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Wednesday, 13 April 1904

Mr BROWN (Canobolas) - I agree with the honorable member for Richmond that the two main questions presented for our consideration are - first, whether legislation of the kind now before us is required; and secondly, whether it is wise for the Federal Parliament to take action in regard to applying the principles of conciliation and arbitration instead of leaving the matter entirely in the hands of the States? There is the further question - whether it would be wise to make, the measure so comprehensive that it may embrace all classes of the community, irrespective of. whether they are in private or State employment? Two or three honorable members have denied that any such measure is necessary, but the experience of modern civilization goes to show that the policy of non-intervention is rapidly being abandoned, and that we have reached a stage of industrial development in which legislative interference has become an absolute necessity, in the interest of those directly concerned, and for the advantage of the community generally.. A considerable evolution has taken place in industrial matters within recent years. Scientific developments and inventions in connexion with mechanical contrivances and trade processes have introduced entirely new conditions-. Whilst the total production of wealth is being gradually increased, the number of those who are actually engaged in its creation is being materially reduced. Moreover, the male portion 'of the community - the breadwinners of the family - are gradually being displaced by women, who in turn are being superseded by children. Whilst vast mechanical improvements have been effected in the means of production, whilst modern industry has been revolutionized in this particular, the distribution of the wealth thus produced is practically the same as it was in past ages. To my mind that is what underlies the solution of this problem to-day. In support of my con: tention, I desire to quote from no less an authority upon the industrial and social tendencies of the age than Professor Huxley, who, in dealing with this aspect of the matter, says : -

I do not hesitate to express the opinion that if there is no hope of a large improvement in the condition of the great part of the human family- : if it is true that the increase of knowledge, the winning of a greater dominion over -Nature which is the consequence, and the wealth which follows upon that dominion are to make no difference in the extent and intensity of want, with its concomitant physical and moral degradation amongst the masses of the people, I should hail the advent of some Eindly comet which would sweep the whole affair away as a desirable consummation.

What we have to consider to-day is whether, with the great industrial evolution which has marked the past century, and which is now at the flood-tide, we cannot remove human misery and all those influences which, resulting from poverty, tend to demoralize our community. This Parliament is intended to govern not in the interests of a few, but in the interests of the whole community. Whilst it occupies that position it cannot afford to disregard the problems by which it is confronted. It must endeavour to bring about a better position in the industrial world. Though the proposed legislation partakes to some, extent of the nature of an experiment, that is no reason why we should hold our hands and refuse to do anything. As the honorable member for Richmond pointed out, there must be either progress or retrogression. It is far better for us to attempt to bring about better social conditions and fail, than to remain idle and reap the inevitable results of our inactivity. Some honorable members have referred to the ideal conditions which prevailed in the old times, when master and men worked together amicably, before the advent of labour agitators and labour representatives, and when strikes were unknown. That was a condition which may appeal very strongly to some, but which those who are possessed of any sympathy for their brethren could not tolerate with any degree of good feeling. Legislative intervention is necessary to prevent the unprincipled producer from entering into unfair competition with the man who is prepared to conduct his Business upon fair lines. This phas.e of the question' was put veiy strongly by the Sydney Daily Telegraph in a recent article dealing with the great question of sport, which seems to engage so much of the time of Australians. It appears that some trouble was experienced in connexion with a large cycle meet ing, at which collusion was proved to have taken place between the riders for the purpose of securing the prizes. The article in question states -

As things are, the public, who have been accustomed to patronize bicycle racing under the impression that it was a clean and wholesome recreation, must have their conscience rudely shocked. And to rehabilitate it is no easy matter. The fact that no less than six of the principal performers in one event have been convicted of collusion to make money at the expense of the sport bears graphic testimony to the demoralizing effects that are to be expected when commercialism is allowed to masquerade in the guise of national pastime.

