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Wednesday, 22 June 1904

Mr LONSDALE (New England) - I have opposed the Bill; but not because I am opposed to unionism or am out of sympathy with the workers. My position should indicate that.

Mr Poynton - The honorable member does not believe in trades unionism.

Mr LONSDALE - I would not raise my finger to prevent a man from joining a trades union, nor would I refuse to employ a trades unionist. I believe that trades unionism has done a great deal for the labouring classes. In my opinion, no trades unionist should be black-balled ; but, on the other hand, no legislative preference should be given to trades unionists. We are legislating, not for trades unionists, but for all sections of labour.

Mr Poynton - Did the honorable member ever know of a strike of any consequence in which a union was not concerned ?

Mr LONSDALE - I myself went out on strike once, but I am not a union. I do not desire that any unionist shall be placed at a disadvantage ; but, in passing a measure of this kind, we have no right to give unionists an advantage over nonunionists. The Prime Minister, has stated that the action of the Sydney Wharf Labourers' and other unions, in closing their books, was not the outcome of the 'New South Wales Arbitration Act. We all know that. But when he says that we have no right to complain of such occurrences under the Act, because they took place prior to its becoming law, I say that we have such a right, because we are being asked to give certain privileges to .unionists, and therefore it should be open to anyone to become members of. unions.

Mr Webster - So it is.

Mr LONSDALE - It required a decision of the Court to bring that about. The spirit and intention of unionism must be judged by the acts of the unions, not by what their members say.

Mr Spence - Only two unions out of hundreds have closed their books.

Mr LONSDALE - Notwithstanding, the action shows the spirit of unionism. The members of those unions were willing to allow others to starve in order to keep work for themselves. I wish to put unionists and non-unionists on an equality.

Mr Webster - The honorable member is willing that the unionist should pay the cost of the advantages which the - nonunionist enjoys.

Mr LONSDALE - No. The Minister of External Affairs said that the wharf labourers closed their books against his advice at a time when there were 3,000 men in the union, and employment for only 1,500. But if we are going to regulate employment in that way, let us provide that where there is not sufficient work one set of men shall be taken on for a month, and shall then give way to another set. Such a state of affairs shows the utter futility of legislation of this kind to prevent distress among the working population. I do not believe that all non-unionists are scabsThere are both good and bad men in unions, and both good and bad men outside unions. The unions cannot claim a monopoly of the good men. There must be organizations under the Bill, but they should be organizations formed only for the purposes of the measure, and those who wish to join them should be permitted to do so on payment of the smallest fees possible. Moreover, they should have nothing to do with any matter not arising under the measure. References have been made to the report of Judge Backhouse on the New Zealand legislation, but that report is a neutral one. The Judge does not go into ecstasies about the New Zealand system. We cannot say yet that the New Zealand system of giving preference to unionists has or has not worked badly, because the colony has been on the ' up-grade ever since the Act was passed, and we do not know what its effect would be in times of depression. The Minister of External Affairs tried to make a joke of the proposition of the honorable member for North Sydney, that all those connected with an industry should be made members of an organization, whose funds should be under the control of the Court. The Minister said that if the masters were required to deduct from the wages of their employes the funds due to the organization, and to pay them into Court, they would be robbing their employes. That was a silly thing to say. A great deal of the time of the New South Wales Arbitration Court is now taken up in hearing cases dealing with the nonpayment of subscriptions. There have been instances of extreme hardship, men having been, compelled to pay subscriptions out of very scanty earnings. Surely the action of the Court under these circumstances can be termed robbery of the employed, if the action of the employers under the circumstances referred to by the Minister would justify the use of that word. The organizations under the Bill should not be allowed to become political organizations. We should not compel men to join organizations other than those formed purely to carry out the purposes of the Bill.

Mr Poynton - We are not doing that.

Mr LONSDALE - If preference is given to unionists - and that has been done in New South Wales by order of the Court - other men in the same line of business will be unable to obtain work. They will thus be compelled to join a union or to starve.

Mr Webster - No.

