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TABLE 685.-Months worked during the past year by males 16 years of age or over employed away from home, by general nativity and race of individual.
(STUDY OF HOUSEHOLDS.)
[This table includes only races with 20 or more males reporting. The totals, however, are for all races.]
The preceding table shows that of the 1,273 males reporting, 18.1 per cent worked twelve months during the past year, 53.7 per cent worked nine months or over, 83.7 per cent worked six months or over, and 97.9 per cent worked three months or over. The negroes native-born of native father show 49 per cent who worked the full year, as contrasted with only 28.9 per cent of those who were nativeborn of foreign father and 13.8 per cent of the foreign-born. The negroes native-born of native father also show a higher percentage who worked nine months or over and six months or over than either those native-born of foreign father or those who were foreign-born. All those who were native-born of foreign father worked three months or over, while the negroes native-born of native father and the foreign-born show somewhat smaller proportions who worked during a like period. Of the foreign-born, the French and Scotch show the highest and Bulgarians and Macedonians the lowest percentage who worked twelve months during the year. The French, Slovaks, Scotch, South Italians, and Poles, in the order named, all show 50 per cent or over who worked nine months or over during the past year. The Macedonians show the smallest proportion who worked during this period of time. The Slovaks, French, and North Italians show over 90 per cent who worked six months or over, as contrasted with 61.1 per cent of the Macedonians. All of the French, North Italians, and Scotch worked three months or over, while the Greeks, Slovaks, Bulgarians, South Italians, Macedonians, and Poles follow as named with decreasing proportions, the last-named race showing 91.7 per cent.
COMPANY HOUSES AND INDUSTRIAL COMMUNITIES.
Throughout the Birmingham district there exists a community or colony of employees around every plant and mine or group of mines. These communities are more or less distinct from the neigh
boring towns and villages, the essential difference between them being that the former are residential sections for the laborers, while the latter exist largely as commercial centers for the immediate neighborhoods. The industrial communities differ from each other very slightly, except in the style and the arrangement of the houses. At the iron and steel plants the communities are considerably larger than at the mines, although this varies with the size of the individual mine or plant. In each community, in addition to the rows of company houses arranged on either side of streets if the land is level and regular enough, is a commissary or company store which is the real center, the churches or church, two schools (one for negroes and one for whites), and usually a lodge house used for secret or other lodge meetings. In the smallest communities one building is frequently used for the school, lodge, and church. The office of the operating company, with its pay window, is an important feature, and in its immediate vicinity is the mine or the plant.
The styles of the company houses vary with the company owning them. As a general rule the company houses of the mining villages are the more cheaply constructed, while around the steel plants there is usually a variety of grades for the different classes of workmen, the smallest and poorest being usually occupied by negroes. In the ore-mining camps the houses are well built and well kept, as a general rule, although occupied chiefly by negroes. Where immigrants from southern and eastern Europe are employed the large boarding house, with its two stories and its larger number of rooms, is a frequent occurrence. With scarcely an exception the villages present a wearisome sameness to the eye. The houses are of the same color, and are separated by open spaces of equal size. A universal lack of gardens and yards under cultivation or care, with practically no fencing, renders the whole situation bare and uninviting. The coal dust and smoke tend to reduce everything to a uniform color, and probably have much to do with the absence of any attempt toward improving the yards or utilizing the garden space. There is little external evidence of any encouragement of domestic life, a fact which emphasizes the tendency on the part of the employees of all races to get all their pleasures out of what their wages will buy.
While this is unquestionably the inevitable impression when the average community is viewed, several attempts have been made toward providing a greater degree of comfort on the part of the larger companies. In the larger communities around the steel plants there are sewers and water supply, and the houses are kept painted and carefully repaired. The offer for lumber for fencing at cost by the company to the employees is accepted by some, and occasionally a yard or a garden is seen with a fence of some description. The streets are never improved, however, and only in rare cases sidewalks are found. On the whole, however, the disadvantages are not as much of an insanitary nature as of an unsightly appearance. The communities are usually placed with care as to natural drainage; there is an abundance of open space and never any crowding of houses or buildings, and they are accessible to the places of work. The houses themselves, if cheaply constructed, are neatly and plainly built, and with a little care or pride on the part
of the tenants could be made homelike, while the cultivation of the gardens and the care of the yards could not only add to the good appearance of the individual house as well as of the community, but would serve to assist in the provision of vegetables and other truck for the food of the tenants. It is claimed by the employers that there has never been any disposition to take advantage of the space offered, and this statement is undeniably true. When questioned regarding the matter, laborers have said that it was too much trouble, or that they did not know how long they were to stay, or that the ground was too poor.
The foregoing presents a picture of average conditions as they exist generally throughout the Birmingham district. In the smaller communities, which are in coal-mining sections, the conditions are worse; the houses are smaller and more cheaply constructed, with almost a total absence of any attempt to provide ordinary conveniences except of the rudest nature; less attention is paid to keeping them in repair, and whitewash is rarely applied and paint hardly ever; the communities, as a whole, present an unkempt and inadequate condition of living. In the newer and larger communities in and around the iron and steel plants and the principal ore-mining operations the situation is much better. An excellent and a very fair example of the latter is found in the housing conditions at Ensley, which is the largest community in the district. Ensley itself is a few miles from Birmingham, but by a recent legislative enactment is now within the corporate limits of the city.
