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Friday, 6 August 1920

Mr MAHONY (Dalley) .- I have been struck throughout the debate with the fact that very little attention has been devoted to the subject-matter of the Bill itself. Much of the discussion has been " up in the -air." I complain 'that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) should have provided honorable members with such a meagre explanation of the provisions of this measure. The right honorable gentleman spoke of industrial unrest being world wide. Honorable members know all about that, and they know that Australia, perhaps, of all the countries in the world, is suffering the least from industrial unrest. The honorable member forFlinders (Mr. Bruce) spoke last night of the terrific amount of unrest existing in Great Britain and in France, and he pointed out how, in the former country, steps had been taken to deal with the problem. The honorable member referred to the establishment of the Whitley councils, but he really defeated his own arguments when he admitted that, despite their inauguration and wide activities, there is greater unrest in Britain to-day than ever before.

Mr Maxwell - I do not think the honorable member said that.

Mr MAHONY - He stressed the point.

Mr Hill - The honorable member for Flinders remarked that industrial unrest was greater than in Australia.

Mr MAHONY - Honorable members know that ever since the inauguration of the Whitley councils industrial unrest has been intensified. I do not say that the fault is due to the establishment of those councils, or committees. In fact, the cause goes far deeper. Attempts to deal with industrial unrest are doomed to failure if we are going to limit those efforts to the fixing of wages and hours, while leaving the factor of the cost of living entirely untouched. As wages are increased, so does the cost of living rise. To-day the worker gets a slight increase in pay, and tomorrow his wife pays more than ever for the necessaries of life. We must go much more deeply into the whole business than merely to enter upon a discussion of increased wages. Whatever boards, or committees, or tribunals may be appointed, they must be invested with power, not only to fixwages and hours of labour, but to see that production and distribution costs are also properly controlled. It is a matter for regret that the Prime Minister could not see his way clear to accept the suggestion, made in good faith from this side of the House, that a conference of trade unions be called to consider this measure. Before any industrial legislation can succeed there must be established good-will and co-operation on the part of industrial bodies. What is the use of passing a Bill to control industries if the great organizations having to do with pastoral, agricultural, mining, and transport matters say, "We will have nothing to do with your legislation " ? We shall not then be able to prevent industrial disputes; they will be intensified. Therefore, it is a matter for sincere regret that partyism compelled the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) to refuse the genuine overtures from this side of the House, which would have given an opportunity of passing legislation likely to receive the co-operation and hearty good will of theindustrial organizations.

Certain vital principles must be observed before a success can be made of in- dustrial legislation. The first essential is the recognition of the organizations. Having been all my life connected with labour organizations, I assure the House that no legislation can be a success that does not acknowledge that principle. With the recognition of the organizations must go the principle of preference to unionists. Without it we cannot hope for industrial peace, because we cannot have effective collective bargaining with a disorganized body. Those two fundamental principles must be recognised if this legislation is to have any possible chance of removing industrial unrest.

The Prime Minister said that this measure was based to a large extent on the experience gained of the ship-building tribunal, but he omitted to tell the House that an essential condition of the success of that tribunal is that preference to unionists has been granted to every union that is a party to the ship-building agreement. The Prime Minister saidto the unions that if they were prepared to enter into the agreement offered by the Government a ' tribunal would be created, the unions would be recognised, and preference would be given to their members.It is not only ordinary preference, but an absolute monopoly of employment that has been given to the members of the trade organizations which are parties to the shipbuilding agreement. That is one of the principal reasons whythe ship-building tribunal has been such a success, and has been able to avoid the stoppage of work on many occasions. Another factor making for its success is its accessibility, and the quickness with which it operates. It comprises a chairman, who is very acceptable to the workers, a representative of the Government as the employer, and a direct representative of the trade unions. After all, the success or failure of boards, councils, and courts depends to a large extent on the personnel, and especially on she chairman. Men of the type of the chairman of the ship-buildingtribunal, Mr. Conington, would do much to make a success of industrial arbitration and Wages Boards. That tribunal is right at hand, and the moment a dispute arises it is dealt with, without formalities or technicalities.

Sir GRANVILLE RYRIE (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will not the tribunals under this Bill work in the same way?

