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Thursday, 30 November 1905

Mr McCOLL (Echuca) - The AttorneyGeneral presented his case very ably, and I trust that those who present the opposite point of view will be listened to with the attention and respect given to him. He spent a great deal of time in telling us about the union label and its use in America ; but he gave us very few reasons why it should be introduced into Australia at the present time. I am sorry that he appeared to cast a reflection upon honorable members on this side of the Chamber bv stating that there is a demand abroad for the repeal of the industrial legislation of Victoria and some of the other States.

Mr Isaacs - I did not mean that as a reflection on honorable members.

Mr McCOLL - He asked whether there had not been a constant cry for the repeal of these laws on the part of the opponents of the union label provisions. I have not heard of any cry of that kind, and the remarks of the Attorney-General should not have been directed to men who from the very beginning have supported legislation intended to confer 'benefits upon the workers. Some honorable members on this side of the Chamber have taken a great interest in factory legislation and other enactments designed to confer advantages on the working classes. I have had occasion to defend factory and similar legislation when it has been cavilled at during my travels through other countries. I have represented that it is desirable that our workers should carry on their operations under fair and favorable conditions, even though we may have to pay a little more for what they produce. The Attorney-General stated that from no quarter had any objections been received to the proposals now before us, and that no public meetings had been held in opposition to them. That would not have been at all strange, in view of the fact that the Bill has been buried for the last four months, and was only resurrected on the 14th instant. The public had almost forgotten about it until it was brought prominently under their attention about a fortnight ago. Since then, however, I venture to say that scores of objections have been expressed all through the country.

Mr Tudor - From the workers?

Mr McCOLL - From those who represent the workers.

Mr Tudor - From farmers only.

Mr McCOLL - From shire councillors who are placed in their positions by the workers. Protests have been made by residents in all parts of the country against the adoption of the union label proposals, and we find that the great newspapers of the Commonwealth are almost unanimously opposed to them. Attempts have been made to associate some honorable members who are opposing the union label provisions with the statements made by Mr. Walpole, the secretary of the Employers' Federation. I feel sure that honorable members in the Labour corner would not care to shoulder the responsibility for all the utterances of Tom Mann, and other persons of a similar character, and therefore it is scarcely fair to expect honorable members who are opposed to the union label provisions to accept the responsibility for all the statements made by Mr. Walpole. I had hoped that at this stage of the session the Government would have divorced the union label provisions from the others in the Bill, and have held them over until next session, with a view to introducing them in a separatemeasure. No stronger reason could be urged for the adoption of such a course than that furnishedby the speech of the Attorney-General. He has given us a great deal of information which we have had no opportunity of checking; nor have wehadany chance to ascertain what can besaidon the other side. Unfortunately, all the literature on thesubjectinour Library was borrowedby one of the Ministers,and was therefore not available to honorable memberson this side of the Chamber. The trade union label provi sions have not been shown to benecessary. They will certainly prove irritating,and possibly may turn out to be useless. Therefore, there is no reason why, at this stage of the session, we should block more important work in order that we may devote our time to passing a measure of doubtful utility. Ministers now stand in a false position, and would do better to postpone the consideration of the whole question until next session, when, honorable members could approach the subject with the fullest information at their disposal. These provisions have been to some extent sprung upon us.

Mr Page - The Bill has been on the notice-paper for two years.

