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“The Sweating System.”

Se. Origin of the Term “Sweating.” Having gained insight into some of the leading industrial forces of the age, we can approach more hopefully the study of that aspect of City poverty, commonly known as the “Sweating System.”

The first thing is to get a definite meaning to the term. Since the examination of experts before the recent “Lords’ Committee” elicited more than twenty widely divergent definitions of this “Sweating System,” some care is required at the outset of our inquiry. The common use of the term “Sweating System” is itself responsible for much ambiguity, for the term “system” presupposes a more or less distinct form of organization of industry identified with the evils of sweating. Now as it should be one of the objects of inquiry to ascertain whether there exists any one such definite form, it will be better at the outset to confine ourselves to the question, “What is Sweating?”

As an industrial term the word seems to have been first used among journeymen tailors. The tailoring houses which once executed all orders on their own premises, by degrees came to recognize the convenience of giving out work to tailors who would work at their own homes. The long hours which the home workers were induced to work in order to increase their pay, caused the term “Sweater” to be applied to them by the men who worked for fixed hours on the tailors’ premises, and who found their work passing more and more into the hands of the home workers. Thus we learn that originally it was long hours and not low wages which constituted “sweating.” School-boy slang still uses the word in this same sense. Moreover, the first sweater was one who “sweated” himself, not others. But soon when more and more tailoring work was “put out,” the home worker, finding he could undertake more than he could execute, employed his family and also outsiders to help him. This makes the second stage in the evolution of the term; the sweater now “sweated” others as well as himself, and he figured as a “middleman” between the tailoring firm which employed him, and the assistants whom he employed for fixed wages. Other clothing trades have passed through the same process of development, and have produced a sub-contracting middleman. The term “sweater” has thus by the outside world, and sometimes by the workers themselves, come to be generally applied to sub-contractors in small City trades. But the fact of the special application has not prevented the growth of a wider signification of “sweating” and “sweater.” As the long hours worked in the tailors’ garrets were attended with other evils a low rate of wages, unsanitary conditions, irregularity of employment, and occasional tyranny in all the forms which attend industrial authority all these evils became attached to the notion of sweating. The word has thus grown into a generic term to express this disease of City poverty from its purely industrial side. Though “long hours” was the gist of the original complaint, low wages have come to be recognized as equally belonging to the essence of “sweating.” In some cases, indeed, low wages have become the leading idea, so that employers are classed as sweaters who pay low wages, without consideration of hours or other conditions of employment. Trade Unions, for example, use the term “sweating” specifically to express the conduct of employers who pay less than the “standard” rate of wages. The abominable sanitary condition of many of the small workshops, or private dwellings of workers, is to many reformers the most essential element in sweating.

Se. Present Applications of the Name. When the connotation of the term sweating had become extended so as to include along with excessive hours of labour, low wages, unsanitary conditions of work, and other evils, which commonly belong to the method of sub-contract employment, it was only natural that the same word should come to be applied to the same evils when they were found outside the sub-contract system. For though it has been, and still is, true, that where the method of sub-contract is used the workers are frequently sweated, and though to the popular mind the sub-contractor still figures as the typical sweater, it is not right to regard sub-contract as the real cause of sweating. For it is found

Firstly, that in some trades sub-contract is used without the evils of sweating being present. Mr. Burnett, labour correspondent to the Board of Trade, in his evidence before the Lords’ Committee, maintains that where Trade Unions are strong, as in the engineering trade, sub-contract is sometimes employed under conditions which are entirely “unobjectionable.” So too in the building trades, sub-contract is not always attended by “sweating.”

Secondly, much of the worst “sweating” is found where the element of sub-contract is entirely wanting, and where there is no trace of a ravenous middleman. This will be found especially in women’s employments. Miss Potter, after a close investigation of this point, arrives at the conclusion that “undoubtedly the worst paid work is made under the direction of East End retail slop-shops, or for tally-men a business from which contact, even in the equivocal form of wholesale trading, has been eliminated." The term “sweating” must be deemed as applicable to the case of the women employed in the large steam-laundries, who on Friday and Saturday work for fifteen or sixteen hours a day, to the overworked and under-paid waitresses in restaurants and shops, to the men who, as Mr. Burleigh testified, “are employed in some of the wealthiest houses of business, and received for an average working week of ninety-five hours, board, lodging, and L15 a year,” as it is to the tailoress who works fourteen hours a day for Whitechapel sub-contractors.

