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Friday, 12 August 1904

Mr SPEAKER - Is the honorable member discussing the clause?

Mr PAGE - I am referring to that which led up to the demand that preference should be granted to unionists. I signed the pledge required by the unionists. We had been tricked so often that we thought it well to endeavour to secure the' return of men from our own ranks. We felt that no one could better voice our grievances in Parliament than men who had been through the mill - unionists who had suffered for the cause. That is why we are here to-day. And yet honorable members opposite blame us for advocating the claims of those who send us here. Unionists are not the only supporters of the Labour Party. As a matter of fact, I receive support from all classes, squatters included. The latter know very well that they will get a " square go" all the time, and I expect a " square go " from other representatives. I am pleased to say that our expectations are usually realized. On this occasion, however, such is not the case. Members of the Opposition are a lot of sand-baggers and political highwaymen.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is distinctly out of order. He is not discussing the clause under consideration, and it is not in order to speak of honorable members generally, or in particular, as sand-baggers.

Mr PAGE - I applied that term in a political sense. I do not mean to say that the Opposition are sand-baggers, but that their tactics are worthy of such men-. If honorable members opposite object to be so designated, I shall apologize for calling them such a bad name, but I do not know a worse one to apply to them. Those who have had experience in other Parliaments assert that the course of action adopted oy the Opposition on this occasion is unprecedented, and that being so, there must be " something rotten in the State of Denmark." The Opposition did not relish the. statement made to-day that they had applied the gag. When the opportunity .offers we may give them a dose of their own physic.

Mr Lonsdale - Do not follow a b\d example.

Mr PAGE - When the Opposition teach us such tricks they cannot blame us if we resort to them. They have been pleading the cause of the non-unionists, and the honorable member for New England appears to be very much afraid that such men would not be fairly treated if the clause were amended as the Government propose. I wish to show him that fie is raising a mere bogy. He need have no fear as to the position of non-unionists in Queensland, at all events ; for there, under freedom of contract, they fare far better than do the unionists. It is the unionists who suffer in that State. I wish to read a paragraph which appeared in the Argus of 6th inst, under the heading, " Gippsland Mining Trouble - Free Labourers and Strikers." How nicely the Argus puts it. The strikers in question were unionists. They struck for what they conceived to be their rights, and they starved rather than submit to an injustice. They were not alone in their suffering, for their wives and families were pinched for food, and during the cold weather which we have been experiencing, have even lacked sufficient clothing. Times out of number these men applied to the mine-owners for a conference, but their request was refused. Had such a clause as we desire been in force, this unhappy state of affairs would have been impossible, and I contend that the Opposition, in refusing to accept a clause on the lines which the Government propose, are virtually acquiescing in the action of the directors of the Outtrim mine.

Mr Lonsdale - No.

Mr PAGE - I repeat that they are. The Opposition seek to take away the only weapon which the workers have hitherto been able to employ in their defence, and would give them nothing in return. So far as I am concerned, I prefer the good old method of striking. I do not desire any such Conciliation and Arbitration Bill as the House is prepared to give us. I would say to the workers, " Let us resort to the good old-fashioned strikes, and let the best man win." If that course were adopted, we should know where we were. While we have control of the public affairs of the Commonwealth, the Military Forces and their guns are ours, and we "shall see that men on strike are justly treated. The report to which I have referred is as follows : -

