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Newspaper Page Text
GIRLS WHO "SELL THEIR BIRTh RIGHT FOR A MESS OF POTTAGE"
NOW ON STRIKE.
BY JANE WHITAKEk.
Tile saying "to sell one's birthright
for a mess of pottage" never seemed
to me to be so aptly illustrated as
yesterday when it repeated itself
over and over in my brain as I sat
in the restroom of the Women's
Trade Union League on Milwaukee
avenue and heard of the conditions
under which girl broom and whisk
tyers, now on strike at the factory
of the United States Broom and
Brush Co. have been working.
There were a number of girls in
the room, but it was only possible to
talk to them through an interpreter
as they are Polish, Russian and
Lithuanian, and though they are so
terribly familiar with our sweatshop
system of labor, they do not under
stand our language.
They are mostly young girls and
many of them came to this country
the Land of their Dreams alone,
confident that it was the land of
happiness. What they found I am go
ing to tell you, but the fact that they
are now rebelling against these con
ditions is quite a little due to the ac
tion of the brush company itself.
The International Broom and
Whisk Makers' Union determined to
lift these girls out of their slavery
and to this end called a meeting.
Only four girls attended that meet
ing, but their names were taken by
two of the factory foremen and the
next day the girls were told that
those who attended the meeting were
fired. The rest of the girls went out
with the four thus discharged.
These girls are literally selling
their birthright for a mess of pot
tage. They are working at a trade
that in three or four years will unfit
them to fulfill their destinies as wives
and mothers, and receiving in return
for that birthright starvation wages.
The interpreter who talked to me
is quite a young girl. She was inter
preter, forelady, demonstrator and
had to assist in taking care of orders
and shipments and for all of this she
was paid $7 a week after working for
the concern four years.
The United States Broom and
Brush Co. is the only factory in the
country employing women and girls
at tying and sewing brooms. They
formerly manufactured in the Joliet,
111., and Jackson, Mich., prisons at
prison contract prices.
They aren't far away from prison
contract labor today. The reason
they employ girls is because they
could not get men to work at the pit
tance they pay. The reason they em
ploy girls who do not speak English
is because the American girl would
not work for the pittance they pay
nor under their conditions of employ
ment. As an example, one girl received
$4.92 for sewing over 210 dozen
whiskbrooms. The price paid in all
other shops for 210 dozen whisk
brooms is $12.60.
And when I tell you how this work
is done you will understand why
these girls are literally selling their
birthright for a mess of pottage.
In the long ago one of the most
terrible forms of punishment meted
out to criminals was to put them on
the tread mill. Civilization rebelled
against this barbarous punishment,
yet making whiskbrooms is practical
ly being put on a treadmill.
There is a wheel that must be
turned with the foot, fast, faster, still
faster, while the worker stands. The
muscles of the leg and the muscles
of the abdomen are both brought in
to play by this movement. Sometimes
girls can alternate with one foot and
the other. Some girls are only able
to use one foot.
The muscles rebel. Nights become
long hours of hideous torture and the
days still worse until gradually the
keen pain of it dies away, but the
effect goes on and a man who has
worked at that trade told me that it
ab&olutely unfitted women for moth-
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