Frank Albert Fetter.

Source book in economics, selected and ed. for the use of college classes online

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cent, is foreign and 16.9 per cent, of domestic make.


Loom production, [page 494]. The table [153, here
omitted] sho-\vs that the prodiietion per weaver per hour
ou 29 of the 31 dilt'ereiit kinds of cloth was very much greater
in the United States than in England, reaching in some in-
stances to five times as much. The reason for this is shown in
the column, "Number of looms attended per weaver."

In England the weavers on sample number 14 of the cloths
tended two looms, on sample No. 89 three looms, and on the
other 29 samples four looms each.

In the United States the number tended on most of the
cloths ranged from 6 to 28 looms per weaver. On 7 samples
as low as 3 looms per weaver were operated in the United
States, the average in 2 mills being 5 looms and in 4 mills 6
looms each. On samples 30 and 31 the average number of
looms tended in this country was the same as in England.

The column "Speed of looms in picks per minute" shows
that on 22 samples the speed of the English looms exceeded
that of the United States looms. On 2 samples it was the
same in both countries, and on 7 samples it was less in Eng-
land than in the United States.

The column "Yards produced per loom per hour" shows
that owing to greater speed of English looms on 22 samples the
English production per loom is higher; on 5 samples it was
the same as in this country; and on 4 samples it was less in

In the table comparison is made of English looms with the
automatic as well as the plain looms used in the United States.
The number of plain looms attended by one weaver in the
United States greatly exceeds the number attended in Eng-

As the automatic looms in use in Lancashire form less than
1 per cent, of the total looms there, they are not included in
the comparative production shown in this table. Their use,
however, is growing in England, though slowly. The report
of the British tariff commission shows that in 1905 there were
"only about 1000 of these working in England," while in May,


1911, there were 5409 automatic looms in use in Lancashire
in a total of 741,260 looms of all kinds in use there at that
date. It is estimated that there are at the date of this re-
port nearly 10,000 automatic looms in Great Britain, as against
approximately 220,000 in the United States.

Factors limiting automatic looms. Several reasons are
advanced for the delay in the more general adoption of the
automatic loom in England. For one thing, the automatic
loom costs about two and a half times the ordinary plain
loom, and this has deterred many English mills already
equipped with plain looms from adopting them. Again,
English mills do not run such a large number of looms on a
single-standard fabric as do American mills, and the auto-
matic loom has not been found so suitable as plain looms
for the varied Lancashire trade in dhoties and other fancies.
Furthermore, the automatic loom requires stronger and better
warp yarn than the plain loom, for the breakage of a single
warp thread stops the loom. The American mills use strong
ringspun warp yarns; while a large portion of the English
mills, producing mainly for the poorer classes of the Orient
and other regions, have to size heavily to make goods cheap
enough, and they ordinarily use a much lower grade of yarn
than would American mills for fabrics that pass imder the
same trade name. The warp yarns used in the bulk of Eng-
lish cloths are mule spun; and since they are soft twisted
to enable them to take up a larger amount of sizing and to
give the required feel to the cloth, they are not so suited to
the automatic loom as are the stronger American yarns.

An additional reason for the limited use of the automatic
looms appears to be the objection to them of the labor unions,
which have been afraid that they would be used to displace
labor and to throw more work on the weaver without propor-
tionately increasing his earnings.

Men and women are employed in weaving both in Eng-
land and in the United States. It is probable that upon the
whole there is little difference between the amount of work


(lone by men weavers and by women weavers. The protlnc-
tion of the men weavers is, if anything, slightly greater. As
has already been shown, there is a difference as between Eng-
land and the United States in the practice of supplying
weavers with assistance. ,In England a weaver has assigned
to him a given number of looms, and is commonly required
to do all the "laboring" connected with these looms. In the
Tinited States the weavers have, as a general rule, no helpers,
but the work of oiling, sweeping, and carrying yarn and cloth
is done by operatives known as "oilers," "sweepers," and
"tilling carriers," etc., employed by the mill. In a number
of the American mills for which information was secured the
wages of oilers and other employees mentioned amounted to
slightly over 7 per cent, of the wages of the weavers. This
percentage may therefore be regarded as the amount of as-
sistance which the American weavers receive in their work.
As the English w^eavers usually pay their own help, the per-
centage representing the assistance received by American
weavers should be taken into consideration when comparing
the amount of work done.


[The following extracts have been made with the assistance of the
author, D. A. McCabe, assistant professor of economics in Princeton
University, and are printed with the publishers' approval. These
selections comprise parts of the Introduction, pp. 10-16, and parts
of Chapter II, found on pp. 83-106 (rate grouping by competency)
and on pp. 114-119 (wages and efficiency), from The Standard Rate
in American Trade Unions, Johns Hopkins University Studies in His-
torical and Political Science, 30tli series, No. 2, 1912.]

