Chapter 03: The Conduct of the Employers

Submitted by Reddebrek on April 19, 2016

ALL the Old World devices flourish rankly on American soil. Fines, payable in time or money, are exacted.

Lawrence:--"If a man or woman stops ten minutes, owing to a break, he or she will have to work twenty minutes' overtime to make up for it" (Cotton operative, p. 117). "If our average is not up to the standard of the mill, we are fined" (Cotton operative, p. 117). We may here say that in all the factory towns of New England that we visited, and notably at Rockville (Conn.), New Medford (Mass.), and Manchester (New Hampshire), these complaints as to fines were very general. A female " hand " at Rockville and several men at New Bedford assured us that often half their wages in the week went in fines, which were inflicted at the arbitrary whim of the superintendent.

Cheating in the good old-fashioned way, with certain modern improvements, is rife.

Fall River:--"The manufacturers take advantage of the length of cuts, and the numbers of the spun yarn" (Commissioner).... "The theory is that a 'cut' measures forty-five yards, and for a cut of forty-five yards the weaver is paid,...but the cuts in the cloth-room as they come from the mill...are marked all the way from forty-seven to fifty yards, being a gain or steal of from two to five yards on the part of the corporation" (Former operative, p. 162). The coarser and finer cottons are known as "counts." The pay is higher for, say, No. 45 (the finer), than for No. 38 (the coarser). "The overseers let the men spin the 45 counts, and call them 40's, several counts coarser than they really are."..."This system of cheating costs the spinners about a dollar a week each" (Commissioner, pp. 162-3).

New Jersey:--"Thirteen rasps to the dozen are required of me, while the firm sells but twelve" (File-cutter, p. 220).

Kansas:--This "cheating" goes on in all industries, but probably no one is cheated by his employer so openly and outrageously as the miner. In Kansas, where mining is not yet so developed or flourishing as in Ohio and Pennsylvania, "the miner gets pay for about one-third of his labour, as I know that they (the employers) ship twice as many nut and slack cars as they do lump; and for nut and slack the miner gets nothing, although they sell the slack for two to three cents a bushel, almost as much as they pretend to pay the miner (3 1/2 cents); and they sell the nut for about four to five cents. They exact eighty-five pounds lump coal from the miner, and sell to their customers eighty pounds to the bushel" (p. 138). "Coal is weighed after it is screened, and the miner gets two parts out of four" (p. 136).

Notices to Quit. Fall River:--"We always require ten days' notice; we have no occasion to give notice, for we discharge at once, without notice, any operative that does not do his work properly." "We always demand ten days' notice, but do not give it; if we want a man to go, he goes." "We give no notice to poor workers, who spoil work, or who are negligent" (p. 136). These three quotations are the answers of the treasurers of three different cotton mills. Working men and women--and not only those employed in mills--constantly complained to us of the arbitrary manner in which their employers discharged them.

Boycotting and the Blade List.--The virtuous masters hold strong views on the boycott. They also hold strong views on the black List. Unfortunately, the two sets of views are diametrically opposed one to the other. Those of the employers may be gathered from the Wisconsin report.

Wisconsin:--"Of the 304 discussing the boycott, 155 think we should have new laws defining the practice as a crime, and providing severe penalties for those who engage in it. On the other hand, 149 believe that our present statutes, together with the common law jurisdiction of courts, are sufficiently comprehensive to deal properly with the subject" (p. 389). Mr. Flower, with his usual spirit of fairness, does not give a single opinion of the workmen on the boycott.

As to the use of the employers' boycott, or the black list, a few quotations.

Fall River:--"Nearly all the Fall River operatives visited by the agent seemed to fear the possibility of the manufacturers discovering that they had given information.... Thirty members of the Spinners Union were on the black list, and could not obtain work in any mill in the city " (Commissioner, p. 153). The masters here quite candidly "own up," as they would say. " We " (says one of them) "started a secret service ... as it gave us the names and occupations of the most prominent in agitating strikes. There have been twenty-six male spinners black-listed since last fall" (p. 155). In Lowell and Lawrence there were no complaints as to the black list. Why? Because of the clever use by the masters of the discharge paper (the equivalent of the French livret). "The refusal to grant an 'honourable' discharge to an operative would have the same effect as entering his name on a black list" (Commissioner, p. 156). Method No. 3: "If they leave without a 'line,' at the pleasure of the overseer, their name is given to the agent:, and then sent around to all the other corporations, and then there is no more work for that operative" (Correspondent of the Commissioner, p. 210). Two other quotations in this connection as part of the evidence that might be given to show that the black list exists in all States.

