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Thursday, 30 November 1905


Mr ROBINSON (Wannon) - I had hoped that my honorable friends in the Labour corner would have undertaken some defence of this proposal. Upon "the second reading of the Bill very few of them addressed themselves to the question of the introduction of the union label. Upon that occasion we were assured that in Committee their views would be placed before us, and their justification of these proposals would be made. So far, however, we have heard very little in the nature of any such justification. I must congratulate the AttorneyGeneral upon the excellent speech which he has delivered this afternoon. When the honorable member speaks after preparation, his remarks - whether one agrees withhis conclusions or not- are always worthy of the closest attention. If one thing more than another struck me during the delivery of his speech, it was the rapt attention with which it was followed by his colleagues, the Treasurer and the VicePresident of the Executive Council. Those honorable gentlemen were evidently looking for some justification for their action in swallowing life-long principles, and, doubtless, hoped that the Attorney-General's speech would enable them to turn a double somersault without attracting public attention.


Mr Kennedy - Then the honorable and learned member would argue that there is no justificationfor a change of opinion?


Mr ROBINSON - No. I think that there is; and whan the Treasurer and the Vice-P resident of the Executive Council give their reasons for changing their opinion I shall be the first to tender them my respectful congratulations.


Mr Tudor - The Reid Government, when in office, did not say that they were opposed to the union label.


Mr ROBINSON - I do not know what they said in this regard ; but I am aware of the views expressed by the two honorable gentlemen whom I have mentioned. I well remember the heroic periods indulged in by the Treasurer when, speaking in a hall not far from this House, he denounced any proposal to differentiate between working men. I am hopeful that he will yet unburden his soul of his reasons for supporting the proposals now before us. I am waiting to hear him unburden his mind in answer to the very strong protests that have reached him from Western Australia.

In dealing with a political measure of this kind, we are entitled to ask, first of all, what is its object? It is not my purpose to deal with the legal aspect of the question. I do not think that much is to be gained by doing so. The matter should be left in the hands of as few as possible, and with the Attorney-General on the one side, and the honorable and learned member for Angas and the honorable and learned member for Corinella on the other, I think that it will be sufficiently debated. I wish to ask why these proposals have been put before us - why we are asked to support what is known as the union label. I invite honorable members to cast back their minds to the events of last year, and to recollect the fierce struggle which took place in this House in connexion with various provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. Honorable members will remember that there was a fierce conflict over the proposal to grant preference to unionists. We who opposed it said that its object was to force men into unions, so that those organizations might be built up numerically and financially, and that as they were largely political machines, used by one section of the people, they should not be strengthened at the expense of all other sections. That was the objection winch" was frequently voiced, and with- the assistance of the present Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Vice-President of the Executive Council, and the PostmasterGeneral, we succeeded in almost annihilating preference to unionists. I think honorable members will admit that it was practically killed.


Mr Tudor - I do, and said so at the time.


Mr ROBINSON - Honorable members will recollect that preference to the members of a union having political objects was also prohibited. A proposal in that direction was scotched by us, with the assistance of the members of the Ministry to whom I have referred. Being free agents, and not having, as far as I am aware, covetous eyes on the Treasury benches, they voted for amendments which had the effect of practically annihilating the principle. It was at that time that we heard so much of what is known as the caucus, and of the dangers of machine government. Reference was made to them in eloquent speeches in this House, and in still more brilliant utterances at Ballarat. We were told that my honorable friends of the

Labour Party were rushing the people over a precipice - that bit by bit they were undermining the independence of representatives, and turning them into mere pawns. But all this has been changed. If I may use a well-worn, simile, "Barbarossa has had to do penance." Those who helped us to annihilate preference to unionists are now supporting a proposal that will have the same effect, but will be devoid of the safeguards attached to that principle in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Preference to unionists under that Act cannot be awarded except by an order of the Court. Therefore a Judge must, in the first place, hear the -pros and cons of the question before application for such preference can be granted. There is no such safeguard offered in connexion with the provisions which we have before us. There is some justification for the demand for preference to unionists under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, because the organizations which bring disputes 'before the Court have to bear the cost of presenting their case, and their funds are liable to attachment if any of their members fail to observe the award of the Court.


