A SWEATER'S MEETING.
From no. 1600 (Saturday, June 30, 1888), p. 3.
There was a crowded audience present at the Goulston-street Hall on Wednesday night, under the presidency of Mr. Herbert Burrows, and the Auspices of the London Tailors' Association, for the purpose of further expressing the evils of the sweating system. - The Chairman pointed to the the evidence recently given before the Sweating Committee of the House of Lords, as a proof that no exaggeration had been used in the early days of the agitation against the system. But all the Royal Commissions in the world, he proceeded to add, could not cure the evils complained of; the only remedy possible - and that it was a socialistic one, he frankly confessed - was giving into the hands of the people the control of the means of production which was now in the hands of the classes. Sweating, after all was nothing more than the extraction of the due earnings of the labourer by the landlord and capitalist classes, and the only way to cure it, was, as he said, by the people themselves organising and combining; by establishing co-operative workshops, and thus getting the production into their own hands. - Mr. Conybeare, M.P. - a dark haired, full bearded, and swarthy enthusiast - added his testimony to the existence of cruel cases of sweating by the relation of the following instances. In the first case, a woman who worked for a shoe warehouse in Curtain road, Shoreditch, was paid 4d. and 5d. per dozen of gentlemen's shoes and had to find brown thread and needles which frequently broke owing to the hard work. Her lodging - one tiny room in a filthy court - cost 1s. 9d. per week. The second case was that of another woman, who worked in a fur warehouse between nine and in the morning and eight at night, and then took home work with which she sat till two in the morning. By this means she managed to earn between 4s. and 5s. per week. She was a widow with three children, lodging in one room, which cost her 3s. per week. The people in the factory where this woman was employed dare not tell the truth when questioned by the factory inspector, lest they should be discharged. A man who worked at boot finishing obtained 2½d. per pair for the best work, but, usually, not more than 1d. per pair. A young girl aged 18 was paid 1s. 6d. for making 12 dozen boxes for containing a celebrated firm's coal tar wrap, or, with lace inside the boxes, 2s. 2d. per gross. By working eighteen hours per day the girl could sometimes get through a gross of boxes, but, it was plaintively added, 'She could only do that occasionally, as it made her ill.' With the text of these cases before her, Mrs. Annie Besant made a thrilling and telling speech condemnatory of sweating generally. On the motion of Mr. Dasman, seconded by Mr. Tillett, the following resolution was passed: 'That this meeting, having read the evidence given before the Lords' Committee on Sweating, considers the method of production known as the sweating system, inhuman and barbarous; and that Mr. Conybeare, M.P., Mr. C. Graham, M.P., and Mr. C. Bradlaugh, M.P., be asked to introduce a new Factory Bill to contain clauses which shall provide for the registration of workshops, and that no workshops be open for more than eight hours during every twenty-four.' - Another resolution moved by Lewis Lyons, emphatically condemning 'the trade guild commonly known as the Merchant Taylors' Company, for its wilful and persistent neglect of the interests of the working tailors, for the promotion of which the Trust Funds administered by the City Company were bequeathed,' was also carried.
Bryant and May's Girls. - Are they Sweated?
From no. 1600 (Saturday, June 30, 1888), p. 3.
An interesting action is likely to occupy the attention of the Law Courts shortly. A week or so ago, under the heading of 'White Slavery in London,' Mrs. Annie Besant published in the Link a scathing article regarding the conditions under which, as she alleged, work was carried on by the girls employed in the large match factory of Messrs. Bryant and May, at Bow. The article proceeded to denounce the action of the partners of the firm in the matter, and challenged a denial. The article was brought under the notice of Mr. Theodore Bryant, who immediately telegraphed to Mrs. Besant, stating the article would receive legal attention. We understand that Mr. Bryant has been advised by his solicitors that the article affords good ground for an action for libel, and Mrs. Besant still standing by her statements, no alternative remains now but for the question to be fought out in the Law Courts.
BRYANT AND MAY'S EMPLOYES ON STRIKE.
They Parade the Streets.
From no. 1601 (Saturday, July 7th, 1888), p. 5.
