Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol III (1901).djvu/224

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

pathy with the class from which he had raised himself. In 1866, a time of much exasperation between employers and employed, he succeeded in forming the 'Nottingham board of conciliation in the glove and hosiery trade,' for the termination and prevention of disputes by constant conference between representatives of each side, This was the first permanent and successful institution of the kind in this country. It at once began to be copied in other towns, and to attract the attention of foreign observers. Incidentally it led Mandella into parliament, for he was invited to lecture on this subject at Sheffield, and this lecture and his settlement of a grave labour conflict at Manchester suggested the request that he should stand for the former city against John Arthur Roebuck [q. v.], whose bitter tone towards labour movements had caused much irritation. His first contest at Sheffield took place durlng the emotion which followed the famous trade union outrages there [see Broadhead, William, Suppl.] He had a robust faith in the British working classes, and in the essential soundness of trade unionism, which he regarded as the basis of improved relations between masters and men. Defeating Roebuck, he was returned to parliament by Sheffield in 1868, and he represented Sheffield (from 1885, the Brightside division of that city) till his death, nearly thirty years later.

In parliament Mundella mainly devoted his efforts to procuring legislation in favour of labour, and was especially zealous in the cause of popular education. Strongly averse to any toleration of disorder, he was persistent in urging the amendment of certain provisions of the law upon offences arising in labour disputes, as straining the principles of criminal jurisprudence against working men in the mistaken interest of employers. He criticised keenly the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1871, and his efforts contributed to secure Mr. (afterwards Viscount) Cross's legislation of 1875, which to a great extent gave effect to his views. In 1873 he put a stop, by effective exposure in parliament, to a system of frauds by which the Truck Act had previously been defied.

With this work must be associated his principal, though not his only, contribution to factory legislation. In 1874 he introduced a bill to reduce the hours of labour for children and young persons in textile factories from sixty to fifty-four hours a week, to raise the age at which 'half-time' may begin from eight to ten, and the age for 'full-time' work from thirteen to fourteen, to shorten the duration of half-time work, and otherwise to strengthen the law in question. Although his bill did not become law, he brought about, by his agitation in this matter, the passing in the same year of Mr. (afterwards Viscount) Cross's Factories (Health of Women, &c.) Act, which effected most of his objects. Ten years after, at s great demonstration in Manchester, his wife received a fine bust of him by Sir Edgar Boehm, the gift of 'eighty thousand factory workers, chiefly women and children, in grateful acknowledgment of her husband's services.'

Even more important was Mundella's parliamentary work in connection with education. His early struggles had taught him what want of education meant. As a manufacturer he felt the national need of technical training. His business took him at times to Chemnitz, where his firm had a branch factory; what he there saw led him to study closely the educational systems of Saxony, Prussia, and other states. Thereafter he devoted himself to preaching at public meetings, as Matthew Arnold preached in literature, that this country should not be behind its neighbours in public provision for education. In parliament he made his mark by insistence on the same text. And none rated more highly than Forster his share in procuring the Education Act of 1870.

In the debates upon this measure Mundella stood out as one mainly interested in getting the utmost done for the teaching of children. He consequent]y held a moderate attitude on the vexed religious question. While he was himself a member of the church of England, he was anxious for the protection of religious liberty, and no less anxious in 1870 that the progress of popular education should not be sacrificed to excessive fears in this regard. He gratefully recognised the past work of denominational schools and desired its continuance, but his ideal would have been best satisfied by the presence throughout the country of undenominational schools under public management. The religious difficulty, he said, was made not by but for the people whose children were to be taught. He wished the bible to take the place in the future education of children that it had taken in his own; and twenty-five years later he was enthusiastic in the belief that the religious teaching of good board schools, supplemented as it was by the Sunday schools, gave a more valuable result than anything for which the partisans of denominational schools were striving. He was early a prominent advocate of compulsory education, which, partially applied by the acts of 1870 and 1876, was made universal in England by his own act of 1881.

On the return of the liberals to power in 1880 Mundella entered Gladstone's go-