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children I could only get speech with one, a little girl who claimed
thirteen years, though she was smaller than many a child of ten. Indeed,
as I think of her now, I doubt whether she would have come up to the
standard of normal physical development either in weight or stature for
a child of ten. One learns, however, not to judge the ages of working
children by their physical appearance, for they are usually behind other
children in height, weight, and girth of chest,—often as much as two or
three years. If my little Paterson friend was thirteen, perhaps the
nature of her employment will explain her puny, stunted body. She works
in the “steaming room” of the flax mill. All day long, in a room filled
with clouds of steam, she has to stand barefooted in pools of water
twisting coils of wet hemp. When I saw her she was dripping wet, though
she said that she had worn a rubber apron all day. In the coldest
evenings of winter little Marie, and hundreds of other little girls,
must go out from the super-heated steaming rooms into the bitter cold in
just that condition. No wonder that such children are stunted and
underdeveloped!

In textile mill towns like Biddeford, Me., Manchester, N.H., Fall River
and Lawrence, Mass., I have seen many such children, who, if they were
twelve or fourteen according to their certificates and the companies’
registers, were not more than ten or twelve in reality. I have watched
them hurrying into and away from the mills, “those receptacles, in too
many instances, for living human skeletons, almost disrobed of
intellect,” as Robert Owen’s burning phrase describes them.[115] I do
not doubt that, upon the whole, conditions in the textile industries are
better in the North than in the South, but they are nevertheless too bad
to permit of self-righteous boasting and complacency. And in several
other departments of industry conditions are no whit better in the North
than in the South. The child-labor problem is not sectional, but
national.


V

Of the fifteen divisions of the manufacturing industries, the glass
factories rank next to the textile factories in the number of children
they employ. In the year 1900, according to the census returns, the
average number of workers employed in glass manufacture was 52,818, of
which number 3529, or 6.88 per cent, were women, and 7116, or 13.45 per
cent, were children under sixteen years of age. It will be noticed that
the percentage of children employed is about the same as in the textile
trades. There are glass factories in many states, but the bulk of the
industry is centred in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey, and Ohio. The
total value of the products of the glass industry in the United States
in 1900 was $56,539,712, of which amount the four states named
contributed $46,209,918, or 82.91 per cent of the entire value.[116]
After careful investigation in a majority of the places where glass is
manufactured in these four states, I am confident that the number of
children employed is much larger than the census figures indicate.

Perhaps in none of the great industries is the failure to enforce the
child-labor laws more general or complete than in the glass trade. There
are several reasons for this, the most important, perhaps, being the
distribution of the factories in small towns and rural districts, and
the shifting nature of the industry itself. Fuel is the most important
item in the cost of materials in the manufacture of glass, and the aim
of the manufacturers is always to locate in districts where fuel is
cheap and abundant. For this reason Pennsylvania has always ranked first
in the list of glass-manufacturing states. Owing, mainly, to the
discoveries of new supplies of natural gas in Indiana, the glass
products of that state increased fourfold in value from 1890 to
1900.[117] When the supply of gas in a certain locality becomes
exhausted, it is customary to remove the factories to more favorable
places. A few rough wooden sheds are hastily built in the neighborhood
of some good gas supplies, only to be torn down again as soon as these
fail. Hence it happens that glass factories bring new industrial life
into small towns and villages, which soon become to a very large extent
dependent upon them. Almost unconsciously a feeling is developed that,
“for the good of the town,” it will scarcely do to antagonize the glass
manufacturers. I have heard this sentiment voiced by business men and
others in several places. On the other hand, the manufacturers feel the
strength of their position and constantly threaten to remove their
plants if they are interfered with and prevented from getting boys.

