Textile's Last Stand
The recent recession in Massachusetts' economy has been accentuated by the strife in the textile industry. Lower costs in southern mills have forced many manufacturers to desert New England while others have attempted to economize by cutting wages. When management recently demanded a ten-cent across the board pay cut seven weeks ago, textile workers earning a base pay of $1.09 1/2 per hour, walked off the job throughout New England. Mill owners in Maine and New Hampshire, last week, decided not to press for a wage cut and the workers returned to the mills, but because the Massachusetts employers remain adamant, 18,000 in this state still are out of work.
The operaters' position, as stated by Seabury Stanton, head of the Cotton Manufacturers Association for the New Bedford-Fall River area, is that "New England mills cannot survive in the face of unequal competition from Southern mills." Stanton's group refuses to compromise with the union despite the efforts of a special mediation board appointed by Governor Herter. The union has announced that its members are willing to go back at the present wage rates, but cotton manufacturers have issued an ultimatum, threatening to move out of the state if their demands are not satisfied.
While such an exodus might prove satisfactory in the short run, the long term effects of deliberately causing the unemployment of 18,000 workers will probably increase pressure on Congress to boost the minimum wage. Such a bill is now before Congress, and a sudden dislocation of this area's economy, such as mill operators now threaten, will increase public pressure for its enactment. With a higher minimum wage, manufacturers will find that costs of producing in the South are no lower than New England operation.
Stanton's claims of unequal competition, moreover, are belied by the fact that similar strikes in Maine and New Hampshire have been settled. His argument smacks of economic fallacy, for other New England mills operate maintaining the $1.09 1/2 basis rate.
By acting in bad faith and with little regard for the welfare of their employees, the Massachusetts manufactures can expect little public support for their case. They should, instead, work with the mediation board to settle the current dispute while maintaining realistic wage rates.