The terms “sweating” and “sweating System,” then, after originating in a narrow application to the practice of over-work under sub-contractors in the lower branches of the tailoring trade, has expanded into a large generic term, to express the condition of all overworked, ill-paid, badly-housed workers in our cities. It sums up the industrial or economic aspects of the problem of city poverty. Scarcely any trade in its lowest grades is free from it; in nearly all we find the wretched “fag end” where the workers are miserably oppressed. This is true not only of the poorest manual labour, that of the sandwich-man, with his wage of 1d. per diem, and of the lowest class of each manufacturing trade in East and Central London. It is true of the relatively unskilled labour in every form of employment; the miserable writing-clerk, who on 25s. a week or less has to support a wife and children and an appearance of respectability; the usher, who grinds out low-class instruction through the whole tedious day for less than the wage of a plain cook; the condition of these and many other kinds of low-class brain-workers is only a shade less pitiable than the “sweating” of manual labourers, and the causes, as we shall see, are much the same. If our investigation of “sweating” is chiefly confined to the condition of the manual labourer, it is only because the malady there touches more directly and obviously the prime conditions of physical life, not because the nature of the industrial disease is different.

Se. Leading “Sweating” Trades. It is next desirable to have some clear knowledge of the particular trades in which the worst forms of “sweating” are found, and the extent to which it prevails in each. The following brief summary is in a large measure drawn from evidence furnished to the recent Lords’ Committee on the Sweating System. Since the sweating in women’s industries is so important a subject as to demand a separate treatment, the facts stated here will chiefly apply to male industries.

Tailoring. In the tailoring trade the best kind of clothes are still made by highly-skilled and well-paid workmen, but the bulk of the cheap clothing is in the hands of “sweaters,” who are sometimes skilled tailors, sometimes not, and who superintend the work of cheap unskilled hands. In London the coat trade should be distinguished from the vest and trousers trade. The coat-making trade in East London is a closely-defined district, with an area of one square mile, including the whole of Whitechapel and parts of two adjoining parishes. The trade is almost entirely in the hands of Jews, who number from thirty to forty thousand persons. Recent investigations disclosed 906 workshops, which, in the quality and conditions of the work done in them, may be graded according to the number of hands employed. The larger workshops, employing from ten to twenty-five hands or more, generally pay fair wages, and are free from symptoms of sweating. But in the small workshops, which form about 80 per cent of the whole number, the common evils of the sweating system assert themselves overcrowding, bad sanitation, and excessive hours of labour. Thirteen and fourteen hours are the nominal day’s work for men; and those workshops which do not escape the Factory Inspector assign a nominal factory day for women; but “among the imperfectly taught workers in the slop and stock trade, and more especially in the domestic workshops, under-pressers, plain machinists, and fellers are in many instances expected to ‘convenience’ their masters, i.e. to work for twelve or fifteen hours in return for ten or thirteen hours’ wage." The better class workers, who require some skill, get comparatively high wages even in the smaller workshops, though the work is irregular; but the general hands engaged in making 1s. coats, generally women, get a maximum of 1d., and a minimum which is indefinitely below 1s. for a twelve hours’ day. This low-class work is also hopeless. The raw hand, or “greener” as he is called, will often work through his apprenticeship for nominal wages; but he has the prospect of becoming a machinist, and earning from 6s. to 10s. a day, or of becoming in his turn a sweater. The general hand has no such hope. The lowest kind of coat-making, however, is refused by the Jew contractor, and falls to Gentile women. These women also undertake most of the low-class vest and trousers making, generally take their work direct from a wholesale house, and execute it at home, or in small workshops. The price for this work is miserably low, partly by reason of the competition of provincial factories, partly for reasons to be discussed in a later chapter. Women will work for twelve or fifteen hours a day throughout the week as “trousers finishers,” for a net-earning of as little as 4s. or 5s. Such is the condition of inferior unskilled labour in the tailoring trade. It should however be understood that in “tailoring,” as in other “sweating” trades, the lowest figures quoted must be received with caution. The wages of a “greener,” a beginner or apprentice, should not be taken as evidence of a low wage in the trade, for though it is a lamentable thing that the learner should have to live upon the value of his prentice work, it is evident that under no commercial condition could he support himself in comfort during this period. It is the normal starvation wage of the low-class experienced hand which is the true measure of “sweating” in these trades. Two facts serve to give prominence to the growth of “sweating” in the tailoring trades. During the last few years there has been a fall of some 30 per cent, in the prices paid for the same class of work. During the same period the irregularity of work has increased. Even in fairly large shops the work for ordinary labour only averages some three days in the week, while we must reckon two and a half days for unskilled workers in smaller workshops, or working at home.

