Wisconsin. Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statisti.

Biennial report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of ..., Volume 13, Part 7 online

. (page 25 of 107)
Online LibraryWisconsin. Bureau of Labor and Industrial StatistiBiennial report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of ..., Volume 13, Part 7 → online text (page 25 of 107)
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is true of lace making is also true of many other industries.



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202 LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL STATISTICS.

To pay a high price for a thing is not in^itsclf of much help.
As things go there is no guaranty that the difference in price
will in i.ny way benefit the worker. This is plain from the way
in which goods are placed upon the market The retailer who
offers them for sale buys them from the wholesaler. The whole
saler in turn buys them from the manufacturer who employs
the real makers. Xow the consumer buys from die retailer and
any increase in the price would have to be paid to him. The
question then arises as to whether the retailer, in the very na-
ture of things, can be expected to pass over the bounty to the
wholesaler and the wholesaler in turn to the manufacturer and
he in turn to his workers. The chances that any such course
would be followed are very remote. Under our competitive
methods each one will pay only what he has to and chaise whait
tJie market will stand. This may not be in accordance with the
highest ethical principles but it certainly is the practice of the
business world.

These are not all the obstacles in the way of the Consumers'
league. There are many cases where practically all the goods
of a certain kind on the market are made under conditions that
the league would wish to repudiate either in part or as a whole.
As a consequence the consumer is forced to buy the sweat shop
goods or go without needed articles. Such instances are by no
means rare. The makers of cheap goods are usually energetic,
pushing business men who advertise liberally and in the end
secure control of the market. They literally cj^owd out goods
of the other class. Under such circumstance^ the consumers are
often placed in a position whore tliey cannot possibly carrj out
their good intentions. Then again t3io difficulty of telling cheap
goods from dear has brought about many impositions and made
buyers so suspicious that they often buy as cheap as they can,
regardless of how the article may have l)een made. A large
proportion of goods which are imported and some that are ex-
[x>rted are also made under sweated conditions, and these the
consumers cannot reach. These are only a few of the obstacles
the consumer has to overcome when he endeavor^ to so regulate
his purchases as to do away with sweating, but they are quite
sufficient to show tliat he has no small task before him.



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SWEATING IN THE GARMENT-MAKING TRADES. 203

Regardless of all these drawbacks, however, the league has
already proved its usefulness and power in the social field. Per-
haps ttie most valuable work it has done so far has been of an
educational nature, since through it inore than through any
other one source has public attention been called to the sweating
evil. In fact, to its firm stand in this respect is largely 3ue
the growing sentiment against sweating, a sentiment that has
led to many investigations through which the true situation is
becoming known. This of itself is of vast importance. Actual
knowledge must precede all intelligent action. Even public
opinion can take no definite fonn without.it, and deprived of
the support of public opinion all efforts at reform mxist neces-
sarily fail. The league has also exerted a strong influence upon
social legislation both in this and other states, and has in one
way or another materially aided the enforcement of the factory
laws.

There are certain places, however, in which the league could
work to special advantage. Mercantile and similar establish-
ments offer a splendid opportunity for many of the reforms
which the league has undertaken to bring about. Such places
employ many wonien and children who are often underpaid
and required to, work excessively long hours. It is true that
these stores come under the scope of the factory laws and are
frequently visited by the inspectors, l)ut this does not always
imply that the conditions there are all that they should be.
Moreover the law has little to do with the question of wages and
hours .ind^ the factory inspectors are powerless to bring about
any change, in those respects. The members of the league, be-
ing purch^ers, may however wield their power as such and do
so witlt but little inconvenience to themselves. The stores ar^
being constantly visited by members of the league who would
find it easy to come into direct personal contact with the em^
ployes, thits definitely ascertaining the treatment accorded them.
They could learn with but little trouble the scale of wages paid,
the hours of work required, the number of seats placed behind
the counters, the piesence of child workers under the legal age,
the imposition of fines and so on. Such facts are most impor-
tant, yet they may be had for the asking and no trained investi-



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204 LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL STATISTICS.

gator is necessary to secure them. . Considering evefything, the
mercantile establisliment offers as fertile a field to such social
workers as could bo desired.

