Clyde Cameron on the Wakefield Plan & wage slavery
With the recent passing of the highly respected Georgist Clyde Cameron, we feel it is timely to look at the wisdom of his core beliefs:
EXTRACT FROM AN ADDRESS BY THE HON.CLYDE R. CAMERON A.O.
But now it is an oversimplification to say that the lessons of the Maritime Strike of 1890 were the sole reason for the formation of the Australian Labour Party in the following year. In South Australia; the seeds of discontent were sown on 28th December 1836, when the first white settlers came ashore at Glenelg. Among them were unemployed working men in search of work in the new colony.
South Australia was the only Australian Colony that did not at any stage rely upon transported convicts for cheap labour. And yet the real cost of employing what passed for free men was very much less than the cost of housing., feeding and guarding convict laborers in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania.
South Australia was able to prove that wage slavery can provide cheaper labour power than any other form of slavery. Slave owners have the responsibility for feeding and housing their human beasts of burden and of keeping them healthy enough to perform a full day’s work.
But the wage slave must meet all those requirements himself. If he fails to give his master a good day’s work his master will sack him and forget he ever existed.
The South Australian Plan was based upon the theories of E.G. Wakefield, who visualized what he was pleased to call a “free” colony of gentlemen farmers to whom land would be sold for £1 per acre with the proceeds being used to pay the cost of transporting unemployed tradesmen and labourers in sufficient numbers to ensure that the supply of labour would always be in excess of demand.
And, to meet the cost of keeping the supply of labour constantly in excess of demand, wealthy land speculators in Britain would be offered the right to purchase land in Adelaide’s “Square Mile” for £1 per acre on condition that for each city acre, they would be required to purchase an 80 acre section in the country for £1 per acre. The designated “country” areas were what now constitutes most of Adelaide’s present day suburbs.
In point of fact the speculator who purchased the city acre on which John Martins’ store now stands, chose an 80-acre country section with what is now Fitzroy Terrace, Prospect, on its southern boundary.
In this way, the Administration found it easy to prevent working migrants from gaining access to their own land; and primary production became concentrated in the hands of a few families who monopolized the land and thus were in a position to prey upon the landless.
By 1899, 42 families controlled two million acres. They included such names as Hawker, Baker, Murray, bowman, Riddoch, Angas, Dutton, Hughes, Duncan, Duffield and Gilbert.
As land was developed, and the demand for labour increased money from further land sales was used to bring in more of Britain’s unemployed artisans and labourers in order to maintain a permanent pool of unemployed workers competing against each other to avoid starvation.
The North American slaves had no such fear of starvation; and the convicts of South Australia’s Sister Colonies were always assured of food regardless of whether work was organised for them. Freedom, the migrants soon discovered, meant no more than freedom to starve, or to work for slave rates of pay.
Those who were unemployed, or in fear of unemployment, were scattered and had little opportunity for group discussion about their plight. But this changed after the discovery of copper and larger numbers of working men were brought together to work the copper mines. In 1846 the miners and carters employed at the Burra Burra Copper Mines struck against an attempt by their employers to reduce wages. That was the first strike ever organized in South Australia In the same year, tailors went on strike for a wage increase and won But neither of these strikes were organized in the way workers now conduct a strike. Like the miners’ revolt at Eureka in 1854, both events were spontaneous uprisings against gross injustice.
Then in May 1848, the Colony experienced the third strike when draymen on the Port Road stopped work to demand eight shillings a ton in place of the five shillings that had been the going rate for several years previously. The strikers this time were self employed owner drivers who rose up in spontaneous revolt against earnings that were little more than enough to feed their horses, let alone their families.
But the Wakefield Scheme was working at this level too. For the drivers were compelled to keep their horses well-fed or they would not be able to earn anything at all for their families. The well-fed horses were the “slaves” and the drivers’ families were “free”. But still there was no movement towards an organized combination of working men.
