Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

lose all the benefits we gained during the N. R. A.; that a series of liquidations will sweep the industry, and that widespread unemployment, enormous suffering, and desperate industrial conflicts will be inevitable.

We have not come here today in the mood of one willing to embark on a dubious experiment. Rather, we have come here to declare that this bill represents the much-hoped for glorious resurrection of the late hosiery code, purged of its most glaring weaknesses, and equipped with a brand-new set of strong, chiseler-scaring teeth. It will

, we fell sure, consolidate the material gains which the industry made under the N. R. A.; it will minimize cyclical shocks, and wash the stains of gross exploitation out of our industrial fabric.

The experience of the Philadelphia hosiery workers in the dark years before the code was indelibly bitter. Almost all of us who were knitting in 1928 were buying our homes. At that time our wages were above the average in the textile industry, and we were all dreaming middle-class dreams of a decent home, a car, and an education for our children. We were called “the aristocrats of the textile workers” in those days. Our industry was expanding at a terrific rate, and many workers were able to start mills of their own. A few mills still in operation in our district are controlled by graduated knitters, and many others have since failed and have been taken over by larger concerns.

The accumulated effects of overexpansion began to be felt in the spring of 1929, even before the general depression of the entire Nation had set in. And from the spring of 1929 to the summer of 1933 we were pushed steadily downward. During that dark period at least 18 knitting companies in our section were liquidated, and the machinery was either junked or scattered all over the country. We accepted five wage reductions, the last one being a cut of 30 to 45 percent, in the vain hope of establishing parity between the union and nonunion sections of the industry in the matter of labor costs. Every time we accepted a cut, the unorganized workers took an even steeper one. We lost our homes, our cars, our dreams, and we stalked the streets in droves. Most of the factories were closed 9 months of the year. The great textile district of Northeast Philadelphia vs dotted with the hollow remains of abandoned mills. Our local of the American Federation of Hosiery Workers more closely resembled an unemployed council than a trade-union. Yet we carried on somehow, and supported the industry on our bare backs while 85 percent of the manufacturers were hacking away at us, stupidly believing that if only they could destroy us, all would be well.

And then came the N. R. A. Our by now thoroughly proletarianized hosiery workers were naturally impressed by the extravagant N.R. A. ballyhoo. We liked the central idea of the code arrangement, even though we were sure the minima were too low, the sectional differentials unwarranted, and the workweek too long if full-time reemployment of all hosiery workers was to be achieved. The code assumed part of the burden we have been carrying for years, though the industry as a whole still looked upon us as the enforcement agency of the labor provisions.

In the meantime, in the pre-N. R. A. era, the millowners were frantically trying to adapt themselves to the deepening depression. The downward plunge was made more rapid and irresistible on account of the huge weight of overcapitalization. The glare of the crisis brought out such running sores as inefficient management, improvident commitments, frozen reserves, and a lack of steady outlets. Many nationally known companies, producing fanous brands for years, suspended, and those which managed to scrape through were deeply scarred. All of the employers in the Philadelphia area melted down their capital structure and instituted all manner of economies. Many of them discontinued their finishing departments and sold their goods semifinished to marketing syndicates or larger companies. The tendency toward monopoly was accelerated by virture of certain interests being so organized that they were able to exploit the chaotic instability of the industry.

The wholesale scrapping of finishing departments in Philadelphia led to the creation of a gypsy hosiery finishing and dyeing subindustry, which has reduced the hosiery boarders, pairers, and folders to incredible depths. One of the greatest faults of the N. R. A. was that it dignified this subindustry with a separate code, instead of bringing it under the jurisdiction of the hosiery code. This leads us to our main criticism of the N. R. A. set-up: It did not allow equal representation on the various code authorities to the representatives of labor. Specifically, the approximately 145,000 hosiery workers had only two representatives on the Code Authority out of a total of seven. There is no doubt that had labor had adequate representation on the various code authorities, many of the provisions of this bill pertaining to 1 week's vacation with pay per year and the dismissal wage clauses would have been incorporated into the various codes. It seems to us, that in view of the increase in popular demand for social and unemployment insurance, fixed annual wages and lucrative old-age pensions, that industry itself should be made to bear some of the responsibility of its temporary idle employees. It is commonly known that since unemployment relief is not immediately forthcoming when one loses his job, workers endure great hardship and distress between the last pay check and the first relief check. But to return to our story.

