Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 24 June 1904

Mr McWILLIAMS (Franklin) - I hope the Prime Minister does not imagine that, because the discussion of this clause has occupied a little time, there has been an attempt on this side of the Chamberto "stone-wall" the measure?

Mr Watson - I have not suggested that.

Mr.Mcwilliams.-I regard this clause as the most important inthe Bill, and I would prefer this' discussion to be carried on even for a few days longer rather than any honorable member who wished to state his views should be deprived of the right to do so. I followed the' remarks of the honorable member for Maranoa very closely, and I am in thorough accord with him in protesting against Parliament recognising or sympathizing in any way with a black-list, or with the compulsion of shearers to join any particular union in order to get a living. The whole drift ofhis argument was that there is a certain union which' seeks to compel the shearers of Queensland to join its ranks, and that those who stand out cannot live. But he is supporting a provision which is designed to compel men to join other organizations, otherwise they cannot live. He desires to create exactly the very thing against which he has so ably and vigorously protested. There was not an honorable member, I am sure, in the Chamber who did not realize the force and urgency of his remarks, when he pointed out that some of the best men in Queensland had had to join a particular union, or, as an alternative, to submit to being hounded out of the State. That is exactly what he is trying to do under this Bill. I am not an enemy to trades unions. Some honorable members from the other side sneer across the chamber at honorable members on this side; but let us contrast their record as employers, or as Members of Parliament, or as public men, and see whether they have' been the oppressors or the opponents of either unionists or workmen generally. I take it' that, if that inquiry is made, it will be found that on this side there are men whose public records, in the interests of workers generally, are quite as good as those of the honorable members who wish to take out. a patent for a monopoly of sympathy with the workers. I am not opposed, I repeat, to trades unions. When I was an employer of labour my office was a union one, and, with one single exception, we got along exceedingly well. If I were running a newspaper to-morrow, 1 am very strongly of opinion that, unless I were restrained by some wretched legislation, I should prefer a trades union to a non-union office; but I do protest against any legislation or any Arbitration Court saying to a man who has conscientious objections to joining a union that he, with his wife and' children, must starve, because no employer can be permitted to give him employment.

Mr Wilks - This Bill is built on organizations.

Mr Lonsdale - It does not matter what it is built on.

Mr McWILLIAMS - As soon as " sheoakers " come on deck, they ask, " How is she heading ?" and as I have sat here, while the different clauses of the Bill have been discussed, I have asked myself, "How is she heading?" When the Bill was introduced a most eloquent speech was made by the Prime Minister, and an equally eloquent, though perhaps more emphatic one, by the Minister of External Affairs. The whole object of the Bill, they urged, was to abolish strikes, to give us peace instead of war, to secure conciliation throughout the trades of Australia. That is the peg on which they hung their case then. But as soon as we come to this clause they say to us, " Unless you give the Court the power to say that the non-unionist is not to get employment, the Bill will be of no good. You may as well throw it in the waste-paper basket. ' '

Mr Hutchison - No one has said anything of the kind, as the honorable member knows.

Mr McWILLIAMS - During the discussion on this clause that has been said by several speakers representing the Government. While the honorable and learned member for Corinella was speaking, the statement was repeatedly made, " If you mutilate this clause, you will imperil the whole Bill," and the honorable member protested.

Mr Hutchison - Hear, hear.

Mr mcwilliams -It was said, "if you strike out or mutilate this clause, the Bill will be worthless, and the trades unions will not accept it."

Mr Hutchison - That is right.

Mr McCay - The honorable member for Maranoa told us just now that without this clause the Bill would be waste paper.

Mr Page - So far as our unions are concerned.

Mr Reid - And that is all the honorable member thinks of.

Mr Page - Is it?

Mr McWILLIAMS - Let us ask ourselves - Is it the object of the Bill to make an agreement between this Parliament and the trades unions - that if we take from them the power of striking, we shall do so on condition that no one but a trades unionist shall be employed ?

Mr Page - That is not in the Bill.

Mr O'Malley - The giving of a preference will be at the option of the Judge.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Let me tell honorable members what is the state of affairs at Mount Lyell. The best unionists on the West Coast of Tasmania, the men who have done most for labour, have stepped outside the union, and are outside it to-day. The very man whom the unionists of the West Coast sent to represent them in the State Parliament, could, by this Bill, be "blacklisted " as the honorable member for Maranoa has described.

Mr McDonald - If men do not belong to a union, they are " blacklegs " and " scabs," and nothing else.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It does not come well 'from a prominent labour member to say that men who have done more for labour than he himself has done are " blacklegs."

