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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Sweating in the Tailoring Trade

Sweating in the Tailoring Trade.

Out-working, home-working, and sweating are the three evils that are degrading and starving the manhood and womanhood of the tailoring industry. Yet few of our industrial problems are easier of solution, if the public only willed it.

Now and then an outcry is raised against the system, especially when come enterprising journalist dives beneath the surface and drags to the light of public gaze some of the horrible conditions associated with the making of wearing appeared, a regular furore is created, committees investigate and report, Commissions sit and inquire, suggestions and resolutions are poured forth in shoals, and then—public conscience is satisfied, and things go on as before; the despairing of women workers of "Oh, for another pair of hands! Oh, for another pair of eyes !" is still to be heard in the garrets and underground rooms of the sweater driven victim." Hood's "Song of the Shirt" is as true to-day as it was when penned, and even more so, when the great improvements in our methods of production are considered. The curse of cheapness has certainly set its mark deeply on the clothing industry. A walk through any of the great thoroughfares amply demonstrates this. A suit of clothes and a pair of trousers thrown in, at a price which the ordinary tailors would get for making the coat alone, seems to have touched bottom price, and one that neither home-working, out-working, nor even factory-working can hope to compete with.

Perhaps it would be as well, at this point, to briefly explain the three systems referred to in the first paragraph.

An out-worker is a person who, individually or in company with others, rents a workshop in which they make the garments for firms employing them. They page 23 are paid no more than the worker who is at work on the employer's premises; thus, on every garment made under the system, the employer saves the cost of rent, firing, lighting, wear-and-tear of plant, and, not the least important, is free from the responsibilities of the Factory and Workshops Act so far as they apply to women and young persons. The workers benefit to the extent that they can scamp a little of the work, not being constantly under the eye of the employer; may, by working for more firms than one, have a more constant supply of work, and can make a little profit out of employing other hands to help.

The home worker enjoys the same advantages, with the additional advantage that members of the family can all join in the work, and can work as long as they like, and save the expense of workshop-rent.

A sweater is an employer who, to compete with the subdivision of labour and machinery, compels his employees to produce work at the same cost to him as if he used the most up-to-date methods of production.

It is easy to see that the next step from home-working is to sweating. The members of the Jewish race are generally associated with the system, but, as a matter of fact, when Jews were almost unheard-of in connection with the trade, sweating had raised its ugly head in the homes of the Gentile tailor. If, however, the Jews did not introduce it, they certainly are responsible for its rapid development. They saw its possibilities, and seized upon them; their fellow-Gentiles have not been slow to follow the lead where they could, but the Jew can always beat them.

The Jewish sweater has a constant supply of willing workers, ignorant alike of language and customs of the country, of the industry itself, but oh, so willing ! Night and day a man toils for just sufficient coarse food to keep body and soul together, and mayhap the right to sleep on the workshop board for a few hours out of the twenty-four. He is then a "greener," but in a few months he has mastered his work so far that he starts off in some garret or cellar as a full-blown sweater himself. He goes to the warehouse whence his former employer got his work, and offers to do it at a lesser price sends for more of his compatriots, sweats them as he was sweated himself, and they in turn serve him as he served his employer, and so keep alive the vicious system. The raw "greeners" of yesterday elbow out the more efficient workers of to-day, who in turn elbow out some one more efficient still; they in turn attack the bespoke branch of the trade, which had formerly been looked upon as a preserve of the Gentile craftsman. On they keep pushing and reducing the cost of labour, until the ordinary worker is by the law of self-preservation crushed out of the workshop altogether. Machinery and subdivision of labour, good in themselves when used under a properly regulated factory system, are the weapons used to drive the skilled worker into the ranks of sweaterdom. Wages may be lowered for the sake of getting more work, but the pressure of the "greeners" of to-day, and the knowledge of his coming on the morrow, as well, as the pressure of the thousands of potential sweaters already waiting to embark for our shores, is there, and the seeming all-conquering Jew is steadily elbowed onward, skilled workers are for months in the year walking idle on the streets, whilst others, in their efforts to hold their own, are driven out of the workshops, which are used for other purposes, and turn their home into a workshop; and such a workshop ! Just imagine clothes being made in a small place, which has to serve as a dining-room, sitting-room, bedroom, kitchen, coalcollar, and workshop all in one. Many such places exist, and, mark you, the clothing made there is not the slop and shoddy for the poorer classes who cannot afford to pay; but is for the use of the well-to-do classes who can, and do, pay will for them. To these an appeal has been made from time to time by the Tailors' and Tailoresses' Society, imploring them to insist on seeing the places wherein their clothing is being made, with little or no result. Perhaps it is well for their ease of mind that they do not do so; if they did they would, in some intances, certainly never wear them, unless they had previously been well fumigated and disinfected.

As to the remedy, many and diverse opinions are held, but the public can at once begin by doing its share. Refuse to patronise any firm that cannot show page 24 their employees at work under good healthy conditions. Bring all possible influences to bear upon public bodies who have the placing of clothing contracts to insure of their being carried out free from the taint of "sweaterdom." If this is done, the rest is sure to follow, and the tailoring industry be freed from the thraldom of hunger and misery that has enchained it since the introduction the sweating system.