THE SWEATING SYSTEM.
The public meeting fixed to receive and consider the report of the Committee appointed at a previous public meeting to consider the best means of dealing with the sweating system was held at the Choral Hall last evening, Mr W, D, Stewart, M.H.R., occupied the chair, and among those on the platform were Mrs W. H. Reynolds, Miss Bathgate, the Revs, J. Gibb, J. Qibson-Smith, R. Waddell, and Ven, Archdeacon Edwards, Dr Fitchett, M.H.R., Messrs H. S. Fish, M.H.R.. T. Brown, E, C. Quick, G. Fenwick, K. Ramsay, J. S. Maitland, D. White, Parker (president of the Christchurch Tailors and Tailoresses’ Association), and Sir Robert Stout. The hall was packed with people of both sexes, the majority of whom, from the keen interest evinced by them in the proceedings, belong to the class affected by the matter under discussion.
The Chairman read apologies for unavoidable absence from the Rev. Dr Stuart, the Rev, Mr Fitchett, the Rev, W. Baumber, Mr Allen, M.H.R., the Hon. W. H. Reynolds, and Dr Hocken. He went on to say that the Committee had obtained as much information as they possibly could in Dunedin and some from Victoria as to the best way of dealing with the sweating system. They had been hopeful that they would be able to overcome the difficulties in the way, but those difficulties became insuperable, and they found it necessary to bring the matter before a public meeting to take what other action might be deemed desirable to bring about a reform in the existing state of things. He would ask the Rev. R, Waddell to speak to the report, which set out that the Committee had confined itself to one department of work, being satisfied that if a system could be devised to cover one department it could be extended to others. It was thought that if a tariff of prices could be arranged, it would at least secure an equitable wage being paid for the time being. Accordingly the Committee approached the merchants and the manufacturers. A deputation waited on all the wholesale and retail merchants, and explained their views to them. They asked the large employers of labor, if such a tariff of prices were drawn up would they accept it, and employ no one who did not give a guarantee to pay their workwomen at the tariff rates? The gentlemen waited on were understood to unanimously approve of the proposal. The Committee meanwhile had written to the Victorian Tailoresses’ Union in Melbourne, asking for information as to the working of their union, A communication was received in reply giving what information the union had, and it was found that a tariff of prices for various classes of work was in existence there. This strengthened the hands of the Committee in their efforts to arrange such a tariff here. The next business of the Committee was to arrange the tariff, and they accordingly asked one of the largest contractors to draw up a list of rates which she believed would be reasonable and just to all parties. This was done. Then the list was submitted to several other of the largest contractors for their revision, and was accepted on the understanding that the rates were minimum rates. After further consideration of the suggestions ana amendments proposed, the final list of prices was agreed upon, and then the list was submitted to the merchants. The intention of the Committee was that a book should be placed in the hands of every merchant, in which book those who tendered for work should sign a guarantee that they would pay their workers not less than the tariff rates, and that in the event of anyone being discovered violating this pledge the work should be withdrawn from them until such reparation had been made as might he deemed satis factory. A letter was accordingly sent to Mr C. H. Statham, as representative of the warehousemen, stating that he would find enclosed a schedule of prices which had been submitted to the chief contractors, including Mrs Mayer, Mrs Sanmarlic, and Mrs Willson, who said it was a workable tariff, and were willing to pay according to it. He was also requested to call, as he had previously promised, a meeting of the warehousemen to consider the tariff and endeavor to get them to sanction it. In reply, Mr Statham wrote that he had duly called the meeting, and the warehousemen offered no objection to the prices submitted, as they were deemed reasonable, in some few instances being lower than the present tariff, What the warehousemen particularly wished to know was whether it was proposed that the tariff submitted should be universal throughout New Zealand, or if it was intended to apply to Dunedin only, as if the latter, they considered the effect would he to drive work away, since it was freely stated that lower prices predominate in other large towns. There appeared to bo no difference between the price for making up one dozen or fifty dozen of shirts at one time, for which a margin should have been allowed. The meeting appeared to think that any combination of this kind should come from the workers themselves that