Mr McCOLL - The history of the Bill is an extraordinary one. As the honorable member says, it has been on the notice-paper for two years, and yet we have not been asked to deal with it until the fag-end of this session, when important work still remains to be done. It first appeared on the notice-paper this session on 28th July, and gradually dropped down to the bottom of the list of "Government measures, where it remained for four months. On 8th November last, when the Prime Minister made an announcement as to the measureswhich the Government desired to pass before the session closed, he placed the Trade Marks Bill third from the last on the list. Honorable members did not expect that it would be brought forward with such a rush, or that the Government would have pushed matters to such extremes as they have done. Some marked changes have been made in the provisions of the Bill since it was first received from the Senate. I have no doubt that the Attorney-General has found it difficult to submit to honorable members just as much as he thought they would stand, and at the same time to satisfy his friends of the Labour Party. He has done his best to disguise the dangerous features of the provisions, and thus disarmsuspicion, both in and out. of the House. The term " trade union mark " has been converted into " workers' trade marks." The term "trade union," which was used in the Bill when first received here, hasbeen supersededby the word " union." Now a further change has been brought about, the term " union " having been altogether superseded by the word "association." Whilst the" form and verbiage of the clauses last submitted to us are different from those first proposed, the policy is the same, and in dealing with the clauses we have to treat them as if thev were purely and simply trade union label clauses, in the form in which they were received from the Senate. Not only have the provisions been altered in the way I have indicated, but as was ably pointed out by the honorable and learned member for Angas, and the honorable and learned member for Corinella, amendments had been made in other clauses - apparently in the hope that they would escape notice - in order that the powers desired to be conferred in the first place should be granted. Our thanks are due to the honorable and learned members referred to, for the ability with which they have indicated the true meaning of the provisions to which I refer. The readiness with which alterations were accepted by the Attorney-General last night caused me to suspect that he knew all about the defects sought to be remedied, and made them good, only when he was found out. Verylittle has been said by members on the Government side in support of these provisions. The honorable member for Bland has spoken, but not a word has been heard from any Minister, except the AttorneyGeneral. The public ave entitled to know why certain Ministers have changed their views since last session. The proposals now submitted for our consideration, although they were drafted before the Prime Minister announced his policy two years' ago, have not been embodied in any policy submitted to the country. No Government has seen fit to take the responsibility of bringing them forward. It was left to a private member of the Senate to introduce them. Since they have reached this House they have been nursed by the Attorney-General, and the honorable member for Bland has acted as medical adviser, and has careful I v watched over them to see that no harm befell them. We have a right to know why the whole of the business of the country is being turned upside down, in order that certain new conditions, the operation of which no one can foretell, may be introduced into our industrial life. I can only conceive of one reason for all this hurry, namely, that the members of the Labour Party are determined, before the session closes, that the principle of preference to unionists shall in some form or other be embodied in cur Statutes. Honorable, members must have a vivid recollection of the struggle that took place over the question of preference to unionists in connexion with the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The Government of the day, rather than accept a modification of the provisions contained in the Bill, elected to leave office, and now they have succeeded in bringing to heel those who formerly opposed them. If these provisions are passed, the Labour Party will claim that they have achieved a triumph, and no doubt they will have done so. They will say that they compelled a recognition of their principles. Of course, the Attorney-General, the Minister of Trade and Customs, and the Minister of Home Affairs are perfectly consistent, inasmuch as they supported the proposed provision in the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. But it is only fair to the country that the other members of the Ministry, who, upon that occasion, told us that to grant a preference to unionists was -wrong, should rise and explain why they have changed their minds, and why a proposal which was then so baneful has suddenly become so salutary.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They have not changed their minds; they have merely changed their seats.

Mr McCOLL - It is due to the Committeee and to honorable members who followed those gentlemen at that time that they should state their reasons for their changed convictions. If they still believe that preference to unionists is a bad thing, it is only fair that they should not make a party question of this proposal. It should be an open question with them, and they should be at liberty to vote in accordance with their convictions, If that were done, honorable members upon this side of the House would be quite content. It is not fair, however, that members of the Ministry should be compelled to vote under duress. The Attorney-General did not tell us that these provisions would prove of great benefit to those in whose special interests they are submitted. Only the other night the honorable member for Bland distinctly stated that he did not think any very great benefit would be derived from them by members of trade unions. His support of these proposals, he declared, was based rather upon the benefit which the public would derive. He said that the adoption of the union label would determine the quality of goods, and would protect the worker bv insuring that thev were manufactured under fair conditions. How.

