Chapter 04: Wages, Work, Method of Living

Submitted by Reddebrek on April 19, 2016

(a) Wages
THE wages of the American labourer, as measured in terms of money, are generally higher than in England. Against this, however, must be set the greater expense of living and rent, the longer working hours, and above all the greater intensity of the labour in America. With each of these we shall deal directly. Here, therefore, only one or two general notes on the amount of wage, and especially on the time of payment.----Fall River:--"The average wage in Fall River is nine dollars a week. For a single man ... this is scarcely sufficient' (Commissioner, p. 28)---Kansas:--"It is hard work to earn 1 dollar per day" (Tailoress, p. 118). "A man with a family working, as I have to, for 1 dollar 25 cents per day can barely live " (Labourer, p. 118). "it will be seen that the highest daily average wages paid any one trade ... is to bricklayers yearly earnings 425 dollars (£8;)."..."Stone cutters average next highest yearly earnings 415 dollars 71 cents. Iron servants 511 dollars 11 cents " " The average annual a fair average of the general earnings throughout the State, 333 dollars 9 cents." Michigan--"Average wages paid to 549 persons, 1 dollar 67 cents per day" (Commissioner, p. 141).

Our own inquiries in the lumber districts showed that the average wage per day was 40 to 90 cents the average time of employment six months in the year.

Pennsylvania :--" Average highest wages to miner, 2 dollars per day, ... labourers 1 dollar 40 cents, boys 50 to 60 cents per day. Idle Days, 111 (Comm., p. 8a). "I will risk my life on the assertion that the last figures (270 dollars wages for the year to miners, Somerset County are at least 10 per cent. above the average earnings in this region, except one mine" (p. 170). ----New Jersey:--"The daily wages for skilled. miners 1.20 to 1.50 (dollars); for ordinary labour 1 dollar to 1.25; boys 55 to 75 cents.... In some of our mines the wages during the year were reduced to 90 cents per day" (Commissioner, pp. 281, 291). "My actual earnings last year were but 100 dollars, while the cost of living was 400 " (Paterson, p. 227). "Wages have been reduced 50 per cent. in three years" (Silkworker, p. 226). The average wage throughout the Unites States, according to the last census, was 1 dollar 15 1/2 cents per worker per day, a sum which every one to whom we spoke, employer and employed alike, declared wholly insufficient to "keep a family " in the States. And we should bear in mind that this: "average" includes some exceptionally well-paid men, and takes no account of the thousands of unemployed who would work if they could. Tile New York Commissioner touches the heart of the question of wages in the following passage:--"While the fixing of wages is left to the employer alone,... the only limit to reduction is starvation " (p. 611).

One great source of grievance among the workers lies in the fact that in many cases the wages are paid not weekly but, fortnightly or monthly. --Kansas:--"Employes are kept out of their pay for too long a period, especially by railroad corporations.... Most ... of the railroad companies keep back from fifteen to twenty days' pay" (Tinsmith, p. 118) "A man ... has to wait 50 days before he receives a cent of wages, and then he only gets pay for 30 days, leaving the proceeds of 20 days' labour in the company's hands till he quits their employ " (Railroad Labourer, p. 119). "I find that the amount of wages thus retained from month to month by the companies is reported as representing from fifteen to twenty days' labour. ... The poorest paid and most, numerous class ...are thus unable to exist from pay-day to pay-day without credit" (Commissioner, p. 228).---Michigan:--~"Of 520 labourers asked, 'Are you paid weekly, fortnightly, or monthly?' 116 answered weekly, 32 fortnightly, 177 monthly, 28 whenever I want it, 137 no regular pay-day" (Commissioner, p. l5l). " How long are wages withheld:'' 'A week to ten days' (Mason). ,Sixty to ninety days' (Labourer). 'One month' (Fireman). 'Ninety days' (Carpenter, labourer, farm labourer). 'Sometimes three months' (Engineer). 'As long as they are able to keep it' (Machinist). 'Six months to a year' (Single sawyer). 'Seven months' (Sawmill labourer). 'Sometimes for life'" (Carpenter) (pp. 152, 153).--Connecticut :--"Of the factory operatives a little less than two-fifths are paid weekly, a little more than two-fifths monthly, most of the others fortnightly" (p. ix.). In Pennsylvania monthly payments prevail in the coal regions, elsewhere fortnightly. "When one starts to work it is sometimes seven weeks before he gets any pay". (Miner, p. 163).

