The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76
There is one thing for which Mr Macgregor must be thanked, though perhaps the thanks are due to his own misadvertence. He has not trotted out Jack Cade. In the minds of cheap journalists and critics who think they are broadly generalising when they are only groping in a fog of conjecture, this worthy has long Served as a type for social and industrial reformers. In a similar manner a justice of the peace finds a prototype in Dogberry Let there be an occasion for a smart paragraph, and the puny whipster turns to his faithful little book of quotations, and lo, the enemy is annihilated, as the French army was by Captain Bobadil. Because the Statute of Labourers failed in its object, which was to fix a maximum wage, the law prescribing a minimum wage must also fail. This is reasoning by analogy with a vengeance. As well take any other ancient law that has fallen into desuetude and reason that because it failed efforts in the direction of reform must be left to the mysterious law of nature, as shown in the divinely appointed system of supply and demand. It is like the tide, untiring in its flux and reflux, irresistible in its might, and eternal in its duration. But if Mr Macgregor had given only a portion of the study to industrialism that we would fain hope he has devoted to his profession, he would at least know the elements of the question The difference between the fixing of a maximum wage and the fixing of a minimum is so wide that no reasoning can reconcile them. The law that wages are fixed by the standard of living is as well defined, and ought to be as well known, as the law of gravity, and this law operates very largely in the progresare demand for a shorter day. This demand was one of the earliest features in the programme of organised labour.
In the early part of the century women and children worked thirteen to fifteen hours a day. The working day was limited page 13 only by the endurance of the workers. This was a splendid result of the law of supply and demand. Organised effort has brought it down, until the nominal day stands at eight hours which is convenient in many classes of employment. But there is no special sanctity about eight hours. No divinely appointed law declares that the shortening process shall stop at eight Economically speaking the only minimum to the working day is the time needed to supply the worker's wants. The maximum is defined by the physical endurance of the toiler. But we are now informed that any attempt to improve the condition of things as they happen to exist at present is "interference with trade" and "regulating the industries of the colony." Mr Macgregor reminds us very much of the old lady who shudderingly described as an atheist one who spoke disrespectfully of the equator.
Our friend is among those who hoped Judge Backhouse would curse the Labour laws of New Zealand, He his blessed them instead, like Baalam, and yet it is not recorded that any ass restrained him. But it would have been far different if a commercial man and not a judge had been selected by New South Wales to report. If for instance, one of those Sydney manufacturers who get trousers made for 2½d a pair had been chosen, there might have been produced a report altogether to Mr Macgregor's liking. It is easy to be wise after the event. Where Judge Backhouse went wrong was in not consulting Mr Macgregor, who would have produced him a report, piping hot from the oven, and warranted to make Labour leaders everywhere and anywhere squirm.
In his last article our local prophet has outlined the report his special protege "might" have furnished. But unfortunately the selection of the critic was not placed in Mr Macgregor's hands. The New South Wales government seem to have thought they knew their own business best. So they chose a man most likely from his calling, and his independence of business ties, to furnish the best report. A judge would seem to most thinkers an eminently suitable medium by which the evidence for and against a system might be brought to avizandum and weighed. But our New Zealand iconoclast has as little reverence for judges as he has for governments. Let us hope in the interests of his clients that it is not for the same reason.
It is well to note again that a singular fatality seems to have attended all who have examined the conditions in New Zealand and found them good; Mr Lloyd, Sir W. J. Lynn, Mr page 14 Barton, Dr and Mrs Webb, and now Judge Backhouse—they are all superficial observers, or designing politicians. It has been reserved for a local man, hitherto unknown to fame, to hold up the lamp of truth, and spy out the dark corners of the infamous conspiracy to fix wages and otherwise arbitrarily regulate the production and distribution of wealth.
In some respects an attitude of self-sufficiency like this is admirable. There is something not altogether unpleasing in the contemplation of a man who is endowed with a disposition that causes him to believe that he alone is right and all the others wrong. What is unpleasing about it is the contemptuous ascription of ignorance and the culpable insinuation of corruptness of motive.
It may only be surmised whether Mr Macgregor, and those for whom ho holds a brief, even dimly realise the sacrifices made by so called Labour leaders. The vulgar belief is inculcated that they make a very good thing out of their agitation. As a matter of fact, the opposite is the case. The unions are not wealthy bodies. They can pay no high fees for skilled advocacy. It was the knowledge of this that was responsible for keeping lawyers out of the Labour courts. And the Labour advocate has no other compensation. On the contrary, he incurs the odium, and in many instances, experiences the revenge, of the class who have employment to give. If need be, the wealthy man can live on his capital; the working man must employ his capital, which is his labour, or starve And not only does he incur the risk of starving in his own person, he may also condemn his family to a narrow way of living that may blight their future. The Labour agitator has nothing to hope from his agitation; what he does is usually done because of his unquenchable desire to raise his class to a better position.
Another erroneous and injurious belief is that all Labour men are candidates for Government employment. In another series of articles not long ago, Mr Macgregor went so far as to say that departments were created to find billets for supporters. It would be about as reasonable to object to the construction of railways because porters are employed, or to rail at the courts of justice because they are the happy hunting grounds of lawyers.
Still another misconception is it that Labour and Seddonism are synonymous terms. The rights of Labour to a larger share of the world's good things are eternal; Seddonism is only a passing phase of Colonial politics.
The Labour laws are doing that which any person of or- page 15 dinary intelligence expected they would do If any imagined that unions, after they were formed in compliance with the Act, would sit down with folded hands and meekly await the cloud on the horizon that betokened the coming industrial storm, that person possessed little perspicacity They were to continue without question under the wages and conditions given to them at the arbitrary will of employers, who are credited with a desire to give as much as the so-called law of supply and demand will permit. They were to be defensive and never offensive, because that would be "interfering with business." it never seems to have occurred to Mr Macgregor that this lands him in a false position. It is conceivable that under certain conditions employers might be justified in insisting on lower wages and longer hours. Surely even in his eyes that would constitute a dispute But in that event the unions might reasonably resist even though they be economically wrong. Therefore such arguments are two edged swords.
Organised labour takes other ground. It declares that existing relations between Capital and Labour are radically bad, that the caprice or averice of the employer, or organised employers, deprives Labour of its fair share of the comforts and amenities and graces of life; that the same brand of humanity is on employer and employed; that a human being is different from the machine he operates, and that he has inherent claims to something higher than to be a mere chattel. To quote a recent writer in the 'Clarion': "There is a growing grasp of ideas, of ambitions, of desires, books, newspapers, and travel contributing to the awakening of Labour to a world of sense. The Trade unions because of the lessons of the past, are beginning to fight the drudge curse, to apprehend a bigger lesson, so that field, stream, lake, river, mines, cities, machinery, factories, docks, steam, electricity, ships, tides, seasons, crops markets, education, work, government, laws, the subordination of brute and raw nature to man's needs, are facts becoming better known and appreciated. Instead of being drudge, to be master and sharer of these is the dream of the dawning intellect and conscience of the worker."