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Wednesday, 6 July 1904


Mr WILKS (Dalley) - This Bill has already become historical, and I am of opinion that it will play a still more important part in the history of Commonwealth politics. It was launched in the last Parliament, and I know of no other measure - not even the Tariff Bill - that has met with so stormy a passage. At every possible stage it has been contested, and in' some cases opposition has been offered by honorable members who vigorously protest that their only desire is to assist the class that it is intended to benefit. The history of the measure is remarkable. The right honorable member for Adelaide, arobust and ah earnest democrat, retired from the Ministry of which he was a member, rather than submit to the introduction of the Bill in what he considered to be a mutilated form, and even his political opponents must admire him for his candour and his earnest belief in the principles to which he desires to give legislative effect. There are other honorable . members who are equally strong in their support of the Bill, and I can conceive of their fighting for it, not only in this House, but on the hustings. I cannot for one moment believe that the Minister who has charge of the Bill could do otherwise than fight even more strenuously than he has done, not only in this Chamber, but on the public platforms of Australia, in support of a principle which he has so often advocated. We are now told that the stumbling-block to the passage of the Bill is the proposal to give a preference to unionists. Some weeks ago, the honorable member for Lang moved a direct amendment against the giving of a preference to unionists. On that amendment, the Go vernment won by a majority of eleven votes, but since then we have had various other proposals in a similar direction. The amendment moved two weeks ago by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, as well as that which he has now brought forward, -and the one moved by the honorable and learned member for Angas, embody the same idea, and although, as compared with the original amendment, they are well-watered proposals, they are really designed to restrict the provision as to preference to unionists. The battle has been raging round the question of preference and the political character of trades unions. I propose to deal with the question of preference. The right honorable member for East Sydney asked last night why should the proposal to give a preference to trades unionists be considered a vital portion of the Bill, when unionists represent only one-sixth of the community? And he argued very skilfully from that stand-point against the principle. The granting of a preference to unionists is not a new proposal. The principle has already been embodied in the Arbitration Acts of New South Wales, New Zealand, and Western Australia, and is provided for in all measures of this character. What is the position to-day? Do we hear any outcry on the part of the people of New South Wales against the preference provisions of the State Arbitration Act? New South Wales is now on the eve of a general election, and if there were any serious dissatisfaction with the State Act we should surely have some evidence of it. As a matter of fact, however, there is not one party or even a candidate standing as an opponent of the measure, or urging its amendment or repeal. I do not mean to say that murmurs of dissatisfaction with the Arbitration Court of New South Wales have not been heard. I have heard many expressions of dissatisfaction, and neither unionists nor non-unionists agree with the way in which various cases have been dealt with by the Court. But no attempt has been made by any party to secure the repeal or even the amendment of the Act. It cannot, therefore, be said that the danger of giving a preference to unionists has been evidenced in the administration of the New South Wales Act, to such an extent as would warrant us in opposing this proposal. The honorable and learned member for Corinella has referred to the position of a powerful union. I take the liberty to say that if we omitted the preference provision of this Bill, not one powerful union would register under it. The more powerful they are, both numerically and financially, the greater is the difficulty in inducing them to subscribe to a Conciliation and Arbitration Act.


Mr Hughes - The greater the danger to the State.


Mr WILKS - I shall deal presently with that phase of the question. One would think from the arguments of some honorable member's that the one aim of trades unionists was to be brought under such a measure as this. As a matter of fact, trades unions in New South Wales were strongly opposed to the arbitration process at the outset. Powerful unions, like the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, the Iron Trades Union, and the Shipwrights' Society, in particular - which are numerically strong, including practically all the skilled workmen in their trades - did not voluntarily submit to the Court. .If the principle of preference to unionists were destroyed, I feel certain that they would refuse to register under the Act."


Mr McCay - As a matter of fact, as the Bill stands they would not be prevented from getting preference.