That is just what we have to complain of in the industrial world. We complain of that very commercialism, the ethics of which are altogether opposed to the establishment of ideal conditions of : life. Our Christianity is based upon a -recognition of the principle that we should " do unto others as we would that they should do unto us," but this form of low 'commercialism has sanctioned the principle that we should " do " our neighbour to prevent him from " doing " us. I do not see that it is possible to deal with the evil other than by legislation. This question has engaged the attention of some of the very ablest thinkers upon economics. Professor J. B. Clarke, writing upon the efficiency of arbitration, says -

Arbitration in itself is an appeal to equity, and a departure from the competitive system.

Another learned writer upon political economy - Professor Adams - says -

Arbitration is not the missing coupling between labour and capital, but it is the thing for which at the present time it is practical that working men should strive. Its establishment is the first step towards the overthrow of the wages system.

Then a very valuable report upon this subject was presented by the Commission which was appointed as the result of the great Pullman strike in America. That report sums up the position thus -

1.   The Commission would suggest the considera tion by the States of the adoption of some system of conciliation and arbitration like that, for instance, in use in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. That system might be reinforced by additional provisions giving the Board of Arbitration more power to investigate all strikes, whether requested to do so or not, and the question might be considered as to giving labour organizations a stand before the law as heretofore suggested for national trades unions.

2.   Contracts requiring men not to agree to join labour organizations, or to leave them, as conditions of employment, should be made illegal, as is already done in some of our States.

3.   The Commission urges employers to recognise labour organizations ; that such organizations be dealt with through representatives, with special reference to conciliation and arbitration when difficulties aru threatened or arise. It is satisfied that employers should come in closer touch with labour, and should recognise that, while the interests of capital and labour are not identical, they are reciprocal.

4.   Thu Commission is satisfied that if employers everywhere will endeavour to act in concert with labour ; that if when wages can be raised under economic conditions they be raised voluntarily, and that when there are reductions reasons be given for the reduction, much friction can be avoided. It is also satisfied that if employers will consider employes as thoroughly essential to industrial success as capital, and thus take labour into consultation at proper times, much of the severity of strikes can be tempered, and their number reduced.

That is practically all that is being sought by those who support this legislation, and, while it is to a certain extent experimental, we have promise of its success. What has been our experience in reference to industrial disputes, not only in Australia, but in all parts of the world ? A dispute arises between an employer and his employes, with the result that a strike takes place. That strike means to some extent a loss on the part of the employer, while in some cases it means a much heavier loss to the employes. The employer, with wealth at his command, is not called upon to endure any suffering. He has simply to face a reduction in his annual returns, due to the cessation of labour; but against that position the worker has to pit, not only his own hungry stomach, but those of his wife and children. We know of the dire straits to which a large number of our fellowcitizens in this bright and prosperous country, as well as in the old land, have been reduced by strikes. In view of the suffering and distress which strikes entail on many people, can it be imagined that they are entered into without consideration, and with no real justification? Do not these facts rather point to the view that those who resort to strikes are driven to take that step by the stress of circumstances in which they are called to labour? They have the two alternatives of lifelong poverty or a short struggle, with the hope of bettering their condition. Let me refer honorable members to the Pullman strike in the United States of America. That was an epochmaking strike, which received universal attention, and was carried on with a bitterness that attaches to few industrial disputes. The Commission, whose report I have read, elicited that the company put forth as a reason for the reduction of wages which led to the strike the commercial depression they were called upon to fight against. They asserted that they were not in a position to finance their undertaking at the high rate of wages which they had been paying up to that time, and which was still demanded by their employes. The inquiry showed first of all that the reduction in the wages of the workers amounted to 22"8-io per cent., while that relating to the wages of the higher-paid branches of the service was 11 J per cent. It also showed that away back in the early sixties the company commenced operations with a capital of about 1,000,000 dollars, and that at the time of the strike, in 1894, it had a capital of 36,000,000 dollars, which had been earned out of its undertaking. The inquiry showed that 2,520,000 dollars were paid by way of dividends in 1893, while 7,223,000 dollars were paid away in wages. As the result of the strike, -in 1894 the company's balance-sheet showed the payment of 2,880,000 dollars by way of dividends - or an increase of 640,000 dollars as compared with the previous year - and 4,471,000 dollars for wages, or a decrease of 2,752,000 dollars. As the result of the strike they showed an increase of more than half-a-million dollars in dividends, and a decrease of over 2,700,000 on the wages sheet. During that rather sanguinary strike some twelve men were killed, over 500 were arrested, and r.4,000 of the military and police were engaged to maintain law and order. It is admitted by no less an authority than Bradstreets that the strike cost the American people something like 80,000,000 dollars. Other strikes have since occurred that have been of farreaching consequence. We have only to carry our minds back to what has happened within the Commonwealth during the last fifteen years. We know that as a result of the 'great maritime dispute, the shearing and the mining strikes, large sections of the community were reduced to poverty, that the forces of production were narrowed down, and that losses have been entailed which have never been made good. Our experience here, and. indeed, the experience of the world generally, is that whilst in industrial disputes the employes are prepared in nine cases out of ten to unreservedly submit their claims to arbitration, the employers almost invariably refuse to do so. In support of that statement I propose to quote no less an authority than Professor R. T. Ely, a writer of considerable repute on industrial matters in the United States of America, who will not be considered as expressing a biased opinion. We find that he says, in The Labour Movement in America, page 146 -