Mr Tudor - The honorable and learned member forgot that argument! when the . question was before the House.


Mr ROBINSON - The honorable member scarcely does me justice. I did not forget it, but thought that it was outweighed by arguments on the other side. I do say, however, that that argument deserves consideration, and it was certainly advocated with all the fervour that my honorable friends in the Ministerial corner possess. But it does not apply in the present case. There is no question of an organization or union incurring large expenditure in bringing a claim before the Court to apply a union label, nor is there any question of its funds being attached in the effort to do nob only its own members, but other persons, good service. So far as these provisions are concerned, we have therefore a complete change of front on the part of the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Postmaster-General, and_ the Vice-President of the Executive Council. They are eating the leek. Indeed, the Treasurer and the Vice-President of the Executive .Council are swallowing it whole, and are endeavouring to hide from the public the wry faces they are making in the attempt'. The proposal to legalize the union label seems to. me to be one to legalize the boycott. I have given careful and exhaustive study to the multitude of pamphlets, papers, reports, and so forth that have been written and printed upon this question, and I say, unhesitatingly, that the inference must be drawn from thorn that a boycott or an attempted boycott is necessary to the effective use of the union label. Wherever the attempt has been made in the United States, a boycott has inevitably followed. The means adopted by the unions to establish the union label, and so to strengthen their ranks, are in essence and in fact a boycott. The first method adopted is to persuade all unionists to buy only those goods which bear the union label. The next attempt is to force them, if need be, not to buy from a retailer who sells articles that do not- bear the label. By every means in their power they seek to extend the feeling that those who make, sell, or handle goods made by non-unionists should not be patronized. The action of the hatters', the cigar-makers', and other unions, to which reference has been made, shows that the usual forms of address issued by the various trade unions and federations of labour are, " Do not purchase such and such goods," "Do not purchase articles made by such-and-such a firm." " Do not purchase articles unless they bear the union label." By direct and indirect means the boycott is set up in respect of all good's that do not bear the union label. This has just the same effect as has preference to unionists, except that the boycott takes a more drastic and deadly shape. Unlike preference to unionists, it has not the sanction of a Court.


Mr Tudor - It has the sanction of public opinion.


Mr ROBINSON - I invite the honorable member to consider the case, say, of the Bootmakers' Union. Let us assume that it applies the union label to goods manufactured by its members. Then bootmakers generally are urged to buy only union-made boots bearing the union label, and every other union issues the same request to its members. That is the first step, and it is iri itself a kind of boycott. The next step is to urge unionists not to buv from any retailer who handles good's which do not bear the union label. Forty or fifty unions comprise a goodly section of consumers in certa'in portions of this State, and if their members determine to buy only union-made goods, and to boycott any individual who has invested in a business which handles non-union articles, the position becomes serious.


Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - The honorable and learned member does not advise the public to patronize a non-union lawyer.


Mr ROBINSON - 1 leave them to make their own selection. But a man who employs a non-union lawyer usually comes back in the end, and in order to get on the right path, has to spend twice as much as he would have been called upon to do had he patronized the union man at the outset.


Mr Frazer - Then the honorable and learned member admits that intelligence is in the union.


Mr ROBINSON - I think that, my honorable friend, and others, know that the word "union," in its ordinary sense, is totally inapplicable to a profession which is open to every one who passes the necessary examinations.. The Bulletin of the National Metal Trades Association, of October, 1903 - an American protectionist magazine, published in Cincinnati, Ohio, contains the following report from San Francisco: -

