Working with the working woman



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Nor could Victor understand how people lived in this country without playing more. Every night, every single night, he must find some countryman and play around a little bit before going to bed. "These fellas who work and work all day, and then eat some dinner, and then go home and sit around and go to bed." No, Victor preferred death to such stagnation. If it was only a game of cards and a glass of wine (prohibition did not seem to exist for Victor and his countrymen) or just walking around the streets, talking. Anything, so long as it was something.

Victor was a union man. Oh, sure. He was glowing with pride and admiration in the union movement in Italy--there indeed they accomplished things! But in this country, no, the union movement would never amount to much here. For two reasons. One was that working people on the whole were treated too well here to make good unionists. Pay a man good wages and give him the eight-hour day--what kind of a union man will he make? The chances are he won't join at all.

But the main reason why unions would never amount to much here was centered in the race question. Victor told of several cooks' strikes he had been in. What happens? A man stands up and says something, then everybody else says, "Don't listen to him; he's only an Irishman." Some one else says something, and everyone says, "Don't pay any attention to him; he's only an Italian." The next man--he's only a Russian, and so on.

Then pretty soon what happens next? Pretty soon a Greek decides he'll go back to work, and then all the Greeks go back; next an Austrian goes back--all his countrymen follow. And, anyhow, says my Italian friend Eusebio, you can't understand nothin' all them foreigners say, anyhow.

I asked him if Monsieur Le Bon Chef after his start as a strike breaker had finally joined a union. "Oh, I guess he's civilized now," grinned Victor.

Numerous times one person or another about our hotel spoke of the suddenness with which the workers there would be fired. "Bing, you go!" just like that. Kelly, who had been working there over two years, told me that the only way to think of a job was to expect to be fired every day. He claimed he spent his hour's ride in to work every morning preparing himself not to see his time card in the rack, which would mean no more job for him.

I asked Victor one day about the girl who had held my job a year and a half and why she was fired. There was a story for you! Kelly a few days before had told me that he was usually able to "get" anybody. "Take that girl now what had your job. I got her. She was snippy to me two or three times and I won't stand that. It's all right if anybody wants to get good and mad, but I detest snippy folks. So I said to myself, 'I'll get you, young lady,' and within three days I had her!"

Kelly was called away and never finished the story, but Victor did. The girl, it seems, got several slices of ham one day from one of the chefs. She wrapped them carefully in a newspaper and later started up the stairs with the paper folded under her arm, evidently bound for the locker room. Kelly was standing at the foot of the stairs--"Somebody had tipped him off, see?"

"What's the news to-day?" asked Kelly.

"'Ain't had time to read the paper yet," the girl replied.

"Suppose we read it now together," said Kelly, whereupon he slipped the paper out from under her arm and exposed the ham to view.

"You're fired!" said Kelly.

He sent her up to the Big Boss, and he did everything he could think of to get the girl to tell which chef had given her the ham. The girl refused absolutely to divulge that.

The Big Boss came down to our kitchen. He asked each chef in turn if he had given the girl the ham, and each chef in turn said No.

The Big Boss came back again in a few minutes. "We can put the detective force of the hotel on this job and find out within a few days who did give that ham away and the man will be fired. But I don't want to do it that way. If the man who did it will confess right now that he did I promise absolutely he will not be fired."

A chef spoke up, "I did it."

Within fifteen minutes he was fired.

* * * * *

As ever, the day for leaving arrived. This time I gave notice to Kelly three days in advance, so that a girl could be found to take my place. "The Big Chief and I both said when we seen you, she won't stay long at this job."

"Why not?" I indignantly asked Kelly.

"Ah, shucks!" sighed Kelly. Later: "Well, you're a good kid. You were making good at your job, too. Only I'll tell y' this. You're too conscientious. Don't pay."

And still later, "Aw, forget this working business and get married."

There was much red tape to leaving that hotel--people to see, cards to sign and get signed. Everyone was nice. I told Kelly--and the news spread--the truth, that I was unexpectedly going to Europe, being taken by the same lady who brought me out from California, her whose kids I looked after. If after six months I didn't like it in Europe--and everyone was rather doubtful that I would, because they don't treat workin' girls so very well in Europe--the lady would pay my way back to America second-class. (The Lord save my soul.)

I told Schmitz I was going on the afternoon of the evening I was to leave. Of course he knew it from Kelly and the others. "Be sure you don't forget to leave your paring knife," was Schmitz's one comment.

Farewells were said--I did surely feel like the belle of the ball that last half hour. On the way out I decided to let bygones be bygones and sought out Schmitz to say good-by.

"You sure you left that paring knife?" said Schmitz.

CONCLUSION

Here I sit in all the peace and stillness of the Cape Cod coast, days filled with only such work as I love, and play aplenty, healthy youngsters frolicky about me, the warmest of friends close by. The larder is stocked with good food, good books are on the shelves, each day starts and ends with a joyous feeling about the heart.