The difficulties in the way of arbitration have come chiefly from the side of the employers, for it is a rare thing when labourers refuse to arbitrate their difficulties with their employers. Few cases of such refusal have ever come under my notice.

Our experience is that when, in the opinion of the employes, there has been an arbitrary and unjustifiable reduction of wages the employers have almost invariably replied to their request for a conference - "We have nothing to arbitrate on; these are our conditions, and you may take or leave them." When they were unwilling to accept those conditions the result was a strike, and then the employers expected the . forces of the law to be brought to their assistance in their endeavour to enforce an unwilling compliance with what were very often unjust demands. When workers were unwilling to submit to conditions sought to be imposed and brought about a cessation of industrial operation, the remedy was not to arbitrate - not to consider the conditions from the stand-point of the workers - but to call on the military to "fire low and lay them out." I trust that those conditions have for ever disappeared, and that the workers of this community will have a reasonable opportunity to place their case before an impartial and competent tribunal, so that a proper expression of opinion may be obtained. Hitherto the masses of people inclined to act as a jury, and to test the true merits of a dispute, have had the case put before them from the stand-points of both employer and employed, which are generally as far apart as are the poles. In these circumstances the difficulty has been to secure correct data to enable the public to arrive at a correct decision. The Court, however, will have power to investigate the causes of a dispute, and will be able to place the result of that investigation before the public. Even if it had no other power it would be a mighty factor in the bringing about of industrial peace. The opinion of the great bulk of the people is one which is not likely to be disregarded. It is a power which, when properly focussed, produces results. It is only reasonable that the great body of the public not directly affected by a strike should have an opportunity to learn the true position of affairs. A dispute of any considerable extent acts on outside industries as well as on the country generally. All persons are therefore interested in it to a greater or less degree, and there should be some tribunal of the kind proposed in this Bill to investigate disputes, and to inform the community, if it does nothing more, of the underlying principles.

Mr Kelly - Will the unions in all cases go to the Court ?

Mr BROWN - I do not know that they will ; but if a Court is provided for them, and they unreasonably refuse to take advantage of it, they will have the weight of public opinion against them. They cannot afford to ignore that sentiment. I should view with considerable apprehension the operation of laws upon these industrial questions if the controlling power behind those laws was similar to that which administered the law in the past. Leading unionists in America and in England have been quoted here as favouring voluntary arbitration, and as opposed to compulsory arbitration. I think that they had in the circumstances very good reason for opposing compulsory arbitration. The history of government and of the control of these matters in the past justifies the opinion they formed. In support of that statement I have only to quote from another authority what I think will be generally admitted to be a correct statement of the condition of affairs that actually obtained. I quote from Thorold Rogers. At page 398 of his admirable and great work, Six Centuries of Work and Wages, he says -

I contend that from 1563 to 1824 a conspiracy, concocted by law and carried out by parties interested in its success, was entered into to cheat the English workman of his wages, to tie him to the soil, to deprive him of hope, and to degrade him into irremediable poverty. For more than two centuries and a half the English law, and those who administered the law, were engaged in grinding the English workman down to the lowest pittance, in stamping out every expression or act which indicated any organized discontent, and in multiplying penalties upon him when he thought of his actual rights.

