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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 21, No. 2. March 27, 1958

A 'Worker' Looks at His 'Paradise'

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A 'Worker' Looks at His 'Paradise'

Mr Collins began by examining the attitude of the worker in New Zealand to his work, and he maintained that it was "the least possible for the most money." The speaker went on to claim that when this same worker was called on in an emergency, then he would do a job which could be bettered by no one.

"Generally there is no feeling of doing a job of community importance," said Mr. Collins. "'She'll do' and 'near enough' apply to many jobs, and there is little real interest in them. But when a job does require skill and ingenuity and application by the same man, then 'she'll do' and near enough' become expressions of satisfaction in a job well done.

"A skilled man in a skilled job has a pride in his work, but there is far too, little incentive and recognition for the man in the lowly and menial job. Our sense of values is all wrong. The dustman is just as valuable to our society as the doctor. But generally speaking the worker's attitude, in his own words, is 'I don't come here for the work, it's the money."

Mr N. A. Collins, Trade Unionist. Represented a group of trade unions on a visit to the U.S.S.R. in 1952 and has also visited Great Britain. Officer and member of several Christchurch committees concerned with youth and International work.

On the question of whether or not the trade union movement was outdated and unnecessary in these times, Mr. Collins maintained that the last Government's actions in passing laws discriminating and aiming against trade unions were sure evidence that nothing could be taken for granted or that a point once gained will always remain.

"Over the last year or so, there have been moves by employers to have awards altered to lower wages, increased hours of work, and to lower working conditions. So long as moves such as this have to be met, unions are not outdated." He went on to say that it did not need a depression to make unions a live force.

Mr. Collins maintained that the Government does not provide ideal working conditions for its employees, and thus eliminate the need for trade unions there. In evidence of this, he quoted the 1950-51 railway strike to get progress in wage negotiations "with the Government deliberately stalling," the recent disturbances in the police force, and the trouble over teachers' wages.

Govt. workers must fight for good conditions

"Government employees get what good conditions they have in the same way as other workers get them—by fighting for them," he said.

Turning to worker participation in the management of his industry, Mr. Collins said that there was a great deal of scope for this, particularly in government departments.

"Who knows the details and practicabilities of his job better than the man who is doing it? We see examples time and time again and are helpless to do anything—mistakes, bungling, inefficiency, waste, incompetent bosses waiting to retire. I believe unions should concern themselves in production and efficiency. My union branch is endeavouring to do something in this field, but it has a terrific hurdle of prejudice and 'bossitis' to overcome first."

Describing the organisation of trade unions in New Zealand, Mr. Collins said that there was much apathy towards Unions by many workers, who were no different to other community groups in their couldn't-care-less attitude.

"Only a minority are effective unionists. I think it says much for these men and women that they giye so much for the welfare of the huge majority who little appreciate what is being done for them.

This is the second in a series of supplements giving students a summary of talks at Congress, 1958. It is not intended to replace actual attendance at lectures.

"But these 'Tired Tims' who don't attend union meetings, who do nothing to help, are only too ready to criticise and condemn, but never refuse the gains made. Those who condemn the unions do so in sheer ignorance.

". . . Unions today lack drive and virility; there is no militancy in presenting the workers' case. No union can be made a powerful and crusading organisation by a few representatives. Unless the members in the mass use the union as a weapon for social betterment, then it will be tame and docile, as most of them are—a mere reflection of their members.

"This is one of the results of compulsory unionism. I personally dislike it and believe that persuasion and example is a better method than compulsion. Compulsion tends to give a false strength to the trade union movement as a whole, makes unreliable members and makes things easy for professional officials and gives them a power they should not have, because of uninterested members.

"However idealism must be tempted with reality and there are definite advantages in compulsory trade unionism."

The speaker also commented on the Arbitration Court and the arbitration system in general: "I would say that the workers accept it and approve of it so long as it gives reasonable results. Very few would like to return to strikes and bitterness but at the same time, I believe, unions must have the right to strike as a last resort. After all, an employer, as long as things are fair and above board, has the right to hire and fire and the workers should have the right to withhold their labour. If we believe in collective bergaining—unionism—then this means collective withholding of our labour—the strike.

"... One aspect of the Arbitration Court awards, although no fault of the court itself, is that it makes a wage increase to make up for, amongst other things, the increase in the cost of living since the last wage rise. Then as soon as the increase is announced, up go prices everywhere to meet the wage rise. The worker is once again on the losing end. I consider this dishonest practice and cheating the worker and that the Government should take action in the matter."

On the matter of the trade unions and politics, Mr. Collins maintained that politics "is bound up with us and is part and parcel of our union work. Politics, after all is the business of living and very close to the workers. Because of this concern, trade union politics affects very much the everyday life of the community and its influence and power must be a concern of any government, whether friendly or otherwise."

"... The trade union movement is a vital and essential part of our New Zealand family and we would be the poorer without it," Mr. Collins concluded.