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Another great difficulty encountered in a high grade of woman workers is the class distinction adhered to in the different departments of employment. This has made for a long time the organization of such workers as stenographers and typists, clerks, shop assistants, nurses, civil servants, telephone and telegraph operators, and other professional and semiprofessional classes very difficult. For instance, in one public-service system in England, partly state owned and partly a private monopoly, the company has a large staff; but the women employed by the Government, although they are doing exactly the same work as the women employed by the company, regard themselves as superior in the social scale because they are civil employees, and they decline to be members of a society admitting the employees of the private concern.
The same thing is found in other branches of the civil service. Women who have passed a government examination and are employed in a department of the government service consider that a class barrier separates them from the girls who act as telephone clerks, perhaps in the same building.
Among shop assistants this feeling of caste distinction between the gradations of employment under the same roof has presented great difficulties to organization among the women engaged in the distributive trades. For example, the girls who are employed in the showroom of large department stores in London and who, by reason of their occupation as models and exhibitors, wear well fitted, modish dresses, consider that the girls downstairs, who are behind a counter selling handkerchiefs or ribbons, belong to a different social world.
It was not until 1891 that any permanent organization among the shopgirls of England was accomplished. In that year the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants was formed. This union now has 22,000 members out of the 500,000 engaged in the distributive trades.() The membership in London is 5,500, and only about onethird of the members are women.
There is now a small trade organization in London among the women engaged in dressmaking, but for a long time all attempts to unite these workers for an agreement as to hours of work and continuance of employment during the slack season were combated by the women themselves, who considered that membership in a union would sacrifice their status of gentility. They would accept 20 hours' continuous stretches of work in the rush season, and starvation in the time when the fashionable world was sated with gala garments, rather than have their occupation put in the category with the factory
. These figures are given on the authority of the secretary of the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen, and Clerks.
workers. But it should be remembered that in England this class feeling is not confined to women, but also has been found a difficulty in the organization of men employed in the highly skilled trades.
LIABILITY TO VICTIMIZATION AND APATHY.
Certain characteristics attributable to sex do, however, augment the difficulty of preserving a stable organization among industrial
The secretary of the Women's Trade Union League, who has actively pursued the work of propagating women's trade unionism in Great Britain, gives the following as her opinion on this point:
The woman worker is more submissive than the man worker, more inclined to underestimate her own value, and more easily overdone by an unscrupulous employer. It has frequently been experienced that women who join a union, or maybe leading it, are victimized by an employer who would not do so in the case of a man. A valuable example of this may be seen in the case of the
trade of : Here, while the masters' association, recognizing the men's union, voluntarily sat around an arbitration table to discuss
grievances and agreed to minimum rates of payment and other important questions, they absolutely declined to admit representation from the women workers, also organized, despite the fact that the men themselves tried to get the employers to recognize that women should be included in the agreements. Therefore it may be said that women are - more liable to victimization and consequently less likely to form stable organizations.
Another difficulty upon which almost every leader of women's trade unionism throughout the large industries of Great Britain remarks is the apathy of the woman worker toward any change in the condition of labor to which she has been accustomed. This is largely a matter of temperament. In England, except in the sweated industries, the competition of foreign labor is a negligible quantity, and to the mass of native women workers who have, as they say in Scotland, “ been born with a hank of yarn in their hands," custom is regarded as law, and unless the infringement upon their wages or mealtime is flagrant they are slow to respond to a call for organization. When combination is effected the management and the paid secretaryship of the union are more often than not given to male unionists, and the female members never think of conducting initiative action. Even among women trade unions where age has lent dignity and stability to their organization this difference is apparent. In one of the towns in Lancashire, where women operatives in the cotton textile manufacture are perhaps as successfully organized as anywhere else in Great Britain, this condition was found.
In going to the office building, where the men executives of the unions from this district have their offices, the writer was impressed with the number of women workers passing in and out in groups. It was in the evening, and the gray shawls and“ clogs," that had scurried through the streets to the factories in the morning, had given place to rather well fitting, sometimes mildly ornate clothes. To the secretary of one of the largest unions their appearance was commented upon as a demonstration of the success of the woman factory operative in effective organization.
“Yes,” he replied, “they come here to report grievances and collect benefits—for these are precarious occupations and this union pays good benefits. But although the division of membership is the same as it is in the trade, or about nine women to one man, and the women have gained an increase of 50 per cent in wages since the union was started 20 years ago, they are too indifferent to the success of the union to come out to the meetings. And this year they put in such a poor appearance at the annual meeting that the woman who had represented them for 14 years at their trades council was defeated and a man sent in her place.”
