The Voice of Industry (Vol. 1 No. 14 - 28 August 1845)

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The 28 August 1845 issue of the Voice of Industry (Vol. 1 No. 14).

Submitted by adri on December 17, 2023

Political Action among the Workingmen.

This is a subject upon which there is as yet quite a diversity of honest opinion. It is a subject which we wish to treat with due candor and consideration; having nothing to advance or no convictions to utter, but those prompted from a sincere desire to advocate the best, most efficient, rational and self-evident means for the abolition of oppression in all its degrading features, and the redemption of the bones and sinews, health and happiness of the working population of our country and the world, from the power of isolated avarice and accidental fortunes, which has created a false state of society, in which the natural rights of man are trampled upon and violated, religion poisoned, philosophy perverted, government prostituted and the natural order of creation reversed, subjecting humanity to ignorance, slavery and superstition.

We have never believed that political strife and supremacy was the great object which has given rise to the present workingmen's reform—that they wish to avail themselves of certain privileges which others possess through the power of the ballot-box, without regard to universal right and justice. We have no fellowship with the idea that the workingmen should combine together, to be seen and known as a political faction, whose object shall be to dethrone other political parties and usurp to themselves the same unhallowed power to gratify a spirit of revenge or retaliation. It is power gained in this way which is oppressing, and of which we are complaining—shall we unite together and resort to the same means to gain the ascendancy that we may have "our turn" at ruling, while others are oppressed and wronged? This is not the aim or purpose of the workingmen's reform; the doctrine as we understand it is "equal justice," justice to all, that all are entitled to certain great and "inalienable rights," which are indispensably requisite to their happiness—to the perfection of their natures and to their individual and collective peace, prosperity, mental, physical and spiritual progress. [...] Now all alike are entitled to such a portion of nature's fruits as will conduce in the highest degree to their happiness, which will secure individual rights and collective order and tranquility, and should any, from physical disarrangement or accidental causality fail to contribute their share to the aggregate of human products, they are entitled to such a portion of the products of the mass—(not one individual), as will satisfy their every want and add to their comfort. This natural state of things does not exist, and society is cursed with the results; wrong, strife, confusion and wickedness—while one class is prodigally living in luxury which they never produced, another is in squalid poverty, robbed of the proceeds of their toil and made the servile instruments of tyranny and their own unhappy condition.

This state of society, which falls with such destructive weight upon those who are obliged to labor for a living and is casting a blight and mildew over the race, the workingmen of New England wish to remedy; and the question comes up at this time: Is political action the antidote? What has made society thus? ignorance and misused power; then is it not to be feared, that the same results will follow, so long as the cause exists? Suppose the workingmen organize into a political party and go up to do battle and contend with other parties for power; is there not danger of their being guilty of the same injustice that we now complain of should they gain the ascendancy? Although government at present is recreant to the true interests of the working classes, would they not be likely to become corrupt and oppressive once in power? Would it not be a warfare for might, rather than right, in which the victorious party claims the privilege of "legally" oppressing the other and violating their right by legislative enactments? So long as the inducement exists for men to abuse power gained by political action, there is danger in relying too much upon it to renovate society. The workingmen have certain great principles which they wish to establish, the prevalence of which would secure to all their natural rights and banish from community much of its poverty, vice and misery. Now before these principles can be applied, they must be understood; hence the necessity of intelligent action and moral power. Should we arouse the working class by exciting their prejudices and appealing to their passions and selfish feelings merely to a hot-headed political combat, in which the chief object should be power, a desire to avail themselves of the same opportunities and monopolizing privileges which their opposers enjoy, and should they succeed, no permanent good can be accomplished, for the same evil still exists, only in a different form; the oppressed now become oppressors, and those that ruled are now subjects. Now this evil should be eradicated; we must introduce these vital reconciling principles, which are universal in their application, seeking the good of all. To do this, the rights of all must be known and acknowledged, the community must be enlightened, and public opinion set at work—wrong exposed and right rewarded. But that the working classes of this country should have a firm, united and comprehensive organization is beyond a doubt. They suffer more from a want of union than all other causes combined; we are confused and divided; no confidence and without concentration of action or purpose. The various necessary offices of the country should be filled with workingmen, men who understand the wants of the people and will use their time and influence to encourage producing industry, who will legislate for humanity and virtue and aid on a speedy union between capital and labor; when the great principles of human rights to which we have alluded shall be made practical. Any measures that shall aim to bring about this happy result, we shall advocate and urge; anything that shall tend to introduce honest legislation and do away with party shuffling and trickery which characterize the politics of the day, we shall hail with joy. We confidently believe the day is not far distant when the workingmen will mature and unite upon such rational an efficient plans for operation, as shall effect a radical and permanent change in our present oppressive and degrading system of labor; we do not like to call it "political action"; society has debased this, it wears the demagogue's stain—it had been prostituted and despoiled of its virtue by party contention and lustful ambition, and the mere mention seems to imply unholy, sectarian controversy, factional aspirancy and Jacobinical usurpation; all the vice, wrong and uncharitable littleness which have disgraced the elective franchise, seems associated with it. Let us have some term more pure—rational, intelligent, brotherly action, Christian action; terms upon which all the friends of truth and goodness can unite; which shall make practical the beautiful truths of "equal rights" and mutual interests, and build to heaven the noble structure of humanity's brotherhood. Let the workingmen continue to organize and agitate throughout the various towns, states and countries, and let all well-digested measures founded upon justice and human rights be adopted and vigilantly prosecuted until labor shall receive its just reward and the heart of humanity made glad. Our cause is onward as sure as knowledge and truth will triumph over error and superstition. We should be happy to hear from any of our friends upon this subject.