Mr MAHONY - Not unless the provisions of the Bill are amended. I repeat that the success of the ship-building tribunal is due primarily to the recognition of trade organizations, and the giving of preference to unionists; and, secondly, to the accessibility of the Board, and the speed with which it works. Those are conditions for which we must provide in this measure if it is to have any possible chance of success.

The Bill provides for the creation of a Commonwealth Council. What is this Council to be, and what will be its functions and powers? The Bill says that it shall be constituted in a certain way, and that it shall make inquiries into various matters, but its powers stop short at inquiry. It is to have no power of making or enforcing awards. It seems to me ridiculous that a measure designed to remove industrial unrest should constitute a body with merely investigatory powers. The proposed Council is to have no really effective power for good ; wha t is required is a body that has power, not only to inquire, hut to make awards, and enforce its decisions. We have not been told whether the members of the Council are to be paid, or whether the body itself is to be permanent, or merely called into existence now and then at the whim of the Minister. The Prime Minister ought to enlighten the House upon those points. He should tell us also how the representatives of the employees are to be elected. The Bill provides that they " shall be appointed or elected in the prescribed manner." The trade unions are not prepared to buy a pig in a poke. We want an assurance that the trade organizations will have the right to elect their own representatives upon the Council and the Boards. We are not prepared to give to the Minister the right to prescribe by regulation whether such a representative shall be appointed or elected. This Bill gives the Minister power to appoint as representative of the employees somebody who may be bitterly hostile to trade unionism.

Mr Mathews - That has been done before.

Mr MAHONY -Of course it has. How can the trade unions be expected to accept this measure when it does not provide that they shall be able to elect the representatives of the workers ? If the Bill is not amended in that respect, the Government may as well withdraw it, because the unionists will have nothing to do with it. Another defect in the Bill is the absence of any definition of em'ployee. It speaks of " representatives of employees," but an employee may mean anybody. In the history of industrial strife, there have been occasions when small bodies of men have broken away from the unions, and attempted to work in spite of them. Under this Bill the Minister would have, the right to recognise those men as the employees in the industry. We shall not agree to that. If the Bill is to be acceptable to trade unionists, it must define an employee as a member of an organization in the industry.

Mr Poynton - Would the honorable member shut out the soldier wharf labourers' organization, in New South Wales, which did good work during the war?

Mr MAHONY - If the Minister wishes to bring about industrial peace, he must recognise the trade union organizations. I am stating exactly the attitude which the unions adopt. If the Governmen choose to ignore these requests, , they must take the consequences. It is well for the Government to understand clearly that certain fundamental principles must, be embodied in the Bill before they can hope it will succeed. If the Government decide to recognise some small body of men formed for the specific purpose of defeating the aims and objects of the trade unions'-

Mr Poynton - There axe 1,200 men in the organization to which I referred.

Mr MAHONY - Am I to infer that this measure has been framed with the idea of giving those men preference inemployment, and the right to elect representatives on the Council and Boards?

Mr Poynton - I have not said that.

Mr MAHONY - What other interpretation can I place on the Minister's remarks? In the trade unions in New South Wales, there are 50 per cent, more returned soldiers than there are in any other organizations. Therefore, the mere formation of a bogus organization in the name of returned soldiers will not get the Government out of their difficulty. Returned soldiers are the backbone of trade unionism. They represent 70 or 80 per cent, of the unionists. These covert insults and sneers at the trade union movement will not help the Government to obtain industrial peace.

Then, again, we find that each District Council is to consist of a chairman and representatives of employees and employers, who are also "to be appointed or elected in the manner prescribed." That, likewise, is too indefinite from our point of view. We wish to have it declared in the Bill itself that the trade union organizations shall be entitled to elect to the District Councils the representatives of the employees. A peculiar feature of the Bill is that neither the Commonwealth Council nor the District Council will be able to do more than make inquiries. They will have no real power. Each will have a sort of roving commission - running about making inquiries and incurring useless expense without any possibility of being able to do good work. We cannot achieve industrial peace in this way. Neither the Commonwealth Council nor the District Councils, as provided for in the Bill, will 'be of any use in securing industrial peace.