Connecticut :--"The terrors of the black list, though sometimes exaggerated, have quite enough foundation in fact to make a workman hesitate before braving them." "The danger [of the black list] to some extent real, and so serious as to make any man hesitate before incurring it. Let any capitalist ask himself candidly what he would do if he were in the workmen's place.... The individual employee ... is at the mercy of the employer" (pp. xxi., xxiii., xxiv.).

Michigan:--" The working men of Michigan have been invited ... to give us their answers;.... their failure to do so in large numbers may not be from indifference to the subject of labour, so much as from a feeling that possibly their information might expose their identity" (p. 140).

Ohio:--"Did his" [i.e., the workman who refuses to violate the law by refusing "truck" payment] "hardship end with a discharge, in ordinary times the calamity would not be serious. If our information be correct a discharge for this reason is a serious matter, for when he seeks employment elsewhere he finds his record, in this respect, precedes him, and unless labour is scarce, he seeks employment in vain" (Commissioner, p. 214).

New York, 1885:--"It will be noticed from the testimony on this point that many witnesses assert that they know of their own knowledge that men have been black-listed" (Commissioner, p. 301). The "testimony" referred to by the Commissioner is that of men belonging to well-nigh every possible trade (over twenty in number), from labourers down to journalists.

Ironclad Oath.--This is a pledge to be taken by the employe on entering service that he will belong to no working-class organisation.

New York State:--" Considerable complaint is made by the labour organisations of the State, that employers in some sections exact from those seeking work signatures to documents which stipulate that the signer is not, and does not contemplate joining, and will never join, a labour organisation " (Commissioner, p. 586). Here is a copy of an "oath" as drawn up by the Western Union Telegraph Co. of Jay Could: "I, , of , in consideration of my present re-employment by the Western Union Telegraph Co., hereby promise and agree to and with the said company that I will forthwith abandon any and all membership, connection, or affiliation with any organization or society, whether secret or open, which in any wise attempts to regulate the conditions of my services or the payment therefor while in the employment now undertaken. I hereby further agree that I will, while in the employ of said company, render good and faithful service to the best of my ability, and will not in any wise renew or re-enter upon any relations or membership whatsoever in or with any such organisation .-Dated, 1883. Signed, ; Address, (Seal)': (p. 587). "At the time of the plumbers' strike in June 1884 the following pledge was drawn up, and the men asked to sign it: 'I, , do hereby solemnly declare that I am not a member of any journeymen's organisation, and that I will not in the future join or become a member of any of the now existing journeymen's organisations. To the truthfulness of the foregoing declaration I hereby pledge my word and honour as a man": (p. 587) "To the employe's of the Warren Foundry. ... We request every man who has joined the above organisation (Knights of Labour) and wishes to continue in employ of the Warren Foundry to immediately free himself from a combination in hostility to the company.... If there are any not willing to do so, we request them to leave our premises.... Anyone not willing to conform to the above requests...will be summarily discharged.... Signed----, President, --, Superintendent" (Phillipsburg, 7th April, 1885, New Jersey Report, p. 220).

A personal reminiscence here may be indulged. In Springfield, Ohio, one William Whiteley (oddly enough) owns, with his brothers, nearly everything; the shops for the making of agricultural implements, the bodies of most of the working population, and their political souls. He is a great man on the iron-clad oath. All his men take it and break it. He has placarded in his workshops offers of ten dollars reward to any workman who will give information as to a fellow-workman belonging to a labour organisation. Over the entrance to his chief shop are the words, "Free and independent workmen only employed here."