The standard rate as a minimum [page 10], The main-
teuanee of standard rates has always been a leading feature of
American trade-union wage policies. The unions have from
the first sought to attain their primary purpose of advancing
wages by substituting collectively established rates of wages
for those which their members could obtain in isolated wage
bargains. Almost universally their efforts in this direction
have taken the form of the establishment and enforcement
of standard rates. . , . The standard rate is ordinarily ex-
pressed as a minimum rate. Members are allowed to receive
more than the standard rate, but for a member to work for
less, unless specifically exempted by the union, is a violation
of the union rule. The establishment of a standard rate does
not, therefore, necessarily secure to the unions complete par-
ticipation in the settlement of the wage rate to be paid in
each individual case. Such full participation would require
that the union rate should be the actual rate paid to each
workman. Union piece prices are almost always the rates
actually paid, for there is ordinarily no good reason why the
employers should pay one member more per piece than an-
other for the same kind of work. Standard time rates, how-
ever, are, with few exceptions, not only nominally but actually



minimum rates, leaving it necessary for individual settle-
ments to determine in each case whether and to what extent
the rate to be actually paid shall exceed the standard.

Piece rates as contrasted with time rates are therefore intrin-
sically better adapted to collective action. Since those who are
working by the piece on the same kinds of product or parts of a
product ordinarily are paid at the same rate, they all have a
common interest in the rate. But there is no such advan-
tageous rallying point in the matter of time wages. Indeed
there is a natural tendency in time wages to variation on ac-
count of differences in competency among the workmen. In
the case of the piece rate, or of the normal work day, on
the contrary, the union makes a uniform demand, which is
assumed to advance the interests of all alike, and can be
easily made the subject of union bargaining for the group as
a whole.

Difficulty of rating time workers. Bargaining for time
wages thus presents an inherent difficulty. It is not reducible
to a uniform demand which is to affect all alike. On the other
hand the policy of establishing a distinct time rate for each
individual worker has not commended itself to the unions.
This policy would give the union full control of actual
wages, if it could be enforced; but the union rate would
in each case apply to an individual only. There w^ould be
collective action, but not for a rate with collective application.
As actually in vogue, the standard time rate may not give
complete union determination of actual wages; but it does
make possible a rate of collective application. It has the
advantage of simplicity as a means of determining wages
for a considerable number of men iu collective bargaining and
as an obligation to be enforced by the union. In choosing
to enforce minimum time rates rather than actual individual
rates the unions have surrendered a possible complete partici-
pation in the determination of actual wages in favor of a kind
of union rate which makes much more feasible the establish-
ment by union bargaining, or — in the absence of a union


agreement with the employer — by collective enforcement, of
the rates adopted by the union. . . .

Problems in adjusting the minimum [page 15]. The
questions of chief interest in the employment of the standard
time rate grow out of the fact that, as workmen are found,
there are variations in efficiency in practically every group of
workers. If the union is to secure effective participation in
wage determination the minimum rate must be so adjusted
that a relatively large proportion of the workmen covered by
a particular rate will be favorably affected in a perceptible
way by its existence. The basis chosen for the inclusion of
workers within a given rate group very largely determines
the difficulty of reaching this result. If the groups are so
divided that the members of each are of almost equal wage-
earning capacity the minimum rate will stand in approxi-
mately the same relation to the wages of all the members of
the group. In such a case the use of the standard rate for
time wages seems to reap a maximum of union advantage.
If, however, the members employed in a given trade or branch
of a trade vary considerably in worth to the employer, unless
they are grouped according to competency and each group
rated correspondingly, any particular standard rate will either
be so low as to be of little appreciable support to the most
efficient men, or so high as to exclude a number of the least
efficient from employment at the union rate.

There is obviously an inherent difficulty in establishing
standard rates for workers who are not standardized. Oc-
casionally unions have sought for a solution in the direction
of standardizing the workers by dividing them into groups
according to competency. But the usual basis of grouping
is the kind of work done, not the efficiency with which it is
done. An appreciable tendency toward standardization of
men engaged in the same kind of work or subject to the
same minimum, at least toward the elimination of those below
a somewhat variable level of capacity, is fostered in many
unions by the requirements as to competency insisted on for


admission to membership. In llie great majority of eases,
however, the same rate applies to workers of appreciably
differing capacities, and the establishment of the standard
leaves some members of more than average efficiency under
the necessity of individual contracting to secure wages
higher than their less efficient fellow members. The influ-
ence of the various phases of union policy connected with
the maintenance of minimum time rates on the opportunities
of the speedier or more highly skilled workmen to obtain
more than the union rate, and the extent to which they
actually do obtain more, are among the most significant ques-
tions connected with union wage policies — and the most diffi-
cult of exact answer. . . .

