The Ashburton Guardian. Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit. WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 24, 1888. THE "SWEATING" SYSTEM.
We read every now and then m ihe English papers of the miseries of the sempstresses of London and other great cities, who to-day, as m the days of Tom Hood, still "stitch, stitch, stitch " with weary fingers, and weary eyes, m fireless garrets until the chill hours of the breaking dawn, " Sewing at once with a double thread A ehroud as well as a shirt " — yet few indeed of the readers* of these records of misery would have suspected that here m this fair young country of New Zealand, the same sad state of things is growing up. But " facts are chiels that winna ding," and both m Dunedin and Christchurch some exceedingly ugly facts m this direction have been elicited. The " Otago Daily I Times" and the "Lyttelton Timeß " have both been lifting the veil and disclosing to their leaders, the unsuspected hardships, the starvation wages of toilers m their cities. The matter was first brought under the notice of the firstmentioned paper by a letter from a well-known citizen of Dunedin m which the writer Baid. — "My wife, whilst visiting recently m connection with one of the local charities, found a woman with a husband sober and steady, but who had only done a few days' work during the past six months, and with two children, one a few weeks old and the other unable to work ; and this it oman has regular work, which any of your lad> readers can value, Her work was finishing Crimean shirts j ehe had six buttonholes to mako, seven buttons to sew on, and a few buttonhole stitches to make on the two sleeves and the two laps to each shirt ; buttons were found, but the worker had to find her own peedje§ rod. thread j »Bd what ft? you. *
thin k ia paid for this work; Eightpence per Bhirt— their value ? No, Sir, eightpence per dozen shirts, and at this munificent wage she could, by woking her hardest while attending to these children, make 4d per day ± with only one child to look after she could make 8d a day, which was all she, her husband, and two children had to depend upon. Is thiß work or slavery ? Other sweaters are magnanimous enough to pay as high as 9d per dozen, but the one m question seems to be a better business woman, and can drive a closer bargain, and is, moreover, the possessor of fine shops and a beautifully furnished dwelling-house. That thiß is no trumped-up case — my card enclosed — you will, I think, find sufficient evidence." The journal at once instiiuted inquiries, the result of which was the entire corroboration of the foregoing statements. Among others who testified to the existence ot this sad state of things was the Rev. Kutherford Waddell, who mentioned one or two cases which he had personally 'investigated. " One was that of a widow lady living m Maclaggan street. She was employed by one of the factories at the work of finishing moleskin trousers, for which she received .2d per pair. On being interrogated as to how many pairs she could do m a day, she answered seven, but she said she had not been long working at this business, and other women more skilled m the work could make more. It was only by hard work working about 12 hours a day — that she could earn from 2s to 2s 6d 1 She would not have been able to live had it not been that the house she occupied was her own. She was a woman of good education, and notwithstanding the long hours she worked she found time for a little-reading. Bhe generally used to read for half an hour or so before Bhe went to bed — such authors as George Macdonald and Edna Lyal, besides which she took great delight m reading Milton's poems. Mr Waddell said this was only one instance of many similar cases. The recognised price for the factories to pay for finishing woollen shirts, for instance, was only Is 6d per dozen, a little more being given for Crimean shirts, the factory providing the thread and buttons." Referring to this the " Times " shows that the rate above-mentioned is lower even than that paid m Glasgow, where "m the ' sweating ' revelations recently made, it oame out that- the price paid for finishing moleskin trousers was 2£d," as against the still more miserable rate of 2d m Dunedin ! It goes on to say : « "We have since heard of a case where a poor woman went to one of the managers of a manufacturing establish ment and asked for work. The manager said he could give her nothing to do at that time, but advised her to call again, She afterwards offered to do work at a rate a little cheaper than the other hands employed, so that she might be enabled to earn some money. The offer was accepted, and immediately afterwards the manager went to the other women employed, and told them that they would have to submit to a reduction, as he could get the work done at a lower rate." In Ohristchurch matters are not quite bo bad, yet they are bad enough. The " Lyttelton Times " as the result of its enquiries finds that though no facts bo terrible as those recorded by the " Otago Daily Times " have been discovered, stiil " wages m Christchurch are, m some instances, so low as to justifythe term c sweating ' boing applied to mv Hjbtem uudm nbhHtrthey are paid." (Jur contemporary says : — " The poor women are, m some places m this city, paid a wage so small that they can, by working their hardest, scarcely earn enough to ' keep body and soul together.' For finishing a pair of trousers the price paid m one establishment is, our representative was informed, Bd, lOd and Is, according to the quality of the work required. The shilling a pair is paid only for ' orders ' that is, for trousers ' made to measure ' for customers. The ' finishing ' m this instance includes ' basting ' the garments together for the sewing machine, and, after the latter has done its work,, putting m pockets, sewing on bottoms, and doing everything not done by machine. When asked how many pairs of trousers a women oould 'finish' m a day, a tailor of long experience replied, ' A pair and a half.' Another said, "By working till ten or eleven every night she could finish two pairs." A woman, who was accounted a good hand at her work, made, at this rate of pay, 12s 6d a week. A less skilful hand would probably not earn morn than 10s weekly. Whether this sura is sufficient to keep her we leave our readers to decide. It must be home m mind that the workers m question are not mere children learning the business. They are, many of them, considerably over age. At another establishment, men's ready made suits are turned out at a cost of 80s, for labor, lining, trimmings, and maker's profit, everything, m short, except the tweed. The lowest price at which this can be done, allowing a fair rate of wages, is, according to a gentleman of considerable experience m the business, forty shillings. To refer fa another line of work. A few yearp ago 9s 6d per dozen was the price paid for making men's flannel drawers, the employers finding trimmings, etc. Now 5s is m some cases paid for the same work, and the trimmings, etc., have to be provided by the sempstress. Despite the miserable pay, there is, unfortonately, no lack of applicants for even such poorly remunerated work as that mentioned. It has been said that, were all the women employed m the work m question to leave Christchurch m one day, on the next their places would be filled by a fresh swarm of workers. This is probably exaggeration, but there is no doubt that the straggle for existence among these poor toilers is becoming keen— far too keen for a young community like onrs." A ll this is exceedingly sad, and it, is all the sadder that it is hard to see how to devise a remedy. The Ret Mr Waddell condemns the "craving for cheapnesß which prevails nowadays," and appears to think that the remedy would be found m purchasers being contented to give a fair price instead of going from shop to shop to see how little they can get an article for, and the " Lyttelton Times " suggests that " perhaps gome persons who may unthinkinglyhave helped to support this ' sweating system ' by this craving for cheapness may willingly pay a little more for their purchases when they realise that the trifling advantage they derive from buying m the cheapest market has been obtained at the cost of much misery to their fellow-men." But we are not at all hopeful of any reform r being worked m this way to any appre- • ciable extent j bope ]ieg rafter m fog'
direction of such measures as will bring about a return of more prosperous times m which the labor of men will be m demand at a fair wage, and it will be no longer necessary for women to toil for the obtainment of necessary food.