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Wednesday, 29 June 1904


Mr SPENCE (Darling) - I wish to point out to the honorable and learned member for Angas a few practical difficulties. Take the case of the Australian Workers' Union. If the amendment were carried we should have to form another union solely for the purposes of the Bill. We should have to call a meeting of the executive and agree to recommend the . formation of a new organization. We should have to enrol members and issue to them certificates of membership in the- new body; also to adopt rules, which would have to be approved of by the members. These operations would occupy fully twelve months. We could enrol members only at meetings, and we could hold meetings only during the shearing season.- We should have no other means of issuing the necessary certificates. Although we should require only 100 members in order to enable us to register as an organization under the Bill, . we should not be able to go to the Court and ask them to adjudicate with regard to any grievance we might have. We could not, with such a small membership, ask them to apply a common rule which would cover the whole of the shearing operations in three of the States. What would take place in the meantime? In the meantime a bogus union might be registered. I know that practically the promoters- of such a union are waiting in Melbourne now. If they succeed in obtaining registration they will shut out the union which has worked in the interests of the shearers for years past, and the Australian Workers' Union would probably have to apply for the cancellation of their registration. Whilst we were proving our bona fides by means of our large membership, and taking all the other steps necessary to form an organization for the purposes of the Bill, the other union could step in and forestall us. The honorable and learned member for Angas misleads the Committee when he says there are no practical difficulties. We know that there are very grave obstacles. We do not object so much to the proposal that an organization shall be formed for the purposes of the Bill, as to the necessity which would arise under the amendment for forming an absolutely new union. That operation could not be carried out so easily as has been represented. Certain unions are now waiting an opportunity to bring disputes before the Court. Take the case of the Seamen's Union, for instance. That union would be situated similarly to the Australian Workers' Union. We should have to wait for the shearing season before we could consult our members by means of a referendum. Otherwise we should have to ignore the vast majority and act without proper authority. As a matter of fact, probably two years would elapse before we should be in a position to bring a case before the Court. If we were not properly constituted as an organization for the purposes of the Bill, we should probably find ourselves upset in the Court. We should be opposed there by the most powerful employers' organization in the Commonwealth which would be advised by the ablest of lawyers, and which would probably do everything it could to defeat our objects. The proposal embodied in the amendment is impracticable and unnecessary, and would operate unfairly towards the existing' unions. If it be carried we shall probably find an organization which is only a shadow of the employers' union behind it forestalling the legitimate trades union, which embraces the main body of the workers. A good deal of discussion has turned upon the positions which would be occupied by unionists and non-unionists if the Bill were allowed to pass in its present form. In this connexion I would point to the experience which has been gained in New Zealand, where preference has been given to unionists. We find that there has not been an increase in the number of unionists, and that no complaint has been made by those who do not belong to the unions. Therefore, all the fears expressed that the men outside the union will be condemned to starvation would appear to have no substantial foundation. Some apprehension appears to be felt owing to the political aims of the unionists, and yet those honorable members who oppose the recognition of trades unions as organizations for the purposes of the Bill admit that the unions must go on, and still perform their political work, as previously. The desire, however, is apparently to crush out the unions by gradually sapping their influence. They will be shut out of the Court, and the place which they should occupy will be taken by bogus organizations. I did not hear the remarks made by the honorable member for Wentworth with regard to the Machine Shearers' Union. I do not desire to refer to that body, except by way of illustration. I can assure the honorable member that there is a great deal more than lie is aware of behind that organization. The Machine Shearers' Union has been characterized by the right honorable member for East Sydney as the outcome of a conspiracy, and we know that the influences which are at the back of it extend even as far as England. Messrs.