The millowners welcomed the code as hopefully as we did. And their hopes were not unjustified. For the industry that had been sick unto death commenced to convalesce, though it was still running considerable of a temperature. It began to replenish its badly worn capital tissue. The unprecendented feeling of confidence which the code had fostered led to a rebirth of confidence, and among the workers this feeling was reflected in a rapid increase in the membership of the American Federation of Hosiery Workers.

As a result of the extension of our influence, we were able to negotiate two small, but badly needed, increases in the organized mills, and to push up the rates in the open shops to our level-which meant an increase of 100 percent in some cases. Our wage scale, which had been observed by barely 20 percent of the employers before the N. R. A., became the standard in 85 percent of the industry. The two-machine system, which is the full-fashioned hosiery industry's form of the stretch-out, tended to disappear because of the code's restrictions against it. The 12-hour day, which had been endemic in 80 percent of the industry, gave way to the S-hour day, and Saturday work was forbidden. Many manufacturers herded their employees into company unions. Almost all the strikes conducted by our organization during the life of the code pivoted around the issue of company unions.

The changed labor standards produced immediate results. Jobs became more numerous and employment steadier. Instead of employment being sectional and at low wages, it became more national and at wages more in keeping with a minimum of decency. The relentless trend toward liquidation was stayed. The institution of minimum wages and the 40-hour week in nonunion mills produced a demand for new machinery. These mill owners felt that it was cheaper in the long run to sell their old and buy new equipment. It would be easier for the workers to make their minima on new machines, and then too, the new machines could produce practically as much in 8 hours as the old ones did in 12. Some of this old equipment was brought to Philadelphia and was operated by small firms on a subcontract basis for larger mills.

The industry was picking up. But no one was childish enough to believe that the deep wounds which it had sustained in the previous years could be healed in 22 months. The industry was producing substantially the same amount of hosiery that it had in 1928-but of a cheaper grade. The emphasis had been shifted from the long quality stocking to the short coarser fabric. This is another reason why, aside from technological considerations, the 40-hour week was excessive.

Then came the Supreme Court's decision. We had gotten so used to the N. R. A. scheme of things, that the bitter memories of 1929–33 had begun to fade. We had looked upon the code conditions as being more or less permanent. We thought that the manufacturers had been so favorably impressed with the obvious benefits of stabilization that they would make a sincere effort to perpetuate code standards and prevent the industry from sliding back into the abyss.

Well, if they did try, they did not try hard enough. Conditions slowly but surely began to decline. We in Philadelphia, who had not had a strike in 20 months, found it necessary to declare five strikes in the last half year, with the prospect of many more to maintain code conditions in the months immediately before us.

The majority of the 80-odd mills in Philadelphia are small. Many, probably most of them, are running on a subcontract basis; that is, they produce goods in the grey for larger firms--but only when the larger plants cannot make the goods themselves. During the life of the code and under the 40-hour limitation, these companies could not fill all their orders themselves. But if the present stealthy pecking at the hour and wage provisions of the late code is successful, there will not be any overflow to the small mills, and Philadelphia will be afflicted with widespread unemployment. But the larger firms themselves are hardly in a better position.

It is true that they have been very busy, but, as we indicated above, they have been turning out work of coarse quality with a low profit rate for the most part. This diet has kept them from going under, but it has not conduced toward their putting on enough weight to be sure of surviving a rough-and-tumble struggle with the forces making making for chaos.

We are not predicating our pessimistic prophecies on gloomy theories. The industry is already on the downgrade. More mills are shut down in Philadelphia right now than at any time since the summer of 1933. And the terrifying specter of liquidation, banished by the code, is again amongst us, wreaking havoc on the morale of the industry and our people. We want something done quickly. We are not so naive as we were

. from 1929 to 1933. We do not care to go through that experience again. We know now that it is not necessary. And yet we know, too, that unless the National Textile Act becomes law, we shall again be condemned to needless privation, misery, and great potentialities for good in the hosiery industry will be permanently impaired.

Mr. Wood. That is a very fine statement.
Mr. KELLER. This Philadelphia delegation is doing a fine job.
We will now call Miss Helen Herman.

