‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 3.’ by a Correspondent in New York (28 January, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). This piece continues the discussion from the previous articles on work and wages.

Trade and Wages.

To the Editor of the People’s Journal.

Sir,—The tailor trade is quite different here from what it is at home. The tailors are something like the shoemakers, their work is cut up in sections, so to speak; for there are coat hands, vest hands, and pant or trouser hands. These are all made in large factories. But in speaking of tailoring we ought to call them tailoresses, as a great many women and girls work at the tailor trade here. A cutter has good wages. The women make from four to eight dollars per week, according to their experience and ability. Some women have apprentices, and with five or six of them the employer will make 100 vests per week. She will receive on an average for them forty cents each, then making forty dollars per week, but of course she has her girls to pay off this. The girls receive on an average for them forty cents each, thus making forty dollars per week, but of course she has her girls to pay off this. The girls receive from one dollar per week (beginners). Those who have been some time at the business will receive four, five, or six dollars per week, according to ability. When a girl can make a vest without any more teaching she generally takes home her work where she has a machine; then she gets full value of her work.

There is another industry here at which young women make good wages, viz., cigar and cigarette making. One of the largest tobacco manufactories in the United States of America is that in Rochester. They employ some hundred of girls of all ages making cigars and cigarettes. This is all done by piece work, their wages ranging from four to eight dollars per week, according to ability.

As for mill and factory operatives, this is not so good a locality as other places some hundreds of miles east of this. There is one large cotton factory here in which the girls make from six to eight dollars per week. In a small place about one hundred miles form this, where I was working last year, there is a factory for the fabrication of woollen and cotton goods which employs about eight hundred women, and four hundred men and boys. The ages of the female workers range from seven years up to seventy. Their wages are from eight to thirty dollars per month. They are only paid once a month. The first five days of the week they work from half-past six A.M. to half-past six P.M., with an hour to dinner at twelve o’clock noon; and on Saturday they work from half-past six A.M. to two P.M. A great number of the girls go and come to their work is machines. Those machines hold from 12 to 20 persons. For this they each pay one dollar a month. But I can assure the factory girls in Dundee that the women in that factory required it last winter, for in that place the ground was covered with snow to the depth of from three to five feet for nearly four months. I may tell the Dundee girls that I have never seen any girl go to work here of any kind unless she was dressed “up to dick,” for they all wear their bonnets, shawls, gloves, &c, no matter what they work at. The girls who work at the tailoring trade go to work as well dressed as any of Baxter’s or Gilroy’s girls are when they are walking out the Perth Road with their beloved ones.

The foregoing result concerning wages being arrived at, the subject of the cost of living becomes an interesting question. As there is a great deal of boarding here I will take that matter first, and as I have three years’ experience of boarding in different places, I know a little about it. Men will get good board for four dollars per week, some places four and a-half. This does not include washing; you have either to take your clothes to a private individual, or go and get your “checkie” from Johnny Chinaman; but there is no comparison with boarding here and boarding in Scotland. There are always two or three kinds of dishes set before you—roast beef, steak, mutton, or pork being always on the table. Potatoes, and tea or coffee are served at all three meals; all sorts of pies or tarts and custards, along with fruits and vegetables in their season. Porridge is not known; I have only got it once since I came here, and, as it turned out, once too often. It happened in this wise:—Going home from work one night my boarding mistress asked me if I would take mush for supper. I said if I knew what it was I would tell her. She replied you would call it porridge. I immediately answered “Yes,” thinking I was going to get a treat. She brought a piece on a plate with fork and knife. I cut a piece and put it in my mouth. But, O horror, the porridge had no salt among t. Spitting it out again, and asking her how there was no salt in it, she replied “There is both salt and sugar on the table, you can use any of them you please.” “Well,” I said, “take and give those to the hens, and make no more mush for me,” and she was quite indignant, and so was I. Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 3.’ by a Correspondent in New York (28 January, 1882)”

‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 2.’ by a Correspondent in New York (21 January, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). This piece continues the discussion from the previous article on work and wages, specifically the advantages of trade unions.

Work and Wages.

To the Editor of The People’s Journal.

Sir,—As regards the wages paid to different trades here I would like those interested in these letters to know what the difference between the wages are now and when trade was dull, and by what means and agency the difference was brought about. Of course supply and demand have a great deal to do with the rise and fall of wages. But all working men know that unless there is pressure put upon employers in the busiest of times wages will never be so good as they would be without this pressure, and successful pressure can never be applied unless combination moves the lever. So it was pressure wrought by Trades Unionism which was the principal means of raising the wages so much this last three years back. And here let me say that I have seen the great benefits that working men derive from Trades Unions more than ever I did before, and I am sorry to add I have seen the want of unionism more than ever I did before.