KORUMBURRA, Friday.- Notwithstanding that the Coal Miners' Union has been dissolved, the trouble in connexion with the mines is not yet over. The manager of the Coal Creek mine put on two men concerned in the recent strike this morning. These men were selected because, though strikers, they were well conducted throughout the trouble, in this respect differing greatly from many of their fellow unionists, who took a more active part in the strike. It appears that the present employes - free labourers - on discovering that two strikers were going down the pit to work a shift, held a meeting, and decided unanimously that they would not work with the strikers. As the manager, Mr. P. McDonald, was not then at the mine - he is just recovering from an exceptionally severe attack of influenza - the free labourers decided to, work the shift, and see the manager afterwards, and the two strikers worked also. Arrangements had been made for two more strikers to go on the afternoon shift, and at the change of shifts the free labourers held a mass meeting, and resolved, without a dissentient, that if the strikers were 'kept on they would cease work in a body. They- interviewed the manager en masse, and put their demands before him in writing. They said that for over twelve months their lives had been made miserable by the insults and gibes of the strikers, and that opprobrious epithets had been applied _to them whenever the opportunity offered. They stated that their decision was unalterable, and asked for an immediate answer, as if the strikers were not put off they would not go down to work that shift. The strikers had refused to work with them, and the positions were now reversed. The manager, in the circumstances, did not care to have the mine idle, and decided, pending full consideration, to put off the four strikers at once.

What has the honorable member for New England to say to that state of things? He would not give the wives and children of these men who had stood by their union an opportunity to live.

Mr Lonsdale - Yes, I would.

Mr PAGE - The report goes on to say -

Two other unionists are employed at the new shaft, but as they are entirely separated from the other miners no objection has been made to them.

Arc these men lepers that they should be ostracized in this manner? Are they to be so treated merely because they are unionists and men of principle? It makes my blood boil to think that they should be subjected to such treatment.

It is stated that several unionists formerly employed at Coal Creek have obtained work at the Jumbunna mine under assumed names, they being unknown to the free labourers there. No further steps will be taken in connexion with the Coal Creek trouble for a day or two. About sixty men are employed at the mine now.

I would ask honorable members opposite whether they favour the state of things described in that report.

Mr Lonsdale -No.

Mr PAGE - It is useless for honorable members opposite to say that they do nor mean this, that, or the other. Does not the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella practically deny a preference to unionists? The honorable and learned member for Bendigo represents one of the great labouring constituencies in. Victoria, and I cannot understand his action upon the present occasion. I cannot understand the action of a man who represents a mining constituency in opposing the extension of a preference to unionists. Every honorable member must admit that unionism is good for everybody. Why were trades unions established? For the benefit of the workers. Employe's have organized for the purposes of mutual benefit. The moral of their action is appropriately represented upon many of our industrial banners by a bundle of sticks, with the inscription beneath, " United we stand, divided we fall."I believe in unionism in every shape and form. If a man is not a member of a union he ought to be. No man has a right to live upon the earnings of another. If there are a hundred men employed in the carpentering' and bricklaying trades, and if ninety of them are members of a trades union, I claim that the remainder are parasites, because the ninety are responsible for the maintenance of fair conditions, in the benefits of which the others participate. What happens to a body of men who have no union? They cut into one another's- wages every week. If a rush takes place for the work, even if the men have wives and families to maintain, those who can do the job cheapest always secure it. That is the cursed feature of the contract system, which the pastoralists arenow attempting to introduce into the shearing industry. If the Shearers', the Seamen's, and the Waterside Workers' Unions registered under this Act, there would be no mote strikes. Those honorable members who have had experience of these disastrous industrial upheavals know perfectly well that it is not the men who chiefly suffer by them, but the women and the children. They suffer from lack of food ' and clothing. During the shearers' strike of 1891 there were women in Queensland who actually sent their wedding rings to the nearest town to be pawned, rather than allow their husbands to "scab" upon their mates. Those are the true unionists, and those are the men to whom I want to give preference, in this Bill.. I feel that while I am fighting their battle, I am fighting one of the noblest battles on this earth. The manhood and womanhood in the back-blocks of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and the other States, are the bone and sinew of the Commonwealth; and it is their battle we are fighting. We are fighting not only for the workers in the different metropolitan cities, but for the workers throughout the length and breadth of the land ; and how honorable members opposite, who have been through the mill, and know what I am talking about, can give, a vote which will " down " those men, is beyond my comprehension.

Question - That the figures proposed to be left out stand part of the motion - put.

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