This woman was interviewed, and her testimony, based on an experience of over 20 years, as to this indifference of the woman worker to the possibility of power in the union to which she belongs, was even more forcible.
“ They let the men run the unions,” she said, “and then wonder why the legislation they, by the mere weight of their membership in the unions, help the men to secure, is always given an interpretation more favorable to the male operative. There are now in this town posted notices that women touching their machines during meal time are in violation of the factory acts, while the men are allowed to clean theirs and thus gain a half an hour or so in work time. Moreover, according to the standard log worked out between the organized operatives and the employers, men and women are supposed to receive the same pay for mule spinning work, yet there is no woman trade unionist in charge of these machines. They say it is because women would be obliged to turn in the neck of their waists and go stockingless on account of the humidity necessary in these rooms, but if more women asserted themselves at their trade-union meetings with the men the false modesty myth would disappear, I think.”
The Bolton and District Power Loom Weavers' Association has 5,800 women members to 520 men, yet the officials of this union are all men.
And this leads to a consideration of what has been and what is the attitude of the male trade-unionist toward the women's trade union movement.
ATTITUDE OF MALE TRADE UNIONISTS TO ORGAN
IZATION OF WOMEN.
Aside from the attitude of traditional superiority with which men would naturally regard any attempt of women to organize, there was economic argument back of their steady resistance to the combination of women workers either in trade societies of their own or as co-members in the men's unions. Women's labor was cheap labor, liable to undersell that of the men in many branches of trade, and the strengthening of this form of competition by any form of organization was looked upon askance. At the first annual meeting of the Society of Women Employed in Bookbinding there was read a letter of cordial greeting to the new society from its brother organization in the trade, but when a similar congratulatory resolution was moved at the London Trades' Council it met with considerable opposition. ()
But the demand for women's labor increased. The introduction of machinery easy of operation in the manufacturing industries was favorable to the employment of women, and “to the factory system, and the consequent growth of the ready-made trade, must also be traced the great increase in the number of girls employed in the tailoring trade,” (O) and the employment of female labor in the great industry of boot and shoe making greatly increased between 1881 and 1891.(C)
In all these trades the women were not brought in direct competition with men in the higher branches, but they were replacing them in different departments at a lower rate of pay, and male trade-unionists realized that a large mass of underpaid, unorganized labor is bound to affect detrimentally the average worker, and that it was clearly to their own interest to induce women to cooperate for a higher wage rather than to compete for lower.
But it is difficult to determine just what the opinion of the male trade-unionist of the present day is in regard to the advantages or necessity of unionism among industrial women. A high official in the General Federation of Trade Unions points to the fact that in the highest branches of cotton spinning in Lancashire, where more care has been devoted to women's organization than anywhere else, men's wages are lower than in Yorkshire, where trade unionism amounts to only a third of that found in the Lancashire district, and he asserts that outside the textile industries women's trade unionism is a negligible quantity. Among the trade union men in Birmingham this same pessimism exists. Here, however, the women workers are
. Women in the Printing Trades, by J. Ramsay Macdonald, p. 36.
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scattered, a few in each industry, and organization is made impossible.
In Manchester the men trade union leaders are enthusiastic over the work accomplished by the women unions throughout Lancashire. With so many women in the industries here, they say, it is necessary to have their organized support for concurrent action in case of trade disputes, and they point to the great benefit that the maintenance of the log of equal earnings of men and women has wrought in presenting a stable economic condition.
For illustration, take a table of average earnings of highly skilled men and women cotton weavers in Lancashire:
AVERAGE PIECEWORK EARNINGS IN THE LAST WEEK OF SEPTEMBER, 1906,
OF COTTON-CLOTH FOUR-LOOM WEAVERS WORKING FULL TIME. [From Report of an Inquiry by the Board of Trade into the Earnings and Hours of Labor
of Workpeople of the United Kingdom. 1. Textile Trades in 1906, pp. 63, 72.]
The men trade-unionists in the printing trades have offered serious opposition to the organization of the women. This was particularly expressed by the action taken in 1886 at a conference of the typographical societies of the United Kingdom and the Continent, held in London, which resolved:
That while strongly of the opinion that women are not physically capable of performing the duties of a compositor, this conference recommends their admission to membership of the various typographical unions upon the same conditions as journeymen, provided always the females are paid strictly in accordance with scale.
This resolution was subsequently adopted by the London Society of Compositors, with the result that it became practically impossible for any women to join the society. (*)
a Women in the Printing Trades, by J. Ramsay Macdonald, p. 28.