Among provincial towns Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds show a rapid growth of sweating in the clothing trade. In each case the evil is imputed to “an influx of foreigners, chiefly Jews.” In each town the same conditions appear irregular work and wages, unsanitary conditions, over-crowding, evasion of inspection. The growth in Leeds is remarkable. “There are now ninety-seven Jewish workshops in the city, whereas five years ago there were scarcely a dozen. The number of Jews engaged in the tailoring trade is about three thousand. The whole Jewish population of Leeds is about five thousand."

Boot-making. The hand-sewn trade, which constitutes the upper stratum of this industry, is executed for the most part by skilled workers, who get good wages for somewhat irregular employment. There are several strong trade organizations, and though the hours are long, extending occasionally to thirteen or fourteen hours, the worst forms of sweating are not found. So too in the upper branches of machine-sewn boots, the skilled hands get fairly high wages. But the lower grades of machine-made boots, and the “sew-rounds,” i.e. fancy shoes and slippers, which form a large part of the industry in London, present some of the worst features of the “sweating system.” The “sweating master” plays a large part here. “In a busy week a comparatively competent ‘sweater’ may earn from 18s. to 25s. less skilful hands may get 15s. or 16s. but boys and newly-arrived foreigners take 10s., 8s., 7s., or less; while the masters, after paying all expenses, would, according to their own estimates, make not less than 30s., and must, in many cases, net much higher sums. Owing, however, to the irregularity of their employment, the average weekly earnings of both masters and men throughout the year fall very greatly below the amount which they can earn when in full work." For the lowest kinds of work an ordinary male hand appears to be able to earn not more than 15s. per week. A slow worker, it is said, would earn an average of some 10s. to 12s. per week. The hours of labour for sweating work appear to be from fifteen to eighteen per diem, and “greeners” not infrequently work eighteen to twenty hours a day. Women, who are largely used in making “felt and carpet uppers,” cannot, if they work their hardest, make more than 1d. a day. In the lowest class of work wages fall even lower. Mr. Schloss gives the wages of five men working in a small workshop, whose average is less than 11s. a week. These wages do not of course represent skilled work at all. Machinery has taken over all the skilled work, and left a dull laborious monotony of operations which a very few weeks’ practice enable a completely unskilled worker to undertake. Probably the bulk of the cheapest work is executed by foreigners, although from figures taken in 1887, of four typical London parishes, it appeared that only 16 per cent, of the whole trade were foreigners. In the lower classes of goods a considerable fall of price has occurred during the fast few years, and perhaps the most degraded conditions of male labour are to be found in the boot trade. A large proportion of the work throughout the trade is out-work, and therefore escapes the operation of the Factory Act. The competition among small employers is greatly accentuated by the existence of a form of middleman known as the “factor,” who is an agent who gets his profit by playing off one small manufacturer against another, keeping down prices, and consequently wages, to a minimum. A large number of the small producers are extremely poor, and owing to the System which enables them to obtain material from leather-merchants on short credit, are constantly obliged to sell at a disadvantage to meet their bills. The “factor,” as a speculator, takes advantage of this to accumulate large stocks at low prices, and throwing them on the market in large quantities when wholesale prices rise, causes much irregularity in the trade.

