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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4

The Church and the Labor Problem

page 32

The Church and the Labor Problem.

At the late meeting of the Wesleyan Conference in Christ-church, that body for the first time made an official deliverance on the labor question. It was the outcome of much consideration and grave discussion; yet no sooner was the session closed than the Conference was charged with acting in direct opposition to its declared views. The following letter, from the local Typographical Association to the Secretary of the Trades and Labor Council, explains the matter from Unionist point of view:—

« Dear Sir,—I desire, on behalf of the above Association to draw the attention of the Council to the following circumstances:—At the annual meeting of the Wesleyan Conference recently held in Christ-church, the following motion was, after a discussion in which many prominent members of the clergy and laity of that body took part, unanimously adopted—'That this Conference, watching with earnest attention the social movements of the time, expresses its deep sympathy with all lawful and righteous efforts on the part of labor to obtain, wherever it is denied, its due reward.' One would naturally suppose that a body of gentlemen who so unanimously adopted the foregoing resolution, would, wherever an opportunity presented itself endeavor to show their sympathy in a practical manner; but, if what I am about to state is found to be correct, it will appear that the opposite is the case. At the close of each annual Conference it is the custom to have the Minutes of the Conference printed in book-form. Of course, the job is tendered for. On the present occasion, the Secretary seems to have gone to considerable trouble in finding out where the work could be produced the cheapest. He eventually fixed on a firm of printers in town employing almost entirely boy labor. They, of course, owing to the method adopted by them in working their business, could afford to do the work cheaper than the larger offices employing a fair proportion of journeymen to apprentices. Now, sir, if such conduct as this is what is meant by 'deep sympathy with the efforts of labor,' I think it is about time we expressed our dissent from such views, We, as Unionists, must not expect to effect any very material improvement in our social standing while the present suicidal competition between certain employers of labor remains unchecked. It will be the business of the Trade Council to endeavor to check it. Employers who are inclined and anxious to conduct their business in accordance with Union principles are heavily handicapped by the tactics adopted by these non-Union employers, and we must exert ourselves in the cause of the former if we wish to advance our own interests. With regard to the case I have quoted, I think the Council would do well to make some enquiries in reference to it, and if the circumstances are as I have stated I would suggest that a respectfully worded resolution, expressing the surprise and disapprobation of the Council, be sent to President of the Conference, the Rev. J. J. Lewis; such resolution would I think, have the effect of preventing a similar error on a future occasion.—I remain, sir, yours fraternally, F. C. Gerard, Sec. »

The contents of the letter were discussed at length, and a resolution was moved that the Secretary write to the President of the Conference thanking him for the expression of sympathy and good feeling as conveyed in the public press; and also drawing his attention to the circumstances attending the publication of the minute book as stated in the foregoing communication.

The New Zealand Methodist, the official organ of the Church, publishes the following explanation:

« Tenders were invited for printing the Conference minutes, and it has been freely alleged that the tender that was accepted was sent in by a firm by which the rights of labor are not duly recognized. An examination of the charge proves it to be wholly slanderous and contemptible. To begin with, the Conference, as a whole, has nothing to do with accepting the tender for printing; it is a matter that is left in the hands of the secretary, and is one of the first things attended to after the opening of Conference. Further, it should be stated that the price paid for printing this year is considerably in advance of that paid last year, and, so far as it is possible to judge, is a fail-remuneration for the work done. We are further assured that the conditions of labor in the printing office in which the work was done, are much the same as in ordinary jobbing offices. It is a fact, we believe, that the firn in question has not yet seen its way to join a union that has been formed among the printers of Christchurch in the interests of a uniform tariff. Of that fact, however, the secretary was wholly unaware at the time when the tender was accepted, and even if he had been, we do not suppose that it would in any way have affected the result. The rights of labor are, after all, not quite bound up with the question as to whether or not a particular firm shall join a particular union. Nothing has yet been adduced to show that the price accepted for printing was not fairly remunerative for services given, and that is what must be proved in order to sheet home to the Conference the charge of inconsistency. The incident is in various ways instructive. It shows for one thing that any resolutions that the Conference may adopt in relation to social questions are narrowly watched by the public, and that, as proceeding from a religious body, it is expected that a high level of consistency will be maintained. It further shows that the cause of labor, with which the Conference expressed sympathy in the particular resolution referred to, is itself imperilled by the prevalence of unreasonable criticism. »

We fail to see, under the circumstances, that any blame attaches to the Secretary of the Conference. The evil is inherent in the « tender » system. The work last year was probably done at a miserably low figure; but as we have many times shown, the fault is far more with the trade than with the customers. We are glad to know, from our correspondent's last letter, that all the Christchurch printers have now joined the M.P.A.