organization, will always full administrative powers. The local elections were be subject to peculiar vicissitudes. The benefits of fought by the Labor League, which was created by the dock strike have, however, been permanent, and Mr. Burns, and is the the organization which "runs" what is more they did no harm to trade, as the ship
him for elections. ping trade at the port of London actually increased. Burns has been very closely identified with the
If new unions have not made much progress, the municipal renaissance of Battersea, and but for him new unionism and the principles it implied have tri- it would not have taken place. Although only conumphed. At the trade union congress at Liverpool stituted a municipal authority in 1887 Battersea now in 1890 the new unionism first came into serious con- possesses : 1. A splendid public library-supported flict with the old. Its representatives, led by Burns, out of the rates—with two branches, bringing free advocated a legal eight-hours day, and the organiza- reading to the doors of all its people. The libraries tion of industry on collectivist principles. They were are open on Sundays.
2. Public baths and wash-houses, where people may have baths of all kinds at a very moderate charge, including the largest swimming-bath in London, and where the poor housewife can use all the most improved machinery for washing.
3. New municipal buildings, with a Town Hall capable of holding 1,500 people.
4. A Polytechnic Institute, a real people's university, and the best of its kind in equipment in London.
These institutions are not the most notable things in Battersea's municipal policy. It was one of the first districts in London to abolish contractors and employ direct labor. All new streets and sewers are now made by the Works department. The local governing authority has its own horses, carts, plant, and constantly employs over 500 men on municipal work. The streets are cleaned every day, and dust and ashes collected from houses once a week. The dust and waste products are consumed in a destructor. The clinker which comes from the furnaces is used for making up new streets, and, out of other products of the dust, concrete is made and material found for the manufacture of tar paving.
All this shows that the municipal policy of Battersea is decidedly an economic one. The local authority works its men only eight hours a day, pays trade union wages, and insists that all contractors it employs for building, etc., shall do the same. It arranges the work so as to have most doing in the winter sea son when trade is slack. It contemplates establishing
a Works department to erect its own buildings, and is maturing a scheme for municipal electric lighting. I may add that, notwithstanding its high preponderance of laboring and poor people, Battersea has a smaller percentage of criminals to population than any district in the metropolis. I have made these references to Battersea to indicate the practical character of Burns as a reformer, as all the improvements carried out have had his support.
BURNS AS MUNICIPAL COUNCILOR. The various districts like Battersea-forty-one in all—which make up London, never enjoyed union and homogeneity under representative government until the establishment of the County Council in 1889. A central authority there was before, but it was neither representative nor enterprising, and it was corrupt. The creation of the Council gave Burns the opportunity to put in practice some of the theories which he advocated. He had the chance to become a practical administrator. He was exceedingly popular with the people, as he had not long been out of prison for maintaining the right of free meeting in Trafalgar Square. Although he had directed parochial affairs in Battersea from the outside, it was not known whether he would be a useful servant inside the municipal machine.
FIRST ELECTION ADDRESS. He stood for Battersea as a “ workman and social democrat” and declared that he was an uncom
JOHN BURNS ON THE PLATFORM OF COOPER UNION, NEW YORK, DECEMBER 3, 1894,
promising advocate of principles that the County considers that there is no reason why a peer should Council can adapt to the requirements of our munici- not be made an instrument to push onward the pal life, and through their extension raise the social, democratic machine moral and physical well-being of the whole com
AS ADMINISTRATOR. munity.” This address contained some “tall orders” which experience has taught him to modify, such as
On the County Council Burns has proved himself the demand that the Council “undertake the organi
essentially a worker. The Council transacts its busization of industry and distribution,” and some pro
ness by departmental committees, the principal of posals which practice has shown had better be left
which are the Main Drainage committee, the Parks for the District authorities, such as the establish
and Open Spaces committee, the Bridges commitment of free baths. Half the points in his pro
tee,' the Works committee, the Fire Brigade comgramme-some of which were included in other pro
mittee and the Highways committee. Burns atgressive programmes—have been or are being carried
tached himself to those departments with which labor out. The Council has built artisans' dwellings, let at
was most concerned. As the Council employed a rents just sufficient to cover cost and maintenance; large number of contractors the first thing done it has erected a municipal lodging house ; it has puri
was to make them pay trade union wages and observe fied the Thames ; obtained equalization of rating ; it