The following quotation from the Report of the Lords’ Committee sums up the chief industrial forces which are at work, and likewise illustrates the confusion of causes with symptoms, and casual concomitants, which marks the “common sense” investigations of intricate social phenomena. “It will be seen from the foregoing epitome of the evidence, that sweating in the boot trade is mainly traced by the witnesses to the introduction of machinery, and a more complete system of subdivision of labour, coupled with immigration from abroad and foreign competition. Some witnesses have traced it in a great measure, if not principally, to the action of factors; some to excessive competition among small masters as well as men; others have accused the Trades Unions of a course of action which has defeated the end they have in view, namely, effectual combination, by driving work, owing to their arbitrary conduct, out of the factory into the house of the worker, and of handicapping England in the race with foreign countries, by setting their faces against the use of the best machinery."

Shirt-making. Perhaps no other branch of the clothing trade shows so large an area of utter misery as shirt-making, which is carried on, chiefly by women, in East London. The complete absence of adequate organization, arising from the fact that the work is entirely out-work, done not even by clusters of women in workshops, but almost altogether by scattered workers in their own homes, makes this perhaps the completest example of the evils of sweating. The commoner shirts are sold wholesale at 10d. per dozen. Of this sum, it appears that the worker gets 2/2d., and the sweater sometimes as much as 4s. The competition of married women enters here, for shirt-making requires little skill and no capital; hence it can be undertaken, and often is, by married women, anxious to increase the little and irregular earnings of their husbands, and willing to work all day for whatever they can get. Some of the worst cases brought before the Lords’ Committee showed that a week’s work of this kind brings in a net gain of from 3s. to 5s. It appears likely that few unmarried women or widows can undertake this work, because it does not suffice to afford a subsistence wage. But if this is so, it must be remembered that the competition of married women has succeeded in underselling the unmarried women, who might otherwise have been able to obtain this work at a wage which would have supported life. The fact that those who work at shirt-making do not depend entirely on it for a livelihood, is an aggravation rather than an extenuation of the sweating character of this employment.

Se. Some minor “Sweating” Trades. Mantle-making is also a woman’s industry. The wages are just sufficiently higher than in shirt-making to admit the introduction of the lowest grades of unsupported female workers. From 1d. to 1d. a day can be made at this work.

Furring employs large numbers of foreign males, and some thousands of both native and foreign females. It is almost entirely conducted in small workshops, under the conduct of middlemen, who receive the expensive furs from manufacturers, and hire “hands” to sew and work them up. Wages have fallen during the last few years to the barest subsistence point, and even below. Wages for men are put at 10s. or 12s., and in the case of girls and young women, fall as low as 4s.; a sum which is in itself insufficient to support life, and must therefore be only paid to women and girls who are partly subsisted by the efforts of relatives with whom they live, or by the wages of vice.

In cabinet-making and upholstery, the same disintegrating influences have been at work which we noted in tailoring. Many firms which formerly executed all orders on their own premises, now buy from small factors, and much of the lowest and least skilled work is undertaken by small “garret-masters,” or even by single workmen who hawk round their wares for sale on their own account. The higher and skilled branches are protected by trade organizations, and there is no evidence that wages have fallen; but in the less skilled work, owing perhaps in part to the competition of machinery, prices have fallen, and wages are low. There is evidence that the sub-contract system here is sometimes carried through several stages, much to the detriment of the workman who actually executes the orders.

One of the most degraded among the sweating industries in the country is chain and nail-making. The condition of the chain-makers of Cradley Heath has called forth much public attention. The system of employment is a somewhat complicated one. A middleman, called a “fogger,” acts as a go-between, receiving the material from the master, distributing it among the workers, and collecting the finished product. Evidence before the Committee shows that an accumulation of intricate forms of abuse of power existed, including in some cases systematic evasion of the Truck Act. Much of the work is extremely laborious, hours are long, twelve hours forming an ordinary day, and the wage paid is the barest subsistence wage. Much of the work done by women is quite unfit for them.

Se. Who is the Sweater? The Sub-contractor? These facts relating to a few of the principal trades in the lower branches of which “sweating” thrives, must suffice as a general indication of the character of the disease as it infests the inferior strata of almost all industries.

