Domestic Servitude or Socialism?
The signs of social change can be easily noticed and interpreted because of their present prominence. One of the most distinct is the parasitism that makes its presence felt everywhere to-day. The amount of wealth wrung out of the wage-slaves has increased so greatly and so rapidly that it has enabled the plutocracy to run their many residences with a magnificence and display greater than ever before. What was considered lavish and luxurious a generation ago is put in the shade by the prevailing ostentation and splendour. The rich vie with one another in their extravagance.
A remarkable feature of modern society is the small number of the population who actually engage in wealth production. The percentage of the population who are really producing is declining daily, and the Reports of the Government Census of Production have proved it.
The use of improved machinery and more scientific and economical methods has made it possible to produce wealth in superabundance, and with fewer * hands” than were formerly required. The International Cotton King have again and again ordered “short time” for their employees because they found that with modern highly developed machinery a few hours a day per operative was sufficient.
The operatives have been told often that the prospect for the future is that the cotton trade, instead of absorbing the increasing population, will have to discard a large number. Thus they have been brought to see hunger and want forced upon them on account of the very improvements their class have made and their skill has put in motion. And the same is true of other industries.
Hence we see that even to the women the industrial departments are being closed — to say nothing of men. Those shut out have therefore to become the personal servants of and attendants upon the parasite class that has profited by all the progress we see around us. The workers have had to see their daughters and sisters, and even their mothers, condemned to lifelong drudgery and useless, monotonous toil, pandering to the idle whims of a corrupt class.
It may be truly said that the domestics suffer from all the evils of serfdom without having any of its advantages. They suffer the complete personal subjection of serfdom without having the security of the serf. They have to face unemployment and insecurity of livelihood just as do the rest of the working class.
Endless work and lack of leisure soon tell upon their victims. From bright, happy girls they grow into dull, jaded, miserable women, haunted by all the fears that a wage slave alone can know. Their employers exact slavish obedience, and while they enjoy all the pleasures that centuries of social effort have made possible, the poor “slaveys” must toil till they are ready to drop with fatigue. While the employers idle and useless social pests live upon the best food and have the greatest variety of viands, their servants have to exist upon the meet plain and scanty fare. “The leavings are good enough for them! ”
Not only do the domestics have to work for these drones, but, even worse, they have to live with them too. Only those who have come into close contact with them can know what this means. They are under surveillance the whole twenty four hours round, the constant victims of the changing moods, the irritability and ennui of their employers.
The domestics see their mistresses taking part in the twentieth century “intellectual ’ movement of bourgeois women, voicing hypocritical cries of “Woman’s Freedom,” and the like. This movement, so dear to the Fabian and other fatuous dilletanti, has nothing to offer the servant. While the employing section delight in picturing the achievements of the New Woman, the domestics feel economic pressure increasing and becoming more unbearable day by day. The employers demand more qualifications, and inquire more closely into the “character” of servants than formerly. They must be nimble, alert, experienced, docile, healthy, and above all, willing to accept wages which are little more than “ pocket money.”
Though their mistresses talk about “the awakening of woman,” they impose the observance of all the old hated forms upon their unfortunate slaves. The idiotic — “cap” that badge of servitude – has still to be worn, and it is as sure a sign of their slavery as was the neck ring of the helots of Carthage. It shows their chattel character just as the stamp upon the seaman’s wrist shows him to be a creature of cursed capital
Forced into constant touch with their employers and always under the strictest restraint, it has naturally resulted that domestics generally lack even the slightest consciousness of their interests as members of a class with interests quite opposed to the capitalists.
Though many are turning away from the path of domestic servitude they do not fare better. A large number of the girls are becoming typists, yet the stampede from ”service” to shorthand-typewriting has only served to reduce the latter occupation to the level of the former. As the “Daily Chronicle” recently pointed out the typists are sufficiently numerous to meet all demands, and the numbers floating in now will so increase the supply that wages will fall lower than ever.
The mistresses continually prate about the difficulty of getting servants. What they mean is servants sufficiently devoid of feeling to stay in one place long. Servants continually change their places in the hope that the change will bring relief. The servitude is so onerous that a long spell in one situation ruins them completely. The slightest disobedience or fancied fault provides the mistress with an excuse for dismissing the servant, and often spiteful mistresses make it difficult for domestics to get other situations by giving “bad” characters.
The threat of a “bad” character is often sufficient to reduce the servant to humility and surrender. It is not surprising that of those who chance the consequences and seek other places some have drifted lo that horror of horrors, “the street.” And often the “bad” character has been the immediate cause.
Look at the position of those sentenced to domestic servitude for the term of their natural lives. What chance is there of their development in the unchanging round of enervating toil, the long hours of comparative isolation? These explain the cramped intellect and the morbid sentimentality that typify the domestic. The short spells of release from work is time snatched from sleep’s allotted span. Hence they patronise the sensational, flashy novel—the “literature” of the 20th century civilisation. This insipid, sloppy rubbish is the mental food of the modern Cinderella. Is it a matter for amazement that domestics are, more than any other section of the working class perhaps, the sheep-like followers of their employers’ dictates in all matters that should arouse their sturdy independence and self-reliance? Their menial position saps their independence and courage, so that combination among them has been taboo. But a recent sign of the times has been the formation of a trade union in their ranks. True, it hasn’t gained many converts, but still, it moves.
While as Socialists we welcome every sign of revolt against oppression on the part of the workers, we hold that revolt is useless and dangerous unless based upon a knowledge of the cause of their condition and its remedy.
The Domestic Workers’ Union has been busy acquainting mistresses of their desire to really get them better servants and to make the relations between mistress and maid harmonious!” Their objects include as a first proposal, “To raise the status of Domestic Work to the level of other industries”! What a blind, ignorant suggestion! Other industries involve misery and hardship for their workers, though they assume slightly different forms. It seems to fulfil the Anti-Socialist cry of “Reducing all to one dead level.”
The other “objects” are equally foolish and futile. The servants have to understand that useful though a real union may be to them from day to day in helping them to fix their terms with their employers, these very terms are but a fixing of their slavery. Strong and sound though the union might ever even become, while this system of capitalist class monopoly of wealth continues, it can merely make rules to guide them in selling their energy and standardising their poverty. It cannot end their terrible servitude. To that they must combine with the rest of their class whatever their rank, office or station, into a political party with Socialism as its object.
In the co-operative commonwealth that Socialism will herald in, servitude domestic, civil, or penal will disappear. Then only will the women of the race have a chance to live a full life, unhampered by the cares and anxieties that now distract them.
There is plenty of work awaiting you, toiling sisters all. There are your fellow slaves to be aroused, and educated in the principles of Socialism, and organised for the fight for the emancipation of our class.
Depend upon it. unless we enrol the women while they are young, and before they have completely fallen a prey to their employers’ wiles, we but make our task harder in the future.