Group rates by kinds of work in a trade [page 83]. The
line of demarcation between groups subject to different mini-
mum rates has nearly always to do with the kind of Avork the
members are performing, not with the degree of competency
shown in doing work of the same kind. In many trades there
are two or more separate kinds of work which are recognized
as constituting distinct branches or subdivisions of the trade
or craft, each in itself the special, and for the most part ex-
clusive, occupation of those who follow it. Where there are
such occupational groups within the membership of a union
— and in most time-working trades there are at least two,
and often several — the general union policy is to establish
different minimum rates for groups recognized as requiring
different grades of skill. . . .

The differences in occupation within the membership of a
union are often wider than those within what may be consid-
ered a trade or craft. Some unions, the so-called "industrial"
unions, include workmen of several trades within their mem-
bership. ... In such unions as these, the question of rating
naturally resolves itself at the outset into a separate deter-
mination for each of the distinct trades.

]\Iany unions are composed of the members of trades
which have been much subdivided in recent years in conse-


quence of advances in productive methods. The Garment
Workers, Ladies' Garment Workers, Boot and Shoe Work-
ers, Bookbinders, and Laundry Workers, are conspicuous
examples of this class. In each of these trades there are
subdivisions which require no common apprenticeship, and
from one to another of which workers do not ordinarily
pass. Each of these subdivisions is; virtually a distinct trade
or craft from the standpoint of wage rating and is recog-
nized as such by the unions. . . .

[Page 86] Finally, there are unions which maintain dis-
tinct minimum rates for groups of workers divided according
to the stages of advancement which they have reached in the
trade. The International Printing Pressmen's Union is such
a union. . . . The Lithographers also fix a series of rates
of wide range for their members in charge of presses, accord-
ing to the size of the press. The Machine Printers' rates
for printing wall paper vary in similar fashion with the
number of colors printed.

There are many other instances of differentiation in rates
within a union according to degree of proficiency. . . . The
rates of the Compressed Air Workers vary according to the
pounds of pressure under which the work is done. This is
partly a matter of physical strength, but also a matter of
experience in more difficult work.

There are also unions which set higher rates for groups of
men who have specialized on work which is above the skill of
the ordinary journeyman. [Various examples] ... In some
trades, too, foremen and men "in charge of gangs" are given
higher minimum rates. In nearly all of these unions the
higher-rated men are in the same unions with the members
following the common branch of the trade. Where men are
not separately rated, although engaged regularly on work
recognized as requiring more skill than is expected of the
average journeyman, it is usually because these men are com-
paratively few in number, or do not feel the need of a higher
union rate to secure higher wages, or because the union does


not wish the work to be assigned to a specialized class of

Sometimes a distinction is made in the minimum rate for
other reasons than differences in trade skill. The Granite
Cutters have a higher rate for outside work than for work
done under shelter, to compensate for the exposure and greater
lack of regularity in the former. Men working on surface
machines are also usually given higher rates in this union, not
because the work requires greater than average skill but on
account of the exposure to the fine dust. . . . Sometimes men
in the building trades, jDarticularly bricklayers and carpenters,
are allowed by their local unions to take special yearly jobs
at rates that amount to less per day than the union minimum.
These are usually positions with corporations with large es-
tablishments which do their own repair work and undertake
no building contracts. These positions are exempted from
the regular daily rate because the work is not done in compe-
tition with contractors in the trade and because the men earn
more in the year than members at the minimum.

Rate grouping by competency, opposed [page 94]. The
suggestion has often been made to time-working unions that
instead of setting a single rate for all men engaged in the
same kind of work they should divide their members into
classes on the basis of competency and fix a separate rate for
each class. Nearly every important time-working union has
at some time or other faced a proposal of this kind emanating
from the employers or from its own members. The employers
have urged that such a plan would remove the chief defect
in the minimum rate, that is, the necessity which the em-
ployer is under of paying the less competent men the same
rate as the good, average man. Within the unions the pro-
posal has been advocated on the ground that it will allow the
less proficient members to obtain work and at the same time
make it possible to maintain a high minimum for the better
men. This policy in rating has naturally been most strongly
urged upon those unions in which the differences in ef-


ficieney among members doing the same work are very large,
a circumstance which throws into greater relief the fact that
a large number of men of varying competency are subject to
the same minimum rate. The classification of men on the
basis of differences in competency has not, however, com-
mended itself generally to the unions. Very few unions now
look upon this method of rating with favor or are willing to
adopt it except as a temporary expedient. Many of the im-
portant time-working unions have had experience with the
plan and nearly all of these have fought for its abolition, in
nearly all cases with success. . . .