I ask, can it determine the quality of goods? The worker, as we all know, has to take the materials which are placed in his hands. Although he may put the best of work into those materials, the goods which he produces may not be of high quality. Indeed, it is probable that these union labels will shelter very inferior articles. If, for example, it were found that a union label was a popular mark, manufacturers, who were no better than other people, would take advantage of it, and use materials of inferior quality, thus deceiving the public. When the honorable member for Bland declares that the adoption- of the union label will insure that goods are made under fair conditions, I would ask him who prescribes those conditions? In Victoria they are prescribed by the Wages Boards, and in the other States by Arbitration Courts. The introduction of the union label will mean the application of Trades Hall conditions to the production of goods, and thus we shall have two conflicting sets of conditions established in this country. If these provisions are enacted, they may actually ruin all those who are working under State laws under good. conditions, and who are doing the best for their employers. We must not forget that upon more than one occasion the honorable member for Bland has expressed approval of the boycott. That fact, however, was carefully kept in the background by the AttorneyGeneral. The fear entertained by the public is that the introduction of the union label in Australia will mean a boycott, the extent of which we cannot foresee. It has been said that all the States have not established Wages Boards or Arbitration Courts; but as this is essentially a State matter, it is the duty of those States which have not created those tribunals to come into line with the other States. It seems to me that the proposals under consideration will absolutely destroy the 'beneficent laws- under which labour is working at the present time. What conditions are Taid down by the Trades Hall ? In this connexion, it is interesting to read the debates which take place there every week. Only three or four weeks ago, I find that a motion was submitted byMr. Stephen Barker, in favour of the adoption of a six-hours' day. It was discussed at three or four meetings, and finally carried.

Mr Carpenter - Has that fact anything to do with this Bill?

Mr McCOLL - I am merely pointing out the conditions that will probably, be laid down if these clauses are brought into operation.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Did not that motion apply only to deep mines?

Mr McCOLL - No; in many of the deep mines in Victoria at the present time, the men are working six-hour shifts, and in some cases only four-hour shifts have been worked. But that has nothing whatever to' do with the union label. If the Trades Hall leaders declare that a union label shall only be applied in connexion with a six-hours' day, what chance will employers have of competing with the labour outside of this country ? Unfortunately, in Australia the same evil practice which has obtained in Great Britain for a long time past is being introduced - the practice of giving less work for more wages, in order that work may not be made too plentiful, lt is well known that in many trades in Great Britain the unions insist upon only a certain quantity of work being done per day, irrespective of whether or not that work represents a fair return for the wages paid. Even in this country, the unions insist that only a certain amount of work shall be done. That is an actual fact of which I have been informed by those engaged in industry. If our workmen are not to do the best that they can for their employers, how can the latter compete with the rest of the world? Then we shall find that those who do not work under Trades Hall conditions will be boycotted. If these provisions are not to be used in that way, it is idle to D]ace them on our statute-book. The inevitable result will be that .we shall get "clear goods of no better quality. What will happen then? The people will not purchase them. The ordinary purchaser will not pay a higher price for goods to which a certain label is affixed merely from sentimental considerations. He cannot afford to do it. The wives of the workers have to husband every sixpence that they get.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - If the honorable member is a protectionist, why does he argue in that way ?

Mr McCOLL - I recognise that there are in this Chamber some of those extraordinary beings who are known as free-trade labour members. I cannot understand them.

Mr Page - The honorable member understood us when the Tariff was under consideration.

Mr McCOLL - The consequence will be that the union label will be used to deceive the workersthemselves, and possibly the public. Then I find that the Trades Hall is opposed to piece-work.

Mr Tudor - Who is the honorable member's authority for that assertion ?

Mr McCOLL - 1 have no special authority for it, but 1know that workers generally are opposed to piece-work.

Mr Page - I was always anxious to get it.

Mr Tudor - Certain unions are in favour of piece-work.