is, that they should come tosome arrangement to work only for certain figures, and that must be agreed to by all workers, under a penalty if desirable, otherwise the object would never be attained. The warehousemen made no objection to the prices, and had no desire whatever to screw down workers, bqt they felt an immense difficulty in binding therpselves to pay only certain prices npless they had some assurance that those prices would be general. The Committee wpre very much surprised and disappointed at the terms of this reply, because it was contrary to what they expected. It appeared from the tenor of the reply that a misunderstanding existed as to what the Committee desired. An interview was therefore obtained with the representative of the warehousemen, who attended a meeting of the Committee. At this interview the position taken up by the Committee was explained namely, that the Committee did not wish to interfere between the contractors and the warehousemen, but only to secure that the former paid to the operatives not less than the minimum rates indicated in the tariff, all parties being by this means protected from unscrupulous competition. The representative of the warehousemen stated that if those views were embodied in a letter to him he would convene a meeting of warehousemen and submit it to them. A letter was accordingly drawn up by the Committee and forwarded to Mr Statham, setting forth their views aud submitting that the suggestion of the Committee, if given effect to, would leave the rates of pay between the warehousemen and the contractors to be settled by themselves, so long as the latter promised to pay their workers not less than the minimum rates for the time being In operation. To that fetter Mr Statham replied that the warehousemen felt that they popld not very well put themselves in the position of insisting upon contractors pledging themselves to pay their workers not less than the tariff of prices submitted, but that they would endeavor by representation to get them to do so. With a view of assisting in this work, the warehousemen were quite agreeable to give a list of the names of the contractors who make up for them, and the Committee would then bo in a position to deal directly between contractor and worker. On receiving this letter the Committee saw that all further effort in that direction was useless, the warehousemen having collectively ’ refuseef to do what the Committee understood they had individually approved of. In tjie opinion of the Committee the had it in their power to secure the payment &f a fiyjug rate of wages. They declined, however, to give their aid in doing this, and had assigned no tangible reason for this refusal. It was for the public to draw its own conclusion. The Committee finally reported that they could see no way to prevent the recurrence of the state of things which had aroused public indignation in the past, excepting (1) legislative interference and (2) the organisation of the workeis themselves into a union, similar to that which has been so successfully carried on ip Victoria. They recommended, therefore, £he appointment of a committee for the purpose of securing these ends. The Rev. Mr Waddell said that there was little necessity to add much to the ye, Eort, but he would like to Bay something on is own responsibility, and net as a member of the Committee. It was a matter of very great regret that after such a long time, and after suen a promising beginning, a conclusion so disappointing had been reached.
The warehousemen with whom the Committee came into contact were all estimable gentlemen individually ; but when they got their heads together they refused collectively to do that which the Committee had understood them individually to promise todo. They refused to ask a guarantee from their contractors for the sake of protecting the workers. He could not see what difficulties stood in the way, and the warehousemen had never stated what they were. Not having done so, and with only such facts as he knew before, he for one must charge them with henceforth beingindirectly involved in the iniquities of a system which we all deplore, and which they themselves profess to abhor.—(Applause.) He charged them with not only not helping to remove a stumbling block out of the way of reform, but with actually sitting down upon the block and keeping it in its place. They, and they only, had the power at this particular crisis to prevent wages from sinking below a living minimum. Had they made the requirement which the Committee asked for it was morally impossible that the state of things which shocked the public in the past could have continued in the future. They could have put a cog in the wheel which would have kept it in its place and prevented it from going back. It was not true to say that such a tariff was unworkable, for it was at work in Melbourne, and it was in work in the boot factories in Dunedin. He charged the warehousemen with not only stopping a reform, but with setting an example