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Monday, 22 April 2013

South Met - welfare before 1889

In South Met. Gas Co. a superannuation scheme had been set up before 1870 - not in 1890 as Perks suggests - together with a sick benefit scheme and some sort of holiday provision with pay. It is likely that they were instigated by Thomas Livesey - both he and members of the Board were strong Christians with a belief that men could be improved by being encouraged to manage provision for their own benefit and futures.
Gas Light and Coke Co. had had sick benefit schemes since the 1820s - this and other benefits are outlined by Everard in the history of that Company. South Met’s records of its earliest sick benefit scheme are scanty, but in 1856 the Director's minuted that a sum of £20 was to be given to the sick benefit fund. A memoir in Co-partnership Journal in 1905 mentions a scheme which was set up in 1842 - two years after Thomas Livesey had come to South Met.

The South Met. superannuation scheme set up in 1855 was on the initiative of Thomas Livesey whose 'exertions in the matter' Gas and Water Times 'rejoiced with'. Rule Number One of this scheme said that it was to 'provide a minimum pension in the event of incapacity in old age, not a competancy to retire on' and indeed Gas and Water Times reported that the directors hoped that their 'donations would be the foundation of a superstructure' That is the Company was giving a start to the scheme which they hoped the men would continue and manage for themselves. It was not to make them dependent.

In 1860 a Widows and Orphans Scheme was set up which provided money to educate orphans of dead employees and to provide a pension for widows. It must be stressed however that other companies had similar schemes which were organised with the same view to independence among the workforce. For instance in 1878 the Phoenix Company gave the Bankside Works Sick Fund £15 to help it cope with payments during an epidemic of flu, although in normal times such funds were thought to be self-supporting and not relying on donations.

In 1860 Journal of Gas Lighting published an article on 'Sick Funds for Workmen' They argued that the men should be encouraged to run their own funds 'to render themselves independent of eleemosynary in their seasonal affliations and countless troubles that flesh is heir to'. South Met. had a record of consulting its men before setting such schemes up. When the history of the superannuation scheme was written in Co-partnership Journal in 1905 it was recalled that George Livesey was at the meeting, held on the 1st December 1855. The workmen then had unanimously agreed with the scheme and once the shareholders' consent had been agreed at a Company Meeting the scheme proceeded. Officers did not however have such a scheme - the meeting held for them had turned the scheme down and it was many years before they agreed to participate. Such workers meetings were called by South Met. management on several occasions and are echoed in the 'Interview' called by George Livesey to explain the 1889 profit sharing scheme.
Where South Met. was most innovative, in all probability, was in the field of paid holidays for its workers. Although the spread of paid holidays cannot be quantified they were probably very rare in this period. Authors of works - like A View from the Peak - concerning working conditions at a later period than the 1870s assume that paid holidays for working people were unknown until the 1930s. Although there is no originating minute for the holiday scheme in 1872 the Directors minuted that regular workmen should get 38 two weeks pay with a weeks holiday when it was taken.
In 1881 following amalgamation with Surrey Consumers and Phoenix Companies, the Directors of the new Joint Board minuted an attempt to rationalise holiday provision throughout the three companies: 'both companies had had particular holidays which were given with double pay .. at Christmas .... and Easter. South Met.... gives in addition one week's holiday during the summer with double pay for workmen who have been 12 months in the regular service of the Company ... Vauxhall gives.. a day's holiday excursion, clothes and gratuities during the year'.

What is apparent is that Phoenix and Surrey Consumers had provided gifts in kind to workers whereas South Met. had given only holidays. The minute continues to abolish all gratuities and gifts and extends the South Met. practice of holidays with pay to all workmen with over a year's service. Abolished with the clothes and joints of meat at Christmas were all excursions and beanoes. This brings out an important strain in the South Met. ethic - tempeance. South Met’s welfare provision was austere and designed to make workers help themselves. Holidays with pay had the rider that the holiday must be taken at the seaside or in the country - and this was deliberately designed to keep the worker out of the Old Kent Road pubs and with his family. Gifts were charitable and therefore demoralising - beanoes by their nature involve drink.

