Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 7, No. 1 March 28, 1944
Students and Trade Unions — Holiday Work Problems
Students and Trade Unions
Holiday Work Problems
Over the recent vacation practically all full-time university students, either via the Manpower Office or of their own volition, took up work in freezing chambers, woolstores, tobacco farms, orchards, or on the wharves.
Most of these took a good attitude to the particular unions associated with their industries, joined up, paid their fees, and took an active interest. There were, however, certain elements who did not realise either the necessity or the moral obligation of supporting their unions.
There appear to be two reasons for this:—
Firstly; a considerable number of students moved from job to job at intervals of three weeks or a month and were required to stump up union fees on each new project. While they were entitled to a considerable rebate on these fees it was often difficult to collect. They did not know the correct way to go about it and in certain of the weaker unions were [unclear: hampered by bureaucracy] in the trade union leadership. This position can be remedied from both sides. As is already the case in some unions, dues should be levied on a weekly basis. It is suggested that the Victoria Students' Association approach the Wellington Trades Council with a proposal to this effect. Of greater importance, however, is the second reason for student apathy towards the unions and it is with this that we are mainly concerned.
Students take vacation jobs to pay their way through the University in the following year. They have a less responsible attitude to the organisation which has built up and preserves working conditions. They lack the background of struggling for a living for themselves and their families and have little or no knowledge of the conditions preceding the advent of a strong union.
With a view to finding the attitude of responsible trade union leaders to student labour, "Salient" approached Toby Hill, President of the New Zealand Watersiders' Union and Mr. Thompson, secretary of the Freezing Workers'. Both were most obliging in supplying information.
"We can look at the matter from two angles," said Mr. Hill. "Firstly, what have the unions done for the students and other casual labour?
"Let us take the wharf as an example. Militant union action has ensured that, for the past 25 years, unionist and seagull together receive the prevailing union rates of pay. Students who worked on the wharves over the August vacation will remember being approached by union officials concerning their pay. As a result, strong action was taken by the union, the anomaly was removed, and the student workers' pay was brought up to the standard hourly rate, which almost doubled their pay-checks.
"The unions also spend thousands of pounds each year fighting for accident compensation, whether the victim be unionist or not. Last year, on the Picton wharves, a college boy was involved in a bad accident. We took up his case, demanding eight hundred pounds and the guarantee of a steady job. The case is not yet settled but we have so far forced agreement to four hundred pounds. This boy was a non-unionist. Most unions have as good a history as ours in this type of dispute."
The Other Angle
"At the moment the unionist is well paid. That is the result of many years of militant struggle. Students receive this pay. They feel that a ten-minute smoko is quite normal without realising that it was only recently won.
"Students must surely realise that an employer is not Santa Claus, that he grants concessions to his employees only in the face of a determined, well-led and militant organisation such as a trade union. In the woolstore, for example, the 1933-4 wages were one and sixpence halfpenny per hour. They are now two and sevenpence, with an additional cost of living allowance. Those wages have been fought for and must be cherished, not only by the men who achieved them, but also by all who benefit from them.
"The employer attempts to split the unity of his employees by playing off the seagull against the unionist, the student against the worker. At a time like this, when the prosecution of the war depends largely upon the virility of the labour movement, no such split must be allowed. The unions must be strengthened by the active support and co-operation of all associated with them."
We thanked Mr. Hill for an interesting half hour and made next for the Trades Hall where we were welcomed by Mr. Thompson.
"Yes, there have been many students working alongside our men," he said, "and the majority of them are good workers and union conscious. But there has been a small minority which has refused [unclear: to] join the union. Because they may occupy white collar or technical positions they seem to forget that they also are workers and are unwilling to join a union. I have a list here of obstinate cases; you may recognise some names."
We had to admit that the University was fairly well represented.
"A few facts may open their eyes," continued this forceful unionist. "Let us consider the 1935 figures for wages alone; these are by no means the lowest. Slaughtermen and boners then received two shillings and two- and-twopence respectively. Today they get three-and-six, and three shillings. The lowest paid adult then received one-and-eleven, as against two-and-sevenpence today.
"A point of interest to you—in 1935 a boy did not attain adult pay until he was twenty. The maximum wage below this age was thirty-five shillings a week. That maximum is now three pounds, adult rates are given at the age of nineteen, and any boy holding down a man's job must receive adult pay."
Figures floated before us; the files were brought out in evidence of past struggles by the freezing workers and of their growth into the present powerful organisation.
"Now, these men have fought for years," continued the secretary. "They have struggled for security for their families and themselves. To see a few individuals accepting their achievements without supporting the organisation which won them, annoys them. We very nearly had a work stoppage at Ngahauranga over a student who refused to pay union fees."
"This was only one student out of the thirty odd employed there. As a rule we welcome your boys. They are good workers, intelligent and keen. At the present moment, when some of our members cannot understand that their militancy must be employed, not in strikes, but in the battle of production, they are the type of men we want in the unions, and want badlv."
"Salient" was well satisfied, and, we think, so should you be. Here is the case.
The task of fulfilling our war effort to the utmost depends upon the working class, of which we are members. The task at the moment is to mobilise the workers behind production, and to prevent the provocative attitude of certain types of employers, who place their own profits before the interests of the country, from causing strike action. The whole labour front must be strong enough to resist and ignore these attempts; the component bodies—the unions—must be strong, and in this we can help.
When [unclear: on an] industrial job, join the union, support and strengthen it, expose wavering elements or bad leadership, and do your bit in this People s War.