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Wednesday, 22 June 1904


Mr WATSON - The honorable and learned member for Wannon objects to the term which I applied to him a few moments ago, and I have, therefore, withdrawn it; but I can substitute for it something equally expressive in defining my attitude towards him. He has freely insinuated against the supporters of the Government that they are actuated by ulterior motives in trying to pass the Bill, and that there are associated with the measure outside agitators, who are anxious for it to pass so that they may gain their own ends. But it comes ill from him, as the hired watchdog of the law association, -which, although it does not; perhaps, keep men from entering the legal profession-


Mr Robinson - It has no power to de so.


Mr WATSON - No. But it comes down like the proverbial thousand of bricks on the individual who attempts to practise law without a licence.


Mr Thomas - And it has refused to allow women to practise.


Mr WATSON - I am surprised to hear a charge of that sort levelled against the honorable and learned member for Wannon, whom I looked upon as a champion of the fair sex.


Mr Robinson - In Victoria an Act has been passed which allows Women to enter the legal profession.


Mr WATSON - The point I wish to drive home is that, without this clause giving preference to unionists where the Court considers necessary, the members of an organization who deem it necessary to take a certain attitude for the preservation of their own interests, or those of their fellowmen, would have no protection from the revenge of an unscrupulous employer.


Mr Johnson - Is not sub-clause 3 of clause 9 sufficient?


Mr WATSON - Although we may require employers to show cause for dismissals, it is the easiest thing in the world for an employer to manufacture a dozen reasons for the dismissal of an employe, if he feels it necessary to do so. I have known of that being done. The Minister of External Affairs pointed out the other evening that upon only one occasion has a conviction been' secured in New South Wales under a provision similar to that referred to by the honorable member for Lang, and in that case the employer was innocent enough to plead guilty to the charge. The giving of preference to unionists was originally proposed by Mr. Reeves in the legislation, he introduced in New Zealand, to compensate them for the .sacrifice they made in relinquishing the right to strike, and to protect prominent members of the unions from being punished by employers. He says, at page in, of volume 2, of his State Experiments in Australia and New Zealand -

I think it enough to point out that, in New Zealand, the community, mainly for the purpose of self-protection, has deprived trade unionists of the right of striking - of the sacred right of insurrection to which all workmen rightly or wrongly believe that they owe most of what lifts them above serfdom. The Arbitration Act, moreover, deliberately encourages workmen to organize. When, in obedience to the law, they renounce striking, and register as industrial unions, it does not seem amiss that they should receive some special consideration.

He goes on to show the exertions and outlay involved in securing the proper organization of a trade, and the proper observance of the awards of the Court. The latter is one of the most important duties cast upon unions by the arbitration law.


Mr Kennedy - The measure will never be effective unless the unions act as watchdogs in regard to it.


Mr WATSON - Quite so. I do not complain of the terms in which the honorable member for North Sydney puts forward his proposition. . I regard it as a sincere attempt to find a way out of a difficult)' which has presented itself to his mind. But we must remember that what is aimed at in the Bill, the casting of responsibility upon organizations, presumes cohesive bodies, not mere collections of scattered units who may be separated by distance, as well as in thought and aspiration, We must have cohesive bodies, possessing sufficient influence to restrain those who may be disposed to go to extremes, or to refuse to obey the awards of the Court. I have already admitted in this chamber on several occasions that for some years I was not in favour of compulsory arbitration. I did not favour it until I saw it was possible to use the unions as influencing bodies, with a view to enforce the awards of the Court. The Teralba case, which was referred to by the honorable and learned member for Wannon, illustrates the position of the Government in this matter. An award was given by the New South Wales Court, largely reducing the hewing rate in the Newcastle coal district, and affecting 4,000 miners there, who accepted it without question, although there may have been a' little grumbling. Another award - a subsidiary one - was given, affecting 200 miners employed at Teralba, in the same district, but they refused to obey it, and went out on strike. Undoubtedly if there had been no Arbitration Court that strike would have spread.


Mr Watkins - There would have been a general strike.


