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THE SWEATING SYSTEM., Otago Daily Times, Issue 8335, 8 November 1888
THE SWEATING SYSTEM.
DEBATE AT THE PRESBYTERIAN
At yesterday afternoon's sitting of the Presbyterian Synod,
The Rev. Rutheepohd Waddell moved— " That the attention of. the synod having been called to the existence of what is known as the •sweating system' in Dunedin and elsewhere in the colony, and as it appears that the wages paid for many classes of work are miserably inadequate, the synod records its protest against this social injustice. It urges the members of the church to lend their aid to every legitimate means to mitigate the erils of excessive competition, enjoins its ministers to give special prominence in their teaching to the sin of coyetousnesß, which is the worst of all sucb. evils, and also to proclaim more emphatically the laws of Christ as laws of commercial and social as well 8S religious life" In speaking to the motion, he said that he cofl^ sidered that this was a matter of some importance, and that its importance was not to be judged by the position it occupied in the discussums of the synod Though it was amongst the last of their proceedings, it was by no means the least important of the subjects tha? had occupied their attention during the session. It waß Perhaps fitting also that he should be the one to call attention to this matter in the synod inasmuch as he was the one who first of all drew the attention of the public to it from Ms pulpit. Since he called attention to the subjS lit had found its way into the columns of the newspapers, and was now discussed in every th,?^ 6 co!ony^ « seemed quite evident that what was called the sweating system did exist in this new country and in our.new cities, and that people were earning wages here which if not lower, were at least as low as those which had been condemned as sweating wages at Home. He himself knew of cases in Dunedin where wages were being earned that were totally inadequate to keep body and soul togethe? Women, for example, were making shirt! at Is 6d a dozen, and women in other towns in New Zealand were working at even lower rates. In this city women were sewing moleskin trousers frnS V»J?n> dat tWs rate by ™rking hard from 8 a.m. till 11 p.m. they were only able to make 2s per day. He believed, that though this was the case, the system here was not so bad as it was in other towns in the colony It was said to be worse in Wellington, and the H?"5? m I morning paper showed that under the sweating system in Auckland the wages there jere perhaps the lowest that had yet been^made public in any city in the Austraas,an colonies There could be no doubt about « trTh. 8' f . *•"* t?" 80 facts were such as told a a t ale Sf the Btate of life *at must be endured by those struggling for existence under such conditions. * H f was nofS »V IDgf\v ybody T ? ati for blam« this state of things. He did not think that the manufacturers were to blame for it The manufacturers merely met a demand 'for a certain thing, and he thought that perhaps the blame ought to be fairly distributed all round! that all classes of the community were to blame and especially that Christians must take fee greatest blame upon themselves, because as £ ni»»f fhrl T 6 !?v the position toteach the laws of Christ, and he believed that if the laws °f..Chri s* were learned there would be no possibility that such a state of things could exist. What then was the duty of the church ? Well, he thought the duty of the church was indicated, more or less, in the terms of the motion. It was the duty of the church, he thought, to take more interest in social questions than it had been doing. This was being recognised in almost every part of the world. There was a tendency all over the world for the church to take not less interest in the moral and spiritual welfare of the people, but a great deal more interest in their social welfare, and he believed the church was only presenting half the Gospel when it preached, as it was bound to do, the moral uplifting of the community. He thonght they had also to consider the physical condition of those for whose spiritual welfare they were concerned, and must carry this twofold Gospel. He did not know that it was so, but he feared that the working classes were not attendants at their churches. He did not mean to say that the ratio of church attendance had fallen, but he was almost sure that the ratio of the working classes who attended church was decreasing, and statistics collected elsewhere showed that in other countries this was so. In one return it was shown that while 12 per cent, of merchants and the upper classes attended church, only 4 per cent, of the working classes did so. Inquiries had been instituted to account for this state of things, and amongst the Replies, which all displayed a somewhat similar spirit of hostility, was one which stated that the working classes did not go to church on Sunday because the capitalists prayed for them on Sundays and preyed upon them during the other six days of the week. He did not know that this state of matters applied to the churches, in this land, but he thought it would be instructive to have in the statistics of next year a return of the ratio of the wage-earners who attended services in the churches. He had been told by Dr Stuart, who had one of the largest city churches, that withm recent years the working classes had disappeared largely from his church; that at one period he had an extraordinary number of servant girls m attendance, and that now that class had almost wholly disappeared from Knox Church. He did not know