Back to 19th-Century working practices

Submitted by AWL on 27 July, 2016 - 2:15 Author: Theodora Polenta

Many Labour members and supporters are looking forward to working alongside Corbyn to fight the real enemy — the Tories. Under the Tories, long-forgotten 19th-century odious work practices are making a comeback through unscrupulous bosses.

What’s happening is at one level is formal laws covering employees — minimum wage and safety laws. But at another, nasty work practices are creeping back. Under the “sweating system” or “piecework,” 19th-century home workers were paid by, for example, each shirt they stitched. The “pay per-parcel” delivery jobs are just modern “piecework,” a new kind of “sweated labour” where phony self-employment pushes people below the minimum wage.

In the 19th century many workers had to buy from overpriced “company stores”, the practice lasted longer in the US — that’s why the miner in the song ‘16 tons’ says: “I owe my soul to the company store”. Sports Direct staff had to use overpriced cash cards and terminals from the firm to get their wages — for a fee — a modern “company store”. Many retail staff also have to buy clothes each season from their own shop — sometimes without an allowance — another modern company store.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries jobless people would gather in a pen for possible hiring — notably at the docks but also other factory gates. Zero-hours contracts, with hire-by-day-by-text, wait-by-the-phone-for-work are a modern “pen” for day-hiring at the gate Under the “travelling-time” trick, 19th century miners only got paid when they got to the coalface, not when they crawled to it through tunnels. Under the modern “travelling-time” trick, homecare staff are often not paid for time travelling from care visit to care visit. Many retail staff are not paid for pre-work briefings.

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