Friday, 5 August 2016
Part X and Conclusion to ‘England in Arms’.
From The Canadian Magazine, February 1918.
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, August 2016.
The strident of industrial conditions in England during the war might well wonder if Lloyd George has accomplished anything more promising for victory, more beneficial to his country in such a period of stress, than the institution of a new theory in industrial life based on the humanizing of toil. It was away back in the early days of his acceptance by the Empire as the essential cog in the machine of war. At a time when the German was threatening Paris and no obstacle to his victorious march loomed above the horizon, the little Welshman was called by his Premier—but more insistently by his country—to undertake the revolutionizing of warfare in a country whose short-sighted lack of preparation bade fair to be its death sentence.
Guns were needed—more guns—and thousands more. The victorious enemy was not only shattering his way to the capital city of one of the Allies, but he was exacting a toll of the best fighters in the world that threatened quickly to prove his invincibility. The British Tommy, fainting from the fatigue of continued battle, but fighting on without a thought of submission, ground his teeth at his impotence. Man to man he knew his superiority. But man to gun was but fodder. Behind a barrage of murderous shells the German soldier laughed at the puny opposition of a gunless army. The strongest forts known to military science had fallen without a struggle. The direction of the invading army was ever forward. Only when its ammunition failed temporarily was it driven to retreat behind the hills of the Aisne. And then England clamoured for the guns to give the men a chance. Lloyd George the most aggressive politician in sight was given the mission to get them!
Immediately he recognized that the task was not so much a matter of material as of workpeople and factories. And, with his own peculiar foresightedness, he knew that success depended in the final issue on a workpeople contented and able to undertake without more than the minimum of rest the great task of production. To make the munition-makers contented and physically fit for their work more than suitable wages was required. Hours of work must be, for the time subject only to the limits of human endurance. The driving back of the enemy, therefore, hung on the minds and bodies of the workers. And to ensure co-operation of these two allies something in the way of innovation was necessary.
The solution of the problem, as it affected the million women who have thrown themselves into the production of munitions of war, was the creation of a new department in connection with the Ministry of Munitions. As Lloyd George puts it himself: “I had the privilege of setting up something that was known as a welfare department, which was an attempt to take advantage of the present mallability of industry in order to impress upon it more humanitarian conditions, to make labour less squalid and less repellant, more attractive and more healthy.” And the results have so far excelled even his hopes that the department is not recognizable to-day by its ambitious creator.
The Welfare Department in Great Britain is assuredly an innovation in industrial life. There has been, and is, a prevailing idea that it is but an English application of a phase of working life already developed in the United States. A Government official modestly deprecated to me any idea of novelty. “You,” he said, “know all about it already, of course. For it is not new in America.” And he spoke of a certain great factory in the Central States that has for years secured much valuable advertising through its care of its employees. But the difference between any so-called welfare work in America and that developed in Great Britain is sufficient to mark the latter as a distinct creation. Not only is the work differently controlled, but its duties and the direction of its efforts are essentially new.
“Welfare” has been applied in England loosely to everything that introduces a new office dealing directly with the employee of a factory. Jealous and selfish employers have attempted to forestal Government interference by appointing officials whom they dignify with the title of “welfare workers”, but whose only duty is to secure larger dividends for the directors. But, strictly speaking, “welfare” in England applies only to the appointees of the Ministry of Munitions; and it is only with these this article will deal. The most dangerous obstacle to the ultimate benefits of real welfare work is the disgust and distrust aroused in the workers by officials who are responsible only to their employers; and there has been more than a suggestion that the Government protect the idea by copyrighting the term it has selected for its appointees.
The welfare worker is a Government employee. The Welfare Department, through a permanent committee, passes on every worker, by interview, by examination of character, record and references. The aim is high, as it necessarily must be to secure a woman whose influence on the munitioneers will be good. Apart from the ordinary qualifications of official position of such authority, she must be educated, dignified, sympathetic, independent, resourceful, diplomatic, physically strong, competent to command, and capable of winning affection as well as respect. It is a large order—so large that the calibre cannot be maintained with any hope of filling the demand. The fact that almost all munition factories are either Government-owned or controlled renders them amenable to the regulation that, with more than a certain number of female employees, one or more welfare workers must he engaged. And the supply is greviously inadequate. It is a feature of English life that caste is another requirement in the welfare workers. Unless the munition workers are sensible of the superior station in life of at least the head of the welfare staff they are reluctant to lend themselves to the relationship imposed by the new idea. Many women, seemingly otherwise fitted to do effective work, have failed to gain the respect so necessary for results. And as the work, if honestly performed, is hard and often discouraging, with long hours and innumerable worries, and with a strain that increases to proportions beyond the reputed strength and competence of woman, even those few who might fill the position with success hesitate before assuming the tremendous responsibilities.