Having learnt what “sweating” means, our next question naturally takes the form, Who is the sweater? Who is the person responsible for this state of things? John Bull is concrete, materialistic in his feeling and his reasoning. He wants to find an individual, or a class embodiment of sweating. If he can find the sweater, he is prepared to loathe and abolish him. Our indignation and humanitarianism requires a scape-goat. As we saw, many of the cases of sweating were found where there was a sub-contractor. To our hasty vision, here seems to be the responsible party. Forty years ago Alton Locke gave us a powerful picture of the wicked sub-contracting tailor, who, spider-like, lured into his web the unfortunate victim, and sucked his blood for gain. The indignation of tender-hearted but loose-thinking philanthropists, short-visioned working-class orators, assisted by the satire of the comic journal, has firmly planted in the imagination of the public an ideal of an East London sweater; an idle, bloated middleman, whose expansive waistcoat is decorated with resplendent seals and watch-chains, who drinks his Champagne, and smokes his perfumed cigar, as he watches complacently the sunken faces and cowering forms of the wretched creatures whose happiness, health, and very life are sacrificed to his heartless greed.

Now a fair study of facts show this creature to be little else than a myth. The miseries of the sweating den are no exaggeration, they are attested by a thousand reliable witnesses; but this monster human spider is not found there. Though opinions differ considerably as to the precise status of the sweating middleman, it is evident that in the worst “sweating” trades he is not idle, and he is not rich. In cases where the well-to-do, comfortable sub-contractor is found, he generally pays fair wages, and does not grossly abuse his power. When the worst features of sweating are present, the master sweater is nearly always poor, his profits driven down by competition, so that he barely makes a living. It is, indeed, evident that in many of the worst Whitechapel sweating-dens the master does not on the average make a larger income than the more highly paid of his machinists. So, too, most of these “sweaters” work along with their hands, and work just as hard. Some, indeed, have represented this sweating middleman as one who thrusts himself between the proper employer and the working man in order to make a gain for himself without performing any service. But the bulk of evidence goes to show that the sweater, even when he does not occupy himself in detailed manual labour, performs a useful work of superintendence and management. “The sweater in the vast majority of cases is the one man in the workshop who can, and does, perform each and any branch of the trade.”

For the old adage, which made a tailor the ninth part of a man, has been completely reversed by the subdivision of work in modern industry. It now takes more than nine men to make a tailor. We have foremen or cutters, basters, machinists, fellers, button-holers, pressers, general workers, &c. No fewer than twenty-five such subdivisions have been marked in the trade. Since the so-called tailor is no tailor at all, but a “button-holer” or “baster,” it is obvious that the working of such a system requires some one capable of general direction.

This opinion is not, however, inconsistent with the belief that such work of “direction” or “organization” may be paid on a scale wholly out of proportion to the real worth of the services performed. Extremely strong evidence has been tendered to show that in many large towns, especially in Leeds and Liverpool, the “sweating” tailor has frequently “no practical knowledge of his trade.” The ignorance and incompetence of the working tailors enables a Jew with a business mind, by bribing managers, to obtain a contract for work which he makes no pretence to execute himself. His ability consists simply in the fact that he can get more work at a cheaper rate out of the poorer workmen than the manager of a large firm. In his capacity of middleman he is a “convenience,” and for his work, which is nominally that of master tailor, really that of sweating manager, he gets his pay.

Part of the “service” thus rendered by the sweater is doubtless that he acts as a screen to the employing firm. Public opinion, and “the reputation of the firm,” would not permit a well-known business to employ the workers directly under their own roof upon the terms which the secrecy of the sweater’s den enables them to pay. But in spite of this, whether the “Jew sweater” is really a competent tailor or is a mere “organizer” of poor labour, it should be distinctly understood that he is paid for the performance of real work, which under the present industrial system has a use.

Se. Different Species of Middlemen. It may be well here to say something on the general position of the “middleman” in commerce. The popular notion that the “middleman” is a useless being, and that if he could be abolished all would go well, arises from a confusion of thought which deserves notice. This confusion springs from a failure to understand that the “middleman” is a part of a commercial System. He is not a mere intruder, a parasitic party, who forces his way between employer and worker, or between producer and consumer, and without conferring any service, extracts for himself a profit which involves a loss to the worker or the consumer, or to both. If we examine this notion, either by reference to facts, or from a priori consideration, we shall find it based on a superstition. “Middleman” is a broad generic term used to describe a man through whose hands goods pass on their way to the consuming public, but who does not appear to add any value to the goods he handles. At any stage in the production of these goods, previous to their final distribution, the middleman may come in and take his profit for no visible work done. He may be a speculator, buying up grain or timber, and holding or manipulating it in the large markets; or he may be a wholesale merchant, who, buying directly from the fisherman, and selling to the retail fishmonger, is supposed to be responsible for the high price of fish; he may be the retailer who in East London is supposed to cause the high price of vegetables.