Another way in which it is proposed to do away with sweating
is through organization of the workers in trades unions, not a
new idea, by any means, since nearly every other occupation has
its union. In ino&z cases these unions have been of inestimable
benefit to the members and to the trade concerned as well. In
the skilled trades particularly the unions have been a decided
success as they havo often been instrumental not only in raising
wages and shortening hours of labor but in improving many
other conditions of employment. The ^hief reason for this is
undoubtedly t6 be found in the fact that the supply of sucli
skilled workers is of necessity somewhat limited. When the
union or its representatives make a demand and threaten a
strike If it is not granted the employer often is forced to dioose
between coming to terms or closing down as there are seldom
enough workers outside the union to run the shops. In occupa-
tions where the supply of workers is always greater than the
demand for help the success of such a plan has been less marked.
The workers and their families must live and dare not hold out
for better terms even when they may desire to do so. As the
sweated workers come under this head of the unskilled it is easy
to overestimate the value of organization among them, though
there is no doubt but that something could be accomplished in
such a ^ray, as experience has shown that such organization as o
has been made among them so far has added greatly to- their eco- *-
noraic strength.

The advantages of organization come from the fact that it *
enables the workers to substitute collective for individual bar-
gaining. In union there is strength. Unions enable workers
to act together and to make joint demands upon their ^nployers
for belter conditions. How much this means is plain from
every point of view. The individual worker is seldom in a posi-
tion to imforce even just demands, for there is always soiBe one
willing to take his place sh6uld he throw up his position. Hia
employer can therefore do very much as ho chooses. When a
joint demand is made by a union, through those who represent



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SWEATING IN THE GARMENT-MiAKING TRADES. 205

it, the situation takes on an entirely different aspect. In ease all
his hands quit work together an employer may, in time, be able
to replace them with others, but this is not always an easy mat-
ter, and it can seldom be done without sacrifice. In the first
place an entire change in the working staff is impossible without
loss of much valuable time consequent upon breaking in a new
force. Katurally most employers try to avoid this as well as the
displeaiRdfe of the public and the consequent loss of business that
not infrfeqnently follow. These and other reasons are enough
to mak(¬ї any employer pause before he incurs a strike. If busi-
ness coricKtions are such that he can possibly afford to do so he
is likely to compromise with his hands on some basis that will
grant them at least a part of what they ask.

The unions are also of indirect value to their members by
bringing the workers together, thus helping to remove them from
their otherwise isolated position. The questions which come
up for discussion at their meetings often give them new light
and new ideas. They learn to know each other and to realize
their wants. They are taught how to act together and how to
stand tosrcther as well as the necessity for doing so. The unions,
in short, have a direct educational value that tends to make not
only better workers and bargainers, but better citizens.

The effective use of organization among sweatshop workers is
shown by the experience in New York a few years ago. In
1891, encouraged, partly by favorable legislation and partly by
agitation and other efforts, the more intelligent among the gar-
ment makers organized their fellow workers into a union. This
seems -to have been the first systematic attempt on the part of the
garment makers in this country to do anything towards improv-
ing their own condition, and this was soon followed by other
efforts. As time went on they began to press their claims for
fair triMtraent. Thoy first asked for an increase in wages, then
for improvement in other conditions. This brought things to a
crisis and resulted in the great strike of 1894, and though the
strike teok place in the time of an industrial depression im[)or-
tant concessions were won. Among other things the strikers
sueceed^.'d in having the task system abolished, and this of itself
was a great gain.



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206 LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL STATISTICS.