Mr WATSON - Yes, a strike extending throughout the Newcastle district- Any one who knows the volume of the coal trade there can imagine the amount of distress, and suffering and loss to "the State, and to tha whole Commonwealth, which would have ensued if that had happened. The Teralba strike collapsed because of the steady pressure brought to bear by the union upon the recalcitrant miners. No other organization could have brought such pressure to bear. The Teralba miners were forced to admit that the members of the Miners' Union were men who looked on their position with sympathy, and had every desire to help them. But these men were strongly and persistently counselling them to obey the award of the Court, and to abide their time to have it reconsidered. Without a trades union, such as is contemplated by the Bill, and by the New South Wales and New Zealand Acts, it would be impossible to bring such pressure to bear. The organizations suggested by the honorable member for North Sydney would be useless. Their members could be forced to contribute so much by order of the Court; but they would have nothing in common. There would be no bond to bring them together, .and to keep them together.


Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They would Belong to the one trade ; they would have that in common.


Mr WATSON - That would not be enough. More than that would be required to enforce obedience to awards. A trades union does a great deal more than collect subscriptions from its members, which is all that would be done by the organization suggested by the honorable member for North Sydney, Such an organization would not have the power, and, therefore, could not undertake the responsibilities, of a trades union, whose members are bound by ties such as' could never be imported in its case.


Mr Spence - What is voluntary is stronger than what is coercive.


Mr WATSON - I admit that. I do not think it will be found that the compulsion provided for will be taken advantage of by the unions to any large extent. The honorable and learned member for Wannon instanced the action of the Sydney wharf labourers and of the coal lumpers in closing their books as something which had arisen because of the passing of the New South Wales Arbitration Act.


Mr Robinson - No; I did not.


Mr WATSON - The manner in which the honorable and learned member spoke of the matter led one to believe that the cases were used to support his arguments against the Bill. The Sydney wharf labourers closed their books in 1890, after having, for a considerable time before, exacted an entrance fee of £5, and the New South Wales coal lumpers closed their books before 1890, after having exacted, for a considerable period before, a similar entrance fee. After the strike of 1890 had collapsed, and the unions had become strong again, the coal lumpers once more closed their books. I was one who, in 1890, and subsequently, , protested against that phase of unionism which proposed to make close corporations of the unions. Therefore, my present attitude is not, as suggested by the honorable and learned member for Wannon, a new departure.


Mr Robinson - I did not say that it is.


Mr WATSON - I took the honorable member as saying so. He said that the Government were prepared at this late hour to propose something which would lessen the possibility of the unions becoming close corporations. This is not a new departure ; it is in consonance with what I have put forward for years past, and with what I have declared to be the policy of the Government ever since it came into existence. The instances referred to by the honorable and learned member do not affect, in the slightest degree, the case for or against the Bill. Wherever a union is strong, and a number of its members are very selfish, there will be attempts to make it a close corporation.


Mr McLean - Was not the refusal of the coal lumpers to unload the Kiama . virtually a strike, entered upon in defiance of the Act?


Mr WATSON - There had been no award in the case of the. coal lumpers.


Mr Hughes - It will probably be ten months before they can get an award under the Act. They ' have not been brought under the Act. the coal lumpers had pursued that


Mr WATSON - But, as I have said, course -I think improperly - for a considerable time before the Act was brought into ' operation. Therefore, their case affords no indictment of the Act. I know of no other union, apart from those two, in New South Wales, which has attempted in this fashion to make its body a close corporation. Of course, nearly every union of artisans insists that every member shall be a qualified workman, before he is allowed to join, and that is a very proper principle. But, beyond that, with the exceptions mentioned, I do not think there is any condition imposed by anytrade union throughout Australia of the nature indicated in the present relation. The honorable member for North Sydney, and subsequently the honorable and learned member for Wannon, made a great deal of the fact that the unions, or some of them, go in for politics. Of course. I suppose, one of the worst features of that development is the fact that they have gone in for the wrong sort of politics. But the question whether they go in for politics has really nothing to do with what we are now discussing; because they have just as much right to go in for politics as individuals, or as members of unions, as they have to join in a temperance crusade or an agitation against compulsory vaccination, or any movement which is not usuallv included within the sphere of party politics. We cannot at tempt to limit the individual liberty of a man in that way ; nor, if we cannot limit him as an individual, should we attempt to limit a number, who are members of an organization, made up of individuals. We must be prepared to allow these people to take their own course. I might point to the fact that many of the most prominent trades unionists of Sydney are men who have never worked with or voted for the Labour Party. Quite a number of the most prominent men in the trades unions have been consistently against the Labour Party in politics. Mr. Bavister, a strong supporter of the Free-trade Party, with which the honorable member for North Sydney is so honorably associated, is one instance of a man who has for years kept up his connexion with a trades union, of which he is a trusted officer as well as being a member of the Trades Council and of the Eight Hours Day Committee. In every way heis known to be a man out of harmony with labour politics. But that fact has not interfered with Mr. Bavister's chance of election as an officer of his. union in the slightest degree. . On the other side, we have many', other instances. There are Mr. West and Mr. Talbot, who are well known as protectionists, and many others have similarlylrefused to give up their convictions in regard to protection, or freetrade, in order to advance the labour programme. They put their general politics first, as they are entitled to do, and no one has ever interfered with them for so doing.