I come now to a very important part of the Bill - that relating to the appointment of special tribunals. These, it seems to me, will alone have any real power. The provisions as to the Commonwealth Council ' and the creation of District Councils are ar.ere padding, and the Government would have avoided waste of paper -and time by omitting them. The only real bodies with any actual power for which this Bill provides are the special tribunals that may be created for the settlement of industrial disputes.

Mr MARKS (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And the local Boards.

Mr MAHONY - I shall deal presently with those Boards. Clause 14 is most significant. It provides that -

A special tribunal shall consist of an equal number of representatives of employers and employees respectively, together with a chairman. .

The Bill does not set out how or by whom these representatives are to be appointed or elected. I wish to make it quite clear that, so far as the Labour party is concerned, the absence of any provision in that regard gives rise to suspicion. .The Labour party wants to know who' are to elect the members of these special tribunals, and whom, they are to represent.

Sir Granville Ryrie - But the honorable member objects to the words " in the maimer prescribed" in relation to the election of members of the Commonwealth Council and the District Councils.

Mr MAHONY - Certainly I do. I wish it to be laid down clearly that the trade union organizations shall elect the representatives of the employees.

Sir Granville Ryrie - And what is to be done in regard to the election of representatives of the employers?

Mr MAHONY - They should be elected in precisely the same way by the Employers Associations. The Government have made provision for the election or appointment of representatives of employers and employees on bodies which will have no power, but we have nothing in the Bill to show how the members of the special tribunals, which will have almost unlimited power, are to be chosen. No one will say that the trade unions of Australia are prepared to accept such a scheme. It is not even provided that these special tribunals " shall be elected in the manner prescribed." That significant fact, taken in conjunction with the interjection made a few moments ago by the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Poynton) in reference to a certain organization in Sydney, leads me to view with suspicion clause 14. If we agree to the Bill asit stands, the organization in Sydney to which the Minister referred may be held by the Government to represent the employees, and they may select from such organizations the employees' representatives on these tribunals. Therein lies the danger. Trade unionists cannot accept anything of the kind. If the Government are not going to set out clearly that the trade union organizations shall elect the representatives of the employees on the special tribunals, they might as well tear up the Bill. I tell them candidly that the coal miners organizations will not accept a measure which does not give them power to elect their own representatives, and the Transport Workers Federations of Australia, the Australian Workers Union, as well as other large organizations of labour, will take the same stand. The Bill is doomed to failure unless it be amended in the direction I suggest. If the Government really desire to pass a measure that will be acceptable to the trade unionists of the Commonwealth, they will do what I have urged.

The powers of these special tribunals will be extensive. It is declared in clause 15 that-

A special tribunal shall have cognisance -

(a)   of any industrial dispute referred to it by the persons or associations parties thereto . . .

Why is the word " persons " used ? Is it intended that a small body of men who, as we say, have " scabbed " on their trade union organizations, shall have the right to move these special tribunals to take action? If so, the trade unions will have nothing to do with the Bill. Another important provision is that contained in clause 17 -

Notwithstanding anything in this Act, if a special tribunal is satisfied that abnormal circumstances have arisen which affect the fundamental justice of any terms of an award made by the Court, the tribunal may set aside or vary any terms so affected.

That is a far-reaching power to give these special tribunals, particularly having regard to the fact that trade organizations are not given the right to elect their representatives to them. We are afraid of this power. We do not know where it may lead us. We do not know who may constitute one of these tribunals. Traditional enemies of the trade union movement may be appointed to them. We are not prepared, therefore, to give them this wide and practically unlimited power. It is interesting, also, to consider the effect that the giving of this power will have upon the Conciliation and Arbitration Court itself. The Bill does not propose to abolish that Court. It is to remain just as it is to-day.

Sir Granville Ryrie - Some honorable members of the Opposition have said that the Bill will absolutely wipe out the Conciliation and Arbitration Court.

Mr MAHONY - That may be its ultimate effect ; but I think that the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), who is a lawyer, will agree that the Bill allows the Court to remain just as it is to-day.

Mr Maxwell - That is so.

Mr MAHONY - Legally it does not abolish the Court, although in actual practice these special tribunals may supersede it.

Mr Maxwell - It depends upon which tribunal industrialists who have disputes find the more suitable.