Mr McDonald - Rubbish ! That is all the honorable member knows. I say again that men who stand outside, and allow the union to fight their battles, are neither more nor less than " blacklegs " and "scabs."

Mr McWILLIAMS - Would the honorable member who represents the West Coast in this Parliament, and who knows the men as the honorable member for Kennedy does not know them, apply such epithets?

Mr McDonald - I do not care whether he would or would not; these are the epithets that I apply.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I. shall show the reason why these men left the union. Their branch was affiliated with the A.M. A. of Victoria, and for years andyears they paid their contributions and levies in the case of strikes in the latter State. But when the Tasmanian miners thought they had a grievance, and stated it to the A.M. A. of Victoria, the men who had been kept in their positions by the contributions and levies to which I have referred, said, " No ; we cannot afford to keep you on the strike-list."

Mr O'Malley - The A.M. A. of Victoria did not . think the strike was justified.

Mr McWILLIAMS - But so long as the Tasmanian miners paid their contributions and levies, the strikes in Victoria were justified. The fact remains that the best men - and as to this I appeal to the honorable member for Darwin - have stepped out of the union, not because, as the honorable member for Kennedy, who knows nothing of the subject, and makes the remarks he has about men quite as good as himself-

Mr McDonald - I know more of the A.M. A. than does the honorable member.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The honorable member for Kennedy does not know much if he calls Mr. Long a "blackleg" and " a scab " - if he applies such epithets to one who, because of the attitude he chose to assume was dismissed, and took his dismissal like a man. It comes with very bad grace, indeed, from one of the prominent members of the Labour Party to libel the representative of the miners of the West Coast - the man whom they took out of the tunnel and sent to the State Parliament as their member - as a " scab " and a " blackleg."

Mr Tudor - Long was dismissed because he was a labour man.

Mr Knox - That is not true.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The honorable member for Yarra, who knows something of the circumstances of the case, says that Mr. Long was dismissed because he is a labour man; but the honorable member for Kennedy affirms that Mr. Long is a " blackleg," because he refused to stay in a union which he thought was doing an injustice to himself and his colleagues.

Mr Tudor - Long was dismissed by the Mount Lyell Company nearly twelve months before the Tasmanian branch left the A.M.A. of Victoria.

Mr McDonald - I object to the honorable member for Franklin putting words into my mouth that I did not say.

Mr McWILLIAMS - A few men did remain in the union at Mount Lvell ; and I ask whether we ought to leave the Court to say that men who stepped out, because they . honestly believed that course to be the right one, should be turned adrift, while preference is given to the unionists. I never joined an employers' union ; and if there was a proposal that an employer, before he could. come under the Bill, must join a union, I should protest against it to the last. We are making a terrible mistake if we think we can deprive the workers of Australia of their individual liberty. When we look down the avenue of history, what do we see? What are the records of those who have done what honorable members are trying to do to-day? I care not whether it was chief, baron, king, priest, parson, or puritan - all who tried to stifle liberty failed. The people have always had to fight against oppression.

Mr Bamford - That is what we are seeking to do bv means of this Bill.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I know that ; but in my opinion, the Government are seeking to go too far - much further than I shall allow, if my vote be of any avail. It is said that this legislation is for the people's good; but has there ever been a tyrant, who, in sending people to the stake, has not thought and declared that he had a good end in view ? Not one. Now it is proposed that one-sixth or one-seventh of the workers shall form an aristocracy of labour, and that others shall starve - that one-seventh of the workers shall be the chosen few, and the other six-sevenths, as the honorable member for Maranoa has said, be " black-listed," not by the managers, whom he condemned, but by the parliamentary representatives of Australia through the Judge of the Arbitration Court. Honorable members who support these proposals have the cool assurance to say that they are the representatives of labour, while those who oppose them, are described as the enemies of labour and of trades unionists. And why is that said ? Because we refuse to allow trades unionists to close their books. An instance which occurred in New South Wales was brought under the notice of the Committee by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo; and I ask honorable members who have any knowledge of the wharf labourers of Australia, whether that is the only case ? Have there been no instances in other States of the chosen few working overtime, and on Sunday, while others, with wives and families depending on their earnings, have been compelled to remain idle? It is that I protest against ; and I hope there is a majority in this Committee who will refuse to adopt the Tammany Hall' tactics of America, because that is clearly what this means. The creed of the Tammany Hall is, " We legislate for those who vote for us ; " and I do not want to see a similar creed adopted in the Parliament of Australia. Let us legislate for all the workers alike. If I were a worker the probability is that I should be a trades unionist.

