Monday, 1 September 2014

The Dangers of Voluntary Garment-Making

Letter to the editor, in the Glasgow Herald, 1 September 1914. 


The Myth, High Possill, 
Glasgow, August 31.

Sir, -- There must be many men and women who feel that with the best intentions a great number of voluntary workers at this crisis are following a course which will create and increase unemployment.  The wholesale making of garments for the troops is a special case in point.

Letters have already appeared in the press emphasising this danger, and some correspondents have indicated that they were determined to purchase the garments or comforts they could afford to send to the troops and to the Red Cross agencies through the ordinary channels of trade.

I suggest that this course is one to be immediately adopted on a large scale and in an organised manner.  It is in the better interests of the country as a whole, and of the working women in particular, that machinists, seamstresses, and hosiery workers should be kept in employment rather than that they should be a burden upon distress relieving agencies.

The hand labour of amateur workers has a very low market value, calculated by a Yorkshire manufacturer at 1d per hour, while proficient machinists earn from 12s to £1 per week, and in many cases the garments produced are superior in shape and finish.

I do not desire to be understood as advocating a complete cessation of voluntary garment-making.  Many home-women are only able to give their own time to good causes, and for them few other opportunities offer.  But I do suggest that a very large body of women having money as well as leisure could better assist their country at this juncture by contributing the money they would otherwise expend on wool and materials to a general fund for the purchase of goods from the manufacturers.  In all probability dozens of these employers will come forward in Scotland, as they have already done in Yorkshire, offering to provide the goods required at a merely nominal profit or at cost price.

There are surely enough of us sharing these views to form in Glasgow, without delay, a committee having for its object the prevention of evil results from our own war gifts to the nation.  Funds could be collected and disbursed on the lines suggested and the work of the committee could be extended into other obvious channels if a sufficient response were forthcoming.  I am prepared to give my services to such a body if it can be formed.—I am. etc.,


[This struck me as a very well-argued case for employing skilled workers to make shirts and other garments for the Army, rather than voluntary workers attempting to do it themselves.  Then I did a web search for the name Teresa Billington-Greig and found lots of information about her - see for instance her Wikipedia entry.  She was a well-known socialist, suffragette and feminist.   She was born Teresa Billington and married Frederick Greig in 1907, when they both adopted the name Billington-Greig.

The British Red Cross were already encouraging people giving garments for the sick and wounded to pay "women who would otherwise be unemployed" to make them (e.g. here), but Red Cross working parties across the country continued, ignoring this advice.]

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