Mrs. Besant continues in the Link the impeachment of the conditions of labour at Bryant and May's match factory, and states that the threatened 'legal attention' has not yet made an appearance. On Thursday, it is asserted that she, with Mr. H. Burrows, was outside the works of Messrs. Bryant and May in Fairfield-road, urging the girls to go out on strike. On the same day a girl employed in the Victoria factory - in the box-filling department - wilfully disregarded the orders of her foreman, and was dismissed. That seemed to form the signal for the other girls, who, on the pretence of wanting more wages, marched out after sending in a deputation to the manager Mr. Dixon. The other departments followed suit, and even the wax hands were compelled to join in the strike. The eleven hundred employés paraded the streets in the neighbourhood of Bow on Thursday and Friday. A large number of police are stationed in the neighbourhood. Messrs. Bryant and May are firm in their intention to resent dictation as to the treatment of their employés.
Sweating and Co-operation.
To the Editor of the East London Observer.
From no. 1601 (Saturday, July 7th, 1888), p. 6.
SIR, - Your otherwise very accurate summary of my speech as chairman of the anti-sweating
meeting at Goulston Hall, stops short at my advocacy of co-operative workshops. Will you kindly
allow me to say that I only advocated these shops as the first step (if such a step be possible,
which is doubtful, under present conditions), towards municipal workshops, which should be the
property of the people as a whole. Not even co-operative production on present lines can solve
the general labour problem. It can only temporarily alleviate some of the grosser evils of the
present system. The only real solution is the general possession by the whole people of the
general means of production, transit, and exchange. - I am, sir, faithfully yours,
THE MATCH GIRLS ON STRIKE.
Bryant and May Interviewed.
From no. 1602 (Saturday, July 14th, 1888), p. 5.
It was in the comfortable offices situated inside the big gates which shut off the large
factory buildings from the Fairfield-road, Bow, that an interview was obtained on Saturday afternoon
with the directors of Messrs. Bryant and may, Limited. Mr. F. Bryant said that the original
firm had gradually built up and concentrated the works erected and the vast trade now carried
on. They had put a large sum of money into their business, and as they employed a large number
of hands they paid a large amount of wages every week. It had always been his desire to see
his workpeople well paid, and if any girl, could earn the wages of three he was glad to see
her do so. He had always endeavoured to be a conscientious employer of labour, and he had tried
to give his workpeople as fair remuneration as profits would permit. In doing that he considered
that in finding work for as many people as he could he was only doing his duty to society, and
he thought he was quite as much a philanthropist, and perhaps more so, than some of those people
who write or talk of the rights of the working classes, but do nothing for them. He denied altogether
the statement of the Socialist leaders, who, he said, he felt convinced were trying to make
mischief and prejudice the girls for personal motives and interests of their own. The girls,
he said, earned on an average from 5s. a week learners, to 18s. a week competent
hands, and in one instance a family of three earned £2 a week between them. He then explained
in full the incident which led up to all the girls going out on strike, and added that the regulation
which they made on Thursday morning was a wise one, and it was rendered advisable by the charged
state of the atmosphere with heat and electricity. Were they not to make these regulations at
times there would be loss by the ignition of matches, and the girls would frequently get their
fingers burnt. He felt sorry for many of the girls, for they desired to return to their work,
and as they had nothing to fall back upon, the strike enforced upon them by others would result,
perhaps, seriously, and cause them great hardships. The girls had all been paid that afternoon,
and with only their three days' pay to receive they had already begun to complain. During the
afternoon, one hundred and sixty girls had signed a paper expressing their wish to be allowed
to return to work provided they were protected from ill-treatment by the others who were following
the ill-advice given them. Two girls who had wished to remain at work had already been severely
beaten by some of the others, and they had come that morning with black eyes. In consequence
of this, and in consequence of certain information which had reached them as to the future action
of the Socialists and what was intended, he had already applied to the Home Secretary for special
protection for the girls. The Home Secretary had expressed his desire for full information upon
the matter, and had made an appointment with him for a special interview that afternoon. Besides
the factory at Bow they had one at Stratford, and they received information that there was going
to be an endeavour to fetch those people out also. They had been informed that an organised
system of picketing was going to be commenced, but the firm were assured they would have full
assistance from the police, and that all their employés who wished to return to work
would be well protected. The firm had no desire to throw their present hands out of work, but
if they desired they could easily get plenty of girls from Scotland to take their places at
once. Mrs. Besant had stated that she was supporting some of the girls who were out. He had
been informed by one of the foremen that during that time the girls had actually been at work.