With these species of middlemen we are not now concerned, except to say that their work, which is that of distribution, i.e. the more convenient disposal of forms of material wealth, may be equally important with the work of the farmer, the fisherman, or the market-gardener, though the latter produce changes in the shape and appearance of the goods, while the former do not. The middleman who stands between the employing firm and the worker is of three forms. He may undertake a piece of work for a wholesale house, and taking the material home, execute it with the aid of his family or outside assistants. This is the chamber-master proper, or “sweater” in the tailoring trade. Or he may act as distributor, receive the material, and undertake to find workers who will execute it at their own homes, he undertaking the responsibility of collection. Where the workers are scattered over a large city area, or over a number of villages, this work of distribution, and its responsibility, may be considerable. Lastly, there may be the “sub-contractor” proper, who undertakes to do a portion of a work already contracted for, and either finds materials and tools, and pays workers to work for him, or sublets parts of his contract to workers who provide their own materials and tools. The mining and building trades contain various examples of such sub-contracts. Now in none of these cases is the middleman a mere parasite. In every case he does work, which, though as a rule it does not alter the material form of the goods with which it deals, adds distinct value to them, and is under present industrial conditions equally necessary, and equally entitled to fair remuneration with the work of the other producers. The old maxim “nihil ex nihilo fit” is as true in commerce as in chemistry. In a competitive society a man can get nothing for nothing. If the middleman is a capitalist he may get something for use of his capital; but that too implies that his capital is put to some useful work.

Se. Work and Pay of the Middleman. The complaint that the middleman confers no service, and deserves no pay, is the result of two fallacies. The first, to which allusion has been made already, consists in the failure to recognize the work of distribution done by the middleman. The second and more important is the confusion of mind which leads people to conclude that because under different circumstances a particular class of work might be dispensed with, therefore that work is under present circumstances useless and undeserving of reward. Lawyers might be useless if there were no dishonesty or crime, but we do not therefore feel justified in describing as useless the present work they do. With every progress of new inventions we are constantly rendering useless some class or other of undoubted “workers.” So the middleman in his various capacities may be dispensed with, if the organization of industrial society is so changed that he is no longer required; but until such changes are affected he must get, and deserves, his pay. It may indeed be true that certain classes of middlemen are enabled by the position they hold to extract either from their employers or from the public a profit which seems out of proportion to the services they render. But this is by no means generally the case with the middleman in his capacity of “sweater.” Even where a middleman does make large profits, we are not justified in describing such gain as excessive or unfair, unless we are prepared to challenge the claim of “free competition” to determine the respective money values of industrial services. The “sweating” middleman does work which is at present necessary; he gets pay; if we think he gets too much, are we prepared with any rule to determine even approximately how much he ought to get?

Se. The Employer as “Sweater.” Since it appears that the middleman often sweats others of necessity because he is himself “sweated,” in the low terms of the contract he makes, and since much of the worst “sweating” takes place where firms of employers deal directly with the “workers,” it may seem that the blame is shifted on to the employer, and that the real responsibility rests with him. Now is this so? When we see an important firm representing a large capital and employing many hands, paying a wage barely sufficient for the maintenance of life, we are apt to accuse the employers of meanness and extortion: we say this firm could afford to pay higher wages, but they prefer to take higher profits; the necessity of the poor is their opportunity. Now this accusation ought to be fairly faced. It will then be found to fall with very different force according as it is addressed to one or other of two classes of employers. Firms which are shielded from the full force of the competition of capital by the possession of some patent or trade secret, some special advantage in natural resources, locality, or command of markets, are generally in a position which will enable them to reap a rate of profit, the excess of which beyond the ordinary rate of profit measures the value of the practical monopoly they possess. The owners of a coal-mine, or a gas-works, a special brand of soap or biscuits, or a ring of capitalists who have secured control of a market, are often able to pay wages above the market level without endangering their commercial position. Even in a trade like the Lancashire cotton trade, where there is free competition among the various firms, a rapid change in the produce market may often raise the profits of the trade, so that all or nearly all the employing firms could afford to pay higher wages without running any risk of failure. Now employers who are in a position like this are morally responsible for the hardship and degradation they inflict if they pay wages insufficient for decent maintenance. Their excuse that they are paying the market rate of wages, and that if their men do not choose to work for this rate there are plenty of others who will, is no exoneration of their conduct unless it be distinctly admitted that “moral considerations” have no place in commerce. Employers who in the enjoyment of this superior position pay bare subsistance wages, and defend themselves by the plea that they pay the “market rate,” are “sweaters,” and the blame of sweating will rightly attach to them.

