Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4
A "Corner" in Labor
A "Corner" in Labor
Little else has been talked of during the month than the extraordinary « tidal wave » of labor unionism—the widest-spread and most important movement that the colony has known. It is specially significant, inasmuch as it is no mere local phenomenon: like the oceanic disturbances following the Krakatoa eruption, it is only an ultimate result of vast upheavals far away, and world-wide in their effects. We have devoted a good deal of space to the movement so far as it has affected the Craft; but the attempted boycot of the Union Steamship Company following immediately afterwards, with the threatened stoppage of Government railway and postal services, and the wide-spread alarm and temporary paralysis of business following—were of much greater significance than the trumpery quarrel with Whitcombe & Tombs. In that case, though the firm had no dispute with their own hands, and maintained a perfectly passive attitude, there were certain methods employed by them in their business to which the unions are bitterly opposed, and to that extent there was a grievance. In the present strike there is none. The demands of the railway hands last March—though in some respects unreasonable—were promptly conceded by the Commissioners, and received with every expression of thankfulness and loyalty. The Union Company's men, who are out by the hundred, acknowledge that they fare better and are better paid than any other seamen in the world. Until lately there was quite a competition to enter the service —now there is a deliberate and organized attempt by the Maritime Council to ruin the Company. Very few people can account for their action: least of all the men on strike. The labor orators and union organs have not yet assigned one definite reason for the movement—they say vaguely that « the great principle of unionism is at stake, » that « capital is organizing to crush labor, » and more to the same effect. In a recent manifesto it is set forth that « unionism is based on the right of free contract »; yet, particularly in Australia, and even in New Zealand, the whole machinery of the unions is used to prevent freedom of contract, and the State has had to take special precautions to pro" tect free laborers from personal violence.
We have denounced—as heartily as any of the Knights of Labor— « corners » in grain, in textiles, in coal, or any other of the necessaries of life. As consistent free-traders, we denounce the present movement, as in the same category. It is not Labor v. Capital—capital is only beginning to organize in self-defence. Capital has been actually quiescent, and even though boycotted by the unions, has not resorted to reprisals. Not one case has been reported of a workman dismissed for being a unionist, or refused employment on that ground. Labor has made a huge mistake. The unions have striven to form a « corner » in labor—to establish a labor aristocracy. Eightly or wrongly, they hold that there is not work for all. Their remedy is to form a close corporation—to keep the work in the hands of a select few, and to shut it out with relentless persistence from all outsiders. We are far from saying that such is the object of the hundreds who have given up their livelihood at the bidding of the unions; but such is the deliberate and evident intention of the leaders of the movement. The ill-paid artizans of Great Britain are cheerfully contributing their dole to a movement which does not aim at securing fair wages and short hours of toil—these boons are gained—but at preventing honest men from earning a living at all unless they choose to pay toll to the leaders of the agitation. The battle is not between Labor and Capital, but it is an attempt on the part of Leagued and Organized Labor to unite and shut out all competition. When the London dock-laborers aroused the sympathy of the world and gained their victory, it was not anticipated that they would form a close corporation and shut their less fortunate fellow-laborers out altogether—yet that was precisely what they did; and the condition of the casuals is worse than ever. It would be the most grevious disaster possible to society if the labor unions could compass their present objects.
The idea of a general federation of labor intoxicated the leaders. When the coal-miners, the railway men, and the seamen federated, some genius became possessed with the idea that a simultaneous strike would paralyze trade in a moment. The unions would then he omnipotent! The temptation to try the experiment was irresistible. It was contemplated in the Whitcombe & Tombs affair; but the unexpectedly firm stand of the Eailway Commissioners cheeked it. Then it was, with even less excuse, tried on behalf of the Australian Shearers' Union. And it has happily failed. The men are « out » —many of them, we fear, will not find it easy to get « in » again—but the earth revolves as usual; the railway service is continued, the steamers are being run by free workmen; unorganized labor is making its hay while the sun shines, and is efficiently protected by the State; and the individual unions, as they gradually recover their mental equilibrium, are contemplating a secession from the federation that has led them into such serious trouble.
Misery, according to Trinculo, acquaints one with strange bedfellows; but trade federation has brought respectable men like those of our own Craft into worse company still. One's whole soul revolts at the humiliation of being leagued with the boycotting « scalawags » of the Australian Shearers' Union, whose weapons against free labor are poison and the lash. They vowed that no wool shorn by non-union men should leave the colonies. The wool has been shipped: they are defeated at all points; and the trades who foolishly—it is not too much to say wickedly—leagued with them must share the penalty.
We feel sure that good will ultimately issue from the movement. It is clear to us that « the principles of unionism » will not suffer. They have never been threatened, save by the Federated Council and the ambition of separate unions. We believe that mistakes of the past will yet be rectified, and that the result will be to the benefit both of Labor and Capital. This part of the subject we shall leave to a future article.
The experiment of placing the State railways under the control of a non-political board has been amply justified by the first great emergency that has arisen. Not being infallible, the Commissioners have made a good many mistakes; and have met with unmeasured abuse. But they have earned the lasting gratitude of the whole colony by the impartial stand they took when attempts were made to embroil them in the labor strife. They have proved themselves possessed of strong common-sense and high principle; firmly insisting on fulfilling their own duties, and on their employés doing the same, at a time when politicians, both in and out of Parliament, were experimenting as to which could grovel the lowest at the feet of the Maritime Council.