The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78
The lowest-paid workers in the shirt-making trade are those employed in making children's clothing. While boy's shirts may be "finished" at 2d. a dozen, I have found workers engaged in making them throughout, "with button-holes and everything," at 1d. and 2d. each.
Like the shirt-finisher the shirt-maker supplies her own thread, and, in addition, she provides her own sewing-machine, which is usually got on the instalment system, and paid for at the rate of 1s. 6d. a week. Here, too, the wage rates vary very much. In one case white-flannelette shirts were made throughout at 1d. each. One dozen of these taking from fourteen to fifteen hours to do.
I give the following "snapshots" taken on visits to home workers in the shirt-making branch.
G. B. is a young woman living with her parents. She works steadily every day from 7 in the morning until 9 at night. She can very seldom make as much as 8s. a week. Her usual average is from 4s. to 5s. She is employed on flannelette shirts, for which she is paid 8d. per dozen for making throughout. This includes thing them and doing everything except putting on buttons and working button-holes Each dozen takes twelve hours' hard work with the sewing-machine, "and the seams are so heavy that you can't lift your arms to your head at night after a day's work on them." For cotton shirts she is paid 1s. 9d. a dozen, making throughout. Each dozen takes twenty-one hours of work.page 26
For boys' shirts, taking seven hours per dozen, she is paid 6d. The thread for the men's shirts costs 2d., for the boys' 1d. per dozen, so that the worker's net earnings on these are 1s. 7d. and 5½d. per dozen respectively for twenty-one and seven hours of hard work. From this there still fall to be deducted the following items : Hire of the machine, 1s. 6d.; and oil, 2d. weekly; also machine-needles, costing 1d. each—" and you smash a lot with the heavy seams."
Mrs. D. is the wife of a labourer who is irregularly employed and who earns 17s. or 18s. a week when at work. Mrs. D. has three children, all of whom are under six years of age. She makes men's shirts throughout at 1s. 3d., and boys' at 1s. per dozen. These shirts take fourteen and twelve hours respectively to sew. This family occupies two rooms, both filthy in the extreme and almost destitute of furniture. In this case, as in many others, the shirts on which the mother was engaged would, it is absolutely certain, be used as bedding for the family at night, and thus lend themselves as a medium for the dissemination of dirt, disease, and vermin among the purchasing public.
Another worker visited was engaged in making men's shirts throughout at 1s. 5d. per dozen. These took sixteen hours to do, and she supplied her own machine and thread, the latter costing 1½d. per dozen shirts. The material used was a dark-brown wincey, very stiff and hard of texture, "a sore seam," the worker said. She worked almost without cessation from 7 or 8 in the morning till 11 or 12 at night, the housework being left to a young daughter to do when she came home at night from the factory where she was engaged during the day.
In another case a woman who was the wife of a tailor unsteady in his habits, and the mother of five children, was employed in making boys' shirts at 1s. per dozen. She said it took her very hard work to do a dozen, working steadily from 6 in the morning until 8 or 9 at night. The house and family in this case gave evidence of entire neglect on the part of the mother. Both house and children were unspeakably filthy. The shirts were lying in heaps on the dirty bed and on the floor, which looked as if it had not been swept or washed for months.
A point which strikes one particularly is the heavy strain of life on the married women who constitute the majority of the workers engaged in the shirt making and finishing trade. The hopelessness of their outlook, and the relentless, unremitting daily toil that goes on with them, year in and year out, and which even sickness is scarcely allowed to interrupt. In the class of workers dealt with here it is undoubtedly on the wife and mother that the heaviest burden falls, as it is she who must plan and contrive to feed and clothe the children somehow, whatever the state of the family exchequer.
Some of the family budgets reveal the pitiful little economies which have to be practised when housekeeping is conducted on the microscopic scale necessary to the home worker.
One woman who had kept herself and little girl on a wage of 6s. a week "for rent and everything," gave me the following details, saying she was "almost ashamed to tell me what she managed on, it was that little" : Per week-Rent one room, 2s.; tea, ¼ lb., 4d.; sugar, 2 lb., 3d.; flour, 1½ld.; oatmeal, 1½d.; margarine, ½ lb., 3½d.; six eggs (chipped), 3½d.; ham, 2½d.; coals, 3d.; onions or other vegetables, 1½d.; bread, 4½d.; *"kitchen" costing about 3d. The weekly total came to about 4s. 9d., leaving a balance of perhaps 1s. 3d. for clothes and other expenses.
* A term used by Scottish working-people to denote any little relish going to make up's meal.