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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 71

Labour Members

Labour Members.

Oh, let us not, like snarling cure, in wrangling be divided;
Till, slap! come in a Tory loun, and wi' a rung decide it.
Be Labour still to Labour true, amang oursels united;
For never but by Labour's hands, can Labour's wrongs be righted!
* * * * *
Our speirs, our swords, are printed words, the mind the battle plain, We've won our victories before—and so we shall again!

Charles Jardine Don was probably the first [unclear: genuis] representative of Labour that ever sat in a British [unclear: Partialis] Don distinguished himself as a platform orator in the [unclear: agiuat] that followed upon the introduction of the "infamous [unclear: Ias] Bill" in Victoria, and was a prominent member of the [unclear: Convention] which sat in Melbourne under the presidency of Mr. Wilson [unclear: Gray,] eloquent and able barrister, who subsequently became a Judge in [unclear: New] Zealand. In 1858, at a by-election, Don had the temerity to [unclear: become] candidate for the representation of the City of Melbourne, [unclear: but] defeated by a majority of two to one by Mr. (now Sir [unclear: Archild]) Michie. In the following year, however, he was returned at the [unclear: top of] the poll for Collingwood—a suburban constituency. [unclear: The] rugged eloquence—strongly impregnated with the vernacular [unclear: doing] North Britain—which was wont to stir to enthusiasm the hearts of [unclear: his] masses of his fellow men when heard from the public platform, [unclear: entirely] page 61 lost its charm in the uncongenial atmosphere of the Assembly, and fell with a by no means extraordinary flatness upon the ears of in audience most of whom were educated men, and nearly all of whom belonged to the land owning and the wealthy classes. In Parliament Don proved a failure. Some years after Don, a Labour member appeared in the House of Commons. If memory serves, there was a Labour member of the name of Macdonald, whose constituents agreed to find funds for his support whilst he remained in Parliament, and shortly afterwards another working man's constituency found him a colleage, probably in the benevolent hope that the presence of a second Labour member would prevent the corners of the mouth of the first from becoming too permanently set in a downward direction. Then Buxton and Arch appeared, and Labour was honoured in her representatives. Mr. Sydney Buxton is now a member of the Ministry of Mr. Gadstone. At the general election of July last in England, of all the Labour candidates, only eight succeeded in winning seats. In March, 1889, at the general election, the experiment of a Labour representative was again tried in the return of Mr. Trenwith to Parliament for Richmond, another Melbourne suburban constituency, and although a general election has since taken place in the Colony, he still holds the seat. Mr. Trenwith has undoubtedly proved himself an able man, and well worthy of the position he holds.

It is a vain thing to attempt to reason with those who persistently refuse to candidly admit the truth, however patent. It is a fact that the circumstance of his election to Parliament does not disassociate a man from the interests of the class to which he belongs, nor endow him with i the faculty of taking a calm, broad, impartial, and entirely unselfish view of what is necessary in the interests of the whole people when he enters upon the work of legislation. Every member has some particular interest that lies close to his heart; any measures that do not affect that interest, or when, for the time, that interest has been most amply secured, or most carefully aggrandised, then, of course, he is enabled to give upon them a patriotic and unprejudiced vote to the advantage of his country. This is the well-established position which indirectly, and directly too, denied. As, up till quite a recent period, all candidates for Parliament were associated, one way or another, with either the interests of the nobility, the holders of free estate, banking, insuring, railways, commerce, manufactures, mining, or farming industries, or with the professions—military and naval, legal and medical—no one ever thought of calling them Capital members: but that circumstance does not effect the fact that Capital members they were all the same. As Capital members, they have been credited with the possession of the most lofty patriotism, the most unselfish and entire abnegation, a breadth of view and a comprehensive and impartial judgment which would justify the most heartfelt admiration—if it were only true that they possessed one small modicum of the virtues ascribed to them.