how far this would apply to other churches, but thought that a return would be valuable and interesting When women and other workers were receiving just a bare allowance for their support, and in many instances not that, were it not that they had some other means of liviog, and when they saw the well-to-do were not curtailing their expenditure, were not exercising much self-denial but were going to church fashionably and expensively dressed, it was natural that somewhat bitter feelings should be aroused. Then came the question, what could the church do ? It seemed to him that they could protest against tins state of things in the manner proposed in the motion, and that all would agree to that protest. It seemed to him, however, that they were bound^to do more than simply protestthat they should do what they could to mitigate the evil. These sweating wages were caused by excessive competition, and that competition was created by the enormous rage to get cheap things. Of course that was the effect of the lust of gain, which lay at the back of this desire for bargains. In their desire to get the cheapest article, people would walk about town half the day, looking into the different shops; and if anyone went down the street he would see placards telling him the goods were being sold at enormons sacrifices, that they were being practically given away, and that people were almost asked as a compliment to take them. All that sort of thing was simply demoralising. That would be simple robbery, and those who were advertising m that way were advertising themselves as lying. As to good bargains, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, getting good bargains was very much the name as gambling Gambling was getting something without givine any return for it, and that was neither more nor less than robbery; and getting good bargains was getting things without giving an equivalent for them, and that was practically robbery This was not simply a question for town ministers but was equally one for country ministers. People From the country also went in search of good bargains, and they were perhaps right in doing that; but it was a duty to tell ttfem how these cheap things were produced—that they were produced at the cost of the life, prosperity and happiness of hundreds and thousands of working men and women. It was a duty to speak on the sin of cheapness. This rage for cheapness ought to be as far as possible mitigated. Then there were other ways in which the cause of the masses might be aided. They could give their influence to support the tendency which was now setting in in the direction of profit sharing and co-operation. He believed that immense good might be done by the church aiding the movement that had set in all over the world in the direction of co-operation. It was the duty of the church to take hold of this tendency because she alone held those principles which could make co-operation practicable. There could be no brotherhood of man without the fatherhood of God, and to attempt to found cooperation on any other principles was useless Ihen the motion stated that they should hold up the laws of Christ as the laws of commercial aud social as well as of religious life. He no doubt should be told, and he agreed with it, that the only remedy for all these evils was that the Gospel should be brought in vital contact with the people. Of course that was so, but then they must bring the whole laws of Christ to bear upon the people. There were men who were good, with gpod designs and purposes, and yet they held that somehow the laws of Christ did not apply to commercial life, and that if they were applied ruin would be the result. When told that it was by Christ's law they must regulate their business and social life, many of them would simply laugh at the statement as involving something utterly impracticable. As a test in this respect, he would ask how many obeyed the law of charity? How many asked people to their houses who could not invite them in return ? How many who bad houses, books, works of art, recognised that they held these as stewards, for the purpose of giving their poorer brethren and sisters the benefit of them ? Until the Christian law of charity was applied by Christian men and women, the mere dealing out of money or of other things would have no effect upon the poor, save to harden and embitter them. He did not care what the laws of political economy taught. If the laws of political economy were different from the laws of Christ, then they must be brought into conflict, and the laws of Christ must prevail, and the Christian life must be lived not only on Sunday and in the homes, but on every day of the week and in all places of business. He might be told that this was very ideal and dreamy and all that sort of thing. Of course it was. Christ's laws were all ideal and dreamy until people were prepared to undergo great sacrifice for the purpose of having them made real, and in getting these laws made real, he held there was just as much room for heroism aud even for martyrdom as there ever had been in the past. It was, he runintained, their duty as ministers to bring their people up to the laws of Christ, and not to bring the laws down to the people
The Rev. Mr Boreie seconded the adoption of the motion, aud thought the synod was greatly indebted to the Rev. Mr Waddell for bringing the subject forward.
The Rev. M. O. Smith said there was nothing new in the suggestion that they should preach against the sin of avarice, for that was what they had been doing all along, but he thought it would be well to call attention to the sweating system.