In the case of Michael Hallanan against William Storey, et al., members of the Journeymen Horseshoers' Union, Local No. 25, Judge Beatty, of the United States Circuit Court, rendered judgment for the plaintiff this morning, continuing the injunction and restraining order on the grounds that Ohe boycott which the plaintiff alleged was being placed on his goods' tended to materially injure his trade. Hallanan is the manufacturer of a patent rubber horseshoe pad, which he alleges was in common use in this city until the commencement of the boycott. He became involved in a dispute with the Horseshoers Union of New York over the placing of the union label on the output of his factory. On his refusal to comply with the demands of the union a boycott was declared against his goods, and all the horseshoers in this city are alleged to have refused to handle the rubber pads made in his factory. Hallanan made an application to the United States Circuit Court for an injunction and restraining order, which was granted by the court, and an order was, issued directing the defendants to appear in court to show cause why a permanent injunction should not be granted.

After hearing the evidence in the case, Judge Beatty ordered that the restraining order be continued, holding that the testimony had borne on the allegations of the plainiff, and that the boycott on the article which he manufacured and put on the market as a commodity was unlawful, inasmuch as it tended to injure his business.

These facts show that the union label is used to prevent men from buying and dealing in goods which are not manufactured by union workmen. The same magazine, iri its issue of August, 1904, contains this statement -

The latest demand of the union labellers appears in the form of a circular letter addressed to all publishers and engravers and printers of music,requesting them to put the union label on all music and all musical advertising matter. If this request is not complied with, an attempt will be made by the union musicians to inforce the demand, by instructing all union bands and' orchestras to refuse, after a given time, to play any music which does not bear the union label.

That seems to me to be carrying the thing as far as it can be carried. Last year the Musicians' Union of New South Wales wished to obtain preference for unionists from the New South Wales Arbitration Court, because Mr. J. C. Williamson was employing an unfortunate Victorian who was not a member of the union. In making that application they seem to have been acting on an idea borrowed from America.


Mr Thomas - Is a Victorian barrister allowed to plead in the New South Wales Courts?


Mr ROBINSON - Negotiations which will allow that to be clone are practically complete. American Industries, another newspaper whose statements should appeal to the staunch protectionists in the Government corner, becauseit sets itself to boost up local industries, contains a circular issued by the Bakery and Confectionery Workers' International Union of America, in which the following appeal is made : -

We ask all to refuse to purchase any Bakery goods - that is, bread, crackers, cake, pies, or candies made in non-union shops or factories, and particularly those manufactured by the National Biscuit Company (the Trust).

Buy Crackers and Pretzels only when the box or package bears this label " Union made goods."

Buy bread only which bears this label, " Union made."

Buy Candies only when this label is on the pail, package, or box, " Union made candies."

When in hotels, or patronizing restaurants, boarding houses, or grocery stores, insist that the product of the National Biscuit Company (the Trust) shall be discontinued, and union-labelled goods exclusively purchased.

Not only are people urged to buy unionmade goods, but they are told to boycott goods which do not bear the union label. There are other instances which I might give, as. for example, the attempt which was made to boycott a well-known manufacturer because he advertised in newspapers which did not bear the union label, but I will not further illustrate what has been done by by the unions in that direction. Another use to which the label is put by unionists is as a means for keeping men "good" on their books. When this matter was being discussed some time ago, I quoted a case in which it was shown that one of the obligations of an employer was to see that his employes kept up their subscriptions. A similar case is mentioned in a magazine called The Op en Shop -

The following is a copy of a letter which was mailed to anemploye by one of Chicago's prominent manufacturers : -

Chicago, III., Dec. 10, 1904.

Mr......... 4thFloor Factory. " Dear Sir. , We are notified by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers that you are owing the Local Union dues, and that you are suspended, and we are requested to discharge you until you pay up. You cannot work with us unless you show a receipt from the union next Monday morning. Our doorkeeper will have instructions at that time not to permit you to go to work unless you can show him a receipt to that effect."