That was the condition which obtained under law and order in England for two and a half centuries up to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Mr McDonald - Thorold Rogers wasnot a socialist,, either.

Mr BROWN - He was no socialist, but he described social conditions as he found them. Were that form of government to obtain in the future, as in the past, I for one should not be prepared to place labour under the heel of such dominance.

Mr Kelly - Does the honorable member think those conditions obtain in Australia to-day?

Mr BROWN - In reply to the honorable member, I have to say that if some of the gentlemen who strongly oppose this legislation had their way, those are the exact conditions which would obtain in Australia.

Mr Kelly - What proof has the honorable member of that?

Mr BROWN - Plenty of proof might be adduced in support of that contention. I desire to say to my brother workmen that if legislation is called to their aid in this particular direction, as I hope it will be, it will impose upon them a great and a grave obligation to take a real live interest in the government of their country. It is not enough to give every man and woman in Australia the right to vote if they are to be so little interested in the politics of their country that they will not record their votes.

Mr Kelly - Has this measure then got a political significance?

Mr BROWN - Undoubtedly it has. That is where the difficulty conies in for some people.

Mr Kelly - Politics should be kept out of' industrial unions.

Mr BROWN - If it had not a political significance I could quite understand a great number of those who are in direct opposition to legislation of this character, and whose petitions against it come pouring in here, not bothering at all about it. It is because it . has political significance that we find them so alert at the present time. Thorold Rogers plainly describes the conditions which obtained in old England for two and a half centuries, and judging by the way in which some honorable members have spoken of " the good old times," as compared with what they consider the degeneracy of the present, their desire is that similar conditions should obtain at the present time. To arm the kind of administration which carried out the class legislation of the past with such powers as are provided for in the legislation now proposed, would be but to impose degradation upon the working classes, as it did in those days. I say that the working people of this community, having obtained the franchise, have the matter entirely in their own hands. They have been enabled to work out their industrial salvation through their political salvation, and that is the only way in which it can be done. I repeat that the matter is now entirely in their own hands.

Mr Kelly - Does the honorable member think that an industrial union should have the right to levy a fine for political purposes ?

Mr BROWN - If the industrial unions did such a thing, they would only be following the example of the employers.

Mr Kelly - Employers have no industrial unions. I am not taking a brief for the employer, but for the man who is forced to join a union, and forced to subscribe to its funds, though he may have no sympathy with it..

Mr BROWN - He can form a union of his own, in which he can apply his own conditions. The objection is brought against labour unions that they take part in politics j but in doing so, they are following only the example of the employers.

Mr Kelly - A trades union can legitimately take part in politics, but when a trades union compels a man to-

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member has already spoken. '

Mr BROWN - The honorable member reminds me of another quotation. Professor Ely, in his invaluable work upon The Labour Movement in America, says that the employ^ without a union works under very great disadvantages in endeavouring to secure fair consideration from the employer.

Mr Hutchison - Unorganized labour is the worst paid labour in the world.

Mr BROWN - He says, further, that, so far as employers are concerned, the control of great industries is gradually being concentrated in the hands of a few. Hence we have our Pierpont Morgans, Vanderbilts, and all those great American multimillionaires, controlling the industries of that great country, and practically compelling all the smaller industries to fall into line with conditions under which they are satisfied to work. "We have these millionaires going beyond the control of production, and by rings and trusts and corners, endeavouring to control consumption. They secure production at the minimum of cost, and then, by forming rings and combines, they secure the maximum of return for the results of that production. Their operations have ceased to be confined within the boundaries of the great American union. Only recently we learn that distress and misery have been introduced into the cotton mills of England as the result of the operation of these combines. The mater is now becoming not one concerning a little community, a state, or a nation, but one of world-wide effect. Professor Ely points out that industrialism, to get fair consideration, must combine.

