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Tuesday, 22 May 1928

Mr LACEY - As my friend says,s it would not be possible to get a lockout. An unscrupulous employer can so irritate his employees that he may force them out on strike. This bill will have the effect of creating more industrial trouble than there has been in the past. It will hamper the operations of executive committees and other bodies which, in the past, have worked for industrial peace, Arbitration has not been a complete success in the past, but the awards of the courts have been observed in the main, as well as most laws. After all, our industrial troubles have not been very numerous. This is a one-sided measure, which increases the penalties directed against the unions, while those designed for the employers have been allowed to go unaltered. The employees have been regarded as blameworthy for all industrial trouble. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that there are two sides to every dispute; certainly there are two sides to most industrial disputes. The pity is that as soon as a strike takes place the average person says " Those men are out on strike again," and the employees are regarded as responsible without any inquiry whatever being made into the facts. I think that honorable members will agree that nobody else in the world has made such a success in industry as Henry Ford has done. Some time ago he wrote a book called My Life and Work.Mr. Ford has made a huge success of the industry in which he is chiefly interested, and is entitled to speak with authority on the control and management of commercial enterprises. He states -

Men can strike with justice - that they will thereby get justice is another question. The strike for proper conditions and just rewards is justifiable. The pity is that men should be compelled to use the strike to get what is theirs by right. No American ought to be compelled to strike for his rights. He ought to receive them naturally, easily, as a matter of course. These justifiable strikes are usually the employer's fault. Some employers are not fit for their jobs. The employment of men - the direction of their energies, the arranging of their rewards in honest ratio to their production, and to the prosperity of the business - is no small job. An employer may be unfit for his job, just as a man at the lathe may be unfit. Justifiable strikes are a sign that the boss needs another job - -one that he can handle. The unfit employer causes more trouble than the unfit employee. You can change the latter to another more suitable job. But the former must usually be left to the law of compensation. The justified strike, then, is one that need never have been called if the employer had done his work.

The next paragraph in the chapter deals with the kind of strike which is encouraged by a section of employers to bring the works of another section to a standstill. Mr. Ford then deals with still another class of strike. He says -

There is a third kind of strike - the strike that is provoked by the money interests for the purpose of giving labour a bad name. The American workman has always had a reputation for sound judgment. He has not allowed himself to be led away by every shouter who promised to create the millennium out of thin air. He has had a mind of his own and has used it. He has always recognized the fundamental truth that the absence of reason was never made good by the presence of violence. In his way the American workingman has won a certain prestige with his own people, and throughout the world. Public opinion has been inclined to regard with respect his opinions and desires. But there seems to be a determined effort to fasten the bolshevik stain on American labour by inciting it to such impossible attitudes and such wholly unheardof actions as shall change public sentiment from respect, to criticism.

Merely avoiding strikes, however, does not promote industry. We may say to the working man - "You have a grievance, but the strike is no remedy - it only makes the situation worse whether you win or lose."

Then the working man may admit this to be true and refrain from striking. Does that settle anything?

No! If the worker abandons strikes as an unworthy means of bringing about desirable condition, it simply means that employers must get busy on their own initiative and correct defective conditions.

This Government is endeavouring to fasten upon the Australian Labour party the tags of communism and bolshevism. It hopes thereby to give our .party a bad name. It is significant that the tactics of Labour's opponents in the United States of America are similar to those of our opponents in Australia.

Strikes rarely occur in small industries where employers and employees are in close contact with each other; yet it should be easier to cause a strike in an industry employing only ten persons than in one employing 1,000 persons. Strikes occur in large industries because they are usually controlled by big companies which are totally indifferent to the welfare of their employees. I know of thoroughly justifiable strikes that have occurred in industries in Australia. The workers have had no way to obtain redress for their grievances except by striking. On the other hand, I know that the conditions in some industries are such that a strike could not be justified. When the employer is in direct contact with his men, an industry is generally carried on without interruption; but when soulless companies apply unjust conditions to their employees, strikes are almost inevitable. Mr. Ford justly pointed out that unfair conditions cause more strikes than anything else.

