Eric V. Snow



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The Workhouse Test Was a Tool for Lowering Wages Also
The fear induced by the "bastilles" of the English countryside also helped the rural ruling class to ratchet down wages. After all, if a laborer refused some farmer's offer of employment at a low wage, and nobody locally was offering anything higher, then he (or she, if the head of household) was forced to enter the workhouse, unless he left the parish for work elsewhere. The working class generally dreaded committal to workhouses as much as prison, a fear their superiors took advantage of. Proof that wages were lowered on a large scale is shown by Snell's use of Bowley's statistics on agricultural wages, where for southern England generally they fell from an average of eleven shillings two pence per week to eight shillings nine pence a week, a 21 percent drop from 1833 to 1850. More clearly, proof of an immediate drop was found in that wages had fallen to nine shillings nine pence per week by 1837, a drop of 13.4 percent from already low levels. Furthermore, these figures exclude the drop in family income caused by eliminating family allowances, etc. under the New Poor Law, which made their losses still greater. Since the wages of farmworkers in the South already bordered on subsistence levels, the rural elite's program to increase work effort from their laborers often dangerously backfired: The workers became so ill-fed, they simply could not work as well. Guardian James Foard of Petworth, Sussex said some were better able to work under the old system, because: "I consider that those who have large families cannot now get that sustenance which they ought to have to do a day's work." Caird noted the farmers of Wiltshire made a false economy by paying their laborers "a lower rate of wages than is necessary for the performance of a fair day's work." While speaking specifically of Berkshire, Somerville applied his comments generally to southern conditions by stating: "We have those people always under-fed, even if always employed."516 Under such circumstances, which increased poaching and other crimes by those laborers intent on avoiding half-starvation, the farmers and landlords had succeeded all too well in lowering wages and imposing labor discipline--at least when the laborers were under their gaze during daylight hours.

Allotments as a Social Control Device
Having grasped the throats of the laborers perhaps a little too securely through proletarianizing and subordinating the laborers through enclosure, the workhouse test, and the decline in service, some among the English rural elites began to reconsider their program of totally cutting off the laborers' direct access to the means of production. Leasing allotments to the laborers was the main solution the enlightened among the elite proposed to partially reverse total wage dependency. Due to enclosure, "until the allotment system was revived the English labourer was severed from all connexion with the land."517 Their advocates pushed them as a means to lower the rates and reform the moral character of the laborers possessing them. Laborers having them committed fewer crimes such as poaching and petty thievery, and had less time to be idle and less interest in visiting the beerhouses because they spent more of their "leisure time" (i.e., time off from wage work) cultivating them. In Hadlow parish, Kent, allotments led to a fall in crime from thirty-five offenses to a mere one from 1835 to 1837.518 One witness who had let out allotments for years described how attaching conditions to them made controlling the laborers easier: "One of the rules is, that he shall not be dismissed if he does not commit crime, and they value that amazingly." One thief suddenly became very repentant when threatened with the loss of his patch of land. Designed to tame the lawless habits of certain villages in west Buckinghamshire, one rule stated all those convicted of any offense lost their allotments. Similarly, although he was dealing with miners in a rural setting in the mid-eighteenth century, William Danby of Swinton gave his workers small farms out of uncultivated moor land. He said allotments increased sobriety and industry, and reduced riot, idleness, insolence, and time in pubs without him using violence to control them at his coal mine. He told Arthur Young his motives, a classic expression of paternalism, in which social control measures aid upper class objectives while simultaneously improving the lower class's quality of life:
"If," said he, "I can give these fellows a better notion of a local property and happiness, I shall gain a power over them, which I can easily turn to their good, and the benefit of their families, as well as to my own convenience."