of selfishness and narrowness unworthy their position. The four firms which had taken up that position should, he thought, be named. Tney were Messrs Ross and Glendining, Bing, Harris, and Co., Sargood, Son, and Ewen, and Butterworth Bros. Those firms were among the largest, and popularly supposed to be the most respectable and the most generous of any in the City, and sometimes they heard contrasts drawn between them and smaller concerns in the City ; but what were the facts ? After waiting upon these large and generous firms he called at almost every shop in George street which was supposed to be engager! in the shirtmaking trade, and every one of the proprietors readily and gladly consented to the tariff he submitted. They thought it not only perfectly practicable, but a right good thing, and they readily agreed to accept it. But their concurrence was rendered valueless by the position which these large and generous and eminently respectable warehousemen took up. He further charged the warehousemen with indirectly sharing in the gains of this iniquitous system of sweating. If it continued these warehousemen would morally occupy a position almost, if not altogether, analagous to that of the receiver of stolen goods,—(Applause.) Had it come to this—that money is more to be considered than manhood and womanhood ? That for the sake of selling shirts at Ud a dozen lees than their neighbor, they were to tolerate a system that rendered the makers of goods to lead the lives of galley slaves? What could anyone gain by that? The greatest master of the human heart—He who knew’what was in man better than all his critics put together—He said once that a man is cot profited if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul, or if he be the occasion of others losing their souls. And after eighteen centuries of professed worship and service of that Man, has it come to this that they were willing to permit in their midst a system that threatened to reproduce in their young, fair land those very evils that were eating the very heart and soul out of the older countries ? He much mistook the meeting if that was so, and he thought that they should take the sweating system, with all its aiders and abettors, and place them high up on the pillory of public opinion for all men’s scorn—yea, fill the very geese took courage and hissed derisionat them !—(Loud applause,) hir R. .Stout said it was with great sadness he saw such a meeting. When he left the old land he had fell as others had—that in coming to a new land he was coming to a country that would be rid of the evils that had tormented the land of bis birth ; and yet before this colony was fifty years old these troubles were affecting its inhabitants. Could it be that it was a law of life that the human race could only exist on the degradation of some part of it ? He did not believe it was. —(Applause.) He believed it was quite possible to have such a social state in a country that there should be none in want,- that it was possible to picture a social state where vice and crime were unknown ; and that they would never be properly carrying out their functions unless each one strove to bring about that state of things. They heard that they must not interfere with competition ; that if they interfered in the slightest degree with the law of competition and the law of freetrade the country would be all wrong in its political economy, and would end in disaster. It was an exceedingly sad thing that things had been so managed that in this new land a meeting should bo held to protest against laborers being offered so little for their work that upon it they could not keep body and soul together. Was not that disgraceful ? The peonle were to blame for it. The warehousemen gave a good hint when they said that we ought to have trade unions among the people. There should be a combination of the workers. That was good advice, and he hoped the workers would act up to it. (Applause.) It would bo seen that the warehousemen said that if a scale of prices was fixed the result might bp to driye wofk frorp Dunedin. Well, if they could only get work done }n the City on condition of starving the young women, it was better that the work should go.—(Applause). What was the benefit of factories if their race was to bo degraded ? What was the benefit of warehouses if they only existed to the degradation of the country’s own flesh and blood ? But they were not to believe that there would not be as much work as ever there was. Did they believe the people in Christchurch were going to starve themselves to make shits ? They were not going to do anything of the sort. Neither were the people in Wellington or in Auckland. If the Dunedin people got a certain wage they also would get that wage.