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Wednesday, 29 June 1904

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will deal with that position shortly, and will show what will be the position of those who are forced through these so - called " open doors." They will be in the miserable position of being outcasts among unionists. I ask the honorable member to recollect what it is that we on this side of the House propose. We want to enrol all the employes, so that we can obtain a consensus of their opinion. There is no more compulsion in enrolling them than there is in enrolling the citizens of the Commonwealth, so that they may vote for members of this Parliament.

Mr Frazer - And the employers will pay the fees.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - At the present time many employers pay the fees of some of their workmen who belong to unions. They are not bogus unions at all. , If a man comes to an employer and represents that he wants work, and must become a member of a union, it is frequently the case that the employer pays the entrance-fee. That is done now, and will be done again, and there is nothing degrading to 'a man in accepting a loan or a gift in order to legally entitle him to enter a union.

Mr Frazer - But the amount is stopped out of his first wages.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And quite right, too, if there has been a loan. We want a workable measure, and that can be got only by amendment. It is wrong to accuse all those who wish to carry some amendments of a desire to .wreck the Bill. The first great amendment proposed was on the question of including railway employes, and I voted for that amendment. I was never accused, then, by honorable members opposite, of attempting to wreck the Bill ; that was an amendment they all wanted, and one which I thought was required. It was my opinion, and is so still, that we have the constitutional power to include those employes; and it was thought that the amendment would improve the Bill. And in my opinion the present amendment will also be a great improvement if. in some form, we can pass it. We are guided in this matter to a great extent by the experiencein New South Wales. I do not think that the most ardent advocate of compulsoryconciliation and arbitration can say that this sort of legislation has been an undoubted success in that State. I have advocated this legislation for many years, but I do not regard the New South Wales Act as a success. That Act has failed to some extent simply because it took over the unions as organizations of the workers. If, under the Act, as this amendment proposes, all those employed in the industries had been taken over, and all political objects of unions eliminated, there would have been a far better chance of success. We must have organization; the idea of this Bill is founded on organizations of employers and employed. If there cannot be an organization of employers by reason of the magnitude of some man's trade, or by reason of there being only one man in the 'trade within a certain area, the Bill very properly regards a single employer as tantamount to an organization. While that is so, it seems to me that the only logical course is to get an organization of all that are employed. We could then get a real opinion as to what is required in a certain trade by those who are earning their living in that trade ; we should get any step opposed or consented to by the whole of those who are employed. But honorable members opposite want to see a Bill which will provide for representatives of an association of employers on the one side, and on the other side of a certain section of employes. It would be no hardship to those unions to be told that if they wished to take advantage of the Bill they must, as it were, come out of their present shell, and get into another one. That could be done by the members en bloc, following a simple resolution; and the separate organization could be constituted under conditions necessary for complying with the Bill. God forbid that I should say anything against trades unions. No man knows better than I do the benefit of such organizations. I have suffered the feeling of bitterness, and the sense of injustice, which arises from a man being paid less than he is entitled to. I have seen unions obtain for working men better wages and better conditions, and I have seen men educated by them in industrial matters. These are great benefits, and we cannot disguise for one moment the great and noble work that unions have done in the past in these respects. But our little systems have their day, and cease to be. The moment we have legislation of the character proposed, the ' reason for trades unions will pass away at once. Many of the unions have useful functions, such as :benefit funds, the spread of political propaganda, the instruction of members on industrial questions, or the perfecting of them in handicraft; but all, those purposes, while useful, are not required for this legislation. What are the objections which have been raised to unions ? I have told honorable members what I think of the great work which unions have done; but, viewed from the stand-point of this Bill, there are serious objections to the adoption of the unions as they at present exist. In the first place, they mean an unnecessary fax on the worker. It has been pointed out, over and over again, that there are large bodies of casual workers who pass from one calling to another, who may be wharf labourers or bricklayers' labourers one day, and blacksmiths' strikers or drivers of drays the next day. Are such men to be called upon to pay an entrance fee into each union ? We do not want anything of that kind ; and under some such amendment as that submitted by the honorable and learned member for North Sydney, we need have no entrance fees. The simple monthly or half-yearly subscription would confer the power to transfer from one trad? to another, so that a man would not be hampered in any direction, but would be able to seek for work where he could best obtain it. One of the greatest objections which have been mentioned to the Committee is that unions are to a large extent political organizations. Some of the unions, I admit, are not political, but the great majority are strongly political, and have a tendency to become more so day by day. It has been said that the unions amalgamate with the Political Labour League and affiliate one with another, and I cannot understand how we can expect to carry out this measure if we are to have a number of industrial organizations which are amalgamated for political purposes. We might have the same units entirely in another organization, just in the same way as I have belonged to a free-trade organization, and also to a union of manu al//-. G. B. Edwards. facturers. There is nothing to stop men from belonging to both bodies, and it has been pointed out 'forcibly that the subscriptions required for carrying out this measure would be so small as to present no difficulty. We could, I say, do away with entrance fees, and give a man a clearance certificate from one trade, to another, so that he could make as many changes as he liked. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie said that the Government propose an amendment in a subsequent clause to open the doors of the unions. I suppose that means that we are to force the doors of the unions open, because it is thought the unions are inclined to close them. But even the Prime Minister admitted - and he could not do less - that he is determined to have the doors opened. What, however, would be the position of those men who are sent into unions with the Judge's mandamus in their hands? What sort of industrial life would they have under such terms and conditions? We know very well what would happen. There would be in the union, as it were, a double body. There would be an esoteric and 'an exoteric union - one, the inner secret circle, where politicians pull the strings and exercise all the influence and patronage for the benefit of the original " pure merino " unionists ; and, another, the outside pariahs, not entitled to those great advantages, and only admitted with the Judge's orders in their hands. That is unthinkable.