Later in the same year, trouble broke out again at the Burra Burra Copper Mines over the owners’ practice of conducting auctions for the lowest price at which miners would mine the ore. Bidding would begin at a figure sufficient to yield a reasonable return, and then go on until the lowest bid was reached. Even at that point, employers would not be satisfied; and were frequently found cheating in the analysis of copper yield; until finally, the miners succeeded in demanding the right to appoint their own check Inspector to check ore samples.
Smouldering discontent over this “dog eat dog” system of playing worker off against worker under the bidding system, and the continued cheating in calculating the quantity of ore mined, led to a second, and a more serious dispute. This time, the stoppage followed a weekend of intense organization at a mouth to mouth level and on Monday 18th September 1848, 400 miners met on the hillside, between the hotel and the mine, and unanimously adopted a resolution to stop work until their grievances were remedied. A “Friendly Society”, so called, was formed and 343 of those present signed up for membership.
That the members were still living under the shadow of Britain’s repressive labour laws which had condemned the Tolpuddle Martyrs to deportation 14 years before, was evidenced by the fact that the Society’s members felt constrained to carry resolutions not to (a) resist the police (b) picket the mines against those who wished to continue working; and (c) prevent movement of ore from the mines.
Before dispersing, Miners were told to behave peacefully, desist from using noisy or taunting language and to avoid meeting in numbers that might be deemed to be an “unlawful assembly.” They were further warned against speaking to anyone about the dispute and that in answer to any questions put to them by the authorities, they were to reply that the Committee of the Society was their mouthpiece. The Society failed to win all its demands, but it was the nearest thing to a union the twelve year colony had then seen.
Three years later (1851) alluvial gold was discovered at Ballarat; and men with nothing but their labour power now found it possible to work as their own bosses. Thousands of workers from every Colony flocked to the new Eldorado in search of fortune and independence.
Now it was the employers’ turn to compete for the greatly reduced supply of labour remaining. The law of supply and demand was now working in favour of labour. The master and servant syndrome was breaking down; and with strong Chartist tendencies amont the miners, it was not surprising to find that as the gold rush petered out and the miners returned again to the labour markets of the Colonies, trade unionism should be seen as essential if labour was to be in a position to protect itself against past abuses.
By 1890 there were no fewer than thirty unions operating in South Australia but when deep-mining replaced alluvial mining, thousands of unemployed miners glutted the labour markets and it became a buyers market once again. Many of the unions folded up and those that remained, barely survived.
Until this time, there had been no corresponding interest in working class politics. And, until the House of Assembly was established in 1857, the Colony had been ruled by a Legislative Council of male property owners over 30 years of age. But in the severe depression of 1859, an association called the Political Association was formed to “unite and distribute advocacy of working men’s burdens among the many.” It fell apart when there was a temporary return of prosperity, but was resurrected for a brief period during the 1866 economic downturn only to die away soon after. A speaker at the 1866 revival meeting told his audience that “When working men have plenty of work they forget about Political Associations.”
This brief glimpse into trade union history is sufficient to place the Wakefield Plan in its proper perspective.
The scheme was simplistically elementary. It recognized the truth of nature that man is a land animal, that those who hold possession of the land therefore hold the power to impose a condition of slavery upon the dispossessed and force them to make a choice between starvation or submission. The prosperity of the new Colony, Wakefield reasoned, relied upon a landed gentry with a ready supply of cheap labour. And, cheap labour, he explained, could be guaranteed so long as the labouring class could be denied land ownership so that the supply of labour could be kept above demand.
So, to ensure that emigrating labourers from Britain remained at the beck and call of the employing class, it would become necessary for the Land Commissioners to keep the price of land above the level at which labourers could afford to become self-employed proprietors. Proceeds from land sales were to be paid into a special fund for meeting the cost of bringing more and more migrant labour to the Colony at public expense in order to maintain that balance between labour and the landlords as would keep the available land at a lower level than was required to give employment to those seeking employment.
