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Thursday, 19 November 1914

Senator WATSON (New South Wales) . - Senator Gould practically accused the leaders of the Newcastle miners of being responsible for the position created in that district. I give that assertion a most emphatic denial. The strike is practically the result of Judge Edmunds' decision that, if certain employers desired to work the afternoon shift in that district, they would have to pay 25 per cent, in addition to the ordinary rates, but that those collieries where they were then working the afternoon shift were to be exempted from that imposition. That exemption is regarded by every fair-minded man, and. even by the colliery proprietors themselves, as most unjust and iniquitous. . The reason why the men did not pursue other methods to have the matter further considered was that they were told there was no power in the Constitution to enable the Legislature to bring in a law for the aboli- ti on of the afternoon shift. It has been admitted since that the Minister of the Crown who made that statement was in error, but, as no promise was forthcoming to the men that such a measure would be introduced, they simply refused to work the shift. In the present position, if any assistance is given by the Commonwealth Government to suppress the strike, the trouble will only be intensified. The proprietors are using all the means at their command to fine and otherwise punish, by means of. the law, men whose only crime is that they have taken funds from members of the union and handed them over to those who are out of employment to keep their wives and children from starvation. For this the union has been fined £2,500. The leaders of the union are also called upon to show why they should not be imprisoned up to six months for continuing to defy the injunction taken out against them for using the funds in that way. The employers are practically trying to starve the men into subjection, and the men are simply fighting the battle for their rights and the rights. of those dependent on them in the only way they know how to fight it. If the proprietors are not successful in coercing the men into subjection, and seek to bring other men to fill their places, and trouble should arise as a consequence, will the Commonwealth Government call out the citizen soldiery to subdue them ? If they do, the danger of acts of violence will be intensified and we shall be led to the verge of civil war. It must be remembered that, not the mature minds of the Military Service, but young men from eighteen up to twenty-six years of age, would be called out to fight their own fathers, who are fighting the battle of industrialism in the only way that the present-day civiliza-.tion will permit. I regret as much -as any one that there should be need for a strike', but without a law that will give even-handed justice, we can never hope to do away with strikes. Senator Bakhap asks who demanded the right to strike if the law did not suit them. I know what he is aiming at, but the question was not fairly put. It casts on those who are leading the miners in the' Newcastle -district the imputation that, unless they can get things all their own way, they are - going to defy law and order. Such is not the case. Unless there is a law in the State that will give justice in the settlement of industrial disputes, we demand the right either to submit our case to arbitration, or to settle it in our own way, by making terms with our employers in the same mutual manner as we did when there was no Industrial Disputes Act in existence. We take up the position that, until the law is based on equity and- justice, we do not regard ourselves as bound by any system of compulsory arbitration. The limitations of the Constitution make it impossible, at the present day, to institute a proper system of arbitration. There is no question that strikes at the root of our civilization more than the one that has' been before us to-night - the question of how the great industrial army of workers can best be assisted to work out their own destiny, to achieve their industrial freedom, and secure a ' greater share of the profits of their labour. The movement is growing, and the presence of so many Labourites in this Parliament is an augury that it will shortly succeed. When that day comes, there is no doubt that we shall have solved the great problem of industrialism.

Proposed new clause agreed to.

Progress reported.

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