Some Leading Principles of Political Economy Newly Expounded

By J. E. Cairnes | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III.
TRADES-UNIONISM.--I.

§ 1. THE question whether in any given state of national wealth there can properly be said to be a limit to the amount of wealth available for the payment of wages, and if so, what the nature of that limit is, is one which brings us into immediate contact with Trades-Unionism in its most ambitious, if not its most important, aims. If there be no limit to the fund available for expenditure in wages, or if such limit as exists be of a kind which may easily be overpassed; if beyond the amount actually spent on wages at any given time there be an indefinite margin of wealth which workmen by judicious combination may conquer; then it is evident Trades-Unionism. has a great field before it, and workmen will naturally and properly look to this agency as the principal means of improving their condition. But if, on the other hand, the amount of wealth spent in wages at any given time be confined within limits which, the conditions of industry and the character of the owners of wealth being what they are, can not be permanently extended by the action of work-men, then it follows that the scope for Trades-Union action is proportionally narrowed; and all attempts to accomplish a permanent increase of wages by such means, beyond what the unassisted action of supply and demand would ultimately bring about, are doomed beforehand to disappointment and failure. The question, therefore, of the limitation of the Wages-fund is evidently one of paramount importance in the present position of the controversy between labor and capital in this country; and we

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