Professor Dunlop said that he had Bpent a good deal of his life in large towns, and had come into contact with the sweating system in a much worse form than that in which it prevailed here: in fact here we knew nothing at all about ifc as it prevailed in such a manufacturing town as Leeds. He did not think it was right that it should go forth that the sweating system was wholly due to the fact that there was keen competition or avariciousness all round. He had had to do with this matter in dealing with parents for not sending their children to school, and had found that the the horrible system of women and children working at fchese rates was due in the vast majority of the cases to the immorality of the husbands, who were drunken and would not work. The church was in 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 should be, he thought, a little more emphatic in telling them 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 in experiments of an economic class. That was his strong feeling. He believed that the only way of effectually 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, for if they had made a direct attack upon it, humanly speaking, it would have been a downright failure, but they preached a Gospel the spirit of which brought about the annihilation of slavery. He would be sorry to see their church or any other take up what might be a class attitude, or what might wear the appearance of a class attitude. He knew well that in Germany vast numbers of the working classes and the Liberals generally had turned their backs upon Christianity, and generally because the church, which was there a State institution, had thrown itself wholly into the arms of the absolute party. For himself he was a Liberal, and had always been a Liberal, and he believed a strong one, and he was afraid that he shsuld have been strongly tempted to become a Nihilist if he had lived in Russia and knew that the church was the most potent tool of that despotism; but, on the other hand, he must say the church ought not to turn round and be made the flatterer of those who ought to be told the honest truth that they were themselves largely responsible for the troubles that had come upon them. He had never heard from anybody what should be done when 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, and he did riot feel particularly satisfied that this or any synod should intervene in matters which were purely economic. They had to deal with root principles, and by dealing with root principles they would most effectually provide a remedy for the details, and they must take care also not to ignore factors that were modifying the effects of other forces. He was inclined to say, Pause before committing yourselves to anything which will have the appearance of identifying the church with a class. We are above class and we work at the very roots of the life of humanity, and I am sure we will mosb beneficially influence society, economically and otherwise, by keeping well to our proper sphere. • ~MJI.A DAm sympathised a great deal with what Mr Waddell had said, and agreed that he was perfectly right when he said that the only way of benefiting the class to which he referred was by preaching the Gospel. As to the problem of poverty, there was this astonishing. fact that during the last 10 years in this colony fifteen millions of money had been spent in drink Could they wonder that people were badly off? He thought the synod should not call upon ministers to go into social questions of this kind, but should preach the Gospel and temperance He believed the salvation of the colony depended upon the success of the temperance crusade The Rev. Mr Cueeie said that if women were only paid l£d for making a shirt the payment would not keep soul and body together, and it was no answer to the question that had been raised to say that the husbands were drunken. As to the objection to bringing social questions into the pulpits, that was done every day, and Mr Adam wanted even greater prominence given to one social question—viz., temperance. He considered that it would be well for them to go forth with the sanction of the church as to their right and duty to refer to these matters. He had been told by a church member after he had preached upon temperance that his duty was to preach the Gospel. . Of course they had to preach the Gospel, but they had also to preach the laws of Christ as laws that must be obeyed, even if the laws of political economy had to be contested and to go to the wall. If such a state of things as had been mentioned existed in Dunedin it was right and proper that they should at least protest against it, for they could not possibly do less. . The Rev. Dr Macghegoe had great sympathy with those who were in distress, but hoped the church would never commit itself to,fixing the rate of wages. The proposal was avowedly going against the laws of political economy, the laws of nature, and they might as well protest against creation. The business of the church was not to deal with the law determining the rate of wages, but with the spirit which was the foundation of mankind, thus indirectly bringing about a state of thiDgs in which the evils arising from the operation of law might be met.
The Rev. Mr Clash: had great sympathy with Mr Waddell in bringing the matter forward, but he felt with Dr Dunlop, that they must consider very carefully before committing the church to the position broueht before them, and he thought that they should not be asked at this stage of the session to do so. The Rev. Mr Chisholm felt very much the force of the objection that the motion was too elaborate and opened up too many intricate w^T?^ Whiledee P]y sympathising with Mr Waddell a motives, he thought the synod could hardly commit itself to all the positions stated in the motion, and moved the following " The synod deplores the existence of the sweating system in the colony, and instructs the ministers and office-bearers to discourage it by every means in their power, and enjoins all to bear bear each other's burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ." Mr E. B. Cabgill had much sympathy with a great deal that had fallen from the Rev Mr Waddell, but he could not but be very much struck with the answers that had come from Dr Dunlop, who had wisely pointed out that the duty of the church was the cultivating of those Uhnstian principles which in due time would bring about the results desired, and that it was not wise to attack individual developments such as the sweating system, which they cou d not, in fact, get directly at. 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. The enormous accumulation of wealth in 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 fail to see how far we were going contrary to Christ's teaching; but he did not tnmk they were prepared to enter into that discussion. This one thing the church was always safe in impressing upon its members, that they should bring to bear in every relation of life those principles which properly belonged to the Christian doctrine. Something had been said about bargains and commerce, and it had been assumed that men engaged in commerce endeavoured always to get the better of one another, and that if Christian principles were brought into commerce the business so conducted must go to the wall. He protested against that as an utter untruth. It was a statement curiously at variance with the position of commerce in the present age. What great accumulations of wealth had grown from commerce; and was that large structure of credit built upon lies and falsehood? It was entirely the contrary; it was owing to the honour and great faith existing between man and man that it existed at all, for it would fall to the ground like a house of cards if that were not the case. He hoped they would hear no more of the ignorant talk about commerce being merely a system of fraud. It was with pain he had heard the statement that the working classes being to a large extent absent from their churches, and would like to know to what extent that really was the case. Those who were generally termed the working classes men engaged in handicrafts of various kinds, had always been looked upon as the very backbone of the Presbyterian Church, and he should deeply regret to think that their churches were becoming merely places of fashionable resort. If this were so it certainly deserved the attention of ' the synod. Referring to the subject more immediately under discussion, he thought that the protest m the form suggested would be somewhat of a mistake, and that what the church bad to do was to deal with that which went to the root of the system.
