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five years ago. Indeed even more skill is required now to meet the demands of the taxers of the skins and to maintain the quality of gloves from the poorer skins which are being used.
In spite of this fact apprenticeship is almost unknown in the glove factories of Fulton county. Since the defeat of the union and the establishment of open shop in 1904 the employers have been free to secure their employees wherever they can. Because of the cost of training apprentices and the ease with which skilled workmen may be secured from Europe, apprenticeship has disappeared from the local factories. This means that the racial composition of the glove cutters has undergone a considerable change in recent years and that the change is becoming more marked each year since the American youth are no longer entering the trade. The glove cutters of Fulton county at present are divided as follows: American-born, 400; Bohemians, 25; Scandinavians, 50; French, 80; Germans, 110; English, 300; Italians, 300; Russian Jews, 500.
Upon arrival, nearly all of the immigrants are young men who have served their apprenticship in their native country and perhaps have worked there a few years as journeymen before coming to this country. Many of them come as single men or at least without their families. For that reason it is easier to secure glove cutters than makers of gloves since the manufacturers depend upon the families of the cutters to make the gloves.
The manufacture of gloves is not a highly capitalized industry. “ Ten dollars and a skin will start a factory” is a common exprestion among manufacturers. Many of the 158 glove factories in Fulton county are small and their proprietors are in reality either sub-contractors to the owners of the larger factories or they sell their output to some particular jobber. Even in the largest factories in the county — and this is true also of all other classes of factories — only a relatively small part of the work is performed in the factory.
The glove cutters, who constitute the aristocracy of the wage earners in the industry, number approximately eighteen hundred. Twelve thousand or more unskilled or semi-skilled employees, mostly women and girls, make the gloves and prepare them for the trade. Only a part of these unskilled and semi-skilled workers are employed in the factories. The remainder are employed
in their homes where they operate power machines to sew the gloves and where they perform other operations in the process of preparing the gloves for market.
The striking cutters testified that it is their desire to obtain a wage sufficiently large to permit them to maintain a family without having their wives and children working in the shops or doing shop work at home. In such case the grant of an increase in wages to the strikers would mean not only a greater direct financial burden upon the employers but probably would necessitate a concurrent increase in wages to the makers of gloves in order to maintain a sufficient supply of such workers. In view of the fact, already noted, that even under existing conditions cutters are more plentiful and more easily secured than makers, the manufacturers did not feel justified in assuming this increased burden of cost.
Furthermore, the manufacturers claim that their products, unlike the products of any other industry, are incapable of price increases; that custom has established the price of gloves; that since gloves are a luxury, an increase in price would result in a more than proportionate decrease in consumption; and that, in case the manufacturers of Fulton county attempted to increase the price of their products, the trade would be transferred to their European competitors since the manufacture of gloves in the United States is a tariff made industry. While it is admitted that because of local competition not all of the tariff handicap granted by the former tariffs was utilized by the American manufacturers, it is claimed that under the present tariff an increase in the price of gloves would place the American manufacturer at a disadvantage in competition with the European manufacturer. According to the testimony of the employers, the European war has not seriously affected the importation of gloves and hence has not changed the above situation.
At the same time it was stated that the cost of the materials used in the manufacture of gloves has increased progressively in recent years and that this has kept down profits to a level which would not admit of wage increases without impairing profits. According to information furnished by ten of the largest firms, the profits for 1913 averaged 12 per cent on the capital invested.
Another factor which undoubtedly plays some part in the labor situation of Fulton county is the fact that a large proportion of
the glove cutters have some equity in the houses which they occupy. It is easier to buy a house on the instalment plan, making a small initial payment and thereafter making monthly payments equal to little more than a fair rental, than it is to rent a house. For that reason, although but few of the strikers own their homes, many of them, probably upwards of 80 per cent, have a sufficient equity in their homes to cause them to hesitate to seek work else where.
Hence unless the cutters wish to sacrifice both their trade and their homes they are bound to the glove factories of Fulton county. They cannot sacrifice their homes only by moving elsewhere for the trade in which they are skilled is localized in Fulton county and but few glove cutters are employed elsewhere in the United States. And they cannot sacrifice their trade only by continuing to live in their homes for there is little other employment open to them in Gloversville and Johnstown. It has never been the policy of the employers of labor in these two cities to encourage other industries to locate there.
