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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78


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The present writer will not soon forget his first visit to this worker and her little factory in the Bow Alley. He left the place in pity and in rage—in pity for the woman, and in rage against the world that condemns her to so much ill-requited toil,—L. G. C. Money, M.P., in "The Handbook of Sweated Industries Exhibition," London.

The materials labelled "Sweated Industries" exhibited in the Christchurch Exhibition, New Zealand, in January, 1907, do not represent the products of colonial workers. They show for what miserable reward people in Great Britain are forced to manufacture articles for public use and convenience. They are exhibited here as a warning against that which will happen if strenuous and sustained efforts are not made to bar the entrance of the system through which such results become possible, and to strengthen the present determination of the colonists that no such modes of working or such payments for work shall flourish, or shall even begin their evil existence in this colony.

New Zealand for some years has, by means of a stringent Factories Act and by awards of the Arbitration Court, &c., endeavoured to control not only the wages paid and the earnings of workers in local industries, but also the health conditions under which industries are carried on. These controlling powers have two distinct directions, one of an economic and the other of a hygienic character.

In regard to the first it was found that the worst evils of sweating arise from what are called "home industries." These industries comprise—(a) Articles wholly made in private dwellings, sometimes from material supplied by the employer, sometimes from material bought by the worker entirely; (b) work partially executed in the factory and taken home after working-hours to be "finished." There is nothing under the heading of (a) that insures or commands a sweating—Sweated Industries page 2 price being paid, but competition in New Zealand, as elsewhere, invoked the presence of the "middlemen" or series of subcontractors, each subletting till at the bottom starvation prices were reached. In order on to meet this difficulty the Legislature decreed that all industrial work must be done in factories, and only one "letting-out" contract be permitted. Wholesale firms had, for example, in some cases instituted the custom of giving out, say, a whole bolt of calico to some person to be returned made up into shirts. Such a firm is by law now made a factory-owner, and their work has to be done in a factory—i.e., in a clean, well-ventilated room or series of rooms, where the hours and conduct of the workers can be inspected and their exact earnings ascertained. It is also forbidden to "sweat" by permitting (i.e., generally by exeroising indirect compulsion) a factory worker to take home work to finish, and so to toil through unreasonably long hours in a probably unhealthy habitat.

To these economic regulations were added those induced by health precautions. There is little doubt that in crowded centres of population one of the most prolific causes for the spread of disease is through the filthy surroundings in which "home-work" is executed. Materials are worked on or handled by sufferers from tuberculosis, scarlet fever, skin-diseases, &c., and then sent out to spread their malignant germs abroad among the general public. In the "Handbook of the Sweated Industries Exhibition" in London, Miss Margaret Irwin, speaking of "shawl-fringing," says,—

The bed was a mere heap of filthy rags on the floor, and the personal condition of the worker was dirty in the extreme. Here, as in other cases, the I deficiency in blankets and bedding would be made up at night by the woollen shawls on which the worker is engaged.

This quotation is sufficient to show that from shawls alone grave a danger might arise—such shawls being worn by thousands of working women (especially in the north of England) not only as body-garmerts, but as head-gear. A little reflection will convince any person that when one considers the hundreds of kinds of articles of men's, women's, and babies' clothing which could in process of such home-manufacture be by dirt and disease, no effort would be too great which should minimise the danger to the public health.

Nor are such workers in the "sweated industries" of Britain to be blamed for being dirty, much less for being diseased, while breathing impure air and while living on scanty and improper food. The hours worked would alone preclude proper cleanliness of person or lodgings. page 3 Read the following short list of earnings and hours worked in some of i sweated trades :—
Description of Work. Rates paid. Average Working-day (Hours). Average Earnings per Week.
s. d.
Bag-making 4d. per dozen 16 4 0
Match-box making 2¼d. per gross 16 7 6
Boys' knickers 9d. per dozen 16 6 0
Fur-tassel work 1s. 3d. per gross 10 6 0
Skirts 5d. per piece 14 5 0
Button-carding ½d. per gross 11 3 0

Such earnings, miserable as they are, do not always represent the work of a single person; children of the most tender years are called on to assist the parent to keep body and soul together. Nor are the hours limited to those above mentioned. We read of women who work in such industries from 4 a.m. till midnight, or who never go to bed on the same day they get up. How is it possible to keep the home or the person in cleanliness and respectability when every moment of the waking-day has to be devoted to ceaseless and degrading toil ? Moreover, the miserable earnings quoted above by no means represent the amount which can be devoted to the sustenance of life and warmth in food and clothes. A mother and daughter working together at carding hooks and eyes earn 3s. 4d. weekly between them, but the rent of their rooms is 3s. 6d.—here other members of the family have to help. An old woman and her brother, sitting fifteen hours daily sewing buttons on cards, earn 3s. 6d. weekly between the two—the rent is 3s. 9d., but the woman has some church schools to clean so they drag along. A slipper-maker earning 6s. 3d. weekly pays 2s. 6d. in rent. So goes on the awful story of human toil and human suffering. To call a system which exists on such foundations a system of wage slavery is to use an improper term and to debase the word "slavery," because no slave is worked by a master who values his property for eighteen or twenty hours out of twenty-four on insufficient food.

