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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4

"Trades and Labor."

page 87

"Trades and Labor."

During the past month the world-wide Strike Epidemic has broken out severely in New Zealand, and the narrow field this colony presents for the experiments now being tried by the Trade Councils, and its insulated position, gives the movement a peculiar significance. The matter is of some interest to the Craft, inasmuch as the dominant body, the Maritime Council, threatened to bring about a stoppage of the colonial trade because a Christchurch printing firm employed females in their composing-room. Minor issues were raised; but from the documents printed in full below, it will be seen that this was the only point at issue. On the refusal of the Railway Commissioners to boycot the goods of the firm in question, the Maritime Council withdrew, leaving the Typographical Association to deal with the matter as it best could. The next step was to fall out with the Union Steamship Company, and the strikes that have occurred and which have caused the colony and the working-men in particular so much loss—estimated at over £100,000 weekly—are connected with a desperate but futile attempt on the part of Queensland shearers to boycot all wool shorn by free labor.

From time to time our Christchurch correspondent has given particulars of the difficulty between the Unions and the Whitcombe and Tombs Company, Limited. As a preliminary to the account of the trouble, we give the following summary—not as an absolutely correct and impartial history, but as an authorised statement, from the point of view of the Typographical Society:

Early in February last the Typographical Society submitted to the Master Printers' Association a set of proposals relative to wages and proportion of apprentices. A reply was received stating that, owing to differences of opinion among the master printers, the proposals could not be considered by the Association as such, and advising the Typographical Society to submit them to the various master printers individually. The proposals were accordingly sent to each master, with a notification that they would come into operation early in March. The various master printers, except Messrs Whitcombe and Tombs, proposed a conference with the Society, which was held, and amended proposals were agreed to, limiting the number of apprentices to two for the firm, and one for each journeyman permanently employed, and fixing the minimum rate of wages for jobbing-work for permanent hands at £2 15s per week. Messrs Whitcombe and Tombs, on receiving the proposals of the Society, called together the members of the Society in their employ, and informed them that the company would not recognize the proposals in any shape or form. They consented, however, to receive a deputation from the Society. A deputation accordingly waited on them on Monday, March 3, and at the interview the deputation were asked by the company's foreman, Mr Hicks, if the Society would recognize female compositors as ordinary apprentices. They declined to do so saying that they had not been instructed to treat on that matter, but they thought that, if the company was prepared to pledge itself to pay the ruling rate of wages for apprentices, and to give them the same pay as journeymen when they were out of their time, the Society might be induced to admit them. Mr George Tombs replied that he was in favor of doing what was suggested, as he considered that if the girls did the same work as men they should be paid at the same rate. Mr Whitcombe, however, declined to make any such promise. No arrangement was arrived at during the interview on either of the points submitted by the Society, and the manager refused to submit the matter to arbitration. On the Saturday before this interview the company had given their bookbinders notice that, unless they left the Union, they would be discharged. The men were required to make their choice the same day. They held a meeting, and decided to adhere to the Union, and, on intimating this to Mr Whitcombe, received a week's notice. They appealed to the Trades and Labor Council, which appointed a deputation to wait on the directors of the company. The deputation did so, and the directors said they would withdraw their objection to employing Union men. The deputation asked if the directors were willing to submit the whole question to arbitration, but were told that there was nothing to submit. The Council then gave instructions to the bookbinders to return to work, and they did so. In the meantime the members of the Typographical Society working at Messrs Whitcombe and Tombs' had given notice, under instructions from their society, that they would leave their work in a week's time, mainly on account of the refusal of the company to employ Union hands. Before the expiration of their notices the firm had withdrawn their objection to Union labor, but Mr Whitcombe sent for his Union compositors and told them that he would hold them to their notices, not on account of their being Union hands, but on account of the slackness of business, and that he would send for them when he had work for them to do. They left, but have not yet been sent for by Mr Whitcombe, who has, however, taken on nonunion men. The Trades and Labor Council took the matter up and asked to meet Mr Whitcombe, to consider the question of the compositors, but were refused an interview, and then brought the matter before the Maritime Council, which appointed a deputation to wait on the company, who declined to meet them, saying that there was nothing in issue.