Although Danby was dealing with eighteenth-century miners, remarkably similar stories about farmworkers given allotments are found in the Report on Allotments of Land (1843), illustrating the deep desire of almost anyone working on the land to have some part of the earth that could be called "one's own." Furthermore, by giving them a stake in society, even so small as one as a half- or quarter-acre leased "at will," the laborers' desires to strike back at their social superiors were reduced. One parson in Wiltshire noted how the mob--presumably a reference to the Swing Riots--got almost no support in his parish because then their own land was at risk. In Bedfordshire, larger estates offered them at the time of the Swing Riots to quell unrest. Allotments also increased respect for property rights among the laborers generally. Since, as Golding, an agent for the Bedfordshire estate of the Dynevor family stated, "the men would suffer anything rather than forfeit their allotment," the rural elites sometimes used powerful this positive incentive--the carrot of allotments--in place of the stick of workhouse tests and enclosures.519
Allotments Help Reduce Increases in Rates Caused by Enclosure
Allotments had the advantage of lowering the price tag of enclosure for the rich, because it had led directly to hikes in the local poor rates. Since arable agriculture--especially--is a highly seasonal business, the winter inevitably created much unemployment among the laborers. They lacked any other means of earning a living or getting food, since they had to sell all their cows and could not cultivate any gardens on the commons, so they had to come to the parish to relief to get by in winter, causing the rates to rise. The generally pro-enclosure General Report strongly advocated providing allotments for the pasturing of cows to laborers because the tax "burden which has of late years proceeded with so rapid an increase, as to threaten very heavy evils to the landed interest." One investigator hired by the Board of Agriculture found when visiting a district in Rutland and Lincoln that even in years of scarcity those cottagers who had cows--some 753 owning 1195 cows--did not ask for parish relief. He found those parishes where the poor had few or no cows (or cottages of their own, by implication) that the rates were the highest, at five shillings eleven pence in the pound. One family in Mayfield, Sussex, having been chargeable to the parish even when food prices were low, after being given a cow suddenly ceased being a burden, even prices were high. Those who had built their own cottages on the commons or otherwise owned them outright also avoided being a burden to ratepayers in some areas. Similar stories of allotments allowing many laborers to avoid applying for relief suffused the 1843 Report. One area, after it gave out allotments, found afterwards almost no one had applied for relief. In another, it not only reduced applications for relief, but one witness felt allotments lowered population growth in his parish compared adjacent parishes without them. If laborers did have them, they could avoid applying for relief when they were sick as well.520 The steward of landowner Thomas Dodge Cooper of Toddington, Bedfordshire was encouraged by how the allotments let by his estate allowed the laborers to go home quietly in the evenings, "doubtless, with the pleasing anticipation of their labour eventually making them independent of the Parish, as their Fathers, or rather Grandfathers had been formerly." These stories indicate, so long as the poor law could not be abolished outright as some middle class critics had desired in 1834, the rural elites' own financial interests in reducing the rates seemed to be allied to leasing allotments to the poor. Nevertheless, the English elite's desire to breed dependency among the laborers to increase their power and control at the expense of greater income, which was elsewhere manifested by landlords' use of insecurity in tenure to control their tenant farmers' votes, and by the scarcity of allotments nationally, especially before the 1830 Swing riots, remained the leitmotif of rural class relations.521
Why the Rural Elite Still Sometimes Opposed Allotments
In a number of cases, farmers and/or landowners opposed providing allotments to laborers, even from a narrow conception of financial self-interest in reducing the rates, or only changed their opposition after having seen the advantages due to others who persisted in providing them despite their criticism. From the rural elite's standpoint, the problem with allotments was that they partially reversed what enclosure and the decline of service had wrought: total wage dependency, as (reluctantly) supplemented by parish relief and private charity. This overriding goal must be either abandoned, or at least attenuated, when allotments are introduced, because they provide the laborers with some direct access to the means of production, instead of working for somebody else who owned or leased it, who paid them only for the tasks they performed while on it. One lawyer and landowner in Essex leased allotments while facing the opposition of neighboring farmers. While one reason given was because the laborers would scour the roads for manure to place on their allotments, he felt they were opposed also because it made the laborers too independent of them. In