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- The Rise of David Levinsky - 100/102 -
change in this respect. I had watched that change and I could not but be influenced by it. For all my theorizing about the "survival of the fittest" and the "dying off of the weaklings," I could not help feeling that, in an abstract way, the socialists were not altogether wrong.
The case was different, however, when I considered it in connection with the concrete struggle of trade-unionism (which among the Jewish immigrants was practically but another name for socialism) against low wages or high rent.
I must confess, too, that the defeat with which I had met at Tevkin's house had greatly intensified my hostility to socialists. As I have remarked in a previous chapter, I ascribed my fiasco to the socialist atmosphere that surrounded Anna. I was embittered
The socialists were constantly harping on "class struggle," "class antagonism," "class psychology." I would dismiss it all as absurd, but I did hate the trade-unions, particularly those of the East Side. Altogether there was too much socialism among the masses of the Ghetto, I thought
Blitt now seemed to be the embodiment of this "class antagonism."
"Ah, he won't join my Antomir Society!" I would storm and fume and writhe inwardly. "That's a tacit protest against the whole society as an organization of 'slaves.' It means that the society makes meek, obedient servants of my employees and helps me fleece them. As if they did not earn in my shop more than they would anywhere else! As if they could all get steady work outside my place! And what about the loans and all sorts of other favors they get from me? If they worked for their own fathers they could not be treated better than they are treated here." I felt outraged
I rebuked myself for making much ado about nothing. Indeed, this was a growing weakness with me. Some trifle unworthy of consideration would get on my nerves and bother me like a grain of sand in the eye. Was I getting old? But, no, I felt in the prime of life, full of vigor, and more active and more alive to the passions than a youth
Whenever I chanced to be on the floor where Blitt worked I would avoid looking in his direction. His presence irritated me. "How ridiculous," I often thought. "One would imagine he's my conscience and that's why I want to get rid of him." As a consequence, I dared not send him away, and, as a consequence of this, he irritated me more than ever
Finally, one afternoon, acting on the spur of the moment, I called his foreman to me and told him to discharge him
A committee of the union called on me. I refused to deal with them. The upshot was a strike--not merely for the return of Blitt to my employment, but also for higher wages and the recognition of the union. The organization was not strong, and only a small number of my men were members of it, but when these went out all the others followed their contagious example, the members of my Antomir Society not excepted
The police gave me ample protection, and there were thousands of cloak-makers who remained outside the union, so that I soon had all the "hands" I wanted; but the conflict caused me all sorts of other mortifications. For one thing, it gave me no end of hostile publicity. The socialist Yiddish daily, which had an overwhelmingly wide circulation now, printed reports of meetings at which I had been hissed and hooted. I was accused of bribing corrupt politicians who were supposed to help me suppress the strike by means of police clubs. I was charged with bringing disgrace upon the Jewish people
The thought of Tevkin reading these reports and of Anna hearing of them hurt me cruelly. I could see Moissey reveling in the hisses with which my name was greeted. And Elsie? Did she take part in some of the demonstrations against me? Were she and Anna collecting funds for my striking employees? The reports in the American papers also were inclined to favor the strikers.
Public opinion was against me. What galled me worse than all, perhaps, was the sympathy shown for the strikers by some German-Jewish financiers and philanthropists, men whose acquaintance it was the height of my ambition to cultivate. All of which only served to pour oil into the flames of my hatred for the union
Bender implored me to settle the strike
"The union doesn't amount to a row of pins," he urged. "A week or two after we settle, things will get back to their old state."
"Where's your backbone, Bender?" I exploded. "If you had your way, those fellows would run the whole business. You have no sense of dignity. And yet you were born in America."
