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300,000 strong out on strike. The unemployment was a matter of only a few weeks' duration, for the operatives were persuaded to go back to work temporarily at the 5 per cent reduction rate.
The writer of this article was present at the first conference in this dispute, held in Manchester, August 4, 1908, between representatives of the Federation of Cotton Spinners' Associations and representatives on behalf of the Operative Spinners' Amalgamation, the Card Room Workers' Amalgamation, and the Federation of Reelers and Winders' Union. About thirty members of the general committee of the employers' federation and twenty-four representing the operatives' interest were in attendance, and at the dissolution of the first day's session neither side appeared disposed to yield.
The general attitude of the women members of the unions and federations who were interviewed in the mills of the surrounding towns seemed to be one of indifference, or at least one of complete confidence in the ability of the union officials charged with the negotiations to secure a satisfactory adjustment or to provide strike pay should the employees be called out.
The women's trade union organizers interviewed agreed that they faced one of the biggest industrial fights on record, and they stated that they would rather see a compromise effected through an independent mediator than have the disastrous lockout which would follow should both sides remain hard-headed in regard to the proposals each had submitted to the conference. Unemployment occasioned by a prevailing slackness in a trade causes the woman worker to suffer much more than the man, since the men can turn elsewhere and be absorbed by other trades, but women who have been cotton operatives all their lives and are anchored with their families in the settlements about the mills must sit there and look at the closed doors without the opportunity to do anything else.
Except in the textile group of trade unions, and to a small extent in the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives, women's organizations have not the benefit of established conciliation boards, which are so important a factor in controlling trade disputes in the great industrial groups in which only men are employed. (a)
But whenever the Women's Trade Union League officials are appealed to for help in labor difficulties among women workers, the first effort is toward mediation by a deputation to the employer or a petition for the appointment of a board of arbitration.
a Of the 7,248 cases settled by conciliation boards in ten years, 1897–1906, only 92 (or 1.3 per cent) were preceded by a stoppage of work. Most of the boards provide that all their decisions, or the award of their arbitrators, etc., shall be final and binding, and a few boards go further and impose a money penalty for breach of agreement or award.—Report on Rules of Voluntary Conciliation and Arbitration Boards, pp. 236, 237. Board of Trade. 1907.
RELATION OF WOMEN'S TRADE UNIONS TO LOW
WAGES AND THE SWEATING SYSTEM.
The greatest endeavor on the part of the women's trade union leaders at the present time is to accomplish the extension of the board of arbitration prerogative to an authoritative institution for legal decision in wage disputes and the establishment by law of a minimum wage in the different trades.
The deplorable condition of female labor has been one of the chief stimuli to attempted organization among the women workers in England, the hope being that the strength of collective demand would automatically adjust the rate of pay to a living wage. But in the small factories and workshops, and above all in the case of work distributed as domestic labor or home work, organization has not flourished or has been found impossible, and the female trade-unionist believes that the law must intervene before these trades can develop sufficient financial and moral strength for a reformation of the bad conditions.
In the last few years the leaders in the women's trade union movement have gone out as personal investigators of the present economic and sanitary demoralization among all classes of home workers, and the results of this study, as given in their testimony before the select committee on home work and proclaimed in addresses during the conference on a minimum wage held at the Guildhall, London, October 24, 25, and 26, 1902, has done much to enlist public sentiment in their cause.
It was the publication of certain distressing cases that gave impetus to the early organization of women. In 1889 a case in Manchester was brought to public notice where the father was disabled through an accident and the mother and a daughter of 15, the oldest of four children, by shirt making could earn only 12s. ($2.92) a week, 3s. 9d. (91 cents) going for rent. The father finally poisoned himself. This led to the formation of a trade league among women workers.(a) It was impossible to support organization among the sweated workers here as elsewhere, but the idea of combination spread into the textile trades and contributed greatly to the universality of trade unionism in Manchester.
A comparison between wages and conditions in the small trades before the existence of women's trade unions in England and what exists to-day in the home-work districts of London does not reveal any differentiation in favor of later-day conditions. In fact, it was brought out in the evidence taken before the select committee of the
Annual Report of Women's Trade Union League for 1889.
House of Commons that wages in the sweated industries have gone down in the last 10 or 12 years. (6)
Instances are cited of an equally deranged economic system among home and unorganized factory workers. (0) Recently at Taunton, in Somerset, which, together with Londonderry, represents the bulk of the shirt and collar industry, in a factory where the average wage was 9s. 6d. ($2.31), it was found that deductions amounting to 1s. (24 cents), 1s. 3d. (30 cents), and 2s. 3d. (55 cents) per week were made for cotton. The employer, when asked about it, gave as his justification “that a certain amount of the work was done at home, and therefore the cotton went out of the factory, and he was bound to charge for cotton to everybody because some of the workers took cotton out to do the work at home."
In this trade " it is the custom for the worker to take the collars home to do a certain process at home known as creasing. Each collar, from the time it enters the factory as linen until it goes out as the finished product, has to pass through 17 different processes. Three of these processes consist of creasing at different periods, and this,” it was discovered, “ is very largely done at home with the help of the children. This is, of course, a breach of the factory act, but it is impossible, or almost impossible, to enforce the factory act, because naturally the worker connives with the employer in proving that she has not been doing the same work in the factory during the day, and that the work was really taken out by a sister or relative.”
