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IThe Shop Assistant's Hard…

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The Shop Assistant's Hard Lot. A Valuable Publication. Speaking broadly, there is no other class of workers at once so numerically strong and so economically poor. Shop assistants have never solidly stood to- gether like other workers. Somehow, a false notion of social superiority has always possessed them." Thus Messrs. Joseph Hallsworth and Rhys J. Davies in an introduction to a very illuminating, treatise on the. working life of the shop assistants. The authors, as they state in the preface to the work, were at one time shop assistants them- selves, and are at present actively en- gaged in the shop life movement, being members of the permanent staff of the Amalgamated Union of Co-operative Em- ployees, one holding the position of chair- man, and the other of secretary, of the Manchester Federation of Shopworkers and Clerks. They can, therefore, speak from intimate personal knowledge of shop life and labour, and their joint produc- tion is a valuable compilation that can- not fail to strike the imagination of the reformer. And what a world of tragedy lies behind the shop counter! Little indeed do we realise, as our modest wants are being attended to by the pleasant faced young man in the white calico apron, that here is a fitting object upon which to expend our sympathy; that behind that winning smile lies the consciousness of a sordid and grim struggle for exist- ence, and, to use a very appropriate metaphor, that behind the shop window of pleasant manners and engaging con- versation there are all the -horrors of long hours, bad food, the vicious living-in system, and other evils which make the life of the shop assistant little better than a soul-stultifying nightmare. In the pages before, us these are revealed with all the skill of a born story-teller, and despite the fact that much of its contents is concerned with statistics and tables, the book is as absorbing as any graphic narrative, and should be read diligently by each and all desirous of obtaining an inner glimpse of the shop assistants' world. The writers point out at the outset that shopkeeping in these days is a far different thing from what it was in by- gone days, when a real humane relation- ship existed between employer and em- ployee, and between one employer and another. Since, those days a gi'eat indus- trial revolution, has taken place, bringing: vast changes in the organisation of industry. Simultaneously with the in- crease in production and wealth came a tremendous growth in trading and dis- tribution, and in the numbers engaged in obtaining a living in such work. Then big capitalism entered the field, of distri- bution, great multiple firms planted down their shops in every town, big and small, throughout the country; private busi- nesses were converted into companies, entirely new companies were floated, huge amalgamations of existing companies were effected, and the small trader was sent to the back streets and the Bankruptcy Courts. And the most significant and tragical outcome of this growth of octopus business was that the lot of the assistant became harder, he: became a mere pawn on the commercial chessboard; profits and dividends were of far more import- ance than lie to soul-less boards of direc- tors, and his economical condition to-day is far worse than even that of the navvy who plods and spends and has no thought of the morrow. But the degradation of the shop assistant has not been accom- plished by the employers single-handed. Contrary to other trades, the shop assis- tants, like journalists up to a recent time, looked upon combinations for a common end as a thing good enough for the horny handed, but not quite the thing for the aspiring Lipton. They sniffed at the very mention of the word Trade Union, and to-day they are reaping; the reward of their folly. Out of nearly a million per- sons of both sexes engaged in the distri- butive trade, only about 20,000 are mem- bers of the Shop Assistants, Warehouse- men and Clerks' Union. Most of them are positively indifferent to the matter, and even in South Wales, where they have before them a virile example in the Miners' Federation, branches of the Union have been started, but collapsed again through lack of support. Happily, there is among them a number of whole- souled men burning with the passion of redeeming their comrades from their pre- sent unenviable position, among whom are to be counted the authors of the work that lies before us. It is through the efforts of men like these, who spare no trouble and labour in probing the condi- tions of shop life, and in agitating for a better state of things, that there is a prospect of a Bill being placed' on the Statute Book of the country which will to someeXitent bring to shop assistants some of the privileges now enjoyed by their more fortunate fellow-workers in other trades.

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