The Maritime Council, on the 30th or 31st of July, proclaimed a general boycot of Messrs Whitcombe and Tombs. No railway servant, lumper, or seamen was to touch any parcel to or from the firm, on pain of dismissal from his union and boycot by the societies. If the harbor authorities insisted on handling the goods, the port of Lyttelton was to be blockaded—all trains immediately stopped, and no ships allowed to load or discharge. The railway authorities, the Harbor Board, and the Union Steamship Company announced that they were determined to fulfil their statutory duties, and that any servant refusing duty would be liable to dismissal. Upon which the following extraordinary telegram was sent from Christchurch to the Railway Commissioners:

Instructions have been received from the Maritime Council to boycot all goods. The Railway Union decided to comply strictly with the instructions. If the railway men are suspended we must call all hands out, and the port of Lyttelton will be practically blocked by the Council until the suspended men are reinstated. Our action is imperative, as the case is a test one, and is backed by other firms. Can you instruct Whitcombe and Tombs that the Railway Department is not responsible through civil commotion?

—H. J. Edwards, General Secretary Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants.

The Commissioners replied that they were responsible for the due performance of their functions, and intended to carry them out. Circulars were sent to all booksellers instructing them to refuse to sell Whitcombe and Tombs' books, and demanding a reply either negative or affirmative. It was publicly stated that all the Wellington booksellers replied in the affirmative This, however, is untrue. The following advertisement was also inserted in various colonial papers, and is still standing:

Notice to Unionists and Others.—

The —— Branch of the New Zealand Typographical Association requests Unionists and sympathisers to purchase none of Messrs Whitcombe and Tombs' publications or goods while that firm maintains its present attitude of opposition towards the Canterbury Typographical Association..

—— Secretary

Messrs Whitcombe and Tombs inserted an advertisement in the Christchurch papers, from which the following is an extract:

We take it, this is about the full limit of the terrors employers can be subjected to. Whether such tyranny can be enforced remains to be seen. In withstanding it, we are fighting for principle and freedom, not alone for ourselves, but for employers of labor throughout the colony, to whom we now look for practical sympathy and liberal support in all our branches of business. We have a claim for such, both now and in the future; and we look forward with confidence to reap our reward boldly asserting our rights, and with us are all employers throughout the colony.

They also wrote to the Maritime Council, inquiring what matters were supposed to be in dispute. The Council ordered a suspension of the boycot, and sent the following « issues for arbitration »:

1.Were men dismissed because of their connexion with the union?
2.Have the firm kept their word to recognize the union?
3.Has their refusal in the past to do so caused the dispute?
4.Is not the employment of girls at 10s a week In the composing room a process of sweating?
5.Are the demands of the Typographical Union reasonable?
6.Should not the firm give practical proof of their future recognition of the union by employing union men at once and working under the union's rules?
7.If it can be shown that the employment of females is detrimental to the whole printing trade, should it not immediately be stopped?

The firm immediately called a meeting of the directors of the company to consider the matter, at the same time writing to the Typographical Association asking for a definition of the demands of the Association referred to in the fifth issue. They had arranged to open a branch of their business in Dunedin, and the trades unions had announced the formation of an opposition establishment to be conducted on a cooperative system. All preparations for a general boycot were continued, and as the telegram from Christchurch had failed to influence the Commissioners, the following letter was sent to them from headquarters:

Maritime Council, 5th August, 1890.

To the Railway Commissioners, Wellington.


I beg to inform you that a dispute has arisen in Christchurch between the firm of Whitcombe and Tombs, publishers, &c, and the members of the Typographical Society, and this Council have been requested to try and effect a settlement of the same.

We have done all in our power to do so in a peaceful manner, but the firm have refused from first to last to meet us in any way or refer it to arbitration, thereby leaving no alternative to us but to take extreme measures against them.

We have in no way attempted to place that firm at a disadvantage with other firms, our request simply being that they should comply with the rates of pay and work according to the rules of the said Association the same as all other firms in the same line of business in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand, including the Government Printing Office, are doing.

Now, we have always understood that minorities are supposed to be ruled by majorities but in this case it seems that one individual is to be allowed to cause the total cessation of trade in the colony because the Carriers Act is said to compel you and other carriers to take his goods; but I venture to say that there never was an Act yet passed that could not be evaded if the parties interested desired to do so, and this one is no exception to the rule. And I further think that you, as public trustees of the people's railways, are as much entitled to endeavor to prevent a national calamity such as a general strike as are the trade unions of the colony.

My reason for laying this matter before you is that the Railway Servants' Union are a portion of the Council, and should we be forced to extremes, they, along with the seamen and miners, would at once be drawn in the dispute, thereby causing immense losses to both employers and employés. page 88That the latter would feel it most severely no one recognizes more than I do, but that they would suffer (as they have done thousands of times before and are now doing all over the world at the present time) sooner than sacrifice the principle of their right to form a union I am confident, and it is knowing this, that causes me to write to you to consider if you cannot discover some means to overcome the difficulty.

