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We seek the support of all political groups and protection of the government, which is also our government, in our struggle. For too many years we have been treated like the lowest of the low. Our wages and working conditions have been determined from above, because irresponsible legislators who could have helped us, have supported the rancher’s argument that the plight of the Farm Worker was a ‘special case’. They saw the obvious effects of an unjust system, starvation wages, contractors, day hauls, forced migration, sickness, illiteracy, camps and sub-human living conditions, and acted as if they were irremediable causes. The farm worker has been abandoned to his own fate – without representation, without power – subject to mercy and caprice of the rancher. We are tired of words, of betrayals, of indifference. To the politicians we say that the years are gone when the farm worker said nothing and did nothing to help himself. From this movement shall spring leaders who shall understand us, lead us, be faithful to us, and we shall elect them to represent us. We shall be heard. Cesar Chavez, The Plan of Delano, 1965
The vicar doesn’t believe it himself; he only pretends to ... because he wishes to live without working himself ... Most of the idlers know that what the vicar says is not true, but they pretend to believe it, and give him money for saying it, because they want him to go on telling it to the workers so that they will go on working and keep quiet and be afraid to think for themselves. Robert Tressell, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist
Extraordinary as it may appear, none of them took any pride in their work: they did not ‘love’ it. They had no conception of that lofty ideal of ‘work for work’s sake’, which is so popular with the people who do nothing. On the contrary, when the workers arrived in the morning they wished it was breakfast-time. When they resumed work after breakfast they wished it was dinner-time. After dinner they wished it was one o’clock on Saturday. ibid.
The majority work hard and live in poverty in order that the minority may live in luxury without working at all, and as the majority are mostly fools, they not only agree to pass their lives in incessant slavery and want, in order to pay this rent to those who own the country, but they say it is quite right that they should have to do so, and are very grateful to the little minority for allowing them to remain in the country at all. ibid.
An evil-minded worldly or unconverted person might possibly sum up the matter thus: These people required this work done: they employed this woman to do it, taking advantage of her poverty to impose upon her conditions of price and labour they would not have liked to endure themselves. Although she worked very hard, early and late, the money they paid her as wages was insufficient to enable her to provide herself with the bare necessities of life. Then her employers, being good, kind, generous, Christian people, came to the rescue and bestowed charity, in the form of cast-off clothing and broken victuals. ibid.
He employed a great number of girls and young women who were supposed to be learning dressmaking, mantle-making or millinery. These were all indentured apprentices, some of whom had paid premiums of from five to ten pounds. They were ‘bound’ for three years. For the first two they received no wages: the third year they got a shilling or eighteenpence a week. At the end of the third year they usually got the sack, unless they were willing to stay on as improvers at from three shillings to four and sixpence per week.
They worked from half-past eight in the morning till eight at night, with an interval of an hour for dinner, and at half-past four they ceased work for fifteen minutes for tea. This was provided by the firm – half a pint for each girl, but they had to bring their own milk and sugar and bread and butter.
Few of these girls ever learned their trades properly. ibid.
For seats, two pairs of steps laid on their sides parallel to each other, about eight feet apart and at right angles to the fireplace, with the long plank placed across; and the upturned pails and the drawers of the dresser. The floor unswept and littered with dirt, scraps of paper, bits of plaster, pieces of lead pipe and dried mud; and in the midst the steaming bucket of stewed tea and the collection of cracked cups, jam-jars and condensed milk tins. And on the seats in their shabby and in some cases ragged clothing sitting and eating their coarse food and cracking jokes. ibid.
‘This is a bloody life, ain’t it?’ Harlow said, bitterly. ‘Workin’ our guts out like a lot of slaves for the benefit of other people, and then as soon as they’ve done with you, you’re chucked aside like a dirty rag.’ ibid.