Mr MAHONY - And clause 17 gives the special tribunals power to vary awards of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. In other words, a minor body constituted of laymen will have power to override the decisions of a Justice of the High Court sitting as President or Deputy President of the Arbitration Court. I ask the honorable member for Fawkner to give his attention to that aspect of the question. What would be the attitude of the learned President of the Arbitration Court if he found that his awards were subject to review by a body of laymen?

Mr Marks - If a special tribunal ;s properly appointed, it will do much better than would any one single man.

Mr MAHONY - If it is properly appointed - if trade union organizations are allowed to directly elect their representatives to it - it will have a chance of success.

Sir Granville Ryrie - The honorable member would give' a special tribunal so elected power to vary anything.

Mr MAHONY - I do not say that. We are prepared to take a risk when representatives of the employees on a special tribunal are elected by trade union organizations, but we would not take the risk of allowing the Government to appoint as representatives of the employees men of whom we know nothing. We will not consent to members of the organization to which the Minister for Home and Territories alluded a few minutes ago being selected as representatives of the employees on these bodies. A Judge of the standing of the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court would not remain in that position for one moment if his decisions could be reviewed by a body such as is proposed in this clause.

Mr Maxwell - I am inclined to agree with the honorable member.

Mr MAHONY - I thought that the honorable member would. I should be very surprised to learn that High Court Justices of such standing would retain their position as President or Deputy President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court in such humiliating circumstances.

Mr Atkinson - The position would be the same if the Conciliation and Arbitration Act were amended as the honorable member has suggested. He has urged that the Court should be given power to vary its awards.

Mr MAHONY - It would be quite a different matter if the Court itself were given power to vary its own awards. The Court, with such a power, would prove very helpful. My own view is that if the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, with some improvements, were allowed to remain as it is to-day, and given power to vary its awards where necessary, it would prove a better means of dealing with industrial troubles than is provided for in the Bill. I am desirous that industrial machinery shall be provided which will be acceptable to the trade union movement, and will make industrial peace possible. The way to provide such machinery is to strengthen the Arbitration Court by giving it power to do those things which it now thinks should be done, but which it cannot do. It should be empowered to vary its awards, and to make inquiries affecting not only wages and hours of employment, but such other things as were indicated in the speech of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton). I would give the Court power to appoint special tribunals. The measure gives this power to the proposed Commonwealth Council, but it is rightly the function. of the Arbitration Court. That Court might perhaps be reinforced by the appointment of a representative of the employers . and a representative of the employees to assist the President in the conduct of particular cases. The Court should be the body to delegate powers, when delegation was necessary. All the things proposed to be done under the measure could be done by the Arbitration Court were it clothed with the necessary powers. What is needed is a short measure, conferring these powers upon it. Then the learned President would exercise them at his discretion. He would be able to say: " Here is a dispute which, if not settled speedily, may plunge the country into industrial confusion. I shall therefore ask the trade unionists concerned to Dame representatives, and the employers concerned to name other representatives, to constitute a tribunal to go into the matter immediately." That would be a sensible way of dealing with disputes. By the Bill, the Government is practically shutting the door in the face of the trade union movement of Australia, and as one closely identified with that movement, and knowing the feeling of its members, I say that that has created suspicion of the Bill. Last week, in conversation with prominent member's of the trade union movement, I ascertained that they were prepared to give the measure a fair go; but when our offer of a conference of the movement to consider the measure was made to the Government, it was refused. The consideration that-we suggested might have taken a. week or a fortnight; but had it taken a month what would that have mattered if industrial peace and harmony had resulted therefrom ? Now the trade union movement feels that the Government is not considering it, and that is why I am going through the measure closely and carefully, pointing out the defects of its various clauses. There is no machinery' for the election of representatives to the special tribunals, a most suspicious circumstance in view of the action of the Government in refusing the conference for which we asked." Even at this late hour, the Government would be well advised to accept our offer, and call a conference of the trade union movement to consider the measure. Local Boards, are to be appointed under the Bill, each of which is to consist of a chairman and an employers' representative and an employees' representative, and the members are to be appointed or elected " in the prescribed manner." We object to that, as we object to a similar provision in regard to the other bodies. We say that the Bill should clearly provide for the election of employees' representatives by the trade union organizations concerned. As to the powers of a local Board, clause 25 says -

Subject to this section the provisions of sections 16 to 18 (both inclusive) of this Act shall apply in relation to a local Board in like manner as they apply in relation to a special tribunal.