I would remind you that the rights of the laborer demand quite as much conservation as the rights of capital, but I am given to understand that you intend to dismiss any servant who would refuse to handle the goods of a man whose avowed and openly-expressed intention is to crush the worker, thereby conserving the rights of the capitalist by the sacrifice of the laborer. Surely this is not justice, and I would hope that gentleman occupying the high and responsible position which you do would look fairly at the rights of both sides: as surely if it is right for Capital in the shape of Whitcombe and Tombs to defy Labour, it must be equally right for Labour (your servants) to say they accept the challenge. Then let them fight it out without asking you to step in as a sort of big brother to say to your servants « If you don't stop, I will punish you. »

The gravity of the situation must be fully apparent to you, as it is to me, and I would again ask you to consider the matter well. That your servants will refuse to handle the goods when called on to do so is certain, and so will the seamen. So long as no member of the various affiliated bodies is made to suffer through dismissal or suspension a crisis may be averted, but the first made to suffer will be the signal for everything to stop from Auckland to the Bluff. I sincerely trust that you will not treat this as a threat, because none is intended. It is only my duty to clearly lay before you the present and future positions, so that no one may go into it with their eyes shut, and people say hereafter, « We should have known this before it eventuated » You can easily see if we were desirous of forcing this that I would not waste time by delaying the action, but our whole desire is to have peace with honor. Should we not be able to achieve this object, then our only course will be war to the end.

—I am, &c.,

John A. Millar, Secretary.

To which the following reply was telegraphed:

Wellington, August 11, 1890.

Mr J. A. Millar, Secretary Maritime Council, Dunedin.

I am directed by the Railway Commissioners to acknowledge your letter to them of 5th instant, in which you invite them to evade the statute law b refusing to carry goods for Messrs Whitcombe and Tombs, because of a dispute between that firm and the Typographical Association, which you state, has not yet been settled to the satisfaction of that body and the Maritime Council.

The Commissioners recognize that they are, as you describe them, « public trustees of the people's railways, » and as such they could not deprive any one of the people of the common right of using those railways.

You might with as much reason ask the Post and Telegraph Departments and the Courts of Justice to close their doors on Whitcombe and Tombs, or on whoever else refused to obey you, as to ask that they should be debarred from using the railways.

If the public services of the colony could be used for partisan purposes, and to crush individuals, there would be an end to personal liberty, and in its place a reign of terror, instead of that of security and peace which has hitherto been deemed the greatest privilege of every law-abiding subject of the British empire.

You have raised a question not of capital and labor, or of the rights of majorities or minorities, but the much more serious question as to whether the laws and liberties of the people are to be overriden at will by a self-constituted and irresponsible body—in short, whether society is to be governed by Lynch law or Constitutional law.

The Commissioners think it proper to point out to you what appears to them the real meeting of your proposals, and that you are entirely mistaken in thinking that the public services could be other than impartial, or take sides and become allies in any dispute whatever.

You state as certain that the railway servants will refuse duty if called on to handle Whitcombe and Tombs' goods, and you assert that if suspension or dismissal should follow, there will be a stoppage of the railway services from Auckland to the Bluff.

The effects of so extensive a strike, should it come to pass, will be a serious check to the trade of the colony, and entail privations on many families, and, much as the Commissioners deplore these consequences, they will not seek to avert them by violation of the law of the land in refusing to carry any person's goods.

(Signed) E. G. Pilcher,

Secretary to Commissioners.

The communication will be sent also in letter form.

Meetings were called, both in Christchurch and Wellington, by the Union leaders, to support the Maritime Council, and to denounce the Commissioners. At both meetings the following series of resolutions were passed:

1.That this meeting recognizes the present struggle as an evidence of an apparent combination of capital to crush the labor organizations of the colony, and urge that no compromise be accepted which fails to acknowledge the equal rights of the two interests.
2.That this meeting expresses its indignation at the unworthy tactics adopted by Messrs Whitcombe and Tombs in dealing with labor interests and pledges itself to resist sweating in whatever form it may be practised' whether by the firm in question or by others.
3.That this meeting heartily approves of and endorses the action of the Maritime Council in dealing with the present struggle, and pledges itself to follow the council in any further steps it may take, supporting it to the fullest extent morally and financially.
4.That this meeting affirms the necessity of a complete unity of all classes of labor in the colony under one executive, as suggested by the Maritime Council, also that a general defence fund for the whole colony be established in connexion therewith.
5.That this meeting endorses the necessity of the labor Bills now before Parliament, and calls upon the members in Parliament assembled to vote in their favor.