The trike, which seems to have been led by the tailors, began
about the time when the worst part of the financial crisis had
passed, and when business in some measure had b^un to revive.
The commercial depression had been so disastrous to the garment
workers that they bordered on pauperism, and special relief
- work for them had become necessary. The strike was caused
by the ^vorkers demanding the doing away of the task system.
They .tlso asked for better wages, shorter hours,' and the recog-
nition of their union. To crush the task system, however,
seems to have been their special object, and no wonder, for dur-
ing the financial depression the employers had taken advantage
of the situation and -had so increased the tasks in size that the
-few who could find work had to toil both night and day to make
the barest living. The struggle that followed was both long and
fierce. The wholesalers would not give in. By playing the
contractors one against the. other they had succeeded in con-
stantly increasing fhe size of the tasks, and they meant to keep
the advantage they had gained. The contractors also held out
for a long time, buu were compelled to yield at last. An agree-
ment v/as then consummated by which the task system was abol-
ished, and nearly all the other points insisted upon by the
striker.^ were granted. The task system had inspired the
workers with such terror, and co fearful were they that the agree-
ment on this point would not be lived up to that they required
real estate bonds from the contractors as a guarantee of good*
faith. At the expiration of this agreement another, that was
even friore advantageous to the workers, was entered into.

Thc^^o advantages accrued mostly to the tailors, but the gar-
ment Y.'orkers also gained a few points. Through being organ-
ized; and by taking part in the strike they, in the first place, suc-
ceeded in having the working day shortened by three hours.
This v.as an important concession and suggests very forcibly
what the day must have been before the strike. The garment
workers were also able to drive some of the worst contractprs out
of biK.iness. Wlion it is rememberefl that some of these con-
traetoT-' resorted to practically any means in order to grind
their workers down to the Avorst ]H)ssible terms for them, and that
in this ihey had .tho unqualified support of the wholesalers, it be-



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SWEATING IN THE GARMENT-MAKING TRADES. 207

comes aj^parent that even the gain was important. While many
of those who worked in the smaller shops or in their homes were
not directly benefited by the strike there were indirect advan-
tages all around. The ix)ints gained helped to inspire hope
and ambition in all, and this was really of greater value than
the concessions themselves.

The j^ecret^ry of the Garment Makers' "union, from whose re-
})ort of the strike most of these facts have been taken, also states
that since the advantages won by the unions were general, the
wholesalers were not greatly affected by the increased cost of.
produciion which the concessions otherwise might have entailed.
The inference here, of course, is that the increased cost, if any,
was oflFnct by an increase in the price of the finished artictes.

\VhIlt subsequent strikes have been less successful the expe-
rience as a whole on this point goes to show that organized re-
sistance against unjust impositions can be made most effective
in impt-oving the condition of the workers when real abuses exist.

To restrict immi^'^ration of those persons from whom tlie ranks
of sweated workers are recruited would undoubtedly tend to re-
lieve tlie situation to some extent at leasts It would not, how-
ever, 1)0 easy to secure legislation upon this point Objections
of all kinds are made against such a claim, and while these are
often based on self interest or false theories they are plausible
and seem to carry conviction. The question, however, is a
national one, and as yet is not strongly enough supported by
public sentiment foi* c<mgress to take any action. It is worth
considering, however, whether this country could not accomplish
more 'n the interest of civilization and the solution of the social
problems by securing a higher standard of living for the people
already here, than by trying to provide a home for all who may
come-to its shores. To restrict the imix)rtation of goods which
come ; ito direct competition with the products of sweat shops
would .olso, of course, tend to help those who are immediately
engage! in such work.

But valuable as these and other remedies that have been pro-
posed undoubtedly are they are not likely to cover the entire
ground nor to meet all the requirements of the case. Much
more i-ndical measures are necessary for the pennanent efface-



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208 LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL STATISTICS:

mont o*^ the sweating evil. So long as there is a class of workers
who must accept whatever employment they can obtain in order
to live and who are powerless to change the conditions they find
in it, so long as factories operating under decent conditions find
it impossible to compete in the cost of production with the small
shop-keepers or home workers who pay low wages, require long
hours and have few business expenses to meet, so long as men
who transact all their other business under modem methods are
permitted by this ancient system to exploit a helpless class and.
shirk their own responsibilities by hiding behind their con-
tractors, must some remedy, more drastic and far reaching in its
effects, be put into use if these things are to be abolished.