And I, this sunburnt, carefree person, pretend to have been as a worker among workers. Again some one says, "The artificiality of it!"

Back in that hot New York the girls I labored among are still packing chocolates, cutting wick holes for brass lamp cones, ironing "family," beading in the crowded dress factory. Up at the Falls they are hemming sheets and ticketing pillow cases. In the basement of the hotel some pantry girl, sweltering between the toaster and the egg boiler, is watching the clock to see if rush time isn't almost by.

Granted at the start, if you remember, and granted through each individual job, it was artificial--my part in it all. But what in the world was there to do about that? I was determined that not forever would I take the say-so of others on every phase of the labor problem. Some things I would experience for myself. Certain it is I cannot know any less than before I started. Could I help knowing at least a bit more? I do know more--I know that I know more!

And yet again I feel constrained to call attention to the fact that six jobs, even if the results of each experience were the very richest possible, are but an infinitesimal drop in what must be a full bucket of industrial education before a person should feel qualified to speak with authority on the subject of labor. Certain lessons were learned, certain tentative conclusions arrived at. They are given here for what they may be worth and in a very humble spirit. Indeed, I am much more humble in the matter of my ideas concerning labor than before I took my first job.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson learned was that a deep distrust of generalizations has been acquired, to last, I hope, the rest of life. It is so easy, so comfortable, to make a statement of fact to cover thousands of cases. Nowhere does the temptation seem to be greater than in a discussion of labor. "Labor wants this and that!" "Labor thinks thus and so!" "Labor does this and the other thing!" Thus speaks the labor propagandist, feeling the thrill of solid millions behind him; thus speaks the "capitalist," feeling the antagonism of solid millions against him.

And all this time, how many hearts really beat as one in the labor world?

Indeed, the situation would clear up with more rapidity if we went to the other extreme and thought of labor always as thirty million separate individuals. We would be nearer the truth than to consider them as this one great like-minded mass, all yearning for the same spiritual freedom; all eager for the downfall of capitalism.

What can one individual know of the hopes and desires of thirty millions? Indeed, it is a rare situation where one person can speak honestly and intelligently for one hundred others. Most of us know precious little about ourselves. We understand still less concerning anyone else. In a very general way, everyone in the nation wants the same things. That is a good point to remember, for those who would exaggerate group distinctions. In a particular way, no two people function exactly alike, have the same ambitions, same capacities.

There is, indeed, no great like-minded mass of laborers. Instead we have millions of workers split into countless small groups, whose group interests in the great majority of cases loom larger on the horizon than any hold the labor movement, as such, might have on them. Such interests, for instance, as family, nationality, religion, politics. Besides, there is the division which sex interests and rivalries make--the conflict, too, between youth and age.

Yet for the sake of a working efficiency we must do a minimum of classifying. Thirty million is too large a number to handle separately. There seems to be a justification for a division of labor, industrially considered, into three groups, realizing the division is a very loose one:

1. Labor or class-conscious group. 2. Industrially conscious group. 3. Industrially nonconscious group.

The great problem of the immediate future is to get groups 1 and 3 into Group 2. The more idealistic problem of the more distant future is to turn a great industrially conscious group into a socially conscious group.

* * * * *

By the first group, the labor or class-conscious group, is meant the members of the American Federation of Labor, Industrial Workers of the World, four railroad Brotherhoods, Amalgamated Clothing Workers, socialist and communist organizations--workers whose affiliations with certain bodies tend to make them ultraconscious of the fact that they are wage workers and against the capitalist system. Class antagonism is fostered. There is much use of the word "exploited." In their press and on their platforms such expressions are emphasized as "profits for the lazy who exploit the workers." Everything possible is done to paint labor white, the employer black, forgetting that no side has the monopoly in any shade.

To those who from sympathy or antagonism would picture at least organized labor as like-minded, it must be pointed out that for the great part the several millions represented by Group 1 are perhaps more often warring in their aims and desires than acting as one. Never have they acted as one. Organized labor represents but a fraction of labor as a whole. Some more or less spectacular action on the part of capital against labor always tends to solidify the organized workers. They are potentially like-minded in specific instances. Otherwise the interests of the carpenters' union tends to overshadow the interests of the A. F. of L. as a whole; the interests of the A. F. of L. tend most decidedly to overshadow the interests of organized labor as a whole. Socialists bark at communists. Charges of capitalist tendencies are made against the four Brotherhoods. The women's unions feel legislated against in the affairs of labor. Indeed, only utter stupidity on the part of capital ever could weld organized labor into enough solidarity to get society or anyone else agitated for long. Much of the "open shop" fight borders on such stupidity.

