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Thursday, 17 September 1942


Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- Apparently .another tin of red herrings has been opened for the use of members of the Ministry. At any rate, those Ministers who have .participated in this debate have .studiously avoided any reference to the specific question raised by the right honorable member for Kooyong ('Mr. Menzies). Their design has been to introduce side-issues to distract .attention fram die main question. They do not wish to face the charges that have been sheeted home to them. A most unconvincing attempt was made by the Attorney-General .(Dr.. Evatt) to brush aside the submission of .the right honorable member for Kooyong on the ground that his case was based upon developments over a period of years, and not on recent happenings. The fact is that all the circumstances mentioned by the right honorable member relate to the last few months. This move towards compulsory unionism is the result of steady pressure by the industrial unions upon the Government. Compulsory unionism is the policy of the Australasian Council of TradeUnions. The Government has chosen to adopt this stealthy, underhand method to achieve its ends, instead of to introduce the issue openly and above board in this Parliament. What the Government is doing is supplementary to what trade unions are doing. It is well known that on account of war conditions thousands of men and women, including retired people and rural workers, who normally would never have taken up industrial work, have now done so in order to help the war effort. They believed that in this way they could best help to achieve victory. The trade unions were not slow to recognize the opportunity that this afforded them to increase their membership far beyond peace-time levels. It has been claimed by the Federated Ironworkers Association that its membership has trebled in the last eight years. The ranks of many other unions associated with war production have also increased greatly. Union leaders naturally regard this as an excellent time to press the case for compulsory unionism. Whether they like it or not, persons who become members of trade unions also become financial supporters of this Government and of the political policy of the union. I wish to indicate what is involved in this direction. I direct attention to a statement published in a pamphlet issued recently by Mr. E. Thornton, the general secretary of the Ironworkers Union. It shows the kind of policy to which a member may be committed if he is brought compulsorily into this union. The extract reads -

Our union has deliberately and in a planned way been involved in more strikes than other unions in the last few years'. They were not just the sporadic strikes that are typical of the coal-fields, but planned strikes, because we made strikes our business.


Mr McEwen - Would not that be an offence in war-time?


Mr Holt - That is a matter for the Attorney-General to investigate. The extract goes on -

This policy has been suspended apparently ever since Russia came into the war -


Dr Evatt - That observation seems to suggest that the policy referred to by the honorable member for Fawkner is not of recent date.


Mr HOLT - The pamphlet was published quite recently. The writer points out that its policy has been suspended - not because the Ironworkers Association has ceased to believe that the strike weapon is the most important weapon that the working class has. Strikes are a continuation in violent or non-violent forms of the class struggle that is always with us.

Here is another extract from the pamphlet -

At our previous Ironworkers Federal Council in 1941 we characterized the war that was then on as an imperialist war, and we then declared in favour of a democratic peace.

This union, which ministerial members would compel decent, loyal Australians to join, instructed its conference in 1941 to sue for a democratic peace.


Dr Evatt - The honorable gentleman was Minister for Labour and National Service at that time. He knows that such a union is 100 per cent. unionized.


Mr HOLT - Such a war industry, particularly in the metal trades group, is practically 100 per cent. unionized. I use that against the right honorable gentleman, and in favour of the case put forward by the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), for the reason that many of these unions are taking advantage of the fact that they are engaged in war production, and consequently the Government is unable to resist their efforts to compel those who are working in the industry to join their ranks. I point out to the right honorable gentleman that, at two defence establishments in New South Wales at the moment, a strike is in existence because the unionist workers have boycotted the non-unionists engaged in those factories. That sort of thing is occurring every day in war industries. Unions are taking advantage of the stronger position that they now hold to compel individuals to join their ranks. It is true that the result has been to make them practically 100 per cent. unionized.


Dr Evatt - They always have been.


Mr HOLT - They were not unionized, to anything like the degree that they are to-day. The contention of the trade union movement, in its advocacy of this proposal, is that it will effect industrial peace, because unions will be able to exercise a' greater measure of control over their members. What are the facts? In 1939, more than 95 per cent, of the industrial stoppages throughout Australia occurred in the three most highly industrialized sections of industry in the Commonwealth - the engineering trade, the coal-mining industry, and shipping. More than 80 per cent, of the total loss of man-days was due to those industrial disputes. That is undisputed.


Dr Evatt - The honorable member believes in preference to unionists.


Mr HOLT - I believe in preference to unionists when the Arbitration Court is satisfied that it is a good thing for any particular industry. Honorable members of this Opposition believe that the Arbitration Court is a proper tribunal to analyse the conditions of industry. If the court is satisfied that preference is a good thing, it can award preference. Honorable members opposite time and again have trailed a red herring by declaring that we believe in preference to unionists. That is not the issue. Under the application of the principle of preference to unionists, a man can say, " Although there is preference in my industry, I still do not want to join the union. I shall take my chance. It may mean that I shall not get a job, but at least I shall be a free agent to determine whether or not 1 shall belong to the union."


Mr Rosevear - He will take all the benefits, but will not pay for them.


Mr HOLT - That argument is put forward frequently. How does it apply to the case, cited by the right honorable member for Kooyong, of persons in the government service? I am sure that the country will be astounded to learn that persons in Government employ are on different bases, according to whether or not they are members of a union. What is the effect on industry? It has caused a good deal of concern to the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of 'Australia.

That body has made its views known to the Government. It has said -

Any action to compel tens of thousands of workers of both sexes to join industrial unions at the present time would not only be strongly resented by many sections of the workers concerned, but would also cause great public dissatisfaction. That nothing more calculated to divide the people of Australia and to retard the war effort could be conceived than this proposal from the trade unions is our sincere conviction.

The association has expressed in detail its resistance to this proposal, as one which will divide employer and employee. Recently a stalwart of the Labour movement - Mr. Forgan Smith - made the following most significant statement : -

It is dishonest to use the war for political ends. My breeding and training arc such that I will not be a vassal to any one.

Using the war in that way, the Government is attempting to enforce compulsion upon a great mass of the Australian people.


Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member's time has expired.







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