The true welfare official is selected by the Welfare Department of the Ministry of Munitions, accordingly, and approved of by the management of the factory where her work is to be. As a Government employee she is independent, save in employment and discharge, of the management. Her position might appear anomalous and impossible, but in reality, owing to the wonderful results that have appeared, the munition firms have accepted the relationship with a grace that grows to appreciation. As a Government official it is her duty in general to see that the working conditions are reasonable and fair, that the factory equipment is sanitary and safe, that dismissals are only for good cause, that the moral atmosphere is satisfactory, that the girls are paid according to established rates; in short, that every surrounding of the female worker is suitable to her sex, her physical and moral requirements, and to her protection. The value of the welfare worker to the management appears in her ability to settle disputes, maintain discipline, raise the morale of the girls, secure from them a full co-operation in production and in factory interest, and protect the firm from the expense and loss of time arising from a wrong mental attitude and from accident.
The technical titles applied to the workers are somewhat descriptive. The head may be a “supervisor” or a “superintendent”. The former works without assistants in the smaller factories. The superintendent has directly under her a staff of welfare assistants and auxiliary forces. Properly speaking, only her assistants who have been approved of by the Department are “welfare workers”, but a superintendent is usually considered competent to select assistants who would satisfy the Department.
The duties of the superintendent are too multifarious to be described save under the general term “welfare”. Obviously there is little she can do which has not some connection with the interests of her women munition-workers. Outside the general authority secured to her by her official appointment, her powers rest with the factory management. If the latter is sympathetic and satisfied with her, she is sometimes given almost unlimited authority over the women in the shops. The one Canadian welfare superintendent in Great Britain, with the fullest recognition by both Government and factory officials, has practically supreme control over every woman in the factory area, munition-workers and office staff. In her rests authority to select and dismiss employees, to pass on the dismissals by the foreman, to promulgate regulations of any kind affecting female labour. As head of the Labour Bureau every new employee must conform to the ideals she has established. The requirements in this department alone, of 3,500 women workers, with the ordinary changes of industrial life and the extraordinary and unexpected demands of war conditions, is difficult to imagine. Lavatory, hospital and rest-room accommodation is directly subject to her. She is one of a committee of three to manage a canteen for 5,000 employees. She has charge of the cleaning staffs. Her orders in the business office are obeyed as the manager’s. Female employees obtain from her leave to pass from the building during working hours and to remain from work for special reasons.
But these are the mere outlines of her general work, the listed duties. They are, in reality, the least of her real welfare work. Her main care is to secure the confidence of her girls, to convince them that in her they have a friend. She protects them from the momentary exasperation of worried foremen. Every possible convenience and comfort she obtains for them. Rest-rooms and canteen and lavatories, floors and windows of shops are kept under her eye for cleanliness and fittings. A girl on work too strenuous for her strength is transferred by her to easier duties. Petty thieving is controlled by the firm’s police under her direction. Complaints of every kind are brought to her for settlement, from a badly cooked meal at the canteen to the partiality of a charge hand. She orders improvements to ventilation, heating and lighting, and sees that the girls who have leisure to sit are provided with seats. She inquires into mistakes in pay envelopes and advises the management on inadequate rates.
And still the list is incomplete. She arbitrates disagreements, not only between the foremen and the girls, but between the girls themselves. She moves, when conditions warrant it, girls into more congenial shops. She directs them to the firm’s hospitals in case of sickness. She takes the children of mothers who must work for a living and finds them good homes. She firmly dismisses girls physically unfitted for their duties, but offers them re-employment when their health warrants it. She keeps in touch with every sick employee, sending her assistants to their homes to inquire their wants. She supervises the boarding-houses of the workers and to some extent their homes. She encourages them to come to her in all the petty troubles of life, whether in connection with their work or not.
While her office doors are frequently closed, by stress of work, to the factory officials, they are always open to the girls. To be a mother to them is the highest aim and the most productive of the right kind of welfare superintendent.
