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Wednesday, 28 May 1930


Senator RAE - My attitude as set out in that article, is consistent with my present attitude towards arbitration. When Mr. Bruce attempted to introduce proposals which would have resulted in the overthrow of federal arbitration, and left the workers in the hands of State courts, I opposed him, not because I believed that, in essence, arbitration was the hest means of settling conflicts between capital and labour, but because 1 looked upon arbitration as a temporary pair of crutches which the then Prims Minister was attempting to knock from under those who had been maimed in the conflict. If ever the Labour party decides to abolish arbitration it will not be at the behest of our capitalistic opponents, but because we have found' a better way of furthering the interests of the class we specially represent.

I desire to refer briefly to a matter mentioned incidentally by Senator Dunn when he quoted a statement made by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) in 1901. When Senator Dunn quoted the right honorable gentleman's remarks, Senator Pearce interjected that he must have been a novice indeed at that time. Apparently, the right honorable gentleman is ashamed of the opinions he then held. But what will he say regarding his remarks eleven years later when, with sufficient experience surely to more than complete his novitiate, he took part in a May Day celebration? Can honorable senators imagine the right honorable gentleman taking part in such a revolutionary function as a May Day celebration? I ask them to mark that it was not an ordinary holiday like Good Friday, or Easter Monday, but May Day - the international working-class day. The Melbourne Argus, which is sometimes facetiously described as a Labour journal, in its issue of 6th May, 1912, contained a report of a May Day speech by Senator Pearce, who was then a member of the Fisher Ministry. At that time I was a humble follower of that Ministry, sitting, metaphorically, at his feet. Senator Pearce expressed pleasure in being able to take part in the celebration. Befor.3 reading the motion submitted by him, I desire to read a resolution previously carried. If the right honorable senator had objected to the first resolution, he could have said so when rising to submit his motion. As he did not do so, I assume that he believed in both of them. The first motion agreed to was -

That this mass meeting of workers send fraternal greeting to all workers throughout the world, declares its determination to abolish capitalism and wage slavery, to promote peace and the settlement of international and all other disputes by arbitration; and in conjunction with the world's workers pledges itself to hasten the establishment of the International Co-operative Commonwealth in which the land and all the instruments of industry shall be owned and controlled by and for the people, and equal opportunity to develop mentally and physically shall be assured to all.

Those are noble sentiments, with which Senator Sir George Pearce was then in complete accord. The right honorable senator was pleased to take part in that celebration. He must have been regarded as one of the " big guns " at that gathering as he was entrusted to move the second resolution, which was as follows : -

That this meeting declares in favour of the legislation of a normal maximum working day sufficient to absorb all willing workers; the provision of employment by the State for the unemployed; Commonwealth and State departments of labour, a Commonwealth Bank of issue and deposit, the initiative and referendum, the abolition of the Legislative Council, a Workmen's Compensation Act, the nationalization of monopolies,

When Senator Dunn accused Senator Pearce of favoring the nationalization of monopolies in 1901, the right honorable senator declared shamefacedly, "I must, indeed, have been a novice then." But eleven years later he still believed in the nationalization of monopolies.


Senator E B Johnston - That is very stale ; it is eighteen years old.


Senator RAE - Surely the honorable senator will agree that while a young man may have crude ideas and may allow impulses to control his judgment, after eleven years in the service of this august assembly, experience as a Cabinet Minister, and with the benefits to be gained by reading and travel, he should have fixed convictions that no lapse of time should change unless he is swayed by selfinterest. The resolution continues - the prohibition of child labour under the age of sixteen; free secondary and university education, with free requisites and meals for primary school children, with systematical medical inspection; the abolition of all election deposits, and advocates all legislation that will ameliorate the conditions of the workers, pending the reign of justice.

This was followed by a further resolution, which read -

That in view of antagonism of interests between employer and employed, and the use made by the capitalist class of the machinery of government, this meeting is of opinion, that strenuous efforts should be put forth in order to secure the election of workers to all representative bodies, and to give effect to these resolutions by every legitimate means, including the establishment of a Labour daily newspaper.