Mr Knox - Is not that an argument for keeping the organizations underthis Bill perfectly distinct from the trades unions ?


Mr WATSON - Not at all. It is an argument to show that there is nothing in the proposition that we should not recognise the unions in 'the Bill or give them preference, because they may go in for politics. Of course they may go in for politics as individuals, or even as members of unions ; and if they dp, is it not ridiculous for any oneto assume; that the unions can constrain their membersto act in any particular direction if they . do not want to do so ?


Mr Lonsdale - The others will call them " blacklegs " for that.


Mr WATSON - They have not called Mr. Bavister a blackleg, have they? He was a member of Parliament with the honorable member for New England, and no one has accused him of being disloyal, because he held aloof from Labour Partv politics. I admit that a union passed a rule, on one occasion in

New South Wales, to the effect that its members should vote for 'the labour candidate. But it is manifestly ridiculous to pass any such rules, with the expectation that they can be made effective. The Court afterwards declared that that rule must come out, and it was dropped ; bub. even while it was in existence it was, in my view, the most absurd rule that could have been placed upon the books of a trades union. Every one knows that you cannot enforce a rule of that description ; and if a thousand men who are to-day non-unionists, and who perhaps do not agree with Labour Party politics, were to join a union to-morrow, there would be nothing to coerce them iri regard to the exercise of their political rights.


Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Political action keeps some men from joining the unions.


Mr WATSON - I am inclined to doubt that statement. I have had a very long experience, for my age, of trades unions. I joined a union when I was. 18 years of age, and I have been a member 'lever since. I have had a great deal of I experience of trades unions in New South Wales outside my own ' trade ; and I heard, long before the unions went in for politics, just the same excuses made by individuals as to why they did not join a union. Many men do not join a union for fear that if they do they will be marked men, and that it mav prevent their advancement at the hands of the employers, for (whom they are working. Another class who do not join are those who are too mean to contribute the small weekly amount that is necessary to keep the unions going. I have known men to be very efficient agitators and workers for a union until it obtained a certain concession, when they immediately withdrew even their paltry subscription, and left other men outside their own workshop to struggle as best they, could. Such men embrace another section of nonunionists. But I admit that there are many men who keep aloof from unions for conscientious reasons.


Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - -Some of the freetrade workmen in Sydney certainly do.


Mr WATSON - I am inclined to think that very few keep out of unions for that reason, though they may keep out of the Political Labour Leagues - and very properly so, if they do not approve of their methods. Of course, that is always a matter of opinion.


Mr Knox - Why should not this provision apply only to organizations as distinct from trades unions ?


Mr WATSON - All that this provision proposes to do is to endow the Court with power to declare a preference for trades unionists, or members of any organization, and subject always, be it remembered, to the amendment which the honorable and learned member for Ballarat and myself have evolved, which provides that nothing in the nature of a close corporation must be attempted, and that if it is the registration, and any benefits which ' may have accrued under the award of the Court, shall immediately disappear, and be withdrawn from the union.


Mr Knox - The distinction is that this Bill provides for an organization, and does not refer to a trades union at all.


Mr WATSON - The honorable member is, of course, relying upon the technical phraseology of the Bill; because, after all, any one who knows anything of legislation of this class, and who has followed its history, must have recognised by this time' that such legislation could never have been brought forward, or could not have been as successful as it has been, except for the fact that it is not founded on a skeleton organization or a chance working together of a number of dis-united individuals, but that unions exist which are made responsible under the law - unions of men combined in one body, by ties of sentiment and loyalty one to another. And such unions are necessary to the successful working of this measure. The honorable member for Richmond, who is always sufficiently amusing, even if he is not instructive, tells us that in this Bill we are perpetrating the enormity of making 400,000 work people in New South Wales subject to the caprice of 66,000 unionists.


Mr Ewing - I do not think that I put it quite in that way.


Mr WATSON - Practically that wasthe effect of the honorable member's contention - that only 66,000 were enrolled as unionists, and that, by this preference, we shall make 400,000 work people depends upon them.