Mr WILKS - I know that the trades unions of which I am speaking would not have registered under the New South Wales Act if there had been no preference. Indeed, it was with the greatest difficulty that their leaders induced them to regist'er in any case. They knew that they were surrendering the right to strike, and also their right to refuse to work with nonunionists. Those were two important principles which they surrendered in the interest of public peace and the. general welfare. Of course, the weaker unions gain, but the stronger unions are like the stronger masters, absolutely in favour of the right of their associations to take . their own course. They would have preferred to retain the right to strike, and to refuse to work, with men who did not belong to their societies. But if, when they have surrendered those two principles, preference is not given to them, their inducement to register will be gone. It has been said that the peace and welfare of the community are conserved by an Arbitration Bill. That is so. But, if this Bill is amended as proposed, and the Government accept it in that form, and if in consequence the powerful unions refuse to register, the class hatred which it is desired to destroy will be stimulated to a much greater extent than we have ever heard of in Australia. I support the measure, although I am not a member of the Labour Party. I am in full sympathy with the Government in reference to it, although I refuse to be drawn at the heels of the Labour Party, or even of my own party. But I have some knowledge of trades unions such as those to which I have referred. I have been acquainted with them for many years. I think that if some of the legal members of this Chamber had a greater practical acquaintance with the working of unions, many of the remarks which have been made concerning them would not have been made. We have been led to believe that the sole object of men banded together in trades unions is to overreach their fellow men, and to make their corporations monopolies. That is not so. I admit that the unions with which I am acquainted have- their weaknesses and their abuses. No one who knows anything about them can contend that their methods cannot be improved upon. But no man who has any knowledge can say of them that their sole object is to promote their own advantage at the -public expense^ The, political flavour which the unions are supposed to have has been much dis cussed. Many honorable members oppose the principle of preference, except the political powers of the unions are' clipped.' Others say that they will not vote for any provision that is' not applied to nonunionists and unionists alike. It seems to me that many honorable members are hot so much concerned with regard to the political leanings or prejudices of the trades unions as they are influenced by the fear that the political power of the unions may be used against their party at election time. But that idea will not stand the test of investigation. Take the electorate which I have had the privilege to represent, not only in the Commonwealth Parliament, but for many years previously in the State Parliament. I suppose there is no constituency in the Commonwealth where the branches of the unions which I' have mentioned are stronger than in the electorate of Dalley. I may, therefore, be looked upon as a shocking example of the test which I am going to apply. But if the unions have any political flavour or colouring, certainly a great number of their members voted for me as against the labour candidate. The truth is that the members of trades unions do not sell their political views as readily as some honorable mem- bers believe; and the machine politics which they are afraid of do not exist amongst the unions of Australia,- so far as I know them. Take the Society of Engineers. A large proportion of the members of that society are as cool, levelheaded Scotchmen as is the honorable member for Echuca. They do not part with their political beliefs at the dictation of their union leaders. They record their votes as freely as does the honorable member. In the ranks of that union there are protectionists who will fight for protection to the bitter end ; there are also freetraders who will fight for free-trade; and there are Socialists. They do not march to the polls to vote for this candidate or that at the instance' of any labour leader. It simply is not a fact that the members of the unions are prepared to sell their political birthright for a mess of pottage. No man who belongs to a union surrenders his political rights in any way. Nor would they do so under this Bill. A similar clause to that which the Committee has been debating for some days exists in the New South Wales Act. But there the members of the unions individually and collectively vote according to their political principles, as opposed to what may be regarded as trades union policy.


Sir William Lyne - No injury has come from the section in New South Wales or in New Zealand.


Mr WILKS - If any injury had resulted we should find the leader of the State Opposition, Mr. Carruthers, at the time of a general election, advocating the repeal or the amendment of the measure.


Mr Watson - There is no word of any rep 6; 3,1


Mr WILKS - Not a word.


Mr Mauger - In the Review of Reviews,Mr. Carruthers supports the measure, and says it is working well.


Mr WILKS - All that Mr. Carruthers says is that he is going to give the Act a fair trial, and allow it to work out its own destiny. Mr. Carruthers is the leader of a party, and is asking the electors to return him as State Premier; but he makes no appeal on the question' of preference to unionists. And that is in a country where the people are not all unionists, but where, according to the right honorable member for, East Sydney, the unionists number only one-sixth of the workers. If non-unionists were so badly treated under the New South -Wales Act, I am sure that at the present time there would be no lack of appeals to the electors on their behalf. Every honorable member who has addressed the Committee has expressed his belief in unionism as an uplifting and grand institution. But when they are asked to do something for unionism, they refuse, asserting that they do so in the interests of non-unionists. Honorable members,, while describing unionism as a beautiful idea, and declaring that if they were workmen, they would themselves belong to unions, refuse to do anything for the institution of which they express such high approval. Even the members of the late Deakin Government disown their own child. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat fathered a Bill which included this very clause; the proposal before us is not the handicraft of the present Government, but is a remnant from the last Ministry. This is not a Watson Bill - it is not a Bill of Watson, the Labour man and trades unionist; but is a Bill introduced by the honorable and learned, member for Ballarat in the interests of the general community, after Cabinet deliberation and reconstruction. As I say, the members of the late Ministry are disowning their own child by supporting every amendment directed against this particular clause.