Mr McCOLL - The result of this legislation will be that those who are opposed to the union label will boycott the goods on which it appears. The boycott will be due, not merely to considerations of economy. I may be wrong. I do not claim to be infallible, but I feel assured that the majority of the people are so strongly opposed to the principle of the union label that they will boycott goods to which it is affixed, and so bring ruin to the workers.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Why should the honorable member complain?

Mr McCOLL - Because we do not wish a wrong to be perpetrated. We do not think that those who claim to represent the workers in this House have a monopoly of wisdom. The Attorney-General, in defending the introduction of the union label legislation in America, showed that it was intended to cope with a set of conditions entirely different from those prevailing in Australia. Powerful trusts were grinding the workers down as low as possible, and they had to band themselves together, and resort to the use of the union label to protect themselves against, not only these trusts, but the enormous influx of coloured and other cheap labour, which was then pouring into the United States. We have no such conditions here, and why should we throw in this bone of contention ? Why should we pass provisions which will set individual against individual, and class against class, without conferring a benefit upon even one section of the community ? The people of America are between the upper and nether mill-stones. They are ground down between the trusts on the one hand, and the trade unions on the other. Had I known that this matter was to come up for consideration, I should have taken care, when in the United States recently, to collect full information, both for and against the proposal ; butI had other work to do, and, therefore, did not give special attention to it. I did not hear much about the union label, but was certainly informed that wherever it had been introduced the cost of living had been enormously increased. Within the last fifteen years the cost of living in districts where trade union label legislation prevails has increased from 20 to 25 per cent.

Mr Frazer - How does the honorable member account for that?

Mr McCOLL - The explanation is simple. The trusts, which must make their profits - and make perhaps more than they ought to do - have control on the one hand, whilst the unions have control on the other. Wages are exceptionally high, and every demand on the part of the trusts for increased profits, and on the part of the unions for higher wages, results in an increase in the price of goods to the general consumer. That is one reason why, without any desire whatever to block this measure, I would strongly urge upon the Government to withdraw these provisions. Let us pass those relating to trade marks, and thus bring a most useful measure into operation ; but let us refrain from dealing with the question of the union label until next session. By that time we shall have had full opportunity to consider it, and will be able to approach it with open minds, and possessing full information on the subject. We can point to only one country where these provisions have been in operation, and they were brought into force there because the situation required something of the kind. But such legislation has never been adopted in any other great industrial country. Having regard to the infancy of our industries, why should we rush these provisions on to the statutebook when we do not know what their effect will be? Theymay prove beneficial, whilst, on the other hand, they may prove a curse ; but oncethey are placed on the statute-book, it may be very difficult to repeal them. In our desire to promote the welfareof our industrial life, we must have regard to two considerations. We must remember the manwho has to find the money as well as the worker. This class of legislation will deter investment ;indeed, I may say that it is alarming capitalists, and causing them to refrain from investing their money in Australia. We require settled conditions. Whatever our conditions may be, let them be settled, at least, for a time, and then the people will know exactly what their position is. As it is, they never know what special legislation may be passed that will have the effect of making, or marring, the industries in which they are engaged. We desire to have large manufactories, but who is going to start fresh undertakings? Under present conditions, no one will feel disposed to do so. Industries that should be forging ahead are languishing. We have not that industrial spirit, that desire to establish new industries, and that common agreement between employers and employe's that prevailed before the Labour Partv came into existence.

Mr Thomas - The Labour Party ! That is the trouble.

Mr McCOLL - It is a fact.

Mr Tudor - The honorable member would like to see every member of the Labour Party out of the House.

Mr McCOLL - Not at all.

Mr Thomas - If we are ruining the country, why should the honorable member haveany personal consideration for us?

