London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3
THE Cabinet-makers, socially as well as commercially considered, consist, like all other operatives, of distinct classes, that is to say, of society and non-society men, or, in the language of political economy, of those whose wages are regulated by custom and those whose earnings are determined by competition. The former class numbers between and of the trade, and the latter between and . As a general rule I may remark, that I find the society-men of every trade comprise about - of the whole. Hence it follows, that if the non-society men are neither so skilful nor so well-conducted as the others, at least they are quite as important a body, from the fact that they constitute the main portion of the trade. The transition from the class to the other is, however, in most cases, of a very disheartening character. The difference between the tailor at the west end, working for better shops at the better prices, and the poor wretch starving at starvation wages for the sweaters and slop-shops at the east end, has already been pointed out. The same marked contrast was also shown to exist between the society and non-society boot and shoemakers. The carpenters and joiners told the same story. There were found society men renting houses of their own—some paying as much as a-year—and the non-society men overworked and underpaid, so that a few weeks" sickness reduced them to absolute pauperism. Nor, I regret to say, can any other tale be told of the cabinet-makers; except it be, that the competitive men in this trade are even in a worse position than any other. I have already portrayed to the reader the difference between the homes of the classes—the comfort and well-furnished abodes of the , and the squalor and bare walls of the other. But those who wish to be impressed with the social advantages of a fairly-paid class of mechanics should attend a meeting of the Woodcarvers" Society. On the floor of a small private house in , Tottenhamcourt-road, is, so to speak, the museum of the working-men belonging to this branch of the cabinet-makers. The walls of the back-room are hung round with plaster casts of some of the choicest specimens of the arts, and in the front room the table is strewn with volumes of valuable prints and drawings in connexion with the craft. Round this table are ranged the members of the society—some or were there on the night of my attendance —discussing the affairs of the trade. Among the collection of books may be found, "The Architectural Ornaments and Decorations of Cottingham," "The Gothic Ornaments" of Pugin, Tatham"s "Greek Relics," Raphael"s "Pilaster Ornaments of the Vatican," Le Pautre"s "Designs," and Baptiste"s "Collection of Flowers," large size; while among the casts are articles of the same choice description. The objects of this society are, in the words of the preface to the printed catalogue, "to enable wood-carvers to co-operate for the advancement of their art, and by forming a collection of books, prints, and drawings, to afford them facilities for self-improvement; also, by the diffusion of information among its members, to assist them in the exercise of their art, as well as to enable them to obtain employment." The society does not interfere in the regulation of wages in any other way than, by the diffusion of information among its members, to assist them in the exercise of their art, as well as to enable them to obtain employment; so that both employers and employed may, by becoming members, promote their own and each other"s interests. The collection is now much enlarged, and with the additions that have been made to it, offers aid to the members which in many cases is invaluable. As a means of facilitating the use of this collection, the opportunities of borrowing from it have been made as general as possible. The meetings of the society are held at a place where attendance is unaccompanied by expense; and they are, therefore, says the preface, "free from all objection on account of inducements to exceed the time required for business." All this appears to be in the best possible taste, and the attention of the society being still directed to its improvement, assuredly gives the members, as they say, "good reason to hope that it will become of which the woodcarver may be proud, as affording valuable assistance, both in the design and execution of any style of wood-carving." In the whole course of my investigations I have never experienced more gratification than I did on the evening of my visit to this society. The members all gave evidence, both in manner and appearance, of the refining character of their craft: and it was indeed a hearty relief from the scenes of squalor, misery, dirt, vice, ignorance, and discontent, with which these inquiries too frequently bring into connexion, to find "s self surrounded with an atmosphere of beauty, refinement, comfort, intelligence, and ease.
The public, generally, are deplorably misinformed as to the character and purpose of trade societies. The common impression is that they are combinations of working-men, instituted and maintained solely with the view of exacting an exorbitant rate of wages from their employers, and that they are necessarily connected with strikes, and with sundry other savage and silly means of attaining this object. It is my duty, however, to make known that the rate of wages which such societies are instituted to uphold has, with but few exceptions, been agreed upon at a conference of both masters and men, and that in almost every case I find the members as strongly opposed to strikes, as a means of upholding them, as the public themselves. But at all events the maintenance of the standard rate of wages is not the sole object of such societies—the majority of them being organised as much for the support of the sick and aged as for the regulation of the price of labour; and even in those societies whose efforts are confined to the latter purpose alone, a considerable sum is devoted annually for the subsistence of their members when out of work. The general cabinet-makers, I have already shown, have contributed towards this object as much as per annum for many years past. It is not generally known how largely the community is indebted to the trade and friendly societies of the working classes dispersed throughout the kingdom, or how much expense the public is saved by such means in the matter of poorrates alone.