The contrast between the large and well conducte* factory
and the small shop is almost invariably in favor of the former.
In the factory the workers receive the ruling scale of ^yages and
work under conditions that are at least fair. In many estab-
lishments the environment is really more cleanly and sanitary
than t^.at in the homes of the workers. A working day longer
tlian ten hours is almost imknown, and if the wages are low it
is because wages in general are low, while it will usually be
found that they arc higher than those paid in the ^mall shop
doing (he same line of business.

But this has not always been true' of factory life. The first
stages of the system were marked by abuses that stand as a blot
on the industrial history of the world. Labor received barely
a living wage and even the stipulated amount was often greatly
reduced by fines and other methods of extortion. The length
of the working day was almost past Uie point of human endur-
ance and only those of tlie greatest vitality were able to meet its
demands without over-fatigue. Fifteen and sixteen hours of
work each day was tlie common lot and often it was longer, fixed
only by the worker's limit of strength. Sanitary measures were
practionlly unknowji and modern appliances for ventilation,
lightini- and cleanliness were unheard of. Worst of all very
young children were permitted to put in these long, hard, toil-
some days for the merest pittance. The situation finally became
so bad (hat the att<uition of the authorities was called to it and
the tliJiking men of the nation declared that unless something



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SWEATING IN THE GARMENT-MAKING TRADES. 209

was do.ie to better the condition of the factory hands the whole
working class- would deteriorate. The most bitter discussions
followed before remedial legislation was finally passed^

But the modern factory system was not nshered in^ fully
matured,. Mechanical inventions, upon which the factories
depen .1 for doin^ their work, are not perfected in a single night
but are the result of a slow development. Yet though the fac-
tory plan only gra<iually made its way. in the industrial world
it came all too quickly for the workers. Someone always suf-
fers in a ])eriod of transition^ and while the factory plan was
being established the workers were being forced to adjust them-
selves to new modes of life. Often they did this unwillingly.
When the factory closed the doors of the master's little shop the
workers were thrown out 6f employment. Often, following
after the new work that was all that was offered them, they were
forced to give up the homes in which they and their fathers be-
fore t\ em had lived for many generations. They were con-
fronted with new conditions of life and the adjustment entailed
hardships and suffering the extent of which is difficult to realize
at this time Moniover, it Avas a long time before factory em-
ployer^ began to^ think of their responsibilities as such. For a
third v.f a century after the doing away of the small shop and
master method the conditions in the factories were fairly in-
credible. Women and children were driven into them and
treated without the smallest consideration for decency and com-
fort. The workers were ground doAvn and occupied a place sec-
ond to the machines in the eyes of the owners. Their interests
were absolutely disregarded and it was not until the passage of
factors' acts, protecting the workers from the rapacity and cru-
elty of their employers and insisting upon a strict observance of
certaii general regulations looking towards a happier day for
the wo -king class, ^ id things begin to brighten.

The first factory legislation in history was passed in England.
It begin with a few unpretentious efforts to regulate the em-
ployment of children but it has gradually grown in scope until
now it covers most of the conditions under which all kinds of
factory work are done. Inspectors for the enforcement of these
laws have been long employed and the result is seen in the well
14



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210 ^ LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL STATISTICS.

regiilaled factory of the present day. The experience of the
past tl.icc quarters of a century has conchisively demonstrated
the vahie of factory laws and inspection. The benefits derived
by society a^ a whole from these regulations are so great and
apparent as to be no longer disputed. Even extreme individu-
alists .'^nd followers of the old school of economics, who at one
time wore so loud in their denunciations of all efforts to regulate
conditions of employment, have either become silent or have con-
fessed that they were mistaken.