On November 9th we were at the little town of Bloomington, Ill. Two of the most earnest of the many working men who helped in the announcement and noising abroad of the meeting in the Opera House at which we spoke, Eberding and Kronau, were, within a few hours of our leaving Bloomington, dismissed by their employers. They were noted as industrious, honest, sober men, and as two of the best workmen in the place. Their crime was talking an open interest in lectures on the condition of the working classes.

The "Truck" "Order" or "Scrip" System, as they sometimes call it in America, exists to a larger extent, and in more openly brutal fashion, than in any part of Great Britain.

Ohio:--"The man who compels his employe to take 'scrip' in payment of wages violates the statute". Of course "no direct compulsion is used, but, nevertheless, should an employe refuse or neglect to patronise the company's store, a hint is conveyed to him, in a roundabout way, that his prospects at the mine would be vastly improved by trading at the store of his employer. If this has not the desired effect, he is laid off for a few days, and then the hint is renewed, with the addition that this is the last chance. This failing, the next move is to make the miner's position so unpleasant by a system of persecution that life becomes a burden. Upon the finishing up of his room he is told there is no more work for him" (Miner, Shawnee, Perry County, p. 214). Here we may further add that in many cases, as the land and houses are also the property of the "corporations," there are only "corporation stores;" and, to quote Mr. NcHugh, the Commissioner for Ohio, "As some of them [i.e. employers] frankly confess, to cut off the profits of the store would destroy the most profitable part of their business " (Ohio Report, p. 217).

Kansas:--" Most of the miners have a company store, and if the miner don't do all his trading with them he is discharged.... The miner has to rent of the company, trade with the company, and be idle when they don't want him to work. If this is not slavery, what is it? ...Once get a miner here, and get him in debt to them and they own him. If·he has a family he can't get enough ahead to get away" (Miner, Crawford, p. 38).

Michigan :-" The greatest difficulty that the wage worker has to contend with, in my opinion, is the custom of many firms doing business on what is called the 'white horse' plan--that is, orders" (Machinist, p. 161). "The order system, which is in vogue in the north of the State,... is nothing but it a system of robbery" (Carpenter, p. 161). "I could take the cash and go among the farmers, and buy what they have to sell for one-third, and sometimes one-half what we have to pay the company. My book account at the store shows one dollar per bushel for potatoes, which did not cost the company more than twenty-five cents" (Saw Mill Labourer, pp. 161-2). "I worked all last summer in same shop as at present, and only received thirty dollars in cash during the entire year" (Cooper, p. 162). "I have tried the store-order system, and have proved by actual figures that I can buy for 30 per cent. less than for orders" (Marble Cutter, p. 162).

Pennsylvania :--"We have a company's store here, and are expected to deal in it" (Miner, Allegheny County, p. 123). "... The company's stores, where nearly all the employes are compelled to deal. The reason I said 'if there is anything due,' is because the company deducts the store bill, rent, doctor, [the company deducts seventy-five cents per month for medicine and medical attendance], coal, etc., from the men. It is seldom a married man has any pay to get, especially an outside labourer" (Labourer, Carbon County, pp. 152, 153).

Trusteeing is another form of this robbery of the employed by the employer. It is practically a mortgaging of wages to a shopkeeper for goods supplied. How this reacts on man and master may be seen from two quotations. Fall River·:--"When a man is trusteed twice he is discharged, because it causes the book-keeper trouble, and the agent is apt to imagine the man is dishonest. Then they take every cent of his money here" (Cotton Operative, p. 20). "The system enables the labourer to get credit--at exorbitant prices--and so live ahead of his earnings; second, the lawyers in Lowell add their fee to the cost, and collect it of the defendant, which is contrary to law" (p. 205).