South Met. was not the only gas company that sought to 'improve' its workers lives. In the late 1850s Phoenix laid on lectures for the men - but they only attended in ones and twos, even when the lectures weren't religious. But they did use the dining room. the washing facilities and the 'lobbies' equipped with papers and games materials.

It was practical help which gained a response rather than 'improvement'. Journal of Gas Lighting quoted increasing numbers of instances of this type of provision in the 1880s. In the South Met. Livesey's management style from the 1870s was aimed beyond practical applications to improve working conditions to methods of manipulation of the men to make them help themselves.

George Livesey had been a temperance advocate and activist since boyhood. He had 'signed the pledge' at the age of fifteen while involved in a temperance organisation which had been set  by workers at the Old Kent Road Works. This step which identified him with the cause of the temperance movement was at the level at which the ordinary workers of Peckham were also identified. He became a founder member of the London Band of Hope Union and its president in the year before his death. Throughout his life he was a Sunday School teacher and a worker and benefactor to whatever church he currently attended throughout various home moves.
Canon Ransford, his friend and sometime Vicar of St. Jude's, Herne Hill, said that Livesey gave a tenth of his income to the church. Outside of this he patronised and supported temperance organisations around South London - his will lists several such charities to which he left money. He was known as a local philanthropist - in the 1860s he had been involved in the setting up of a temperance working men's club in Peckham and in the late 1880s gave a public library to the Vestry of Camberwell to be free to the working people of the area

It was an extension of such who had 'great claims on it' philanthropy which led him, before his fathers death in the early 1870s, to be approached by the Lord's Day Observance Society, on the matter of Sunday working in the industry. Gas was a continuous process industry which naturally involved Sunday working.
John Gritton of the Lord's Day Observance Society approached the British Association of Gas Managers to tackle this problem and as result Livesey and a group of associates initiated a survey among gas companies to discover the extent of interest in abolishing Sunday working. The Committee reported, in due course, that the number of replies was not as great as they would have wished - there were  Fifty four of these said that they had turned their attention to the subject of Sunday labour and twenty four said that they had not been able to reduce it. Nevertheless seven had reduced it considerably and four slightly. The Committee recommended that a plan should be worked out to show how Sunday working could be reduced or abolished. This was to be done by means of technical innovation - to be worked out by Robert Morton, Livesey's friend who was at that time with Phoenix.

Along with benevolence in this matter were ideas of economy - no pay would be given to those who did not work on Sundays.  However little this survey demonstrated, the committee which undertook it included men who, although in the early 1870s were still in middle management, by the 1890s were Chairmen of Boards. In the intervening years they institued many reforms in their own companies. Both Livesey and Robert Morton set themselves to try and find a technical solution to the problems of gas manufacture and storage so that Sunday working could be abolished altogether. Livesey always attempted to build incentives into whatever provision was set by him and by 1889 a whole range of such measures had been  introduced. Incentive payments for good timekeeping, and forms of competition between gangs of workmen to produce high quantities of gas, are examples. Even Will Thorne, writing in his biography, remarks with pride how his gang at the Old Kent Road was always able to secure the bonus payment for high yield.

In instituting co-partnership Livesey said that the men's interest must be captured if they were to do a good job - men with no interest would be disaffected and the company would suffer. These payments were gauged to that interest and part of a package of deals calculated to persuade the workers of the mutual interest between Conpany and themselves. Joseph Melling described South Met. as paternalistic before 1889. He defined this paternalism in two ways - either as the concerns of the employer for the employee in a small industry where everybody is well known to everybody else or that found in large companies which are concerned to regularise welfare benefits for their employees. He does not say into which category he puts South Met. and it would seem that South Met. was different from both of these definitions. South Met. was a medium sized gas company. If we accept Livesey's statement of 'old friendly feelings', which existed then we must also put those in context of regularised benefit and a workforce of above a hundred.

