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Thursday, 30 November 1905

Mr WATSON (Bland) - By permission of the honorable member for Kooyong, I wish to take the opportunity of directing attention to a few of the statements contained in the letter from the Chamber of Commerce, which he has quoted. I want to say straight away that the statement in the letter concerning myself is absolutely untrue. The third paragraph in the letter states that -

The Bill if passed will, by the admission of the labour leader in the House of Representatives, be made a weapon of boycott to the serious detriment of the free workman, of the manufacturers and producers, and of the community generally.

That is a direct statement that I said in the House that this Bill, if passed, would be made a weapon of boycott. I was not aware of this correspondence until the present moment ; but I gather from it that the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce was asked by the Attorney-General where the statement alleged to have been made by me was made. The Attorney-General had never heard of such a statement. In reply to that question, Mr. Hallett relies upon a statement published in a leading article in the Age newspaper, to the following effect : -

The case for the union label clauses, from the workers point of view, was practically given away by Mr. Watson when he remarked, in the Federal Parliament last Wednesday evening, that he would glory in a boycott undertaken to prevent some of the conditions which prevailed before the institution of Wages Boards and Arbitration Acts.

There is not a word even in that quotation to justify the statement contained in the first letter from the Chamber of Commerce which the honorable member for Kooyong quoted. The statement there is that I had admitted that the trade union label would be made a weapon of boycott. I made no such statement.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What the honorable member said was that he had taken part in boycotts, and had gloried in them.

Mr WATSON - Just so. I shall quote exactly what I said; and I may add that I have not touched one word of the Hansard report. The statement is published exactly as it was taken down by the Hansard reporters. I said, speaking on the 15th November -

Some honorable members have seen a copy of the black list circulated amongst the pastoralists of Western Queensland. I have seen black lists circulated in respect to other callings. I do not say that an employer who boycotts is necessarily wrong in doing so.

Mr Wilson - Wesaythat he is.

Mr WATSON - "We," in this instance, does not mean a great deal. A boycott is often justi- fiable. Years ago, as a trade unionist, I joined in one or two boycotts, although there was no union label in existence then.

Mr Wilson - The honorable member ought to be ashamed to make the admission.

Mr Chanter - The British Medical Association boycotts.

Mr WATSON - Under the circumstances, I take a pride in making the statement. The members of the union to which I belonged found it necessary to boycott certain persons who were sweating their employes, and competing unjustly against fair employers. I was not at the time working for any of those affected. I was in a newspaper office, and it was only in jobbing offices that sweating occurred. What other weapon had the members of the union against the sweating and improper employment of children which was then taking place in such offices? There was no Arbitration Court in existence, no wages board, and no legal means of remedying the evils to which I have alluded.

What I said on that occasion bears out my contention that I was alluding to a boycott in the absence of union label provisions altogether - a boycott undertaken as an ordinary weapon of trade unionism with the view of remedying a condition of things which every fair-minded person in the community has admitted to be improper.

Mr Frazer - And in the absence of factories and similar legislation.

Mr WATSON - Quite so. The main point of my contention is that there is no word in the quotation from the Age newspaper which would justify the statement that I had admitted that these union label clauses would be used as a weapon for a boycott. I say that that is a gross and palpable piece of misrepresentation on the part of the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce. It is, however, on a par with the whole campaign of mendacity that has been entered upon with regard to these proposals. It appears to me as being the most unfair thing possible that people who are opposed to this policy should endeavour to bolster up their case in the fashion that they have done, and that I have exposed.

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