OUR SPLENDID WOMEN.
THE WAR AND THE REVOLUTION OF THE WORKSHOPS.
(By a Correspondent.)
Very shy were they of the whizzing wheels in the beginning. There was none of that inherited mechanical skill that the child born of textile workers soon manifests. The change from cow milking to lathe minding was too great to be easily made. So they started on hand lathes—just one or two of them—and as they saw their hurts were no more than a bruised finger or so they shifted to the power-driven lathes. In that way they were won over. At lunch time you may see them scurrying down the yard to the bicycle shed, and riding off to the farms for dinner. Not all though; very many use the canteen, and indeed some—who lodge in the neighbourhood—find the food so good and cheap that they have all their meals there.
OUTPUT INCREASED.One was not surprised to find that this factory held a record—out of 20,000 shells only seven were rejected. At another works there are lathes being used that are over half a century old, and which were recovered from the scrap heap. The manager said to me, "We have done with lathes what the army has done with men. These oldsters who thought their part in life was played are doing their most important life's work."
At many of the factories you may find the men smoking, their eyes on their jobs, their pipes gripped hard in their teeth, the smoke spurting from their lips. "It helps the job on," I was told, and although it is a war innovation it is doubtful whether it will ever stop.
But, of course, the great revolution of the shops has been in their employment of women. The scoffers of 1915 are the enthusiasts of to-day. A firm which originally employed only 833 women now finds work for 2,097, at another factory their numbers have grown from 45 to 2,000. Their employment has been part of the dilution scheme, and the output has, generally, increased as a consequence.
Folk have been saying "The women are splendid" for a year or more. They cannot say it often enough. I watched a group of girls painting shells. "How many to-day, Alice?" asked the manager. "A hundred an' forty-six" was the smiling reply. As we walked away he said, "Do you know, three months ago they were doing only eighty an hour, and we thought that was capital. They get just the same pay now. They're the most wonderful workers in the world."
LIKE KNITTING STOCKINGS.I have seen-them, men and women, tens of thousands of them, in various factories toiling with an enduring patience and attention that is past all praise. They are making, let me say, armour piercing bullets in an automatic lathe. If you expressed astonishment they would probably say, "It's only like knitting stockings," just as one woman handling heavy shells in Liverpool said in her laconic way when asked if they were not too heavy for her, "No heavier than a babby!"
Next there is the first-aid room. Most factories have one these days. No longer is it necessary for men to extract bits of metal from each other's eyes with knife blades—as I have seen them do. Now, a uniformed nurse, skilled, efficient, re-assuring, does the job.
And finally in many factories there are the practical "schools" on the premises, where the boys between 14 and 16 are taught one day a week something of the theory and more advanced parts of their job. They get paid for that "schooling." In one works the twenty best lads are picked out every year to attend at the nearest University.
[The ‘dilution of labour” scheme was proposed at the end of 1915 to employ semi-skilled and unskilled men and women alongside skilled workers. Initially it was proposed as a way of maximising the output of skilled munitions workers, but it seems to have been overtaken by the demand for men to join the Army, so that women were by this time doing more skilled work than originally expected.]