I shall never forget my first visit to a glass factory at night. It was
a big wooden structure, so loosely built that it afforded little
protection from draughts, surrounded by a high fence with several rows
of barbed wire stretched across the top. I went with the foreman of the
factory and he explained to me the reason for the stockade-like fence.
“It keeps the young imps inside once we’ve got ’em for the night shift,”
he said. The “young imps” were, of course, the boys employed, about
forty in number, at least ten of whom were less than twelve years of
age. It was a cheap bottle factory, and the proportion of boys to men
was larger than is usual in the higher grades of manufacture. Cheapness
and child labor go together,—the cheaper the grade of manufacture, as a
rule, the cheaper the labor employed. The hours of labor for the “night
shift” were from 5.30 P.M. to 3.30 A.M. I stayed and watched the boys at
their work for several hours, and when their tasks were done saw them
disappear into the darkness and storm of the night. That night, for the
first time, I realized the tragic significance of cheap bottles. One
might well paraphrase Hood’s lines and say:—

“They are not bottles you idly break,
But human creatures’ lives!”

In the middle of the room was a large round furnace with a number of
small doors, three or four feet from the ground, forming a sort of belt
around the furnace. In front of these doors the glass-blowers were
working. With long wrought-iron blowpipes the blowers deftly took from
the furnace little wads of waxlike molten “metal” which they blew into
balls and then rolled on their rolling boards. These elongated rolls
they dropped into moulds and then blew again, harder than before, to
force the half-shaped mass into its proper form. With a sharp, clicking
sound they broke their pipes away and repeated the whole process. There
was not, of course, the fascination about their work that the more
artistic forms of glass-blowing possess. There was none of that twirling
of the blowpipes till they looked like so many magic wands which for
centuries has made the glass-blower’s art a delightful, half-mysterious
thing to watch. But it was still wonderful to see the exactness of each
man’s “dip,” and the deftness with which they manipulated the balls
before casting them into the moulds.

Then began the work of the boys. By the side of each mould sat a
“take-out boy,” who, with tongs, took the half-finished bottles—not yet
provided with necks—out of the moulds. Then other boys, called
“snapper-ups,” took these bodies of bottles in their tongs and put the
small ends into gas-heated moulds till they were red hot. Then the boys
took them out with almost incredible quickness and passed them to other
men, “finishers,” who shaped the necks of the bottles into their final
form. Then the “carrying-in boys,” sometimes called “carrier pigeons,”
took the red-hot bottles from the benches, three or four at a time, upon
big asbestos shovels to the annealing oven, where they are gradually
cooled off to insure even contraction and to prevent breaking in
consequence of too rapid cooling. The work of these “carrying-in boys,”
several of whom were less than twelve years old, was by far the hardest
of all. They were kept on a slow run all the time from the benches to
the annealing oven and back again. I can readily believe what many
manufacturers assert, that it is difficult to get men to do this work,
because men cannot stand the pace and get tired too quickly. It is a
fact, however, that in many factories men are employed to do this work,
especially at night. In other, more up-to-date factories it is done by
automatic machinery. I did not measure the distance from the benches to
the annealing oven, nor did I count the number of trips made by the
boys, but my friend, Mr. Owen R. Lovejoy, has done so in a typical
factory and very kindly furnished me with the results of his
calculation.[118] The distance to the annealing oven in the factory in
question was one hundred feet, and the boys made seventy-two trips per
hour, making the distance travelled in eight hours nearly twenty-two
miles. Over half of this distance the boys were carrying their hot loads
to the oven. The pay of these boys varies from sixty cents to a dollar
for eight hours’ work. About a year ago I gathered particulars of the
pay of 257 boys in New Jersey and Pennsylvania; the lowest pay was forty
cents per night and the highest a dollar and ten cents, while the
average was seventy-two cents.

