Page:The Land Question.djvu/20

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whose fault is this? The fault of those who have made the labourer's life one of such unredeemed and hopeless drudgery that young men will go into anything in the world rather than put up with it. And if, in the interest of the farmer himself, steady and vigorous men are to be kept in the villages, the labourer's existence must be made a better one than it is, and he must have a possibility opened to him of rising to something better in the world. Two things seem obviously necessary; first, every land- owner or group of landowners should be bound to provide cottage- accommodation for the number of people who would reasonably be employed on their land; and secondly, every parish should have compulsory power of taking land to let to labourers in small lots. One difficulty at present is that you cannot get labourers to take lots. I am speaking of counties like Northamptonshire, where the labourer is at his worst. "How can a man cultivate a bit of land for himself," a Northamptonshire labourer said to me, in reply to an offer of some land, "when he has to be at his work at six in the morning and to stay till six at night?" The answer to this is, that in Yorkshire labourers do have land of their own, and do somehow manage to get it cultivated, whatever may be their hours of work with the farmers. But there is another answer; and that is, Why must the agricultural labourer always have twelve hours' work a day when other working people have eight or ten? It is said, because the farmer cannot afford to pay him his wages for less than twelve hours' work. Why? We come back to the real mainspring of the whole concern: because the farmer has agreed to pay too much in rent. The reason why the labourer has to work twelve hours a day is because the farmer undertakes that the landlord shall have, say, thirty shillings an acre. If the landlord had twenty shillings or twenty-five shillings, it would mean that the labourer's day could be reduced from twelve to ten or even nine hours, and he would then have no difficulty in managing a bit of land of his own. The reduction of the hours of labour, I suppose, can only be accomplished by an agricultural labourers' trades-union; but the object is a right one and a possible one. It is a right one because the social improvement of the labourer is all but hopeless if he has to work twelve hours a day; and it is a possible one,