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The principal reason why women are employed in this highly skilled trade is their cheapness, and if they demanded the same wage as the men they would not be employed, because the labor of the male compositor is more efficient. One woman was able to avail herself of this resolution. She joined the Society of Compositors on August 30, 1892, but she has ceased to be a member. The reason for this determined opposition of the male compositor to admitting women to their unions is that their presence in the trade must always be a menace to maintaining the standard wage. Women compositors
a are regarded as so inferior to men that only among employers in a small way, doing business on limited capital, where low wages are a great enough advantage to counterpoise the lack of technical skill, can they find employment. In better equipped houses women do only part of the work, the heavier or more technical part being done by
The men who have served long apprenticeships naturally resent the infusion of women's inferior workmanship, and above all combat trade combination with her generally lower rate of wage. To show how effectively this exclusion has been carried out, it may be stated that in 1901 in the seven unions of men covering the printing trades there were 41,907 members, while the total membership of women's unions was well under 1,000.(a)
In other occupations than printing, owing to the development of machinery there is a margin of labor where women are called in to take over processes formerly done by men, and in the readjustment, before the men are absorbed in other and higher branches of the same trade or in different industries, there has been friction over the attempted organization of the women. The exclusion of the women from the compositors' union constitutes the only statistical evidence available of what is called “trades-union jealousy.” And this, as has been explained, was not discrimination against female members because they were women, but because they presented less skilled labor, underselling the technical skill of the man worker in an immobile trade, where men could hope neither to move out of line to avoid competition nor to raise the women worker's pay. In Edinburgh in 1849 a union of women compositors was formed, but it failed at the end of a year for the same reason that had convinced the men that it did not pay to organize them—that their wages were fixed by their inefficiency, and that any attempt to better them would only displace men workers.
But abrupt and absolute failure has been encountered rarely by the organizers of women workers in England. At the beginning of the women's trade union movement there were many instances of
e Women in the Printing Trades, by J. Ramsay Macdonald, p. 41.
organizations which were formed and which expired after a feeble life of weeks or months, because trade unionism for women was represented as the solution of all labor troubles. Even now the organizers of the Women's Trade Union League enroll every year thousands of members of women's trade unions, knowing perfectly well that if half the number enlisted is retained it will be perhaps a higher average than usual. An instance of this lapsing in membership on a large scale is seen in the recent organization of the women employed in the boot and shoe trade at Leicester. When this work was started by an organizer in 1904 for some reason the women flocked into the union. The local branch in Leicester sprang up in a few months from a membership of about 400 to as many thousands, but a year later it was found that all these enthusiastic recruits had allowed their membership to lapse. Renewed efforts saved the union from disorganization, and it has now a membership of about 1,000.
The phenomenal desertion in this instance has been attributed to the fact that the officials of the union were men who had also to attend to their men members; that a great deal of work had to be done in enforcing a new minimum rate wage for men; and that in attending to this the women were perhaps neglected. A sufficient number of meetings was not held, sufficient attention was not paid to the collection of contributions, and the result was that a large proportion of members were dropped. A woman official has been appointed secretary of the branch in Leicester, and it is slowly and steadily regaining much of the ground lost. The men are now paying more attention to the women members and are endeavoring to get the manufacturers to recognize the women members of the union in the agreements between the unions and the manufacturers' association.
There are other groups of women in the industries, among whom the spirit of trade unionism seemed to have evaporated, but who appear later in the guise of affiliated strength. For instance, after the several small unions in the miscellaneous clothing trades in and about Oxford had struggled along and suffered the eventual termination of the weak union, through financial handicap and other vicissitudes, there was formed in 1881 the Protective and Provident Society of Women for this district. This revivified the various nuclei and combined them under one executive organization. This society, which still survives, never reached even fair proportions, because the trade groups are so limited in membership in this locality; but the same principle of organization was exemplified in the National Federation of Women Workers, established in the latter part of 1906, with headquarters in London and with a woman secretary, which has already secured a membership of over 3,000, with 20 branches. Under
the National Federation of Women Workers appear several isolated unions that had failed, as well as new unions from hitherto unorganized trades, and for the small assessments of from 1d. to 31d. (2 to 7 cents) weekly besides the 6d. (12 cents) entrance fee, are guaranteed the benefit of a legal department, sick pay, and support in times of trade dispute. Though this federation was organized solely to foster small unions of women, one local branch includes 100 men, which affords the unique spectacle, among all the trade unions in Great Britain, of men organized under a woman unionist executive.
Another type of rehabilitation among apparently extinct unions is found in the women's unions which, wavering upon the verge of dissolution, accepted the form of an auxiliary to a man's society established in the same trade. For example, the Printing and Kindred Trades Federation, organized in 1894, was primarily a militant union composed of women. The attempt at organization arose out of two disputes. In one, the women employed by a certain firm had successfully struck for an increase of wages and against certain conditions of labor; in the second, women had gone out to show their sympathy with the men locked out. In recognition of the women's "courage and loyalty" the men promoted the union. In a month or two its membership stood at 100, and by March, 1896, 350 members had joined. However, the membership began to decline as soon as the stress of militant procedure was relaxed, and in 1902 it had shrunk to 150, and as the reserve fund was under £100 ($486.65) the society approached the Printers and Stationers' Warehousemen, praying to be recognized as a branch of that union. A ballot of the men was taken, 700 voting in favor of granting the request and 334 against it. The women's society has therefore ceased to exist as a separate organization.