[Illustration:

NIGHT SHIFT IN A GLASS FACTORY
]

In New Jersey, since 1903, the employment of boys under fourteen years
of age is forbidden, but there is no restriction as to night work for
boys of that age. In Pennsylvania boys of fourteen may work by night. In
Ohio night work is prohibited for all under sixteen years of age, but so
far as my personal observations, and the testimony of competent and
reliable observers, enable me to judge, the law is not very effectively
enforced in this respect in the glass factories. In Indiana the
employment of children under fourteen in factories is forbidden. Women
and girls are not permitted to work between the hours of 10 P.M. and 6
A.M., but there is no restriction placed upon the employment of boys
fourteen years of age or over by night.[119]

The effects of the employment of young boys in glass factories,
especially by night, are injurious from every possible point of view.
The constant facing of the glare of the furnaces and the red-hot bottles
causes serious injury to the sight; minor accidents from burning are
common. “Severe burns and the loss of sight are regular risks of the
trade in glass-bottle making,” says Mrs. Florence Kelley.[120] Even more
serious than the accidents are those physical disorders induced by the
conditions of employment. Boys who work at night do not as a rule get
sufficient or satisfactory rest by day. Very often they cannot sleep
because of the noises made by younger children in and around the house;
more often, perhaps, they prefer to play rather than to sleep. Indeed,
most boys seem to prefer night work, for the reason that it gives them
the chance to play during the daytime. Even where the mothers are
careful and solicitous, they find it practically impossible to control
boys who are wage-earners and feel themselves to be independent. This
lack of proper rest, added to the heat and strain of their work,
produces nervous dyspepsia. From working in draughty sheds where they
are often, as one boy said to me in Zanesville, O., “burning on the side
against the furnace and pretty near freezing on the other,” they are
frequently subject to rheumatism. Going from the heated factories to
their homes, often a mile or so distant, perspiring and improperly clad,
with their vitality at its lowest ebb, they fall ready victims to
pneumonia and to its heir, the Great White Plague. In almost every
instance when I have asked local physicians for their experience, they
have named these as the commonest physical results. Of the fearful moral
consequences there can be no question. The glass-blowers themselves
realize this and, even more than the physical deterioration, it prevents
them from taking their own children into the glass houses. One
practically never finds the son of a glass-blower employed as a
“snapper-up,” or “carrying-in boy,” unless the father is dead or
incapacitated by reason of sickness. “I’d sooner see my boy dead than
working here. You might as well give a boy to the devil at once as send
him to a glass factory,” said one blower to me in Glassborough, N.J.;
and that is the spirit in which most of the men regard the matter.

So great is the demand for boys that it is possible at almost any time
for a boy to get employment for a single night. Indeed, “one shifters”
are so common in some districts that the employers have found it
necessary to institute a system of bonuses for those boys who work every
night in a week. Out of this readiness to employ boys for a single night
has grown a terrible evil,—boys attending school all day and then
working in the factories by night. Many such cases have been reported to
me, and Mrs. Van Der Vaart declares that “it is customary in Indiana for
the school boys to work Thursday and Friday nights and attend school
during the day.”[121] Mr. Lovejoy found the same practice in
Steubenville, O., and other places.[122] Teachers in glass-manufacturing
centres have repeatedly told me that among the older boys were some who,
because of their employment by night in the factories, were drowsy and
unable to receive any benefits from their attendance at school.

In some districts, especially in New Jersey, it has long been the custom
to import boys from certain orphan asylums and “reformatories” to supply
the demand of the manufacturers. These boys are placed in laborers’
families, and their board paid for by the employers, who deduct it from
the boys’ wages. Thus a veritable system of child slavery has developed,
remarkably like the old English pauper-apprentice system. “These
imported boys are under no restraint by day or night,” says Mrs. Kelley,
“and are wholly without control during the idle hours. They are in the
streets in gangs, in and out of the police courts and the jails, a
burden to themselves and to the community imposed by the demand of this
boy-destroying industry.”[123] It is perhaps only indicative of the
universal readiness of men to concern themselves with the mote in their
brothers’ eyes without considering the beam in their own, that I should
have attended a meeting in New Jersey where the child labor of the South
was bitterly condemned, but no word was said of the appalling nature of
the problem in the state of New Jersey itself.


