The New International Encyclopædia/Sweating System

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The New International Encyclopædia
Sweating System
Edition of 1905. See also Sweatshop on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

SWEATING SYSTEM. The practice pursued by certain manufacturers, particularly of clothing, of giving out piece work to individuals on which the work is to be done at home and at starvation wages.

The system is a survival of the household form of industry that still exists in certain trades in large cities. The term ‘sweater’ was used first by journeymen tailors in London, who worked long hours. As more work was given out, the home worker employed his family and outsiders, and thus a system of sub-contract developed in which the middleman was called the sweater. To-day ‘the sweating system’ designates the fag end of all industries where low wages and bad conditions prevail. The work is on a cheap grade of goods, principally cigars, bread made in cellars, candy, and garments. The people sweated belong to a low class of unskilled labor, generally foreign born. The sub-contractors usually are Jews.

Evils of the sweat shop are long hours — ten to eighteen hours a day, including Sunday; overcrowding in the shops and surrounding tenements; unsanitary conditions in the work rooms and tenement houses, lacking in light, air, and cleanliness; child labor, very young girls and boys often running the machines; disease and deformity brought on by confinement and dust; irregularity of the work; and poor pay. The chief causes of the sweating system are (1) the excessive supply of unskilled labor; (2) an economic advantage to large dealers, in having their work done in small shops, thereby saving rent and evading factory laws, in cheap labor, in the inability of isolated workers to combine, and in the irregularity of work; (3) finally, the irresponsibility of employers, and the indifference of the public.

Among proposed remedies may be mentioned (1) stringent legislation, backed by public opinion, to force these kinds of work into large shops and factories; (2) coöperative production; (3) trade unions for unskilled workers; (4) public workshops; (5) restriction of foreign immigration; (6) an eight-hour day; (7) consumers' league. Factory laws of Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois, and New York require licenses, or permits, describing rooms in which work may be done. Massachusetts only enforces such laws successfully; and she cannot protect herself against sweatshop goods from elsewhere.

Bibliography. Banks, White Slaves (Boston, 1892); Hobson, Problem of Poverty (London, 1891); Hull House Maps and Papers (New York, 1898); American Social Science Association Journal, 30, 57; United States Labor Commission Bulletin IV. (May, 1896); Factory Inspectors' Report (Illinois, 1895-96). See Consumers' League; Labor Problems; Factories and the Factory System; Factory Inspection.