1900s >> 1908 >> no-44-april-1908

The Doom of the Small Baker

The Effect of an Eight Hours Day on Small Masters.
The officials of the Bakers’ Union continue to make pathetic appeals for working-class support for their poor little bantling, the Eight Hours Bill for Bakers, on the grounds that it would, if carried into law, solve the unemployed problem so far as bakers are concerned.

Now as the large number of small bakers still carrying on business in London and the large towns are themselves working much longer and harder than their overwrought employees, and spend their Sabbath, when not in Chapel seeking business, posting up their books and doing other necessary clerical work, and are yet unable to keep in a state of solvency, the forcing up of their wages bill by the enactment of a legal eight hour day, would be, in many instances, the last straw, and their shops would be closed forthwith. Even now the journeymen, after working a “night’’ of eighteen or twenty hours on Friday-Saturday, often cannot get their wages when they finish, but have to call round late on Saturday night, after the barrowman has brought money in from the rounds.

Immediately, therefore, the new conditions began to operate, the factory owner would scoop in the trade of the struggling masters, with the inevitable result that in a very short time the already large army of unemployed bakers would be augmented to an enormous extent.

The baking industry a few months ago was all agog because of the wonderful machinery on view at Islington. Since that time that “labor saver” has been installed in various factories in London and the provinces, and now several balance sheets are going the rounds of the Baking Trade showing the capacity of such machinery in actual every night practice. In one particular factory five hundred sacks of flour are being turned into one hundred thousand loaves by eleven men, and in another four- hundred and eighty to five hundred sacks are done by fifteen men, the extra four men being required in this instance because the bread made is “fancy.” To-day the small master has a difficulty in squeezing thirteen sacks out of each man he employs. Obviously, therefore, it is only a question of time and the small man must finally disappear altogether, even under the present conditions of unlimited hours for a limited wage, and any change whatsoever can only result in speeding the departing guest into the ranks of the proletariat. In the factory bakers are not wanted: any “unskilled” man of average intelligence can do what is required, and for laborers’ wages.

The eight hour day will come, whether it be legalised or not, in fact, it is here in many instances because the capitalist has found that after that period labour is dear at nothing an hour. He can suck all the labour force out of a man in that time, and just as he has no use for superseded machinery made of steel, he has no use for the human machine until it has recuperated. It does not pay him to run expensive machinery with men from whom all the energy has been pumped. He therefore selects a new gang from the large crowd who are always waiting at the gate, in all weathers, night and day. If by any chance he retains a gang for a short period over the normal day, so alive is he to the quality of their labour that he actually pays them at a lower rate for overtime—in some instances as low as 2d. per hour, and even then by a pretty “wangle” is able to comply with the Trade Union clause in bis contracts with Boards of Guardians and other public bodies.

The “big pot” in the trade is in favour of a legal eight hour day, and the reason is not because he is bubbling over with the milk of human kindness and sympathy for the journeymen bakers, but because he has everything to gain from it, and the poor devil who is hanging on by his eyebrows stands to lose what little he has.

What are we to think of those posing as leaders who are holding up such a palpable sham as a remedy for the miseries of the working baker? Happily an ever increasing number are embracing the only remedy,—Socialism.

W. Watts.