(b) Working Time.--As to the length of this per day, let us take the State of Connecticut as a fair general type of the New England cotton factories, which have been, to some extent, influenced by legislation. Of 65,627 hands...about 5 per cent. were employed 54 hours (per week); a little over 22 per cent. from 55 to 59; over 56 per cent. 59 1/2 or 60 hours; 16 per cent. (10,602) more than 60 hours; "12 per cent. of the men, 22 per cent. of the women, and 34 per cent. of the children are employed more than 10 hours daily. On the other hand, 30 per cent. of the men, 28 per cent. of the women, and only 11 per cent. of the children are employed less than 10 hours daily." ... (Comm., p. xv.). --New Jersey :---"In England, they" (silk-workers) "work only 54 hours, here we have 60," (Silkworker, Patterson, p. 226).

One or two special cases taken from other callings. --Fall River--" "Tram-drivers 15 hours per day. Kansas street car conductor 16 and 17 hours a-day. But the most unfortunate of these wretched car-servants are the drivers of the so-called 'bob-tail' cars. On these there are no conductors, and the one man-not driving, be it remembered, as, for example, the Blackfriars Bridge cars, a short and stated distance, but often from one end of a town to another--has to drive, collect money, give change, stop for the passengers who wish to alight or who wish to ascend, keep his accounts 'made up,' and this for 16 to 18 hours a-day. And for such hard work the men do not get enough, as a Milwaukee driver told us, to 'keep their families."'--New York:--"Bakers 16 hours for 6 days; they always, without exception, work Sunday; it amounts to 14 per day" (p. 327). --Wisconsin :--"Labourer, on the Menominee River, "17 hours per day."---Pennsylvania:--"Here I see men working 14, 16, and 18 hours, and I know that some of them go into the mines on Sunday, trying to make a living and cannot, while their employers own Sunday-schools, churches, preachers, Government bonds,... with yachts, steamboats, orange plantations, and are very rich" (Iron-worker, p. 128).----"We worked 6 hours per day in England, here we work from 10 to 12 hours a day" (Miner, p. 160).----"In England... there is more leisure time for culture" ... (Miner, p. 145). "In England I worked 6 hours per day, a miner...has to work all the hours God sends --in fact, make a beast of himself or starve" (p. 131).

The eight-hours' working day is declared for with a practical unanimity by the working men and by the Commissioners. In the Kansas report the answers from men belonging to 18 different trades are given. They all declare for shorter hours of work, and 12 of the 18 for an eight-hour day.--Wisconsin:--Of the 12 men against the 756 masters, 10 are for 8 hours, 1 for 9 hours, and 1 against reduction. Of the 756 masters, 437 were against the reduction of the working day to 8 hours, 68 were for it, 20 indefinite, 233 silent.----New York:--" The most remarkable feature of tile investigation in New York city was the unanimity with which the witnesses answered interrogations in regard to shorter hours of labour. They invariably expressed themselves in favour of shortening the working day:' (p. 151).----The Pennsylvania Commissioner will make a good end to this set of quotations:--"That eight hours will in the not distant future be the standard measure of a day's work is, in my opinion, beyond doubt" (p. 15).

In America, as in England, a large number of the working men are in enforced idleness through part of the year. We are not speaking here of the great army of the perennially unemployed, but of those who would be said even by the capitalist class to be workers.---Kansas (Miners):--"This mine has probably worked half-time during the year." "At present we are working half-time " (p. 136). "A printer whose lost time during the last year was six months" (p. 204). A coloured woman, seamstress: "My husband is over one-half of his time idle through inability to get work" (p. 206). A summary on page 258 shows that in Topeka, in 1885 of 660 skilled workmen, 156 worked only part of the time, 108 had no work; of 572 labourers 77 worked only part of the time, 113 had no work. "Skilled and unskilled workmen...out of employed..... over 1 in 5" (p. 259). Important figures, since we are constantly told both in Europe and America that "skilled labour" is always certain of employment "out West."--New Jersey :--" The locomotive works in Paterson, at one time employing 3,500 men, has not given work to 500 during the last year and a half. Many of the ironworkers, machinists, blacksmiths, etc., could be seen around the city hose-house,... trying to get a few weeks' work on the streets.... But there were always four times more than were necessary" (p. 218).-- Michigan:--"I am out of employment so long that I am sick and tired of looking for work " (Machinist). "I am willing to do any kind of work, but am unable to secure work at any price" (Carpenter). "Cannot get, employment only about two or three days in a week" (Painter). "I only had a very little work last summer" (Labourer). "My position as a wage-worker is rather blue at present, because there are so many men that are out of employment " (Wood-worker). " Am out of work at present, and no prospect of any work" (p. 160). We quote from the report on " Industrial Depression ":--"Out of the total number of establishments, such as factories, mines, etc., existing in the country during the year ending July 1st, 1885, 7 1/2 per cent...were idle or equivalent to idle.... There were in round numbers 255,000 such establishments employing upwards of 2,250,000 hands.

