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Thursday, 30 November 1905


Mr SKENE (Grampians) - I listened very attentively to the greater portion of the speech delivered by the AttorneyGeneral, and I think that the weakness of his case was shown by thelength of his utterance. When he has a good cause he puts it very pithily, and occupies only about half the time that he occupied to-day. I regret that he scarcely touched upon the points in these proposals to which I take exception, and I may say at once that my objection to them has no reference whatever to unionism. I object to them upon general principles. The Attorney-General has said that these proposals will place workers and capitalists upon the same footing. I join issue with him upon that statement. It is impossible to put the two classes upon the same footing, because there is no analogy between their positions. The enterprise of the capitalist is based upon ascertainable facts and business principles. It is of general benefit to the community.


Mr Poynton - Is not a man's labour of general benefit to the community?


Mr SKENE - I trust that the honorable member will allow me to develop my argument in my own way. The advantage of a trade mark is that it acts as a guide to qualitv. Having tested goods bearing a certain mark, the consumer knowsfor what he has to ask in order to secure the same quality. But a workers' label would be used for a different purpose. It would simply indicate the peculiar political tenets of a particular section of workers.


Mr Spence - Where has the honorable member heard of that being done?


Mr SKENE - It would be done here.


Mr Spence - It has never yet been done.


Mr SKENE - We have had no experience of the workers' label in Australia. It would certainly give no guarantee of quality. Under the system adopted by mediaeval guilds, membership indicated skill. Men were allowed to join such guilds only when they possessed special training. But the workers' labels would not be an indication of the skill of those engaged in producing the goods to which they were affixed. I remember my father telling me, years ago, of a guild of wharf labourers in Aberdeen,the members of which wore a large bonnet with a red tassel, and were largely employed for general work. Each of the men, on applying for admission to the guild, had to undergo a certain test. If he could carry 5 cwt., on his back, up a flight of stairs. Tie was admitted. And so it was with the ancient guilds. A certain test was applied to determine the skill of intending members. They had to pass through an apprenticeship, so to speak, and that was a guarantee that those belonging to the guilds were specially skilled, and, therefore, entitled to some special consideration. But those who use these labels will not be required to pass any lest. The use of the label will divide the workers into two hostile camps. It will assist the partisans on either side to more effectually use their strength. The Attorney-General this afternoon read an extract from a document issued by the Employers' Federation, and signed by Mr. Walpole. In doing so, he unconsciously supported one of my arguments against the workers' label", because I hold that such a label will lead to the establishment of a boycott on both sides. I believe that the result will be "war to the knife." When this proposal was first introduced, it consisted simply of one clause, to provide a particular weapon, the union label. But now unionists and non-unionists are to be put on an equal footing. As the AttorneyGeneral has said, there is to be no discrimination of class. I do not think that the situation will be improved in this way. The only outcome will be the supplying of both parties with more improved methods of injuring each other. I have no hesitation in saying that both parties will use it as an instrument of boycott. There would be at least a silent boycott; there would be a determination on the part of each party to avoid purchasing the goods of the other. The possibility is that in that respect the unions might be worsted ; it would depend largely upon the purchasing power of the partisans on either side. Apart from any consideration as to who might be worsted, my desire is that there shall be no clashing. Without offering one word against unionism, I would say to my honorable friends of the Labour Party that I think they make a mistake in rushing towards extremes. Every set-back which unionism has received in this State so far as I know, has been due to that. The honorable and learned member for Corinella last night anticipated something I had intended to say in regard to the Wages Boards. I heartily concur with his - suggestion that there should be a mark indicating whether or not goods have been manufac tured under Wages Boards conditions. That would give us a clear-cut line on a national rather than a sectional basis, and no one could cavil at it. If the proposal were to provide for a label showing whether or not the goods to which, it was applied had been made under Wages Board's conditions, I should be distinctly in favour of it. But to go further than that is, to my mind, to set aside the elements of political economy. As the honorable member for Echuca has said to-night, the proposal is to bring in all sorts of devices to shorten the hours and to reduce the standard of labour. I have seen rules, in which it is laid down that men should walk to their work as slowly as possible in the employers' lime. That is the sort of device that would be resorted to as the result of this system.


Mr Mauger - Has the honorable member any proof that such a rule is in practice?


Mr SKENE - If the honorable member looks at Wages, a book written by Professor Walker, he will find tHe rules I have mentioned. They are laid down as union rules, and they not only set forth that men are not to walk too fast to their work, but that they are not to go beyond a certain standard.


Mr Poynton - Can the honorable member name any union in Australia that has such a rule?


Mr SKENE - No; but these rules are laid down for the guidance of unionists.


Mr Poynton - I have been associated with unions for twenty-five years-, and have never heard of such a rule.


Mr SKENE - The book to which I refer may be found in the Library.


Mr Spence - Does the honorable member say that those rules are given for the guidance of unions in Australia?


Mr SKENE - No, but they have been laid down for the guidance of certain trade unions. There are many rules which are even worse.


Mr Mauger - Surely that is an argument against unions persc.


Mr SKENE - What I wish to impress upon honorable members is that if, as suggested by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, we draw a clear and distinct line between goods made under Wages Boards conditions and those which are not, we shall go as far as we ought to go.