one case in Yorkshire when unusually large allotments were given, of one acre to two and a half, the farmers were very unhappy because the laborers excessively cultivated their plots, and so withdrew much more from the local labor market. In St. Giles, Wiltshire, the farmers refused to regularly employ any man who had an allotment. Somerville said this was because the farmers wanted the laborers instantly available at all times: "He calls the men when he choose in the morning, keeps them to any hour at night, detains them always late, but especially at those seasons of the year, spring and harvest, when the allotments would most require their attention." Farmers were still complaining against allotments late in the century. Indeed, allotment advocates sometimes said the pieces of land should be kept deliberately small so that the laborers stayed in the local labor market, looking upon their patch of land as a supplement to family finances, not its main support. When once one badly managed farm was split up into allotments, these were kept very small--about one-fourth of an acre each--to keep the recipients from becoming small farmers who avoided wage work, and from wasting time from going to town to market what they raised. In a number of cases, while the farmers and landowners had initially been opposed to granting allotments in their local parishes, after someone among their number stuck out their neck to get the ball rolling, they found a number of advantages to the system, and so changed their minds.522
Miscellaneous Ways Allotments Were Used to Benefit the Rural Elite
Since providing allotments so strongly clashed with the rural ruling class's overall approach for controlling the laborers by proletarianizing them, the system largely only made headway based how it reduced rates, curbed the amount of crime, and appealed to the paternalistic ethos of some landowners. Even when patches of land had been leased to the laborers, landowners strived to ensure they could not get any more land and become petty farmers. Arch criticized this policy in his 1886 maiden speech in parliament:
If I have energy, tact, and skill, by which I could cultivate my acre or two, and buy my cow into the bargain, I do not see any just reason why my energies should be crippled and my forces held back, and why I should be content as an agricultural labourer with a rood of ground and my nose to the grindstone all the days of my life.
Destroying the old social mobility among the laborers that a village commons provided seemed part of the landowners and farmers' agenda (though perhaps not intentionally), because when Hodge farmed his own land he was not available to cultivate someone else's. In many cases though certainly not all, the laborers were also charged a higher per acre cost for their allotments than farmers with land of similar quality. Arch knew of many cases of this, commenting generally that: "Now five shillings for twenty perches equals two pounds per acre, and yet a farmer on the other side of the hedge will get his for twenty-five shillings." Interestingly, he implicitly conceded the landlords found it was more costly to administer many small tenancies than two or three big ones, as he went on: "If the landlord can afford to let allotmentland at twenty-five shillings per acre to the farmer, he can surely let the labourer have it at, say, thirty shillings."523 In many cases landlords charged what the market would bear over and above the extra administrative costs and risks, knowing the laborers were desperate enough for the land in question. One witness for the 1843 Commission knew of cases where laborers were hurt by being charged a very high rack rent of up to eight pounds per acre due to the high demand. Jeffries knew of this practice, though in a less extreme form, since "the cottagers could pay a rent for an acre which, in the aggregate, was three times that given by the ordinary farmer." Even the highly praised and philanthropic clergyman of St. Giles, Wiltshire, Mr. Moore, charged twelve shillings per half-acre, while the farmers were charged four or five shillings less. The laborers also suffered from having little security of tenure for their plots of land, like many farmers. Arch said his father had his allotment changed four times during his lifetime, because after the laborers had improved a particularly poor piece of land up to good condition, the field was then let to a farmer. The laborers with allotments suffered in a somewhat more extreme form all the problems Caird, Arch, and Somerville repeatedly describe concerning the ill-effects caused by the insecurity of land tenure for farmers on English agriculture. When one landowner withdrew allotments in Sharpenhoe, Bedfordshire in order to punish those who joined Arch's union in the 1870s, his act illustrated the political/economic power his class had when tenure was withdrawable at whim.524 So while allotments undeniably were a boon to the laborers, the good they did was attenuated by the firm desire of the farmers and landowners to keep the farmworkers in the local labor market by deliberately keeping the pieces of land let so small they had to remain a supplement to the farmworkers' income, often charging them a disproportionately high rent for the privilege, and by making their use of it conditional upon continued good behavior as judged by their social superiors.