STATEMENT OF MISS HELEN HERMAN, REPRESENTING WOMEN

WORKERS IN THE TEXTILE INDUSTRY

Mr. KELLER. Will you please state your name and state where you live?

Miss HERMAN. Mr. Chairman, my name is Helen Herman; 2652 Bridge Street, Philadelphia. I am here representing the women workers in the textile industry, mainly the hosiery industry.

As has been stated here before, Mr. Chairman, there are four lady workers for every man in the hosiery industry.

I do not have a brief prepared in writing, but I will just cite a few things as they come to my mind.

In 1929 when our industry was on the slide downward we began taking reductions. We were told that in order for our manufacturers to compete in the downward business trend we would have to take a series of reductions, which we did. It seemed that every time we took a reduction we would get 4 or 5 weeks' work and then we were off for months, which meant no pay. That meant that the lady members who were employed had to go on relief or else depend on other members of the family who were lucky enough to be earning a few dollars a week. I can say that from 1929 until 1933 we took anywhere from a 40-percent reduction to 50-percent reduction. In the early part of 933 things were so bad that every place you turned people were out of work. They were getting panicky. The mills were moving out of town and everyone was saying, "What are we going to do?" until finally the N. R. A. came into existence.

Many of our manufacturers agreed to go along under the set, and things got much better, and we could look forward every week to a pay check.

We were more secure and our mills were remaining in town.

But it seems that since the N. R. A. has passed out of existence our jobs are again just a little uncertain. From day to day we don't know whether we are going to work. As soon as a mill closes down the rumors start around, "Well, there is another mill moving down South”; and again everyone is getting panicky.

Since I belong to a labor organization I an interested in these different laws that mean something for the workman. And I want to say that it used to be that a girl was only in industry until she got married, and then she would remain at home and take up the duties of a housewife. But today she is forced to remain in industry, or at least many of them are forced to do so. That is one reason why I want to ask the members of this committee to consider seriously taking some steps toward having this bill reported out of the committee favorably.

Of course, I represent the organized section of the industry. But in many parts of the country that are not organized they are working 10 hours and more a day, which makes it very hard for us, naturally, since they are working longer hours. Their manufacturers can seli cheaper than our manufacturers can sell.

I want to cite an instance which happened just about 2 weeks ago in connection with the particular firm by which I am employed. We were going along fairly well and working fairly steady, when out of a clear sky the superintendent came and told the fellows that they were that night going to be laid off indefinitely. Of course, we did not know what it was all about. But finally we found out that somebody had underbid this man on his order. Someone got that order for 50 cents or 60 cents a dozen cheaper. And that meant that 200 or 300 people were thrown out onto the street.

Now, just turn this over in your minds and see what it means to us. If we do not bave something to bind the manufacturers so that they cannot underbid each other it is a very serious condition in the indus

If we could stabilize conditions similar to what they were under NR. A.-well, I don't know just how to put it, but I think we would be in a much better position.

This firm had all of this work on hand, yet the order was canceled. They had possibly 600 or 700 dozen finished and no one to sell them to. The manufacturer could not compete because he was paying us a fair wage. He was taxed, because he was willing to pay a fair wage. Yet someone else who probably was not paying a fair wage got that order. Do you think that is a fair way to do it? Personally I do not.

I know how hard it is to organize people, especially to organize the women workers in the industry. We have that argument every day. I want to say that this Ellenbogen bill, in my opinion, is a very good one. If this bill can be enacted I feel sure in my own mind that these ills can be overcome and that we can again feel security. And, after all, in the minds of most working people that is something that is very necessary.

I think the members of this committee have covered most of the other points, and at this time this is about all I can say.

Before closing, however, I again want to ask the members of this committee to do all in their power to have this bill reported favorably out of the committee.

I thank you.

Mr. KELLER. Thank you, Miss Herman. That is also a good statement.

I wonder if you Philadelphia folks have not been getting together.

Mr. GORMAN. Would you permit Congressman Fulmer, from South Carolina, to say a word He is here at this time and would like to make a statement.

Mr. KELLER. We will certainly be glad to hear from Congressman Fulmer.

a

« ÎnapoiContinuați »