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Voice of Industry, May 15, 1846
It has been suggested to us, by those in whose judgment we have perfect confidence, that a series of articles should be prepared for the Voice, giving in detail the most exact account of the every day life of the operatives, the manner by which they are procured, by the runners in the employ of the companies; together with the modus operandi of the whole system.
We promise our readers that we will enter upon this department of the operatives' organ forthwith. We pledge ourselves that our statistics shall be those gathered from our own experience, or observation, and entitled to perfect confidence. We will not give a onesided view, but show the bright spots in the existence of the operatives; and we will dwell upon the green sunny spots in a life so toilsome, as does the weary traveller upon the oasis of the desert. We will not enlarge upon the proposed plan, lest the reader expect too much. We hope to give the first chapter next week. Shall we have statistics furnished from responsible sources—and will our city subscribers send the papers to their friends in the country.
In commencing this series of articles, I aril aware of the difficulties to be encountered, and the many objections to be met. I shall confine myself to the facts which are of so common occurrence, that it will be impossible to find any one to gainsay what shall be given to the public.
It is a notorious fact that the Corporations here have been in the habit of sending out agents to procure help ever since 1836. In that year James Cook, then superintendent of the Middlesex Corporation went to England, to procure help and brought back quite a number. I am acquainted with some of them and have had the story of the deception used to procure their services, from those en upon whom it was practiced.
There have been agents out in the country, for several years past, t a part of the time; and of this we do not complain, but why do o they talk of the voluntary choice of the operatives, and send abroad E false impressions about hiring help? Do they not send out men of n questionable veracity? Have not there been very serious difficulties g from the promise of a large compensation, when they knew it would l not be realized? One case that occurred 'about a year since, as an a illustration:—An agent went out and hired all that would count one, n without respect to age or condition. He hired one, who was not d fifteen years of age, and could not be employed by the Company, , without a violation of the Statute providing for the education of t children. There were no objections made to her, or her parents on o account of age, until after she arrived in the city. The agent who hired her informed her then, that she must tell them at the count- ing-room, that she was sixteen years old, or she could not get work; and she could not go back alone,—of course the girl gave her age to suit the circumstances. She had been promised $1.00 per week and board, and went to work. It was a five weeks payment, and when she received her pay, she had but ten cents left, after paying her board; or two cents per week. She had a friend in the city, who interfered in her behalf and compelled the company who employed her, to send her back to her friends, or pay the fine imposed by the laws of Massachusetts, for hiring a child under fifteen years, without a certificate of having attended school three months in the year3 That the company is responsible for such violation of truth is quite evident, from the fact, that the same man is kept out, most of the time, and if they did not approve of his course, they most assuredly would not employ him. This is not a solitary instance, there are scores of them; and we might write not only a column of a paper, but a volume of such frauds
The agents who hire the girls, often find it necessary to pay their expenses. A case of this kind came under our observation a few days since. Our informant was in company with the girls in question, and gave the facts as follows:—"Five girls were hired, and an agreement made to pay their expenses. They started in company with a girl who had been in Lowell before, and the agent went in another direction, after giving them the 'needful' for their journey. He told them he had arranged to give them a ticket from a given place on their journey, through to Lowell. They bought the ticket, as directed, and it took every farthing they had, and they rode from Lower Canada to Lowell without eating or drinking, except a little cake furnished by their friends. They had not means to buy lodging, and were furnished with it, by the benevolence of some passengers who would not let them sit up for want of a bed."
We press the enquiry: are not the men who send out such agents, responsible for their violation of truth and honesty?
The names of all the persons alluded to, are in our possession, and will be given if requested.
It will be seen by the by-laws in the preceding chapter, that "those in the employ of the companies, are required to be constant in their attendance at some regular place of worship, and those who neglect this regulation, will not be employed."
As it is not the design of these chapters, to enter into a discussion of the claims on the sympathies of the operatives of the different sects, who allow wickedness in high places to go unrebuked in our midst, we shall confine ourselves to the evil effects consequent upon the long hours of labor, and the want of time. Can it be reasonably supposed that those who are called to their task every morning at half past five, and kept there until seven at night, will have sufficient energy to be constant in their attendance at church on the Sabbath? The reader can judge.
One objection which is kept out of sight, is, that no washing is done by those who board the operative for them except their mill dress, consequently there is much additional labor in keeping their wardrobe in church-going order, which falls upon them, and which they have no time to perform.
Another objection arises from the fact, that our Agents and the aristocratic class to which they belong, have ordained fashions in dress and equipage, which the operative is unable to follow, and they must at any rate ape them, or they will be wanting in self- respect.
Those who have been in Lowell but a short time, and venture out to church, with their plain country dress, are stared almost out of countenance—and unless they have an unusual amount of independence, they will not venture again, until they have a new bonnet of the most "approved style," and "other things to match." These causes are a sufficient apology for the neglect of attending church.
But we would not be understood, as giving these reasons, with a design to lend our influence on the side of a neglect of religious cultivation. We would thank God most devoutly, if there could be found a house of worship in Lowell, where the gospel, as preached by the ancient disciples, could be heard by every operative, and those who are not of this class also,—where it would not be "binding heavy burdens," that those who minister "will not move with one of their fingers." We hope for the future!
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