MINIMUM WAGE Society has gone so far in regulating working conditions as to take an official and controlling in terest in fixing the age at which the youth may be gin work, the hours during which women may work, the light and air and sanitary conditions to which workers are entitled while at work, the pro tection against accidents from machinery or other foreseeable causes, and compensation for such acci dents as do occur. It is a question of fixing certain minimum standards corresponding to the accepted ideals of the community as to what is right and decent and reasonable in these respects.
The mind of man, of socially minded man, when it begins working on problems of this kind, presses steadily forward from one point to another until at last it reaches the central kernel of the matter. That central kernel in industry is not hours, or danger from accidents, or sanitary conditions, but the daily or weekly wage. Shall we then attempt to fix wages, as well as hours and safety and sani tary conditions? The subject has recently been in vestigated by several state commissions, and is now under consideration by others. Australia began fixing wages in sweated industries nearly twenty years ago, and England has recently fol lowed suit, taking up one industry after another chain-making, paper-box making, lace-making, tailoring, mining, and others. The ordinary pro cedure is to create wage boards on which employers and employees are represented, to inquire into the wages actually paid and their adequacy to sustain life and a reasonable standard of health, comfort, and welfare. In England and in Australia these findings, when approved by competent authority, are binding in the industry and in the district cov ered by the inquiry.
Oregon has enacted a similar law, and its con stitutionality is now being tested. Massachusetts has proceeded more cautiously by providing for an investigation of alleged sweated industries and the publication of the findings of the commission, not making it, however, legally binding on any particu lar employer. The idea is that when the facts are
fully known and officially attested, public opinion will compel the payment of a voluntary minimum wage sufficient to provide for a reasonable standard of living among the wage-earners concerned.
The chief arguments against minimum wage legislation are: (I) That it is better to leave the issue of wages to voluntary bargaining, trusting to trade unions to protect the interests of workers, lest the minimum wage tend to become the average or standard or even the maximum wage; and (2) that to forbid employers to pay less than a certain amount—say nine dollars a week—is to throw out of employment altogether those whose services are not worth that amount. Neither of these argu ments need detain us long here, interested as we are in fostering the normal life. Those whose ser vices are worth less than the low minimum likely to be fixed by any such law should be out of em ployment, either receiving a training which will make them worth more, or, if unteachable and sub normal, then cared for on some plan which will keep them properly occupied under direction in a hospital or colony appropriate to their particular need. I think the responsibility for supporting subnormal persons who cannot earn a low minimum wage should be definitely assumed, if necessary, by the state, until they can be graduated into self-support.
The operation of minimum wage laws elsewhere does not justify the apprehension that the mini mum wage tends to become the standard. Some times such a tendency is apparent, but usually the influences determining the wage contract operate freely above the plane fixed by the law.