—(Applause.) And his motion in regard to this movement was applicable not only to Dunedin, but to the whole of this colony. It was this:—“ That the Government be respectfully requested to appoint a commission to inquire into the sweating system in this and the other towns of the colony, and report as to the best method of dealing with the whole subject.” —(Applause.) He wanted to make this a national movement, and he wanted that meeting to say to the people in every town in the colony that they had a right to assist them, and that they did not look to Dunedin alone. He did not look upon this as merely a small battle dealing with the question of “sweating.” A far deeper issue was involved in this movement. The whole question resolved itself into one of in what relation labor was to stand to the State, and as soon as the laborer was educated he would have his rights—he would have his rights though all the capitalists in. the world declared ho should not, because he would organise, and if ho was faithful to his fellows the battle was won,—(Applause.) Dr Fitchett seconded the motion, and in doing so said he thought it was a right aud proper thing that the Government should take the matter in hand. With much that Mr Waddell had said regarding the warehousemen he could not, however, agree, and he thought it was to be regretted that anything like friction should be engendered. They recognised the evil, but he did not know that they could attach the blame of that evil entirely to the warehousemen—- (“ hear, hear,” and dissent) —and it would fie as well if they brought about this reform with as little friction as they could. In listening to Mr Waddell and in reading the report it seemed to him that there was an element of impracticability about it, and he thought the warehousemen were not to be blamed for saying that they oould not fall in with that scheme,
Mr Suacklock : It is simply the defence of the warehousemen. (Applause and laughter.) Dr Fitchett said it was very unkind to say that he came there to defend the warehousemen. He did not hold a brief from them, and until he came there be did not know whfit the report was. He did not believe that firms Uko Sargood’s and Butterworth’s were slave drivers either, —(Grips of “No, no,” and laughter.) Possibly the Legislature might be able to fix the rate of wages, but he aid not believe it would, If, however, the Legislature appointed a com-
mission they would get an enormous amount of practicable good from getting concentrated action throughout the colony, and getting the evidence printed. MfHogo said he couldspeak from practical experience in this matter, especially as to how the female class were affected, He was a tailor, and knew of cases where girls who worked till eleven or twelve o’clock at night could not earn more than 10s or lis a week. Some of them could not make 8s a week by working legitimate hours. Mr Joachim said that the public should make up their minds not to buy from people who indulged in these “sweating” practices. —(Applause. ) They should make themselves acquainted with the value of every article, and if they found out the shops where good wages were paid they would be sure to get good value for their money.— (Applause.)
Mr J, F, M. Fraser said he dissented entirely from Dr Fitchett’s view of the matter, and held that they must have friction, and must court friction. They were taking up the cause of the workers, and would have to range themselves on their aide. He had a resolution bearing on the subject in hand, but would not move it then—he would move it later on when the other business of the motion was disposed of. The motion was then put and carried unanimously.
Mr J. S. Maitland moved—“ That efforts bo made now to form a union of the tailoresses, shirt machinistr, finishers, and pressers, such union to be called ‘The Tailoresses’ Union of New Zealand.’” It seemed to him, as he had said at first, that this was the only way of grappling with the subject. Six years ago a tailoresses’ union had been formed in Victoria, and tiie rate of wages there bad kept up, while iu Dunedin they had during the past six years been reduced by 23J per cent. The Victorian Union had started with a debit balance of L6B, and after a considerable outlay in the way of help the Union had in hand L 1,273. This showed what could be done, and he would urge the workers to unite for their own protection. Mr H. S. Fish seconded the motion, and in doing so urged the workers to join the Union, and as the result he believed they would get what they wanted. But if they did not succeed in this way, there were other means which, he distinctly asserted, would avail. Some said that Parliament could not interfere; but in what could Parliament not interfere? There was no step in the direction of alleviating distress —of righting wrongs and doing justice—that Parliament could not take or ought not to take.
Mr Parker spoke at some length as to the rate of wages that ruled in Christchurch, aud asked if it was right to see young folks reduced to what was practically slavery without an effort to put things right ? As Mr Maitland had told them, combination would succeed. United in one grand combination they must be successful, for capital could not do without labor.