We are publishing...

We are publishing a series of articles from the New York Tribune upon the state of "female labor" in that city, which develops a most deplorable degree of servitude, privation and misery among this helpless and dependent class of people. And yet they are famishing half-fed, half-clothed, and half-sheltered in the midst of extreme affluence and luxury! Their unmitigated, ill-rewarded and slavish toil has raised to lordly wealth a horde of merchants and speculators, who add nothing to the real wealth of the country, while these poor defenseless victims of avarice drudge on in miserable cooped-up, ill-ventilated cellars and garrets, pining away, heart-broken, in want, disease and wretchedness. The same to a great degree is true in other cities and towns; many of our New England cities have their thousands in a similar condition, were the truth known, who are increasing every year. Still we are unblushingly told that labor at the North is well rewarded; that "labor is honored, rewarded and respected," that "the masses are progressing in all that can refine, improve and elevate," and we are denounced as "fools, petty reformers, recreant knaves, and fit subjects to echo the sentiments of the nabobs of the South," because we show it to be false and are using our efforts to banish such heart-sickening misery, together with its causes.

Labor in New York: Its Circumstances, Conditions and Rewards.1

The Amazone braid weavers, a large and ill-paid class of working females, begin work at 7 in the evening, with not intermissions save to swallow a hasty morsel. They earn when in full employment $2 and 2.50 per week. Out of this they must pay their board, washing (for they have no time to wash their own clothes), medical and other incidental expenses, and purchase their clothes—to say nothing of the total absence of all healthy recreation and of all mental and moral culture, which such a condition naturally implies. They have many of them no rooms of their own, but board with some poor family, sleeping anyhow and anywhere. For these accommodations they pay $1.60 per week—some of the worst and filthiest boarding-houses, however, charging as low as $1 per week. The "living" here must be imagined.

The artificial-flower makers present a greater variety. The trade, as will readily be perceived, is one requiring great skill and delicacy in the finishing part of the work. Girls who had served five years' apprenticeship at the business and are very expert, if they work constantly, can make $3.50 per week. The flowers and wreaths which under the name of "French Flower Work" sell so dear and are so highly valued by our fashionable ladies, are mostly made here, although many of the materials are imported from France. The principle part of the work is done by young girls from eleven to thirteen years of age, "apprentices" as they are termed, who receive seventy-five cents, and a few, one dollar, per week! They of course live at home with their parents, for the most part, and have no time to go to school, to grow or to think. These "apprentices" as soon as they are out of their time are told that there is no more for them to do, and their places are supplied by fresh recruits who are taken and paid of course as apprentices. Every few days you may notice in the papers an advertisement something like this—"Wanted—Fifty Young Girls as Apprentices to the Artificial-Flower Making Business." These portend that a number of girls have become journey-women, and are consequently to be pushed out of work to make room for apprentices, who will receive but 75 cents or $1 per week. Many a five-dollar wreath and expensive flower, purchased [by] the Misses Lawsons, Madame Deuel, or Madame Godefroy, has been wrought into beauty by these little fingers, for perhaps two shillings, or half a dollar.

The artificial-flower business is extensively carried on here, and the product is deemed quite equal in finish and grace to the best Parisian or German flowers. We believe, from the most reliable data in our possession, that there are fifteen hundred or two thousand girls engaged in this department of labor in New York.

A great many women who make matchboxes receive but five cents per gross—or thirty boxes for a single cent! We knew of a mother of a family who supported her little children by this kind of work, who used to walk two miles to a starch factory to obtain the refuse for pasting the boxes—for which she paid a penny a pail. When she could succeed in doing this she said she could make a little profit, but when she had to buy flour to make paste with—then, she said, it was a losing business! Her little children thought so too.