According to the last Government returns there are at present in England, Scotland, and Ireland, upwards of such societies, of which are enrolled and unenrolled—the remaining being secret societies, such as the Odd Fellows, Foresters, Druids, Old Friends, and Rechabites. The number of members belonging to these societies is more than millions. The gross annual income of the entire associations is and their accumulated capital The working people of this country, and I believe of this country alone, contribute therefore to the support of their own poor nearly millions of money every year, which is some thousands of pounds more than was dispensed in parochial relief throughout England and Wales in . Hence it may be truly said, that the benefits conferred by the trade and friendly societies of the working classes are not limited to the individuals receiving them, but are participated in by every ratepayer in the kingdom, for were there no such institutions the poor-rates must necessarily be doubled.
I have been thus explicit on the subject of trade societies in general, because I know there exists in the public mind a strong prejudice against such institutions, and because it is the fact of belonging to some such society which invariably distinguishes the better class of workmen from the worse. The competitive men, or cheap workers, seldom or never are members of any association, either enrolled or unenrolled. The consequence is, that when out of work, or disabled from sickness or old age, they are left to the parish to support. It is the slop-workers of the different trades— the cheap men or non-society hands—who constitute the great mass of paupers in this country. And here lies the main social distinction between the workmen who belong to societies and those who do not—the maintain their own poor, the others are left to the mercy of the parish. The wages of the competitive men are cut down to a bare subsistence, so that, being unable to save anything from their earnings, a few days" incapacity from labour drives them to the workhouse for relief. In the matter of machinery, not only is the cost of working the engine, but the wear and tear of the machine, considered as a necessary part of the expense of production. With the human machine, however, it is different, slop-wages being sufficient to defray only the cost of keeping it at work, but not to compensate for the wear and tear of it. Under the allowance system of the old poor-law, wages, it is well known, were reduced far below subsistence-point, and the workmen were left to seek parish relief for the remainder; and so in the slop part of every trade, the underpaid workmen when sick or aged are handed over to the state to support.
As an instance of the truth of the above remarks I subjoin the following statement, which has been furnished to me by the Chairmakers" Society concerning their outgoings:—
I may as well here subjoin the statement I have received from this society concerning the circumstances affecting their business.
"Our trade," say they, in a written communication to me, "has suffered very materially from a change which took place about years ago in the system of work. We were at that time chiefly employed by what we term "trade-working masters," who supplied the upholsterers with the frames of chairs and sofas; but since then we have obtained our work directly from the sellers. At the change was rather beneficial than otherwise. The employer and his salesman, however, have now, in the greater number of instances, no knowledge of the manufacturing part of the business, and this is very detrimental to our interest, owing to their being unacquainted with the value of the labour part of the articles we make. Moreover, the salesman sends all the orders he can out of doors to be made by the middlemen, though the customer is led to believe that the work is executed on the premises, whereas only a portion of it is made at home, and that chiefly the odd and outof- the-way work, because the sending of such work out of doors would not answer the end of cheapness. The middleman, who executes the work away from the premises, subdivides the labour to such an extent that he is enabled to get the articles made much cheaper, as well as to employ both unskilful workmen and apprentices.
Placed in the position where the employer gets the credit of paying us the legitimate price for our labour, it would appear that we have no cause of complaint; but, owing to the system of things before stated, as well as to the number of linendrapers, carpet-makers, and others, who have recently entered the trade without having any practical knowledge of the business, together with the casualty of our employment, our social position has become scarcely any better, or so good, as that of the unskilful or the dissipated workman, while, from the many demands of our fellowopera- tives upon us, in the shape of pecuniary assistance, we have a severe struggle to maintain anything like a respectable footing in the community. The principal source of regret with us is, that the public have no knowledge of the quality of the articles they buy. The sellers, too, from their want of practical acquaintance with the manufacturing part of the business, have likewise an injurious effect upon our interests, instead of seconding our efforts to keep up a creditable position in society.