page 62

It is when the Labour member appears, with an honest [unclear: avon] upon his lips that he purposes first to hold dear the interests of [unclear: his] class, that an outcry is raised. Of a truth, the Labour member is [unclear: only] going to try to accomplish for the interests with which he is [unclear: associated] what all Capital members have ever sought to do, and done, for [unclear: the] class with the interests of which they were identified. The [unclear: immendiat] interests of the Capital member have necessarily belonged to [unclear: some] small section of the people; quite naturally, probably [unclear: unconsciously] he has held them first in regard, bestowing only a sort of [unclear: dilettan] attention upon all other questions, the dealing with which affected [unclear: him] not. The interests which the Labour member has at heart are [unclear: those] which are held important and are dear to the masses of the [unclear: people]—interests which for centuries have been wholly ignored and [unclear: neglected]—and he says, in effect, I shall endeavour to protect and advance [unclear: them] first; and any measures beyond—measures which do not assail [unclear: or] affect them—shall receive from me the best and most impartial [unclear: judge] ment I can bestow. If he represents his class, the Labour [unclear: member] does no more than all members have ever done, and, as it happens, [unclear: his] class is not only the largest, but that to which least attention [unclear: from] hitherto been given. Yet, notwithstanding the obvious truth of [unclear: this] position, a party cry is sought to be raised—it comes, of course, [unclear: from] the supporters of Capital [unclear: members]—to disparage the Labour member in the eyes of the unthinking, under the sophistical guise of [unclear: class] legislation!

Both in Great Britain and the Colonies, responsible [unclear: govternment] affords great advantages to one class in the community—the [unclear: lawyeas] Every Ministry must have of legal advisers at least two; but, [unclear: usually], three or four lawyers find their way into the Government. The [unclear: Constitution] Act of Victoria required that of every Ministry two of the members at least should be of the legal profession; and in regards [unclear: to] the other Colonies, whether expressly required to be in the Government or not, lawyers are certain to be there. The present Ministry in [unclear: New] South Wales that of Sir George Dibbs) contains no fewer than [unclear: four] lawyers. Now, when a lawyer is returned to serve a confiding and unsophisticated people in the Parliament of his country, he has before him the prospect of being chosen—in the next turn of the [unclear: political] wheel—to fill high office; and, once he gets into office, in the event [unclear: of] a vacancy occurring on the Bench, there is the chance of his removal [unclear: to] that exalted and pure atmosphere, from whence he will be enabled [unclear: to] cast pitying eyes down upon poor sordid humanity for all the days [unclear: of] his natural life. These are rich and great prizes to offer to [unclear: one] comparatively small and by no means important—from a [unclear: wealth] creating aspect—portion of the community; yet, no one has [unclear: ever] thought of throwing stones at a member of the legal profession [unclear: for] seeking to enter Parliament although in a great number of cases it [unclear: is] to be feared that it is not the good of the country, nor even the [unclear: interests] of his class, that fires his ambition. He has education and [unclear: perhaps] page 63 money—important factors—to command respect; the Labour candidate has only his earnestness, his sympathy, and an honest avowal of his purposes to win for him consideration—therefore the stones go to him." Bene nummatum decorat Suadela, Venusqe," says Horace. "The goddesses of Beauty and Persuasion favour the suit of the rich man; Persuasion and Venus adorn the well-moneyed man." "The rieh man easily finds flatterers to style him an eloquent and persuasive speaker and an easy and agreeable companion."

The goddess of Persuasion forms his train,
And Venue decks the well-be-moneyed swain.

Alas for the man who seeks to represent the poor; he has no charm to win to his aid the subtle power of either Persuasion or venus!

In New Zealand, at the general election held in November, 1890, no fewer than some 22 Labour members * were returned tothe House of Representatives, the number of which is 74. This movement, and the organisation which achieved its success, undoubtedly oved its origin to; the great maritime strike of that year. Since the general election the labour party have extended a consistent and steady support to the Liberal Ministry of Mr. Ballanee, and through the eforts of that Ministry a number of Labour Bills of an important charaaer have been passed into law.

