Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

were being made (there are four of these workshops conducted by the same firm) nearly everything was found to be in compliance with the regulations of the Factory and Workshop Act. There were only 60 machines in a large room where, according to space requirements, there might have been 100. The hours, the forewoman said, were 9 a. m. to 8 p. m. on week days and 9 a. m. to 2 p. m. on Saturday, with one hour for lunch and a half hour for tea in the afternoon. The average earnings—it was piecework-were £1 6d. ($4.99) a week. There was no list of registered home workers nailed up with a copy of the Factory and Workshop Act as is usual, and the question as to the regularity of employment was met with the slight evasion that “they very seldom had to shut down."

However, in this district several women home workers who were making garments“ given out” by the employers of this workshop were interviewed by the writer, and from them it was learned that the extra work of a rush order is always disposed of in this way; but when trade is dull the firm cuts off all outwork, often disposes of half the inside “ machiners,” and gives scant employment to those kept on.

This is not the way a rush of orders is dealt with in the organized trades. The work has to be distributed among the workers that are available, and probably there is some little delay; but a great factor in unemployment is eliminated and the consumer is forced to give his orders in time.

The establishment of a scale of prices, which is effected by the formation of a union, has done much to ameliorate the condition of the women workers.

Curious ignorance on the subject of pay is found in unorganized trades. A strike broke out in a shirt factory in the East End; the quarrel was between the men and their employers, but the women came out in support of the men, and when a trade union organizer tried to take a register of their wages it was found that in two workrooms in that factory, where the women were working upon the

very same sort of shirts, cut out by the same people from the same bale of material, there was a difference in wages of between 45 and 50

per cent.

The reason was the difference of attitude on the part of the forewomen. One forewoman had insisted upon keeping up the rates in her workroom, and the other, being more timid, had not done so; but the workers were totally ignorant of this condition until the formation of a union among them brought it out.

The perfection of this enforcement of list prices is found in the equal rates for men and women in the textile organizations of Lancashire; but it is difficult to determine just how much of the advancement in the workers' welfare in this district is directly due to trade unionism. For, while the textile operatives of Lancashire to-day, the

most highly protected and benefited class of labor in which women are employed in England, present a startling contrast to the picture of “the maimed, distorted, and diseased factory hands who paraded before Lord Ashley in Oldham and Blackburn "(a) sixty years ago, there have been so many economic forces affecting conditions there, and several operating together, that to isolate one phenomenon, like the development of trade unionism, and say what change has been wrought is impossible.

The Factory and Workshop Act, the Employer's Liability Acty the Trade Union Act, and the Workmen's Compensation Act, together with all other legislation for labor, have entered into the regeneration of the textile factory system; and inextricably associated with the origin, the furtherance, and the execution of all these beneficiary measures has been the force of the trade union. And this force has, of course, been greatly increased by the consolidation of the large element of female labor in these industries.

Maintaining a standard wage is perhaps directly attributable more to trade unionism than to anything else, and a comparison of the course of wages in the cotton industries (largely concentrated in Lancashire) between the date of the rise of women's trade unions and recent years with that in other industries much less organized, yet subject to the same benefits of labor legislation during that time, may supply some evidence of the advantageous working of organization for the women workers.

There are no conclusive figures to demonstrate the exact influence of the women's organization upon the course of wages. Indeed, they started from such a low point, 3s. 6d. to 5s. 6d. (85 cents to $1.34), at the end of the eighteenth century, with the high-water mark of 8s. ($1.95), that it is quite possible that the wages of the female worker would have increased irrespective of the effect of industrial legislation or of trade unionism.

The anomaly of the female factory worker's wage is that it is still so low. Although there are women weavers in Lancashire who are paid from 24s. to 30s. ($5.84 to $7.30) weekly for full time," the average wage of a manual worker, taking it all the year around and making allowance for sickness and slackness, does not now reach 8s. ($1.95) per week." (0)

Women's trade unions, then, would not seem to have demonstrated a high efficiency in a widespread elevation of wages, but as a factor in maintaining a once-established standard of wage the women's trade union movement gives undeniable evidence. The woman worker in the organized centers of Lancashire knows that she can

e Problems of Modern Industry, by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, p. 117.
Interview with Miss Macarthur, August 10, 1908.

not secure preference for employment by offering to put up with worse conditions and less pay than the standard, because the employer, held to the standard by his collective bargain with his employees, will always select the most efficient. She therefore seeks to commend herself by a good character, technical skill, and general intelligence. The result of constant selection of the most efficient has proved a positive stimulus to the whole class of female workers to become more and more efficient; so that women's trade unions may be said to change the form of competition in lowering wages to competition in requirement to secure the higher pay. In securing legislation which has reduced the hours of labor for the workers from ninety to fifty-five and one-half hours a week and in enforcing sanitary precautions and protection trade unions have been a power in the movement.

CONCLUSIONS.

The women's trade union movement in Great Britain is in an immature stage of development or it may be merely transitional, but its development has not been arrested.

Yet women's trade unionism, developing as it has from a central organization (the Women's Trade Union League) without the difficulty of divesting already founded local trade autonomies of executive power, began at once a system of educational and defensive work among female labor which is bound to bear results.