The subjoined is the amount of the capital of our society at the present time:—
Such, then, is the state of the society men belonging to the cabinet-makers" trade. These, as I before said, constitute that portion of the workmen whose wages are regulated by custom, and it now only remains for me to set forth the state of those whose earnings are determined by competition. Here we shall find that the wages a few years since were from to per cent better than they are at present, having formerly been the price paid for making that for which the operatives now receive only , and this notwithstanding that the number of hands in the London trade from to declined per cent relatively to the rest of the population. Nor can it be said that this extraordinary depreciation in the value of the cabinet-makers" labour has arisen from any proportionate decrease in the quantity of work to be done. The number of houses built in the metropolis has of late been considerably on the increase. Since there have been miles of new streets formed in London, no less than new dwellings having been erected annually since that time: and as it is but fair to assume that the majority of these new houses must have required new furniture, it is clear that it is impossible to account for the decline in the wages of the trade in question upon the assumption of an equal decline in the quantity of work. How, then, are we to explain the fact that, while the hands have decreased per cent, and work increased at a considerable rate, wages a few years ago were per cent better than they are at present? The solution of the problem will be found in the extraordinary increase that has taken place within the last years of what are called "garret-masters" in the cabinet trade. These garret-masters are a class of small "trade-working masters," supplying both capital and labour. They are in manufacture what the peasant-proprietors are in agriculture, their own employers and their own workmen. There is, however, this ed distinction between the classes,—the garret-master cannot, like the peasant-proprietor, eat what he produces: the consequence is, that he is obliged to convert each article into food immediately he manufactures it, no matter what the state of the market may be. The capital of the garret-master being generally sufficient to find him in the materials for the manufacture of only article at a time, and his savings being barely enough for his subsistence while he is engaged in putting those materials together, he is compelled the moment the work is completed to part with it for whatever he can get. He cannot afford to keep it even a day, for to do so is generally to remain a day unfed. Hence, if the market be at all slack, he has to force a sale by offering his goods at the lowest possible price. What wonder, then, that the necessities of such a class of individuals should have created a special race of employers, known by the significant name of "slaughter-house men?"—or that
|these, being aware of the inability of the garretmasters to hold out against any offer, no matter how slight a remuneration it affords for their labour, should continually lower and lower their prices until the entire body of the competitive portion of the cabinet trade is sunk in utter destitution and misery? Moreover, it is well known how strong is the stimulus among peasant-proprietors, or indeed any class working for themselves, to extra production. So it is, indeed, with the garret-masters; their industry is indeed almost incessant, and hence a greater quantity of work is turned out by them, and continually forced into the market, than there would otherwise be. What though there be a brisk and a slack season in the cabinet-makers" trade, as in the majority of others? Slack or brisk, the garret-master must produce the same excessive quantity of goods. In the hope of extricating himself from his overwhelming poverty, he toils on, producing more and more; and yet the more he produces the more hopeless does his position become, for the greater the stock that he thrusts into the market the lower does the price of his labour fall, until at last he and his own family work for less than he himself could earn, a few years back, by his own unaided labour.|
Another cause of the necessity of the garretmaster to part with his goods as soon as made is the large size of the articles he manufactures, and the consequent cost of conveying them from slaughter-house to slaughter-house till a purchaser be found. For this purpose a van is frequently hired; and the consequence is, that he cannot hold out against the slaughterer"s offer, even for an hour, without increasing the expense of carriage, and so virtually decreasing his gains. This is so well known at the slaughter-houses, that if a man, after seeking in vain for a fair remuneration for his work, is goaded by his necessities to call at a shop a time to accept a price which he had previously refused, he seldom obtains what was offered him. Sometimes when he has been ground down to the lowest possible sum, he is paid late on a Saturday night with a cheque, and forced to give the firm a liberal discount for cashing it.
