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First let us realize the exact amount of the inequality between the sexes in our Factory Acts. All the regulations with respect to safety, sanitation, employers' liability, and age apply to men and women alike. The only restriction of any importance in our Labor Code which bears unequally on men and women is that relating to the hours of labor.* Up to now there has been sufficient influence among the employers, and sufficient prejudice and misunderstanding among legislators, to prevent them expressly legislating, in so many words, about the hours of labor of adult men. That better counsels are now prevailing is shown by the fact that Parliament in 1892 gave power to the Board of Trade to prevent excessive hours of work among railway servants, and that the Home Secretary has now a similar power in respect of any kind of manual labor which is injurious to health or dangerous to life and limb. I need hardly say that I am heartily in favor of regulating, by law, the hours of adult men, wherever and whenever possible. But although the prejudice is breaking down, it is not likely that the men in the great staple industries will be able to secure for themselves the same legal limitation of hours and prohibition of overtime that the women in the textile manufactures have enjoyed for nearly forty years. And thus it comes about that some of the most practical proposals for raising the condition of the women in the sweated trades must take the form of regulations applying to women only.
It is frequently asserted as self-evident that any special limitation of women's labor must militate against their employment. If employers are not allowed to make their women work overtime, or during the night, they will, it is said, inevitably prefer to have men. Thus, it is urged, any extension of Factory legislation to trades at present unregulated must diminish the demand for women's labor. But this conclusion, which seems so obvious, really rests on a series of assumptions which are not borne out by facts.
The first assumption is, that in British industry to-day, men and women are actively competing for the same employment. I doubt whether any one here has any conception of the infinitesimal extent to which this is true. We are so accustomed, in the middle-class, to see men and women engaged in identical work, as teachers, journalists, authors, painters, sculptors, comedians, singers, musicians,
* The Law relating to Factories and Workshops, by May Abraham and A. Llewelyn Davies (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1896, 5/-), contains a convenient summary of all the Acts. With regard to hours, the main provisions are as follows: Textile factories employing women or children, may work only between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. (or 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.), only 564 hours net per week, and overtime is absolutely prohibited. In non-textile factories and in ordinary workshops, women may be worked 60 hours per week, overtime is (usually) permitted under certain conditions, and the day's work may (except on Saturdays) range over a period from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., or, if no children or young persons are employed, even from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. This absence of a precisely determined legal working-day makes it practically impossible to enforce the law. In "domestic workshops " there is no restriction on women's hours, and in laundries the only limit is a general one of sixty hours per week (or fourteen in any one day), without regulation of the hours of beginning or ending, or of meal-times. This is quite illusory.
† See Fabian Tract, No. 48, Eight Hours by Law : a Practicable Solution.
medical practitioners, clerks, or what not, that we almost inevitably assume the same state of things to exist in manual labor and manufacturing industry. But this is very far from being the case. To begin with, in over nine-tenths of the industrial field there is no such thing as competition between men and women : the men do one thing, and the women do another. There is no more chance of our having our houses built by women than of our getting our floors scrubbed by men. And even in those industries which einploy both men and women, we find them sharply divided in different departments, working at different processes, and performing different operations. In the tailoring trade, for instance, it is often assumed that men and women are competitors. But in a detailed investigation of that trade I discovered that men were working at entirely separate branches to those pursued by the women. And when my husband, as an economist, lately tried to demonstrate the oft-repeated statement that women are paid at a lower rate than men, he found it very difficult to discover any trade whatever in which men and women did the same work." As a matter of fact, the employment of men or women in any particular industry is almost always determined by the character of the process. In many cases the physical strength or endurance required, or the exposure involved, puts the work absolutely out of the power of the average woman. No law has hindered employers from engaging women as blacksmiths, steelsmelters, masons, or omnibus-drivers. The great mass of extractive, constructive, and transport industries must always fall to men. On the other hand, the women of the wage-earning class have hitherto been distinguished by certain qualities not possessed by the average working man. For good or for evil they eat little, despise tobacco, and seldom get drunk ; they rarely strike or disobey orders; and they are in many other ways easier for an employer to deal with. Hence, where women can really perform a given task with anything like the efficiency of a man, they have, owing to their lower standard of expenditure, a far better chance than the man of getting work. The men, in short, enjoy what may be called a "rent" of superior strength and endurance; the women, on their side, in this preference for certain employments, what may be called a "rent" of abstemiousness.
