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TWO ENGLISH VISITORS.
I. JOHN EURNS: LABOR LEADER, MUNICIPAL STATESMAN AND
BY ROBERT DONALD.
W H AT 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 seryant. The agitator, demagogue, and socialist has become a municipal statesmen and parliamentarian
JOHN BURNS. without losing his individuality, or without sacrific
and on Sundays spreading the Gospel of Discontenting his opinions. AS AGITATOR.
making 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 wbich 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 cnvicted 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. Burns has been always a strong advocate of trade unionism. He has been a leading member of the Amalgamated Engineers ever since he learned the trade. He thought that the unskilled as well as the skilled workers should combine, and the great Dock strike of 1889 gave him his opportunity. Casual labor at the docks had been always a pitiful spectacle. Dock workers, 'longshoremen and others of that class were the most helpless of workingmen-always at the mercy and caprice of their employers. Burns took the leading part in the strike which resulted in the formation of the Dock Union; he worked night and day and turned himself prematurely old. His coal black hair was gray when the struggle was over and he was only turned thirty.
THE NEW UNIONISM. This was the foundation of the new unionism. It was successful because it was not merely an industrial question, but a humanitarian problem. It was a demand for a " living wage”—for a moral minimum of sixpence an hour and for eight hours a day. The new unions collected funds for protection or fighting only. They were not mutual benefit concerns. During the next two years there was great expansion of the new unionism, although there has been reaction since then. Many of the unions have been dissolved. This kind of unionism, which does not rest upon purely industrial questions, and which is not maintained by mutual benefit organization, will always be subject to peculiar vicissitudes. The benefits of the dock strike have, however, been permanent, and what is more they did no harm to trade, as the ship ping trade at the port of London actually increased.
If new unions have not made much progress, the new unionism and the principles it implied have triumphed. At the trade union congress at Liverpool in 1890 the new unionism first came into serious conflict with the old. Its representatives, led by Burns, advocated a legal eight-hours day, and the organiza tion of industry on collectivist principles. They were
then in a small but powerful minority, and Mr. Henry Broadhurst, then secretary of the Parliamentary committee, led the attack against them. Burns and his colleagues, Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, and others were excluded from the cabinet of trade unionism. Three years later, at Belfast, the new unionism had not only permeated the old, it had absorbed the old, and Burns was elected at the top of the Parliamentary committee and made its chairman, and Henry Broadhurst was defeated. This year, at Norwich, the advanced party were dominant, and the parliament of British trade unionists, instead of demanding simply peddling political reforms, declared practically in favor of socialism, and Burns was again elected at the top of the Parliamentary committee. Henry Broadhurst meanwhile having been twice defeated at elections turned opportunist and followed the party he three years before abused.
BURNS AND BATTERSEA. Battersea, the birthplace and home of John Burns, is one of the administrative units of London, a parish with a population of 160,000, of whom 90 per cent. belong to the industrial and laboring classes. It was, therefore, a first rate place for a labor agitator. Burns never took part in the Local Municipal Council-known as the Vestry—but has organized the democracy in the district and molded the municipal policy carried out by the Vestry. It was not till 1887 that Battersea obtained local autonomy, and enjoyed full administrative powers. The local elections were fought by the Labor League, which was created by Mr. Burns, and is the the organization which “runs” him for elections.
Burns has been very closely identified with the municipal renaissance of Battersea, and but for him it would not bave taken place. Although only constituted a municipal authority in 1887 Battersea now possesses : 1. A splendid public library-supported out of the rates—with two branches, bringing free reading to the doors of all its people. The libraries 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 Batter. sea 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 serv. ant 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 main drainage of London, and what has been done for labor in this department will indicate what has been done in others. The department is occupied with the disposal of the sewage produced by over 5,000,000 of people. The Main Drainage system under its control extends beyond the metropolitan boundary. Over 68,000,000,000 gallons of sewage produced in the year is taken to preci pitation works on the banks of the Thames and transformed into a clear, innocuous effluent, which flows into the river, and into thousands of tons of solid sludge, which is shipped to sea. The Council has carried out many improvements in the working of this department, but London is more particularly concerned just now with the better treatment of labor. Through the efforts of Mr. Burns the hours of labor have been reduced from sixty-eight per week to fifty-four, and the wages of mechanics and others increased by several shillings per week. Engineers receive £2 per week, fitters 9 pence an hour, or £2. 0/6, smiths, 9 pence an hour, flushers, 30 shillings. Mechanics have had their weekly wages increased from 39 shillings to 46 shillings. All men receive ten days' holiday in the summer, and six general holidays. They receive medical attendance and sick pay, and a large number of them are provided with free quarters, coal and gas. The Council has built a number of cottages to accommodate them near the works, and provided a dining room where they may take their meals in the middle of the day.
What has been done in the Main Drainage department has also been done in the Parks, Bridges, and other departments of the Council's work. A minimum wage of 24 shillings per week is given to the lowest class of unskilled labor employed in any department.
THE WORKS DEPARTMENT OF THE COUNTY COUNCIL.
In the mean time, when the status of the municipal worker was being improved, whether he was employed by contractors or the Council, a new development was taking place—the elimination of the contractor in the execution of new works. The Council had in its first year, on the proposition of the Main Drainage committee, at the instigation of Burns, passed the following resolution :
That all work of a continuous nature which does not involve a large outlay for plant, such as the cleansing and watching of the bridges and embankments under the control of the Council, be executed as far as possible by men directly employed by the Council without the intervention of a contractor.
This rule was acted upon and greatly exceeded by several committees, which commenced executing work which was new and not continuous. The most notable work carried out by the Main Drainage committee was constructing a new sewer. There was a strike of contractors against the Council and no reasonable tender for the work was obtained. The engineer's estimate for the work was £7,000; the lowest tender was £11,500, and the Main Drainage committee, acting as its own contractor, with Mr. Burns as general manager, executed the work for £5,163. The very best material was used and the highest wages paid. This job was an eye-opener to contractors. A smaller work was also an object lesson in favor of direct labor. A school had to be built for the Main Drainage department to accommodate the children of men employed at its work. The estimate for the work was £900, the lowest tender received was £2,200, and the work was executed without a contractor for £700. With these two and other similar encouraging examples before them, the