VI

According to the census of 1900, there were 25,000 boys under sixteen
years of age employed in and around the mines and quarries of the United
States. In the state of Pennsylvania alone,—the state which enslaves
more children than any other,—there are thousands of little “breaker
boys” employed, many of them not more than nine or ten years old. The
law forbids the employment of children under fourteen, and the records
of the mines generally show that the law is “obeyed.” Yet in May, 1905,
an investigation by the National Child Labor Committee showed that in
one small borough of 7000 population, among the boys employed in
breakers 35 were nine years old, 40 were ten, 45 were eleven, and 45
were twelve—over 150 boys illegally employed in one section of boy labor
in one small town! During the anthracite coal strike of 1902, I attended
the Labor Day demonstration at Pittston and witnessed the parade of
another at Wilkesbarre. In each case there were hundreds of boys
marching, all of them wearing their “working buttons,” testifying to the
fact that they were _bona fide_ workers. Scores of them were less than
ten years of age, others were eleven or twelve.

Work in the coal breakers is exceedingly hard and dangerous. Crouched
over the chutes, the boys sit hour after hour, picking out the pieces of
slate and other refuse from the coal as it rushes past to the washers.
From the cramped position they have to assume, most of them become more
or less deformed and bent-backed like old men. When a boy has been
working for some time and begins to get round-shouldered, his fellows
say that “He’s got his boy to carry round wherever he goes.” The coal is
hard, and accidents to the hands, such as cut, broken, or crushed
fingers, are common among the boys. Sometimes there is a worse accident:
a terrified shriek is heard, and a boy is mangled and torn in the
machinery, or disappears in the chute to be picked out later smothered
and dead.[124] Clouds of dust fill the breakers and are inhaled by the
boys, laying the foundations for asthma and miners’ consumption. I once
stood in a breaker for half an hour and tried to do the work a
twelve-year-old boy was doing day after day, for ten hours at a stretch,
for sixty cents a day. The gloom of the breaker appalled me. Outside the
sun shone brightly, the air was pellucid, and the birds sang in chorus
with the trees and the rivers. Within the breaker there was blackness,
clouds of deadly dust enfolded everything, the harsh, grinding roar of
the machinery and the ceaseless rushing of coal through the chutes
filled the ears. I tried to pick out the pieces of slate from the
hurrying stream of coal, often missing them; my hands were bruised and
cut in a few minutes; I was covered from head to foot with coal dust,
and for many hours afterwards I was expectorating some of the small
particles of anthracite I had swallowed.

[Illustration:

BREAKER BOYS AT WORK
]

I could not do that work and live, but there were boys of ten and twelve
years of age doing it for fifty and sixty cents a day. Some of them had
never been inside of a school; few of them could read a child’s primer.
True, some of them attended the night schools, but after working ten
hours in the breaker the educational results from attending school were
practically _nil_. “We goes fer a good time, an’ we keeps de guys wots
dere hoppin’ all de time,” said little Owen Jones, whose work I had been
trying to do. How strange that barbaric patois sounded to me as I
remembered the rich, musical language I had so often heard other little
Owen Joneses speak in far-away Wales. As I stood in that breaker I
thought of the reply of the small boy to Robert Owen. Visiting an
English coal-mine one day, Owen asked a twelve-year-old lad if he knew
God. The boy stared vacantly at his questioner: “God?” he said, “God?
No, I don’t. He must work in some other mine.” It was hard to realize
amid the danger and din and blackness of that Pennsylvania breaker that
such a thing as belief in a great All-good God existed.

From the breakers the boys graduate to the mine depths, where they
become door tenders, switch-boys, or mule-drivers. Here, far below the
surface work is still more dangerous. At fourteen or fifteen the boys
assume the same risks as the men, and are surrounded by the same perils.
Nor is it in Pennsylvania only that these conditions exist. In the
bituminous mines of West Virginia, boys of nine or ten are frequently
employed. I met one little fellow ten years old in Mt. Carbon, W. Va.,
last year, who was employed as a “trap boy.” Think of what it means to
be a trap boy at ten years of age. It means to sit alone in a dark mine
passage hour after hour, with no human soul near; to see no living
creature except the mules as they pass with their loads, or a rat or two
seeking to share one’s meal; to stand in water or mud that covers the
ankles, chilled to the marrow by the cold draughts that rush in when you
open the trap-door for the mules to pass through; to work for fourteen
hours—waiting—opening and shutting a door—then waiting again—for sixty
cents; to reach the surface when all is wrapped in the mantle of night,
and to fall to the earth exhausted and have to be carried away to the
nearest “shack” to be revived before it is possible to walk to the
farther shack called “home.”