I do not wish to imply that there are absolutely no cases in British industry in which men and women are really competing with each other. It is, I believe, easy to pick out an instance here and there in which it might be prophesied that the removal of an existing legal restriction might, in the first instance, lead to some women being taken on in place of men. In the book and printing trade of London, for instance, it has been said that if women were allowed by law to work all through the night, a certain number of
"The Alleged Difference between the Wages of Men and Women," Economic Journal, December, 1891 ; see, on the general question, Economic Studies, by Professor W. Smart, and the valuable report by Miss Clara Collet, on the Statistics of Employment of Women and Girls, published by the Labor Department of the Board of Trade (C-7564), price 8d.
exceptionally strong women might oust some men in book-folding and even in compositors' work.* We must not overlook these cases; but we must learn to view them in their proper proportion to the whole field of industry. It would clearly be a calamity to the cause of women's advancement if we were to sacrifice the personal liberty and economic independence of three or four millions of wage-earning women in order to enable a few hundreds or a few thousands to supplant men in certain minor spheres of industry.
The second assumption is, that in the few cases in which men and women may be supposed really to compete with each other for employ: ment, the effect of any regulation of women's hours is pure loss to them, and wholly in favor of their assumed competitors who are unrestricted. This, Í believe, is simply a delusion. Any investigator of women's work knows full well that what most handicaps women is their general deficiency in industrial capacity and technical skill. Where the average woman fails is in being too much of an amateur at her work, and too little of a professional. Doubtless it may be said that the men are to blame here : it is they who induce women to marry, and thus divert their attention from professional life. But though we cannot cut at the root of this, by insisting, as I once heard it gravely suggested, on " three generations of unmarried women,” we can do a great deal to encourage the growth of professional spirit and professional capacity among women workers, if we take care to develop our industrial organization along the proper lines. The first necessity is the exclusion of illegitimate competitors. The real enemies of the working woman are not the men, who always insist on higher wages, but the “amateurs" of her own sex. So long as there are women, married or unmarried, eager and able to take work home, and do it in the intervals of another profession, domestic service, we shall never disentangle ourselves from that vicious circle in which low wages lead to bad work, and bad work compels low wages. The one practical remedy for this disastrous competition is the extension of Factory legislation, with its strict limitation of women's hours, to all manufacturing work wherever carried on.. It is no mere coincidence that the only great industry in which women get the same wages as men-Lancashire cotton weaving—is the one in which precise legal regulation of women's hours has involved the absolute exclusion of the casual amateur. No woman will be taken on at a cotton mill unless she is prepared to work the full factory hours, to come regularly every day, and put her whole energy into her task. In a Lancashire village a woman must decide whether she will earn her maintenance by working in the mill or by tending the
With regard to the employment of women as compositors, an article by Amy Linnett, in the Economic Review for January, 1892, should be referred to.
† Looked at from the point of view of the whole community, and not merely from that of one sex, it would, of course, be a matter for further consideration whether, and in what directions, it is socially desirable that men should be replaced by industrial operatives. Throughout this paper I have abstained from discussing this consideration.
See Fabian Tract, No. 50, Sweating : its Cause and Remedy.
home : there is no "betwixt and between." The result is a class of women wage-earners who are capable of working side by side with men at identical tasks; who can earn as high wages as their male competitors; who display the same economic independence and professional spirit as the men; and who are, in fact, in technical skill and industrial capacity, far in advance of any other class of women workers in the kingdom.* If we want to bring the women wageearners all over England up to the level of the Lancashire cotton weavers, we must subject them to the same conditions of exclusively professional work.
