Points from the Factory Inspector’s Report

The report for 1908 of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops contains some interesting facts illustrating and sufficiently condemning capitalist industry and pretended reform.

Here are a few (we quote from Lloyds News, 30.5.09).

“The passing is noted of the White Phosphorus Matches Prohibition Act of 1908, the provisions of which will come into force next January, after which date no white phosphorus matches may be made or imported. All the match factories in the United Kingdom, with one notable exception, remained free from any case of necrosis as in the three previous years; ‘but in that one factory a further case occurred in 1908 and two other attacks have been reported in the first quarter of 1909.'”

The above mentioned Act is rather typical of capitalist “palliative” legislation and is characterised by the usual hypocrisy. ‘Tis clear that the evil complained of has, in this country at least, been reduced to a minimum by the progress of the match industry itself. For have not the superiority and cheapness of the non-white-phosphorus matches almost driven the more noxious kind out of the market ? The Liberal party and its Labour supporters are thus able to point to a further important advance in social reform at mighty little cost to themselves—cost in votes and contributions to the party funds. For practically no capitalist interests are touched, since the evil against which the Act is directed (according to the Report) scarcely exists.

* * *

“Lead poisoning shows, on the other hand, a lamentable increase, the number of cases of all kinds being 646 against 578, the greatest increase being in connection with the smelting of metals—from twenty-eight to seventy. The new inspector for the Potteries district expresses his dissatisfaction with the manner in which the special rules are being observed.”

There is, however, no mention of a law against the use of lead in the pottery industry, although its use, according to the Report, is attended by much greater injury. Why ? Because its use is still profitable, and to propose a law against its use would be to attack real, live, capitalist interests.

It is worth while noting, too, that there are great numbers of workers, for example plumbers and painters, whose cases are never reported.

* * *

Lady Inspector Miss Vines describes amongst others, the following pitiful case: it shows “what capitalism has done for the worker” (pace ‘”Anti-Socialist”) and is doing for the mother and the mistress of the “Englishman’s castle.”

“Mrs. B., a celeste paintress, aged thirty-eight, was a colour duster eight years ago, when she had a severe attack of lead poisoning, never properly well since, but has been employed as celeste paintress at the same factory for several years. Was very ill with colic, sickness, wrist and finger drop of both hands. Could not dress herself, could not grip. Had been married fifteen years, had nine dead and one living ahild, which was ill all its life and never walked dying under three years of age. Her husband was injured in the South African war, and had been an invalid ever since. Both lived with the husband’s old widowed mother, and latterly the wife had partially kept both mother and husband with her earnings. Mrs. B.’s employers refused compensation, and it was not till the case was taken into court that compensation was obtained.”

Incidentally the reward of “Tommy,” one of “Our Empire’s brave defenders,” should not be overlooked.

* * *

But the Report contains other pretty items.

“In certain parts of the Swansea and Cardiff districts houses suitable for the working classes are so scarce that men sleep in three relays of eight hours each in the same bed, and kitchens are being used as sleeping apartments.”

We wonder if there are some Territorial “home” defenders among the said men.

* * *

While this one tersely delineates the condition of the olten anaemic, forewoman cursed, bun and tea starved stitchers who clothe in rich raiment the female parasites of the capitalist class :

“‘Gentility’ and high rents are the curse of the West End dressmaking establishments. The workers must be hidden away in basement workrooms, or at the back and top of high houses, in order that they may not disturb or worry the sensibilities of the client, who cares not under what conditions clothes are made.”

And yet withal, these, the other potential happy home-makers, when they (not all by any means) reach the desired haven or “home,” find in how many cases, that they have but exchanged the frying-pan for the fire. Such is the age.

* * *

Our next and last shows how hopelessly ineffectual the inspection often is and how employers are able to brow-beat and intimidate those whom the capitalist Press pretend are free citizens. The case cited is a test of truth as between the “free citizen” delusion and the enlightening Socialist axiom that capitalist employment is wage-slavery.

“Another lady inspector, Miss Martindale, gives some startling details as to how the Truck Act is evaded. In one case in Ireland declarations were obtained by her from men who swore that their wages were kept back in payment for their father’s long-standing debts. Proceedings were taken, but the lady inspector’s witnesses went back on their declarations, and swore that they received their wages in coin. The case, of course, was dismissed. Yet Miss Martindale was told immediately afterwards that the employer had paid wages in goods from ‘time immemorial,’ and that everyone in court knew it.”

Did the employee witnesses go “back on their declarations” because they enjoyed bearing false
witness, or was it not rather that they feared the “sack” and inability to give their children bread ? Answer, ye anti-Socialist working men and women. Are ye truly “free citizens” or are ye not verily wage-slaves ? If the latter, come where ye belong, in the ranks of the wage-slaves’ party—the S.P.G.B., and battle with us for your emancipation.

J. H. H.

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