.... Then there were possibly 19,125 establishments idle or equivalent to idle, 168,750 hands out of employment, so far as such establishments were concerned during the year considered" (p. 65).

To the displacement of human by machine labour not a little of this enforced 'idleness" is due. How many skilled workers have, during the last few years, been driven into the ranks of the unskilled and unemployed in America, will be better appreciated from the following facts--taken from Colonel Wright's Report on Industrial Depressions, l886, pp. 80-86--than from anything we could ourselves say on the subject. In the manufacture of agricultural implements, during the last 15 or 40 years, machinery has displaced "fully 50 per cent. of muscular labour." In manufacture of small arms displacement of 44 to 49 men in one "operation." Boots and some cases, 80 per cent, displaced, in others 50 to 60. "Within the past 30 years," says: one Philadelphia manufacturer, "machinery has displaced about 6 times the amount of hand labour required." Broom industry, 50 per cent. Carriages and waggons, 34 per cent. Carpets, weaving, spinning, and all the proceses together, displaced 10 to 20 times the number of persons now necessary.... In spinning alone 75 to 100 times the number. Hats, di placement, 9 to 1. Cotton goods, within 10 years 50 per cent. (in New Hampshire). Flour, nearly three-fourths of the manual labour displaced. Furniture, one-half to three-fourths. Leather-making, 50 per cent. Metals, and metallic goods, one man with one boy can produce as much as was formerly produced by 10 skilled men. One boy running a planing machine does the work of 25 men. In the Hocking Valley, mining coal by machines, 160 men do the work of 500. Oil industry, Penn., 5,700 teams of horses, and double that number of men, displaced. Wall-paper, displacement, 100 to 1. Railroad supplies, 50 per cent. Silk manufacture, general manufacture, 40 per cent.; weaving, 95; winding 90. Woollen goods; carding, 33 per cent.; spinning, 50; weaving, 25. "This is during the last few years only ... machinery in spinning and weaving has displaced 20 times the hand labour formerly employed."

The stealing of the employees time goes on just as criminally in America as in this country.--- Fall River:--"An operative said, ' ... if the super- intendent takes ten minutes in the morning, fifteen at noon, and five at night, it is nobody's business'" (p. 109). " Clocks have been put back half an hour, and where a mill with 2,000 looms does a thing of this kind the steal amounts to something" (Former Operative, p. 109). " As a rule, they " [the spinners] "all go into the mill half an hour before starting-up time ... then at noon they must clean up, and that takes all the dinner-hour, so that they rarely get out of the mill during the day" (p. 115). This "stealing on time" is the nibbling and cribbling of time:' denounced in England by Leonard Horner. (See "Capital," p. 226.)

(c) Intensification of labour.--This, more than anything, distinguishes the American labourer from the British. Every one of the many working men and women of every calling that had come from England, to whom we spoke in America, laid stress on the fact that the workers in the New World had to do more work in a given time. "Until I came here," said one of them, "I did not know what hard work was;" and our friend P. J. Maguire, one of the most experienced and active labour organisers, told us that it usually " took months" before the British worker could be "broken in to the style of work in America." They must keep up art awful strain or drop out of the race----Fall River :--"I saw on the sheet in a certain mill, written opposite the name of a female weaver, 'a lazy weaver,' and opposite another, '5 1/2 cuts, or get out' " (p. 113). "We used to get off twenty-eight thousand in a week, now we get off thirty-three thousand under the ten-hour law:' (p. 47).---Ohio:-- "By having the work made at such prices ... a moulder would be obliged to do two days' work for one day's wages" (Superintendent Machine Shop, p. 10). "The 'hurry and push' that has been introduced of late years into the American workshops ...··(p. 10). "in fact the workers state that the 'grinding' or 'driving' was almost beyond human endurance:' (Fall River, p. 156).

