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Thursday, 1 December 1927

Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) .- The Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) has submitted for our consideration, and, he hopes, our endorsement, a motion to which the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) has moved an amendment, that I trust will be agreed to. If it is, the motion will then read as follows : -

That, in view of the great loss, unemployment, and general distress, which will inevitably result from the continuance of the serious industrial disturbance in the waterside industry, the Senate is of opinion that consultations should be immediately held by the Government with the various State Governments affected and organizations concerned, with a view to a clear understanding of the matters in issue and the settlement thereof by means of conference and conciliation.

I have been a member of the Labour party ever since its birth in these southern seas,and I can say that there is no member of it who wishes to see industrial strife in Australia. We have always endeavoured, to the best of our ability, to bring about a better understanding between employers and employees in the various spheres of activity. When I hear honorable senators opposite waxing eloquent with respect to the conditions that are obtained by the workers as a result of the submission of their claims to the Arbitration Court, my mind goes back to the early days of the Commonwealth Parliament, when the Labour party assisted to keep in office a Government which was in a hopeless minority in this chamber, and aided it to place upon the statute-book the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which was responsible for the creation of the Arbitration Court. I well remember the feelings of that section of the community which today, as it did then, supports the Nationalists. From all parts of the Commonwealth loud protestations were made against such a law being enacted. I have a vivid recollection of a conference of the Employers Federation of Australia that was held in Brisbane, and was attended by representatives of every State federation. It passed unanimously a resolution expressing its thanks for, and its high appreciation of the efforts that had been put forward by those who by voice and vote had opposed the measure in this Parliament. A number of years have passed, and although there are now in Australia many employers who believe in. the principle of conciliation and arbitration, I consider that if they held the big stick which was then in their hands, they would wield it just as unmercifully. I was amused at the speech that was delivered by Senator Payne. He informed us that during his travels he has come in contact with unionists who have told him that there are fomenters of strife in industrial organizations, and that few strikes would occur if a ballot of the members of those organizations were taken whenever one threatened He, and other honorable senators would lead the people to believe that those who hold responsible positions in the unions derive a benefit from strikes. One honorable senator went so far as to say that their positions were dependent upon industrial unrest. That is a most foolish and stupid statement, which would not be made by any one who had a knowledge of even the A.B.C. of unionism. I have been a member of a trade union since I was a youth. For many and varied reasons I believe in the principles of unionism. I have a knowledge of the struggles and the strivings of the class to which I belong, for the betterment of their conditions. The benefits that are enjoyed today by the working class have been gained by their unswerving loyalty and unflagging zeal. By whom are the responsible officers in the different unions elected? By a majority of their fellows, invariably as the result of a secret ballot,but sometimes at a specially convened mass meeting. They are elected because it is the opinion of a majority of the members that they are best qualified for the position. They possess the trust and the confidence of their fellows. Those who are at the head of the Waterside Workers' Federation to-day have been in the unionistic world for years, and are known personally to me. They have made very great sacrifices on behalf of unionism, and are always anxious to preserve industrial peace.

Senator Sir George Pearce - How long has Mr. Seale been associated with the trade union movement?

Senator FINDLEY - I do not know.

Senator Sir George Pearce - He is a Johnny-come-lately !

Senator FINDLEY - It is as certain as that day follows night that he occupies his position because a majority of the members of his organization believe that he is well qualified for it. There are two sides to every dispute. According to certain honorable senators who support the Government in this dispute there is only one side, that of the ship-owners.

Senator SirWilliam Glasgow - Why do not the men go to the court?

Senator FINDLEY - I shall give a brief history of the trouble. Last Christmas there was an outbreak of unrest on the waterfront on account of the inexcusable delay that had occurred in commencing the hearing of a plaint that had been lodged in the Arbitration Court by the Waterside Workers' Federation against the ship-owners. At that time Judge Beeby decided that if the overtime strike which then existed was declared off, he would hear, early in the new year, the plaint with reference to the increased overtime rates, and deal with the general plaint at a later date. The Waterside Workers' Federation accepted that proposition. Judge Beeby fulfilled the first part of his promise by hearing the plaint with respect to increased overtime rates early this year; and his decision was in favour of the federation. The one pickup system had then been in existence for a considerable time. Last May the general plaint, against which the shipowners had filed an answer in March, came before the court. Notwithstanding that in the affidavits no mention had been made of the one pick-up system, Judge Beeby, departing from the custom of the court, allowed a representative of the ship-owners to raise the question of procedure. What is more remarkable still, he decided that he would not hear any plaint on behalf of the Waterside Workers' Federation unless and until a reversion was made to the two pick-up system. He overlooked the fact that he had already given a decision in relation to the overtime plaint during the existence of the one pick-up system.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Who makes that statement!

Senator FINDLEY - That is a statement which has been issued from the point of view of the Waterside Workers' Federation.