Group 2 is at present but an infinitesimal fraction of labor. It comprises those workers whose background has been fortunate enough, as to both heredity and environment, to allow of their main industrial interests centering around the doing of their particular job well for the sake of their industry as a whole, to which a sentiment of loyalty has been aroused and held. There is no feeling of class antagonism, no assurance that the interests of labor are forever inimical to those of the employer, and vice versa. Where such an attitude exists on the part of workers it presupposes an employer of unusual breadth of understanding or a deep love for his fellow-man. As co-operation in industry can be shown to pay socially and financially, so may this type of employer come more and more to supersede the old-fashioned "boss."

Group 3, the industrially nonconscious workers, includes the great majority of labor in the United States. Under this heading come all those who for reasons connected with the type of industry engaged in, or because of individual or sex characteristics, remain apart from any so-called labor movement. Practically all women fall under this head, most of the foreign labor population, most of unskilled labor. Many members of labor organizations technically belonging in Group 1 really fall under Group 3. The great majority of American labor undoubtedly are not class or group conscious in the sense that they feel themselves as workers pitted against a capitalist class. Temperamentally, intellectually, the doctrines of Karl Marx are not for them. They never heard of Karl Marx. They get up and go to work in the morning. During the day they dub away at something or other, whatever it may be--the chances are it changes rather often--putting no more effort into the day's work than is necessary to hold down an uninteresting job. They want their pay at the end of the week. Many have not the minimum intellectual capacity necessary to do a piece of work properly. Many more have not the minimum physical capacity required for even routine tasks. Very many, indeed, are nervous misfits.

Yet a goodly number in Group 3 represent a high type of worker to whom the doctrine of class warfare is repugnant, and yet whose industrial experience has never resulted in making them industrially conscious. They feel no particular call to show more than average interest in their job.

Peace, efficiency, production in industry, can come only as Group 2 increases. To recruit from Group 1 will always be difficult. Once labor feels itself hostile to the employer and his interests, which is another way of saying, once the employing group by its tactics succeeds in making labor conclude that "the working class and the employing class have nothing in common," the building up of a spirit of co-operation is difficult indeed. Class consciousness is poor soil in which to plant any seeds of industrial enthusiasm.

Would you, then, asks a dismayed unionist, build up your so-called industrially conscious group at the expense of organized labor? The answer is a purely pragmatic one, based on the condition of things as they are, not as idealists would have them. Rightly or wrongly, the American employing group long ago decided that the organized-labor movement was harmful to American industry. The fact that the labor movement was born of the necessity of the workers, and in the main always flourished because of the continued need of the workers, was never taken into account. Every conceivable argument was and is used against organized labor. Many of those arguments are based on half truths; or no truths at all. The fact remains that probably the majority of the American public believes the organized-labor movement to be against our social, civic, and industrial welfare. However right or wrong such a deduction is, it is safe to say that for the great part those who hold that belief do so in absolute good faith.

The result is that the American labor movement has developed ever in an atmosphere so hostile that the effect on the growth of the movement has been that which hostile environment always exerts on any growing thing. It has warped the movement. It has emphasized everything hostile within the movement itself. No wonder a fighting spirit has ever been in evidence. No wonder only the fighting type of labor leader has emerged. The movement has had little or no opportunity for construction. Always the struggle for existence itself has been uppermost. No wonder the conclusion can justly be drawn that the American labor movement has not always played a highly productive role in American industry.

It has been everybody's fault, if we are searching for a resting place for the blame of it all. Which gets us no place.

The point is, looked at without the tinted glasses of either capital or labor, that the psychology of the American employer for the past, assuredly the present, and at least the near future, has been, and is, and will be, so inimical to organized labor that the movement would not be allowed to function as a constructive industrial force. Too much of its energies must go to fighting. At the same time, too much of the energies of the employer go to fighting it. The public pays the price, and it is enormous. The spiritual cost of bitterness of spirit far outweighs any monetary loss to industry, tremendous as that is.

Why is not the present, then, a wise time in which to encourage an alternative movement, one that has not the effect of a red rag to a bull? Labor can shout its loudest; the fact remains that in this country labor is very far from controlling the industrial situation. Therefore, the employer must still be taken into account in any program of industrial reform. That being so, it might be saner to try some scheme the employer will at least listen to than stubbornly continue to fight the issue out along the old lines of organized labor alone, at the very mention of which the average employer grows red in the face.

It is not, indeed, that we would do away with the organized-labor movement, if we could. The condition is far too precarious for that. Labor too often needs the support of unionism to keep from being crushed. The individual too often needs the educational influence organization exerts. Organized labor, despite the handicaps within and without, has too much of construction to its credit. The point is, further growth in the organized-labor movement, considering the development forced upon the movement by its own past and the ever antagonistic attitude of business, will not, for the present and immediate future, necessarily spell peace, efficiency, production. Rather, continued, if not increased, bitterness.