But this is not to be regarded as the normal position of employers. Among firms unsheltered by a monopoly, and exposed to the full force of capitalist competition, the rate of profit is also at “the minimum of subsistence,” that is to say, if higher wages were paid to the employes, the rate of profit would either become a negative quantity, or would be so low that capital could no longer be obtained for investment in such a trade. Generally it may be said that a joint-stock company and a private firm, trading as most firms do chiefly on borrowed capital, could not pay higher wages and stand its ground in the competition with other firms. If a benevolent employer engaged in a manufacture exposed to open competition undertook to raise the wages of his men twenty per cent, in order to lift them to a level of comfort which satisfied his benevolence, he must first sacrifice the whole of his “wage of superintendence,” and he will then find that he can only pay the necessary interest on his borrowed capital out of his own pocket: in fact he would find he had essayed to do what in the long run was impossible. The individual employer under normal circumstances is no more to blame for the low wages, long hours, &c., than is the middleman. He could not greatly improve the industrial condition of his employes, however much he might wish.

Se. The Purchaser as “Sweater.” A third view, a little longer-sighted than the others, casts the blame upon the purchasing public. Wages must be low, we are told, because the purchaser insists on low prices. It is the rage for “cheapness” which is the real cause, according to this line of thought. Formerly the customer was content to pay a fair price for an article to a tradesman with whom he dealt regularly, and whose interest it was to sell him a fair article. The tradesman could thus afford to pay the manufacturer a price which would enable him to pay decent wages, and in return for this price he insisted upon good work being put into the goods he bought. Thus there was no demand for bad work. Skilled work alone could find a market, and skilled work requires the payment of decent wages. The growth of modern competition has changed all this. Regular custom has given way to touting and advertising, the bond of interest between consumer and shopkeeper is broken, the latter seeks merely to sell the largest quantity of wares to any one who will buy, the former to pay the lowest price to any one who will sell him what he thinks he wants. Hence a deterioration in the quality of many goods. It is no longer the interest of many tradesmen to sell sound wares; the consumer can no longer rely upon the recommendation of the retailer as a skilled judge of the quality of a particular line of goods; he is thrown back upon his own discrimination, and as an amateur he is apt to be worsted in a bargain with a specialist. There is no reason to suppose that customers are meaner than they used to be. They always bought things as cheaply as they knew how to get them. The real point is that they are less able to detect false cheapness than they used to be. Not merely do they no longer rely upon a known and trusted retailer to protect them from the deceits of the manufacturer, but the facilities for deception are continually increasing. The greater complexity of trade, the larger variety of commodities, the increased specialization in production and distribution, the growth of “a science of adulteration” have immensely increased the advantage which the professional salesman possesses over the amateur customer. Hence the growth of goods meant not for use but for sale jerry-built houses, adulterated food, sham cloth and leather, botched work of every sort, designed merely to pass muster in a hurried act of sale. To such a degree of refinement have the arts of deception been carried that the customer is liable to be tricked and duped at every turn. It is not that he foolishly prefers to buy a bad article at a low price, but that he cannot rely upon his judgment to discriminate good from bad quality; he therefore prefers to pay a low price because he has no guarantee that by paying more he will get a better article. It is this fact, and not a mania for cheapness, which explains the flooding of the market with bad qualities of wares. This effectual demand for bad workmanship on the part of the consuming public is no doubt directly responsible for many of the worst phases of “sweating.” Slop clothes and cheap boots are turned out in large quantities by workers who have no claim to be called tailors or shoemakers. A few weeks’ practice suffices to furnish the quantum of clumsy skill or deceit required for this work. That is to say, the whole field of unskilled labour is a recruiting-ground for the “sweater” or small employer in these and other clothing trades. If the public insisted on buying good articles, and paid the price requisite for their production, these “sweating” trades would be impossible. But before we saddle the consuming public with the blame, we must bear in mind the following extenuating circumstances.