Mr Ewing - I will see what the honorable gentleman makes out of that.


Mr WATSON - I suppose that if I make too much out of it. the honorable member will say that he did not intend it to be understood in that way. I have taken thetrouble to refer to Mr. Coghlan'sStatistical Register for New South Wales, and I find that there are employed in that State among the professional and mercantile classes, including dealers, telegraph assistants - who number 5,000 - doctors, lawyers and professional persons of that description, 187,000 people. Those, although they are workers, are not workers in the sense of being eligible for membership of any existing trades union.


Mr Robinson - Do they not include employers also ?


Mr WATSON - No; they include people who are not eligible for membership of any existing union. They also include persons engaged in domestic service. I am subtracting from the 400,000 all those who are not eligible to join any existing union, and who are not engaged in any occupation to which any union relates. To give the figures in detail, there are 110,000 members of the professional, mercantile, and dealing classes; 72,000 engaged in domestic service and lodging; 5,000 post and telegraph assistants; 77.000 are engaged in agriculture; 18,000 are engaged in dairying; 3,000 are engaged in fisheries and forestry ; 9,000 are people of independent means - making a total of 294,000 who are not eligible for membership of existing unions. Therefore, if the whole of the 66,000 work people who are members of unions were registered under the Court, and were granted preference, we should have to subtract from the number of those who, according to the honorable member's argument, would possibly be subject to their control, 294,000 people.


Mr Ewing - Let me tell the honorable gentleman what I did say. I wrote to Mr. Coghlan, and asked him the number of unionists in New South Wales. The answer he returned was 66,900. I wrote to him again, and asked him the number of workers in New South Wales. The replywas 460,000 - just as I stated it. The Prime Minister will find that Mr. Coghlan is right.


Mr WATSON - I am quite sure that Mr. Coghlan is right on the question as it was put to Kim by the honorable member. Even in that shape, however, it cannot convey any such impression as the honorable member evidently anticipated. He was trying to persuade the Committee that 66,000 men were dominating 400,000 men, and could compel them to join the unions, whereas all those who are engaged in occupations in which there are no unions should be subtracted from the latter number before the honorable member's arguments are applied.


Mr Skene - Will not this Bill force those people, who are now outside the unions, to form such organizations?


Mr WATSON - Only in those cases in which disputes arise. No persons can obtain any recognition from the Arbitration Court unless they are members of an organization. But, as has been proved in New Zealand and New South Wales, we may go on for years and years without having organizations formed in certain industries, because no dispute may arise. There are certain persons who follow callings in which no unions exist, and such persons could not be compelled to join the unions. That is where the arguments of the honorable member for Richmond were at fault. He was also in error in confusing the 66,000 persons in the unions registered under the Arbitration Act with the total number of unionists in New South Wales. A very considerable number of unionists are not registered under the Act, and that fact involves another subtraction from the honorable member's figures.


Mr Skene - But would they not be included in the 400,000 mentioned by the Minister ?


Mr WATSON - Yes; they would be included among the 400,000, but not among those I have deducted, because I have embraced only those engaged in industries in which no unions exist. I am not certain in regard to all the unions that are registered or unregistered, but I know of all the callings in which unions exist, and I subtracted those engaged in such callings from the numbers quoted by the honorable member for Richmond.


Mr Ewing - The Minister is "not questioning the figures, but explaining them.


Mr WATSON - I am showing clearly that the deduction sought to be drawn by the honorable member is absolutely without foundation. If he will admit that, I shall be satisfied. I wish to impress upon honorable members that, in the first place, this proposal is an integral portion of every Arbitration Act that has been brought into operation. Without it, it would be almost impossible, at any rate, in my view, to make this measure effective. The proposal put forward by the honorable member for North Sydney falls far short of providing for the kind of organization which alone could be held responsible for the successful working of the Act, and for the observance of the awards. The policing under this measure must be carried on, not by an army of inspectors, but by the members of the unions, who will know, even down te the smallest details, whether or not the awards are being observed. Without a provision of this kind it would be impossible to secure attention to details. I hope, therefore, that honorable members will hesitate before they strike out a provision which, according to the evidence of representative employers in New Zealand, has been found to work reasonably, which does not deprive the employers of the right te pick and choose among the men who pre-sent themselves, and which, in any case, is only to be applied after the Court has thoroughly gone into the question and has become convinced that it is necessary to have some such condition laid down.







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