I was always accompanied by a detective
One of the strikers was in my pay. Every morning at a fixed hour he would call at a certain hotel, where he reported the doings of the organization to Bender and myself. One of the things I thus learned was that the union was hard up and constantly exacting loans from Gussie and several other members who had savings-bank accounts. One day, however, when the secretary appealed to her for a further loan with which to pay fines for arrested pickets and assist some of the neediest strikers, she flew into a passion. "What do you want of me, murderers that you are?" she cried, bursting into tears.
"Haven't I done enough? Have you no hearts?"
A minute or two later she yielded
"Bleed me, bleed me, cruel people that you are!" she said, pointing at her heart, as she started toward her savings bank
I was moved. When my spy had departed I paced the floor for some minutes.
Then, pausing, I smilingly declared to Bender my determination to ask the union for a committee. He was overjoyed and shook my hand solemnly
One of my bookkeepers was to communicate with the strike committee in the afternoon. Two hours before the time set for their meeting I saw in one of the afternoon papers an interview with the president of the union. His statements were so unjust to me, I thought, and so bitter, that the fighting blood was again up in my veins
But the image of Gussie giving her hard-earned money to help the strikers haunted me. The next morning I went to Atlantic City for a few days, letting Bender "do as he pleased." The strike was compromised, the men obtaining a partial concession of their demands and Blitt waiving his claim to his former job
CHAPTER VI MY business continued to grow. My consumption of raw material reached gigantic dimensions, so much so that at times, when I liked a pattern, I would buy up the entire output and sell some of it to smaller manufacturers at a profit
Gradually I abandoned the higher grades of goods, developing my whole business along the lines of popular prices. There are two cloak-and-suit houses that make a specialty of costly garments. These enjoy high reputations for taste and are the real arbiters of fashion in this country, one of the two being known in the trade as Little Pans; but the combined volume of business of both these firms is much smaller than mine
My deals with one mill alone--the largest in the country and the one whose head had come to my rescue when my affairs were on the brink of a precipice--now exceeded a million dollars at a single purchase to be delivered in seven months. The mills often sell me at a figure considerably lower than the general market price. They do so, first, because of the enormous quantities I buy, and, second, because of the "boost" a fabric receives from the very fact of being handled by my nouse. One day, for instance, I said to the president of a certain mill: "I like this cloth of yours. I feel like making a big thing of it, provided you can let me have an inside figure." We came to terms, and I gave him an advance order for nine thousand pieces. When smaller manufacturers and department-store buyers heard that I had bought an immense quantity of that pattern its success was practically established. As a consequence, the mill was in a position to raise the price of the cloth to others, so that it amply made up for the low figure at which it had sold the goods to me
Judged by the market price of the raw material, my profit on a garment did not exceed fifty cents. But I paid for the raw material seventy-five cents less than the market price, so that my total profit was one dollar and twenty-five cents. Still, there have been instances when I lost seventy-five thousand dollars in one month because goods fell in price or because a certain style failed to move and I had to sell it below cost to get it out of the way. To be sure, cheaper goods are less likely to be affected by the caprices of style than higher grades, which is one of several reasons why I prefer to produce garments of popular prices
I do not employ my entire capital in my cloak business, half of it, or more, being invested in "quick assets." Should I need more ready cash than I have, I could procure it at a lower rate than what those assets bring me. I can get half a million dollars, from two banks, without rising from my desk--by merely calling those banks up on the telephone. For this I pay, say, three and a half or four per cent., for I am a desirable customer at the banks; and, as my quick assets bring me an average of five per cent., I make at least one per cent. on the money
Another way of making my money breed money is by early payments to the mills. Not only can I do without their credit, but I can afford to pay them six months in advance. This gives me an "anticipation" allowance at the rate of six per cent. per annum, while money costs me at the banks three or four per cent. per annum.
All this is good sport
I own considerable stock in the very mills with which I do business, which has a certain moral effect on their relations with my house. For a similar purpose I am a shareholder in the large mail-order houses that buy cloaks and suits of me. I hold shares of some department stores also, but of late I have grown somewhat shy of this kind of investment, the future of a department store
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