Mr Poynton - At the same time expressing sympathy.


Mr WILKS - And deep regret, but "no flowers." I do not think the Prime Minister will find more than twenty honorable members on this side to support him, except, it may be, the honorable and learned member for Wannon, because we do not know how that gentleman will vote. 'In all earnestness and seriousness, we must admit with pride that the present Prime Minister fulfils the duties of his position admirably'. That may be said, although we differ from some of his views ; and I hardly think that for the sake of retaining office he would betray the interests of his fellow-workers. The present Prime Minister has, we hope, many years to live; and if he believes - as I know he does - that the course he is now taking is the proper one, he .will be prepared to lose not only the Bill, but also his position as well, rather than see such a principle destroyed.


Mr Watson - Hear, hear !


Mr WILKS - I am glad to hear, the Prime Minister say "hear, hear." That was not the way with the members of the Deakin Ministry, who would have done anything to get the Bill through when they were in power, but would now do anything to prevent it becoming law. If we compare the trades union Ministry with the late Ministry - the members of which were so solicitous for the general interests of the community - we find that the former would rather lose their positions than sacrifice a principle.


Mr Mcwilliams - The Deakin Government did the same.


Mr WILKS - None of the members of the late. Ministry are bold, brave, or kind enough to acknowledge the parentage of their own child.


Sir William Lyne - Oh, yes.


Mr WILKS - That is, with the exception of the honorable member for Hume, who is, like myself, the "odd man out" with his party. I do not know exactly, however, to what party the honorable member for Hume belongs.


Sir John Forrest - Let the honorable member for Dalley look after himself, and leave members of the late Ministry alone.


Mr WILKS - I know how to look after myself ; at any rate, I know that the righthonorable member for Swan would not look after me very long.


Mr Page - The honorable member for Swan would climb into office on the back of the honorable member for Dalley, and then desert him.


Mr WILKS - That is a personal matter, which I shall not discuss. I am prepared to advocate the preference to unionists, not only in the House, but outside, and to take whatever risks may.be attached to such advocacy. I am not a member of the Labour Party, and I refuse to be drawn at the heels of that party on any or every occasion; but I am prepared to support as strongly as I am able, any measure in which I believe. Let us see what is the position of this dreaded trades unionism in New South Wales. The Arbitration Court there is in its composition a trades union concern absolutely. It is a terrible thing to say ; but the representative of the . workers in that Court is a member of the Seamen's Union, while the representative of the masters, Mr. Cruickshank, is connected -with the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. Both of these gentlemen are acquaintances of my own, of over twenty years' standing. The only member of the Court with whom I cannot claim friendship is the Judge, but even he is a member of a union.


Mr Tudor - What union is that?


Mr WILKS - The union of the legal profession.


Mr Hughes - Which is protected by the. law.


Mr WILKS - And very well protected by law.


Mr Poynton - And in that union there is a minimum wage, too.


Mr WILKS - The interjection of the Minister of External Affairs reminds me of an illustration which may be of use in the argument I am endeavouring to enforce. I know a representative of the public who, as the agent of a labour organization in New South Wales, appeared before . the Arbitration Court. This gentleman was an agent, not a lawyer, but by his ability and application he was able to become a barrister. The case in which he was interested was still before Court after he had become qualified, and he was still the agent of the particular association with which he was connected. -


Mr Robinson - Name.


Mr WILKS - Out of love for the legal profession, I do not give . the name. This gentleman appeared as agent until he passed his legal examinations, and had paid the fee necessary to entitle him to become a member of the union.


Mr Watson - The legal union ?