For a more detailed account, however, of the iniquities practised upon this class of operatives, I refer the reader to the statements given below. It will be there seen that all the modes by which work can be produced cheap are in full operation. The labour of apprentices and children is the prevailing means of production. I heard of small tradework- ing master who had as many as apprentices at work for him; and wherever the operative is blessed with a family they all work, even from years old. The employment of any undue number of apprentices also tends to increase the very excess of hands from which the trade is suffering; and thus it is, that the lower wages become, the lower still they are reduced. There are very few—some told me there were none, but there are a few who work as journeymen for little masters; but these men become little masters in their turn, or they must starve in idleness, for their employment is precarious. These men have no time for social intercommunication: the struggle to live absorbs all their energies, and confines all their aspirations to that endeavour. Their labour is devoted, with the rarest exceptions, to the "slaughter-houses, linendrapers, "polsterers, or warehouses." By all these names I heard the shopkeepers who deal in furniture of all kinds, as well as drapery goods, designated.
These men work in their own rooms, in Spitalfields and Bethnal-green; and sometimes or men in different branches occupy apartment, and work together there. They are a sober class of men, but seem so perfectly subdued by circumstances, that they cannot or do not struggle against the system which several of them told me they knew was undoing them.
The subdivisions of this trade I need not give, they are as numerous as the articles of the cabinet-maker"s calling.
I have mentioned that the black houses, or linendrapers at the west end of London, were principally supplied from the east end. In the neighbourhood of Tottenham-court-road and , for instance, most of my readers will have had their attention attracted by the dust-coloured appearance of some poor worker in wood carrying along his skeleton of an easy chair, or a sofa, or a couch, to dispose of in some shop. Often, too, a carter has to be employed for the same purpose, at the rate of an hour; and thus hours will exhaust the very fullest value of a long day"s labour. From a furniture-carter of this description I received some most shocking details of having to "busk" it, as this taking about goods for sale is called by those in the trade.
From a pale, feeble-looking man whom I met on a Saturday evening at the west end, carrying a mahogany chiffonier, I had the following statement:—
I now subjoin a statement of a garret-master —a maker of loo tables—who was endeavouring to make a living by a number of apprentices:—
A pale young man, working in a room with others, but in different branches, gave me the following account:—
I shall now proceed to the other branch of the trade. The remarks I have made concerning the wretched social condition and earnings of fancy cabinet-makers who are in society, apply even more strongly to the nonsociety men. The society men are to be found chiefly in Clerkenwell; the non-society men in Spitalfields and . With these unfortunate workmen there is yet a lower deep. The underpaid men of Clerkenwell work generally to order, if the payment be never so inadequate. But the still more underpaid men of Spitalfields work almost universally on speculation. The Spitalfields cabinet-maker finds his own material, which he usually purchases of the great cabinetmakers or the pianoforte-makers, being the veneers which are the refuse of their work. The supply of the east-end warehousemen is derived from little masters—men who work at their own abodes, and have the assistance of their wives and children. It is very rarely
|that they, or their equally underpaid fellows in the general cabinet trade, employ an active journeyman. Almost every man in the trade works on his own account, finds his own material, and goes "on the busk to the slaughter-houses" for the chance of a customer.|
I found the fancy cabinet-makers certainly an uninformed class, but patient, temperate, and resigned. Some few could neither read nor write, and their families were growing up as uninformed as the parents. The hawking from door to door of workboxes made by some of the men themselves, their wives assisting them with hawking, was far commoner than it is now; but it is still practised to a small extent.
I called on an old couple to whom I was referred, as to of the few parties employed in working for the men who supplied the warehouses. The man"s appearance was gaunt and wretched. He had been long unshorn; and his light blue eyes had that dull, halfglazed look, which is common to the old when spirit-broken and half-fed. His room, a small garret in Spitalfields, for which he paid a-week, was bare of furniture, except his workbench and chairs, which were occupied by his wife, who was at work lining the boxes her husband was making. A blanket rolled up was the poor couple"s bed. The wife was years younger than her husband. She was very poorly clad in an old rusty black gown, tattered here and there; but she did not look very feeble.