This intimate and authoritative contact with her girls is not maintained at the cost of discipline. Indeed, the welfare superintendent is the source of discipline as well as of protection and comfort. In every move she considers the rights and wishes of the foremen. Leave is given—except for compulsory reasons—only as the demands of the shop permit. The foreman’s authority is sustained in every reasonable instance. His work is lightened by the application of discipline by one who understands conditions and sympathizes with his difficulties in applying his authority to a new class of worker whom he does not quite understand and is too busy to study.
The course of an ordinary forenoon’s work is revealing.
1. Arriving at 8.30, she examines the reports left by her night assistants, nurses, women police and forewomen of the cleaners.
2. Letters opened and answered.
3. Twenty new girls engaged.
4. Special committee meeting on air raid protection.
5. Trouble at the canteen made the dismissal of the night cook necessary, after which application for a new one had to be made to the Government Labour Exchange.
6. Discharge granted to woman physically unfit—a case to be followed up. Explanation made to foreman and superintendent of the branch of the factory in which she worked.
7. Girl released from one shop through lack of work is found a place in another.
8. Girl ordered off night work by her doctor is exchanged to day work with another girl.
9. Foreman came to explain absence of one of his girls. Arrangements made to get her pay to her.
10. Girl came to complain of her discharge by foreman. Latter spoken to over telephone and found to be at fault, and girl found work in another shop.
11. Made out orders for several pairs of overalls for girls.
12. Two girls came to complain of treatment of another girl in same shop. Note made to inquire into it.
13. Underforeman inquired how to enforce discipline among his workers. As many complaints of his severity had come in, a friendly and satisfactory talk resulted.
14. Injured girl reported no insurance received. Gave orders to have it looked into.
15. Girl absent the day before without leave or excuse was warned.
16. Sergeant at gate came for instructions about passes out.
17. Put through order for ambulance-room supplies.
18. Assistant reports.
19. Two women discharged on tlie previous day came to express their thanks for her kindness in paving the way to other work. One brought her baby for inspection.
20. Five minutes’ talk with the manager.
21. In a hasty run through one of the shops discovered girl with sore throat. Sent her immediately to the nurse.
22. Girl injured a few days before came to say her doctor said she might return to work in a week.
23. Glanced over time sheets and sent assistant to inquire reasons of absentees; also to get report on mistake in a girl’s pay.
In addition there were hasty telephone conversations with a dozen foremen. Every afternoon much of the time is spent in the shops with the girls, watching them work, studying conditions, inspecting the efficiency of the charge hands, etc. Government officials must be seen and visitors entertained, purchases made and plans developed.
For the welfare work which is outside the strict limits of business the firm provides her with a fund. It is perhaps the best proof of the growth of the welfare idea. Old employees who cannot afford the expense of illness are assisted. Others with unexpected temporary strains on their resources may borrow and repay at their leisure. Even those necessarily dismissed by the fluctuations of production are assisted until they obtain new situations. And the welfare superintendent with her heart in her work is too apt to forget her own pocket and expend a great part of her salary in this kind of help. Now the idea has spread to the male employees, whose wives and families profit from the fund.
To assist her in these never-ending duties this welfare superintendent has a staff of sufficient proportions to relieve her of what portion may be left to other shoulders; but the intimate relationship with the girls cannot be dismissed by any amount of assistance. Her private secretary is her immediate representative. Three assistant welfare workers see that her instructions are carried out, represent her at night, and visit the sick and absent. A Labour Bureau assistant first culls out the applicants for work. Three trained nurses are on constant duty for accident or sudden sickness, making their reports to her and subject to her instructions. Three policewomen see to the direct enforcement of her regulations, reporting to her and recognizing her authority, although appointed (subject to her approval) by the Government organization of policewomen. There are, in addition, clerks and office boys who do not properly enter into the welfare work. Her supreme authority is recognized by the title of “lady superintendent”, every detail of the management of female labour being handed over to her by the manager.
