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Boyd's Advice to Silk Mill Slaves

So it is with the quality. Take the case of Frederic Sumner Boyd, in which we should all be deeply interested because it is evident Frederic Sumner Boyd is to be made "the goat" by the authorities in New Jersey. That is to say, they want blood, they want one victim. If they can't get anybody else they are determined they are going to get Boyd, in order to serve a two-fold purpose to cow the workers of Paterson, as they believe they can, and to put this thing, sabotage, into the statutes, to make it an illegal thing to advocate or to practice. Boyd said this: "If you go back to work and you find scabs working alongside of you, you should put a little bit of vinegar on the reed of the loom in order to prevent its operation." They have arrested him under the statute forbidding the advocacy of the destruction of property. He advised the dyers to go into the dye houses and to use certain chemicals in the dyeing of the silk that would tend to make that silk unweavable. That sounded very terrible in the newspapers and very terrible in the court of law. But what neither the newspapers nor the courts of law have taken any cognizance of is that these chemicals are being used already in the dyeing of the silk. It is not a new thing that Boyd is advocating, it is something that is being practiced in every dye house in the city of Paterson already, but it is being practiced for the employer and not for the worker.

"Dynamiting" Silk

Let me give you a specific illustration of what I mean. Seventy-five years ago when silk was woven into cloth the silk skein was taken in the pure, dyed and woven, and when that piece of silk was made it would last for 50 years. Your grandmother could wear it as a wedding dress. Your mother could wear it as a wedding dress. And then you, if you, woman reader, were fortunate enough to have a chance to get married, could wear it as a wedding dress also. But the silk that you buy today is not dyed in the pure and woven into a strong and durable product. One pound of silk goes into the dye house and usually as many as three to fifteen pounds come out. That is to say, along with the dyeing there is an extraneous and an unnecessary process of what is very picturesquely called "dynamiting." They weight the silk. They have solutions of tin, solutions of zinc, solutions of lead. If you will read the journals of the Silk Association of America you will find in there advice to master dyers as to which salts are the most appropriate for weighting purposes. You will read advertisements -- possibly you saw it reprinted in "The Masses" for December, 1913 -- of silk mills, Ashley & Bailey's in Paterson, for instance, advertised by an auctioneer as having a plant for weighting, for dynamiting silk par excellence. And so when you buy a nice piece of silk today and have a dress made for festive occasions, you hang it away in the wardrobe and when you take it out it is cracked down the pleats and along the waist and arms. And you believe that you have been terribly cheated by a clerk. What is actually wrong is that you have paid for silk where you have received old tin cans and zinc and lead and things of that sort. You have a dress that is garnished with silk, seasoned with silk, but a dress that is adulterated to the point where, if it was adulterated just the slightest degree more, it would fall to pieces entirely.

Now, what Frederic Sumner Boyd advocated to the silk workers was in effect this: "You do for yourselves what you are already doing for your employers. Put these same things into the silk for yourself and your own purposes as you are putting in for the employer's purposes." And I can't imagine -- even in a court of law -- where they can find the fine thread of deviation -- where the master dyers' sabotage is legal and the worker's sabotage illegal, where the consist of identically the same thing and where the silk remains intact. The silk is there. The loom is there. There is no property destroyed by the process. The one thing that is eliminated is the efficiency of the worker to cover up this adulteration of the silk, to carry it just to the point where it will weave and not be detected. That efficiency is withdrawn. The veil is torn from off production in the silk-dyeing houses and silk mills and the worker simply says, "Here, I will take my hands off and I will show you what it is. I will show you how rotten, how absolutely unusable the silk actually is that they are passing off on the public at two and three dollars a yard."

Non-Adulteration and Over-Adulteration

Now, Boyd's form of sabotage was not the most dangerous form of sabotage at that. If the judges had any imagination they would know that Boyd's form of sabotage was pretty mild compared with this: Suppose that he had said to the dyers in Paterson, to a sufficient number of them that they could do it as a whole, so that it would affect every dye house in Paterson: "Instead of introducing these chemicals for adulteration, don't introduce them at all. Take the lead, the zinc, and the tin and throw it down the sewer and weave the silk, beautiful, pure, durable silk, just as it is. Dye it pound for pound, hundred pound for hundred pound." The employers would have been more hurt by that form of sabotage than by what Boyd advocated. And they would probably have wanted him put in jail for life instead of for seven years. In other words, to advocate non-adulteration is a lot more dangerous to capitalist interests than to advocate adulteration. And non-adulteration is the highest form of sabotage in an establishment like the dye houses of Paterson, bakeries, confectioners, meat packing houses, restaurants, etc.

Interfering with quality, or durability, or the utility of a product, might be illustrated as follows: Suppose a milkman comes to your house every day and delivers a quart of milk and this quart of milk is half water and they put some chalk in it and some glue to thicken it. Then a milk driver goes on that round who belongs to a union. The union strikes. And they don't win any better conditions. Then they turn on the water faucet and they let it run so that the mixture is four-fifths water and one-fifth milk. You will send the "milk" back and make a complaint. At the same time that you are making that complaint and refusing to use the milk, hundreds and thousands of others will do the same thing, and through striking at the interests of the consumer once they are able to effect better conditions for thgemselves and also they are able to compel the employers to give the pure product. That form of sabotage is distinctly beneficial to the consumer. Any exposure of adulteration, any over-adulteration that makes the product unconsumable is a lot more beneficial to the consumer than to have it tinctured and doctored so that you can use it but so that it is destructive to your physical condition at the same time.

