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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4

New Zealand Master Printers

page 77

New Zealand Master Printers.

At last the master printers in our four chief cities have formed themselves into associations for mutual protection and improvement. It is now many years since the Christchurch Master Printers' Association ceased to exist, and since that time printing has been in a very bad way indeed, and prices varied from the highest figure that could be obtained to a price which would barely cover the cost of the paper used in the job. Consequently the wage of the compositor has also come down to suit the times, and the keen competition has also brought a great deal of cheap labor into our trade; boys and girls bud and bloom into turnovers and journeymen (the girls marry before reaching the end of their apprentice journey, excepting the one who recently sought admission to the Sydney Typographical Society—this lady belongs to Auckland, when she served her term at case) almost as rapidly as the boys and girls in the Craft in America, where the English printer, owing to the seven-years'-term, is preferred to the native of the States, who serves four years only.

The history of the old Christchurch Master Printers' Association was much the same as that of the present association. Unhealthy competition led to unremunerative prices, which state of things was borne as long as possible, when someone wondered why everyone blundered on in such a state; and when the error was pointed out in a friendly confabulation, it was resolved that a fair tariff should be drafted and that all should join in bringing about a better state of things. The result was that all the masters joined the association, remaining true to each other for some time until the leading spirit was withdrawn, when for the want of a leader, this, like many another good cause, began to wane, and in a short time was no more. Some two years ago history repeated itself. The state of trade had become very similar to that of the old times in the City of the Plains, as it was also in other parts of the colony, and I believe that in this later time the reformer arose from the same office as the fifteen or twenty years' ago reformer of whom I have written above.

Two years ago things typographical, both in jobbing and newspaper work, were just about as bad as bad could be, when a small voice suggested that masters should follow the example of the men, and combine for the purpose of bringing about a better state of things, and to maintain such a state when once attained. A meeting of masters of Christchurch resulted in the formation of the first of the recently-established associations. A tariff was drawn up and agreed to, and it was tried for a little while, and found to work satisfactorily.

Unlike the old-time association, the new Society had no intention of keeping this good thing to themselves. After they found their union was working smoothly, a deputation was sent to Dunedin, with the object of inducing the Southern masters to go and do likewise. The attempt was successful, and the Invercargill masters also came in with those of Dunedin. Dunedin worked for a while under the tariff of Christchurch, but eventually drew up one to suit its own special case, casting off the other. Matters went along smoothly for some time under the increased tariff, until there came a day, some two or three months ago, when the association heard that an agent from a North Island house was in Dunedin doing business under the tariff, trying to take away work which had been done for years by two houses for a firm which has a large amount of printing. A meeting of masters was called on receipt of this information, when it was decided that a deputation should proceed North to represent to the northern printers the desirableness of the union of masters; such deputation to consist of members from the Dunedin and Christchurch associations.

The southerners were in earnest about this business, so there was no delay in starting upon the campaign. Notice was given at Wellington for the masters of the Empire City to « be in » when the deputies came back from the North, and Auckland was then visited. Some dilly-dallying took place there, the Aucklanders declaring that the Southerners were too eager in their well-doing, and it was not until the day set upon for the departure of the deputation that a meeting was got together—the result being satisfactory. Wellington was again sought, and little difficulty was experienced, an association being formed right away. Information has just come to hand to the effect that the Auckland masters have united and are experimenting with the Dunedin tariff, while it will be remembered that a Press Association telegram told us a short time ago that the Wellington masters notified the City Council that they did not intend doing any more tendering.

The Dunedin masters do not all belong to the association, there being at least three who stand aloof, although every means has been tried to bring them in. Last year, when the municipal rolls were offered for tender, the association tried to get the outsiders to put in a fair price, even pledging itself to abstain from tendering if they would tender at the tariff price, the object being to bring the public printing price up to a fair level—but no, all inducements failed, so the association put in their tariff price and lost: one of « the others » getting the work. Observe how neatly the association worked the oracle this year with regard to the same work—the tenders have just been published, and I see that « the others, » evidently thinking the tariff would come in again, raised their prices so as to bring them just under the tariff, while the association has put in several tenders, three firms going 11s per page, and the others higher. One outsider has consistently stuck to his old price, but the tenders have given « the others » what may be termed a nasty knock, and will certainly result in « one for the association » being recorded.

The object of these Master Printers' Associations has been to a great attained—life is now more happy, because more profitable, than it has been for a long time past. Prices all round have been raised, while in some cases as much as fifty per cent. has been added to those which prevailed two years ago.

Of course there is much grumbling on the part of the public, with whom I agree when they complain that the prices in some cases are exorbitant. I know whereof I write. A friend wished to print a book in this Boston of the South, and sought the men of type and ink for a price. The Tariff was brought forth, and it was found that the hook which my friend wished to publish at 2s 6d per copy could not be turned out of the printer's hands under 3s per copy—a book in similar print and binding being obtainable in England for about Is 6d. My friend is thinking of getting his work done at home. Another instance which has come under my notice: A commercial gentleman of Dunedin, who has a lot of printing, binding, and stationery during the year from local houses, recently asked his printer what was the price for certain work. The printer reached for his « blue book » « Oh, » says the inquirer, « if you are going to quote that book, I'm away. Its prices are far too high—they are simply prohibitive; and I shall have to send all my work home. »

In the course of this article I have shown that prices were low, and that wages of printers were lowered to suit the times; then came the united action of masters, resulting in better prices ruling in the trade— but it must be pointed out that that neither a decrease in the number of boys and girls employed nor an increase in the wages of men has taken place with this advance in the position of the master printers. Not even the old rate of compositors' wages has been restored, the so-much per cent, reductions still remaining in force. True, the Christchurch printers made a request for a share in the better times, and it is to the credit of their Masters' Association that the request was acceded to, with the exception of Messrs Whitcombe & Tombs, but as this firm belonged to the association when that body granted the request, I think it ought to have been called upon to carry out the compact. But no change has taken place in Dunedin, although the association has completed its first year; and there are offices in the association which employ just as many boys now as they did when ruinous competition forced boy-labor upon them. On the other hand there are offices in the association which strictly employ man-labor. In fairness to the latter, the association should go further and fix a uniform term of apprenticeship and number of apprentices, when fairness will prevail, for the tendency of the places employing boys, as against another's men, is to do, on occasion, a job just a little cheaper than the other; and whereas he who employs men will hold out for the highest price, it is the temptation of the employer of cheap labor to bring prices down. Masters generally discourage combination among workmen, and yet—especially in our Craft—it is to the workmen the master looks for the enforcement or conception of reforms; failing to recognize in the evils of cheap and unskilled labor, the elements leading to undue competition, and which brought trade to so low a state as to necessitate the formation of Master Printers' Associations.

Tom L. Mills.