sweat shops, the sin of cheapness and shopping as civil war

W002_waddellW002-PAColl-4920-3-09-08Less than 50 years after the bogus birthing ceremony of a brave new settler colony, economic refugees from Britain and Ireland had begun to exploit each other with all the fervour of the capitalists they had fled from. In 1888 presbyterian minister Rutherford Waddell gave a sermon at St Andrew’s Church in Dunedin exposing the existence of sweat shops in the supposedly fairer farmville version of Britain, New Zealand. Waddell’s sermon was entitled ‘Sin of Cheapness’ and argued that it was an unbridled avarice and a ‘rage for bargains’ that was driving wages below subsistence:

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 for 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 enormous sacrifices, that they were being practically given away, and that people were asked as a compliment to take them. All that sort of thing is simply demoralising.

Women in dunedin were making moleskin trousers at 2 1/2 d, earning 2 shillings working from 8am to 11pm – roughly 3/5ths of fuck all in todays money. Or, in Waddell’s parlance ‘wages were being earned that were totally inadequate to keep body and soul together’ – an elegant euphemism for that pesky limit to capital’s ‘rage’ for driving the cost of labour toward zero – starvation. Waddell, who at 14 had himself worked for four years for nothing as a draper’s apprentice in Banbridge, NI, also stated conditions were significantly worse in other cities, citing Wellington as example. Demoralising indeed, and it seems as if our sins have multiplied since. Half a days shopping seems marginal since we were fenced in to the market place with rows upon rows of no8 barbed biowire.

Waddell, one of that rare breed of christian who believed that the gospel should be interpreted in terms of social justice, took his argument to the meeting of the presbytarian synod demanding that action be taken. Although there doesnt seem to be a copy of the original sermon the synod meetings were regularly minuted verbatum in the Otago Times. Waddell, by all accounts a skilled speaker, argued to the presbytery that whilst the church shouldn’t take less interest in the moral and spiritual welfare of the people, they might want to show at least passing interest in their social welfare as well. Unconscionable. It is hard not to be reminded of the rifts and anguish caused recently at St Paul’s over London occupy when they were forced to decide whether their flock was more rightly the motley and disaffected that had camped on their doorstep or the aristocracy who were inconvenienced by being short a wedding venue. With a notable resignation they rightly decided to remain in the service of the rich.  In any case, the presbyterian church in NZ were also facing a crisis because their wealthier souls were wearing their fancy clothes to church and and the presbyteriat had stopped attending at all. This was because, in Waddell’s searing phrase:

The working class don’t go to church because the capitalist class pray for them on Sundays and prey on them the other six days of the week

I am pleased to announce, that capitalist’s have since managed to outsource the day of prayer to former colonial subjects and can now hunt 24/7. Waddell, on the other hand, was keen that the law of the gospel should be allowed to taint the sanctity of commerce. Unfortunately many of his fallow men of the cloth thought that this was unthinkable. The responses of the various members of the presbytery show all the marks – sadly none of the Marx, although the spectre of Adam Smith haunts the discussion – of the protestations and laments of the capitalists in England, wheeled out whenever it was suggested they turn the temperature down on the human furnaces that powered their personal ATMs.

After a couple of brief yays from Rev Mr Borrie and Rev M. C. Smith, John Dunlop, formerly Professor of Theology and Moderator of the Presbyterian church in New Zealand, led the attack with a characteristically cuntish argument: he knew more about sweated labour because he had seen some properly grimey shit in Leeds, the others were wrong to blame it on avarice and competition, as it was caused by the immorality of the exploited women’s lazy and drunken husbands. These errant idlers and their coopted concubines should be told emphatically that the only way to ameliorate their situation ‘was by becoming new men and new women.’ Presumably, meaning that they should die and be replaced from a bottomless pool of cheap labour. Dunlop, further meditating on which side his bread was buttered on, went on to say that ‘it would be a pity if the church turned from it’s preaching of Christianity to indulge in experiments of an economic class’, further ‘he would be sorry to see their church take up what might be a class attitude, or what might wear the appearance of a class attitude.’ Besides, he ‘had never heard from anybody what should be done when hundreds of women were competing to to get certain work. What could the manufacturer do?’ – other than gleefully bludgeon them back into the soil with a sewing machine and bargain prices.