Mr Crouch - Would it not lead1 to a similar boycott as that which the honorable member has suggested?


Mr SKENE - No. I do not know that a label would be necessary in that case. I imagine that, with the exception of rural labourers, to whom it would be difficult to apply the decisions of Wages Boards, most of the workers in Victoria are subject to Wages Boards conditions.


Mr Mauger - No.


Mr SKENE - Then if honorable members please, let them all be brought under such conditions. I do not wish to encourage goods made bv men receiving only a sweated wage.


Mr Poynton - There is not one man in South Australia working under the decision of a Wages Board. The Legislative Council always rejects a proposition in that direction.


Mr SKENE - I have been told by a representative of one of the States that he regards the Wages Boards of Victoria as better than Arbitration Courts.


Mr Henry Willis - That is generally admitted.


Mr SKENE - I think that it is.


Mr Mauger - I can remember when it was not.


Mr SKENE - There may still be many people who do not take that view.' If the suggestion made by the honorable and learned member for Corinella were adopted, what justification would there be for going further? If we do go further, we shall simply pander to the idiosyncracies of certain people. The workers' label will not be an indication of superior skill. The abandonment of the original clause, which confined the mark to goods produced by unionists, is an acknowledgment of that. The label will not be a mark of quality.


Mr Hutchison - Is a trade mark always an indication of quality?


Mr SKENE - One tests the quality of an article bearing a trade mark, and on finding that it is good, asks again for the same article. Briefly stated, my objection is that the label will not be worth anything to the worker, but will be simply a badge to provoke strife. It will be something worse than the orange and green. It will be of no value to the community, but will help the opposing factions to disturb the peace. I think it should be deprecated by every law-abiding citizen. If I had! my wray, I should legislate against any attempt to set class against class in connexion with such matters. With the passing of these provisions', the supporters of the nonunionists would, in my opinion, exercise a greater boycott than would the others. There, would be, as I have sa'id. a silent boycott. It would be a case of " Take only the goods of the side you espouse," and1 the whole matter would be setled in that way by the two opposing sections. That would not be for the benefit of anybody. It only aggravates the position to require the consent of the employe. As the honorable member for Echuca has pointed out, employers, if their men are squeezing out of them higher rates of wages than leave a certain amount of profit, might enter into collusion with their employes to increase prices. That has been done in California, under the voluntary application of the trade union label ; but it is now being, proposed here that we shall pass a law which will compel employers to obtain the consent of their employes to use these labels, and the two will have to work together against the interests of the consumer, who must always suffer if rates of wages are too high. I was impressed by an article by Mr. Graham Brooks, which I read the other day, upon the co-operative method adopted in Belgium. There they have introduced the minimum wage, but have coupled with it the condition of a minimum product. They do not believe, to use the old Scotch woman's phrase, in a " muckle wage and wee work," and require a minimum production for the minimum wage.


Mr Hutchison - That is done in Australia.


Mr Mauger - Yes; there is not a factory where a minimum task is not insisted on.


Mr SKENE - In Belgium, the workers themselves have found it necessary to provide that if a minimum wage is paid there shall be a minimum product. Short hours and high wages mean, from the point of view of political economy, small values for the consumers, who are not only the idle rich but also the workers themselves.


Mr Hutchison - Not only the idle rich, but also the suffering poor.


Mr SKENE - The poor will suffer still more under the conditions which are sought to be imposed. Although a worker who is being paid abnormally high wages may gain in one direction, he will lose in ten other directions, and if through ill-health or some other cause he loses his job, he will find that he must pay very dearly for everything he needs.


Mr Hutchison - How will the legalization of the trade union label affect the price of commodities?


Mr SKENE - If employers and employes enter into collusion to enable wages to be forced beyond a reasonable standard


Mr Hutchison - Everything is "if" with the honorable member. If the sky were to fall, the whole thing would be settled.


Mr SKENE - I am showing what obtains in Belgium. It is notorious, as the honorable member for Echuca has told us, that in California the cost of living has been increased 25 per cent, by the collusion between employers and employes, arising out of the use of the trade union label.


Mr Hutchison - No one will swallow that.


Mr SKENE - The honorable member will not swallow anything which does not coincide with his own opinions. We are too prone to adopt laws because they are in force in other parts of the world. It is very easy to make a quotation from one and another authority in support of any such proposal ; but I recollect that in 1874, when the Californian law was brought forward, leading writers were of opinion that it was a great advantage that the trade union label could be legalized only by the laws of the States, and not by a Federal law, because if one State chooses to go to extremes, others, later on, seeing the mistake that has been made, will avoid following her example. What is now proposed, however, is to legislate in regard to the trade union label for the whole Commonwealth before we have had an opportunity to test the usefulness of Wages Boards and Arbitration Acts in each of the States. The unions, having failed to obtain a preference under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, put forward these proposals as another means of bringing all the workers under their control ; but, fortunately, the clauses have been altered, so that that danger may be avoided, and, instead of every one being made the mental and moral slave of a certain section, we shall have two parties competing one against the other. I do not see how the trade union label can be made to serve any useful purpose. . Its application to goods will not show that the workmanship in their manufacture is better than, the workmanship in goods not similarly labelled, and, as I think that conditions will be infinitely worse for' the working classes if we adopt these proposals than they are now, I shall strongly oppose it.







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