William Morris. Commonweal 1885

Instructive Items

Source: “Instructive Items” Commonweal, Vol 2, No. 21, 5 June 1886, p.79;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The eight hours movement in America has not been the failure it is so loudly proclaimed. It is found, by actual computation, that nearly half-a-million have gained the eight hours system; that another half-million are working under the nine hour rule, and that not less than a million besides have succeeded in shortening the hours of labour in one shape or another. The fourteen and fifteen hours men have cut off two or three hours; the Saturday half-holiday men have largely gained their object, and the early closing and Sunday closing movements have been successful in most places.

‘What should I go to see in Europe?’ writes Lady Hester Stanhope, from the wild solitary home she has made for herself among the high lands of Palestine. ‘Nations worthy of their chains, and kings unworthy of ruling. Before long, your old Continent will be shaken to its foundations. All therein is worn out; the kings found no dynasties, they fall, borne down by death or dethroned for their faults, and degenerate as they succeed each other; the aristocracy, soon to fade from the world, will give place to a wretched and ephemeral Bourgeoisie without strength or vigour; the people alone still retain character and some virtues. Tremble, if they ever realize their own strength!’

Even in the villages and little towns of the country, as well as in the great centres of labour, employment is lacking. Bampton-in-the-Bush and Lechdale, two such towns on the upper waters of the Thames, have their share of this trouble I find. Some farmers that I was amongst in a second-class carriage between the two places amongst others gave me information (by their talk between themselves) on this point. At last the conversation took the following turn: ‘I was sorry’, said the youngest man present, ‘that they couldn’t do anything for that man who had cut his fingers off and came for medical relief.’ ‘Well, you see’, said another, ‘we have to be very particular about such cases, or they would make up all kinds of stories.’ ‘He ought to have taken care of his fingers’, quoth a third, a white-headed man of the small parrot-nosed, broad-faced type, with self-satisfied arched eyebrows, which proclaims the unfeeling fool without any admixture, and is common among well-to-do bourgeois in our moral country. Said the younger man: ‘He will have to pay a doctor to cure him out of 11s. a week.’ ‘He ought to have belonged to a club’, said parrot-nose. The younger man said: ‘Well he didn’t, and it’s a hard case.’ ‘He ought to have’, said parrot-nose again; ‘he could easily have paid up weekly.’ Therewith the train stopped at a station, and the party broke up, not much dispirited at the idea of the maimed labourer and his position between the poor-law and civilization.