The meeting of directors of the Whitcombe and Tombs Company was held, but in the meantime, the workmen employed on their new building in Dunedin had been called out by the Carpenters' Union, and the work brought to a standstill. The result of the directors' meeting was that a letter was written to Mr Millar to the effect that as the unions had chosen to re-impose their boycot, the Company finally refused to submit the matter to arbitration. The firm also (on the 9th August) published the following letter in the Christchurch Press:


With your permission we should like to give a plain statement of facts on the much-vexed question now before the public, as we find we have been greatly misrepresented by the other side, several of our statements having been so grossly distorted and twisted that the public will scarcely be able to judge fairly of the points at issue.

We deny that we have, or ever had, any dispute with our men or with the Typographical Association, consequently we have nothing to submit to arbitration.

We never locked any men out of our workshops, but our men who were members of the Association, and working quite contentedly, some of them for a number of years, were withdrawn much against their will from our workshops by the Association.

We have not refused to employ union men; on the contrary, we have since the withdrawal of our old hands given employment to several, but the Association have as constantly withdrawn them. The real grievance is our employment of half-a-dozen women, and it will be seen that in the Bill now before the House, while we are to be allowed to keep those we have already engaged, no office can in future employ any girl at type-setting under the age of eighteen: this will virtually close a trade to women which they are eminently qualified to take up, as after eighteen no girl would set herself to learn the business, and we maintain that when a girl has acquired the trade she would be able to earn a higher rate of wage at type-setting than any other business that is open to her; but this trade the men apparently are attempting to refuse to allow them to enter, as the Shop and Factory Bill now before the House has, we believe, been approved of by the representatives of the Trades and Labor Council.

We only ask to be let alone, and allowed to run our factory on lines to suit our business. We have already stated that owing to the nature of our business it cannot be worked on lines laid down by the union, which tradesmen very well know. But we are quite willing to pay in the future as we have in the past, a fair wage for a fair day's work, be it to man, woman, girl, or boy, and not less than union scale. Great stress has been laid on Mr Whitcombe being the head and front of the offending, but we may say that he has been firmly supported throughout by his co-directors, who are willing to bear the blame, if any, equally with him.

We take this opportunity of thanking the numerous sympathisers from all parts of New Zealand who have so kindly offered their timely support and assistance.

—Yours, &c,

Whitcombe & Tombs, Limited.

This, it will be noted, appeared two days before the reply of the Commissioners was telegraphed to Mr Millar. The manifesto of the 5th August was evidently expected to have the effect of coercing the Commissioners into submission. Had they yielded, the serious responsibility of the boycot, and of involving a State department in a private squabble, would have rested with them. Their firm attitude came as a shock to the unionists, especially as it was based upon principles which there was no gainsaying; and it received the unqualified approval of the press and public throughout the colony. Mr Millar recognized that he had no course open but retreat, which movement he effected in the following ungracious manner:

To the Editor Otago Daily Times. Dunedin, 14th August, 1890.

In view of the public mind, the Maritime Council are of opinion that they are justified in officially intimating the course they intend to adopt to Whitcombe and Tombs. The Council have given this matter close and careful consideration, and have looked into it from every possible point of view, with the result that they have arrived at the following conclusions:—That no general strike will take place; that Messrs Whitcombe and Tombs have determined to attempt to run their business on non-union lines, and thus enter into unfair competition with their fellow-traders, to the detriment of the latter, and their employes; they have rejected arbitration, which has been twice offered, have defied the union, and must abide the result; that Messrs Whitcombe and Tombs have deliberately made up their minds to bring about a general labor complication, regardless of the resulting disasters, and consequent waste of time and money; with characteristic selfishness the firm are content to disorganize trade in the hope that they may benefit in some degree amid the general trouble. The Council will, with the help of the unions, deal with this company on simple but effective lines; they will not be assisted to drag union employers and employes into their own plight. Until they fall in with the general practice of their trade this company will be compelled to stand out in miserable relief as the only firm in the colony who refuse to recognize the rights of labor, and true principles of unionism. The Council appeal with confidence to the public, whose comfort and welfare are wantonly sought to be imperilled, to mark their appreciation of this company's tactics by refraining from purchasing their goods, or countenancing them in any way. To unionists no such appeal is necessary. In conclusion, the Council desire to express their deep gratitude to the various labor organizations in Australia and New Zealand for their loyal, generous, and sympathetic support. Thanks are also accorded to the agents of Whitcome and Tombs throughout New Zealand for their ready assistance. They will not be allowed to lose thereby, and will be fully protected against unfair competition by unionists throughout the colony. The Council view with indifference the probability of a few taunting them with over-moderation. The representatives of so strong and combined a body as the unionists of this colony can afford to be independent. With their heavy responsibility they cannot afford to be rash or hasty in their movements, as by so doing they may injure the welfare of the whole colony.