Mr Kelly - No one objects to combination.

Mr BROWN - I thought that was the honorable member's objection all through. Professor Ely points out that combination has already taken place amongst the controllers of capital, and he says that they will not listen to fair and reasonable proposals from employes so long as they are broken up into sections. It is only when they are combined, and speak not with a thousand or a million separate voices, but when they speak with one voice, and powerfully enough, that the employers will listen to the employes in connexion with any of these matters. He says : -

Arbitration is impossible without labour organization. Capital is combined, and is managed by a few persons even in the largest establishments.

Then he goes on further, after indicating some instances bearing out this contention, to say that -

Capital is one of the factors of production ; labour is another, and it also must be massed together to stand on an equal footing.

That is what this great American professor lays down as the principle of successful arbitration. With respect to the prospect of conciliation and arbitration, I may point out that New Zealand has led the way in this matter, as she has done in many other directions. We read at the inception of this policy accounts of what would be the probable effect of such legislation. It was said that it would drive capital out of New Zealand, and that the people would be reduced to a condition of poverty. New Zealand has had about ten years of it, and instead of capital being driven out, and poverty stalking through the land, it is the one place in our vicinity to which those, who have not had the benefit of such legislation, but who have been brought under the influence of such laws as are favoured by conservatives, are flocking to find a profitable field for their labour.- In New South Wales we have in operation an Act making provision for arbitration. The passing of. that Act was not accomplished without considerable difficulty, and the measure is by no means an ideal one, such as the labour organizations would like to have placed upon the statute-book. It was brought about by a compromise of opposing forces. To a certain extent it was breaking new ground, and its provisions in their full effect could not be measured at the time it was passed. But nevertheless it is giving a fair amount of satisfaction. I am aware that there is some dissatisfaction as to its provisions, and a strong desire to have it amended in a few directions, but at the same time the opposition to it is largely due, not to the failings and faults which have been discovered in its administration, but to the extreme misrepresentation and misstatements with regard to it. Only last week Mr. Justice Cohen had occasion to make reference to these persistent and malignant misrepresentations to which sr, much currency is given by the opponents of the Act. He is reported in the Daily Telegraph of the 9th inst. to have said -

I find that more than one misstatement has been deliberately made regarding the Court. I have seen those statements corrected, but I have never yet seen a disavowal of the original statement. Criticisms passed were frequently founded on misconceptions of what the Court had done. I have often been amused at those, but at the same time I think it is a very great pity that those persons who make those criticisms, do not take the trouble to make themselves accurately familiar with their subject. I see wrong superstructures based on absolute misconceptions. The result is that the public mind gets inflamed by these warm criticisms. If the public mind were properly informed, it would not accept these views.

Later on he says -

There are thousands of people who have not the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the real facts of the case, whose minds are influenced by these criticisms. If proper facts were placed before it,' public opinion would not be what it is.