Under the sections referred to, a special tribunal has the power to review an award of the Arbitration Court, and therefore local Boards will have the same power. This heaps indignity after indignity on the head of the President of the Arbitration Court. Then, according to clause 27, any determination of the local Board shall be subject to review in the manner prescribed by the special tribunal in relation to which it is appointed. What will be the manner prescribed ? The Prime Minister did not explain how these appeals were to be made. We wish to- know exactly how the machinery is- to be worked. The trade union movement is not prepared to allow any decision of a local Board that may be favorable to its proposal to be carried before some other body by way of appeal, and perhaps upset. We want to know exactly what the provision means.

Mr Hughes - I should say that the explanation is apparent from the context. The scope of the decision of a local tribunal would be very narrow, while that of a special tribunal might cover a whole industry. A local Board might, for example, be appointed in connexion with a dispute at the Hepburn or Bulli Colliery, and its decisions could hardly affect the whole of the coal mining industry. They would .be confined to matters arising at the particular colliery, or, perhaps, at a group of collieries. It is not intended that the local tribunals shall upset the decision of the special tribunals, nor that the special tribunals shall review and upset the decisions of the local tribunals, unless the latter are, on the face of them, impossible for the industry. A decision of a local tribunal might be opposed te the interests of the men, and in. that case they could appeal to the special tribunal.

Mr MAHONY - I accept the Prime Minister's explanation; but I should like the position to be made clear in the Bill. That he has said a certain thing will not subsequently affect the interpretation of the measure. If the only function of a local Board is to be to deal with some trivial tiddlewinking matter-

Mr Hughes - Nearly all strikes have their beginning in a dispute at some particular place. A demarcation dispute is a tiddlewinking thing, but occasionally it leads to great trouble.

Mr MAHONY - The Prime Minister justifiably boasted of the success of the shipbuilding tribunal. One of the reasons for that success is that the tribunal's decision *is final.

Mr Fowler - The reason is that the tribunal's decisions are almost invariably in favour of the employees.

Mr MAHONY - It is that they are always fair and just. *

Mr Hughes - I think that the decisions are, on the whole, fair and just, and dictated bv the evidence ; though there may be a difference of opinion.

Mr MAHONY - The measure should clearly recognise the trade union organizations.

Mr Hughes - The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) mentioned that matter. What other organizations can be recognised?

Mr MAHONY - The definition of industrial matters in clause 4 speaks of persons " being or not being members of any organization, association, or body." We are suspicious. I wish to be frank with the Prime Minister.

Mr Hughes - That is copied without alteration from the Arbitration Act?

Mr MAHONY - Very well, will the Prime Minister say that only trade union organizations shall be recognised, and able to move either the Commonwealth Council, the special tribunal, or anyof the bodies ?

Mr Hughes - I have known, I think, of two or three instances in the history of the Court where a body, not one that would be called a recognised trade union, has sought registration, but such a body has never succeeded. This Bill is aimed at promoting industrial peace, which can only be attained if we deal with both parties, one of which is organized labour as understood by the honorable member.

Mr MAHONY - Then, will the Prime Minister provide in the Bill that the representatives of the employees on these bodies shall be the direct representatives of trade union organizations?

Mr Hughes - Yes, certainly.

Mr MAHONY - The honorable gentleman knows that the Bill does not now so provide ?

Mr Hughes - If it does not, I am very much astonished, because it speaks of "the parties " to an " industrial dispute." I think the honorable member will find, in 999 cases out of 1,000, that one of the parties is organized labour; and therefore I think the Bill does so provide. However, I shall make the provision clearer if the honorable member thinks the Bill is not at present clear enough.

Mr MAHONY - Clause 5 provides -

The members representative of employers and of employees respectively shall be appointed or elected in the prescribed manner.

Why not provide clearly that they shall be elected by the particular organizations affected ?

Mr Hughes - There is only one observation to be offered in regard to that point. Say, for the sake of argument, that it is conceivable there might be some dispute where the employees were not members of an organization; for instance, in some calling in which organization had not proceeded far enough. In such a case the representative could not be so selected, but in every case where organized labour has taken control of the industry, they could be.

