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The unexpected revelations which have recently been made of the existence, m the large centres of population m this colony, of that evil state of things more forcibly than euphoniously described as "the sweating system" has led to an exceedingly interesting debate m the Presbyterian (Synod then sitting m Dunedin. The flev. Rutherford Waddell, who brought the subject up, spoke of the privatioDS and miseries of life shown by the sweating revelations which had appeared m the press and expressed his sympathy with the sufferers. He went on to say that much of the misery and pauperism was caused by drinking habits, but at the game time pointed out, very / ' truly, that often the drinking habit was •' the effect of the system, but not the cause. Men were reduced to such a condition that they took something to deaden the oare that oppressed them. "When the English capitalists said to Sir B. Peel that they could not compete with foreign manufacturers and pay the wages they were paying, he said : ' Take the children.' It was a fatal answer. The children had been taken, and the result was a system that forces wife and children into competition with the husband, and the husband was driven out of employment and into the public house." Professor Dunlop said "it should not go forth that the sweating system was wholly due to the fact that there was keen competition or avaricious - ness all round ;he ... had found that the horrible system of women and children working at these rates was due m the vast majority of cases to the immorality of the husbands, who were drunken and would not work. The church was m danger of speaking too smooth things to these people, and of telling them that ameliorations of a certain kind right outside of them would put an end to the sweating system when they would do nothing of the sort. They Bhould be a little more emphatic m saying that there was only one effective means of amelioration, and that that was by becoming new men and new women . It would be a pity if the church turned from its preaching of Christianity to indulge m experiments of an economic class. The only way of effecually touching the evils of the age was by preaching Christ and his Gospel. Christ and his apostles did not attack directly one of the blackest evils that ever afflicted humanity — slavery ; and they were wise, humanly speaking, it would have been downright failure ; but they preached a Gospel the spirit of which brought about the annihilation of slavery The chnrch ought not to . • . . be made the flatterer of those who onght to be told the honest truth, that they were themselves argely responsible for the troubles that hsd come upon them. He had never heard from anybody what should be done hen hundreds of women were competing to get certain work. What could the manufacturer do ? What practical suggestion had they to make? That was his difficulty." A layman (Mr E. B. Cargill) also addressed himself to the question, and said that " though they deplored its existence, they did not know who was to blame for the sweating system, or how far it was due to the greed of tradesmen and manufacturers, or how far it was caused by the keen competition arising from so many people being out of work." He, however, went on to poinc out what is a most patent fact, vie., that "the enormous accumulation of wealth m the hands of a few, subsisting; side by side with great multitudes of people who did not know how to find food from day to day, did not accord with the law of Christ. No one who reflected could not fail to see how far we were going contrary to Christ's teaching ; but he did not think theywere prepared to enter into that discussion." Quite so, and it is so inconvenient to discuss this aspect of the question that all Christendom seems, by common consent, to ignore it. The sweating system is only possible because of the wretched poverty of large numbers of people, and that poverty (except ! such as is caused by drink and idleness) is not the sin of those who experience it, but of those who, having the power to prevent it, permit it to exist. Professor Dunlop is quite right m saying as he does, m effect, that if the true principles of Christianity were carried out by a professed Christian people dire misery and want would not be possible, and - there would be no room for the sweating system, but if there is not enough practical Christianity abroad to render these things impossible, then it becomes a question whether the law should not step m and require the rich to contribute to the funds of the State a sum sufficient to enable work to be found at a fair wago for all who are willing to work. We are no Communists, and regard it as the duty ol the State to protect the property as well as the liberties of its subjects, but there is a problem of dire destitution existing side by side with emormous wealth that demands solution, and which it seems to us must eventually be solved m some such way aB we have indicated.

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Bibliographic details

Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume VII, Issue 1995, 13 November 1888

Word Count

THE "SWEATING" SYSTEM. Ashburton Guardian, Volume VII, Issue 1995, 13 November 1888