Allegations that Jewish immigrants were being exploited by unscrupulous manufacturers and that there had been a sudden recurrence of sweating practices in a section of the clothing trade, has created a great deal of concern throughout the Melbourne Jewish community.
The allegations which have been appearing in the Melbourne “Age” a leading Melbourne daily newspaper, in the form of a series of articles by a special writer of that journal claim 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 from foreign countries, are engaged to work for rates of payment little better than those prevailing in China or Japan.
This system of employing cheap labor by illegitimate means is said to be carried on by a group of manufacturers who operate mainly in Carlton. These people, it is alleged, are keenly interested in immigration and their factories are heavily staffed with foreign workmen, principally Polish Jews who cannot speak English and who know little about the Factories Acts and Arbitration Laws. There is part of one suburb which is said to be developing into a colony of Polish Jews engaged in the clothing trade.
“The Age” appeals to the Victorian Government to take immediate steps against these “unscrupulous competitors in the trade” in order that “legitimate manufacturers can carry on their businesses.”
The Minister of Labor, Mr. Lemmon, replying to the allegations announced that he had a conference with representatives of the clothing trade and “their statements fully bore out the revelations made by the “Age.” “The influx of Southern Europeans,” he said, “who have learned this trade abroad and who cannot speak or read English, are the prey of the sweaters in this trade. Thus industrial conditions are being destroyed and fair employers are being unfairly deprived of trade. A case was quoted to me this morning where legitimate employers are compelled to close their factories because of this unfair competition.”
A manufacturer who employs fifty Australian girls and has had twenty years’ experience of the industry writes to the “Age” blaming the warehouses for encouraging “the foreigners sweated labor” by purchasing from them. He charges Polish Jews were the main offenders in the sweating business. “There is one firm which is able to get its requirements at such a cheap rate, from Polish Jews, who work in their own homes at night time that it sells the goods to customers at a (Continued on Page 4)
cheaper rate that I can make them for without allowing myself any margin to cover lighting, rent, interest, depreciation of plant and other incidental expenses. Some of these foreigners have applied to me for work, and have offered to do work for me in their own homes practically for any price I like to pay them. The public does not realize how much sweating is going on in this business ‘under the lap’,” the manufacturer wrote.
“There is no doubt that the influx of Southern and Central Europeans has resulted in an extension of the sweating evil,” a high Trades Union official stated to the Jewish Daily Bulletin correspondent, “but we desire to dissociate ourselves entirely from the suggestion that has been made that the trouble is confined to Jews. In our experience some of the worst sweat shops in this country are owned and managed by men born and bred here.”
The Trades Union Representatives had presented a memorandum to the Australian Government on the subject and asked for the following amendments to the Factories Act, the Act governing conditions, wages etc., in the clothing trade. The suggestions, it will be noted, are aimed at Sunday work and work at home. They read as follows: “In any place where any article of clothing or wearing apparel is prepared on any day before 8 o’clock in the morning and after 8 o’clock at night or on Saturday after one o’clock in the afternoon or on Sunday at any time, work for himself or for hire or reward either directly or indirectly, or employ or authorise or permit any person whomsoever so to work.”
At the time when the claim was presented a Labor Government was in power in Victoria and it was expected that some such legislation would have been adopted. In the past few days however a Nationalist Government has taken office although it has shown evidence of sympathy towards the Trades Unions in the matter, it is not likely that any drastic steps to meet the position will be countenanced.
A special meeting of the Victorian Jewish Immigrant Questions Committee considered the matter and decided to confer with prominent Jewish manufacturers in the clothing trade to see how the situation could be remedied. He was also decided to prepare a booklet in Yiddish for the information of newcomers to Australia setting forth the conditions prevailing in Australian factories and the various regulations that had to be observed.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.