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TO REHABILITATE AND STABILIZE LABOR CONDITIONS
IN THE TEXTILE INDUSTRY OF THE UNITED STATES
THURSDAY, JANUARY 30, 1936
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D.C. The committee met at 10 a. m., Hon. Kent E. Keller (chairman) presiding
Mr. KELLER. The committee will be in order. Our first witness this morning is Mr. Batty.
Mr. Batty, will you give your name and whom you represent, for the record?
STATEMENT OF WILLIAM E. G. BATTY, SECRETARY, NEW
BEDFORD, MASS., TEXTILE COUNCIL Mr. BATTY. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen:
My name is William E. G. Batty; I am secretary of the New Bedford, Mass., textile council.
This bill is appropriately entitled “the National Textile Act.”
This act sets forth required fair-trade practices, production-control measures, and minimum labor standards.
It proposes that licenses be issued to those manufacturers subscribing to these conditions. It sets up a national textile commission to issue, suspend, or revoke these licenses and to otherwise concern itself with the stabilization of the industry. Also it authorizes the adoption of an identifying stamp or label for use upon products made by duly licensed manufacturers and denied to nonlicensed manufacturers. Products without this stamp or label are denied transit between the States. United States mail privileges for purposes of sale or distribution of products of nonlicensed manufacturers are denied.
Government departments may not purchase goods from nonlicensed manufacturers or goods not bearing the label. No Government or other loan may be made to nonlicensed manufacturers by any Government agency or any institution in which the United States Government directly or indirectly holds a controlling interest.
The act establishes 35 bours as the maximum work week for all employees except maintenance crews. Minimum wages of $15 for 35 hours for unskilled workers and occupational minimums for the various classifications of skilled workers are provided. Work loads are made the subject of arbitration. Child labor under 16 years of age and hazardous occupation under 18 years of age is prohibited. A normal two-shift limitation on the machine with a 5-percent bonus to employees of companies permitted by the commission to operate a third shift. Bona-fide collective bargaining is provided for.
The obvious inability of the industry for effective and equitable self-regulation is ample justification for the National Textile Act. The inability of the several States to agree upon socially and economically desirable legislation is a second justification.
All persons competent to judge say that the industry can be stabilized on no basis other than a national one.
The most exhaustive and most recent study was made by President Roosevelt's Cabinet Committee at Washington last year. That committee says:
Something more than legislation by individual States is required.
Again: in view of the interstate and interregional competition that exists in the industry today, it is evident that effective control must be on a national basis.
The experience of the textile industry during the past 2 years shows that a definite limitation of hours of employment is both feasible and practical. Such limitation of hours should be made a definite policy of the industry, at wage rates that will yield to the rank and file of the workers a standard of living higher than that which they have had during previous decades. Minimum wage rates and differentials sufficiently flexible to allow for differences in productivity, with provision for mutual adjustment by negotiations by employers and employees, should be made an integral part of the wage structure of the industry. Finally the abolition of child labor in the industry is an advance that must be retained.
The National Textile Act incorporates all the features stated by the Cabinet Committee to be essential and does this in a way that guarantees to all manufacturers wherever located a fair and equal opportunity for successful operation. It offers to all an opportunity for lasting stabilization. There can be no stabilization of this industry by any plan that omits the stabilization of labor costs upon an economically sound and socially desirable basis. The passing of this act will benefit the efficient and fair employer beyond measure. The only manufacturer who should properly oppose this measure is the one who has been getting by, by chiseling from the workers and who knows he is incompetent to get by under competitive conditions that are equal to all and where chiseling and unfair competitive practices are barred. This bill identifies the chiseler and outlaws him. This bill rewards industrial efficiency and integrity by eliminating the unfair, unethical, and sabotaging practices of the industrial racketeer and chiseler.
I have two or three additional remarks to make, Mr. Chairman, concerning points that occurred to me during the hearing.
It has seemed to me that in a peculiar sense employers and employees alike are after equalization of wages and conditions.