The company_quarters here are located on a slight elevation in the outskirts of Ensley, adjoining the yards of the steel plant, which separates the quarters from the principal residence and business district of the town. Occupancy of company houses is not a condition prerequisite to employment, but in selecting a home the immigrant is usually governed by three considerations, namely, house rental, presence of fellow-countrymen, and proximity to place of employment. The first of these usually exerts the greatest influence, which has resulted in approximately 75 per cent of the immigrants occupying the company houses, which are usually rented to them at a lower rate than houses obtained from other sources. The houses occupied are painted, weather-boarded, frame structures of one story, divided into two apartments of two rooms each, finished with dressed lumber, and provided in front with small verandas. Provision for heat for each apartment is made by a chimney erected in the center of the building. Water is obtained from hydrants outside of the house, one hydrant being provided for every three houses. Water-closets built of rough lumber are placed in the rear of the buildings in the ratio of one closet to every twelve houses. These closets are divided by partitions into twelve stalls or sections. They are flushed by a stream of water that flows through continuously. A public bath for the use of the employees is also maintained. A monthly rental of $10.50 for each house, or $5.25 for an apartment, is charged to the tenant.
These houses are occupied almost altogether by immigrants and native whites. In the section of the company quarters occupied by the negroes the houses are smaller and less substantial in construction.
Many are finished on the exterior with rough lumber, to which a coat of whitewash is applied. Only dry closets are provided, and there is no public bath, as in the other section.
THE COMPANY-STORE SYSTEM.
The system of commissaries is practically universal in all of the mining communities and in the iron and steel plant communities. The mines are usually isolated enough to warrant the location of a commissary for supplies of all kinds, while the steel plants employ a sufficient number of men to justify the maintenance of company stores. The small plants within the limits of the city of Birmingham, such as machine shops, frog and switch plants, cast-iron-pipe foundries, and the like, neither own company houses nor operate commissaries, but as a general rule whenever a company employs a sufficient number of workers, or is isolated enough from the residence sections of the city to warrant the owning and the renting of company houses, the commissary system is also one of its features.
The commissary or company store is much the same sort of an institution all over the district in appearance, nature, and variety of facilities, and it may be said in prices. They differ largely in size. Generally the commissary is located in the center or in a very convenient section of the company quarters or camp, which has already been designated as the community. It is usually a long, low, one-story building with no display windows, and possessing one or two entrances. In the center are the bookkeeper's and the check master's offices, sometimes screened off from the rest of the space. Around the sides are the shelves for the stock, the counters, and on the floor is every variety and description of goods. In the larger commissaries the dry goods, grocery, and other departments are kept separate, and sometimes a dividing partition is found which roughly separates the dry goods and hardware from the groceries and the meat department. But in all instances the commissary presents a miniature market, or under the worst conditions an amplified and well organized country general store. Generally everything that the employee needs is kept in stock, and unless there is some want out of the ordinary he need never visit any other store. The wishes of the laborers are catered to as much as possible and their demands studied. The result is that every inducement is offered in a legitimate way to employees in order to secure their patronage.
While the commissaries themselves are operated in a manner which may be justly considered efficient, much of the patronage is induced by the methods of wage payments. As pointed out in another section, the systems of commissary checks and commissary credit is practically universal wherever the company maintains a commissary. The great majority of wage-payment periods are monthly. On pay days alone are payments made in currency; at any time between the pay days payments are made in the form of either (1) commissary checks, whose face value expressed in dollars or cents represent the "time" or currency wages due the employee; or (2) store credit, whereby the employee may deal directly with the store to the extent which his credit for wages on the company books
allow him. In nearly all companies individual employees having good records for financial reliability and steadiness may overdraw their credit at the commissaries within certain limits in time and amount, both under the store credit system or the commissary check system. The effect of this policy is to encourage, and in many instances to have the effect of compelling, employees to deal with the commissaries. In fact, according to the statements of some of the small operators, commissaries as a rule return not only a 20 per cent net profit in normal times to the company, but the system goes so far as to largely determine the race of employees. In certain cases it was stated that negroes were preferred because their improvident habits prevented them from being able to live on cash incomes paid monthly, and thus forced them to draw their wages weekly, and even daily, in the form of commissary checks or store credits. Currency payments were made monthly partly for this purpose. As a result, the negroes are always a little in debt to the commissaries; they are rarely the possessor of any currency, and stay in the employ of one company as long as their employers will allow them. Their wants are confined to the supply of goods furnished by the commissaries, with the exception of whisky, and they have no funds for any other purpose than that of bare subsistence. Exceptions to this generally improvident class of course were found. For the same reason these employers do not encourage immigrant laborers, and in some cases refuse to employ them altogether. The immigrant exhibits a strong tendency to get his wages in cash and to live on the lowest level possible to maintain subsistence. He patronizes not only as few stores as he can, and as little as he can, but he seeks the cheapest places, and seeks for them first among the merchants of his own race. It is only when he becomes Americanized in his expenditures that he is a profitable employee from the standpoint of the commissary owner.
Another effect of the commissary system is the tendency toward a standardization of the manner in which the wants of the employees are satisfied. While, as it has been stated, the commissary manager makes a study of the wants of his patrons, yet it is true that he supplies a given want by a small variety of goods. The result is an appreciable sameness in the kind of food, the quality and character of dress of the employees, and in the many other commodities that enter into the comforts and the details of the home. The effect of the lack of variety is enhanced, and while it is true that the employees are satisfied, it is also true that no stimulant to variety or originality is afforded by the influence of the commissary. This is particularly true of isolated communities.
A careful and detailed inquiry into a comparison of prices in the commissaries and in the city markets and groceries revealed a slight increase in the general run of prices in the former over the latter. This increase did not exist in all instances, but on the average it was evident. It was not sufficient to warrant any other explanation than the one given by the owners and operators of the commissaries, that the additional expense of transportation of the goods and the maintenance of commissaries in communities with a restricted patronage justified a slight increase in prices.
Whether the slight increase in this case was a warranted one could not be determined, of course, except by a minute inquiry into the average cost of marketing the goods, the regularity of sales, etc. In