The decline which has taken place within the last years in the wages of the operative cabinet-makers of London is so enormous, and, moreover, it seems so opposed to the principles of political economy, that it becomes of the highest importance in an inquiry like the present to trace out the circumstances to which this special depreciation is to be attributed. It has been before shown that the number of hands belonging to the London cabinet trade decreased between and per cent in comparison with the rest of the metropolitan population; and that, notwithstanding this falling off, the workman"s wages in were at least per cent better than they are at present; having formerly been paid for the making of articles for which now only are given. To impress this fact, however, more strongly upon the reader"s mind, I will cite here a few of many instances of depreciation that have come to my knowledge. " years ago," said a workman in the fancy cabinet line, "I had an inch for the making of -inch desks of solid mahogany; that"s for the entire article: now I get for the same thing. Smaller desks used to average us each for wages: now they don"t bring us more than Ladies" -inch workboxes years ago were and a-piece making; now they are for the commoner sort and for those with better work." "I don"t understand per cents," said another workman, "but this I know, the prices that I get have within this years fallen from to , and in some cases to "
Here, then, we find that wages in the competitive portion of the cabinet trade—that is among the non-society hands—(the wages of the society men I have before explained are regulated, or rather fixed by custom)—were years ago per cent better in some cases, and in others no less than per cent higher than they are at present, and this while the number of workmen has decreased as much as - relatively to the rest of the population. How, then, is this extraordinary diminution in the price of labour to be accounted for? Certainly not on the natural assumption that the quantity of work has declined in a still greater proportion than the number of hands to do it, for it has also been proved that the number of new houses built annually in the metropolis, and therefore the quantity of new furniture required, has of late years increased very considerably.
In the cabinet trade, then, we find a collection of circumstances at variance with that law of supply and demand by which many suppose that the rate of wages is invariably determined. Wages, it is said, depend upon the demand and supply of labour; and it is commonly assumed that they cannot be affected by anything else. That they are, however, subject to other influences, the history of the cabinet trade for the last years is a most convincing proof, for there we find, that while the quantity of work, or in other words, the demand for labour, has increased, and the supply decreased, wages, instead of rising, have suffered a heavy decline. By what means, then, is this reduction in the price of labour to be explained? What other circumstance is there affecting the remuneration for work, of which economists have usually omitted to take cognizance? The answer is, that wages depend as much on the distribution of labour as on the demand and supply of it. Assuming a certain quantity of work to be done, the amount of remuneration coming to each of the workmen engaged must, of course, be regulated, not only by the number of hands, but by the proportion of labour done by them respectively; that is to say, if there be work enough to employ the whole of the operatives for hours a-week, and if -thirds of the hands are supplied with sufficient to occupy them hours in the same space of time, then - of the trade must be thrown fully out of employment: thus proving that there may be surplus labour without any increase of the population. It may, therefore, be safely asserted, that any system of labour which tends to make the members of a craft produce a greater quantity of work than usual, tends at the same time to over-populate the trade as certainly as an increase of workmen. This law may be summed up briefly in the expression that over-work makes under-pay.
Hence the next point in the inquiry is as to the means by which the productiveness of operatives is capable of being extended. There are many modes of effecting this. Some of these have been long known to students of political economy, while others have been made public for the time in these letters. Under the former class are included the division and co-operation of labour, as well as the "large system of production;" and to the latter belongs "the strapping system," by which men are made to get through times as much work as usual, and which I have before described. But the most effectual means of increasing the productiveness of labourers is found to consist, not in any system of supervision, however cogent, nor in any limitation of the operations performed by the workpeople to the smallest possible number, nor in the apportionment of the different parts of the work to the different capabilities of the operatives, but in connecting the workman"s interest directly with his labour; that is to say, by making the amount of his earnings depend upon the quantity of work done by him. This is ordinarily effected in manufacture by means of what is called piece-work. Almost all who work by the day, or for a fixed salary—that is to say, those who labour for the gain of others, not for their own—have, it has been well remarked, "no interest in doing more than the smallest quantity of work that will pass as a fulfilment of the mere terms of their engagement." Owing to the insufficient interest which day-labourers have in the result of their labour, there is a natural tendency in such labour to be extremely inefficient—a tendency only to be overcome by vigilant superintendance (such as is carried on under the strapping system among the joiners) on the part of the persons who are interested in the result. The master"s eye is notoriously the only security to be relied on. But superintend them as you will, day labourers are so much inferior to those who work by the piece, that, as we before said, the latter system is practised in all industrial occupations where the work admits of being put out in definite portions, without involving the necessity of too troublesome a surveillance to guard against inferiority (or scamping) in the execution. But if the labourer at piece-work is made to produce a greater quantity than at day-work, and this solely by connecting his own interest with that of his employer, how much more largely must the productiveness of workmen be increased when labouring wholly on their own account! Accordingly, it has been invariably found, that whenever the operative unites in himself the double function of capitalist and labourer, making up his own materials or working on his own property, his productiveness single-handed is considerably greater than can be attained under the large system of production, where all the arts and appliances of which extensive capital can avail itself are brought into operation.