Mr WILKS - Yes. This gentleman asked a solicitor of the union to consult with him in open court on the case, but this member of a lower or smaller branch of the union said he could not accede to the request. The gentleman to whom I referred in the first place, said, " You know that I have qualified as a barrister, paid the fees, and done everything to entitle me to become a member of the legal union." To that the solicitor replied, "Yes, but you have not yet been called to. the Bar ; and if I were to consult with you I should be under a penalty at the hands of the. Chief Justice, for a breach, not of the rules of the union, but pf the profession." There is the difference - on the one side are the rules of the profession, and on the other side are those of the union. We find that in this Committee it- is mainly the members of the. legal fraternity who are opposing the provisions of the Bill which conserve trades union principles. A more protected or confined union than that of the legal fraternity does not exist; and although the Court itself is composed of unionists, we hear it said, by lawyers, " Beware of unionism ; it is bad, and will work ill for the community."


Mr Kelly - They are in a position to know how dangerous unionism is.


Mr WILKS - We all honour the medical profession, but what closer or more confined union could we find than that represented by that profession? Members of the medical profession join in the cry against the proposal to give preference to unionists, although they are more guarded and protected, if possible, than are their legal brethren.- So we find unionists fighting against unionists, although it is very, well known that the cry, . " Beware of trades unionism," has nothing at all to do with the question. It is asked, " Why should unionists have preference?" I am here to argue the question, " Why should not trades unionists have preference?"


Mr Mcwilliams - That is the straightout issue.


Mr WILKS - Unionists have their organizations for trade purposes. In the past they have adopted the barbaric weapon of strikes, but they' have been advised to adopt the constitutional methods which abolish strikes, because they have occasioned loss and inconvenienoe to the general community that has had no interest in their struggles. This is not a Bill intended to supersede the States Acts, but a Bill to deal with disputes extending beyond the boundaries of any one State. Honorable members must ask themselves which are the occupations in connexion with which it is likely that such disputes will occur. It is obvious that the persons affected are likely to be the mariners, the shearers, and the railway nien.


Mr Wilson - Then why not confine the Bill to persons engaged in those occupations ?


Mr WILKS - The non-unionist and the free-labourer never go on strike. One man cannot engage in a dispute which will extend beyond the boundaries of a State. An industrial organization engaged in an industrial struggle must secure the sympathy and support of a similar organization in another State before we can have a dispute extending beyond the boundaries of one State, the only kind of dispute dealt with under this Bill. The contention now is that all persons engaged in industries must be organized. Honorable members have accepted that in agreeing to the second reading of the Bill, and to some of the introductory clauses. In clause 2 we have made provision to prevent locks-out and strikes, to prevent on the one hand the master from using his power rightly or wrongly to shut men out of his works, and on the other the employes striking against their master. In order to effect this purpose we have said that there must be organizations of masters and of men.


Mr Kelly - Not necessarily trades unions.


Mr WILKS - Honorable members have committed themselves to that, but some of them cannot stand trades unions ; they cannot put up with organizations that have been in existence for a number of years, based on trades union lines, and what they now want is new organizations under this Bill. We are now given to understand that whenever a dispute arises, which extends beyond the boundaries of any one State, the masters and the men engaged in the industry concerned must be immediately organized and enrolled in new organizations; and as soon as the difficulty between them has been submitted to the Court and decided, the organizations are to disband again. Apparently that is the idea which some honorable members have. There are to be organizations for the purposes only of this Bill ; they are to be brought into existence immediately a dispute, which may be dealt with under the Bill, occurs. Any practically, minded man, who knows anything of trades unions, must be aware how absurd it is to suggest that men shall be. organized immediately a dispute occurs, a.nd that they shall cease to be so organized immediately the dispute has been settled by the Court. No organization can. understand the difficulties in the way better than can a trades organization, and no body of men will bring a dispute before the Arbitration Court unless they are satisfied that there are good, grounds for the application they make. Trades unionists are not madmen, who will bring a case before the Court merely for the purpose of bringing it there. They will not submit their case to the Court unless, according to their lights, they have reason to believe they will win it. In the same way, organizations of masters will not bring a case before the Court unless they have reason to believe they will win it. Trades unions have been organized for years, and I know that the Amalgamated Society of Engineers of Great Britain was at one time opposed to arbitration, but has latterly become reconciled to it, and has discovered the benefit' to be derived from an application to an Arbitration Court. This is the most powerful trades union in the world, and so far as the trades are concerned, the engineers may be looked upon as the aristocrats amongst mechanics. As a rule, thev are men of more than ordinary attainments, of more than average ability, and possessing keen intellects. Though this powerful union had accumulated funds amounting to something like .£350,000 with which to carry on strikes, they found that in their industrial encounters they lost the £.350,000, and their judgment and skill went for nought. To-day they are considering the advisability of abandoning strikes, and of putting their grievances in the hands of an Arbitration Court for remedy. Do honorable members think that trades unionists will do that simply in order to be further handcuffed? Do honorable members suppose that these powerful unions will say - " We surrender the right to strike, and the right to refuse to work with nonunionists, and we shall go into Court to be further handcuffed."