Mr Adam followed by jumping on the drunk wagon, claiming that in the last ten years the colony had spent £15 million on piss-ups and bbqs and felt they should hail temperance down on them from the pulpit. The Rev. Mr Currie called bullshit on the alcohol argument saying that it didn’t explain why women who worked for 15 hours a day couldn’t afford to feed themselves. He felt it would be wise 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’ to be shot point blank in the head. This was swiftly castigated by the reverend, mentalist and philosopher Dr. Macgregor.  Macgregor believed, amongst other things, that the ‘hopelessly lazy, the diseased, and vicious’ should be incarcerated for life so that they might be saved from the cruel realities of Darwinian selection. After being booted out of the church for his Darwinian proclivities he went on to become the the inspector-general of lunatic asylums. Takes one to know one, as they say. Anyway, in the meeting at hand, he invoked the holy ghost of the petit bourgeois ideiological priest par exellence, Adam Smith. Macgregor, ‘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.’ As if Macgregor had not made the point quite strongly enough, a Mr E.B. Cargill also rushed to protest the abhorrent calumny against capital with a dry, prophetic wit:

it had been assumed that men in commerce always endeavoured always to get the better of one another, and that if Christian principals were brought into commerce the business so conducted should go to the wall. [This was] an utter untruth. It was a statement curiously at variance with the position of commerce in the present age. What great accumulations had grown from commerce; and was that large structure of credit built upon lies and falsehood? It was entirely the contrary; 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 if that were not the case.

Even reading with generosity ‘the honour and great faith existing between man and man to mean ‘between capitalist and capitalist‘, it appears as if ever since the fucktardery of Dutch tulip mania, history has been one long belly laugh at Mr Cargill’s howling defence of the fair lady finance.

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Waddell, at this stage, was keen too assure his co-workers that he ‘was not disloyal to the higher class, but was only seeking to be loyal to the law’ and that ‘his tastes were with those who who had plenty of wealth, but his sympathies were with those who knew the privations and miseries of life.’ Whilst he agreed alcoholism did do a bit of damage, against the disinterested logic of his contemporaries, he scandolously claimed that he ‘recognised the drinking habits of many of these husbands were the effect of the system which prevails, rather than the cause; that they were reduced to such a condition that they naturally took something to deaden the sense of care and anxiety that oppressed them.’ I’ll drink to that.

Waddell closed by recounting  a story of that esteemed gentleman Sir Robert Peel responsible for such fine inventions as modern policing and the Conservative Party.

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ghost

Thanks, Robert. Dick. 

When English capitalists had whined to him about not being able to compete with the cheapness of foreign manufactures, the benevolent Peel responded ‘Take the children.’ This was a fucking great idea because it forced children and their parents, and husband and wife, into competition with each other face-fucking the entire family below the means of subsistence. The sort of shit present day Conservatives masturbate over as they flail their backs with ivory dildos. A watered down version of Waddell’s motion that stopped short of trying to change laws of the non-supernatural type but left the synod in agreement that sweating was probably not very nice was passed 20 – 6. In any case, Waddell’s earlier sermon had already caused a stir amongst the papers who ran with it, eventually leading to a royal commission on sweating, which played an important role in the implementation of a raft of social legislation.

In what can only be a case of Trans-Tasmin transmigration, post-Australian and communist Prof Hutnyk makes a similar argument to that of the ‘Sin of Cheapness’ in his book Bad Marxism:

The need for redistribution can still be understood by working through Marx’s old categories. The falling rate of profit is a consequence of a simple mechanism that remains comprehensible even in the heightened media environment of the present. Capitalists still drive towards raising productivity levels. First of all by trying to undercut their competitors, capture a greater slice of the market, and so increase their income from sales. Here is the scenario that can be glossed as ‘shopping as civil war’, where the search for the cheapest price by shoppers (workers) means that the capitalist with the lowest overheads (and hence who pays workers the worst rates) gains market dominance. (pp 93)

In our current moment of unpaid internships for the middle-classes, workfare for the working class, suicide nets to bounce unhappy workers back to work around iphone production metropolises, sweat-shopped Primark sweatpants, and unpaid labour (here and there) stacking the shelves in Poundland, we would do well to remember the black and red sermonising of Waddell and Hutnyk against the poor-me protestations of the ruling class.

A COUPLE OF FURTHER INCARNATIONS

In an obvious piece of pulpit plagiarism a Rev Tuberville was credited with giving a fine version of the same sermon in London in 1906

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Keen to show that capitalists aren’t without a sense of humour, albeit quite a dark one, on April 8 1885 the Boston Evening Transcript invoked the sermon, to, you guessed it, advertise a clothing sale. 

2013-06-28 03.38.17 pm

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