That is not a statement by a trades unionist, a labour agitator, or a labour member of Parliament, but the. deliberate opinion of Mr. Justice Cohen, who has the administration of the Act. He declares that public feeling is being inflamed against the operation of the law by misstatements, and that, if the public had an opportunity of knowing the real facts of the case, possibly there would not be that warmth of feeling and that opposition which at present obtain. I believe in a fair fight, .and if there is anything in a measure of this kind that calls for just and fair criticism, that criticism is warranted. But when it comes to misstatements made in order to damage this legislation, and to criticisms which call, for remarks such as were made by the learned and impartial Judge who has charge of the administration of the Act in New South Wales, it only shows to what degree the opposition to such measures will sink in order that its enemies may accomplish their purpose. Since they cannot gain their ends by fair means, they seek to gain them in some other way. With respect to the question whether this Bill shall be limited in its scope, I would point out that it is limited by the Constitution itself. It can only apply to disputes that extend beyond the limits of any one State, and which cannot be controlled by the legislation of that State, no matter to what extent the State may be desirous of legis- lating. It can deal only with disputes of a wide-spreading character. Therefore, I do not suppose that the Bill will be as largely availed of as will the legislation of the States of a similar character. The States legislation can deal with disputes occurring in industries that are largely local ; but there are disputes of an Inter-State character such as, for instance, might affect the shipping industry, the great pastoral industry, and possibly a few others. It is absolutely necessary to have legislation that will deal with such disputes, not only from the State stand-point, but from the Commonwealth stand-point also. The framers of the Federal Constitution recognised that it was necessary to arm the Commonwealth Parliament with power to legislate in this particular direction. Therefore the Government are only exercising the powers conferred upon them for the purpose in introducing "this Bill. The difference that arises between the Government and the Labour Party is this : The Labour Party do not wish to limit its application. We consider that the Bill should be sufficiently wide to meet every need that may arise; that to have to ask for increased legislation when necessity arose would be a misfortune. The question whether the Constitution allows us to deal with the public servants of the States is one not for Parliament, but for the custodians of the Constitution, for the High Court of Australia. If the Labour Party or any other party insert in our legislation provisions contrary to the Constitution, those who are affected must appeal, not to Parliament, but to the High Court, for the maintenance of their rights. But we also say that it is not expedient or politic that the servants of the States should be specifically excluded from the operation of the Bill, because what is" good for them must be good for employes generally. If interference with the State as employer is not warranted, interference with private employers is not warranted. Fortunately, the Governments of the States have shown private employers the advisableness and utility of paying decent living wages to those whom they employ. They have shown that if good work is to be obtained from employes they must not be sweated ; that it is better to pay a reasonable wage, and to give reasonable hours, if the contentment and satisfaction of the employe is sought, and the best results for the employer are to be obtained. The employes of the States are as well off, and in many instances better off, than those in private employment, and I hope that that state of things will continue. There is therefore not much likelihood of an appeal being made to the Arbitration Court by. the employes of the States. Furthermore, such an appeal could not be made unless the dispute extended beyond the limits of a State. Therefore, there is some ground for the contention that not much importance would attach to the proposal to apply the provisions of the Bill to the public servants of the States if it had not been for the recent action of the Victorian Government in respect to the 1 ail way men of this State. The unfortunate condition of things which then arose was largely brought about by the want of tact and proper management on thepart of the gentleman in charge of the Department, who, as a good many private employers are disposed to do, seemed to consider himself entitled to receive, not only the labour of those whom he controlled, but the surrender of their manhood and intelligence. He found that a large number of the railway men were, as citizens, opposed to the proposals of his Government, and he therefore adopted coercive measures, which had unfortunate results. I do not think that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, if it had been in existence, could have interfered in that matter ; but if there had been a way of appeal from the harsh conditions which applied, and the pin-pricks which were so hard to endure, an unfortunate occurrence might have been obviated. There is, however, no reason for excluding a large section of the community from the operation of this measure. Need the Governments of the States fear to appeal to a Court constituted as the Commonwealth Arbitration Court will be constituted? If the Prime Minister had proposed to select a Judge from some lunatic asylum, and to appoint as assessors a couple of idiots, there would have been some justification for the criticism which this proposal has received. As a matter of fact, we have the assurance that the Court will be constituted of some of the leading judicial intellects of Australia. Is it likely that they will impose upon the Commonwealth or the States unfair and impossible conditions? There is no fear of anything of the kind. But if the authorities of the States have nothing to fear, surely private employers have no ground for apprehension. I shall heartily support theBill. I think it is a step in the right direction. I do not say that it will solve all labour troubles. They are to be solved, not by revolution, but by evolution, and the Bill is in the direction of evolution. It may not give a complete or correct solution, but it opens up the way for such a solution. We are faced to-day with grave industrial problems, and our future stability, success, and progress depend upon their solution. We must either solve them upon correct lines, or go back to the conditions of barbarism from which we have come. I believe it is a measure in that particular direction, and I fail to see why it should be curtailed in its operation. Whilst I do not think it advisable to say that this class or that class of the community should be specially provided for, I am not going to put in any provision to say that its operation shall be kept within a limitation less than that prescribed in the Constitution, and which must be determined by the Judges.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Mauger) adjourned.

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