Of the industry of working masters or trading operatives in manufactures there are as yet no authentic accounts. We have, however, ample records concerning the indefatigability of their agricultural counterparts—the peasantpropri- etors of Tuscany, Switzerland, Germany, and other countries where the labourers are the owners of the soil they cultivate. "In walking anywhere in the neighbourhood of Zürich," says Inglis, in his work on Switzerland, the South of France, and the Pyrenees, " is struck with the extraordinary industry of the inhabitants. When I used to open my casement, between and o"clock in the morning, to look out upon the lake and the distant Alps, I saw the labourer in the fields; and when I returned from an evening walk, long after sunset, as late perhaps as half-past , there was the labourer mowing his grass or tying up his vines." The same state of thing exists among the French peasantry under the same circumstances. "The in-
|dustry of the small proprietor," says Arthur Young, in his "Travels in France," "were so conspicuous and so meritorious, that no commendation would be too great for it. It was sufficient to prove that property in land is, of all others, the most active instigator to severe and incessant labour." If, then, this principle of working for "s self has been found to increase the industry, and consequently the productiveness of labourers, to such an extent in agriculture, it is but natural that it should be attended with the same results in manufactures, and that we should find the small masters and the peasant-proprietors toiling longer and working quicker than labourers serving others rather than themselves. But there is an important distinction to be drawn between the produce of the peasant-proprietor and that of the small master. Toil as diligently as the little farmer may, since he cultivates the soil not for profit, but as a means of subsistence, and his produce contributes directly to his support, it follows that his comforts must be increased by his extraproduc- tion; or, in other words, that the more he labours, the more food he obtains. The small master, however, producing what he cannot eat, must carry his goods to market and exchange them for articles of consumption. Hence, by over-toil he lowers the market against himself; that is to say, the more he labours the less food he ultimately obtains.|
But not only is it true that over-work makes under-pay, but the converse of the proposition is equally true, that under-pay makes overwork; that is to say, it is true of those trades where the system of piece-work or small mastership admits of the operative doing the utmost amount of work that he is able to accomplish, for the workman in such cases seldom or never thinks of reducing his expenditure to his income, but rather of increasing his labour, so as still to bring his income, by extra production, up to his expenditure. This brings us to another important distinction which it is necessary to make between the peasant-proprietor and the small master. The little farmer cannot increase his produce by devoting a less amount of labour to each of the articles; that is to say, he cannot scamp his work without diminishing his future stock. A given quantity of labour must be used to obtain a given amount of produce. None of the details can be omitted without a diminution of the result: scamp the ploughing and there will be a smaller crop. In manufactures, however, the result is very different. There of the principal means of increasing the productions of a particular trade, and of the cabinet trade especially, is by decreasing the amount of work in each article. Hence, in such cases, all kinds of schemes and impositions are resorted to to make the unskilled labour equal to the skilled, and thus the market is glutted with slop productions till the honourable part of the trade, both workmen and employers, are ultimately obliged to resort to the same tricks as the rest.
There were, about years ago, a numerous body of tradesmen, who were employers, though not workmen to the general public, known as "trade-working masters." These men, of whom there are still a few, confined their business solely to supplying the trade. They supplied the greater establishments where there were showrooms with a cheaper article than the proprietors of those greater establishments might be able to have had manufactured on their own premises. They worked not on speculation, but to order, and were themselves employers. Some employed, at a busy time, from to hands, all working on their premises, which were merely adapted for making, and not for selling or showing furniture. There are still such trade-working masters, the extent of their business not being a quarter what it was; neither do they now generally adhere to the practice of having men to work on their premises, but they give out the material, which their journeymen make up at their own abodes.
I now come to the amount of capital required for an operative cabinet-maker to begin business on his own account.