After completing its investigation the Board of Mediation and Arbitration on October 21, 1914, formulated a set of recommendations which was immediately forwarded to the committee repre senting the strikers and to the officials of the Glove Manufacturers Association. After reviewing the causes of the strike and the facts obtained in the investigation the Board said:
We do not believe the cutters should be required to wait longer for a substantial increase in their wages, and therefore recommend that a flat advance of not less than fifteen cents a dozen be made in the schedule prices for all kinds of glove cutting, effective as soon as work is resumed, such advance to continue for at least one year.
We recommend also that suitable attention be given by the manufacturers to the correction of any abuses which our investigation shows to have existed in the matter of estimating or taxing the skins, and irregularity of hours of the cutters.
The strikers expressed their willingness to accept the recommendations of the Board but the Manufacturers' Association rejected them as “
contrary to a just balancing of all the evidence and facts presented ” and as a “ biased and unfair statement."
Disappointed at the refusal of the Glove Manufacturers' Association to accept the above recommendation the strikers renewed their determination to continue the strike and laid plans to secure financial support from friends of labor throughout the country. This led the business interests of Fulton county, who by this time were feeling very keenly the effects of the strike, to again offer their services as mediators. Acting through the Business Men's Credit Association of Gloversville, they made the following suggestions as a basis for settlement of the strike:
1. Any proposition we have to offer is predicated with the understanding that the question of unionism will never come up in the discussion of a plan for the settlement of this strike.
2. To arrive at a basis, we would suggest that in order to meet an extraordinary and temporary condition an increase, say of ten per cent, be granted in the wages of the cutters, with the understanding that such increase is granted during the term of this extraordinary and temporary condition and is subject to readjustment upon the return of normal conditions.
In an open letter addressed "To the Public" the manufacturers on October 31 replied to the above suggestions as follows:
The Glove Manufacturers of Gloversville and Johnstown feel that the tender by the Business and Credit Men's Association of Gloversville, of their good offices, looking to a settlement of the present strike, is commendable.
However, the condition of business at present is such that any advance in wages cannot now be considered. It is not our intention to again set forth in detail just what these condtions are, this phase of the situation having been explained both to the Mediation Board in the testimony before it and to the public through our former statements.
Until these conditions change, the manufacturers whose names are hereto attached declare that no advance whatever will be made from the present scale of wages.
When conditions throughout the industry are such as to permit an advance, such advances will be voluntarily granted and we hereby place ourselves on record to this effect.
This communication was signed by fifty-one firms, including all of the larger firms which had not compromised with the strikers.
While the strikers repeatedly expressed their willingness to meet disinterested parties who sought to settle the strike, the Glove Manufacturers' Association did not recede from the position expressed in the above letter. Six weeks later, on December 16,
, the president of the association said in an open letter to the press of Fulton county:
No conference, no board of conciliation is under consideration by the Manufacturers' Association. On the contrary, there is not now such an intention, nor has there been in the past; nor from any sentiment that has been so far expressed by the members of the association, will there be any in the future that is at all contrary to or will in any way change the published announcement of some fifty firms on October 30 and 31.
Since the manufacturers were not in a conciliatory mood and since the strikers, cheered by the moral and financial support of organized labor in other industries, were unwilling to give up the fight as long as a chance of winning seemed to exist, the strike continued unabated throughout December. No increased activity was anticipated during the holiday season. But it is evident that many of the strikers expected that the Manufacturers' Association would surely change its attitude with the beginning of the new year. When no such change occurred many of the strikers were unwilling to permit their wives and children to suffer longer for lack of the necessaries of life and by the middle of January it became evident that the strike would soon end. On January 19 two mass meetings of the strikers were held, the first of which voted to continue the strike while a later meeting voted to discontinue it and permit the strikers to return to work on any terms they could
This vote acknowledged the complete defeat of the five months' struggle to increase the wages of glove cutters and permitted the American glove industry, which had been tied up during this time, to resume operations. The causes of the failure of the strike are: First, the general business depression which affected the glove industry and caused at least a temporary decrease in the demand for gloves; and second, the strength of the Glove Manufacturers' Association in offering a united resistance to the demands of the strikers whereas without a strong association more individual manufacturers would have preferred a compromise at least to a prolonged cessation of business. The reason why the manufacturers are bound together into a strong association is their very potent community of interests in their efforts to secure high tariff rates on the products of their industry and low rates on the raw materials which they import; and to prevent the restriction of immigration and the growth of unionism among their employees whose object would be to demand a voice in the determination of wages and the conditions of labor in the factories.