Mr LONSDALE - The honorable member's mind runs on different lines from that on which mine works. If the Court makes an award giving a preference to unionists in any employment, a man who is a non-unionist cannot secure employment unless he joins a union. He will be compelled by force of circumstances to join a union or to starve. I admit that the clause contains the words " all things being equal." But who is to judge of that? In a Sydney case the Judge said that the Court was to decide as to things being equal, and not the employer. In some of his decisions the Judge in Sydney has said that an employer must go to a union when he requires the services of a man. An employer mav want a workman within a day, and the Judge in some awards has given the union a week in which to supply an employ^, so that, by having to go to a union, the employer may have to wait a week. Surely we should provide that no such restrictions shall be placed upon employers of labour, who are developing ithe wealth of the country. At a later stage I intend to. move an amendment upon paragraph b, and if my proposal is carried, it will remove the opportunity of doing any such injustice. I propose to omit the word " and," and to insert the following words: - provided that an employer may employ a person or persons who are not members of an organization, but shall constitute them members by paying the fees of membership for any or all such persons to such organization.

That is a fair proposal. If an employer desires . to employ certain persons let him do so by paying the membership fees to the union connected with the trade. I know numbers of cases in which men who have been for some time in the country have come down to Sydney, and have got work straight away; but if this Bill had been in force they could have obtained no employment, because they were non-unionists.

Mr Spence - Where does the honorable member get that idea from?

Mr LONSDALE - I quite recognise the kindly nature of my mild and amiable friend, the member for Darling, but surely he is aware that the Arbitration Court in Sydney has decided that an employer must employ a unionist or stand the risk of being fined ?

Mr Spence - Unionists have preference ; that is all.

Mr LONSDALE - What is the use of talking nonsense? A saddler at Redfern employed an old mate who came to him and,, told him that he was in a difficult position! and expected to have the bailiffs in. He paid him a higher wage than the award of the Court. The secretary of ' the union came along and said, " You are employing a non-unionist," and the saddler was hauled before the Court for committing an offence, whereas he was simply employing a man out of pure benevolence. The honorable member for Fremantle laughs at this statement. But it is absolutely true, and the facts can be found in the records of the Court.

Mr Watson - What is the name of the man?

Mr LONSDALE - The name, I think, is Booth. I am not accusing unionists of trying to do hard things, but they will not believe that hard things have happened when they do not wish to believe them to be true.. They will not recognise 'that any good can come to a working man outside a union. Their outlook is narrowed by their surroundings. I am not here to fight against unions, but I am here to fight to put every workman on an equal footing. Men like myself have been charged with being enemies to unionism, and never doing anything for working men. I am Drepared to set my career against that of any honorable member in the Labour Party in respect to what I have done in the interests of the workers. I have done things that this Bill would prevent me from doing again. Although I say it myself, I have done things which were actuated by the highest altruism.

I have had a man come to me who had been working for three weeks for 30s. He was a farm hand, and 1 did not want a farm hand ; so I employed him in building, and gave him 5s a day to start with. He was a man who had not handled a tool in his life, but I kept him so employed until he could earn a workman's wages. Let honorable members opposite, with all their boasts of what they do for the working classes, tell me of any man in their own ranks who has ever done anything of that kind. I oppose this Sill because I do not believe that it will help the masses. It will neither widen employment nor increase it ; nor will it increase wages. The Arbitration Act in New South Wales has done very little to help the masses.

Mr Watson - We admit that it does not increase employment.

Mr LONSDALE - I do not think that my amendment is an unfair one, and I trust that the Prime Minister will consider it carefully. It will give the employer power to employ whom he likes, so long as he pays the union fees. Of course he will be able to deduct those fees from the wages of the men, if he chooses.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member for Darling.

Mr Willis - The honorable member for Darling did not rise to address the Committee. I did.

The CHAIRMAN - I do not wish to have any misunderstanding. It has been my practice to call on an honorable member from each side of the Chamber alternately.

Mr Willis - Hut the honorable member for Darling did not rise.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member for Darling has risen no fewer than five times ; and I thought it right to call on him. I am sorry if the honorable member for Robertson thinks that 1 passed him over, but I can assure him that I did not see him. Otherwise I should have called on him.

Mr WATSON - I understand that a number of other honorable members wish to speak upon this question, which I admit is an important one. In moving that you report progress, however, T wish to ex* press the hope that a division will be taken, at any rate, to-morrow.

Progress reported.

House adjourned at 10.47 P-ni.

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