He had not, however, had the time to inquire into the full particulars of where the truth lay.
Some of the girls on receiving their money complained a good deal to some of the foremen in
the yard, but on the whole they behaved themselves remarkably well, and went to their respective
homes in a quiet and orderly manner.
Another Deputation to Fleet Street.
A deputation of 100 of the girls waited on Monday afternoon on Mrs. Besant, at her offices in Bouverie-street, for the purpose of laying before her their grievances and soliciting her counsel, but only two or three were admitted, the rest, in consequence of the block caused to the traffic, being relegated to the Thames Embankment during the interview. Mrs. Besant did not oppose the return of the 'wax hands' to their work, as it was by no means so open to objection as that by which the wooden-match makers gained their living.
The Possible Local Loss.
In the course of the strike it has been asserted with some authority that, unless the employés return to work upon their old terms, the directors will either remove their business to Sweden where there are several large factories for sale, and where timber is cheaper, or will secure sufficient hands from Glasgow. On Monday, the Social Democratic Federation telegraphed to their sections at Glasgow, asking them to at once hold demonstrations against the threatened importation of the match girls from Glasgow to London.
'We Ain't Come to Cadging.'
A number of quiet young girls of the better class returned to Bow on Monday evening from a march to the West End. Some assembled near the factory and expressed their disappointment and indignation at the manner in which they had been treated. They asserted that after leaving Mile End they were marched to a Radical club near Commercial-street, where there were scarcely any but Jews. They were, they stated, asked to take collecting boxes and go through the West End, but they replied 'Poor as we are, we ain't come to cadging yet.' Nearly the whole of them refused the boxes. The Socialists marched the girls to the Thames Embankment, and some of the men wanted them to go to Trafalgar-square, but they refused, and many of the girls turned back; they thought they were going to have money, but could not get any.
The Fate of the 'Victoria' Factory Hands.
Mr. Frederick Bryant is reported to have stated 'that the girls in the wax factory had that morning resumed their work, and had remained at work all day. There had, however, been considerable opposition on the part of some of the match workers to their coming in, and he had been informed that in some instances there had been disputes about it, and in one case a pugilistic encounter. From the information given he had felt it his duty to get them protection. He had had an interview with the Under-Secretary of State and with Sir Charles Warren, and ample protection had been allotted them.' In reply to a question as to whether he would take all the strikers back in the employment of the firm, providing they consented to resume work, he said he was not prepared to say that he would. They had four different factories in Bow from which the girls had gone out. The women in the Victoria factory were the ringleaders in the strike. It was the hands in that factory that first came out, and he should deal with them in a way that would make an example to the others. Probably this would be by refusing to take any of them on again. There was a large number in that factory. With respect to the girls in the centre factory, they were drawn off, and he would not refuse to take them on again. Then there were the girls in the safety-match manufactory. They were also drawn off, and only followed the lead of the others, and he would take them on again also. The men had not struck, but they had to go out because, the girls having gone out, there was no work for them to do. They would be taken on again when the employment of the girls was resumed. With reference to the employés at Stratford, they had not come out, and he was not aware that they had been interfered with. Whatever might happen, the firm were prepared for any emergency.
A meeting of several hundred girls took place in the Assembly Hall, Mile End, on Thursday morning. The Rev. S. A. Barnett and several gentlemen from Toynbee Hall have had an interview with the firm, but no definite result was arrived at, so that matters remain as they were. The Social Democratic Federation have received £120, and they say that money is rapidly coming in.
The Match Girls' Strike
From no. 1603 (Saturday, July 21st, 1888), p. 6
A meeting of the match girls on strike was held on Saturday, at Mile end, at which the Rev.
Stewart Headlam presided, and Mr. C. Graham, M.P., Dr. Cameron, M.P., and others were present.