New Zealand saw, then, that there was a hygienic side to the question of "sweating" and "home-work." It was recognised that people starved, badly clothed, and badly housed would probably be diseased and spread disease. It was therefore enacted that on every garment intended for sale and made outside a registered factory a page 4 large label should be placed, such label stating that the garments had not been made in a registered factory. Severe fines were to be inflicted if this label were removed or concealed before the article was publicly sold. Fortunately, owing to this wise precaution of the Legislature, no such labels were ever needed, for the damning inference that an article with such a label might probably have been made up in some filthy fever-den prevented such articles from ever being offered for sale. Textile work (tailoring, dressmaking, shirtmaking, &c.) is now usually executed only in registered factories whose spotless cleanliness and healthful surroundings are fully open to inspection and where visitors are at reasonable hours welcomed by the proprietors if permission is first asked. Moreover, if among the workers in any factory dealing with textiles or with food preparation any person is considered by the Inspector as in a state whereby contagion or infection could be conveyed to others, such worker is at once suspended from work until the Public Health Officer gives him or her a clean certificate. With such precautions the citizens of the colony have nothing to fear either that British rates of pay in the sweated industries will induce our people to compete in such trades or that the goods locally are made vehicles of virulent diseases.

The strong trade-associations, the strict laws, the general prosperity, and common fraternal spirit, all these in New Zealand are our sale-guards against the methods which industrial pressure in great centres of population has caused to result in sweating, As says the editor of the Handbook, Mr. R. Mudie-Smith, "Sweating follows unrestricted competition as naturally and inevitably as pain follows disease. 80 long as we are working with a vicious principle, no individual kindliness on the part of the employer is, or can be, sufficient to prevent cruelty and injustice."

That is true, but in New Zealand we have no "unrestricted competition." We have proven that it is perfectly possible to keep "sweating" in bounds by a few wise regulations and by the determination that it shall not gain a footing here. Of course, there is sometimes proffered to us the economic dilemma "If you stop a woman earning 2d. a day for carding hooks and eyes, will you pay her 2d. or let her starve ?" It is only the shadow of a dilemma. If the public want hooks and eyes they should pay a proper price for them, or go without. As they probably will not go without, they must pay a living-wage to the worker. As to the question whether the firm page 5 of Brown, Smith, and Co. can or cannot exist without selling hooks and eyes cheaper than Jones, Robinson, and Co. can sell them, that is a matter of no consequence whatever. The worker must, be properly paid, or the so-called industry must cease.

It may be of interest to add that the exhibit was collected at the request of the Hon. J. A. Millar, Minister of Labour, by the High Commissioner, the Hon. W. P. Reeves. At first it was hoped to borrow the exhibit shown in London by the proprietors of the Daily Mail, but as this exhibit was still on show throughout the British provinces the idea was abandoned, and the High Commissioner was asked to purchase similar goods and send them to the Labour Department as soon as possible. To emphasize that the goods were actually made at the prices quoted, the names of the contributors to the Department's collection, together with the organization they belong to (if any), are here given:—
  • Rev. J. E. Watts-Ditchfield, Warden of Ridley House Settlement, St. James the Less, Bethnal Green.
  • Rev. Thomas Jackson, Primitive Methodist, Whitechapel Mission.
  • Mr. George Lansbury, Bow.
  • Miss Mabel Portlock, Sanitary Inspector, Walthamstow.
  • Mr. Thomas Holmes, Home Workers Aid Association, Tottenham.
  • Mr. W. A. Mitchell, Wesleyan East End Mission, Shadwell.
  • Deaconess Elinor (Miss Morton), Christian Social Union, Research Committee, London.
  • Miss Clementina Black,London.
  • Miss Marguerite O'Kell, London
  • Mrs. M. Nodin, London.
  • Mrs. Mary Neal, London.
  • Miss C. P. Lewis, London.
  • Mr. George Shann, Bournville.
  • Miss Florence T. Ring, Birmingham District.

The information contained in the catalogue is compiled from information received from these collectors, and in some cases has been supplemented by references and articles from the Handbook published by the proprietors of the Daily Mail.

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