Burgon and Ball, of Sheffield, did a large trade for years in sheep shears. When their employes formed a union, the firm locked them out. The men communicated with me, and I suggested that they should form a cooperative company to manufacture shears. The men took my advice and manufactured shears of such a quality that they captured the whole of the Australian trade, and knocked Messrs. Burgon and Ball out of the market. That firm then took up the manufacture of shearing machines, and they are behind the firm of Messrs. Young and Co., the principle organizersof the Machine Shearers' Union. I have' the report of that union, which is registered in Sydney. This shows that they have received a number of anonymous contributions, and it also demonstrates that their books are kept very loosely, because there is no means of tracing several large items of expenditure. The auditor reports that there are no vouchers for many payments. The whole of the circumstances surrounding the union are suspicious, and its membership is, to a very large extent, bogus. A number of men have been compelled to join, because the station-owners make membership of the union a condition of employment. We also know that many men have been enrolled as members without paying any subscription whatever. Even with all these influences at work the membership has not reached more than 1,800.


Mr Kelly - I did not discuss the bogus character of the Machine Shearers' Union, but the conduct, of the Australian Workers' Union in connexion with it.


Mr SPENCE - I am pointing out the difficulties with which we should have to contend if the amendment were carried. It would operate to the advantage of the bogus union, which having its rules specially designed to meet the purposes of the Act, could become registered long, before the Australian Workers' Union could take the steps necessary to form an organization such as is suggested. I do not propose to reply to the long address which was delivered by the right honorable member for East Sydney, because I recognise that it was merely intended to impress persons who are outside of this Parliament. It was a kind of second-reading speech. I intend to deal only with that which I conceive has a bearing upon the amendment under discussion. I claim that if the amendment be carried the Bill might as well be cast into the waste-paper basket. Further, its adoption would necessitate provision being made for additional penalties. The honorable and learned member for Angas would need to make it a penal offence for employers to dismiss men from their employment because of their political opinions. In the present age unionists are chiefly victimized on that account. Some years ago I was associated with a liberal organization which was established in Victoria. When it was formed, its secretary was earning a livelihood by carting goods to various mines. Shortly afterwards, the chairman of the board of directors and the legal manager of some of these mines visited the firms who had previously forwarded their goods by the carrier in question, and induced them to discontinue the practice. The man was made the subject of a straight-out boycott, merely because he was the secretary of that organization. In the district of Maryborough within the past fortnight men have been discharged from their employment because of the action which they took during the recent State elections.


Mr Lonsdale - Is that wrong?


Mr SPENCE - The honorable member knows that it is wrong. I am sure that he will echo the sentiments of his leader in denouncing such a boycott. Does the honorable and learned member for Angas believe that a political organization would' be less effective as such merely because its members went through the sham of forming another organization under this Bill ?

Mr.- Batchelor.- Will the employer have no political opinions?


Mr SPENCE - Exactly. I ask the honorable member for Kooyong, who has voiced the opinions of the Federated Employers' Union, to consider what is involved in the amendment, because I hold that the principle of fair play should be embodied in this Bill. The honorable and learned member for Angas imagines that he has evolved a scheme which will entirely exclude political considerations from organizations which come before the Court.


Mr Glynn - I did not say anything of the sort. I do not want men, by the mere act of joining an organization, to accept the opinions of the trades unions.


Mr SPENCE - I exposed that fallacy the other night. I think I am correct in saying that in the district which is represented by the Minister of Home Affairs some of his strongest political opponents are .members of his own union. It is not right to urge that the members of these organizations are not free agents. If the industrial organizations are to have no political opinions, we shall require to apply the same condition to the employers.


Mr Knox - Quite right.


Mr SPENCE - Then, as an employer, the honorable member for Kooyong must cease to hold any political views. The more the amendment is examined the more it will be seen that it is both impracticable and unnecessary. It will accomplish no good, but will create trouble. The only time that an industrial organization will meet will be when it desires to frame an application to the Court. It will deal with that particular business, and - if the amendment be adopted - will immediately afterwards meet as a trades union. How can the two bodies be separated. The unions always deal with their industrial business as industrial unions. What sense is there in a body of men meeting to-day for one purpose and assembling to-morrow for another 'purpose? The same remark is applicable to the employers. We do not deny them their political rights or privileges. We do not deny them collectively the right to take an active part in politics.. At the same time we shall not change the existing condition of affairs by enacting that the employers, for the purposes of this Bill, must form a separate organization.


Mr KNox - The honorable member is overlooking the cardinal difference that the trades unions exclude members, whilst these industrial organizations will be open to all.