Mr McCOLL - I do not think that the Labour Party are doing much good for the country. Their aim is to discourage private enterprise, in order that they may carry our their desire to nationalize all industry. In the meantime, whilst this state of affairs prevails, who are the sufferers? Not the Labour Party, who come here to represent the workers,' but the workers themselves. The cry of the unemployed which we hear from week to week, for food and work, is , evidence of this. We must have some consideration for the men who embark in different industries. If we are going to play into the hands of the faddists who wish to nationalize all industries,Australia will never rise.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - If we had many "boodlers" like the honorable member in the House it would not.

Mr McCOLL - The honorable member has no right to insult me by applying such an epithet to me.


Mr McCOLL - Like the honorable member. I am only a worker. It seems to me that the trend of legislation in the Commonwealth is more and more to set individual against individual, class against class, and State against State. Five years ago, when the union was consummated, we fondly hoped that we were going to be one people. But although we have a political union, a union of heart and of feeling is further off than it was. Who are responsible for this state of affairs? The responsibility rests with those who control the affairs of the Commonwealth. It appears to suit some people to maintain this unsatisfactory position. I do not propose to say anything about the constitutional aspect of the situation. That is a matter which must be threshed out by the AttorneyGeneral and the other lawyers in the House. But we have some three or four leading barristers in the Government who are constitutional authorities, and I should like to hear them indorse the opinion expressed by the Attorney-General.

Mr.McCay. - He did not express a definite opinion.

Mr McCOLL - Quite so. We find that the position taken up to-day by several members of the Government is very different from that which they took up a year or two ago. We knowthat the Prime Minister preferred to leave office rather than agreeto the passing of a law which he considered would constitute an attack upon States rights. He was not prepared to allow the High Court to settle the question then at issue. Is he going to allow the High Court to settle the moot point now before us ? Surely there is no reason why we should attempt to deal with certain matters when our power to legislate in regard to them isin question. If the present policy of the Prime Minister isthat which he advocated a year or two ago, he should allow this legislation to stand over just as he urged should be done in regard to the application of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill to the railway employes of the States. Mr. Cussen, a leading member of the Victorian Bar, has expressed the following opinion : -

In my opinion, the Commonwealth Parliament has not power to legislate in respect of what I have called for shortness " Union Labels."

(a)   Because they do not indicatebywhat persons the articles were made, but only membership of a certain association.

(b)   Their use is not enjoyed as incidentto any business, and theright to use cannot be transferred with the transfer of a business.

(c)   There is no exclusive use, as many per sons not connected in business and unknown to each other have the rightto use, the right to use being acquired by becoming a member of an association, and being lost by ceasing to be a member."

If the union label be such a good thing, how is it that all efforts to force it upon Canada during the last ten years have been in vain? How is it that it has not been adopted in England?

Mr Isaacs - I think that the Canadian House of Commons passed it in an amended form, but the Senate rejected it.

Mr McCOLL - I believe it was shown that they could not constitutionally pass such legislation. Is the Prime Minister prepared to chance the enactment of these clauses, or will he follow the wise course that he laid down some time ago in connexion with the Conciliation" and Arbitration Bill ? Those who are opposed to these provisions feel that they will bring discredit upon the Commonwealth, and that they will force men to join unions against their will. We feel that the union label will bring into vogue a system of espionage, which will be degrading to those who take part in it. When we look the whole matter fairly in the face, we cannot refrain from asking, "What good will it confer upon any one?" If its value be so problematical, why should we waste our time, and cause trouble and confusion, by endeavouring to pass such legislation? We have so far only touched upon the fringe of the work that the Commonwealth should take over from the States. We have powers under section 51 of the Constitution that remain untouched - powers that should be exercised for the benefit of this great Commonwealth. But we are shelving great and important questions, and wasting time in the consideration of such miserable matters as those now before us. Judging by the opinions expressed in the press, the workers' label is not popular. It will be an instrument of coercion and boycott. It will force. non-unionists to join unions, and in a little time may lead to the introduction of the walking delegate. The benefits to flow from such legislation are so unreal and shadowy that I feel compelled to opDose it, and trust that the majority of honorable members will consider it their dutv to reject these proposals.

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