Mr McDonald - No; the honorable member would stop outside.

Mr.Mcwilliams.- No ;I would not stop outside. I tell the honorable member that when there has been work to be done, I have never been one to stand outside. I have always been prepared to take my fair share of it ; and my public record as a legislator on behalf of the people of the State which I have the honour to represent in this Parliament, will, I venture to say, bear favorable comparison with that of the honorable member in his own State. I am prepared to take the opinion of the workers of Tasmania as to whether that is not the case. The . honorable member for Gwydir said that the State railway employes, who have borne the heat and burden of the day, would come under the Bill, and he asked whether it was right that men who refused to assist with contributions should get the full advantages of the measure. What does the honorable member's argument mean? It means that the Court we are about to create - this mystic Court, which is to possess such omnipotent power - maysay to a State Government, " You shall' not employ what men you like ; you must get men who have upon them the hall-mark of trades unionism.

Mr Webster - That- is not a correct representation of what I said.

Mr McWILLIAMS - If the honorable member's argument does not mean that, it means absolutely nothing.

Mr Webster - I was speaking of the unions which exist now.

Mr McWILLIAMS - We have heard a good deal during the debate of what legislation can do for the people of Australia. I do not say that the Arbitration Act of New South Wales is responsible, either wholly or in part, for the industrial conditions of which we read.

Mr Wilks - There are no parliamentary candidates who propose to repeal the Act, and that is one proof of its efficiency.

Mr McWILLIAMS - According to a telegram from Sydney, published in to-day's newspapers, a Judge of the Arbitration Court, who cannot be charged with political leanings, has stated that scores of mechanics in Sydney would be glad to accept 6s. a day.

Mr Watson - Who says that?

Mr McWILLIAMS - That was stated during the hearing of a case before the Arbitration Court in Sydney.

Mr Watson - As I read that telegram it refers to builders' labourers.

Mr McWILLIAMS - No ; the telegram speaks of " scores of mechanics."

Mr Watson - I do not believe it.

Mr McWILLIAMS - These are the remarks of Mr. Cruickshank, one of the Judges of the Court.

Mr Watson - Mr. Cruickshank is an assessor.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Mr. Cruickshankis reported to have said -

There was no getting over the fact that there were more unemployed in Sydney at, the present time than had been the case during the last forty-two years. Scores of mechanics would be glad to accept 6s. a day.

Mr Frazer - What does that prove?

Mr Hutchison - It proves the necessity for an Arbitration Court.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It proves that the legislation of which we think so much, and which is to be a panacea for all ills, is failing to the extent that it does not create employment.

Mr Hutchison - It has not been sufficiently tried yet.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It is being tried in New South Wales now. Have the Wages Boards in Victoria increased employment for the workers in this State?

Mr Mauger - Yes; there is a larger number employed-

The CHAIRMAN - Order ! The question before the Chair deals with preference to trades unions.

Mr.Mcwilliams.-I thinkI am quite in order in showing that the effects of this legislation will not give the benefits that are claimed for it. In the State which I represent there are no Wages Boards, and no Arbitration Court; and yet an artisan cannot be obtained under 10s. or11s. a day.

Mr Webster - The honorable member for Richmond said that the miners of Tasmania received onlv 36s. per week.

Mr McWILLIAMS - In. Tasmania there is no Factories Act, except so far as relates to sanitation.

Mr Reid - Is there a Labour Party in Tasmania ?

Mr McWILLIAMS - Yes ; but I have been informed, to-day that . its members are " blacklegs." In Tasmania, where there is none of this legislation, the artisan is better off than in any other State of the union. That satisfactory state of affairs has not been arrived at by attempting to force men into unions - by attempting to place a millstone around the necks of the people, and telling them that they must do this or. that, before they arc allowed to work. The Government of Tasmania have endeavoured to place the people on the land ; and the encouragement of primary industries has been followed by the establishment of secondary industries. That has been done under a condition of absolute freedom to workers and employers ; and I guarantee that to-day the workers of Tasmania are in as good a position as are the workers in any other State of the union.

Mr Webster - And Tasmania has, in proportion to population, a heavier national debt than any other State in the Union.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I cannot 'understand how it is that some honorable members attainto a position in the Federal Parliament when they do not know the very A B C of the position of. the several States.