Senator Sir George Pearce - It is not in accordance with the facts.

Senator FINDLEY - I claim that it is.

Senator Needham - These are facts which the Government has suppressed.

Senator FINDLEY - During the last year or two, three awards have been made by Judge Beeby, although the one pickup system was in operation. When the doors of the court were closed against them - unjustly, they believed - the men decided to try to move the court to hear their claims. So far they have not succeeded in doing so, and have, therefore, laid it down that no overtime shall be worked. The ship-owners have issued an ultimatum, which amounts to a declaration of war, that if the men do not work overtime all the ships will be tied up.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - Overtime is provided for in the award.

Senator FINDLEY - Apparently the one pick-up system has by mutual agreement become an award.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - That is not so. The award provides for two pick-ups. The honorable senator evidently has not read it.

Senator FINDLEY - Notwithstanding that the men have beep working with one pick-up, awards of the court have been made.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - Under duress. The court was not aware of the two pick-ups until its attention had been drawn to the matter.

Senator FINDLEY - The waterside workers object to two pick-ups being forced upon them. Apparently, there are some who are anxious for a fight. Those who have been connected with industrial disturbances in the past know what a serious matter a strike is, especially if it is protracted, and affects a large number of workers. Does any honorable senator believe that the carrying of this motion will end the present strike?

Senator Reid - It may help to bring it to an end.

Senator FINDLEY - Is that likely, in view of the staunch loyalty inthe ranks of trade unionism? Those who desire this issue to be fought to a finish will do well to remember that. Honorable senators, and indeed all who wish to see this trouble settled in a peaceful way, should read the leading article that appeared in the Age th° other day. An extract from it is as follows: -

If the court cannot or will not intervene there is nothing to prevent independent mediation. It is a reproach to our political leaders that the present critical stage should have been readied without even a suggestion on behalf of peace.

Senator Sir George Pearce - The leaders of this trouble desire to see political interference - not an approach to the court.

Senator FINDLEY - What does the Government propose to do?

Senator Sir George Pearce - It proposes not to interfere with the Court.

Senator FINDLEY - Why then does not the court open its doors?

Senator Sir William Glasgow - The doors have been open for the last three weeks.

Senator FINDLEY - The trouble was settled in respect of the Commonwealth Government snips. Does the Minister believe there is any principle involved in connexion with the attitude of the workers?

Senator Sir George Pearce - Yes.

Senator FINDLEY - Why then did not the Government prevent the Shipping Board from accepting the principle of one pick-up. The board's action has prevented any trouble occurring over the loading or unloading of vessels of that Line.

Senator Sir George Pearce - The honorable . senator himself supplied the reasons to-day, when he reminded me that the board was under an independent act.

Senator FINDLEY - For some years there has been no trouble in regard to the one pick-up, and, in my opinion, there is no reason why there should now be any alteration of the system. The point is regarded as important by those engaged on the water front. If the Government is really in earnest, the present trouble could be settled in 24 hours. There have been compulsory conferences before today for the settlement of industrial disputes, even more serious than this is at the moment. Whenever the occasion demanded, the Federal and State Govern- ments did not hesitate to act if, in their opinion Government intervention was in the best interests of the community. So far as this dispute is concerned the Government tells the disputants, in effect, " Box on. If there is any real trouble we will suppress it."

Senator Needham - By means of the Crimes Act.

Senator FINDLEY - Of course. If serious developments arise the Government will issue a proclamation under the Crimes Act. As my leader has said, up to the present there has not been any industrial trouble that would justify the drastic action which, it has been hinted, may be taken shortly by the Ministry. The maritime strike was a far more serious industrial upheaval than the present dispute threatens to become.

Senator Sir George Pearce - There was no arbitration court then for the men to appeal to.

Senator FINDLEY - That is true. The police and the military were called out on that occasion, and I well remember what effect their intervention had upon the industrialists of the day. The Leader of the Senate (Sir George Pearce) and others whom I could mention, in a measure owe their political existence to that strike. The waterside workers have been told that they should approach the Arbitration Court. As a matter of fact, they have been anxious to do that for a long time, but owing to a technicality, the way has been blocked.

Senator Sir George Pearce - What is preventing them from getting their plaint heard by the court?

Senator FINDLEY - There is this trouble with regard to the two pickups.

Senator Sir George Pearce - No; they object to obey the award.

Senator FINDLEY - They have been working for a long time with only one pick-up and they are anxious to continue under that sysetm. They know only too well all the inconvenience that is caused by having two pick-ups a day. Moreover, awards have been made under the one pick-up system and the waterside workers are convinced that Judge Beeby was not justified in altering the procedure at the instance of the ship-owners' representatives. I hope that there will be no extension of the trouble and that it will soon beover. I trust also that the waterside workers will receive every consideration to which they are entitled at the hands of the Government and the court.

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