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ment of the state, whether elective or appointive; that female teachers should be paid as high salaries as male teachers in the same grades; that half the employees in the state printing offices should be female, unless a sufficient number might not be had; and that half the clerical force in the employ of the state, county, and city governments should, wherever possible, be women.
In pursuance of this catholic policy, the California courts have nullified legislation imposing limits on the scope of women's employments, even when such limitations were evidently in the interest of public morality. An ordinance of San Francisco prohibiting the employment of women to retail drinks in dance-cellars, barrooms, or any other place where liquors were sold, and a state law to the same effect which further prohibited the hiring of women to dance, play, or sing in such places, was declared unconstitutional by the state courts (1881). The principle was then enunciated that the legislature may make no laws relating to employments that do not affect both sexes equally. The eight-hour law of 1868 complies with the constitutional requirement. The legal working-day for men and women alike is limited to eight hours, but the statute contains a contracting-out clause that destroys its practical effect. It has no more binding force than the usury laws that prescribe a legal rate of interest which holds only in case no rate is mentioned in the contract. This law, like the law relating to teachers' salaries, is practically a dead letter today. Whatever has been accomplished in California toward reducing the length of the working-day or raising the wage rate for women has been the result of trade organization.
It is not the function of this paper to discuss the respective advantages of state regulation and labor-union agitation as the means of bringing about these very desirable results; but I may be permitted to call your attention to the great difficulty—to my mind the insuperable difficulty—of organizing women for effective action. The employments opened to unskilled women are so over-stocked, women so quickly come into competition with foreigners who have low standards as to working conditions, their sense of responsibility for the welfare of their trade is so slight, that only in rare instances and for brief periods have women's unions been successful in bettering a labor contract. The laundresses of San Francisco and Oakland have been able to negotiate an eight-hour day; but most wage-earning women in California, in a state where an eight-hour day is prescribed for government employees and for the employees of government contractors, are working from nine to ten hours during six days in the week. In the candy shops and bakeries, according to the Report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 1904, the workingweek of sales-women averaged sixty and sixty-eight hours respectively, while the maximum for candy shops was eighty-four, and for bakeries ninety-five, per week. The bakeries are open for business at five in the morning and the confectioners until late at night, and the sales-women are on duty Sundays as well as week days. The labor commissioner cites the "thoughtlessness of housewives" and other customers who suit their own convenience in their shopping habits as the principal cause for these needlessly protracted hours. The learned judges who found the law forbidding the employment of women as bar-maids in dance-cellars unconstitutional, pointed out that the makers of the constitution had disabled the legislature for much wise and wholesome regulation of public morals and public health, but opined that there must have been in the mind of the enacting convention some compensating advantage of over-whelming importance. Whether these compensating gains have accrued to the working women of California, I, a stranger to the actual conditions, will not undertake to say. But perhaps you will permit a sojourner from the far East to suggest a third means of promoting the economic welfare of your working-women -the women who are not affected by the eight-hour law and who are too numerous or too scattered for adequate organization. The Consumers League aims to give some effective expression to the sentiment of the purchasing public. That public does not wish to be served at the expense of human life or human welfare. We need but to know the conditions that obtain in sweat shops, in canneries, in retail stores, and a protest is raised. But that protest is usually futile-a momentary horror exploited by the press, and put out of mind by the next sensation. It is necessary that public sentiment be organized, formulated, and brought to bear at the right moment. This is the function of the Consumers League. For ten years past it has carried on a campaign in behalf of women and children, fighting the sweat-shop, promoting protective legislation, bringing such pressure to bear upon the proprietors of retail stores as should force them to provide seats and lunch-rooms and Saturday halfholidays. The Consumers League is counted today among the chief factors that make for industrial betterment.
This paper is offered by one who, a few weeks previous to writing it, was in a state of almost entire ignorance of the facts since hastily gathered together in a fashion more journalistic than scholarly. It is, however, believed that what is here stated errs in incompleteness rather than in exactness. The reader, forewarned, may take the results in what spirit he will. The paper is at least an expression of the views of one who follows all the workers with a sympathetic hope for their larger share in that well-being of which modern life is so rich in promise, and who has come to feel that the spread of unionism among women can serve admirably as one of the agents working for the realization of that promise.