Another Positive Mode of Creating Work Discipline: Piecework

The positive incentive of piecework also was used to create work discipline among the laborers, similar to how the task system and pay for working non-normal hours helped control the slaves. Since the laborers possessed the pre-industrial mentality of task-orientation, offering piecework was a wise policy, especially when some clearly objective task had to be completed, such as bringing in the harvest in arable areas. The farmers (or employing landowners) also applied some elementary psychology, although it also cost them more financially. Arthur Young explained it thus, but very similar language appeared some seventy years later in the report by the Committee on Allotments:
You will find that the prices of the piece-work are, in general, out of proportion to the daily prices; they are so much higher [by one-fourth over work paid by the day in his estimate]: and this is the case, not with any particular county or place, but universally. No labourers will take work by the piece, without a certainty of earning more than the common pay, in return for working so much harder for themselves than they do for their masters.525
The source of the time-orientation that E.P. Thompson saw that opposed "life" and "work" comes from the directly division of labor, in which one person works for another as an employee, and is not some merely abstract notion imposed on people to get them to show up on time regularly:
Those who are employed experience a distinction between their employer's time and their 'own' time. And the employer must use the time of his labour, and see it is not wasted: not the task but the value of time when reduce to money is dominant.526
Granted the general existence of a task-orientation among the laborers, excepting possibly those influenced by Methodism, the insightful employer could harness this frame of mind that would increase or speed up work done on his time by assigning and paying for piecework. Just as the American slaves in task areas would finish their assigned duties more quickly because whatever time was leftover was theirs, and not their masters', piecework produced a similar mentality in English laborers, which encouraged them to work harder because what they were paid was directly tied to what they did. Note though the size of the piecework premium Young saw must have declined, at least for southern England. James Turner, sent to investigate conditions of the laborers in Ampthill Union, Bedfordshire for the 1838 report on the poor law, said those paid piecework only made one shilling more per week, if that. His testimony describes one typical manipulation of management's when setting quotas: "It is so contrived, when the farmer gives the work to his men, he contrives so that he shall earn a shilling a week more [nine shillings instead of eight shillings], but they do a shilling more work for it."527 So while the farmers seemed to be giving something with these incentives to the laborers, that was not necessarily the case, since the profit motive helped inform them where to set the amount paid per unit of the task accomplished.
Farmers could get laborers to work harder for them, but only by paying more for it--a labor management principle very opposed to the "cheap labor" philosophy that dominated rural elites in southern England, who willingly racheted wages to or even below subsistence levels.528 Jeffries noted that hedging and ditching were hard work when done right, and that such work was normally paid by the piece, which was no mere coincidence. Arch quit one job that involved digging a six-foot-deep drain because he was being paid only one shilling six pence per day. He wanted to be paid two shillings six pence a day, because someone with the much easier task of "forking 'twitch'" on the same farm was earning as much as him. Besides for unusually difficult tasks, farmers also were apt to resort to piecework during labor shortages. Young said giving piecework to laborers normally hired at day wages in order to enclose wastelands in sparsely populated areas was nearly the same as paying higher wages. During harvest, when labor shortages were characteristic also, farmers found that this was one time of the year when wages were seriously bargained over, often with groups of laborers banding together temporarily to work for them, as Morgan described. Laborer Mark Rushton, born near the Essex/Suffolk border, remembered that: "We were allus hired by the week, except at harvest. Then it was piece-wukk." On Sir Robert Peel's estate in Staffordshire, when wheat was reaped, it was usually done by task work, "on account of the rate paid for it, from the scarcity of labour in harvest," the cost of labor per acre harvested was high. Late in the nineteenth century, Bear in Bedfordshire found that piecework was available normally only for hoeing and hedging, sometimes at harvest, and with a little mowing, in part because in areas with much permanent pasture made it harder to pay laborers by the piece. He noted the one way piecework could backfire on those offering it, where the infamous backward-bending labor supply curve phenomenon takes hold: "Several employers informed me that the men did not care to take piece-work, or to exert themselves to earn much at it if they did take it; also that after doing enough to come to 2s a day a man would often leave off to work on his allotment."529 So while piecework could get the laborers to work harder by paying them proportionately more for their increased efforts, farmers offered it because of the premium involved only when some type of labor shortage threatened, whether seasonal (harvest) or geographical (sparse population). Otherwise, paying by the day or week was the name of the game, except in those places (and times) when farm servants were employed.