Se. What the Purchaser can do. The payment of a higher price is no guarantee that the workers who produce the goods are not “sweated.” If I am competent to discriminate well-made goods from badly-made goods, I shall find it to my interest to abstain from purchasing the latter, and shall be likewise doing what I can to discourage “sweating.” But by merely paying a higher price for goods of the same quality as those which I could buy at a lower price, I may be only putting a larger profit in the hands of the employers of this low-skilled labour, and am certainly doing nothing to decrease that demand for badly-made goods which appears to be the root of the evil. The purchaser who wishes to discourage sweating should look first to the quality of the goods he buys, rather than to the price. Skilled labour is seldom sweated to the same degree as unskilled labour, and a high class of workmanship will generally be a guarantee of decent wages. In so far as the purchaser lacks ability to accurately gauge quality, he has little security that by paying a higher price he is securing better wages for the workers. The so-called respectability of a well-known house is a poor guarantee that its employes are getting decent wages, and no guarantee at all that the workers in the various factories with which the firm deals are well paid. It is impossible for a private customer to know that by dealing with a given shop he is not directly or indirectly encouraging “sweating.” It might, however, be feasible for the consuming public to appoint committees, whose special work it should be to ascertain that goods offered in shops were produced by firms who paid decent wages. If a “white list” of firms who paid good wages, and dealt only with manufacturers who paid good wages, were formed, purchasers who desired to discourage sweating would be able to feel a certain security, so far, at any rate, as the later stages of production are concerned, which ordinary knowledge of the world and business will not at present enable them to obtain. The force of an organized public opinion, even that of a respectable minority, brought to bear upon notorious “sweating” firms, would doubtless be of great avail, if carefully applied.

At the same time, it must not for a moment be imagined that the problem of poverty would be solved if we could insure, by the payment of higher prices for better qualities of goods, the extermination of the sweating trades. This low, degraded and degrading work enables large numbers of poor inefficient workers to eke out a bare subsistence. If it were taken away, the direct result would be an accession of poverty and misery. The demand for skilled labour would be greater, but the unskilled labourer cannot pass the barrier and compete for this; the overflow of helpless, hopeless, feeble, unskilled labour would be greater than ever. Whatever the ultimate effects of decreasing the demand for unskilled labour might be, the misery of the immediate effects could not be lightly set aside. This contradiction of the present certain effect and the probable future effects confronts the philanthropist at every turn. The condition of the London match-girls may serve as an illustration of this. Their miserable life has rightly roused the indignation of all kind-hearted people. The wretched earnings they take have provoked people to suggest that we should put an end to the trade by refusing to buy from them. But since the earnings of these girls depend entirely on the amount they sell, this direct result of your action, prompted by humane sentiment, will be to reduce still further these miserable earnings; that is to say, you increase the suffering of the very persons whose lot you desire to alleviate. You may say that you buy your matches all the same, but you buy them at a shop where you may or may not have reason to believe that the attendants are well paid. But that will not benefit the girls, whose business you have destroyed; they will not be employed in the shops, for they belong to a different grade of labour. This dilemma meets the social reformer at each step; the complexity of industrial relations appears to turn the chariot of progress into a Juggernaut’s car, to crush a number of innocent victims with each advance it makes. One thing is evident, that if the consuming public were to regulate its acts of purchase with every possible regard to the condition of the workers, they could not ensure that every worker should have good regular work for decent wages.

In arriving at this conclusion, we are far from maintaining that the public even in its private capacity as a body of consumers could do nothing. A certain portion of responsibility rests on the public, as we saw it rested on employers and on middlemen. But the malady is rightly traceable in its full force neither to the action of individuals nor of industrial classes, but to the relation which subsists between these individuals and classes; that is, to the nature and character of the industrial system in its present working. This may seem a vague statement, but it is correct; the desire to be prematurely definite has led to a narrow conception of the “sweating” malady, which more than anything else has impeded efforts at reform.