I will begin with the iron trade first, and in this I include moulders, machinists, blacksmiths, and boilermakers. Three years ago the wages of these different branches were a dollar less per day than they are at present. If the readers of these letters will bear in mind that a dollar is four shillings and twopence, and that there are a hundred cents in a dollar, they will easily follow me in speaking of the currency of this country. So these branches of the iron trade have got a rise of 25s per week within three years. There is a case in point which I was interested. Last spring I was working in a small town called Fulton, in the State of New York. We had two dollars per day, and we knew that wages were rising all over the country, so we combined together and demanded a rise, the employer or boss (as the master is termed here) offered us a quarter of a dollar more per day, which was refused, and after some negotiations we received one half-dollar more per day. I thought to myself that it would have been something wonderful if I had received twelve shillings and sixpence of a rise per week in Dundee. The different branches of the iron trade are nearly paid alike in Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, Cleveland in Ohio, and Rochester in New York; the rate of wages in this class is nearly parallel. In these places moulders have at the present time from two and a half to three and a quarter dollars per day (all wages are counted by the day here; machinists (that is, turners and fitters) have from two dollars to two and a half per day; blacksmiths, from two and a half to three dollars per day; boilermakers, from two to two and a half per day—ten hours per day, or sixty hours per week. But it must be kept in mind that the foregoing wages are only paid to competent workmen, for in America a young man becomes a journeyman after an apprenticeship of three or four years, and a great many of them never serve an apprenticeship at all. This holds good in almost all trades. The consequence is that there are a great many who are not fit to do a day’s work either in quantity or quality. They are generally Jacks-of-all-Trades and masters of none. There is a great deal of piece-work done in America in all branches of industry, and the labour is divided in this manner:—In shoemaking, it takes eight or ten men to make a boot or shoe; there are cutters, bottomers, boot-treers, buffers, heelers, fitters, &c. In moulding, cooking and heating stores are made in the same manner. One man makes the bottom part, another the top, another the sides, another the doors, and so on. By this system the workmen get to be proficient in a short time, but only at the once branch of the trade. All these different branches of shoemaking are made in factories, and by machinery; wages ranging from ten to fifteen dollars per week. But there are workshops where hand-sewed boots and shoes are made. A good shoemaker can earn two or two and a quarter dollars per day. Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 2.’ by a Correspondent in New York (21 January, 1882)”

‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 1.’ by a Correspondent in New York (14 January, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). This piece demonstrates the fear mongering surrounding the undercutting of wages, with despairingly pertinent racist attitudes towards Chinese immigrants, as well as boycotts of penal labour.

Work and Wages

To the Editor of the People’s Journal.

Sir,—As 1881 has been a year of unprecedented immigration to this country, and as the likelihood is that 1882 will be one of even greater magnitude, it occurs to me that the most of your readers are either directly or indirectly interested in this exodus, and that a few letters on how trade has been, how it is, and how it is likely to be for some time to come, together with the amount of wages paid to different trades, the cost of living, the manner of living, and other information of how things are going on in America generally, would be read with some degree of interest by many of my fellow-townsmen.

Three years ago trade of all kinds was just beginning to recover from a long depression amounting to stagnation. For a number of years before 1878 there was no stability or confidence between producer and consumer, buyer or seller; none manufactured or bought or sold goods of any kind unless they were absolutely required. These dark days were and are still called “the days of the panic.” But three years ago a blessed reaction set in; confidence was once more restored, and all the people of this great Continent began to see a silver lining in the dark cloud of their adversity. They began to get steadier work and higher wages. Then they commenced to put their houses in order. They were requiring new or better dwellings, furniture, clothing, in fact everything that tended to better their condition in life. This in itself helped to stimulate a briskness in trade and commerce. On the back of this came another incentive towards making and keeping trade better, viz., the great tide of immigration which began to flow in to all parts of the United States. The statistics of the past year will show that about half a million immigrants landed in America in twelve months. Now, some persons would think that such an influx of people almost wholly of the working class would tend to glut the labour market and retard the improvement we are now enjoying. But we must bear in mind the great, the almost fabulous extent of territory which is so sparsely inhabited or cultivated in this country. Consider for a moment that we have thirty-eight States, varying in size from the smallest, Rhode Island, with its 1306 square miles, to Texas, the largest, with its 274,356 square miles. Then there are nine territories, the smallest, Indiana, with 68,991 square miles; the largest, Dakota, with 150,932 square miles. The grand total of States and territories being no less than 3,400,000 square miles.

Besides America having plenty of room for all comers, each immigrant that lands contributes towards the prosperity of the country. For everyone of them sooner or latter requires to purchase some of the commodities which are manufactured. They all require to be fed, housed, clothed, shod, &c., thus giving trade to the farmer, the grocer, the mason, the joiner, the shoemaker, the tailor. In fact every occupation, from the operative to the banker, benefits by every immigrant that lands on the soil. Among all the nations of the world that sends their quota of immigrants here, none are more detested than the Chinese. Here is an extract from an address published to the Trades and Labour Union of America by their representative Committee, bearing on the Chinese question, as it is called here:— Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 1.’ by a Correspondent in New York (14 January, 1882)”