What is the development, at least for the present and immediate future, which will improve the situation?

The first move--and by that we mean the thing to start doing to-day--is to begin converting the non-industrially conscious group into the industrially conscious group. Group 3 is peaceful--they call no attention to themselves by any unrest or demands or threats. But they are not efficient or productive, the reason being that they have not enough interest in their jobs, or in many cases are not physically or mentally competent. Theirs are sins of omission, not commission.

The process of this conversion means many things. It means first and foremost an understanding of human nature; a realization that the great shortcoming of industry has been that it held, as organized, too little opportunity for a normal outlet to the normal and more or less pressing interests and desires of human beings.

It worked in a vicious circle. The average job gave the worker little or no chance to show any initiative, to feel any sense of ownership or responsibility, to use such intellect and enthusiasm as he possessed. The attitude of the average employer built up no spirit of loyalty or co-operation between management and men. Hence these very human tendencies, compelling expression in a normal personality, became atrophied, as far as the job was concerned, and sought such functioning as a discouraging environment left them capable of in fields outside of industry--in many cases, within the labor movement itself. The less capacity the job called out, the more incapable the worker became. Tendencies inherent in human nature, whose expressions all these years could have been enriching the individual and industry, and therefore the nation as a whole, have been balked entirely, or shunted off to find expression often in antisocial outlets. In some cases the loss to industry was small, since the individual capacities at best were small. In other cases the loss was great indeed. In every case, encouragement of the use of capacities increases the possibilities of those capacities.

The first step in this process of conversion then is to reorganize the relationship between management and men so that as many outlets as possible within industry can be found for those human expressions whose functioning will enrich the individual and industry. Which means that little by little the workers must share in industrial responsibilities. The job itself, with every conceivable invention for calling out the creative impulse, can never, under the machine process, enlist sufficient enthusiasm for sustained interest and loyalty on the part of the worker. He must come to have a word in management, in determining the conditions under which he labors five and a half to seven days a week.

It is a nice point here. The parlor Bolshevik pictures all labor eager and anxious and capable of actually controlling industry. The fact of the matter is that most individuals from any and every walk of life prefer to sidestep responsibility. Yet everyone does better under some. Too much may have a more disastrous effect than not enough--to the individual as well as industry. Here again is where there must be caution in generalizing. Each employer has a problem of his own. Nor can the exact amount of responsibility necessary to call out maximum efficiency and enthusiasm ever be determined in advance.

I have talked to numerous employers whose experience has been the same. At first their employees showed no desire for any added responsibility whatever. Had there not been the conviction that they were on the right track, the whole scheme of sharing management with the workers would have been abandoned. Little by little, however, latent abilities were drawn out; as more responsibilities were intrusted to the workers, their capacities for carrying the responsibilities increased. In two cases that I know of personally, the employees actually control the management of their respective companies. In both these companies the employers announced that their businesses were making more money than under one-sided management.

On the whole, this development of the partnership idea in industry is a matter of the necessary intellectual conviction that the idea is sound--whether that conviction be arrived at via ethics or "solid business judgment"--to be followed by the technical expert who knows how to put the idea into practice. That he will know only after careful study of each individual plant as a situation peculiar unto itself. He is a physician, diagnosing a case of industrial anæmia. As in medicine, so industry has its quacks--experts who prescribe pink pills for pale industries, the administration of which may be attended with a brief show of energy and improvement, only to relapse into the old pallor. As between a half-baked "expert" and an "ignorant" employer whose heart is in the right place--take the employer. If he sincerely feels that long enough has he gone on the principle, "I'll run my business as I see fit and take suggestions from no one"; if it has suddenly come over him that, after all, the employee is in most ways but another like himself, and that all this time that employee might be laboring under the notion, often more unconscious than conscious, that he would "like to run his job as he saw fit and take suggestions from no one"; if, then, that employer calls his men together and says, "let's run the business as we all together see fit and take suggestions from one another"--then is that employer and that business on the road to industrial peace, efficiency, and production, expert or no expert. The road is uphill, the going often rough and discouraging, but more often than not the load of management becomes lighter, easing overburdened muscles; the load of labor in a sense heavier, yet along with the added weight, as they warm to the task there develops a sense that they are trusted, are necessary to the success of the march, that they now are men, doing man-sized work. Perhaps in only a minimum of cases will the load ever be divided "fifty-fifty." Too soon would the workers tire of their added burden, too few could carry the added weight. The fact remains that with management carrying the whole load, the march is going very badly indeed on the whole. At times the procession scarcely seems to move. There can surely be no harm in the employing end shifting a bit of the burden. A bit cannot wreck either side. Managerial shoulders may feel more comfortable under the decreased weight and try another shift.




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