At 1.15 p.m. the discussion was adjourned till
The discussion upon the Rev. R. Waddell's motion re the sweating system was resumed at 6 o clock.
AT W f£ yn ¥ C 5 R uLEi WaS SOrry tbat fche RW' Mr Waddell had brought this matter up at the tag end of the session, and was sure that a vote carried under the circumstances would do nothing towards mitigating the evils complained or. As to the working classes leaving the church, his experience was contrary to the statements made on that point, and he could say that the working classes were the mainstay of the chutch. He would yield to no man in his sympathies tor the working classes, out he considered it would be a great mistake to pit class against class. The Church of Christ had a mission to all s lasses, and the church's business was about , spiritual matters—the welfare of the souls of the people. He should be sorry for the motion tobe agreed to by the synod, as it would commit the synod fco a position which he believed they woukl afterwards regret, and he would I move as an amendment to this effect—"The synod having heard the address of the Rev. Mr
Waddell in reference to the system known as the sweating system, thanks him for his address, but in the absence of any evidence as to the evils complained of the synod deems it inexpedient to take any steps in the matter." The Rev. Dr Macgbegob said he did not know exactly what was meant by the " sweating system." In some cases people could not get nearly enough wages for their work. That was a very unfortunate thing; but they had no power to interfere in any way, and they would only do mischief by meddling. The Rev. Mr Rtley said that an employer of labour had stated that in connection with his warehouse any number of young women could be got to work for 5s a week; and they took that so that they could enjoy the pleasures of city life rather than go to service in the country. How could the synod remedy that state of things, for which no employer was responsible ?
The Rev. R. Waddell, in reply, said there was no one in the community who desired less than he did to set class against class, and he thought that in his opening he had made that sufficiently clear. There was, however, this unfortunate thing connected with matters of this kind, that if they spoke for one particular class of the community at a particular time, they were immediately set down as wishing to pit class against class. He was nob disloyal to the higher class, bat was only seeking to be loyal to the law. Mr Robertson had said, "my tastes are with the aristocracy, but my sympathies are with the mob," and he could say that his tastes were with those who had plenty of wealth, but his sympathies were with those who knew the privations and miseries of life as shown by these " sweating" revelations. As to the evidence of the existence of this system, he .thought ample evidence had been afforded in the columns of the press, and did not know what further or different evidence was wanted. As to intemperance being the cause of this evil, it was undoubted that much misery and pauperism was caused by the drinking habits of the people. In some cases he knew he would not hesitate to apply the lash, because he recognised that it was only by punishment that these men could be reached; but at the same time he recognised that the drinking habits of many of these husbands were the effect of the system which pievails, not the cause of it; that they were reduced to saeh a condition that they naturally took something to deaden the sense of care and anxiety that oppressed them. When the English capitalists said to Sir R. 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. As to the other point mentioned, he hoped this church would not be put m the same position regarding this question as the Free Church of Scotland had been respect-i ing the crofters. The Rev. Mr Macphail,a wellknown minister of the Free Church, visited a crofter who had been imprisoned and preached to him very much the doctrine they had just been listening to, and Mr Macphail gave his answer, which was :—" We look upon you ministers as preachers of righteousness in God's name, but we consider when you see wrong or oppression you should lift up you voices against, it in God's name, whoever be the authors of it, and we think that while you have been telling us we ought to be patient and submissive. Yon have not lifted up your voices with regard to 6ome of the things we have been suffering from as muohasweconsideredyouought to have done." He hoped the synod would not stultify itself by adopting the amendment the Rev. Mr Ryley had proposed, but that it would be true to itself and true to the interests committed to it, as a witness for God of righteousness in this colony, and that it would give some deliverance on this question in the direction indicated by the motion, though it might not adopt its precise terms. He would withdraw his motion in favour of the amendment moved by the Rev. Mr Chisholm.
The vote of the synod was take upon the a»endment by the Rev. Mr Ryley, "that no action be taken," as against the Rev. Mr Chisholm's motion, adopted by the Rev. Mr Waddell, and the motion was carried by 20 votes to 6. The deliverance adopted was that" The synod deplores the existence of the " sweating " system in the colony, and instructs ministers and office-bearers to discourage it by every means in their power, and enjoins all to bear each others burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ"
THE SWEATING SYSTEM., Otago Daily Times, Issue 8335, 8 November 1888
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