The Ashburton Guardian. Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit. MONDAY, JUNE 9, 1890. THE LABOUR QUESTION.
The report of the Sweating Commission appointed by the New Zealand Govei'niuent a short time since did not reveal a very dreadful state of affairs in this Colony in regard to the employment of men, women, or children at starvation rates of wages. The homes, the morals, or the surroundings of those who earn their bread by the sweat of their browj were not painted in such colours as to arouse public sympathy and indignation. Nothing came under the notice of the Commission to warrant^ recommendations for drastic reform, either as to low - wjiges, hours,- --oi 1 the condition of those who, under the social requirements of the age. are dependent upon constant employment and constant health, for each clay's food and clothing,"and the many other actual necessaries of an advanced civilised life. There may be isolated cases of " sweating" in the Colony, but few, if any, of these came under the observation of the Commissioners. The report, therefore, as a whole, certified that the condition of the wage-earners was fairly good, It would, indeed, have been strange if any other result had been arrived at in a thinly populated colony only half a century old, and in which, in addition to its own natural wealth, something like fifty million pounds of borrowed capital has been expended. The wageearners, as well as the capitalist, have shared in the general prosperity of the first fifty years' of settlement under favourable conditions, and it would be a blot upon the history of New Zealand if it were otherwise. The next fifty years' experience, it is just possible, may not. tell a tale so satisfactory—, that is if New Zealand does not profit by the experience of older countries. In Victoria, only a century old, we observe that the pernicious system known as " sweating" is in existence in an aggravated form, a late number of the "Melbourne Age" containing some statements which should cause social reformers in this new land to set about procuring legislation which will prevent a similar experience here. The " Age " states that " sweating— mean, frowsy, depraved, and pitiful — is carried on in Melbourne to a degree hardly less horrible than the incidents of its prevalence in London," and cites instances where young girls work in an unwholesome den 72 hours for wages varying from 3s 6d to 7s per week,.' while the avaricious " sweater " draws i from ,£8 to £14 per week -"profit"' from the work thus produced. Otherinstances are given where women work for 2d an hour button-hole making, and i men work eighteen hours—night and day —for a miserable pittance of 28s ' per week, and in some instances only earn 10s 6d. These toilers work in wretchedly constructed rooms, in an \ unwholesome atmosphere, and in the midst of loose moral surroundings, often leading to the young females preferring the shame of a disreputable .street life to that of slavery in the workshops. The garments thus made are tainted with the diseases surrounding them, and sickness, and oftentimes death, is carried to the homes of the wearers, who are in blissful ignorance that their apparel is manufactured elsewhere than at the respectable drapery or tailoring establishment where ordered. In a young colony, abounding with wealth, such a state of affairs is inexcusable. The populace pay heavy prices for the goods, but the tailor and sweater divide the spoil be- 1 tween them, while the toilor's body and soul is sacrificed in assisting the j social vampires to grow wealthy. New Zealand is comparatively free from an ' aggravated form of " sweating " of the Victorian kind, and we echo the sentiment of every colonist when we say, " Long may she remain so." But there is, nevertheless, an effort to " sweat" the toilers in New Zealand. No one can visit our large factories or workshops without being impressed with the large number of boys and girls employed, and the almost total absence of adult labor. The Commissioners noted this fact ift their report, and accounted
for it by stating that the improvements in machinery rendered skilled labor almost unnecessary. They stated also that in consequence of this excessive "boy" labor, skilled artisans complained that they could not find employment. The Commissioners merely noted the fact without making any suggestion or recommendation as to how the " fathers " would find employment as well as the. sons and daughters. Up to the present the head of the family has been looked upon as the "bread-winner," but, under the new conditions, it would appear as if, in the manufacturing world at least, pater familias will be compelled to remain in enforced idleness at home, while his children toil to keep the wolf from the door. Whether this will be an improvement on the old order of' things remains to be seen. One thing may be said for the employers, so far, and that is the youth thus employed sxe- paid fairly good wages ; the workrooms; generally, are healthy; and the hours of labor approximate as nearly as. possible to eight hours, A serious question, nevertheless, arises, and- t*iat: is what is to become of the youths learning skilled labor when theyy : ,like." their parents, becpme, xqeji, and . women ? Are they, .too, only to. be .employed for W few. years" in youth, and remain in enforced idleness ever afterwards 1 Is the effect of machinery tojbe that there will only be, employment for—younger members of the family, and none at all for the elders, more competent to do the work? These-are, < serious ques-i tions, and,require earnest attention at the haUcN <$ the Trades' Unions now forming, and also at the ,ha.nds of our legislators, if the skilled-adult.popula-tion is not to be entirely driven from our, shores to , other -lands where "boy labor.". sweating is not so general. One of ■ the fundamental principles of Trades' Unions is tq regulate the employment of juvenile labor, permitting only a.' reasonable proportion of apprentices to the number of skilled workmen employed.This principle, if strictly carried out, will undoubtedly check what threatens to be, in this Colony, a growing evil. Another equally efficacious check would perhaps be for the Unionists to educate public opinion to s,uqh purpose that boys and girls will not be rushed into the towns to learn skilled or "genteel" employments at which .they cannot afterwards make a living, instead of being encouraged to settle upon the land and reap the fruits thereof for themselves. The workmen have themselves to blame in large measure for the overcrowding of boys and girls into workshops and factories, as it is from this class that the supply is d.rawji ? and one of tfye first duties of Trades' Unionists would appear to be to seek for their offspring employment in the, country rather than in the town, and to unite in demanding that the State shall place land in'suitable areas at thfiii? disposal on which to, settle themselves, or on which to settle their sons and daughters.