Closely related to the decisions to pay by the day or by the piece concerned the laborers' relationship to time. Assigning task work made more sense for people with a pre-industrial mentality who have a relatively weak sense of methodical, punctual work habits, but prefer to work hard in bursts followed by a slack period which is again repeated the next week. In agriculture, much of the work was inevitably task-oriented, such as getting in harvest or making hay, because of the objective necessity of completing the task in question, unlike monotonously adding repeatedly one more widget on one more gadget on a seemingly endless assembly line in modern industry, where having a time-orientation makes more sense. One motive behind the enclosure movement was the desire to impose work discipline on the laborers. Those eking out a living off the commons had a sense of time the elite criticized as wasteful and resistant to doing wage labor: "In sauntering after his cattle, he acquires a habit of indolence. Quarter, half, and occasionally whole days are imperceptibly lost. Day labour becomes disgusting." Other agricultural improvers complained laborers lost time to seasonal fairs and weekly market days when no village shop existed nearby. Like the poor whites in the South who lived largely by hunting, fishing, and doing some subsistence agriculture, this lifestyle is much more casual than the tight discipline a slave lived under, driven into the fields six days a week for twelve or more hours a day. Laborer scraping together a living off the commons, supplemented by some casual wage labor for things they need to buy with cash, live a more relaxed lifestyle compared to the regular wage earner or farm servant, who work more hours. The hours seem still longer due to working for someone else, not for themselves in tasks they did to directly support themselves. Hence, one of the purposes for imposing enclosure was not just to more efficiently use the commons (the public-spirited motive) or for the rural elite to make a land grab (the more likely, self-interested motive), but also to place more work discipline on the laborers by fully destroying the subsistence economy and forcing them to work for local farmers or employing landowners.530 Ironically this backfired on the elite, because enclosure lead to greater dependence on parish relief, especially in arable areas in winter, and the Speenhamland and roundsman systems did much more to undermine work discipline than enclosure did to improve it before the passage of the New Poor Law.
The Legal System and Its Influence on the Laborers
As mentioned above (pp. 276-77), the legal system had a much greater direct impact on the lives of English farmworkers than on American slaves. This was because the farmworkers were still legally free men and women, despite the privations and oppression they suffered under. Instead of summarily punishing some farmworker who had committed some offense against them, the landowner, parson, or large farmer could not directly retaliate in their roles as landowners, etc., because the state had a fundamentally effective legal monopoly on the use of force, despite such exceptions as the upper class's duels. While this monopoly theoretically also existed in America, the violent heritage of the frontier and the lynch mob made it much less of a reality, over and above the need of slaveowners to be able to immediately punish their slaves to maintain effective control over them. Under slavery, the state through the slave codes delegated much of its legal powers to use violence to private individuals so long as they were dealing with their human chattels. Inevitably, the habit of using force outside of the legal process spilled over into encounters with others who were not slaves, especially on the unpoliced frontier or other sparsely populated areas. In England, the rule of law was more of a reality--at least so it seemed--as against the American penchant for employing personal violence.
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