In his account of Paternalism in Early Victorian England, D. Roberts has described it as 'authoritarian, hierarchic, organic and pluralistic' in its view of society. This is the world of the 'squire and his relations'. Early paternalism in South Met. was guided by a strong religious instinct in both management and board. Thomas Livesey was known in Peckham as a local churchman and a supporter of local charities and schools. His obituary in South London Press described him as a 'man without an enemy' and as a man determined to do good works he was able to interact with likeminded elements on the Board.

At Proprietors' meetings the view was put forward in the 1850s that it was the Christian duty of the Board to improve its workers lives by sharing with them the benefits brought about by more prosperous working by the Company. It was hoped that at the same time workers might be encouraged to become practising Christians. Management explained that they had tried to persuade the men to take Sunday as an, unpaid, holiday so that they could go to church; however workers had not gone, they had hung about the works. The Board considered this to be a moral problem - they could not force men to go to church but on the other hand a compulsory holiday might lead men into the pub rather than the church. A solution was found for a while by holding church services in the works - luckily the works was partly built on the site of a demolished church - and work was suspended so that men could go.

In 1858 a stoker writing to Journal of Gas Lighting pointed out that Phoenix gave one Sunday a month off with pay to 'these men of fire'. This correspondent too is concerned with the right to have  time off to go to church. George Livesey while concerned about religious duties, was also concerned to 'help' workers to 'better' themselves. In this he concurred with the Charity Organisation Society's ideas and in the 1890s contributed to a book formulated by them in which he tried to make the connection that industrial partnership was a means by which distress among working people could be allieviated by giving some of them a chance to save. He attacked those who he thought set up schemes of profit sharing and welfare work which were presented as more of a gift than a stimulus.
In 1901 Livesey wrote with reference to the Lever system of 'Prosperity Sharing' - 'the free gift of the employer given or withheld at his absolute discretion as a favour ... tends rather to degrade than to elevate the workman .. to undermine his independence, to keep him under tutelage and to lower his manhood it not after all 'better to provide opportunities, facilities and encouragement for the improvement of the position of the workmen and then leave them  to work out their own. industrial salvation' This would seem to be a very clear and precise definition of what both Livesey and South Met. were about. It shows the brand of paternalism which they were promoting and separates them very consciously from undirected benevolence.
It will be shown in due course the: extent to which the South Met, profit sharing scheme was consciously designed to manipulate the workforce to a model. The roots of this model can be found in the religious aspirations of the Company in the 1850s "in their attempts to mould their workmen into true believers. If, as Livesey said, his view of paternalism was to encourage people to act for themselves, .then how is this concept to be defined? In Paternalism and Social Policy, Albert Weale is concerned with defining paternalism in terms of government policies, nevetheless his definition is very relevant to Livesey: 'a paternalistic policy is one in which the government renders a self-regarding action less eligible for a citizen with the intention of benefitting the citizen in question. '
Thus paternalism is defined in terms of what it prevents people from doing 'for their own good' rather than in what it gives. Its essence is that it prevents freedom of action. In this way, as we shall see with reference to the profit sharing scheme, Livesey was paternalistic in that he' directed his employees actions away from the union and into ways of saving money by means of which they had little choice - but were undoubtedly financially, and in Livesey's terms, morally, better off at the end of the process. Weale continues to ask if this action was ever justified and does so in terms of interference with the subject's 'Plan of life'. 'if possible the interference should be justified by reference to some element in the subject's oun life plan, so that in the absence of intervention the person would be behaving inconsistently uith some, at least, of his own freely chosen ends'. In this is embodied the hope of the paternalist that he has identified what his subject 'really wants'. In this way Livesey identified what he saw that the workers 'really wanted' in terms of material prosperity and self direction in their own lives.
Livesey had become identified with the sliding scale system of regularising gas company finances and at many times he had seen it as a solution to other ills. Throughout the 1870s - 85 - and 1880s he put it forward as something that could, be linked to wages. In other industries - coal, iron - in this period the sliding scale was a device to link wages to profit. In the gas industry it linked initially to prices but essentially there is no difference. As Robert Michels said:- 'they incline... in England to a theory in accordance uith which the workers and capitalists are to be united in a kind of league and to share, although still unequally the profits of a common enterprise .. . thus the wages of the labourers become based upon ... what is known as the sliding scale. '