In New South Wales, the various Unions and Labour Associations were still smarting under the failure of the maritime srike when in February, 1891, a Convention of the statesmen of Australaia assembled in Sydney to agree, if possible, upon a measure of federation. Sir George Grey attended this Convention as one of the delegates from New Zealand. During his stay in Sydney Sir George was in close association with the leading Unionists. One of the items of advice he gave was to follow the example set before them by the Unionists of his Colony, and seek to secure the return of Labour members of the Parliament. The advice was acted upon at once; Labour Leagues were toned in various constituencies; and, at the general election of June in that year, no fewer than some 36 of the Labour party succeeded in winning seats in the Assembly. As the number of menbers of the New South Wales Assembly is 144, this result—large as it may seem—was not quite so great proportionately as had been achieved in New Zealand. The presence of this new and apparently wel-consolidated body of Independents was, however, quite a new and not altogether satisfactory feature to the leaders of the two old established and well organised parties of the colony—the Freetraders and Protectionists; and there can be no doubt that the most strenuous efforts were out forth from both sides in order to propitiate and ingratiate this new and formidable power. During the strike the Government of Sir Harr Parkes had page 64 been warmly accused by the Labour leaders of that time with [unclear: having] acted with partiality, and with having sought by unnecessary [unclear: military] display to provoke the strikers to deeds of violence. It was even [unclear: charge] that one of the members of the Ministry—the Treasurer—had [unclear: actully] urged the police to fire upon the people, using the words, "[unclear: Shoot] down like b—dogs." Mr Bruce Smith warmly and [unclear: emphaties] denied that he had ever used any such language, and his [unclear: repudiate] as a matter of course, should be accepted; but, so far as the [unclear: presant] purpose is concerned, it matters very little whether he did use the [unclear: word] or not, for at the time the Labour party could not be persuaded [unclear: other] wise than that the report was correct. It will be clear from this [unclear: bring] statement that, when Parliament met, the Labour members [unclear: neither] loved nor respected the Government in power, and it would [unclear: naturally] expected that under such circumstances, when the leader ot the [unclear: Opption] brought his inevitable vote of want of confidence [unclear: motion-] annual performance at the opening of each session in all [unclear: Colonical] Parliaments—they would hurry forward with passionate [unclear: enthusia] to its support. They did nothing of the kind. In meeting [unclear: Parliament] the unpopular-with-the-Labour-mermbers Ministry announced [unclear: a] of a most liberal and comprehensive character, [unclear: amongst] items of which were several of great value to the interests of [unclear: Labo] "We come not here for revenge," was the first announcement [unclear: the] came publicly from the Labour members of the New South [unclear: Wake] Parliament. It was not clearly stated whether the injuries [unclear: which] might then be avenged were those which Labour had endured for [unclear: aganist] or the more recent injuries of the Ministry accruing through the [unclear: strite] or the more particular iniquity supposed to have been perpetrated by [unclear: Mr.] "Shoot-'em-down" Smith, or all these injuries piled up [unclear: together,] does it matter. The sentiment expressed under such [unclear: circumstances] be held to display an absence of passion and an exercise of [unclear: clear] sound judgment in the highest degree honourable to those from [unclear: whom] it came. Indeed, there were not wanting sensible people who [unclear: claimed] that in acting thus the Labour members had not only acted [unclear: wisely] honorably but had displayed a dignity and magnanimity far [unclear: beyond] what had been expected. Upon that point every reader may [unclear: form] opinion for himself.

Almost immediately upon the disposal of the vote of [unclear: want] confidence trouble began to arise between the runholders [unclear: and] shearers of New South Wales in reference to the terms embodied [unclear: in the] recognised agreement. The shearers asked the runholders to [unclear: me] them in conference. The runholders refused conpliance unless [unclear: the] was first an absolute and unconditional subscription on the parts [unclear: of] shearers to the principle of freedom of contract. Again and [unclear: again was] a conference asked by the shearers, and again and again was a [unclear: conference] refused by the runholders. Another strike, wide spread and [unclear: and] reaching, seemed inevitable. When all reason to hope for a settlement was about to be abandoned Sir Henry Parkes interfered. The [unclear: venerable] page 65 Premier briefly intimated to the runholders that, unless they consented to meet the shearers in conference as sought, the Government could not undertake to extend protection to their properties in the event of a disturbance of the peace arising through their continued refusal. This little act promptly settled the whole matter. The runholdere met the shearers in conference; difficulties were smoothed over; the imminent strike was averted, but—would Sir Henry Parkes ever have written that letter had it not been for the presence of that powerful body of Labour members sitting under the gallery yonder? This is matter of opinion, of course, but this writer decidedly thinks not. The avoidance of a great impending strike was due in this instance, not to any act of the Labour members, but to the simple fact that there were Labour members; and a great good to the colony is entitled to is credited to their mere appearance in Parliament. The only thing that tends to throw doubt upon the reliability of this inference is the circumstance that, up to this hour, no member of the Labour party in New South Wales has ever publicly pointed out that on that occasion the Labour members proved of the greatest benefit to the country; but again, this remarkably uncommon failure may have arisen from a want of appreciation of the real influence they unconsciously exercised, or from a modesty unusual with members of Parliament, or perhaps the claim for consideration from grateful constituencies for servicer rendered has only been delayed, not [unclear: abandoned].

