Page:The Chartist Movement.djvu/59

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upon foreign supplies—such as silk and cotton—rendered the co-operation of accumulated capital essential. Thus the master manufacturers lost their independence and became mere links between the merchant capitalist and a hierarchy of employees. The journeymen and apprentices sank one step lower in consequence. So far the influence of the capitalist merchant left the organisation of labour untouched. Gradually, however, the desire to extend operations, the growth of capital, and the natural development of the markets for goods induced a desire to cheapen production. Forthwith came a greater specialisation and division of labour. Apprenticeship ceased to be essential to good workmanship, because an all-round knowledge of the processes of production was no longer requisite, but only special skill in one branch. The Act of Apprentices of 1562 fell into oblivion in many trades, and there grew up a generation of mere journeymen who would remain journeymen to the end of the chapter. The master workman became a mere agent, often for a distant, seldom seen, employer. Where apprenticeship still lingered, it was often a means of exploiting the labour of children. The customary relationships which had governed wages and regulated disputes lost all meaning, and competitive notions were substituted for them.

In some industries this development went on faster and farther than in others. In the spinning trade specialisation had early on caused a series of mechanical inventions which by 1790 culminated in the application of steam-power and brought into being the factory system of production. In this the lot of the worker, though bad, was better than that of the domestic industrialist of the succeeding generation. In the weaving trade technical difficulties delayed the introduction of efficient machinery till after the battle of Waterloo, whilst in some cases where machinery was available prejudice and conservatism delayed its introduction. Whilst therefore in the spinning trade the transformation was quick and merciful, in the weaving trades it was slow and terribly destructive. The Government Reports of the time give a very vivid picture of the forces of disintegration and reorganisation at work, and show how efficient an engine of oppression the domestic system could be when the domestic spirit and atmosphere had gone out of it, and an eager, competitive, and commercial spirit had come into it.

In the Coventry silk trade, of which we have an admirable