Mr Lonsdale - They surrender no legal right to strike.


Mr WILKS - I am dealing with things as they exist. If the honorable member for New England desires to view the whole' matter from the ethical stand-point, we should require no legislation of this kind. If men as units were powerful enough to obtain their individual rights, there would be no necessity either for trades unions or for Arbitration Courts.


Mr Lonsdale - They have no legal rights. That is the point.


Mr WILKS - Following that line of argument, every man should be a law unto himself, and we should fall back to the savage state, in which every man would exercise merely his physical powers in battling for himself and for those in whom he is interested. We have become a little more civilized than that, and it is not necessary for men physically to battle for themselves. -


Mr Lonsdale - Let the legal right be given to all. That is what we are asking for.


Mr WILKS - If we take the example of the Minister of External Affairs and myself, although I am aware that the honorable and learned gentleman is very plucky, I think that if we had to battle on physical lines and on the principle of the survival of the fittest, with a fair amount of luck. I might expect to defeat the honorable and learned gentleman. We are asking for preference to unionists.


Mr Lonsdale - And we say that is wrong.


Mr WILKS - I argue that it is not wrong. Let us take the illustration of a dispute in the iron trade, -affecting the hours- of labour, or the definition of a particular kind of work, which is often a subject of dispute, and suppose that the matter is brought before the Court. Those interested in the trades union connected with the iron industry run the risk of any decision. They subscribe funds to fight their battle in Court, and when the Court has decided in their favour, I am to be told by the honorable member for New England that no preference is to be given to those men. I point out that even that is not asked, and the Bill merely provides that, "other things being equal," preference may be given to unionists, and the Court may have power to exercise its judgment and discretion in the matter. The Prime Minister intimated three weeks ago that he was prepared to accept an amendment which would take away every vestige of unreasonable power from trades unions. He intimated to the honorable and learned member for Ballarat that he was prepared to accept ari amendment to clause 67, which would prevent any union from becoming a close corporation. I entirely agree with the honorable and learned member for Ballarat in his proposal in that connexion, and I was very pleased to hear the statement made on that subject by the Prime Minister. We do not desire that there should be prohibitive fees charged which might prevent a man obtaining a living. Last evening the right honorable member .for East Sydney said that what was proposed was that men must either join unions or go without bread. What is proposed does not mean that at all.


Mr Lonsdale - It does mean it, and there have been cases in New South Wales that prove it.


Mr WILKS - It is just as well to speak as plainly of non-unionists as the honorable member' for New England is accustomed to speak of unionists.


Mr Lonsdale - I have not said a word against them.


Mr WILKS - Every trades unionist one meets is not a god in disguise, nor is every non-unionist a god in disguise. There is as much of human nature in the breast of a non-unionist as in that of a unionist. I know hundreds of men who are trades unionists, and who are neither honorable nor manly ; and I know thousands of men who are non-unionists who are neither honorable nor manly. There may be some free labourers who have strong individualistic traits of character, but they are exceptions.