“In Taunton," Miss Macarthur further testified, “I found one woman with six children who earned 16s. ($3.89) a week. She worked in the factory during the day and at home at night; she told me she worked from 5 in the morning till 8 at home, from 8 till 7 in the factory, and from 8 till midnight at home again regularly. This was confirmed by a large number of other women who were present. I suggested to her that she should give evidence to the factory inspector and that the firm should be prosecuted. She begged me not to give information because her wages would have been reduced to about 9s. 6d. ($2.31) if she had not been doing home work, and therefore she would have been unable to maintain her children, who, by the way, were helping her with a part of the work."
In Oxford a few weeks later a woman was found working in factories whose average wages were 5s. ($1.22) a week. On inquiring how she lived, the information was vouchsafed that one of the workers of the factory who earned more gave her dinner every day.
• Testimony of Mr. G. R. Askwith, Report from Select Committee on Home Work, 1907, p. 203.
Testimony of Miss Mary R. Macarthur in Report from Select Committee on Home Work, 1907, p. 134 et seq.
She paid 2s. 6d. (61 cents) a week for rent and the other 2s. 6d. (61 cents) apparently met every other expense.
There was recently a strike in a tin works at Hull because time rates had been substituted for piece rates, and according to a report in the paper the employer stated that the reason he was fixing time rates of 6s. ($1.46) a week for his workers was that they took advantage of the piecework rates to earn too much, some of the workers making 16s. ($3.89) or 17s. ($4.14). This was confirmed by the experience of an organizer from the Women's Trade Union League, who went there immediately.
Another reduction on this order was made by an East London blacking firm, where the girls were employed in filling bottles at piece rates and their wages worked out at 10s. ($2.43) and 12s. ($2.92) a week, until one week a notice was put up in the factory that the piecework rate would be reduced by one-half, which meant that their wages would have been reduced to 5s. ($1.22) and 6s. ($1.46) per week. There was no organization, but the girls went out on strike, and when a woman organizer sought an interview with the managing director she was told that he had come to the conclusion that since bottles could be filled by girls under 18 years of age he intended to dismiss all the women and in the future employ only girls under that age. The firm was induced not to disturb the existing rates.
The disparity in the rates of pay that unskilled workers receive from employers in the same locality for similar work is indicative of the vicissitude of the unorganized women in trade. In the same district two firms employing women to fill bags with cocoa have different piece rates—in one 1s. 3d. (30 cents) per 1,000 bags being paid, while exactly similar work is done for the other firm for 8d. (16 cents) per 1,000 bags. Then in tea packing, on one side of a street in London there is a firm whose girls are able to earn 14s. ($3.41) and 16s. ($3.89) a week in packing tea in quarter-pound and half-pound packets, but they are in constant dread of a reduction because across the street there is another tea-packing firm where the average wage is not more than 7s. 6d. ($1.83). There may be some difference in the machinery which is used but it is very slight, and the output seems to be about the same. (a) Farther down the scale in home work, shirt finishing, and buttonholing, there is a difference of 3d. (6 cents) and 4d. (8 cents) a dozen for the same work, and in trousers finishing there is a noted difference for the same work of 23d. (6 cents), 4d. (8 cents), and even in some cases 1s. 6d. (37 cents) a dozen. While apart from the variations in the prices paid for the same work the fluctuation in prices at different times is notorious. Firms in East London have lowered the rate of the
a See Miss Macarthur's testimony in Report from Select Committee on Home Work, July 18, 1907.
“ giver-out” from 1s. 6d. (37 cents) to 9d. (18 cents), and it is stated that the same decline has taken place in the price for the making of
uppers ” in the boot and shoe trade by women home workers in London.
In all these trades, efforts at organization among the poorly paid workers can get no hold.
The barrier to organization which the less-than-living wage paid to unskilled female labor presents has been instrumental in keeping the women's trade union movement within a certain circumscribed area; for the greater part of the work in which women take part is unskilled. Moreover, the presence of this mass of inadequately paid workers throughout the trades is a distinct drag upon the wages of female labor in general. The trade union leaders in England believe that apart from the humanitarian considerations involved sweating is an economic menace. This is, of course, more forcibly true of the effect of the mere pittance allowed the least efficient, the domestically handicapped, and really physically incapable workers by employers who take advantage of the partial support by charity and distribute work to such workers at the lowest rates of pay, knowing that they can not compete in hours of employment or in strength with the regular worker.
The downward leveling effect of sweated labor upon wages in those trades in which a proportion of women succeeded in organizing and demanding a standard wage is seen in the following comparative table of rates for women's work in the boot and shoe trade, which was prefaced by the remark:“ In the nonunion factories very many children are employed at 14, 16, and 17 years of age at a very small wage, consequently outworkers only receive for a great deal of work the same price that is reckoned for the sweated child labor."
SCALE OF WAGES FOR UNION AND NONUNION WOMEN IN THE BOOT AND
In investigating tailoring work among women there was found proof of another feature apparently incident to absence of organization. In London in a nonunion workshop where women's garments