I regret that Australia is so frequently spoken of as the home of industrial unrest. This country does not deserve such a reputation. For every strike that occurs here, hundreds of agreements are made. Awards are varied and adjustments made by mutual consent every day in. the week, and the executive officers of the various organizations responsible for these negotiations deserve all credit for their work. The average number of working days lost per annum in Australia during the last five years has been .71 per wage-earner; in the same period in England the average number of working days lost has been 2.37 per wage-earner. It will be seen, therefore, that in proportion to her population, Great Britain has, on the average, three times as many men on strike as Australia. We do not hear much about the strikes that occur in the Motherland, for the policy of her people is not to discredit their country. But when a strike occurs in Australia, news of it is sent by cablegram to every part of the world. One would imagine from the remarks that are frequently made about industrial conditions in Australia that there is more dislocation of trade and commerce here now than ever before, but statistics disprove this. In the five years period from 1918 to 1922, the number of days lost through industrial disputes was 10,500,000, while in the following five-year period only 6,215,000 days were lost. Those figures indicate that the position in Australia is improving.

In these circumstances, honorable members opposite should cease to assert that there is more unrest here than ever before, and that the Labour party is responsible for it. Such statements are absolutely untrue, and may be classed with the equally false accusations that the Labour party is connected with communism and bolshevism; As a matter of fact, the Labour movement has condemned communism and bolshevism, and still condemns them. The communists and bolsheviks are one with honorable members opposite in their desire to abolish arbitration and in their antipathy to the Labour party. It is astonishing that on the eve of almost every recent election an industrial dispute has been organized. Prior to the last election the Labour party appeared to be in the ascendency; but a strike was organized by the extremists, with the result that the composite government was able to retain its majority.

As evidence that Labour is opposed to communism, I quote the following passage from a report of a meeting of the Port Adelaide Trade and Labour Council, which appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser an the 14th May -

A resolution was carried supporting the Port Adelaide branch of the Seamen's Union and their secretary in their opposition to communist influences, and stating the intention of the council to ignore the resolution of the communist section of the Sydney seamen.

The penal clauses in this measure have been drafted, in my opinion, with the object of forcing industrial organizations to withdraw themselves from the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court. A deliberate attempt is being made to discredit the court. If the bill becomes law, job committees will be set up in industries which at present are free of them, and there will be considerably more industrial unrest than there now is. Organizations will be encouraged to deregister, for by so doing they will place themselves outside of the penal provisions of the measure. The result will be that industrial unrest and suspicion will be accentuated, and we shall be forced to return to the days before we had any effective conciliation and arbitration machinery. For instance, in the shearing industry, under present conditions, before the wool is ready to be taken off the sheep, employers and employees can go to the Arbitration Court and get an award under which the employee knows how much he will be paid per 100 for the sheep he shears. If this bill is put into operation, and the union is de-registered, no such award will be made, and the wage to be paid for shearing will not be determined until the wool on the sheep's backs is ready to be clipped. Is that a state of affairs that is likely to lead to industrial peace? Could there be stability in the pastoral industry if the wages to be paid were not known until shearing actually started? Yet that will be the position if the penal clauses in this bill are applied, and the Shearers Union is de-registered and is compelled to resort to the conferences with the employers recommended by the last speaker.

One thing that has dealt a blow at arbitration and prevented the Arbitration Court from being as valuable as it was expected to be is the length of time that elapses before cases cited for hearing can be heard. A few days ago a Sydney newspaper published the following account of what has taken place in connexion with the hearing of a claim made by the Clerks' Union : -

Clerks Indignant. Delay over Claims.

The council of management of the Clerks' Union is indignant at the delay in hearing the claims submitted to the Clerks' Metropolitan Board twelve months ago, states the secretary, Mr. Katz.

After many vexatious delays by the Conciliation Committee, the claims were referred to the industrial commission. The date of hearing is not yet fixed, although the claims were filed twelve months ago with the Department of Labour.

It is the intention of the management committee to ask the Minister for Labour and Industry to receive a deputation relative to the undue delay. This is considered unfair to over 20,000 clerks in the metropolitan area.

If, by expediting the hearing of cases, we can overcome the delays that now occur, we are likely to secure more industrial peace than .it will be possible to have if this bill is passed.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Perkins) adjourned.

House adjourned at 10.3 p.m.

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