The Liverpool Upholsteresses' Union, which appeared in the early record of the Women's Trade Union League as dissolved on account of " lack of interest, fear of dismissal, possibly the outcome of ignorance,” is in a flourishing condition. It reasserted itself in 1891 with 26 members, and has since then come to comprise nearly all the upholsteresses employed in Liverpool.
A case of what might be termed partial wreckage occurred in the Women's Trade Union Council of Manchester and Salford district in 1904, when 6 out of the 14 branch unions which composed the council withdrew to form a new society, thus leaving a divided front in the organization of women in this locality.
Manchester is not now so much a center of large industries as a business center for the industries in the outlying districts—the cotton exchange for Lancashire being there—and the local trade union leaders represent an advanced type of ambitious methods in organization. Direct labor representation for women should be the object of women's trade unionism," they claim. Therefore, while the “ Women's Trade Union Council," founded in 1894, accomplished the work of organizing the small trades, and in several instances, notably among the female leather workers, (a) materially bettered the condition of women engaged in those trades, a gradual cleavage took place among the leaders on the subject of gaining political power for women, which resulted in the resignation of certain trade union officials and in the formation of the Women's Trades and Labor Council with a different form of constitution, as follows:
In view of the present difficult position of trade unions in the country and also of the low wages and want of industrial status of women in the labor market, the local women's trade union leaders have come to the conclusion that political power is absolutely necessary for the protection of the women workers.
This Women's Trades and Labor Council has, after four years, 10 branches each with more than 300 members, and 1, the Weavers' Association of Beswick, with 1,000 enrolled. And it is doing the same sort of benefit and protective work as the original Women's Trade Union Council, which continues its offices in the next street, with the agitation on political questions quite subservient.
Still the national organizers of the Women's Trade Union League regret this division, since the poverty in great centers demands concentration of effort on the part of those who would unite and organize the women workers there in their struggles for a living wage. It was compared by one woman trade union leader to the women's rights agitation in the sixties, when, with much clash of asserted independence, a show was made of forcing open men's trades to women, while in reality this so-called women's movement was altogether secondary in the accomplishment of women's entrance into the printing and other trades, since the subdivision of labor and the application of mechanical power had created simple processes which made the employment of women natural and desirable.
In the investigation of the causes for the dissolution of several small unions for women in London, principally among the clothing trades and cardboard box makers, the following typical cases were found
a In one instance an employer, taking advantage of the prejudice of the men workers against female labor, made a reduction of one-half in the pay of the girls. The girls went out on strike supported by the Women's Trade Council, and, finally, after futile attempts to find skilled labor among nonunion women with which to replace his original force, the employer was obliged, in order to meet a rush order, to take back the women unionists at the old rate. This was in 1905, and there has been no reduction since, but, on the contrary, an increase of rates in one line of piecework.
which cover, with variations of detail, about all the failures that were discovered:
In one case the rents demanded in the district surrounding the workshops were so high, 9s. ($2.19) a week being asked for one room when 4s or 5s. ($0.97 or $1.22) a week is the usual rent for the fourroom brick houses flanking block after block in the factory towns in Lancashire, that the women were obliged to live a long distance from work, and they were too tired to return in the evening for meetings. Interest flagged, and when the employer, who was opposed to organization because of demands it might enforce as provisions against 6 months' slack time, instituted deductions from the nominal wage and reduced the supply of work of certain leaders in the union, it dissolved without an effort for redress.
Another case was a union among cardboard box makers which was not able to withstand the drain on its slender resources necessitated by strike pay in a dispute with the employers over fines and deductions. This tendency of women's trade unions to undertake a strike in the first flush of enthusiasm, before they are in a position to carry it to a successful conclusion, is given by one writer as a generalization in stating causes of failure of the women's organization throughout England. And yet while few women's unions have been able to survive the expense of an unsuccessful strike early in the life of the organization, a trade dispute has been more often than not the basis of formation of the strongest unions. The most successful organizations recently formed among women have been the result of some sudden encroachment on the rights of the workers.
The failure of a union started among female cigarette makers was attributed to the fact that the majority of its members were young girls whose pay was only contributive toward their living expenses and who looked upon their occupation as more or less temporary. It was given as the opinion of the labor leader interested in this instance that unionism among cigarette makers failed because the work is not conducive to steady, thoughtful habits of women. On the contrary, in another division of the tobacco trade (the female cigar makers) a permanent organization was accomplished in 1889, and the London branch, with a membership of over 1,000, is considered one of the most successful organizations of women.
A general cause for the failure of women's unions throughout the provinces as well as in London is that where the organization is started and managed by men, the women have not been encouraged to take leading parts in the administration of their organizations. They are not as a rule sent as delegates to the trade union congress, and it is the rare exception (though they are eligible) for them to become secretaries of branches, so that they lose interest, fail to make pay