Of the workers in gainful occupations in California, the last census tells us that today about eighteen per cent are women; and of this eighteen per cent about fifteen per cent are, strictly speaking, wage-earners. Women share in some slight degree in almost every class of work which this state has developed; but the majority of women wage-earners are, according to the twelfth Census of the United States and the report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the State of California for 1905-6, engaged at work in the canneries and clothing industries, in laundries, in millinery, and in dyeing and cleaning establishments. Not only are these the majority of women at work as wage-earners, but in these trades the women workers outnumber the men.
This is also true of the women wage-earners in clothing stores and department and dry-goods stores, while telephone operators and candy clerks are likewise chiefly women.
It was about 1900 that a movement for the organization of women workers began, and between that year and 1901 most of the labor groups of women wage-earners now in existence were formed. In the seven years that have ensued, though a distinct work has been done, as will presently be shown, only about three or four per cent of the women workers of the state are as yet trade-unionists. To state that most women in the laundries and the restaurants, in the binderies and the typographical shops, in the shoe factories and men's garment industries, and some of those who are operating the telephones, are organized, will approximately point out all the women workers who are under union influence. I venture to decide, after a perhaps insufficient number of conversations with some of the women who are doing the executive work in these women's unions, that the really importantand typical unionismamong women in California is embodied in the organizations named the Steam Laundry Workers' Union, the Garment Workers' Union, the Waitresses' Union, and the Telephone Operators' Union. The facts concerning these groups are sufficiently typical to justify narrowing the limits of this paper to them.
Organized as the Steam Laundry Workers' Union of San Francisco, about one thousand women, comprising the female working staff of twenty-one laundries of San Francisco (there are three hundred fifty men) thus come under trade union influence. This union was formed about seven years ago (February 21, 1901), and feels that it has secured and will continue to insure very much better conditions as a result of its existence.
Before they unionized, women in California worked in the laundries on about the same terms as, and under even more degenerating conditions than, domestic servants. They were obliged to live at the laundries, to work a ten hour day with no security against over-time demands, and their wages were fifteen dollars a month with board and lodging, described as "such as it was.” The unionizing of the women brought them at once a nine hour day, the right to extra pay for over-time, the privilege of living at home, and an average wage of about thirty dollars a month. These conditions, while infinitely better than those of the past, yet left much to be desired. Women were not being paid the same wage as men for the same work, were doing heavy work, and working over a stretch of time that tended altogether to break down their health and thus their earning capacity.
In March, 1907, an agreement was presented to the proprietors of the principal laundries in San Francisco asking for an eight hour day, an increase of pay, and a more specific regulation of the kinds of work that the women should do. When the employers opposed this plan, the Steam Laundry Workers went out on a strike on the first of April, 1907. After eleven weeks of struggle between the Laundry Owners' Association and the Union, the San Francisco
Labor Council acting as mediator, the quarrel was 'adjusted. The terms finally agreed upon secured members of the union against the employment of any but union members, and these were to be engaged through the office of the union. It was further arranged by a sort of sliding scale of hours that, beginning June 1, 1907, with a fiftyone hour week, there should be a regular diminution of the hours of work such that by June 1,1910, the week is to be forty-eight hours. Each working day is to be within the hours of seven a. m. and five p. m.,
with neither more nor less than one hour for lunch. Overtime is to be paid for at the rate of time and a half, and be paid weekly and fixed by mutual agreement. Especially is it provided that “women markers, washers, and distributors must be paid the same wages paid to men employed in the same work.” The strike cost $17,120, of which only $4,910.94 were from the treasury of the union, the other $12, 209.06 furnishing an excellent proof of the sympathy and support given to the organization by other unions and the public.
In Oakland, where there is also an organization of the laundry workers, the union tried its strength at about the same time that the sister organization in San Francisco was making its group claim for better conditions. The Oakland strike failed, partly for lack of coherence among the members, but chiefly, it is felt by those who made and aided it, because public support failed where it might have been expected—that is, from other trade organizations of Oakland, the women, the ministers, and social workers of the community. The San Francisco Labor Council sent two thousand dollars from the funds raised to carry on the San Francisco strike; but, as has been said, the strike failed; and the workers, their situations gone, are now trying to carry on a laundry of their own, to which they have given the suggestive name of the "Result Laundry."
A year or two ago the women laundry workers of San Jose, catching the new spirit, decided to ask admission to the men's organization already formed. That the men would have none of them, not sympathizing with women's organizations, will astonish only those who have not reflected upon the conservatism of the average man, whether wage-earner or profit-maker, in regard to women and their wage. Undismayed by the rebuff from the men workers, the San Jose girls formed a union, struck, and gained a distinct improvement in wages and hours in their particular tasks. Then the men consented to receive them. Last year the whole organization