There are hundreds of free- labourers- who, as the Prime Minister said not long ago, refuse to join trades unions, not because they are men of a strongly, individualistic type of character who believe in absolute freedom of action, but for quite other reasons ; men who are content to enjoy the higher wages and the better conditions of living which have been gained by the influence of trades unions, without being ready to pay for them. That has been termed a harsh statement, but it is a truthful one. Hundreds of men are non-unionists because they are unwilling to pay the necessary fees, although they accept the benefits which trades unionism has conferred upon them. I am not trying to compel men to join unions. My allegiance to my party is as strong as that of any honorable member; but there are times when I must take a separate stand, and if I do not allow myself to be compelled by party considerations, I shall not seek to compel others. Trades unionists have made their blunders ; but my knowledge of trades unionism in New South Wales makes me know that they have served a useful purpose in the industrial life of Australia. I have heard it said that the leaders of trades unions often stir up strife; but I have known many instances in which they have been opposed to " projected strikes, which have been brought about by the rank and file of the unions. It is not the middleaged, level-headed unionists who are always ready to strike, but the more buoyant and youthful spirits in the unions. The unions are gradually remedying and improving their conditions ; but, if the Government accept an amendment which will prevent them from interfering in politics, no union will register under the Bill. ' If the New South Wales Act were amended in that direction, the unions now registered would refuse to re-register, and Australia would be plunged again into the cauldron of strife and trouble.


Mr Lonsdale - No.


Mr WILKS - I know that it is so. In New South Wales, within the last nine months, a good object lesson has been taught to non-unionists in an industry which employs between 2,500 and 2,800 persons. The employers, who pay,' perhaps, the best wages, and give, perhaps, the best conditions obtaining in the industry in Australia, have had only two struggles with their men in the past twenty-two years ; but when they tried to reduce the wages of unionists, these men have been able to suc cessfully resist the attempt, whereas the non-unionist workmen have been compelled to accept a reduction. Iri New South Wales the masters, particularly in the iron trades, are combining, and are seeking to bring .about a 10 per cent, reduction in wages, although if the Tariff benefited the manufacturers they should certainly have received an advantage from it. The unionists, however, by their inherent force, and because of their ultimate right of appeal to the Arbitration Court, have successfully resisted this reduction. Would any man who knows of these -things cast a vote against the principle of preference to unionists, upon the excuse that every man in the community should be allowed to work? When unionists have been compared with non-unionists in this debate, a- number of persons who are masters, or public servants, or wives and daughters of men who are not forced to call upon their families to maintain themselves, are classed with the latter ; but, if, on the one side, we put the unionists and those who sympathize with unionism, with their wives and daughters, and on the other side the non-unionists proper, the difference would be nothing like what ' it has been represented to be. That statement is best proved by the result of the recent elections, especially of the Senate elections. But were all the votes which were cast for the members of the Government and, their supporters the votes of trades unionists? Were they not rather the votes of trades unionists and of those who sympathized with trades unionism; the votes of men who would join trades unions if they could do so? Every year new societies are coming within the domain of trades unionism. The members of one Ministry have already resigned over this Bill, and' the present Ministry, if they value the opinions of the workers and of the masses of the community, will adhere firmly to its provisions, and even resign rather than accept undue interference. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has intimated that he will do that. If he resigns, he will have to stand before those to whom alone he can look for support. I care not for the mouthings we have heard about the beauties of trades unionism and its elevating influence. Now is the occasion to test belief in trades unionism. Those who believe in it will vote to give preference to unionists, while those who fear that this new force will put down the class to which they belong, and destroy their political power, will vote against it. I am prepared to take my stand with the unionists, though it would be easier and simpler for me to fight with my party against them, because I expect no advantage from supporting the Labour Party. I have fought that party for years, and will continue to do so, because I am a strong individualist, and they have in their platform planks to which I cannot subscribe. But if I were an ordinary worker, and could demand entrance to a trades union, I would join one to-morrow. I believe that a big battle is coming in Australia, and that the Labour Party willchange its aims and methods. The honorable and learned members for Indi, Darling Downs, and others are not more associated with their class and calling than I am with mine. The opposition of the right honorable member for East Sydney to the proposal in the Bill is not a new thing. He has been opposed to such provisions for many years past, and has a- right to his own views. But I also have the right to take what I think to be the proper stand in this matter. Honorable members say that they have no desire to injure trades unions, and are fighting the battles of trades unions ; but it will be found that if the Bill is passed as it stands the workers will flock into trades unions instead of leaving them. On the other hand, if this Bill and the States Acts are destroyed, we shall have a repetition of the industrial anarchy which prevailed ten or twenty years ago. Any one who has seen the action of a strike, with its aftermath of suffering on the part of women and children, will know how undesirable that is. The power to strike is, as the right honorable member for East Sydney has said, a terrible weapon ; but if the unionists cannot go to the Arbitration Courts they will use it, and probably in a barbarous manner. I believe in this measure, because it encourages unions to register and take advantage of the Court, and thus tends to avert a serious struggle. I do not wish to speak as an alarmist, but I ask Ministers and the supporters of the Bill if they do not know that if provision is not made for preference to unionists, and arbitration is destroyed, we may have the biggest industrial struggle Australia has yet known. Today in New South Wales the unions are hanging to the Arbitration Court by a small thread. If honorable members think that trades unionists desire to have the Bill passed, they are making the biggest mistake of their lives. A poll of the trades union- ists of New South Wales would show that they would be strongly inclined to get away from the State Arbitration Court, and if no preference is given to them under this Bill, I am satisfied that they will not register under it. The Prime Minister has done all he can in the interests of peace, and in the interests of the very class whom honorable members on this side largely represent.