trade union hours. This was done by adopting the pays its workmen trade union wages, and works as
following resolution : nearly as possible eight hours a day; it has provided Any person or firm tendering for any contract with free gymnasiums in the Parks, and is acquiring the
the Council shall make a declaration that they pay such street railways and the water supply. All these
rate of wages and observe such hours of labor as are genpoints were referred to in Burns' first address. He
erally accepted as fair in their trade. was the only direct labor representative on the first Penalties were imposed for breaches of contract, Council and was elected at the top of the poll in Bat- and clauses introduced to prohibit sub-letting. These tersea. It took some time before the Council got labor clauses have gradually been strengthened so used to Burns, but it was not long before he made that there is no possibility of contractors evading his influence felt. It was a new experience to another them. Mr. Burns' hand was not much seen in the gentleman-Lord Rosebery, who had submitted him- development of the Council's labor policy. It was his self to popular election. The two poles of the social mind which evolved and directed the policy, but he got world met in London's first parliament, and it was others to move his resolutions. It has been his gensignificant that the peer and the working engineer at eral plan to get others less likely to provoke hostility once became friends. Burns walked home from the to act for him. He lies in wait and pulverizes the first meeting with Lord Rosebery and the lord opposition. He is a constant attendant at committee learned something of the needs of the workers of meetings, but rarely speaks in the Council Chamber. London from one of themselves. Lord Rosebery When he does speak it is always to some purpose. considered then, as he does now, that men like Burns He has become a great tactician. are better inside the Council than outside, and Burns One of the departments to which Mr. Burns at
tached himself was that which had the disposal of THE WORKS DEPARTMENT OF THE COUNTY COUNCIL. the main drainage of London, and what has been done In the mean time, when the status of the municipal for labor in this department will indicate what has
worker was being improved, whether he was embeen done in others. The department is occupied with ployed by contractors or the Council, a new developthe disposal of the sewage produced by over 5,000,
ment was taking place—the elimination of the con000 of people. The Main Drainage system under its tractor in the execution of new works. The Council control extends beyond the metropolitan boundary.
had in its first year, on the proposition of the Main Over 68,000,000,000 gallons of sewage produced in Drainage committee, at the instigation of Burns, the year is taken to precipitation works on the banks passed the following resolution : of the Thames and transformed into a clear, innocuous
That all work of a continuous nature which does not effluent, which flows into the river, and into thou
involve a large outlay for plant, such as the cleansing and sands of tons of solid sludge, which is shipped to sea. watching of the ges and embankments under the conThe Council has carried out many improvements in trol of the Council, be executed as far as possible by men the working of this department, but London is more directly employed by the Council without the intervenparticularly concerned just now with the better tion of a contractor. treatment of labor. Through the efforts of Mr. This rule was acted upon and greatly exceeded by Burns the hours of labor have been reduced from several committees, which commenced executing sixty-eight per week to fifty-four, and the wages of work which was new and not continuous. The most mechanics and others increased by several shillings notable work carried out by the Main Drainage comper week. Engineers receive £2 per week, fitters mittee was constructing a new sewer.
There was a 9 pence an hour, or £2. 0/6, smiths, 9 pence an hour, strike of contractors against the Council and no reaflushers, 30 shillings. Mechanics have had their weekly sonable tender for the work was obtained. The enwages increased from 39 shillings to 46 shillings. All gineer's estimate for the work was £7,000; the lowmen receive ten days' holiday in the summer, and six est tender was £11,500, and the Main Drainage general holidays. They receive medical attendance committee, acting as its own contractor, with Mr. and sick pay, and a large number of them are pro- Burns as general manager, executed the work for vided with free quarters, coal and gas. The Council £5,163. The very best material was used and the has built a number of cottages to accommodate them highest wages paid. This job was an eye-opener to near the works, and provided a dining room where contractors. A smaller work was also an object lesthey may take their meals in the middle of the day. son in favor of direct labor. A school had to be
What has been done in the Main Drainage depart- built for the Main Drainage department to accommoment has also been done in the Parks, Bridges, and date the children of men employed at its work. The other departments of the Council's work. A mini- estimate for the work was £900, the lowest tender mum wage of 24 shillings per week is given to the received was £2,200, and the work was executed withlowest class of unskilled labor employed in any de- out a contractor for £700. With these two and other partment.
similar encouraging examples before them, the