Mr McDonald - How did the honorable member get here, under those circum- stances ?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I got here very largely by the good will and the common sense of the people ofthe State from which I come; and I am quite prepared to face the same tribunal again, in defence of the position which I have taken up ever since I became a member of this House. It has been said that the want of some legislation of this kind is driving people out of Victoria. I have had some figures given to me, which show that between March, 1902, and March, 1904, 3,467 people left Victoria. Only 3 per' cent, of them were farmers and farm labourers. The remainder were chiefly artisans and miners. Another question has been raised by the honorable member for Grampians. It is. with regard to what is done in the United States of America. There the Rockefellers and the Carnegies are in complete sympathy with trades unions. They pay high wages. The unionists have a good time,, the trusts have an infinitely better time ; but they are fleecing the public. Tradesunionism is carried to such an extent ini America that some of the trusts will not. employ a man unless he is a unionist.

Mr McDonald - -The honorable member's party told us not long ago that the trust system in America had been built up in consequence of protection. The leader of the Opposition said so.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I am always prepared to take the responsibility for what I have said, and if I make a mistake I am man enough to apologize. But I am not prepared to accept responsibility for any statement that may be made by any other person, no matter on which side of the House he may sit. I have spoken longer than I intended, but I desired to put the views of one representative for Tasmania before the Committee. It cannot be said that the Tasmanian members have occupied too much time, because up to the present no other representative o£ that State has spoken. We are all, I hope, in complete sympathy with the honorable member for Maranoa in his most laudable protest against the black-list that has been circulated. I think we are also in the fullest sympathy with him when he protests so vigorously and honestly - as he always does - against the action of Young and Co., who have a union of their own, and will not allow a man to 'shear unless he joins it under compulsion. If I were a shearer I would fight Young and Co. to the last ditch rather than be compelled to join their union.. I ask honorable members who share that view to join with me in saying that what we condemn in Young and Co. we condemn all round, and that we will not place in the hands of any Judge the power to say that a workman shall not obtain employment unless he joins a union. To my mind no more despicable proposition has ever been put before a Legislature in Australia than that we shall give a Judge power to say to a man, " You shall not obtain employment, and your wife and children may starve, unless you join a union." Thank God we are too far civilized to introduce the thumb-screw and the rack again ! We are not doing that, it is true, but some people might prefer even that alternative than be compelled to consent to the proposition which is now made. There are men who would rather face punishment themselves than see it inflicted upon their wives, and their helpless children at home. That is the ordeal to which honorable members opposite, who claim a monopoly as representatives of labour, want to subject the workers of Australia. The Minister of External Affairs said that the Bill would not compel a worker to vote for a labour candidate, but admitted it would compel him to pay a portion of the expenses of a labour candidate. The unions require their members to subscribe to a fighting fund - to be used, perhaps, to fight elections on behalf of men whose principles they absolutely abhor.

Mr Page - Who does that?

Mr Kelly - The Australian Workers' Association.

Mr Page - It does not; the honorable member is stating what is not true.

The CHAIRMAN - I have several times called for order, and honorable members take absolutely no . notice. The very next time I have to make this complaint I shall ask the leader of the House to deal with the offender.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Take any district in Victoria, where the feeling of the unionists may be protectionist. Certain labour candidates may be absolutely freetraders and single-taxers in principle. In New South Wales the reverse may be the case. Are we to say to workmen, " Before you can obtain work you must swallow your political principles to the extent of helping to secure the election of men whom you do not want to represent you?" This Bill goes even further than that. It would deprive men of their political liberty. In my opinion, this is not so much a measure to create a monopoly for the trades union operatives, as it is to create a monopoly for the union representatives in Parliament. I believe that it is the first duty of Parliament to treat all men alike. That is my idea of democracy. I draw no distinction between employers and employes. Both should be treated on exactly similar terms. I draw no distinction between a unionist and a non-unionist. The honorable member for Darling has drawn a broad distinction. He says that every man who is not in a union may, nevertheless, be a unionist. But the Bill makes no such distinction. It simply provides that preference shall be given to unionists. The workman who is not a member of a union, who is not contributing to the upkeep of the union, who is not contributing to the political fighting fund of the union, is under this Bill a non-unionist. -We are asked, deliberately, to take away from men their individual liberty, under the threat of absolute starvation. The amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella goes farther than I should be inclined to go, but I would ask the Committee to give it serious consideration. Honestly, I am against any preferen'ce being given. I would treat all men equally. But if the Committee is not prepared to go so far, I would ask them to accept the amendment, and to say that a man who objects to join a union shall, at least, have a chance to preserve his individual liberty, and to earn daily bread for his wife and children.

Suggest corrections