There is another way in which the extension of the Factory Acts to the unregulated trades is certain to advance women's industrial position. We have said that the choice of men or women as workers is really determined by the nature of the industrial process. Now these processes are constantly changing ; new inventions bring in new methods of work, and often new kinds of machinery. This usually means an entire revolution in the character of the labor required. What to-day needs the physical strength or the life-long apprenticeship of the skilled handicraftsman may, to-morrow, by a new machine, or the use of motive power, be suddenly brought within the capacity of the nimble fingers of a girl from the Board School. It is in this substitution of one process for another that we discover the real competition between different classes or different sexes in industry. The tailoring trade, for instance, once carried on exclusively by skilled handicraftsmen, is now rapidly slipping out of their hands. But it is not the woman free to work all the night in her garret who is ousting the male operative. What is happening is that the individual tailor, man or woman, is being superseded by the great clothing factories established at Leeds,t or elsewhere, where highly-paid skilled designers prepare work for the costly “cuttingout " guillotines, and hundreds of women guide the pieces through self-acting sewing and button-holing machines, to be finally pressed by steam power into the "smart new suit " of the City clerk.
Now this evolution of industry leads inevitably to an increased demand for women's labor. Immediately we substitute the factory, with its use of steam power, and production on a large scale, for the sweater's den or the domestic workshop, we get that division of labor and application of machinery which is directly favorable to the employment of women. It is to “the factory system, and the consequent growth of the ready-made trade," declares Miss Collet, that must " be traced the great increase in the number of girls employed in the tailoring trade."1 The same change is going on in other occupations. Miss Collet notices that the employment of female labor has specially increased in the great industry of boot and shoe making. But, as in the analogous case of the tailoring trade, the
See the introduction, by Mr. A. J. Mundella, to Von Plener's English Factory Legislation.
+ See "Women's Work in Leeds," by Miss Clara Collet (Economic Journal, September, 1891, pp. 467-72).
Statistics of Employment of Women and Girls, C—7564, p. II. $ Ibid, p. 73.
increase has not been in the number of the unregulated women workers in the sweaters' dens. Formerly we had a man working in his own room, and employing his wife and daughter to help him at all hours. Some people might have argued that anything which struck at the root of this system would deprive women of employment. As a matter of fact, the result has been, by division of labor in the rapidly growing great boot factories, to substitute for these few hundreds of unpaid assistants, many thousands of independent and regularly employed women operatives. For we must remember that when these changes take place, they take place on a large scale. Whilst the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women is proud to secure new openings for a few scores or a few hundreds, the industrial evolution which I have described has been silently absorbing, in one trade or another, hundreds of thousands of women of all classes. It is therefore infinitely more important for the friends of women's employment to enquire how an extension of the Factory Acts would influence our progress towards the factory system, than how it would affect, say, the few hundred women who might be engaged in night-work book-folding.
If there is one result more clearly proved by experience than another, it is that the legal fixing of definite hours of labor, the requirement of a high standard of sanitation, and the prohibition of overtime, all favor production on a large scale. It has been the employers' constant complaint against the Factory Acts that they inevitably tend to squeeze out the "little master." The evidence taken by the House of Lords' Committee on Sweating conclusively proved that any effective application of factory regulations to the workplaces of East London and the Black Country would quickly lead to the substitution of large factories. Factory legislation is, therefore, strenuously resisted by the "little masters," who carry on their workshops in the back slums; by the Jewish and other subcontractors who make a living by organizing helpless labor; and by all who cherish a sentimental yearning for domestic industries. But this sentiment must not blind us to the arithmetical fact that it is the factory system which provides the great market for women's labor. Those well-meaning ladies who, by resisting the extension of Factory legislation, are keeping alive the domestic workshop and the sweaters' den, are thus positively curtailing the sphere of women's employment. The "freedom" of the poor widow to work, in her own bedroom, "all the hours that God made"; and the wife's privilege to supplement a drunken husband's wages by doing work at her own fireside, are, in sober truth, being purchased at the price of the
exclusion from regular factory employment of thousands of “independent women."
We can now sum up the whole argument. The case for Factory legislation does not rest on harrowing tales of exceptional tyranny, though plenty of these can be furnished in support of it. It is based on the broad facts of the capitalist system, and the inevitable results of the Industrial Revolution.* A whole century of experience proves
* See Fabian Tract No. 23, The Case for an Eight Hours Bill.