April 1855

Working for nothing

The truck system has more than once formed a subject of legislative inquiry and enactment, on account of the rascality by which, through its means, the poor working classes have been cheated of the fruits of their labour. If what is represented to us is true there is another system of stoppages of wages to which the legislature and even the government would do well to turn their immediate attention. We allude to the frame rent system of the frame work knitters in the Midlands.

Under this system it is alleged that a master has a certain number of frames in his premises, for which it is the custom to charge a weekly rent, payable by those who work at them for the frame proprietors themselves or while in their employment, the master, instead of employing only so many operatives as may be able earn a sufficient livelihood, will, if possible, employ as many of these poor people as he has frames for them to work at; and that he makes it his object to give each, in the first place, only as much as will pay himself the rents demanded for being allowed to work at the frames, so that when each may thus earn 3s 6d only in the course of a week, as often happens, they actually get nothing for their labour.

In cases where the frame has been idle for several weeks the rent of all these weeks if first deducted so that as lately occurred one poor workmen had to pay 9s 1d out of 9s 2d, or rather was paid one penny for his labour. In another case, brought in vain before the magistrates, a master who “did not like to be too hard” with the unfortunates who worked for him liberally gave him 6d out of 5s 11d thus earned.