I mention this matter for the reason that we have been told that honorable senators leave one political party to join another, because the party to which they originally belonged having ceased to adhere to its original principles, it is necessary for them to seek some new alliance. But I challenge any one to prove that there has been an essential alteration in the Labour platform of those days as compared with what it is to-day. It is true that, as certain proposals have materialized and have become embodied in statuses they have automatically been deleted from the platform, but the Labour movement is still bound by the principles embodied in such statutes. As new problems arise, additional planks of our platform, designed to meet them, but embodying essentially the same principles, are framed. Therefore, honorable senators who have leftthe Labour party have discarded those principles which they once so strongly supported. It is possible, of course, that different courses may be followed by different people, in endeavouring to give effect to the same principles, and in doing so, some may be charged with superficial inconsistency. In referring to some of the criticisms levelled against this proposal, I have already quoted a statement, by Senator Sir George Pearce, at the opening of this session in which, on behalf of the Opposition, he virtually promised to support any arbitration legislation in the direction now proposed. Senator Hoare expressed amazement that extremists in the Labour movement and in the employing class should meet on common ground in opposition to arbitration. There need be no amazement; the opposition of these two sections is not animated by the same motive. Those who believe that arbitration is not the best way for Labour to attain its ideals do so for two reasons. The first is because, they disapprove of the entagled mass of legalisms involved in arbitration and their objection to the idea that anything that comes within the law, although bad in principle, must, more or less, be reverenced because it is the law. The most tyrannical or vicious legal enactment must be reverenced and obeyed because it is the law. It is said that many weakly organized bodies of employees, or those which were so unorganized before arbitration was introduced, would, if the prop of arbitration were removed, fall to the ground. It is urged also that without some system of arbitration the conditions of the workers would be most deplorable, and that during periods of depression, when there is considerable unemployment, the employers would offer a mere pittance to their employees, who would be absolutely at their mercy. That is correct, and it would be most inopportune to remove something which has assisted the working class. It would he a dastardly act todeprive the workers of any protection which they are receiving under an award of the Arbitration Court or any such tribunal; but my contention' is that if we had never had arbitration the fighting and militant spirit of the workers would have been maintained, they would have been compelled to increase their strength, to resist aggression under a policy of no surrender, and so become a strong fighting force in the industrial arena. They would have gained such supreme power that instead of being condemned to economic servitude, they would have demanded a complete change in our social and economic system. I believe that despite any sufferings and hardships they might have experienced, they would have gained strength, and have been able to demand the wages and conditions to which they are justly entitled. Under the arbitration system they can retain only what they now possess, as awards of the Arbitration Court are based on the cost of living. Under this system the workers receive a fixed wage based on the price of certain commodities necessary for the sustenance of life. If prices increase, wages are also increased proportionately, and if they decline they are proportionately reduced. It was recently announced that wages of workers operating under federal awards were to be reduced from 2s. to 4s. 6d. a week. This means that under our present arbitration law the working class will never be any better off than it is to-day. It is a cumbersome system, and one which is likely to lead to increased militancy and the development of the fighting spirit. Is it not reasonable to suggest that the workers should have some prospect of improving their position in life, and that their wages should not be on a fixed basis for all time?. I have never heard employers oppose the basis upon which a living wage is fixed on these grounds. They oppose the system, because it involves a certain amount of trouble and sometimes compels them to pay that which they would in other circumstances willingly filch from the workers. To that extent our present arbitration system does afford some protection. I am not one of those who believe that pictures can be painted only in black and white, and I admit that arbitration has done some good; it has given some benefit to the weak and to an inadequately organized section of the community.

SenatorReid. - The honorable senator knows that it has done more than that.

