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National Anti-Sweating League

Formed at a meeting in Melbourne's Temperance Hall on 23 July 1895, the League aimed to ameliorate the worst features of the competitive system. Through a system of wages boards, constituted by equal numbers of employees and employers with an independent chairman, hours of work would be reduced and minimum wages instituted in factories, shops and workrooms.

Reforming Protestantism, liberal protectionism and respectable trade unionism drove the League. Socially activist Protestant clergymen were prominent office-bearers and committeemen; the Methodist layman Samuel Mauger was the original and long-time secretary, meetings being held above his hat shop at 66 Bourke Street. The League drafted the Factories and Shops Act (1896) requiring municipalities and statutory authorities to observe civilised employment standards, and gradually secured its extension beyond the original six sweated trades of manufacture of men's and boy's clothing, shirts, underclothing, boots, furniture and bread.

Though formally known as the National Anti-Sweating League, with several branches in regional Victoria and even bordering colonies, it remained essentially a Melbourne expression of urban liberal protectionism and Protestant social reformism. Attempts to extend the League's principles to the federal sphere by means of the policy of New Protection foundered in 1909 when liberal protectionists in the Commonwealth Parliament joined with conservative freetraders to form the anti-Labor 'Fusion'. Success in regulating factory and workroom conditions and in establishing early closing and the half-holiday in shops in Victoria reduced the League to watchdog status. The League ceased active work in 1912, became the Anti-Sweating and Civic Advancement League in 1913, re-emerged in the midst of another depression in 1931, and expired totally only in 1953.

John Lack