—I am, &c,

John A. Millar.

The public hoped that the trouble was now over, but such was not the case. The moving spirits in the federated unions apparently were determined to have a pitched battle with capital in one form or another, and accordingly took up the quarrel of the Queensland shearers. For a week or two they managed to throw the entire carrying-trade of the colony into disorder; but free labor has been available to prevent an entire stoppage, and the collapse of the present revolt—one of the most wanton and inexcusable in the whole history of labor struggles—is a mere matter of time.

page 89

Meantime, the Christchurch firm have been subjected to a good deal of petty annoyance. A guerilla warfare has been carried on against professional men and tradesmen on whose stationery their imprint has been detected. Certain « labor » newspapers have published as a blacklist, the names of the shareholders in the firm, consisting chiefly of school-teachers in various parts of the colony, and these gentlemen have since been subjected to petty and vindictive persecution. The beer of a brewer who held shares was ordered to be boycotted, but this interdict (of course!) was speedily removed. All the educational bodies, from the New Zealand University downwards, have been ordered to boycot the firm. Some half-dozen school-committees have resolved to exclude their books from the schools. Committees have no authority to do anything of the kind, but this is a mere matter of detail. Apparently as as afterthought, a fortnight after its somewhat undignified retreat, the Maritime Council called out Messrs Whit-combe and Tombs' binders. The following letter, addressed by the firm to the Press, is the latest addition to the documentary history of the affair:


"We ask you to kindly grant us space to place before the public the following further development in our case, and in order to do so it will be necessary for us to mention briefly, that owing to the unsettled state of affairs in our factory in March last, we determined to send to Europe certain classes of work which have hitherto been done here, amongst which were included our diaries. As a portion of the work had already been commenced, the directors issued orders that such should be packed and stored for another year, but whilst this was proceeding, the following undertaking was received, and the directors after due consideration, decided to accept it and go on with the work.

The following is the undertaking referred to:—

Christchurch, March 15th, 1890.

To the Directors of Whitcombe and Tombs, Limited.


We, the undersigned employés in your Company, hearing from the managing director that yon intend inviting tenders in England for a portion of the work hitherto manufactured in your factory—the New Zealand Diaries, for instance—respectfully ask you to reconsidered your decision, because we fully recognize the fact that this means throwing a number of your employés out of employment, and also that work will be going out of the colony which ought to be manufactured here.

In order to restore any confidence which you may have lost in your employés through the late difficulty, we are prepared to pledge ourselves, so long as we are employed by you, not to submit any proposals which will interfere with your management of the factory for, say, twelve months, and also to conform to the proposed new rules by which we understand you are going to govern your factory for the future: anticipating at the same time that you will not replace any of your hands, except for gross carelessness or misconduct, or whatever the intended rules provide for.

And we further pledge ourselves that in the event of any one being discharged for misconduct as referred to, we will not take any action such as would prejudice the welfare of the business.

Trusting that this will be the means of restoring confidence, and hoping in a very short time the employers and employed will be on a satisfactory footing, and wishing the Company every success,

—We remain, yours obediently,*

Now mark the result. The diaries duly went through the stages of ruling and printing, and had just reached the bookbinding department, when we received the following notice from each of the above-mentioned men, excepting Mr Clark:—

Christchurch, August 22nd, 1890.

Messrs Whitcombe and Tombs.


Acting under instructions from the Maritime Council, through the Canterbury Trades and Labor Council and our parent society, it becomes my duty to notify you of my intention to retire from your employment after Thursday, August 28th.

We do not believe that any right-thinking man, either unionist or non-unionist, will be found to endorse this further action of the Maritime Council. We ask, What security is left to employers of labor when members of unions will be guilty of so gross a breach of contract?

A statement has been made in the papers that the foreman of the department, Mr Clark, left the union in order to secure his position in our factory. Granted, hut he did so in the most honorable manner, for on enquiry, finding that it was not usual for foremen to be members of the men's society, and after the trouble was settled as he considered, as far back as June last, he sent in his resignation to the society, which was duly accepted. In conclusion, we would mention another fact, which we think reflects anything but creditably on the parties concerned. When our girl-compositors left work on Friday night, some of the men who signed the above undertaking, and joined by others, were unmanly enough to gather round the entrance to our factory and hiss and hoot the girls as they passed out, so that in order to prevent a repetition of such disgraceful conduct we had to seek to-day the protection of the police, and let the girls away before the usual hour.

—Yours, &c,

Whitcombe and Tombs, Limited.

* Eight signatures are appended. We omit them, as their insertion hi a trade-paper might have the appearance of "blacklisting."