[Page 97] The general rejection by the unions of the sys-
tem of grading members for wage rating proceeds from the be-
lief that it tends to reduce wages through the competition of
the more poorly paid with the better paid workmen. It has
usually been found extremely difficult to assign members to
their grades so exactly as to insure that some men shall not
be given a lower rate by the union than the general run of
members of the same capacity are receiving and are required
to demand. It is difficult, too, to insure that men of lower
grades shall be transferred to a higher grade when their
competency rises above that of their grade. The unions con-
sider it a further objection that the maintenance of a rate or
rates below the point at which a single minimum would be set
makes for the retention in the trade of a class of inefficient or
partially trained workmen. . . .

Rate grouping in practice. Yet at least two unions in the
building trades — the Lathers and the Wood Carvers — still ac-
cept it as an unobjectionable method of wage regulation. . . .
Local unions in other trades have occasionally found it good
policy to divide their members into two or three classes ac-
cording to competency. When a union is first established in
a locality or when a large plant is unionized the local union
may find the new members grouped into two or three or even
more fairly distinct wage classes. If the members have been
working under the piece system there may be a considerable


divergence in wages, particularly if the work is not highly
skilled. Under these circumstances it is difficult to find one
rate that will be satisfactory as a minimum. The adoption of
a single minimum ii: high would exclude the less capable men,
and probably make it impossible to secure a wage agreement
with the employer; a single low minimum would not be of
much support to the men of higher earning capacity. Rather
than take either of these courses local unions have in many
cases preferred to establish two or three rates of wages. In
such cases, however, the local union expects to eliminate the
lower rate as soon as possible, and it is usually urged to do
this by the national union. , . .

[Page 103 j In some unions there are systems of rating
which closely resemble grouping according to competency.
Several unions allow young men just out of apprenticeship to
work for three or six months or a year at specified rates lower
than the regular minimum. Permission to work at a lower
rate is granted to young journeymen who have just finished
their apprenticeship more frequently by the metal-trades and
railroad-shop unions than by the building-trades unions. . , .

[Page 105] Nearly all unions permit members who have be-
come unable to command the minimum rate because of old
age or physical infirmity to work for what they can get.
There are a few time-working unions which have no rule to
this effect, because the nature of the work is such that expe-
rience offsets the loss of physical vigor, or because physical
vigor counts for so much in the work that old men are not
w^anted by the employers even at lower rates. Some local
unions w^hich have both piece-price lists and time rates, as
in a few of the Granite Cutters' branches, provide that old
men employed by the hour or day shall be paid according to
what their work averages by the piece bill. Some other local
unions stipulate that the wages of the exempted men shall be
agreed upon by a union committee in conference with the em-
ployer. In very few local unions does the number of ex-
empted men exceed five per cent, of the membership, and the


exemption is made on a much more ascertainable basis than
competency. . . .

Wages and efficiency in time work [Page 114]. Very
little seems to be known as to the differences in efficiency
among men engaged in the same kind o£ work. It is safe to
assume, however, that they are not reflected in time-working
trades with any exactness by the wages paid, even where there
is no union minimum. When the union confines its action
in wage rating to the establishment of a single minimum rate
for members engaged in the same kind of work, it is ob-
vious that the adjustment of individual earnings to individual
capacity is not as likely to be secured as under the piece-rate
system. Even where the union does not discourage large
outputs, the time wages of the better men do not exceed the
minimum in the same proportion that the men show efficiency
above the average. It is safe to state that generally when men
whose earning capacity is above that of the average journey-
man are left dependent upon individual bargaining for wages
above the minimum, they do not receive additional wages com-
mensurate with their superior capacity.

Of most time-working unions it can be said, however, that
the variations in efficiency within the membership are not as
wide as among men in the same trades outside the union.
The mere insistence on a minimum rate vrhich is intended to
be almost as much, if not as much, as the average member
can successfully demand, necessarily excludes from the union
men much below the average of competency. Such men can-
not obtain regular employment at the union rate, and it is
consequently useless for them to retain union membership.

Union tests of competency. But time-working unions do
not rely solely upon a high minimum to keep their member-
ship clear of men considerably below the average in compe-
tency. Practically all of the skilled trades require that can-
didates for membership must prove their competency or be
vouched for as competent by members who have worked with
them. Where the testimony of members on the same "job"


is accepted as sufficient evidence of competency the test is
practically reduced to ability to secure employment at the
minimum rate. In a number of unions, however, as, for in-
stance, the Plumbers, the Electrical Workers, the Stereotypers
and Electrotypers, and the Bricklayers, the candidate must
l)rove his competency by passing a serious examination set by
a special board or committee. Finally, many time-working

Online LibraryFrank Albert FetterSource book in economics, selected and ed. for the use of college classes → online text (page 17 of 30)