A deputation from the London Trades Council stated that the Council had taken up the cause of
the match girls. A Committee of the girls was formed to co-operate with the London Trades Council.
The deputation strongly urged the girls to remain out. - The London Trades Council met on Saturday
night, at which Mr. George Shipton, secretary, said he had written to Messrs. Bryant and May,
stating that it had been suggested that the London Trades Council, as experienced and unprejudiced
workmen, should offer their services in trying to bring about an amicable settlement. He had
received in reply a courteous reply from the firm, which he he read. It stated that the firm
were quite willing to receive a deputation of the London Trades Council on the matter. A deputation
having been appointed, the proceedings terminated. - The London Trades Council deputation which
consisted of Messrs. Cooper, Coulson, Shipton, Drummond, Davis, and Steadman, visited the works
on Monday, and were received by Mr. Wilberforce Bryant and other directors. The deputation urged
the points on behalf of the strikers, to which the directors replied seriatim, and repeated
their previous statements that they paid full current wages, and had no desire to burden their
work-people. After an hour and three-quarter's debate, the conference was adjourned.
The Strike Ended.
On Tuesday the deputation from the London Trades Council, accompanied by the Girls' Strike Committee, had another interview with the directors of the firm of Messrs. Bryant and May. After a prolonged discussion, the following terms were agreed upon by the firm, the Trades' Unionists, and the girls for submission to a meeting of the strikers, who were awaiting the result in Mr. Charrington's Hall:—(1) Abolition of all fines; (2) abolition of all deductions for paint, brushes, stamps, &c.; (3) restitution of 'pennies' if the girls do their own racking, or payments by piecework of boys employed to do it—(the result of this latter will be more than equal to the penny); (4) the packers to have their threepence; (5) all grievances to be taken straight to the managing directors without the intervention of the foremen. The firm further said that they would, as soon as possible, provide a breakfast-room for the girls so that the latter will not be obliged to get their meals in the room where they work, and they also expressed a strong wish that the girls would organize themselves into an union so that future disputes, if any, may be officially laid before the firm. These conditions were submitted to the meeting at Mr. Charrington's Hall by Mr. Shipton and the strike committee. Mrs. Annie Besant and Mr. Herbert Burrows were present and strongly urged the acceptance of the terms, and the girls unanimously decided to agree to them, the payment of the boy helpers by piecework being accepted as a full equivalent for their pennies. All the girls and boys were to be taken back, no distinction being made as to ringleaders.
On the arrangement reported to have been arrived at by the London Trades Council, Mr. F. Bryant has the following remarks to make:
- We agree to abolish such fines as have existed, on the distinct understanding that any girl disobeying orders or wilfully destroying property should be discharged.
- We find the total amount paid by the 75 work-girls concerned in the items of paint, brushes, and stamps in the six months ending June 20 last, is £9 19s. 2d., while the cost of these items to us is £31 9s. 2d.
- The principal spokeswoman of the girls; asked that the rackers out should be paid by the piece instead of by the day as now. To this we agreed, and we understand the girls have decided to continue the system.
- We pass over as needing no comment.
- We have always been ready to give our most careful attention to any complaints brought under our notice, but as a matter of fact there have been no such complaints.
- In this paragraph it is stated that repeated complaints have been made to us that a separate room had not been provided for our workers to breakfast and dine in. This is a mistake. No complaint has been made at any time, but we are prepared (as we stated to the deputation) to give this matter our prompt consideration. We have but a friendly feeling towards our workpeople, and it is a source of great regret to us that they should have had to suffer through bad advice in the early stages of this strike.
The Match Girls' Strike.
From no. 1604 (Saturday, July 28th, 1888), p. 6
A large number of the employés of Messrs. Bryant and May met on Saturday last at Mr. Charrington's small hall, Mile End-road, for the disbursement of the strike fund. Upwards of £150 was distributed amongst the girls, each recipient getting 6d. more than was given last week. There were present at the distribution of the money Mrs. Annie Besant, Mr. H. Burrows, and others who have interested themselves in the girls' welfare. Messrs. J. Pye, B. Cooper, and C. Freak represented the London Trades' Council.