To show the readiness with which any youth out of his time, as it is called, can start in trade as a garret cabinet master, I have learned the following particulars:—This lad, when not living with his friends, usually occupies a garret, and in this he constructs a rude bench out of old materials, which may cost him If he be penniless when he ceases to be an
|apprentice, and can get no work as a journeyman, which is nearly always the case, for reasons I have before stated, he assists another garret-master to make a bedstead, perhaps; and the established garret-master carries bedsteads instead of to the slaughter-house. The lad"s share of the proceeds may be about ; and out of that, if his needs will permit him, he buys the article, and so proceeds by degrees. Many men, to start themselves, as it is called, have endured, I am informed, something like starvation most patiently. The tools are generally collected by degrees, and often in the last year of apprenticeship, out of the boy"s earnings. They are seldom bought -hand, but at the marine-store shops, or at the -hand furniture brokers" in the New Cut. The purchaser grinds and sharpens them up at any friendly workman"s where he can meet with the loan of a grindstone, and puts new handles to them himself out of pieces of waste wood. or even thus invested has started a man with tools, while has accomplished it in what might be considered good style. In some cases the friends of the boy, if they are not poverty-stricken, advance him from to to begin with, and he must then shift for himself.|
When a bench and tools have been obtained, the young master buys such material as his means afford, and sets himself to work. If he has a few shillings to spare he makes himself a sort of bedstead, and buys a rug or a sheet and a little bedding. If he has not the means to do so he sleeps on shavings stuffed into an old sack. In some few cases he hires a bench alongside some other garret-master, but the arrangement of or men occupying room for their labour is more frequent when the garrets where the men sleep are required for their wives" labour in any distinct business, or when the articles the men make are too cumbrous, like wardrobes, to be carried easily down the narrow stairs.
A timber merchant, part of whose business consists in selling material to little masters, gave me instances, within his own knowledge, of journeymen beginning to manufacture on their own account.
A fancy cabinet-maker had at his command. With this he purchased material for a desk as follows:—
The making of the desk occupied hours, as he bestowed extra pains upon it, and he sold it to a slaughterer for He then broke his fast on bread and water, bought material for a desk and went to work again, and so he proceeds now; toiling and half-starving, and struggling to get a-head of the world to buy more wood at time, and not pause so often in his work. "Perhaps," said my informant, "he"ll marry, as most of the small masters do, some foolish servant-of-all-work, who has saved or , and that will be his capital."
Another general cabinet-maker commenced business on , a part of which he expended in the material for a -foot chest of drawers.
For the article when completed he received , toiling at it for or hours. The tradesman from whom I derived this information, and who was familiar with every branch of the trade, calculated that -fifths of the working cabinet-makers of London make for the warehouses—in other words, that there are small masters in the trade. The most moderate computation was that the number so employed exceed half of the entire body of the metropolitan journeyman.
The next point in this inquiry is concerning the industry and productiveness of this class of workmen. Of over-work, as regards excessive labour, and of over-production from scamped workmanship, I heard the following accounts which different operatives, both in the fancy and general cabinet trade concurred in giving, while some represented the labour as of longer duration by at least an hour, and some by hours a day, than I have stated.