Mr MAHONY - Will you make that provision ?

Mr Hughes - Yes.

Mr MAHONY - That refers only to the Commonwealth Council, but the specialtribunal is, I think, the important body, the others being so much padding.

Mr Hughes - Oh, no, they are not. I think that those bodies will be of great service.

Mr MAHONY - Clause 14 provides-

A Special Tribunal shall consist of an equal number of representatives of employers and employees respectively, together with a chairman.

The Bill makes no provision for the election or appointment of these representatives, though in the case of the Commonwealth Council they are to be " appointed or elected in the prescribed manner." In the case of the special tribunal, the body with the real power, there is no provision made in this respect. Can the Prime Minister explain?

Mr Hughes - The special tribunal, as I conceive it will be a body composed of representatives of both parties, who will be chosen by the respective bodies. I do not know, and I cannot think, of any case where the employees' representatives would not be unionists.

Mr MAHONY - Before you entered the chamber one of your colleagues made reference to the Soldiers Wharf Labourers Association, Sydney, and we are afraid that you may accept members of it as representatives of the employees.

Mr Hughes - One moment. Everybody has a right to live. Supposing there were a dispute between the Soldiers Wharf Labourers Association and the Coal Lumpers Union, then both these parties must be represented. The employers, inmy opinion, would not properly be a party to such a dispute between two sections of theemployees.

Mr MAHONY - Let us get this quite clear. Does the Prime Minister mean, for instance, that if the Transport Workers Federation wishes to move this special tribunal to deal with the conditions of wharf labouring, or coal lumping, or any other work, the members of the Soldiers Wharf Labourers Association would also be represented ?

Mr Hughes - You have put a very difficult problem. I know the circumstances intimately.

Mr MAHONY - So do 1.

Mr Hughes - It is a difficult question to answer. If the Sydney branch of the Transport Workers Federation considered their conditions unfair, they would create a dispute with the employers, exactly as they would in the case of the Court, by asking for redress, and if it were not granted would ask for a special tribunal. Clearly, such a dispute would be between the Sydney branch of the federation and the employers, and each side would have three or four representatives, and the Soldiers Wharf Labourers Association would be represented by counsel, and heard before the tribunal. If it were the other way round, and the Soldiers Wharf Labourers Association made the dispute, then its representatives would be on the tribunal, and the transport workers would have representation. Once there is a dispute, it must be between two parties.

Mr MAHONY - I am pleased to have the opinion from the Prime Minister, because we felt that there was not sufficient information given to us in the right honorable gentleman's second-reading speech, and the ,points just dealt with are those about which we were dubious. Of course, the Prime Minister, from his experience, knows that unless we have the good-will and co-operation of the trade unions this measure must fail, and we affirm the principle of the recognition of- trade organizations. While the Prime Minister was out of the chamber, it was said that one of the reasons for the success of the Shipping Tribunal is that it recognises the representatives of trade unionism, and no one but a member of an organization which is a party to the agreement can obtain employment.

Mr Hughes - Of course, the circumstances of that tribunal are a little different from those of industrial tribunals generally. That tribunal was based on an agreement with the unions, and this made things quite easy. . We said that if they would concede this or that we would give them preference of work, whereas the Arbitration Court grants preference only in certain circumstances.

Mr MAHONY - Why not set out clearly in the Bill that, in return for their co-operation, the trade unions will be recognised and given preference of employment? The Prime Minister, no doubt, has a pleasing recollection of fighting the issue of preference to unionists before the country a little time ago, and of how successful he was in his appeal. I ask him now to give trade unionism recognition and preference.

Mr Hughes - I expect the unionists, in return, to remember that they owe a duty to the country. If they say, " We will neither work ourselves nor allow anybody to do so," they will lose their preference - that is all.

Mr MAHONY - The idea that unionists would say that they would neither work nor let any one else do so, is ridiculous. They know they have to work, and, though they may strike for a little while, eventually the pinch comes, and they have to return. I am glad 'that the Prime Minister has given us the explanation he has, and I again urge that if he desires to make a success of the Bill he must recognise trade unionism and give it straightout preference.

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