Interfering with quality means, can be instanced in the hotel and restaurant kitchens. I remember during the hotel workers strike they used to tell us about the great cauldrons of soup that stood there month in and month out without ever being cleaned, that were covered with verdigris and with various other forms of animal growth, and that very many times into this soup would fall a mouse or a rat and he would be fished out and thrown aside and the soup would be used just the same. Now, can anyone say that if the workers in those restaurants, as a means of striking at their employers, would take half a pound of salt and throw it into that soup cauldron, you as a diner, or consumer, wouldn't be a lot better off? It would be far better to have that soup made unfit for consumption that to have it left in a state where it can be consumed but where it is continually poisonous to a greater or less degree. Destroying the utility of the goods sometimes means a distinct benefit to the person who might otherwise use the goods.

"Oh, yes, sir", said the waiter. "It is the very best in the city." That would be acting the good wage slave and looking out for the employer's interest. But if the waiter should say, "No, sir, it's rotten lobster salad. It's made from the pieces that have been gathered together here for the last six weeks," that would be the waiter who believed in sabotage, that would be the waiter who had no interest in his boss' profits, the waiter who didn't give a continental whether the boss sold lobster salad or not.

And the judge would probably believe in sabotage in that particular instance. The waiters in the city of New York were only about 5,000 strong. Of these, about a thousand were militant, were the kind that could be depended on in a strike. And yet that little strike made more sensation in New York City than 200,000 garment workers who were out at the same time. They didn't win very much for themselves, because of their small numbers, but they did win a good deal in demonstrating their power to the employer to hurt his business. For instance, they drew up affidavits and they told about every hotel and restaurant in New York, the kitchen and the pantry conditions. They told about how the butter on the little butter plates was sent back to the kitchen and somebody with their fingers picked out cigar ashes and the cigarette butts and the matches and threw the butter back into the general supply. They told how the napkins that had been on the table, used possibly by a man who had consumption or syphillis, were used to wipe the dishes in the pantry. They told stories that would make your stomach sick and your hair almost turn white, of conditions in the Waldorf, the Astor, the Belmont, all the great restaurants and hotels in New York. And I found that that was one of the most effective ways of reaching the public, because the "dear public" are never reached through sympathy.

And the judge would probably believe in sabotage in that particular instance. The waiters in the city of New York were only about 5,000 strong. Of these, about a thousand were militant, were the kind that could be depended on in a strike. And yet that little strike made more sensation in New York City than 200,000 garment workers who were out at the same time. They didn't win very much for themselves, because of their small numbers, but they did win a good deal in demonstrating their power to the employer to hurt his business. For instance, they drew up affidavits and they told about every hotel and restaurant in New York, the kitchen and the pantry conditions. They told about how the butter on the little butter plates was sent back to the kitchen and somebody with their fingers picked out cigar ashes and the cigarette butts and the matches and threw the butter back into the general supply. They told how the napkins that had been on the table, used possibly by a man who had consumption or syphillis, were used to wipe the dishes in the pantry. They told stories that would make your stomach sick and your hair almost turn white, of conditions in the Waldorf, the Astor, the Belmont, all the great restaurants and hotels in New York. And I found that that was one of the most effective ways of reaching the public, because the "dear public" are never reached through sympathy.

I was taken by a lady up to a West Side aristocratic club of women who had nothing else to do, so they organized this club. You know -- the white-gloved aristocracy! And I was asked to talk about the hotel workers' strike. I knew that wasn't what they wanted at all. They just wanted to look at what kind of person a "labor agitator" was. But I saw a chance for publicity for the strikers. I told them about the long hours in the hot kitchens; about steaming, smoking ranges. I told them about the overwork and the underpay of the waiters and how these waiters had to depend upon the generosity or the drunkenness of some patron to give them a big tip; all that sort of thing. And they were stony-faced. It affected them as much as an arrow would Gibraltar.

And then I started to tell them about what the waiters and the cooks had told me of the kitchen conditions and I saw a look of frozen horror on their faces immediately. They were interested when I began to talk about something that affected their own stomachs, where I never could have reached them through any appeal for humanitarian purposes. Immediately they began to draw up resolutions and to cancel engagements at these big hotels and decided that their clubs must not meet there again. They caused quite a commotion around some of the big hotels in New York.

When the workers went back to work after learning that this was a way of getting at the boss via the public stomach they did not hesitate at sabotage in the kitchens. If any of you have ever got soup that was not fit to eat, that was too salty or peppery, maybe there were some boys in the kitchen that wanted shorter hours, and that was one way they notified the boss. In the Hotel McAlpin the head waiter called the men up before him after the strike was over and lost and said, "Boys, you can have what you want, we will give you the hours, we will give you the wages, we will give you everything, but, for God's sake, stop this sabotage business in the kitchen!" In other words, what they had not been able to win through the strike they were able to win by striking at the taste of the public, by making the food non-consumable and therefore compelling the boss to take cognizance of their efficiency and their power in the kitchen.