Mr Frazer - Is it not a fact that there is only one union in Australia which has closed its doors?

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have sufficient knowledge of human nature to know that if we give trades unions the power to close their doors by granting a preference to their members, those doors will be closed, and the entrance subscription will be made prohibitive. That is a power which none of the so-called democrats in this House would ever dream of conferring upon the employers as a class. I hold that it is a power which ought not to be given to any man - either employer or employed It is a bad feature in the history of the ancient Grecian cities that when Demos obtained certain privileges he speedily began to deny similar privileges to others.

Mr Frazer - Does the honorable member form his opinion from his association with honorable members opposite?

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have formed my opinion as a man of the ,world. I know perfectly well that individuals will act from motives of self-interest. If we confer upon any men special privileges, we shall find them using their power to gain an advantage over their fellows. It is the duty of the Legislature to guard against such an abuse of power or privilege. In some quarters it has been denied that trades unions exercise political power. I hold in my hand the report of the New South Wales Royal Commission upon strikes. In it I have read the evidence of two typical unionists. I refer to the honorable member for Darling and Senator Higgs. From their evidence it is abundantly clear that all these organizations are permeated by political considerations. As the honorable member for Darling admits, ' the old trades unions steer clear of politics, but the new unions arc bound to take up political matters, and . must continue to do so more and more, as time goes on. Both witnesses expressed the same view. They affirmed that the ultimate outcome of the new unionism will be an attempt to achieve State Socialism. I do not condemn Socialism. I am one of .the greatest Socialists upon this side of the House. The only difference between honorable members opposite and myself is that I desire to proceed at a slower rate than they do. I do riot wish to usher in the millennium the week after next. From the testimony of the two representative leaders of unionism to whom I have referred, it is evident that trades unions are acutated by political motives. It could not well be otherwise. At the period of which I speak- some twelve years ago - both the honorable member for Darling and Senator Higgs declared that it was useless to attempt to settle industrial quarrels by conciliation and arbitration. They merely aimed at the achievement of State Socialism. Unionists were always opposed to arbitration. They are now in favour of this Bill. On the other hand the employers, who were always in favour of arbitration, are now opposed to this Bill. The reason is to be found in the origin of this measure, which was drafted under the- influence of political labour bodies. I hold that we should endeavour to guard the interests not' only of unionists and non-unionists, but of the great masses who are not included in either of these categories. We have to guard them against becoming a servile section of the community. As legislators, we are bound to steer a medium course in the interests of the general body of the people. I think that some such amendment as that which has been submitted by the honorable and learned member for Angas is absolutely necessary. Our duty is to do our best to' secure a 'workable measure, and that can be accomplished only by excluding political considerations from industrial organizations. For what do trades unions exist? Bo they not aim at securing shorter hours, increased wages, and better conditions for the workers? Are those not the very matters which we expect to settle under 'this Bill? What further, then, is required from these unions as industrial organizations? To obtain the .best results under this Bill, we must provide for an entirely new organization, although, the members of the present trades unions will be at liberty to become members of it.' It has been urged by the supporters of the clause that unionists have given up. the only weapon in their power - the power to strike - and that consequently they should be granted a preference. But I would ask, " Have not the employers given up their power to lock out?" Moreover, in foregoing their power to strike, unionists have abandoned very little, because, a'fter all, it wa┬╗ a two-edged sword. Though it was a great power to possess, it was one which had to be kept in reserve as long as possible. On the other hand, the employers have given up their right to freedom of contract. I freely admit that it was a serious evil that disputes could never be amicably settled so long as that right existed. The employers have given up just as much as have the workers. It was absolutely essential that both these powers should be surrendered, if we were to carry 'out legislation of this kind. The power to strike has done incalculable harm to the workers themselves. Unions have achieved more victories from time to time bv silent moral force than have ever been achieved by means of strikes. I can only say, in conclusion, that. I never addressed myself to any measure with a greater desire to see some tangible result than I entertain in this case. Honorable -members who are in mv political confidence - who are personal friends, of mv own - know that I have committed myself over and over again to support such a measure, and have been doing my best to secure the passing of a workable .Bill. If the party to which I belong were in office, and would not. make some attempt within our constitutional limits to solve the question of how to secure industrial peace - or if it wished to vote, against this measure in its final stage, although it had been made as nearly perfect as possible - I should be prepared to leave it and to vote for the Bill, because I conscientiously believe that some serious attempt should be made in this direction. I have not been influenced by the threat that has been held out that we " shall suffer for this." I care not twopence for such threats. I am ready to take whatever gruel may be served out to me. I have not .applied for a certificate from the party opposite, and if I obtained one I should probably be opposed by a labour candidate just the same. .It has often .been said that the bitterest opposition is generally encountered by - men whose aspirations, in the main, most nearly approximate to those of the Labour Party, and, as I am mostly in accord with the party, I may have to encounter some hostility in my next campaign. I do, however, what I consider to. be right, and. am prepared to put up with the consequences.

Progress reported.

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