Mr. Brooks,the author of a well known article on the subject, also shows how the union label is used for the purpose of keeping men " good " on the union books, and building up the funds of the unions. We must recollect that, in Victoria at least, the unions have political as well as industrial objects. The effect of the legalization of the union label will be that men will be forced to join unions whether they wish to do so or not. Thus the unions will be strengthened, both numerically and financially, and the political organizations of one section of the community will be built up at the expense of all other sections. The Attorney-General, in his exhaustive speech, endeavoured to make the question at issue fair wages or unfair wages, by assuming that goods made by unionists are always made by men getting fair wages, while goods made by non-unionists are, in like manner, made by men who are not getting fair wages. All through the discussion, the supporters of these proposals have assumed that those who are not members of unions do not receive fair wages. While that may be true in some parts of the world, it cannot be true of industries which are under Wages Boards or Arbitration Courts. In Victoria there are forty trades under Wages Boards, while in New South Wales all industries are subject to the awards of the Arbitration Court.


Mr Tudor - How far do the decisions of the Wages Boards of Victoria extend?


Mr ROBINSON - The vast bulk of the men in forty trades under the Wages

Boards of Victoria have benefited by the decisions of those boards.


Mr Tudor - Although the tanning industry is funder a Wages Board, there is a large tannery at Broadford which is not affected by the decisions of the board, and the men there get miserable wages.


Mr ROBINSON - It cannot be said that the union label is necessary to distinguish sweated from unsweated labour in the productions pf industries which are under Wages Boards or an Arbitration Act, because sweating cannot take place in those industries. If the desire were to legalize the union label merely to distinguish between sweated and non -sweated labour, no doubt the proposals would be accompanied by a clause providing that they are not to apply to industries under Wages Boards or Arbitration Acts. But there is no such clause, and honorable members opposite are not likely to vote for such a provision, because their intention is not, primarily, to improve the conditions of labour, but to strengthen the political labour organizations. For that reason they will doubtless prevent the Government from accepting any amendment in the direction I speak of. The speech of the Attorney-General is more ingenious than ingenuous. It was based on the assumption that the union label is being brought forward to distinguish between goods the product of sweated and goods the product of non-sweated labour. Whereas in truth and in fact the label will do nothing of the kind. He is distinguishing between men who belong to unions, and those who do not, to the prejudice of those who, for various reasons, do not care to associate themselves with the labour organizations. It is making the lot of those outside the fence harder than it is at present. If the union label be brought into operation, it will tend to force men out of employment, or into the unions. A remark of the secretary of one of the unions is recorded, to the effect that all the men employed in the industry with which he was connected, were in the unions. No non-unionists were working, because such of them as were left were in the hospitals.r I do not suppose that any such state of affairs will be brought about in Australia, but that apparently expresses the spirit which actuates some of those who - desire to impose upon us the union label provisions. Thev aim at forcing off the earth all those who, for reasons satisfactory to themselves, refrain from joining unions. All our Australian legislation is based upon the assumption that it is desired to treat all classes of the community alike. That is why we call ourselves a democratic community. But proposals of this kind make class distinctions, and are designed to place in the hands of unionists a means of oppressing those who do not belong to their own organization, and of making their position in life more difficult than it is. It is because I do not believe in these differentiations, or in creating any privileged class, that I regard these proposals as specially dangerous. Experience in the United States shows us that the concomitant of the union label is not only a boycott of workmen, but a boycott of retailers. The system creates the greatest ill-feeling, and the greatest mischief wherever it is introduced, and once provision is made for it upon our statute1book, it will be difficult to remove it. I do not profess to deplore the fact that it may be necessary to bring this , matter before the Courts, nor am I going to predict what will be the result. I have great faith in the opinion of Mr. Cussen, who has been mentioned by the AttorneyGeneral, and I think that his view ought to receive the fullest consideration. I do not base my opposition to this proposal upon that opinion. We should be inflicting a great wrong if we brought about any class distinction by making it more difficult for certain men to earn their living. I voted consistently against the union preference provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill last year. I then found myself sitting side by side with half of the members of the present Ministry. At present those gentlemen are eating the leek, but I believe in sticking to my principles, at all costs, and I shall do my best to defeat these proposals.







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