As a business agent of some 15 years or more experience, I have found that this is literally true. It seems, though, that we approach this equalization from different angles. The employers would equalize wages and conditions downward. The employees would equalize them upward.
To illustrate: It is not uncommon for employers to discover that their wage rates are in some degree higher or their work loads in some degree lower than some one or more of their competitors, and for such employers to call their employees or their representatives into conference and tell them that because of the vicious character of the competition it is necessary that they propose to their employees that they accept a lower wage or a higher or greater work load. This is an
a attempt to equalize, without question; but they would equalize to the point of the lowest competitor.
This bill proposes a different kind of equalization, one on a substantially ethical and socially desirable basis.
In my home town, which is a well-organized town-Bedford, Mass.-our relations with employer I think are equal to if not superior to those prevailing generally throughout the industry; our relations are and have been for many years extremely cordial.
However, as a representative of the employees there, it has been my experience frequently to have employers tell me, in spite of newspaper statements to the effect that 92 percent or thereabout of the industry are voluntarily observing the previous code conditions-our employers frequently and persistently have told me, "Batty, look at the competition we are up against; look at the Berkshire Fine Spinning what they are getting away with. We cannot continue to stay on our basis indefinitely with that kind of ruinous competition."
I am bound to admit, I have to admit, that the kind of competition that is brought about by the wage-cutting practices of the Berkshire Fine Spinning in their plants at Fall River and elsewhere, is the kind of competition that is ruinous and calculated ultimately to bring distress and perhaps collapse to anyone who attempts to stay on a substantially higher basis.
In New Bedford, we have the Kilbourne Yarn Mill. The Kilbourne Yarn Mill some little time ago reduced wages of the unskilled and some of the semiskilled, below the $13 minimum. They reduced in the higher brackets to sums which are lower than those which prevailed during the code. This is the only substantial violation that I know of in our own town that has taken place in that field.
The suggestion that we frequently hear that nothing should be attempted on a national scale; that we should reserve to the States the right to control industry within their borders, seems to me to be a suggestion that the rights of the States to do nothing be preserved, because that is substantially what they have done up to now. It is a plea to reserve to the States the right to do nothing about this. I think the temper of labor, organized and unorganized, in our industry, is one which is altogether out of patience with the suggestion that this question be left to the States. By doing so you place a premium upon exploitation and indifference to social standards.
It has been stated here that some 92 percent, or thereabouts, of the industry, is now maintaining on a voluntary basis the code provisions. Recently, my understanding is from newspaper reports, the cotton textile institute with headquarters in New York and a membership both North and South-extensive, I think, in the industrysent out to its members a proposal or a request, that they signify their intention severally and individually to maintain the code provisions on a voluntary basis. My understanding is that they decided upon this particular method because of the unsatisfactory results of the previous form of agreement.
In other words, the original agreement among themselves was a gentleman's agreement taken in a meeting where a vote was taken, but no one could identify the individual manufacturers who voted for or against, and therefore, if there were any criticisms of a given corporation, that management could very properly and without dispute say, "Well, we did not vote at the meeting to agree.'
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I would like to say, as a representative of the northern workers, and cannot look upon the competition which separates us from employment with any degree of allowance or tolerance, whether that competition be from the South or the West, from the State of Maine, Whether it be Chinese or Japanese. It is no particular comfort to us to know that we have been separated from employment by southern competition rather than Japanese.
We are just as much unemployed if we are separated from our jobs, although it be southern competition that does it. And we cannot understand how the Federal Government can characterize foreign competition and recognize it as unfair, as it does when it undertakes to attempt to equalize it by tariff measures, and yet be indifferent to the equally unfair and vicious competitive practices of one section of our country, no matter where it may be.
Incidentally, in line with that thought, of course, there is no trick in being successful as a manufacturer with a 20- or 30-percent wage advantage. It would seem as though any man of ordinary ability, with a 20- or 30-percent wage advantage, or any other advantage of