Violation of the Laws.--In America, as in England, the employer does not scruple to break all or any of the laws for the protection of the labourer. " Laws in several states have been passed, aiming at the removal of the truck and Company-store system. · · · There is yet, however, too much evasion of these laws " (First Annual Report by the Commissioner of Labour, Washington, p. 244).-- Ohio:--"We have personally and by letter caused complaints to be made to the prosecuting attorneys in four counties of the State, where flagrant violations of this law" [i.e., concerning the truck system] "were of almost hourly occurrence, and with the exception of Perry Country, so far as we are advised, not one case of this kind has been made the subject of investigation by grand juries.... If a hungry man steals: a ham, and forces a lock or pries open a door to do it, it is burglary, and a prosecuting attorney will take special delight in having him sent to the penitentiary for it; but for the man who pays his men in 'scrip' and thus indiscriminately robs the helpless families of his employes prosecuting attorneys have 'nought but smiles and pleasant greetings,' as though those upon whom these men were depredating were entitled to no protection, and wealth could do no wrong" (Comm., p. 216). Fall River:--"There should he a compliance by the large manufacturing establishments with the ten-hour law, which has never yet been enforced" (Correspondent of Commissioner, p. 190). " A member of a city Board of Health ordered a wealthy house owner to abate a nuisance in a tenement block. The owner paid no attention until the order was made imperative. Then, instead of complying with the law, he visited the other members of the board, and said that the first member was persecuting him, and letting others go who were just as bad. By a vote of two to one he was given six months more time" (Commissioner, p. 72).---Connecticut :--" There are, in the United States to-day, a great many instances of laws unenforced. ...Violations of the foreign contract labour law.... go on from month to month'' (Commissioner, p.xxi). These violations of the law by the lawmakers are most frequent in mines, for the sufficient reason that these are the working places most; out of sight.---"We see them [the Labour Laws] violated every day, and no penalty inflicted for violating the same" (Miner, p. 125).--Pennsylvania:--"Others" [i.e., companies) "are shielding themselves behind the technicality that the miners have not requested them individually to send in their props, also giving length, number, and size of the required props. I think this is a poor excuse, as the meaning of the law undoubtedly is that all companies and parties interested shall live up to its spirit" (Commissioner, p. 137a). In this same report there are some half-dozen terrible lists of accidents to miners, and the practically unanimous testimony of miners and Commissioners is that the majority of these would not have occurred had the laws been carried out by the masters and overseers. One of the main reasons why labour laws are thus violated is, in America as in England, the small number of Inspectors. "Laws do not execute themselves," writes Mr. McHugh. "A law... proved to be inoperative owing to no public official being specially required to enforce it. ...we do not believe that any inspector can make four inspections to each mine yearly " (Comm., p. 80b). "We are told there is a mine Inspector somewhere in Kansas" (says a Kansas witness, p. 138 of the Report), "but unless Governor Glick saw him come and draw his pay, I know that he was not seen in his official capacity by any miner in Leavenworth." It is satisfactory to learn from the Commissioner that since this statement was made the Leavenworth miners "have seen the mine Inspector in his official capacity." Complaints of a like nature were made to us in factory towms in New England, in mining districts like La Salle (Illinois), and in New York State. Summing up the whole question of this violation of laws, the Ohio Commissioner says: "We, in America, boast of our superiority in the freedom and democracy of our institutions, and our respect for the laws made by the representatives of the people, and that all laws regularly enacted are entitled to obedience and respect until declared unconstitutional by the courts.... But if the manner in which the scrip law in Ohio is enforced and respected should be taken as evidence against us, would we not have to hang our heads in shame, and acknowledge that our boasted veneration for law is but a sham and a delusion, and that statutes that put a curb on our cupidity have no binding force or effect, and were only enacted for the purpose of pandering to a sentiment?" (Comm., p. 228).

Wherever there is any difficulty in getting information for the Bureaux of Labour, the masters are its cause. Either the men are afraid of the black list if they tell the truth, or the masters actually refuse to give any information to the Commissioners.---0hio :--"Many of those who refuse to give information asked by the Bureau are corporate companies, who owe their existence to, and are maintained and protected in every right by, a law enacted by the same power that created the Bureau. They preach law, but do not practise it, and the Bureau is powerless to compel them to do so" (Commissioner, p. 150).

As final evidence of the moral tone of the employers, two last quotations.--Fall River:--"This feeling [of national antagonism] is fostered by the manufacturers in the belief that by causing dissensions among the help [hands] it would interfere with their joining hands on any question of labour reform" Commissioner, p. 14).--- Pennsylvania :--"It is not the widows and orphans that are the masters' chief concern [in employing children], but rather their zealous worship of the almighty dollar (Commissioner, P· 80b.)