Imágenes de páginas

furnace-room, beaten back by the intolerable heat if we ventured from under the air funnel. Here in front of the row of huge furnaces stood the firemen stripped, almost naked, perspiration streaming down their blackened bodies, never ceasing in their work of opening and re-opening the furnace doors to shovel in fresh supplies of coal and keep the fire raked up to a white heat. Under these conditions the men worked four hours on and four off at stoking, but in addition to that had to remove their own ashes which took another hour. This chief engineer himself thought their hours too long, and the food provided for them very poor, and he did not think it any wonder that once ashore their instinct was to lie still and drink whisky. As a man of heart he pitied them, and said so, but what could he do ?

Aboard the far larger liner I have just left, I had consider. able talk with a fireman, who was in a state of weakness and exhaustion brought about by the heat and strain. Of the eighty men who stoked this vessel, he believed every one drank save himself, not only ashore but afloat, for though against the rules, each smuggled whisky bottles in his satchel.

“No doubt many of these men are of a low type, and no doubt many of them drink. Under the circumstances is this wholly a matter of surprise ? No doubt the company like to keep down expenses ; the passengers want extra speed, and in the comfort of the saloon they do not realise the suffering of the white-faced, soot-blackened men far down in the burning heart of the ship. But three things at least might be done; the hours of work should be compulsorily shortened, even if this involves the engagement of more hands; the food provided should be subject to inspection and a standard quality insisted on; while lastly the prohibition of whisky on board should be made a reality.”

Mr. Chas. Booth, in the last volume of the “Life and Labour of the People in London," estimates the number of persons employed in the preparation of food and drink in the Metropolis as 138,000, of whom 27,000 are women. Many of these are sweated to a terrible extent. Cases

are common of cooks working in underground kitchens of restaurants for 14 hours a day for wages of not more than 1s. 6d. a day, or even less. The public were startled a short time ago by the charges made in some of the evening newspapers as to the conditions under which waitresses were employed in the shops of Messrs. Lyons and Co., and other refreshment contractors, and, strange to say, a financial paper lately devoted a column a day for two or three days to the sweating of waitresses and barmaids at railway station bars and refreshment rooms. Perhaps, however, the following case at the Shoreditch County Court offers an example of the limits beyond which it is physically impossible to impose long hours and difficult to greatly reduce wages :

A waitress named Dynes sued a coffee-tavern proprietor for a month's money for work done, and a month instead of notice. Plaintiff said she was employed as waitress, at 128. a month. On November 6th last the defendant told her to clear out, and did not pay her her wages.-The Judge: Why were you dismissed ?-Plaintiff: Because I was not up in time in the morning. I could not be. I never got to bed before an quarter to one, and I was expected to be up again at half-past four in the morning.–The Judge: What time did you get downstairs ? —The Plaintiff: Five o'clock. Mr. Moore (Counsel for the Defendant): Isn't it a fact you came down late ?-Pl-intiff: At five o'clock.-Judge French : Do you call that late? (Laughter). -Plaintiff: Defendant then told me half-a-dozen times to go, so I went.—Mr. Moore : Did he not go up and tell you to finish your sleep ?—The Judge: Was that meant ironically ? (Laughter.) Really, Mr. Moore, could any girl of eighteen get up at that time in the morning if she went to bed at a quarter to one, even with this very generous allowance of two hours' rest in the afternoon ? (Laughter.) She is a young girl, and the hours are worse than sailors' watches on board a ship, and they are strong and hearty men. (Applause in court). Judge French said he believed the girl's version of what took place. He gave judgment for her with costs, and allowed her 4s. for her attendance that morning."

Although Shop Assistants are supposed to have "light work,” yet the long hours they are compelled to stand about day after day, the absence of time for exercise, and the short intervals for meals (which are often far from appetising), together with the overcrowded and ill-ventilated bedrooms in which many of them sleep, and the insanitary condition of many shops, tend to undermine the health even of strong young men, and are especially fatal to delicate women and girls. If we add to this that the wages are frequently low and made lower by all kinds of vexatious and excessive fines, and that in very many shops there is constant “ drive,” we shall agree that the Shop Assistant is only too frequently the victim of sweating. In the “Report of the Committee of the Shop Hours Bill, 1886,” we read : “Your Committee being satisfied that the hours of Shop Assistants range in many places as high as from eighty-four to eighty-five per week, are convinced that such long hours must be generally injurious to health, and that the same amount of business might be compressed into a shorter space of time.” In consequence of this report the Shop Hours Regulation Act of 1886 was passed limiting the hours of persons under 18 employed in shops to 74 hours per week, or an average of 12 hours 20 minutes per day! It is now the law that if three-fourths of the shop keepers in any district desire to close early one day in the week the principal authorities are obliged to enforce the closing of all shops in the district. But as the larger towns are divided into districts, instead of being treated as a whole, the Act has been largely inoperative.

WHO ARE THE VICTIMS ? The victims of sweating are those who in the fierce struggle for existence which rages among the poorer classes are weaker or in some way in a less advantageous position than others. This may arise from various causes, foremost among which we may reckon bodily weakness and ill health, ignorance, want of skill in work, absence of organisation among the workers, and, finally, sex. In short, the sweated will be the physically weak, the unskilled, and the unorganised workers, and as women often combine all these qualifications, woman is, par excellence, the sweated one.

The general want of skill and organisation among female workers renders the competition between them for employment keener than that between men. The female weavers in the Lancashire cotton mills are almost the only women whose labor is as well organised as men's labour, with the result that they receive the same wages as the men. It is, indeed, only recently that any attempt has been made to organise the unskilled female workers, and these attempts have met with but slight success. Another reason for the low wages paid to women is to be found in the fact that married women, partially supported by their husbands, and girls living at home, compete with other women who have to support themselves entirely, and their competition often brings down the wages of the latter almost to starvation point. Again, women are more patient of bad treatment and of long hours of labour, and are more easily frightened by their employers than men, and thus they are the greatest sufferers from acts of petty tyranny-unreasonable and excessive fines, etc.

WHAT CAN AN INDIVIDUAL DO ? Everyone who has contemplated the horrors of sweating, and thought of the vast numbers of its victims; who has realised the intensity of the sufferings endured by those forming the base of the industrial pyramid, who are unable to pass on a portion of the social pressure to others lower than themselves, but are forced to bear the whole of its crushing weight-must feel troubled by his share of responsibility for these things, and must often have asked himself, “What can I do to remedy these evils ?” It is to be feared, indeed, that but little can be done by the direct action of any individual, yet we are each of us bound to do that little. Everyone is to some extent a purchaser of the products of labour, and it has often been argued that much might be done towards the abolition of sweating if each well-to-do person was willing to pay a fair price for a good article, and to deal only with such tradesmen as treated their assistants with consideration. Now with regard to the first of these assertions, whilst it is no doubt true that very "cheap" articles are largely produced by sweated labour, this is not invariably the case, and if it were, it by no means follows that by paying a high price for a good article one can be sure of buying goods which are not the products of sweating, as the following case will show. In a certain West-end shop a lady will be charged three guineas for a well-made blouse of first-class materials costing the dealer 25s. 6d. (188. for the material and 78. 6d. for the labour). These blouses are made by seventeen girls employed only during the season. It is said that they come back regularly to the workroom on the first day of the season, having supported themselves during the remainder of the year by prostitution. Sixteen

« AnteriorContinuar »