We have already mentioned the cap makers, of which we suppose there are between one and two thousand. They earn on the average about two shillings per day, although there are many who do not make eighteen pence. They are thrust into a dark back room on a second, third, fourth, or fifth story chamber, thirty or forty together, and work from sunrise to sundown. There is too often not a human being in the world who has the slightest care or responsibility over the morals, manners or comforts of these unfortunate girls. If many of them become degraded and brutalized in taste, manners, habits and conversation, who can wonder?

These facts and remarks apply with equal force to the hundreds and thousands of shoebinders, type-rubbers and other girls employed on labor of this kind. In addition to the constant supply to the ranks of these classes furnished by the poor population of our city, poor girls continually flock to the city from every part of the country, either because their friends are dead and they have no home, or because they have certain vague dreams of city life. Arriving here they soon find how bitterly they have deceived themselves, and how rashly they have entered a condition where it is almost impossible for them to subsist, and where want and starvation are their only companions. They have been educated and reared in such a manner as to render the idea of servitude unendurable, and their only resort is the needle or some similar employment. Here they find the demand for work greatly over-supplied and competition so keen that they are at the mercy of employers, and are obliged to snatch at the privilege of working on any terms. They find that by working from fifteen to eighteen hours a day they can not possibly earn more than from one to three dollars a week, and this, deducting the time they are out of employment every year, will barely serve to furnish them the scantiest food, which from its unhealthy quality induces to disgust, loathing and disease. They have thus absolutely nothing left for clothes, recreation, sickness, books or intellectual improvement, and the buoyancy and exquisite animality of youth become a slow torturing fever from which death is a too-welcome relief. Their frames are bent by incessant and stooping toil, their health destroyed by want of rest and proper exercise, and their minds as effectually stunted, brutalized and destroyed over their momentous tasks, as if they were doomed to count the bricks in a prison wall: for what is life to them but a fearful and endless imprisonment with all its horrors and privations?—N. Y. Tribune

The Claims of Labor.2

A few days since in the columns of our paper, we earnestly asked our readers' attention to the condition of an interesting class of laborers, the females in our manufactories. In another article, upon professional men, we trust that we showed ourselves actuated by no mean, illiberal, or narrow-minded spirit, but rather by a disposition to do justice to the labors and merits of all; and with an honest belief that our sympathies are with the worthy of every class, and that our prejudices are against none, we venture upon the discussion more generally of the claims of labor.

We suppose there are those who believe in the inherent necessity in every State for a class of persons to exist in extreme poverty. As such a class has always existed, they regard it a law of man's life on earth that it shall exist. They suppose such a class indispensable to the comfort and refinement of other classes. They hate, perhaps, black slavery, but must have forsooth a class of white slaves.

Let us define what we mean by poor. We mean the condition of those who have not property enough to provide for their bodily wants, to ward off or alleviate the ills of disease, accidents or old age; to gratify a cultivated taste without any servile and unmanly dependence on a patron, or that most tyrannical of all patrons, the public.

We hold that there is no necessity for such a class; for that every industrious man produces so much more than he consumes, that each person may have all that is necessary to lift him above poverty, and society be able to support its unfortunate members, its young, and its aged, with ease.

Add to this the still producing labor of dead generations, and there is enough and to spare for the living. Consider too the immense amount of work and labor done by machinery, by the elements—fire, wind, and water—for man, and it is clear that the rigor of the curse is mitigating, and if wealth were more equally shared all might be rich together. There is no antecedent iron necessity that there should be a class bowed down with a heavy load of poverty. The Creator has not, we think, so ordained. Nor is such a class necessary for the perfection of the rest. There is nothing man does for man, in a spirit of love, that is degrading. The meanest offices are holy and honorable when done in a spirit of kindness and mercy. Many of the offices a physician performs are disgusting; much of the lawyer's labor is servile drudgery, yet these professions are respected, and other considerations impart dignity to their members. It is a great truth that a great soul will not shrink from doing anything for man. The Son of God washed the feet of the sons of men. Since those things are so, those offices which are now assigned to the poor will continue to be done so far as they are useful, however the condition of the poor may be ameliorated. The dependence of all classes upon all classes will continue forever. The effect as we suppose of ameliorating the condition of the poor will be that all things which are done will be done more readily, better, and at less cost. We are also of opinion that those delicate and refined pursuits which require a life-time of application, as music, painting, sculpture, so far from being injured were there no poor would find a new class of patrons and a wider field for exertion. The patronage of the arts, which under a better constitution of things might come from the laboring classes, is worthy of thought.

How to elevate the working classes is a more difficult problem to solve, than to prove that it would be safe to elevate even the poorest of the poor. One thing however is certain, no class of serfs should be created where none exists.

When there is danger of such a class being created, as in the factories, let legislation interfere to prevent. Let society at least hold what she has got.—Weekly Bee

Note: spelling and punctuation have been slightly modified.

  • 1This article is a report on labor conditions in New York. The Voice reprinted it from the New York Tribune.
  • 2The Voice reprinted this article from the Weekly Bee.