SenatorRAE. - I disagree with the honorable senator. While it has been of some slight service in the direction that

Ihave indicated, it is detrimental inasmuch as workers are compelled to accept awards, which result in reduced earnings. Some years ago when the Australian Workers Union obtained an award in a State court, it was said that an attempt would be made to defeat the award on technical grounds. The then secretary of the Australian Workers Union issued a manifesto stat-ing in no uncertain terms that if the pastoralists dared to raise the question of jurisdiction in order to prevent the union from approaching the court, the members of that organization would make the demands in their own way and without appealing to the court. The spirit of determination which at that time animated members of the Australian Workers Union was so widespread that if the organization had taken the course indicated, its members would have secured far greater concessions than they obtained subsequently from the Arbitration Court.


Senator Reid - But they would have paid a great deal for those concessions by strife and loss of time.


Senator RAE - Nevertheless, the concessions which they would have been able to secure would have, repaid them for the effort. The pastoralists had sufficient good sense to withdraw their threatened challenge and allowed the claims to be decided by the court on their merits. The concessions, .although considerable in the aggregate, were long overdue. In view of the prosperity of the industry and the value of labour employed in it, we would have been amply justified in demanding much more than the court gave us. That leads me to this point that nearly all the concessions that were obtained from the court by the various sections of wageearners during the first years of arbitration, were concessions which should have been granted many years earlier, if we take into consideration the prosperity of the industries concerned, the necessities of the wage-earners employed in them and the dividends which the employers were reaping from the investment of their capital. The court's awards simply meant an end or a partial end to the robbery which had been practised by exploiting employers upon the miserablypaid wage-earners for many years. It was no common sight in those days to see pasty-faced women emerging from clothing factories in the city of Sydney, so tired physically, and mentally, as to be scarcely able, to reach their homes.

But prior to the establishment of the Arbitration Court those conditions were largely modified by factory legislation and other enactments. In the skilled industries men and women were taught to have a little pride in their social conditions and to consider they had some rights as human beings and citizens of a country allegedly free. By means of their various organizations they were able to demand a reasonable wage and reasonable conditions of labour. They realized that the more closely they were united, and the more they understood how an injury to one was an injury to all the more they were able to gain for all sections of the workers. With the passing of the years that spirit was becoming more widespread among them. Gradually they were perfecting their trade organizations for the amelioration of their working conditions. This so-called depression-


Senator Sampson - Did the honorable senator say " so-called " depression ?


Senator RAE - This so-called worldwide depression that has been spoken of so much of late, is simply the result of the capitalistic system which neither arbitration nor any other proposals made by this Government will do anything to abolish. On the contrary, they will tend to stabilize the existing condition of affairs.


Senator Reid - Where would the worker be to-day without the Arbitration Court?


Senator RAE - The honorable senator knows that if certain conditions have obtained in. an industry for a number of years it is almost impossible to say what would be the condition of the workers under some other system. My views are well-known. I believe that if, instead of adopting arbitration 30 years ago, we had kept on with pur voluntary organizations of workers - a very militant spirit was then becoming evident - the ultimate result to the worker would have been infinitely better. Had the Conservative party, represented by honorable senators opposite - I use the term in no disrespectful spirit - been gifted with foresight and common sense, they would gladly have accepted the palliative legislation introduced by succeeding governments from time to time in order to avert a very much worse fate which may overtake them. Although I am no prophet, I foresee the time when the present capitalistic system will be displacedby some more humane and just social order.


Senator Thompson - We can see the results in other countries to-day.


Senator RAE - And Australia may pass through the same experience. The honorable senator and his friends need not be surprised if, in the lifetime of some of us, the present system which they are upholding crumbles to the dust.


Senator Sampson - What will be put in its place?


Senator RAE - That will be decided when the time comes. I am not now offering any suggestion. I am merely a humble unit among millions of people whose political thought is in line with my own.


Senator McLachlan - Wat Tyler and Jack Straw, centuries ago, said what the honorable senator is now saying.


Senator RAE - And the aristocracy of France, on the eve of the French revolution, said what honorable senators opposite are saying. They declared that the existing system would last for ever.


Senator Thompson - Surely the honorable senator does not compare the conditions in Australia to those which obtained in France prior to the French revolution ?







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