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Real estate record and builders' guide: v. 74, no. 1916: December 3, 1904

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ueceniDer 3, 1904 RFCry^r, ANB GUIDE v^y "^ ESTABUSHED'^JAAR,CH£l^lB68. De/oteDioI^LCstme.SuiLoiiJ'g 5i;p.cKn-E[rnJTiE .tjouscHoinDEGCffifiiiMl, BU5»/ess Alio Themes Of GeHei^I ItJren^si. PRICE PER YEAR IN ADVANCE SIX DOLLARS Tnblished eVerg Saturday Communications should be addressed to C, W. SWEET, 14-16 Vesey Street, New YorH a. T. LISDSEY, Buslneaa Manager Telephone, Cortlandt 3157 "Entered at lhe PjsI OSce at Ne>.o York. N. Y.. o s second-class matter." Vol. LXXIV. December 3, 1904. No. 1916. T(ie The Cause and the Rfmedy Building Situation By Theodore Starrett IT is hard to resist the temptation to put a little sauce on the 'dry meat of a discussion of the labor question, and so I hope I will be pardoned for telling a little story^a true story—of somelhing that happened in the "Golden Age" of the railroad business when conductors at the end of each trip used to take all the cash collections, they say, and throw them in the air and what stuck to the bell cord was turned in to the railroad company, and what fell on the floor belonged to them. It was out West. A wise man was riding in a coach one day when a passenger got on and sat down in front of him. The conductor came through and the passenger asked him the fare to Junction City, and was informed that it was S5 cents. The man paid it. At the next station another passenger got on aud sat down be¬ hind our hero. He, too, was bound for Junction City. The con¬ ductor sized him up, as all wise conductors did in those days, anu informed him that the fare was $2.85. The passenger paid it. The wise man who heard both sides of the atory was very indig¬ nant and started to protest, but the conductor rushed off to the basgage ear. When Junction City had been reached and both passengers had left the train our hero, who was still on hoard, laid for the conductor and as he passed grabbed him by the coat tails and asked him why he had charged one passenger so much more than the other for a shorter distance. The reply was "My friend, that is because I,understand this business and you don't." Times have changed since then in the railroad business, but there are some other businesses where things happen that are hard to understand. The building business is one of them. In the midst of temptation the prayer of us weak mortals is "Protect us from ourselves," aud it is in answer to this prayer that every combination, whether trust, trade union or employ¬ ers' association, has been formed. The man who needs busi¬ ness or the man who needs work is subject to the temptation, and nobody knows it so well as the stony hearted buyer, w.hether of goods or of labor. One of the shrewdest contractors that I ever knew, and a very flne fellow, too, said to me once by way of excusing himself for taking some bad contracts, that the man who bas business to offer can get it done at a loss every time if he sets out to do it, and this statement I believe to be absolutely true. There is no business in the world that is so unprotected and so exposed to merciless competition as the building business. The fact that anybody can go into it has left it in the hands of people who, as a rule, have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The bulk of building work to this day, in spite of employers' associations and every other check on competition that has even been de¬ vised, is done, as far as it concerns the labor end—and that's where the trouble all lies—by small employers who are little more than foremen for owners. The shrewd and, mayhap, un¬ scrupulous owner can "trade tbe hoots off" some one or another of this fraternity every time he tries it and it is a wise boss indeed who flnds himself at the end of a job with a dollar more than when he started it. If ever a man needed protection from himself it is the small boss—and the large one, too, for that matter—in the building business. Who is there of us that has lived in a small town that cannot remember the sign "Architect and Builder"' over the shop of the prosperous carpenter contractor? Time was when the man who wanted a house built would go to the architect and builder who would furnish him drawings and an estimate, and after mutual dickering back and forth the contract would be closed. In the construction of this honse the builder stood between the owner and the uncertainties of the building business. Generally he would make money on a building; occasionally he would lose, but as a whole the business was very prosperous. Once upon a time there lived in a little village in Utopia an owner who was in the habit of going each year to an architect and builder and employing him to bnild him a house, making the best bargain he could each time. After a number of years the builder's clerk went to the owner and told him that his master was making a great deal of money. It was, of course, natural that the builder should have made money considering the responsibilities that he assumed. The owner listened to the words of the clerk, and as a result employed him on a salary to make the drawings of his next house and the clerk undertook to save the profit that the builder had been making. The owner bought his own material and got the builder's foreman. John, to leave his master and to take the contract for the labor and the work was started. After the floor joists were sat John dis¬ covered that he was going to make a loss, that he had bid too low, and he was in a quandry. He started to watch for oppor¬ tunities to make himself whole, and when the owner found that for some reason it was necessary for him to add a wing to the building John saw his chance. He demanded a very high price for the work, and the owner, being a close kind of an individ¬ ual, refused to pay and said he would hire the workmen himself. Foreman John gathered his men together and said to them that the ow.ner was trying to overreach him, and that he wanted them to stand with him and refuse to work for the owner. This they did. The owner then tried to get another foreman, George, who had also embarked in the same business as foreman Johni to build this wing separately. Again foreman John appealed to his men, and told them what was brewing. The men sympa¬ thized with foreman John and they had a meeting with the workmen of foreman George, and the result was that they in turn agreed not to build the wing, and the owner was compelled to pay foreman John his price and the loss that threatened him on his original contract was avoided. Foreman George also had started to build np a business and he shortly found that one of his contracts for another owner was taken too low, so the same process was gene through in the second case and foreman George was saved by the aid of the men who worked for him. As tbe years roiled by the business of the two foremen grew, and so did the number of their workmen. Competition went on merrily and each foreman feit that with his men at his back he could aifovd to take some pretty long chances for there was al¬ ways a way out, and as a matter of fact some very fair busi¬ ness was done by both of them. But the workmen soon saw what was going on and wanted to have a slice of the general prosper¬ ity and they put their heads together. .They found that they were really the masters and decided that they must have more wages. It was impossible for the foremen to deny them and af¬ ter a few years the foremen found that they were getting the worst of it; that the high prices which they had been ab:e to exact by the aid of the men were all paid out in wages, and they began to suspect that they were v,'orse off than when they had ali worked for the architect and builder. However, they piled up their charges still higher until the owners began to suspect something, and they refused to build any more. To add to the troubles the houses had cost so much money that the owners raised the rents and the butcher and the baker and the grocer and the tailor who were compelled to pay these rents raised their prices, and the workmen themselves had to pay higher rents, too. The whole town was in a very bad way, and every¬ body got; to quarrelling. All friendly relations between the fore¬ men and their workmen ceased. The workmen formed a union aud steps were taken to enforce still higher wages. Output was restricted, and any man who worked faster than a certain rate was punished, but the higher the rate of wages the less was left in the family treasury at the eud of each week. Still they kept on. There was now such bad blood between the foremen aud the workmen that strikes were resorted to and these took up a great deal of time, so that where, before the days of th fore¬ men, there had been steady work throughout the season, em¬ ployment became so precarious that the men did not work a quarter of the time, and that is where we will leave them for the present. The condition that now exists in New York City, as far aa the elementary causes are concerned, is like the condition that ex¬ isted in that little village. The complex modern life of the city