(d) Method of Living.--A few words on the horrors of the tenement houses. New York city is especially the home of these dens.----New York:--In 1883 there were 25,000 tenement houses, with 1,000,000 inhabitants. As to the overcrowding, it is estimated that 18,996 tenement houses accommodate fifty people each, and not a few of these contain three times as many. "I have seen a family of six and even eight people living in the customary front and 'inside' room. Where they all slept was a mystery, but that a portion of them were obliged to sleep on the floor seemed the only explanation. The temperature of these rooms is excessive, and while the smell of sewer gas is in itself obnoxious, it becomes simply refreshing when compared with the stifling fumes that seem to permeate every nook and corner of these dilapidated tenements. They cook, eat, and sleep in the same room, men, women, and children together. Refuse of every description makes the floors damp and slimy, and the puny, half-naked children crawl or slide about in it" (Commissioner, pp. 174, 179). "These people very seldom cooked any of their meals.... I have seen large accumulations of tobacco scraps and tobacco stems which, having long lain in that way, have become putrid; in one instance I ran the point of my shoe into a mass of this kind to see what it really was, and it was filled with vermin " (Evidence of Cigar Maker on Tenement House Cigar Factories. Report for 1884, p. 154).----In other towns and cities besides New York city, both in New York and, other States, the like is to be seen. Pennsylvania:--"I know of forty people living in a little house of three rooms. It is a common thing for seven people to live in one room" (p. 128).--Fall River:--"The Granite Mills houses were the best in the city "--and yet--"sixteen houses use the same privy, and the stench in summer is unbearable" (Weaver,p. 81). "The inhabitants of Norombega Block (Lowell, Mass.) have to carry their refuse of all kinds, and human excrements, save when they throw it between the two blocks...into Austin Avenue for deposit" (Comm., p. 91). "These tenements are... bad, morally as well as in a sanitary point of view " (p. 84). "The tenements throughout the city are in a very poor condition" (Cotton Spinner, p. 80). " 'Dirty,' 'foul odours,' 'wretched and dirty,' 'excessively filthy,' such are the terms in which the Commissioner speaks of the Fall River tenements. Some of the very worst are those owned by the corporations, and the 'hands' are forced to live in them." "When a man is employed by a mill he is compelled to move into their tenaments. Their breakfast depends on their moving in, and their life on their moving out. The recent strike at the Chace Mills was caused by the refusal of a newly engaged man to more out of a private tenement and into one of the company's. He did not consider it fit to live in, so refused, and was discharged, and for no other reason" (p. 84).

For these "filthy," "dirty," "wretched" houses exorbitant rents are changed. And as to the landlords of these miserable dwellings: "It would seem, says the New York Commissioner, "as if a spirit of common humanity would prompt the owners of such property to prevent a continuance of these awful health-destroying and disease-infecting cesspools. Humanity, however, has little or nothing to do with the case. The main and all-important question with these people seems to he to get the largest possible revenue from their wretched rookeries with the least possible outlay" (New York Report, 1886, p. 177) " The Harris Block on Hall Street (Lowell) is owned by a man who gives his name to the block, and in the census of 1880 it was found that in the 36 tenements there were 396 persons in the 36 families.

The owner of the block pays a ground rent of 260 dollars per year, and receives an average rental from each tenement of 8 dollars; the total for one month, 288 dollars, more than covering his yearly land rent" (Fall River, Comm., p. 92). " They are not as good as we would like to have them, but good enough for the operatives" (Cotton Manufacturer, . 83).

As to the question of food. The verbal testimony of the English in America to us was always in effect that food cost as much in America as in England, or more in America than in England. But there is another aspect of this question generally forgotten: that is, not what the food costs, but what can the labourer afford to spend per day upon it.---0hio:--" Wards of the State" [the people in the punitive, reformatory, and benevolent institutions] "cost for subsistence per head 16+, cents per day. For the purpose of subsistence the working people spend 13 9/10 cents per day per person " (p. 95). Of course, in the former case the food is bought wholesale, and in the latter retail.

The food question leads to that of drink. In America, as in England, there are not wanting people, even among the working classes, who, confusing effects and causes, explain the miserable condition of the workers by the fact that they will drink. Of sixteen Kansas labouring men, seven declare for temperance as necessary if the cause of labour is to succeed, and four others are anxious for prohibition. A waggon-maker says, however, "I don't think this howl about the working man spending so much for whiskey is truthful....I am confident that the proportion is much less than it is among any other class--business men, for instance." A printer puts the matter in the right light. "I will admit that we should preach and practise temperance, but there are other evils that we have got to fight" (pp. 120, 121). A doctor, quoted in the Fall Hiver Report, takes what Colonel Carroll Wright calls "a more philosophical view of the cause and the tendency of the evil." "I must admit that the system of overworking the operatives is so debilitating as to seem to make necessary the use of some kind of stimulant, and could that necessity be met by a very moderate use of beer and spirits all might be well" (p. 176). Say the Cotton Operatives: "The 'drive' they are subjected to leads them to take a stimulant in order to recuperate their energies" (p. 62).