Organizers from the Women's Trade Union League have frequently proceeded to the center of a trade dispute among women workers and as often have developed an angry, hysterical crowd, unanimously demanding the redress of a particular grievance, into a deliberative body of serious women, learning to distinguish between the shortsightedness of violent individual assertion and the wisdom of a calm presentation of the case along the lines of greatest good to the greatest number of all concerned in the revolt.

A great deal is said of the apparent indifference of the woman member to the mechanism of her union after she has once enlisted herself under the male officials, but it is doubtful whether this condition has not its exact analogy in the general apathy among all average members of the great associations of coal miners and cotton operatives, which comprise one-fifth of the total trades union membership of Great Britain.

The first and really great work of the women's trade union movement has been the awaking in women workers of a sense of their relationship to labor problems in general. There was at first great difficulty in obtaining detailed and really trustworthy information concerning those branches of labor in which women were engaged. A foolish squeamishness about disclosing their wages and the conditions

under which their work was conducted had to be dispelled before the women could understand that their position in labor was of public interest and important toward the accomplishment of ameliorated and advanced conditions for all workers. It has also been the work of the women trade unions to convince the woman wage-earner that the absence of regulation does not mean freedom. This was difficult even in Lancashire. But now that unionism is general there the Lancashire woman weaver, whose hours of labor and conditions of work are rigidly fixed and yet who enjoys for this reason more personal liberty than the unregulated laundry woman in Notting Hill, forms an object lesson which has materially helped the growth of women's organization in other trades.

The women trade-unionists of Great Britain are strongly in favor of securing their contentions for the betterment of labor conditions through protective legislation rather than by militant action of their organization. They look upon trade unions as a medium for the suggestion and as an aid in the enforcement of legally formulated rights of the worker.

So the women trade-unionists have made every effort to place the interests of the woman worker before the Government for adjudication. From the public demonstration and mass meeting with resultant petitions or resolutions for organized action through the Labor party (with which most of the organized women are affiliated) and through their unions (to which the women contribute an equal levy with the men), every effort has been made to advance matters of as vital importance to the woman wage-earner as her wages.

The consolidated Factory and Workshop Act of 1901, the Truck Act of 1896, the Workmen's Compensation Acts of 1897 and 1906, and the Trades Dispute Act of 1906 are all comparatively recent legislation which has been passed at the instigation of the trade-unionists and (it is conceded) through the emphasized endeavor of women trade union leaders.

Moreover, women's trade unions have initiated important trade movements on their own account. Among these is the crusade against the use of lead in the potteries. This is a matter which, according to the manufacturers, can not be dealt with legislatively by one nation alone; to abolish lead glazing in the English manufactories would be to annihilate the pottery industry in England, because the English products could not then compete with the highly-glazed foreign products. But the Women's Trade Union League has made every effort to mitigate the evils of lead poisoning among women workers. A potters' fund is devoted to keeping a worker in the potteries who shall report cases of suffering; the fund also provides for the relief of the sufferers. Leaflets explaining the evils caused workers by the use of lead in the manufacture of earthenware and china have been issued by the league p

exhibitions of leadless glazed ware were instituted at centers throughout London to interest consumers in this humanitarian effort. Finally an arbitration committee composed of representative manufacturers in this trade and of trade-unionists (appearing for the operatives) was arranged in 1907, and the provisions agreed upon mark a considerable advance toward the elimination of the disease. By these rules a general standard of 5 per cent solubility (i. e., comparative safety) is demanded in the manufacture of lead glazes. An exemption from the standard is allowed under certain conditions, the most important of which is participation in a complete scheme of compensation for loss occasioned by illness caused by the use of lead, but the home secretary has power to forbid the use of lead altogether in places in which cases of lead poisoning recur or where the provisions of the compensation scheme are broken. As there were 103 cases of lead poisoning and 9 deaths from this cause(a) in 1907 among the operatives in potteries, it will be seen that the Women's Trade Union League has secured an important reformatory step in this arbitration, and “ this experimental scheme for dealing with a disease attributable to the materials in an occupation can not fail to be an invaluable precedent for the extension of compensation in this direction." (0)

The league also interested itself in the public agitation for the passage of the bill prohibiting the manufacture of phosphorus matches, which causes such horrible disfigurements and suffering as are produced by necrosis of the jaw, etc., among the women workers. The resolution to abolish the use of phosphorus in this trade had been passed by the International Association of Labor Legislation, but it is the opinion of a labor leader in Parliament that" action on the subject was hastened a long stride” by the incentive of a report prepared by the women's league on cases of victims.

Along this line it is interesting to note, as significant of the complete veering of popular opinion toward the women's trade union efforts that when in 1892 an inquiry into factory conditions was made and published the author was successfully sued for libel, while to-day lists of prosecutions with names of firms, violations, and judgments in full are published in the records of all women's trade unions with no fear of legal recourse on the part of the accused employer.

By clause 22 of the act of 1895 the hours of labor in laundries were fixed at 10 in a day and 30 in a week for children; at 12 in a day and 60 in a week for young persons, and at 14 in a day and 60 in a week for

Violations of even these hours are of most frequent occur

women.

a Annual Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops for the year 1907, p. 308.

0 Annual Report of Woman's Trade Union League, 1907.

« ForrigeFortsett »