Melbourne (Oct. 1)
The Labour Party of the State of Victoria and a section of the Melbourne daily press are conducting a big campaign against the alleged sweating of their workers by “Polish Jewish clothing manufacturers” and others.
While some cases of sweating have been established, other evidence of the payment of low wages really turns on the desire of Jews who are in business to assist some of their destitute co-religionists who are out of employment, as a result of the economic crisis, by taking them into their business at low wages, when they have no real need of additional labour, only in order to give them a means of earning their bread without being reduced to accepting charity.
A case in point has occurred at St. Kilda, where a Jewish woman was last week sent to prison for a fortnight, for employing a destitute man with dependants by giving him casual work to do about her house for some months at wages below the legal rate. At first she was fined Â£ 5, and was ordered to pay the man Â£68, which is the difference between the wages she had paid him and the legal rate. The evidence showed that the woman did not require the work done, but had only wanted to assist the man and his starving family. She refused to pay the fine, although it was reduced, and in default she was committed to gaol.
A question has been asked in the Victorian Parliament on the subject, and the Attorney-General said in his reply that the law does not permit the woman’s release.
The Victorian Parliament will next week consider legislation making it a chargeable offence for any factory to work at any time on Sundays, or before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m. on week days, or after 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
Some legislation on these lines will command the support of all the political parties, and is almost sure to be passed into law.
Allegations that Jewish immigrants to Australia are being exploited by unscrupulous manufacturers and that there was sweating going on in a section of the clothing trade created a great deal of concern in the Melbourne Jewish Community almost two years ago, in November 1929. One of the leading Melbourne dailies, the “Age” published a series of articles by a special commissioner, claiming that there has been growing up among a certain class of manufacturers in Melbourne a practice by which industrial laws and regulations are evaded or secretly broken in such a way that men, women and children, many of them migrants from foreign countries, work for rates of payment little better than those prevailing in China or Japan. The methods by which these firms operate are cunning and varied, but the objects and results are the same cheap labour. These people are keenly interested in migration and their factories are heavily staffed with foreign workmen, principally Polish Jews who can scarcely speak a sentence of English and who know little and care less about the Factories Acts and Arbitration Laws. There is part of one suburb which is developing into a colony of Polish Jews engaged in the clothing trade”. The “Age” called on the Government to take steps against these “unscrupulous competitors” that “legitimate manufacturers can carry on their businesses”.
The Minister of Labour, speaking in Parliament at the time, said that he had had a conference with representatives of the clothing trade and “their statements fully bore out the revelations made by the “Age”. Thus industrial conditions are being destroyed, he continued, and fair employers are being unfairly deprived of trade.
A high trades union official in a statement to the J.T.A. representative in Melbourne at the height of the agitation said: “There is no doubt that the influx of Southern and Central Europeans has resulted in an extension of the sweating evil, but we desire to dissociate ourselves entirely from the suggestion that the trouble is confined to Jews. In our experience, some of the worst sweat-shops in the country are owned and managed by men born and bred here”.
The question of prohibiting Sunday work was also raised at that time in the form of a memorandum presented by the trade union representatives to the Australian Government asking for amendments to the Factories Acts to prevent Sunday work and all work at home. The situation was regarded by the Jewish Community as serious and the matter was considered at a special meeting of the Victorian Jewish Immigration Questions Committee, at which it was decided to confer with prominent Jewish manufacturers in the clothing trade to see how the matter could be remedied. It was also decided to issue a booklet in Yiddish and English for the information of newcomers to Australia, setting forth the conditions prevailing in Australian factories and the various regulations that have to be observed.
Among typical cases illustrating the position which were given by Jewish representatives was the following: A Jewish immigrant arrives in Melbourne, penniless. After spending what little money he has in vain search for work he is taken on by a Jewish manufacturer who has little need of him, but out of pity wants to help the man to live and not to send him to the philanthropic society.