In every civilized society there is an antagonism between employer and employed, between capital and labour. The men do not often take thought of the losses their employers have sustained, in order to keep their factories going and their hands employed; they do not think that England has to compete with the whole world, and that, on the Continent, wages are cheaper, and the men are more contented with their lot, so that when a depression in trade occurs, it is only fair that they should bear a portion of the burden. There are plenty of demagogues, who, for pay, will fan the flame of discontent, and the result is a strike, injurious to all parties. On the other hand, a man has a right to sell his labour as dearly as he can, or to refuse to sell it at all, if he so pleases, and a strike is very often the means of his getting an advance of wages which might not have been otherwise conceded, or at all events tardily granted.
Naturally there are many street ballads on this vital subject to the ballad-singer’s listeners, but I have only selected one, which appears to me fairly typical. As an antidote to the discontent and privation consequent on bad trade, Henry Russell wrote, “There’s a good time coming, boys,” which enjoyed immense popularity, and did much to banish the black spirit of discontent.
Cheer up, cheer up, you sons of toil, and listen to my song,
While I try to amuse you, and I will not take you long.
The working men of England, at length begin to see,
They’ve made a bold strike for their rights in 1853.
It’s high time that working men shold have it their own way,
And for a fair day’s labour, receive a fair day’s pay.
This is the time for striking, at least, it strikes me so,
Monopoly has had some knocks, but this must be the blow,
The working men, by thousands, complain their fate is hard,
May order mark their conduct, and success be their reward.
Some of our London Printers, this glorious work begun,
And surely they’ve done something, for they’ve upset the Sun.
Employers must be made to see they can’t do what they like,
It is the master’s greediness causes the men to strike.
The labouring men of London, on both sides of the Thames,
They made a strike last Monday, which adds much to their names.
Their masters did not relish it, but they made them, understand,
Before the next day’s sun had set, they gave them their demand.
The unflinching men of Stockport, with Kidderminster in their train,
Three hundred honest weavers have struck, their ends to gain.
Though the masters find they lose a deal, the tide must soon be turning,
They find the men won’t, quietly, be robbed of half their earning.
Our London Weavers mean to show their masters, and the trade,
That they will either cease to work, or else be better paid.
In Spitalfields the Weavers worked with joy, in former ages,
But they’re tired out of asking for a better scale of wages.
The monied men have had their way, large fortunes they have made,
For things could not be otherwise, with labour badly paid;
They roll along in splendour, and with a saucy tone,
As Cobbett says, they eat the meat, the workman gnaws the bone.
In Liverpool the Postmen struck, and sent word to their betters,
Begging them to recollect that they were men of letters,
They asked for three bob more a week, and got it in a crack,
And though each man has got his bag, they have not got the sack.
The Cabmen, and their masters, made up their minds last week,
To stop the Cabs from running, now is that not a treat,
The Hackney Carriage Act* has proved a very bitter pill,
It’s no use to call out, Cab, Cab,** drive off and show your skill.
The Coopers and the Dockyard Men are all a going to strike,
And soon there’ll be the devil to pay, without a little Mike,
The farming men of Suffolk have lately called a go,
And swear they’ll have their wages rose, before they reap or sow.
* By this is probably meant the Act I & II Will. IV. cap. 22.
** A parody on Jetty Treffz’ famous song, “Trab, Trab, Trab,” at Jullien’s Promenade Concerts in 1850. This parody is exceedingly humorous, being the story of how an exceedingly fat man hired a cab and drove all over London.