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and the “ Women's Trade Union League” became a confessed agency for the cause of industrial organizations for the advancement and defense of female labor.
This league has since its formation in 1874 until the present day supplied the machinery for dealing with the unorganized women wage-earners. Its methods and scope of work will be treated later.
The first effort of the league was to reach out and bind together the women employed in the printing trade. These women nad strongly felt the want of a provident society during a trade depression three years before, but the men in the trade refused to admit them in their league because they claimed there was no provision for the admission of women, and also at that time women's wages were seldom more than one-half those of men, and women would have been unable to pay the subscriptions.
The appeal for a separate organization among the women met with a hearty response. Three hundred employed in folding, sewing, and other branches of the bookbinding trade attended the first meeting and 66 immediately enrolled as members with a subscription of 2d. (4 cents) per week, and an entrance fee of 1s. (24 cents). At the end of the first year the membership had increased to 275 with funds amounting to £80 ($389.32), and this Society of Women Employed in Bookbinding is still extant, while over 20 of the original members, all now over 60 years of age, hold monthly reunions in the rooms of the Women's Trade Union League.
But agitation has never been the policy of the society. It has refused to join with the men in making demands upon the employers; its representatives at trade union congresses and elsewhere have steadily insisted on legal restrictions upon labor; it has not shown itself anxious to seize what the men regarded as opportunities to make itself felt.
Perhaps the union has been too willing to make requests to good employers for better conditions, and too timorous in helping to level up the general conditions of the trade.
But this union has never reached that point of strength when it could bring pressure to bear on the trade for the mutual advantage of the good employer and the woman worker. As a consequence the good relations between the men and the woman in the trade have not always been maintained, and there was considerable ill feeling between the two sections during the eight-hours' agitation from 1891 to 1894. It should be noted, however, that the sentiment among the women as a whole was friendly during the eight-hours' agitation, although the society was taking no part in it officially.
At the present moment this society is regarded by both men and women mainly as a benefit club. In this respect it has been most successful and has paid with excellent regularity.(a)
What Mr. Macdonald says of the society of women employed in bookbinding holds true also of all the other early societies estab
. Women in the Printing Trades, by J. Ramsay Macdonald, pp. 37, 38.
lished under the auspices of the Women's Protective and Provident League. (a) They were not fighting organizations, their leaders believing that to attempt too much is to weaken.
Although the unions were often the outgrowth of a grievance on the part of the workers, in the early records of the league there is little evidence of the belligerency having a favorable termination or of being continued after the women had united into a trade society.
In September, 1879, a society having been formed among the cotton operatives in Bristol, the women went out on strike, but the men refused to aid them and they were obliged to return to work at a reduction. In this same year a women's union at the Royal Army Clothing Factory, at Pimlico, was formed to resist a reduction in piecework prices of from 15 to 20 per cent and the withdrawal of home work. A deputation of 1,000 women unionists went to the doors of the House of Commons and several women from the factory gave evidence.
In 1876 the movement had gained such proportions that delegates from three women's trade societies—shirtmakers, women bookbinders, and the upholsteresses' union-were admitted to the Eighth Annual Trades Union Congress held at Glasgow, and at the meeting of the Trades Union Council, in 1879, five women representing unions were not only present, but took an active part in the proceedings. A resolution offered by them for the appointment of additional inspectors, women as well as men, under the factory and workshop act, was approved and carried.
The woman trade-unionist had begun to play her part in the vicissitudes and development of the trade-union movement.
By the early eighties most of the separate organizations of women in large industries had died out, being superseded by co-unionism, and from this period the woman trade-unionist became an economic factor to be reckoned with in trade disputes and labor legislation.
In 1885 the Women's Trade Union League made the first effort to compile a log book with the hope of securing a uniform price for similar work in the trades.
At the trades union congress of 1889 a resolution was offered “that in the opinion of this congress it is desirable, in the interest both of men and women, that in trades where women do the same work as men they shall receive the same payment."
According to the First Annual Report of the Women's Protective and Provident League there had been five flourishing unions affiliated with the league within the year. A few months after the formation of the women bookbinders' union a meeting of 400 women comprising representatives from dressmakers, milliners, and mantle makers combined into another society. In March, 1875, the women employed in the work of binding, sewing, and trimming men's hats established a society. Next, women in the upholstery trades formed a union and affiliated themselves with the National League. The fifth society formed was of shirt and collar makers.