Thioueh these laws and inspection factory life has been made
safer and more endurable. They have required that dangerous
machinery shall be guarded and the means of escape in case of
fire or accident provided. They have also made the factory a
comparatively healthy place to Work in by insisting upon proper
sanitary measures. A factory today must be clean and \Vell
ventil: led^ with a complete drainage or sewerage systems. Dust
generating machinery miist have exhaust fans and mechanical
contrivances for carrying the dust away. What a change this
has vv'rought ! Today accidents are comparatively few. For-
merly the proportion of the workers who were maimed or killed
was extremely largo. At one time every shop was a disease
breedi: g place, reeking with filth and odor. Now there is, gen-
erally speaking, little ground for complaint on this score. Be-
sides all this overwork is prevented by limiting the hours of
labor fx;r women and children. This fact is not the least in im-
portance. The effect on society from this one thing alone is
worth more than all the regulations themselves have cost

Factory regulations have also promoted education by prevent-
ing the employment of children of school age. It is true as a
general thing that If children are permitted to work they will
be fou..d in the factories, and^ if prohibited from doing so, they
will be sent to echool. There are, of course, exceptions to this,
but they are not so common as to affect the rule. That all chil-
dren should have an opportunity for a proper physical as well
as mental development is conceded by almost everyone, but this
cannot l>e secured when they are forced to begin a. life of
drudgery at a tender age.

The f actorv" regulations have also fostered a spirit of self help



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SWEATING IN THE GARMENT-MAKING TRADES. 211

and saH respect and have promoted a higher standard of life
amon^ the workers. Such qualities are absolutely essential to
all propn^ess and whatever tends to promote them contributes to
the general advimcement of the human race. When the factory
laws were first enacted the conditions of work were so bad
that the workers had practically given up all hope of anything
better. They were filled with despair, and imbued with a
hatred of those whose lot was more fortunate. As through the
enforcement of these laws their condition improved hope re-
vived. They began to see that improvement was possible and
from this on took steps toward? doing something for themselves.
It Wub the incentive under which tliey began to form unions and
to learn how to act together in their demands for yet better con-
ditions, more and better factory laws, and more frequent as well
as more thorough inspection. In every way the effect of fac-
tory legislation upon the working classes was greater than is
generally realized.

In the beginning the conditions in the factories were as bad
if not wor^e than those in the modern sweatshop. With the
enactment of factory laws and inspection these conditions had
to give way to bettor ones, and they have kept on improving as
the laws have grown stronger and have been more completely
enforced. In factories which now come under the factory and
inspe\;tion laws things are so much better than when there were
no such laws that \here is no longer any question as to the effi-
cacy of similar measures as a remedy for the sweating evil.
Legislation and inspection have practically abolished the sweat-
ing evil in factories and such other places of employment as
come under their jurisdiction, and it is reasonably safe to con-
clude that w^hat has l)een accomplished in those industries that
are carried on within factor)' walls and by machinery may also
be biought about in those trades where the hand is still the chief
instrument. If state interference has improved conditions in
the factory it is safe to suppose that it will do the same in the
sweatshop. The sweater, to te sure, is elusive and his shop is
gentn-ally hidden from public view. It cannot be reached by the
regtilar factory laws and consequently but little is known about
it. But this is no argument against state interference as a rem-



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212 LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL STATISTICS.

edy for tde evils it engenders. A law can be framed so as to
cover such places i;nd special inspectors can be detailed to see
that &uch legislation is properly enforced. Experience has
shown that the sweater can be reached quite as well as the factory
owner.

Another point to be considered is the responsibility of the
ownei of the property on which the sweatshop stands. The
landlord should not be allowed to escape his share of blame and



Online LibraryWisconsin. Bureau of Labor and Industrial StatistiBiennial report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of ..., Volume 13, Part 7 → online text (page 25 of 107)