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The Impossibilists by Larry Gambone (continued)

Selected articles from the press of the
Socialist Party of Canada and the One Big Union, 1906-1938

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Working Conditions:
The wretched working conditions often found in the “Roaring Twenties” are exposed in Loggers Live In SqualorLoggers, Prostitution Demanded Of Girl Waitresses and Young Slaves Are Cheap.

Loggers Live In Squalor, OBU Bulletin, December 20, 1927

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, conditions in any of the lumber camps in Canada could not possibly be worse than those that exist in the camps of Northern Ontario. It is high time the workers took action to remedy these conditions, and there is only one action they can take which will be successful, that is: Organize. At the present time, no organization exists and the workers are at the complete mercy of the lumber barons. Groups of workers keep shifting from camp to camp hoping that the next camp would possibly be fit for a human being to live in, but alas, they look in vain, for they find the next camp just as bad as the one they left.

The bunkhouse is the most important of conditions to a lumberjack, for this is the only home he will have during the long winter months. To call this bunkhouse a home would exceeding the human imagination, for workers are jammed into small boxes made of logs, 38 persons to each one, which allows six foot of space per man. No washroom is provided, consequently one tub on the bunk house stove has to do the duty for all. This results in the bunkhouse being full of steam and stench from the clothes and socks hanging up to dry. Moreover, the space being so limited, the men cannot walk upright. There is no ventilator, and the windows are all nailed down. This is not an extreme case but is typical of all the camps… The Gibson camps are well known for these same conditions and also leaky roofs which permit the water to continually drip on the men’s beds… What a comparison between these sleeping quarters of the slaves and the sumptuous sleeping quarters of their masters, who wine and dine on the parlor cars between here and Ottawa.

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Prostitution Demanded Of Girl Waitresses, OBU Bulletin, Sept. 20, 1928

New York—(F.P.)—Prostitution is demanded of girl waitresses sent out to many hotels in the summer months. Others are robbed of their wages. Boys are frequently beaten up by their employers. Workers of both sexes are sent long distances, at their own expense, often to find that no job awaits them.

These evils of the private employment agencies and summer hotel keepers were revealed to the Industrial Survey Commission by Mrs. Lillian Sire of the State Labor Department, during hearings conducted to frame a state license law for job sharks.

Flappers from 16 to 20 are at a premium in these resorts, Mrs. Sire testified. If she refuses to yield to the demands of customers and bosses, she finds herself stranded 100 to 300 miles from the city. Older women sent to these waitress jobs are turned down, or fired soon after they go to work.

Sent to work as a busboy, a youth was made to do porter work too heavy for him. He was beaten, turned out penniless and walked 135 miles back to New York, living on apples picked by the wayside.

Many resort keepers fire their workers after the first week, splitting job fees with the employment agencies back in the city. This is known as the three shift system, with one crew on the job, one on the way back and another coming. One boss made $100,000 in this manner.

A woman with a small child had wages deducted for the baby’s food. Then she was denied any food at all for the child. Finally her clothes were thrown out the window and she was forced to leave without any money. The woman complained to the Sheriff, who becoming impatient knocked her down with his fist. She set out down the road carrying her baby. Her feet swelled so she had to discard her shoes. Tottering along, she was hit by a bus. A leg was amputated but nevertheless she died and the tot was sent to a public institution.

No redress exists for these workers, Mrs. Sire told the commission. It takes six days for a hearing, and then the employer may ask a continuance. In the meantime the complainant may be beaten up or threatened to leave town.

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Young Slaves Are Cheap, OBU Bulletin, May 9, 1929

The Labor members have recently attempted to obtain a minimum wage for boys employed in Manitoba. In the course of the discussion of this matter, S.J. Farmer quoted from a report prepared by the Bureau of Labor and declared that there were scores of boys working for $4.00 a week or less, and stated that their hours of labor were as high as 69 a week. We do not know what our readers think of this deplorable state of affairs, but it certainly should receive attention at the hands of the working class.

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