Mr SPENCE - The trades unions do not exclude any individual. They are only too glad to enrol men. Their ideal is to enrol every bond fide workman. In manyunions they have accomplished that. Every man working in a certain district was a member of the organization of which I was secretary for many years. The unions which will come within the scope of this Bill are so strong that there are practically no men engaged in the same industries outside of their ranks. It can clearly be shown that unionism offers a good investment to employes. I demonstrated the other evening that, for an annual payment of ros., the members of the Australian Workers' Union received a dividend of more than ^5.


Mr Knox - Then why do not all men join ?


Mr SPENCE - Simply because they do pot realize the obligation which they are under to the union. The older the unions get the fewer becomes the number of individuals who stand outside their ranks. I repeat that the trades unions have limited their operations to industrial matters, and do not engage in political work. Of course, when we are organizing we always put the political side of the case before intending members. In other words, we show them that it is to their advantage to establish organizations, because, collectively, they can accomplish things which they cannot achieve individually. We emphasize the benefit of standing solidly together, and selecting our own parliamentary candidates. That is the political side of the labour movement, but it is associated wilh the Political Labour League. The point I wish to urge is that trades unions accomplish an industrial work quite apart from that - just as much apart from it as any they would perform if the amendment were carried. That amendment would tend to the serious disadvantage of trades unions. At the present time unions do not exercise any coercion. A worker would be as free under the Government proposal as he would be if the amendment were carried, and, therefore, I should like to know what reason can he urged for the adoption of the amendment. It would revolutionize trades unions and introduce much friction in their ranks. The union of which I have spoken has its rules registered under the Trades Unions Act of New South Wales, and no complaint has been made to the Court that it interferes with the carrying out of the decisions of that tribunal. Our rules are ready for registration as soon as this measure becomes law ; but the amendment would practically render it impossible for the union to come under the operation of this measure for the next two years. The union could not carry out its objects in the slipshod way that has been suggested. If it did not conform to the legal requirementsit would experience a difficulty similar to that which arose in New South Wales. Ip that case we made a change in the rules, in accordance with the practice of the union, and unionists were perfectly satisfied with the constitutionality of the proposal. The Registrar, however, held that the practices of the union were not fully set out in the rules, and therefore gave his decision against it. The same point would be taken if this amendment were carried. The chief object of the Bill would be defeated, and so far as I have been able to learn no practical good would result. It has simply been said that politics should not be associated with unions. I have shown that if this amendment were carried it would make no alteration in that respect; that trades organizations would continue as at present to attend to industrial- matters, leaving political bodies to deal with the political side of their existence. Men would continue to dissociate political questions from their unions. We are attempting to do byAct of Parliament what is now voluntarily accomplished. In the interests of the in;dustrial side of a union a sensible man would refrain from introducing any likely element of discord into its deliberations. It is for that reason that such matters as the fiscal issue and sectarianism are carefully excluded from trades unions. The misconception which arises with regard to the political labour movement is due to the fact that the unions do not technically separate industrial and political matters. This amendment would technically separate such questions, so far as unions are concerned, but would accomplish nothing that had not already been secured. If existing trades unions were registered under the Bill as it stands they would be completely under the control of the Court, and when they did anything calculated to interfere with industrial peace, they would be dealt with by it. The real reason why many unionists objected to legislation of this kind was that they feared that it might restrict their powers to an extent that it was impossible to foretell. They did not know how far the Arbitration Courts might dictate their management. Unionists have always been very sensitive and independent; they have always held that they should be allowed to manage their own business in their own way, and it would be much better for those who think that unionists might go too far to allow them to go to the Court and be guided by its decisions. The application of this amendment to the larger unions would be impracticable. The larger a union the greater is the difficulty associated with its administration. It would be a small matter to form a new union or organization if only small bodies had to be considered, but the operation of this amendment would be very serious so far as the large unions are concerned. There is no call for the proposed amendment, and I hope, therefore, that it will be withdrawn. I think that the honorable and learned member for Angas will see that the objects at which he aims would really be met by the clause as it stands.







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