The motion was put and carried unanimously. Mr T. Brown moved—" That the following be a committee to give effect to the foregoing resolutions : —Sir Robert Stout, Hon. W. H. Reynolds, Dr Fitchett, M.H.R., Messrs W. D. Stewart, James Allen, H. S. Fish, M.H.R.s, J. S. Maitland, D. Wishart. the presidents of the Social Reform Association, the Tailors’ Uuion, and the Trades and Labor Council, William Mitchell (president of the Carpenters’Association). David Pinkerton (president of the Boot Manufacturers’,) ’ He said that with regard to the warehousemen he would not like to go so far as some of the speakers had gone. The remedy lay very much with the public themselves, and was not to be remedied by Act of Parliament. What the public wanted to do was to support the Committee mentioned in this motion. Mr G. Fenwick, in seconding the motion, said it had his cordial sympathy, as indeed had the whole movement that they had met that night to consider, The meeting was held for the distinct purpose of aiding unfortunate girls whom they knew to be working for a wage that it was utterly disgraceful those who employed them should pay. One firm in this City was the head and front of the offending in this matter. He had no hesitation in saying that, and in saying it distinctly, Inquiries had been instituted by the ‘ Otago Daily Times,’ and the facts that were brought before him were utterly appalling. The sweating was due to one particular firm of warehousemen in this City.—(Applause.) He almost felt that he should mention the name of that firm,— (Cries of “ Yes, yes,” and " No.”) Well, some said '‘No,” but he said “ Yes.” He assumed a grave responsibility in doing so. If he mentioned the name it might tell against him in some shape or form, but on his own responsibility he would do so.— (Applause.) [Mr Fenwick mentioned the name of a gentleman connected with a wellknown firm.] The motion was put and carried unanimously. Mr Fraser then rose to move his resolution, but first congratulated Mr Fenwick on his manly utterance.—(Loud applause.) His speech did an honest man good to hear.— (Cheers.) He (the speaker) took it that they were now fairly embarked in the fight, and as it was a matter of warfare, they might as well use the ordinary weapons such as were used in warfare of this description. On his own responsibility he was going to put a motion to the meeting as follows—“ That in the opinion of this meeting it is desirable that the name? of the firm? who decline to fix a fair minimum wage for their workers be given publicity to, and that the public be respectfully requested to decline to do business with any retail house dealing with the firms who decline to fix such minimum.”— (Cheers.) This would do a great deal of good, as it would be telegraphed far and wide over the colony, and would pillory the names of those men who were guilty in this matter.— (Applause.) A Voice : You would boycott them !
Mr Fraser ; Yes, I would boycott those, gentlemen. Mr Rankin seconded the motion, remarking that he knew something about “sweating” in this town.—(A. Voice: “ Yes, you’ve done it too !” and great laughter.) That, he said, was a question possibly that might be disputed. However, he knew the evils of the system, both in New Zealand and in Scotland also, which was farther away. (Laughter.) What they wanted was combination.
Dr Fitchett replied to the charge that he held a briet for the warehousemen, and added that it was exceedingly foolish for his friend (Mr Fraser) to poso as a firebrand and put such a motion before them. He mistook the position, and confounded things that differed. He was trying to boycott these people as convicted of sweating, whereas Mr Fenwick had given his assurance that it was someone else. If they said they would boycott the man convicted of “ sweating,” then he (the speaker) would be heartily with them.—(Applause.) But it was not possible to place a minimum on wages, and that would be the worst thing for the workmen, as wages would undoubtedly tend to come down to that minimum. He hoped sincerely that they would have the good sense not to pass this motion. Mr Davidson also objected to the motion, which he considered preposterous. He held that the warehousemen that had been named had the interests of their employees as much at heart as had the gentlemen on the platform.—(Laughter.) He did not care for their laughter, but he must tell them that they wished to dictate to the people. Mr Ramsay expressed his sympathy with the movement, although he could not approve of all that had been said—especially what had been said by Mr Waddell. The resolution proposed by Mr Fraser would do very muck more harm than good, There really was no cause for it, and it was grossly unfair, after the speech made by Mr Fenwick, that three other warehousemen should be included in such a motion. He objected entirely to the introduction into this country of the abominable system of boycotting. The Rev. R. Waddell also thought it would be unwise to accept the resolution. As regarded what Mr Fenwick had said, he admired his courage, but while that gentleman had referred to only one house, he himself held—and be wished himself to be distinctly understood—that the three other firms stood OB the same platform.—(Applause.) Mr Fbaseb objected to the ungenerous
term “ firebrand ” that Dr Fitchett had applied to him. He did not wish to pose as a public firebrand; and it was, in his opinion, a rascally thing to endeavor to catch the ear by a little claptrap oratory — (applause)—by a man who was like a badlysteered craft, that twisted and turned with sails ever shivering in the wind.—(Laughter and applause.) No matter what imperfections they had, he would say let them have common honesty. However, in deference to Mr Waddell, he would, with the consent of his seconder, withdraw the motion. The Chairman intimated that Mr J. S. Maitland would be at the Young Women’s Christian Association Rooms from twelve to five on Saturday, and all day on Monday, to receive the names of those young women who wished to enrol themselves as members of this Union.