With some firms it is customary to call out the names of the men and pay them in order of seniority or ability, but there was no such system here; the man who got to the aperture first was paid first, and so on. The result was that there was always a miniature ‘Battle of Life’, the men pushing and struggling against each other as if their lives depended upon their being paid by a certain time. ibid.
As he grows older he will have to be content with even less; and all the time he holds his employment at the caprice and by favour of his masters, who regard him merely as a piece of mechanism that enables them to accumulate money – a thing which they are justified in casting aside as soon as it becomes unprofitable. And the working-man must not only be an efficient money-making machine, but he must also be the servile subject of his masters. ibid.
He had been working like a slave all his life and there was nothing to show for it – there was never anything to show for it. He thought of the man who had killed his wife and children. The jury had returned the usual verdict, ‘Temporary Insanity’. It never occurred to these people that the truth was that to continue to suffer hopelessly like this was evidence of permanent insanity. ibid.
They had been so busy running after work, and working for the benefit of others, that they had overlooked the fact that they were only earning a bare living for themselves and now, after forty years hard labour, the old man was clothed in rags and on the verge of destitution. ibid.
This made 40 hours a week, so that those who were paid sevenpence an hour earned £1.3.4. Those who got sixpence-halfpenny drew £1.1.8. Those whose wages were fivepence an hour were paid the princely sum of 16/8d, for their week’s hard labour, and those whose rate was fourpence-halfpenny ‘picked up’ 15/-. ibid.
The work they were now doing required to be down very carefully and deliberately, otherwise the glass would be ‘messed up’ or the white paint of the frames would ‘run into’ the dark green of the sashes, both colours being wet at the same time, each man having to pot of paint and two sets of brushes. The wind was not blowing in sudden gusts, but swept by in a strong, persistent current that penetrated their clothing, and left them trembling and numb with cold. ibid.
And they worked on, trembling with cold, and with their teeth chattering, their faces and hands became of the pale violet colour generally seen on the lips of a corpse. ibid.
It would have been better for them if, instead of being ‘Freemen’, they had been slaves ... As it was, he would not have cared if one or all of them had become ill or died from the effects of exposure. It would have made no difference to him ... People always take care of their horses. ibid.
They don’t have to buy him; all they have to do is to give him enough money to provide him with food and clothing – of a kind – while he is working for them. If they only make him ill, they will not have to feed him or provide him with medical care while he is laid up. He will either go without these things or pay for them himself. ibid.
He is a Free man. He is the Heir of all the Ages. He enjoys perfect Liberty. He has the right to choose freely which he will do – Submit or Starve. Eat dirt, or eat nothing. ibid.
To be rich consists not necessarily in having much money, but in being able to enjoy an abundance of the things that are made by work; and that poverty consists not merely in being without money, but in being short of the necessities and comforts of life – or in other words in being short of the Benefits of Civilisation, the things that are all, without exception, produced by work. ibid.
All these people are suffering from the delusion that it doesn’t matter what kind of work they do – or whether they merely do nothing – so long as they get money for doing it. ibid.
‘I mean this,’ replied Owen, speaking very slowly, ‘Everything is produced by the people … in return for their work they are given – Money and the things they have made become the property of the people who do nothing. Then, as the money is of no use, the workers go to shops and give it away in exchange for some of the things they themselves have made.’ ibid.
‘There are the wretches who cause poverty: they not only devour or waste of hoard the things made by the worker, but as soon as their own wants are supplied – they compel the workers to cease working and prevent them producing the things they need. Most of these people!’ cried Owen, his usually pale face flushing red and his eyes shining with sudden anger, ‘most of these people do not deserve to be called human beings at all!’ ibid.
Most of the money she earned went to pay the rent, and sometimes there was only two or three shillings left to buy food for all of them; sometimes not even so much, because although she had Plenty of Work she was not always able to do it. There were times when the strain of working the machine was unendurable: her shoulders ached, her arms became cramped, and her eyes pained so that it was impossible to continue. ibid.