Boys twelve years of age may be _legally_ employed in the mines of West
Virginia, by day or by night, and for as many hours as the employers
care to make them toil or their bodies will stand the strain. Where the
disregard of child life is such that this may be done openly and with
legal sanction, it is easy to believe what miners have again and again
told me—that there are hundreds of little boys of nine and ten years of
age employed in the coal-mines of this state.


VII

It is not my purpose to deal specifically with all the various forms of
child labor. That would require a much larger volume than this to be
devoted exclusively to the subject. Children are employed at a tender
age in hundreds of occupations. In addition to those already enumerated,
there were in 1900, according to the census, nearly 12,000 workers under
sixteen years of age employed in the manufacture of tobacco and cigars,
and it is certain that the number actually employed in that most
unhealthful occupation was much greater. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania,
I have seen hundreds of children, boys and girls, between the ages of
ten and twelve years, at work in the factories belonging to the “Cigar
Trust.” Some of these factories are known as “kindergartens” on account
of the large number of small children employed in them.[125] It is by no
means a rare occurrence for children in these factories to faint or to
fall asleep over their work, and I have heard a foreman in one of them
say that it was “enough for one man to do just to keep the kids awake.”
In the domestic manufacture of cheap cigars, many very young children
are employed. Often the “factories” are poorly lighted, ill-ventilated
tenements in which work, whether for children or adults, ought to be
absolutely prohibited. Children work often as many as fourteen or even
sixteen hours in these little “home factories,” and in cities like
Pittsburg, Pa., it is not unusual for them, after attending school all
day, to work from 4 P.M. to 12.30 A.M., making “tobies” or “stogies,”
for which they receive from eight to ten cents per hundred.

In the wood-working industries, more than 10,000 children were reported
to be employed in the census year, almost half of them in saw-mills,
where accidents are of almost daily occurrence, and where clouds of fine
sawdust fill the lungs of the workers. Of the remaining 50 per cent, it
is probable that more than half were working at or near dangerous
machines, such as steam planers and lathes. Over 7000 children, mostly
girls, were employed in laundries; 2000 in bakeries; 138,000 as servants
and waiters in restaurants and hotels; 42,000 boys as messengers; and
20,000 boys and girls in stores. In all these instances there is every
reason to suppose that the actual number employed was much larger than
the official figures show.

In the canning and preservation of fish, fruit, and vegetables mere
babies are employed during the busy season. In more than one canning
factory in New York State, I have seen children of six and seven years
of age working at two o’clock in the morning. In Oneida, Mr. William
English Walling, formerly a factory inspector of Illinois, found one
child four years old, who earned nineteen cents in an afternoon
stringing beans, and other children from seven to ten years of age.[126]
There are over 500 canning factories in New York State, but the census
of 1900 gives the number of children employed under sixteen years of age
as 219. This is merely another illustration of the deceptiveness of the
statistics which are gathered at so much expense. The agent of the New
York Child Labor Committee was told by the foreman of one factory that
there were 300 children under fourteen years of age in that one factory!
In Syracuse it was a matter of complaint, in the season of 1904, on the
part of the children, that “The factories will not take you _unless you
are eight years old_.”[127]

In Maryland there are absolutely no restrictions placed upon the
employment of children in canneries. They may be employed at any age, by
day or night, for as many hours as the employers choose, or the children
can stand and keep awake. In Oxford, Md., I saw a tiny girl, seven years
old, who had worked for twelve hours in an oyster-canning factory, and I
was told that such cases were common. There were 290 canning
establishments in the state of Maryland in 1900, all of them employing
young children absolutely without legal restriction. And I fear that it


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Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe Bitter Cry of the Children → online text (page 11 of 22)