In the early 1870s the professional gas institute heard a series of lectures from Thomas Travers, Manager of the Cork Works, on incentives through methods of pay to gas workers and linked to ideas connected with the sliding scale. Livesey spoke extensively at these meetings - he was President of the Institution in 1873.  The theme of many of Livesey's papers was a discussion of problems of labour relations and how workers could be made more aware of, and become involved in the problems of the industry. He was concerned with concepts of 'fairness' and that men should be treated well if they were to work well. For example, they should be paid well. He said that he had asked the South Met. Board to extend the sliding scale to the workforce and that he had been rebuffed. In 1877 he had even asked for his own salary to be linked to profits on a sliding scale, but the Board had refused the application.
Livesey 's Presidential speech to the gas managers makes several key points:- 'It is all very well to say that the price of labour like that of coal or iron is governed by the inexorable law of supply and demand ... you may by this rule purchase his time but not get his good and - willing service. ' and he was concerned to make a political point which foreshadowed much of his future work and arguments: 'the opposition will run so fiercely against them that independent companies will cease to exist'.  Only by recruiting the workers to their sides politically could the companies ensure their futures.
This speech was made in 1874 and in 1877 Livesey was writing to the professional press on a similar therme and promulgating the application of the sliding scale to the workforce as both a practical and moral step: 'this system to be of any use must be extended beyond .. the directors to the manager and those under him ... I say without fear of contradiction that the system of paying fixed salaries never gave any stimulus ... I maintain therefore that the only just system is one which gives a man a proportionate share of the wealth he creates because I believe it will give men an adequate motive for exceeding their routine sense of duty and giving themselves in their best in every way. '
In June 1882 Livesey was at the point of retiring from South Met. and was presented with the Birmingham medal by the Institution for his services to the gas industry. At the same meeting Travers gave another paper - this time he directly mentioned the profit sharing movement and gave a brief history, including the work done on industrial participation in France. He mentioned imhis address Livesey's ideas on involving the workforce and work on the sliding scale. Livesey was the first on his feet following the address to say how important these ideas were and explained how he had always tried to implement them in the South Met. but had been prevented by the Board until he had thought it best to drop the ideas. 'the men must have the motive of self-interest. This was the motive which he had had ... to a very great extent in endeavouring to do what he had done where he had been employed so long .... this was a nut to crack which perhaps some younger and more enterprising member of the Institute would give his attention'.
In the next few months Livesey retired from the Company .Within a month he was on the Board. Six months later he was Chairman. In 1884 South Met. moved a step nearer to profit sharing. A scheme was set up whereby officers would receive a bonus on salaries based on profits. A list of the officers concerned was produced and payments made. The Board however made it clear in its resolution that this was an experiment and was not to set any precedents. However in 1885 and 1886 the resolution was passed again.
During this period another scheme began to take shape, which was to give responsibility for their own safety to workers.  In 1888 the Director's passed a policy resolution concerning safety at work; pre-shadowing events which were to follow in the early 1890s. The Minute said that 'managers must consider themselves responsible ' and set up machinery for investigations into every accident. This scheme developed, in the early 1890s, into the Accident Jury system, whereby each accident was enquired into by both interested parties and by men chosen at random in the works. Figures for accidents at each works was published and weightings introduced on Accident Fund contributions in those works where the number of accidents was high. In these ways South Met. began to move towards the co-partnership scheme.

South Met. Director s Minutes
Co-partnership Journal
Industrial Co-partnership. . 1911.
Gas World.
Livesey. Paper given at the Industrial Remuneration Conference. Newcastle. 1907.
Perks. Real Profit Sharing. Business History
Gas and Water Times.
Phoenix Company Minutes
Journal of Gas Lighting
Cole. The View from the Peak.
Band of Hope Chronicle
Roberts. Paternalism in Early Victorian England.
South London Press
Loch The Prevention and Relief of Distress. 1904
Livesey. Profit Sharing; a Vindication. Economic Review
Weale. Paternalism and Social Policy. Journal of Social Policy
Michels. Political Parties.

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