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Thursday, 30 November 1905

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - I think that everybody is in accord with the desire of the honorable member for Bland, to see poverty abolished, and the conditions of the great mass of mankind bettered. But can we accomplish that by legislation? In my opinion, any step in the direction of freedom is of assistance to the great mass of the community. One point that particularly struck me in the address of the honorable member was his statement that he only desired to insure that men who have registered a certain label' or mark shall have the right to prevent anybody else from using it. Not a single individual in this House objects to that. I can further assure the honorable member that at the present time it is open to any individual to register a mark of his own and to get from the user- .

Mr Watson - If it is open for an individual to do so, why should it not be open to an association ?

Mr CONROY - I have not the slightest objection to an association, or a dozen associations, doing the same thing. If that were all that the honorable member aimed at, I should be very willing to give him my cordial support. Upon the second reading of this Bill I pointed out that I did not care If 150 associations had a right to register their particular marks. Just as any corporation can do so, any assembly of citizens banding themselves together ought to be able to register their label or mark. Unfortunately, however, the whole argument turns upon the question, "To what use will this label be put?" If a mark may be used for the purpose of establishing a boycott, it is clear that we

Mr Fisher - Is not that the law at present ?

Mr CONROY - It is the common law, but I should like to put it under statute law.

Mr Hughes - If I say to a friend of mine, " Don't you buy Jones' pickles, because I do not think thev are good," would the honorable and learned member call that a boycott?


Mr Hughes - If I say to Jones, " Don't you buy any goods that have not a particular label upon them," am I not entitled to do ro?

Mr CONROY -The honorable and learned member is not entitled to say, " Don't von buy so-and-so's goods ; I intend to ruin his business, because there is a quarrel between us." We are now asked to support the introduction of the union label to enable members of unions to refuse to purchase the goods of anybody else. It has been represented that this i's the first step towards elevating the great mass of the people. So far from that being the case, the proposal is almost the oldest of old laws. In The First of Empires it is shown that over 5,000 years ago a law was passed providing that a man should follow only one trade, and each particular product should have a certain mark upon it. That condition of affairs obtained in the time of the Roman Empire. In England in the eighth and ninth centuries, after a family had developed into the frith guild, and from that into . the merchant guild, we find its members putting their marks upon their products. These guilds were merely the forerunners of trade unions. No one could earn his living unless he belonged to one of them. But did that law tend to elevate the great mass of the people? It is very clear that it did not. I say, therefore, that all this wild talk on the part of the members of the Labour corner is entirely beside the mark. This legislation is opposed by me because it has already been tried and found wanting. Honorable members of the Labour Party do not appear to be aware that the power of the guilds was so strong in the time of Edward

Mr Frazer - Is it not a fair thing that we should try it?

Mr CONROY - It was tried 5,000 years ago and failed. That is what led to the great castes which exist in Egypt today. There, men born in a trade cannot get out of it.

Mr Spence - Do not very much the same conditions obtain to-day ?

Mr CONROY - Does the honorable member mean fo suggest that the conditions of life are not very much better now than they were half a century ago? If so, I cannot debate with him, because he will first require to study the children's history books. I find that an Act passed during the reign of Edward III. decreed " That all artificers and people of mysteries shall each choose his own mystery before the next Candlemass ; and that, having so chosen it, he shall henceforth use no other." In Parliament after Parliament, some of the little unions in England were so strong that they secured an absolute control of these matters. As evidencing how my illustration tells against the pet belief of honorable members in the Labour corner, I have only to draw attention to the fact that they have nearly deserted the Chamber. The same condition of affairs existed up till the seventeenth century. The reason why these laws have been abandoned is that they were found to injure the very class whom they were designed to benefit. If we were asked to allow goods to be labelled " Made only by Protestants," or " Made only by Catholics," does not every honorable member see that it would be our duty to step in and prevent such a thing? So far from such a practice promoting, peace among the community, it would be a source of injury to its members. We ought not to allow any body to use a label practically for the purpose of boycotting their fellow citizens. So much was 'it recognised that men ought to belong to one guild only that I find in Brentano, on Guilds and Trades Unions, the following, in reference to a period as late as 1434: -

Will you bear, however, what is ordained by Imperial law. Our forefathers have not been fools. The crafts have been devised for this purpose, that everybody by them should earn his daily bread, and nobody shall interfere with the craft of the other. By this the world gets rid of its misery, and every one may find his livelihood.

I repeat that this kind of legislation has been tried in the past and has utterly failed. It has been abandoned because it has been proved to be injurious to the community. A reversion to it must result in greater evil to the class whom it is designed to benefit than to any other. I have no hesitation, therefore, in voting against this clause. If, however, it isaccepted, I shall at least give my assent to the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Cori- nella. If the honorable member for Bland is sincere in his desire to limit its application to the cases which he has indicated he will support that proposal.

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