In all its initiatory stages the strike at Broken Hillfollowed closely the track of the threatened strike of the shearers. The mine-owners—no doubt having in view the thousands of men walkhg about idle in the streets of Australian cities—gave notice to their nen of changes they proposed to effect. Conferences were asked for by the men over and over again, and refused. Now, if the Government of Sir George Dibbs had taken a leaf out of the book of Sir Henry Parkts, and informed the mine-owners that unless they consented to meet the miners in conference, as asked, and intimated that the Government was not in a position to assure them that their property would be protected at the State's expense should trouble arise, it is almost certain that there never would have been any strike at all. Of course, it will be contended that such an act would be an interference upon the part of the State with a Labour trouble; but it would have been an interference limited to an effort to secure a conference between contending parties with a view to the obviation of the necessity for a much more expensive and unfortunate interference later on, A very limited interference surely. Possibly, to high spirited men, it may involve a certain amount of humiliation to intimate that, even under conditions carefully indicated, the Government could not protect the property of its people, and to say that they would not would be a confession that they refused to discharge an obvious duty; but, in order to obviate great calamities, the loftiest statesmen have not hesitated to resort to a little judicious page 86 diplomacy, especially if when failure to succeed resulted they [unclear: would] found in no worse or more ineffective position than they were [unclear: before] No voice has ever yet been raised in blame of Sir Henry Parkes [unclear: for] most successful notification to the run-holders.

In New South Wales the fiscal question was supposed to be [unclear: "sunk"] by the Labour Party. When Parliament met in '91, the [unclear: party]-protectionists as well as free traders—gave a solid support to the [unclear: freeco] trade Ministry of Sir Henry Parkes, because of certain [unclear: concessions] their programme which it was supposed that Ministry would [unclear: seek] carry into law. When the Protectionist Government of Sir [unclear: George] Dibbs came into office, the free trade members of the Labour [unclear: Party] once went into opposition, and the power of the party thereby [unclear: became] broken. This, certainly, was not sinking the fiscal question. [unclear: The] question before the Labour Party, as ever before any other patty, [unclear: is] How far is the present Government disposed to give practical [unclear: effect] our policy and how much better off in this respect are we likely to [unclear: be] under their probable successors? By the answers to these [unclear: question] only should a Government be supported or displaced, and only by [unclear: acting] upon this policy can any particular issue be said to be sunk. How [unclear: far] any party in Parliament is justified in attempting to sink any [unclear: great] public question is quite another thing.

Experienced and prominent public men in Australia and [unclear: New] Zealand have borne ready and generous testimony to the [unclear: general] character and value of Labour members. As a rule, they are [unclear: to be] found seeking to read up in the library, or manifesting a deep [unclear: and] earnest interest in the business going forward in the House. Not [unclear: inpossibly], they may at a later period acquire the knack of spending [unclear: these] time in the refreshment, card, or billiard room, and, like other [unclear: members] "always obedient to their party's call," be found rushing wildly [unclear: in at] the last moment to take part in the division. That time, [unclear: however], not yet.