The factory equipment coming specially within her sphere is the last word in welfare work. Through a sympathetic management every provision has been made for the comfort of the women. Two large rest-rooms are always open to those temporarily idle through accident to the machines or illness. The rooms are bright and airy, fitted with easy-chairs, sofas, tables and reading material. There are two hospitals or “ambulance rooms” equipped with every modern requirement, with beds and other necessities and presided over by trained nurses whose services are at the disposal of the patients until recovery. A private ambulance is kept for rushing serious eases to the hospital or home The canteen is one of the provisions of war which will continue into peace if it is found to pay. During the war most firms are content to lose—sometimes as much as a thousand dollars a week—for the immediate profit in other respects from this feature of welfare work. Long hours, fewer holidays and the unusual strains consequent upon the war make it doubly necessary that special provision be made to fit the munition-maker for the unending needs of the armies; and the woman worker, unaccustomed to the demands upon her strength, is more susceptible to the limitations of her methods of life. Under the welfare worker these girls have been induced to govern their meals by the requirements of their bodies, not by the custom of their class or the momentary taste of their palates. Pudding and cake have given place to meat, and the canteen meal is the main one of the day. Never in their lives have the working classes of England been offered such meals as are served them so cheaply in the canteens. Never again will they be willing to return to the former comfortless, insufficient fare of pre-war days. It is a welfare work that in itself justifies the new industrial department.
In explosive factories the duties of the welfare worker are directed more towards the health and protection of the girls, one great difficulty in the employment of female labour on explosives being their slowness to realize the danger of disobeying regulations. The welfare worker impresses the necessity upon them and protects them from their own carelessness.
There are features of welfare work which have received much greater fame than those outlined above, but only because they are more unusual and spectacular. Organized dances, dramatic clubs, swimming and other classes, entertainment of various kinds—these are the novelties of welfare work which have been pictured in the papers. But they are really only the frills. The welfare worker with time and strength to throw herself into such extraneous luxuries must be neglecting the more intimate and effective side of her work. Provide a girl with healthy surroundings, a clean moral atmosphere, sustaining food, sufficient rest, protection from tyranny and injustice, and a human heart to seek for advice, and her relaxation is not apt to go far astray. The original idea of welfare work, as practised, was amusement. It has altered to personal care and sympathy. The earlier form of welfare worker is finding a more congenial sphere in organizing bazaars and entertaining the soldiers. The new worker does not neglect entertainment, but she has discovered how little it serves to secure the hold she desires.
In the search for judicious welfare workers England is handicapped by the prevalence of caste. While it is for the present necessary, owing to the peculiarities of English life, that the welfare superintendent be obviously of a higher social standing, the granite walls between the classes in England are too high to permit of the fraternity and unsullied sympathy that must exist between munition worker and welfare worker, except in cases all too few. And the fault is as much of the working people as of the women who have offered themselves for this grand work of industrial improvement.
The welfare idea would be abortive, especially in time of war, did it not express itself in terms of efficiency and production. It is in increased output, as well as in its moral effect, that it faces the opposition of labour agitators who see in it the lessening of their influence for evil. It requires little insight into psychology to appreciate that the contended, healthy worker, whose moral sense is cultivated, is the most productive. The aim of the welfare worker is best tested by the results of the improvements she has introduced; and concerning that there is no question. So emphatic is the average employer in his praise of the new idea that hundreds of them have expressed their determination to continue it after the war. Strikes among the girls are almost unknown. Discipline is simple. Idling is infinitely less than among the men—especially than among the young men who have found in munition factories their exemption from the trenches. The discipline of the welfare worker is an appeal to the girl’s moral sense rather than to force.
And the girls are proving the richness of the soil in which the new idea is spreading seed. The old frivolous conception of munition-making as the means to a gay, extravagant life of pleasure is passing. The girl who once put her money in a new hat every fortnight and a pair of boots a month now probably lends it to her country for the winning of the war. Her nights, that used to be occupied in cinema or dance halls or street loafing, are spent in sewing and profitable entertainment. “We never knew there were women in the world like you” is the cry of their souls to the new sort of woman who has come into their lives.
Less sentimental and appealing, perhaps, may be the revolution the successful welfare worker is introducing into industrial relationship. Her consideration for the foremen is engendering a new spirit in the workshops. Co-operation is taking the place of petty jealousies. What was once a medley of shops is now one combined factory. The focus of the female labour of the factory in the one head is encouraging a similar desire among the men. And when shop works with shop the result to Great Britain in the rivalry of peace times cannot he overestimated. With this new spirit of co-operation must arise a new relationship between capital and labour. It is in this rests the future of the industrial and commercial life of Great Britain.
From an older post and research: “…Graduating in 1899, he married as his first wife Lillian Eva Payne. Mrs. Amy was a personality in her own right. During World War I, she was the first Canadian woman ever to be made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, an honour awarded to her in connection with her work with the Massey-Harris Hospital at Dulwich and later as Lady Superintendent of one of the largest munitions factories in England, where she was in charge of more than 3,000 women.” /drf
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.