Mr Hughes - In the interest primarily' of the whole community, to avert the troubles of which the honorable member has spoken.


Mr WILKS - Yes. The press and the public have, from" time to time, recommended trades unionists to adopt constitutional methods of attaining their ends. First, it was suggested that they should send representatives into Parliament, and then that they .should try to secure the establishment of an Arbitration Court, so that industrial disputes might be settled peacefully, rather than by the barbaric methods of the strike. Now that the trades unions have adopted constitutional means they are to be denied the preference to members of their organizations - to which they are fully entitled by virtue of the consideration they have shown for the well-being of the community as a whole. The honorable member for Gippsland referred to the conditions which exist in the rural industries. He told us that no strikes had ever occurred in these industries. How could there be a strike among the agricultural labourers unless they were organized ? How could Bill Brown, working in a dairy, strike on his own account, and extend the industrial dispute to New South Wales ; or how could Bill Smith, working on a farm in Queensland, enter upon a dispute with his employer, and extend its scope to South Aus* tralia? There are no trades unions in rural industries, and therefore there is no danger of a strike occurring; but if the agricultural labourers were organized and could exercise the power of striking, the honorable member for Gippsland and others who are interested in rural industries would be anxious' to bring them within the scope of the Bill. We have heard a great deal about the boycotting for which the trades unions have been responsible, but I would point out that the proprietors of very influential newspapers in Sydney recently entered upon a boycott upon their own account. These newspapers have granted that trades unionism is all right up to a certain point ; but they have their own ideas of the uses to which such organizations should be applied, and immediately the unions begin to exercise their power they condemn them as tyrannous. When the Labour Party proposed to establish a daily newspaper in Sydney, the proprietors of the large dailies there intimated to the news agents, who were not in any way responsible for the policies advocated by the journals which they sold, that if they received advertisements for the proposed labour journal, or sold copies of it, they would be deprived of the opportunity to sell the other dailies. That was a direct boycott ; and yet we are told that the trades unions are dangerous because of the tyranny which they exercise when they attain power. The newspaper proprietors are not above taking the pennies of the working classes. They do not carry on their businesses for fun. Their concern for the well-being of the country is no greater than that of any other men. Their newspapers are carried on as commercial undertakings, and when they found that the labour organ was likely to come into competition with them, they intimated that the agents who sold that newspaper I would be boycotted.


Mr Hughes - There was also the British Medical Association boycott at Balmain.


Mr WILKS - Yes. Honorable members of the medical fraternity say that it is not fair to give preference to unionists, but they believe in preference to their own members. Their association is far more exclusive than is any trade union. I do not blame them for fighting as strongly as they can in their own interests. The British Medical Association is not a union, and therefore its members are not unionists; but they belong to an association which exercises closer control over the affairs of the profession than do the trades unions over the affairs of the industries in which they are engaged. I was glad to hear one remark of the Prime Minister. He says that he is not prepared to have the Bill emasculated, and that he will surrender his position rather than give up his principles. He is not such a fool as to take up that attitude unless he sees his way clear to placing a clear issue before the country in the near future. I am sure that if an appeal were made to the common sense of the community it would be easy to demonstrate that no danger is to be apprehended from giving preference to unionists, but that, on the contrary, the members of the unions, who are prepared to surrender many of their rights, are entitled to fair consideration at our hands.







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