MrCoLCLODGH said he thought it would bo a disgrace for the meeting to separate without expressing its thanks to the ‘ Otago Daily Times’ for the action it had taken in this matter.—(Applause.) Mr W. M‘Adam said he would second such a motion with much pleasure, especially if Mr Fenwick’s name was connected with it.— (Applause.) Anyone who knew anything of the business relations of this City, and especially the position which Mr Fenwick held, would recognise that this was the bravest thing that had been done in Dunedin for many a long year.—(Loud applause. ) It was agreed to couple Mr Fenwick’s name with the motion, which was carried unanimously.
Mr G. Fenwick, in reply, said he could only thank them very sincerely for this cordial vote. He felt that he had only done his duty. He had considered it due to the other firms, and due to everybody, that it should be known who was the head and front of this offence against the commonwealth. He could wish that in this vote the other papers had been associated, and with the permission of the meeting would supply that omission.—(Applause.) The papers had worked together in this matter, and although the ‘ Otago Daily Times ’ had taken the lead, the other papers were equally deserving of approbation.—(Applause.) The motion was then carried by acclamation. Mr B. Hallenstein said : I have hitherto thought it best not to take any part whatsoever in the agitation which has been going on anent the sweating system, and I have come to this meeting more as a listener than a speaker. Several gentlemen have asked me to say a few words on the subject. Now, as a manufacturer and large employer of labor, anything which I may say will be looked upon, and rightly so, as coming from an interested party. And I am decidedly interested, for it will be patent to you that if I or our firm can save say L 5 in the labor of every LIOO worth of goods which we sell, it will be so much more profit in our pocket, provided we have not to sell what we sold formerly for LIOO for L 95, thus making no extra profit, the unfortunate workpeople only being the losers. Had our firm the sole right to manufacture clothing in New Zealand, we should charge a fair price, and we should pay our hands a fair price, and I have no hesitation in saying that they would obtain 25 per cent, more than they can earn at the present time. However, the New Zealand Clothing Factory or Hallenstein Bros, and Co., unfortunately for themselves and unfortunately for their workpeople, but to the advantage of the public, have not the sole right. But be this as it may, as a matter of fact there is a groat deal of very keen competition, and prices both of goods and labor have come down in some instances to non paying rates. Goods (arebeing manufactured of inferior make and quality, and sold at prices interfering very much with the sale of goods from houses like ours, who endeavor to keep up the standard of a fair quality. Unfortunately, a good many people do not discriminate—l am sure to their own loss—between an inferior article and one of better quality, thus to some extent encouraging the sweating system. Our firm has repeatedly received letters from some of the managers of our retail branches saying that they daily lose the sale of a cheaper and inferior class of goods kept by some houses, and urging us to keep a certain quantity of lower class goods ; but we have invariably replied that it is better to lose the sale of such goods as they cannot be produced excepting at starvation prices. I hope what I have said may not be considered as advertising our firm in touching upon this subject. I have of necessity been obliged to speak of our firm, which is engaged in a trade wherein the thin edge of sweating has been introduced. Believe me, this movement has from the onset had my heartfelt sympathy. Keen competition compels us to pay lower prices than formerly, but I have often said to the members of our firm—all of whom, lam happy to say, agree with me—that we would prefer to abandon our business rather than carry it on, if it can only be made remunerative by starvation wages. I, for one, would not feel happy to live on the misery of others. Mr Waddell, and those ladies and gentlemen who have acted with him, deserve our hearty thanks. The task has been beset with many difficulties, but I do not think that their efforts have failed. They have stirred up public indignation against the sweating system, and they have aroused sympathy with the work people, and this alone has had a beneficial effect, and has already done good. A vote of thanks to Mr W. D. Stewart for presiding brought the meeting to a close.
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THE SWEATING SYSTEM., Evening Star, Issue 7928, 8 June 1889
THE SWEATING SYSTEM. Evening Star, Issue 7928, 8 June 1889
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