The New Student's Reference Work/Sweatshops

Sweatshops. The sweating-system is the engagement of men, women and children by a contractor to produce goods for the wholesale dealer, on which the workers are paid by the piece and the price is made as low as possible. It is called sweating because, as Charles Kingsley in 1850 first showed the world, it enables the contractor to keep cutting the price so low that even the ablest can just live by unceasing toil, while the less able, spurred to their utmost efforts, are often forced to go into debt to the contractor and thus to work for him, on his terms, at their utmost capacity until they can work no longer. Kingsley's revelations were followed by investigations. But the system has not been stopped. A congressional investigation in 1892 showed that 30% of all clothing manufactured in this country was made under the sweating system, under the following conditions: The sweating is done either in a “den,” a room hired by the contractor, without any provisions suitable for a crowd of different sexes, and filled to its utmost capacity by people who can not afford to be clean or to stop working if sick; or else at home, where the garments or cigars are often handled by consumptives and filth abounds among the wretched toilers. They in many cases work 15 hours a day, seven days to the week. The chief products of “sweating” are garments, cigars, candy and bread. In recent years many states have taken measures to insure the decent condition of bake-shops and of places where candy is manufactured. New York has a law forbidding the manufacture of garments in bed-rooms or eating-rooms. In Illinois such a law is proposed, with the provision that if broken it is the contractor who engaged work in such a place that must pay the penalty. It is comparatively easy to secure decent conditions in the “den,” through factory-laws, which many states have passed. The matter has not yet received proper attention, however, in any state, unless in Massachusetts. The only way to secure proper wages is the formation of trade-unions among the workers, but this has been found very difficult, in view of the cheap labor poured into our cities from foreign countries. The action of the National Consumer's League in allowing its label to be placed only on goods made under decent conditions of work and of wages and in pledging its members to give the preference to such goods has produced some result, probably, and only requires that all consumers support it.