That which unquestionably appears to be wanting—[unclear: particularly] in New South Wales—is the leadership of able and far-sighted [unclear: man]. No party in any State can long continue to exist which remains no [unclear: more] than a mere incoherent mass. There can be no occasion to enlarge [unclear: upon] this, because the history of England, France, Germany, and other [unclear: Continental] States. America, and the British Colonies, proves [unclear: conclusively that] in very great measure, the success of any political party is dependent [unclear: upon] the personality and ability of its leader and his aides. The taking [unclear: of] any one of the leaders of the great political parties subsisting North [unclear: of] the Equator would serve for present purposes, but the position [unclear: occupied] by the late Mr. Parnell will no doubt answer best. The personality [unclear: of] Mr. Parnell was strongly marked, and the dominancy of his [unclear: leadership] complete and entire; he had his counsellors to aid him; he [unclear: controlled] the action of his party absolutely, and beyond his party in [unclear: Parliament] the people of Ireland followed him with childlike faith and [unclear: imp] page 67 confidence. Through the leader a settled policy was maintained, and unity of action ensured. No Irish supporter of the Home Rule movement, from Mr. Parnell's nearest and closest fried down to the humblest tiller of the soil, dared to raise a whisper of opposition to the course of action upon which the leaders of the party lad decided. In short, the one clear and capable head governed the Movements of the whole body, and particularly controlled the possibility of a too eccentric motion of the tail. Where, it may be asked, rests theauthority which shapes the course of the Labour members of New South Wales? Is it in Parliament, in the Trades Council, or amongst the concented, self-inflated demagogues who regale the careless loungers in the Domain on Sunday evenings with their farragos of noisy stupidties? How can any party in a British Parliament expect to win any considerable portion of support from sensible people—even though their interests be the same—if they labour under the suspicion of having their action controlled by irresponsible and unacknowledged persons, or persons for whom, if known, no one has any respect? It is to be assumed that there is not amongst the Labour members of New South Wales one man who will not admit that the administration of the law must be maintained—that if tomorrow their party held the reins of power, they would be, morally and constitutionally, constrated to arrest all violators of the law, irrespective of persons; yet they are found seeking to condemn the administration of Sir George Dibbs for having done so. On the 30th September, the Assembly divided upon a notion to censure Ministers for carrying out the Common Law at Broken Hill, when every member of the Labour party voted on one side, and every member of the House not belonging to that party voted on the other. What the Labour members could hope to gain by thus appearing in opposition to the representatives of every other section of the community it is very difficult to comprehend. No doubt it will be asserted that this particular Labour party don't care one jot for the opinion of any other section of the community, but such a reply is folly, simply. No poltical party—not even the Labour party of New South Wales—can afford to flout the public opinion born of the rest of the community, If the leaders of a political party have any common sense at all they will recognise that it is their obvious duty not only to seek to win for their party the confidence and respect of as many sections of the community as they can, but every section if possible; certainly nothing is to be gained by earning the contempt of the whole body of the people excepting only those belonging to their own class. If any good is ever to be attained by Labour members they must seek to gather strength—not deliberately throw what they have away. The conclusion is [unclear: forced] that, in this instance, the Labour members in the New South wales Parliament were guilty of surrendering their judgment to the influence of a few noisy imbeciles and clamorous egotists outside; that they have no head, and that over the Broken Hill strike the tail has swayed the rump page 68 absurdly, May a hope be here expressed that the position [unclear: in] South Wales will soon hi changed materially; that the policy [unclear: to] followed by the Labour party will emanate from its [unclear: representative] siting in the Parliament; that, confidence being reposed in [unclear: the] decisions as the wisest and best, what is resolved upon will be [unclear: accept] by those outside in a spirit of trust and carried out with [unclear: obedience]; above all that a large degree of respect will in future be enforced [unclear: upon] those who, animated only by a miserable spirit of self-seeking—a [unclear: fo] desire to show how wonderfully clever they are—are constantly [unclear: carping] quarrelling, and sowing the fatal seeds of dissension. [unclear: There] Labour members to he found elsewhere than in New South [unclear: Wales,] the chosen representatives of Labour in that colony owe it as [unclear: a duty] that no disgrace falls upon the [unclear: canst]. Their motto is Union, [unclear: and] observance of the spirit of that motto must he insisted upon outside [unclear: as] well as inside of Parliament, otherwise to be a Labour member in New South Wales—or anywhere else—will shortly be to figure as a [unclear: proper] subject for scorn.

* Labour members are here understand to be those who have adopted the Labour pro gramme as their political policy, ond who have agreed to work for the acomplishment of certain stated reforms by which the position of labour will be affected, not exclusively those of the labouring class who have been elected to scats in Parliament.