The labour of the men who depend entirely on the slaughter-houses for the purchase of their articles, with all the disadvantages that I described in a former letter, is usually days a week the year through. That is days—for Sunday-work is all but universal— each of hours, or hours in all, while the established hours of labour in the honourable trade are days of the week, each of hours, or hours in all. Thus per cent is added to the extent of the production of low-priced cabinet work merely from over-hours, but in some cases I heard of hours for days in the week, or hours in all. The exceptions to this continuous toil are from to hours once or twice in the week, when the workman is engaged in purchasing his
|material of a timber merchant, who sells it in small quantities, and from to hours when he is employed in conveying his goods to a warehouse, or from warehouse to warehouse for sale. Concerning the hours of labour I had the following minute particulars from a garret-master who was a chairmaker.|
This excessive toil, however, is but element of over-production. Scamping adds at least per cent to the productions of the cabinet-maker"s trade. I have ascertained several cases of this over-work from scamping, and adduce . A very quick hand, a little master, working as he called it "at a slaughtering pace" for a warehouse, made plain writing desks in a week of hours, whilst a -rate workman, also a quick hand, made in a week of hours. The scamping hand said he must work at the rate he did to make a-week from a slaughter-house, and so used to such style of work had he become, that though a few years back he did west-end work in the best style, he could not now make desks in a week, if compelled to finish them in the style of excellence displayed in the work of the journeyman employed for the honourable trade. Perhaps, he added, he couldn"t make them in that style at all. The frequent use of rosewood veneers in the fancy cabinet, and their occasional use in the general cabinet trade, gives, I was told, great facilities for scamping. If, in his haste, the scamping hand injure the veneer, or if it has been originally faulty, he takes a mixture of gum shellac and "colour," (colour being a composition of Venetian red and lamp black) which he has already by him, rubs it over the damaged part, smooths it with a slightly heated iron, and so blends it with the colour of the rosewood that the warehouseman does not detect the flaw. Indeed, I was told that very few warehousemen are judges of the furniture they bought, and they only require it to look well enough for sale to the public, who know even less than themselves. In the general cabinet trade I found the same ratio of scamping, compared with the products of skilled labour in the honourable trade. A good workman made a -foot mahogany chest of drawers in days, working the regular hours, and receiving at piece-work price A scamping hand made of the same size in a week, and had time to carry them for sale to the warehouses, wait for their purchase or refusal, and buy material. But for the necessity of doing this the scamping hand could have made in the hours of his week, of course in a very inferior manner. They would hold together for a time, I was assured, and that was all; but the slaughterers cared only to have them viewy and cheap. These cases exceed the average, and I have cited them to show what can be done under the scamping system.
I now come to show how this scamp work is executed, that is to say, by what helps or assistants when such are employed. As in all trades where lowness of wages is the rule, the apprentice system prevails among the cheap cabinet-workers. It prevails, however, among the garret-masters, by very many of them having , , , or apprentices, and so the number of boys thus employed through the whole trade is considerable. This refers principally to the general cabinet trade. In the fancy trade the number is greater, as the boys" labour is more readily available, but in this trade the greatest number of apprentices is employed by such warehousemen as are manufacturers, as some at the east end are— or rather by the men that they constantly keep at work. Of these men has now , and another boys in his service, some apprenticed, some merely engaged and discharged at pleasure. A sharp boy, thus apprenticed, in or months becomes handy, but out of of the workmen thus brought up can do nothing well but their own particular branch, and that only well as far as celerity in production is considered.
I have before alluded to the utter destitution of the cheap workers belonging to the cabinet trade, and I now subjoin the statement of a man whom I found last winter in the Asylum for the Houseless Poor.
I shall now conclude with the following statement as to the effects produced by the slop cabinet business upon the honourable part of the trade. I derived my information from Mr. ——, of the principal masters at the west-end, and who has the highest character for consideration for his men. "Since the establishment of slaughter-houses, and aptly indeed," said my informant, "from my knowledge of their effects upon the workmen, have they been named—the demand for articles of the best cabinet-work, in the manufacture of which the costliest woods and the most skilled labour London can supply are required, has diminished upwards of per cent. The demand, moreover, continues still to diminish gradually. The result is obvious. Only men are now employed in this trade in lieu of as formerly, and the men displaced may swell the lists of the underpaid, and even of the slop-workers. The expense incurred by some of the leading masters in the honourable trade is considerable, and for objects the designs of which inferior masters pirate from us. The designs for new styles of furniture add from to per cent to the cost of the most elaborate articles that we manufacture. The time any of these novel designs comes to the hammer by the sale of a gentleman"s effects they are certain of piracy, and so the pattern descends to the slaughter-houses. These great houses are frequently offered prices, and by very wealthy persons, that are an insult to a tradesman wishing to pay a fair price to his workmen. For instance, for an -foot mahogany bookcase, after a new design, and made to the very best style of art, the material being the choicest, and everything about in admirable keeping, the price is guineas. "O dear!" some rich customer will say, " guineas! I"ll give you , or, indeed, I"ll give you ."" (I afterwards heard from a journeyman that this would be the cost of the labour alone.) The gentleman I saw spoke highly of the intelligence and good conduct of the men employed, only society men being at work on his premises. He feared that the slop-trade, if not checked, would more and more swamp the honourable trade.