An equal scale of wages was found impossible of general application because men and women are seldom found doing exactly the same kind of work, and even when apparently the same there is generally
net advantageousness” about the labor of the male employee; (°) still the schedule of piecework in the cotton industries of Lancashire is the same for male and female operatives, and this is acknowledged as a triumph for the woman trade-unionists in this stronghold of trade unionism, the total female membership of the Lancashire cotton unions being about 146,000 in 1908, or approximately 75 per cent of the entire membership.
But the Lancashire unions must not be taken as indicative of the strength of women's trade organizations throughout Great Britain. In chronicling this triumph of organization, almost three-fourths of the women trade-unionists are disposed of, and because of the matured condition of trade unionism in this district before the advent of women into industrial organization there is not obtained an adequate idea of the difficulties ordinarily encountered by those attempting to combine women workers not massed in one district.
OBSTACLES TO ORGANIZATION OF WOMEN.
The achievement from the formation of a benefit club of 66 members in the bookbinding trade to the present enrolled membership of over 200,000 women trade-unionists has not been easy for the organizers. A survey of the obstacles encountered explains why stable organization has been so difficult in the great proportion of women's labor.
Certain theories in regard to women in the industrial system handicapped the initial efforts for organization. The recognition that“ for good or ill, in spite of the sentimental idea of woman's place being the home, women have come into industry to stay,” was slow to come. (6)
“ The gradual influx of women into almost every trade or industry and the consequent lowering of wages which their unregulated competition entails ” was necessary before the woman wage-earners could be considered sufficiently important as an economic factor to make protective combination among them practicable.
It is estimated that, outside of agricultural workers, there were, in 1906, 1,600,000 women workers in the trades and industries of Great Britain out of the total of 6,200,000 wage-earners, (C) and against this numerical strength there can be no absolutely prohibitive opposition to the attempts to solve by organization the problems inevitable to the advent of female labor in the industrial world.
Sidney Webb, in the Economic Journal, Vol. I, pp. 635 et seq.
of organization is equally difficult with the similar class of labor in the factory—almost equally difficult when the wages are very low in the factory.
Q. And for the same reasons?
A. Which are that it is difficult for the worker to afford to pay a contribution out of her slender wages; the wages vary so much, and it is difficult to get her to look far enough ahead to see what the benefits will be.
So that it is very difficult to form a permanent organization amongst lowly paid women workers, either in the factory or in the home. (a)
But returning to the question of the extent to which the prospect of marriage has been found to militate against women's organizations, there is a note of optimism in the following opinion on this difficulty:
Any investigator of women's work knows full well that what most handicaps women is their general deficiency in industrial capacity and technical skill.
Doubtless it may be said that the men are to blame here; it is they who induce women to marry, and thus divert their attentions from professional life. But though we can not cut at the root of this by insisting, as I once heard it gravely suggested, on “three generations of unmarried women,” we can do a great deal to encourage the growth of professional spirit and professional capacity among women workers, if we take care to develop our industrial organization along the proper lines. (0)
While among labor leaders the anticipation of marriage as a solution to individual labor problems, and the consequent creation of the “casual amateur" class of operatives, is quoted as one of the chief deterrents to the spread of organization among women workers, throughout England married women are entering more and more into the industrial arena, and the fact that a girl is going to marry does not by any means necessarily mean that she is going to give up her occupation. In the centers of textile manufacture, in which the great majority of working women in Great Britain are employed, employment of married women is encouraged. There is a unanimous opinion among the organizers of women's trade unions that the difficulty of effecting concerted action through organization in any industry is greatly lessened where there is a proportion of married women among the employees. In Lancashire there are more women organized than in any other district, and while, according to officials of labor organizations, married women in the industries, constitute approximately 20 per cent of the total number of women employed there, it should be borne in mind that in the total of female wage-earners in all England there are about 1,000,000 married women to 3,250,000 unmarried.
a Report from the Select Committee on Home Work, 1907, Minutes of Evidence,
• Problems of Modern Industry, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, p. 96.