Land prices were to be uniform regardless of location or fertility, and only the size of the allotments would be varied. But the price per acre would remain the same. In no circumstances was crown land to be offered by public auction. In the event of labourers saving enough money to buy sufficient land to become farmers in their own right, the Land Commissioners would be expected to raise land prices to whatever figure was sufficient to keep land beyond their reach.
The constant aim was to strike a balance between supply and demand, for labour so that there would always be some unemployed but not quite as much as that from which emigrants had escaped in the land of their birth. However, the essential element of the Wakefield Plan was to always keep the level of unemployment high enough to prevent demands for higher wages.
At one stage Wakefield began to doubt the success of his scheme and actually went so far as to suggest that it may become necessary to buy negro slaves. These, he argued, would overcome the problems beginning to emerge through migrants becoming small landowners.
Wakefield visualized a leisured class of cultured middle-class gentlemen who would transplant the ethos of British aristocracy in the new Colony with properties of about 20,000 acres, an elegant homestead, game preservations and tenants. The wealthy middle class of Britain could thus ape the aristocracy with nothing to remind their inferiors that in Britain there was still a social strata above them. Their children would be educated in the best English colleges and universities where they would acquire the speech and mannerisms of the aristocracy before returning to their South Australian world of make – belief.
The Wakefield Plan did have one saving grace; which in the long term would have given some compensation for its objectionable features. It proposed that the Colony should make land-owners pay the cost of government through a tax on unimproved land values. Wakefield was an admirer of Adam Smith; but he subscribed also to Physiocratic School of philosophy and economics, the main doctrine of which called for a single tax on unimproved land values and a Government that ruled according to the laws and principles of nature.
The leader of this French School of thought was Francois Quesnay, who taught that the land of the earth planet had been created for the benefit of all God’s children and must never become the private property of any one of them. He acknowledged the need for exclusive possession as distinct from ownership; but held that those holding such possession must pay to the rest of society an annual rent equal to the economic advantage which possession gave to the possessor.
Fertile land close to the market place had an economic advantage above the same quality land located hours distance from the market. And, fertile land had an economic advantage over poor quality land similarly distanced from the market place. In each case, the possessor of the land with the greater economic advantage would be required to pay to the Treasury a rent that would fully reflect the special advantage gained from that possession.
The same principle would apply in the case of non-agricultural land. The stall – holder or shop keeper whose place of business was situated in the busiest part of the town or city would have to pay an economic rent equal to the special advantage enjoyed from that location. A shop in the centre of the busiest street or shopping mall of a city would pay more than one situated in one of its back streets or in the suburbs.
In other words, the Physiocrats would simply take for the community the full economic rent created by the community and use this for defraying the cost of Government instead of taxing consumer goods and peoples’ incomes.
A land occupier could please himself how he used the land; but he would be required to pay an annual rent equal to the amount someone else was willing to pay for the same piece of land. The rent payable would not be affected by any improvements the occupier placed on the land but his rent would be affected by the extent that public facilities (roads, bridges, railways, etc., etc.,) added to the value of its location. What’s more the occupier could not pass this increased rent on to his customers, because they would always have the choice of purchasing the same goods from a suburban or back street shopkeeper who was paying a lower ground rent into the public purse.
Wakefield’s Plan preceded Henry George’s Progress and Poverty of 1879, by more than forty years. Henry George, who is now recognized as the father of the Single Tax Movement also gained his inspiration from Adam Smith and the Physiocrats; and in 1890, delivered a public lecture in Adelaide on the advantages of raising revenue from taxation based upon the unimproved value of land. Indeed, the infant Australian Labour Party adopted this portion of George’s philosophy as a principle plank of its first Federal Platform.
Alas, that portion of the Wakefield plan was rejected by the landed gentry who were the only ones in the Colony who had the ear of the Governor. And even when the Governor’s authority was made subject to the views of a nominated, and later, an elected, Legislative Council of property owners, nothing changed; because landowners were the only ones eligible to sit in the Council or take part in Council elections.