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Salient. Victoria University Students' Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 25. October 4, 1976

Stop Industrial Legislation — The Road to Fascism Paved with Good Intentions

page 6

Stop Industrial Legislation

The Road to Fascism Paved with Good Intentions

The National Government is exceedingly fond of emphasising "democratic rights": the right of a worker to choose between voluntary and compulsory unionism (when in fact there is no choice), the rights of employers endangered by strike activity, the rights of industries seriously affected by industrial disputes and finally but most appealing the rights of Joe, or Josephine Blogg inconvenienced by political stoppages.

Predictably the right of a worker to use the only weapon at his/her disposal (i.e. withdrawal of labour) is rarely touched upon. It is legislation in the pretext of enforcing these mythical rights, that has historically paved the way to fascism.

Civil Liberties Threatened

The NZ Council for Civil Liberties, concerned at the recent proposed industrial legislation and the trend towards fascism, held a seminar last weekend centred round three themes: the historical framework of Trade Union Civil Liberties; Recent Developments in New Zealand; and What of the Future.

The first speaker, Noel Woods, former secretary of Labour and fellow at the "Industrial Relations Centre, Victoria University, outlined the major historical developments. He pointed to the maritime strike of 1890 and its subsequent overwhelming defeat as the turning point in industrial relations.

The unions lost confidence in their ability to look after themselves and looked to the government for legislative protection. In 1894 the first Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act was passed. This was primarily designed to set up an organizational structure which would safeguard the rights of workers and prevent strikes.

It's interesting to note that lockouts and strikes were subject to penalty only if they occurred while the dispute was before a board of Conciliation or the Court of Arbitration. It was not until 1905 that the sweeping prohibition on strikes and lockouts was introduced.

From that point onwards until 1973 the definitions of strikes and lockouts were expanded and the penalties increased in scope and severity until they occupied ten pages of the Act. Deregistration of unions as a penalty was introduced in 1939 and expanded on in the 1973 Act (see S 130(1)(5)). In effect this allows for ministerial interference in the internal functioning of union membership.

After 1973 strikes and lockouts during voluntary negotiations for a new collective agreement became allowable. The Act terms all other stoppages, breaches of the agreement and subject to penalty as such. It is interesting to note that Noel Woods stressed that penalties and fines placed on industrial stoppages have never facilitated industrial mediation and in fact, worked very strongly against any industrial solution.

Laws Fascist in Nature

The discussion which followed centred round the proposed amendments to the present Industrial Pelations Act; most important of which are
a)Introduction of penaltics for failure to observe disputes procedure - in effect this means that every union and every officer of that union must prove (to escape penalty) that they took all possible steps to ensure compliance with the disputes procedure and to prevent the strike. This puts the onus on unionists to prove themselves innocent (a complete reversal of the principles which lay the foundations of our justice system!). It also places them in the invidious position of doing Employer/Govt "dirty-work" - strike breaking.
b)Such fascist (in nature if not intent) legislation as that included under the heading "Offence to Strike or Lockout in Respect of a Non-Industrial Matter". It states that every person who becomes party to, or incites, instigates, aids or abets a strike or lockout on any nonindustrial matter will commit an offence and be liable on conviction to a fine, not exceeding $500 in respect of every such breach.
c)Such widely interpretative legislation as that of Section 2(%) "Failure to resume work where the Public Interest is Affected". Here the Industrial Court is asked to evaluate something which most economists could not agree upon - what constitutes a serious threat to the economic health of the economy! One could seriously question whether any consistency of interpretation is possible wiht such a widely drafted power.
2.Another interesting amendment was the proposal to make provision for a secret ballot on the question of union membership. Contrary to the policy outlined in the National Manifesto which promised secret ballots in all unions, the proposed legislation states "the minister may from time to time, by notice of the registrar, require a ballot. In effect this means that weaker unions e.g. clerical workers may be threatened with such ballots if they propose any sort of direct action in the future - "Behave or your membership will be ballotted."
3.Introduction of a clause entitled "suspension and debarrment of union officials" Under this any union official convicted of an offence involving an illegal strike may have an order placed against him disqualifying hint from any further official participation in a union, either for life or for a specified period. The notable feature of this legislation is the dangerously wide number of people who may apply for such an order

Discussion Reveals All

The seminar closed with a lively and revealing panel discussion. The panel represented a diversity of views in the various shapes of Ken Douglas (from the Drivers' Union) Jim Turner (from PSA), and Ted Thompson (Watersiders). To initiate discussion the panel first stated their position.

Ken Douglas saw the legislation as an attack against rank and file democracy in the interest of big business. However he saw little need for worry as the legal position was not the important issue - rather, what mattered was Trade Union solidarity and wider community support. Jim Turner saw the legislation in terms of its anti-democratic nature, where workers are virtually enslaved to their jobs through fear of penalties.

"See how well our automatic grievance machinery works!"

"See how well our automatic grievance machinery works!"

National's Mandate

He said that it was ludicrous to argue that because the National Government had been elected it had a mandate to do whatever it liked. Toeing the Skinner-Douglas line, Ted Thompson said that he was neither disturbed nor surprised by the proposed legislation, and that what was needed most was a solid united front.

The discussion which followed centred round the basic issues of "how much is this proposed repressive industrial legislation a threat to trade union activity? Should we fight it now, and if so how? Ken Douglas argued that it didn't matter what legal barriers were imposed to trade union activity as nothing could defeat organised labour.

However, as Jim Turner pointed out, the trade union movement needs civil liberties in order to advance its cause. (As was ably demonstrated in the 1951 dispute, repression breeds eventual destruction of trade unions). He added that it was important to protest against the law itself, to educate the public and workers to its fascist implications and in the process create a friendly environment towards unions.

Douglas continued to say that if employers used any part of the legislation, e.g. the suspension clause, then workers would quickly and effectively retaliate. The results of this retaliation would force the employers to pressurise government to change the legislation. Jim Turner pointed out that these measures would have an effect on the employers but would eventually fail, as the general public would lose sympathy with the workers and demand the enactment of the legislation e.g. if you're stranded on the Ngauranga Gorge because of the Drivers' dispute then the likelihood of your maintaining any sympathy is fairly remote.

Depends on Public Support

Douglas then said that the outcome of any industrial dispute ultimately deperided on the measure of public support. He cited the case of the Truxtun's visit and said that it lacked a great deal of public support. However, this was hotly refuted by Thompson who, though agreeing with regard to the importance of general support, strongly disagreed that the protest action over the Truxtun's visit did not in fact have this support.

Discussion then centred on whether any action should be taken now. Douglas alluded to the preceptence of the wage struggle over the legislative battle. He also said that nothing could be done to stop this proposed legislation going on the books and that it was important to focus the primary attack on the legislation once it had been passed.

This was strongly refuted by a member of the audience who pointed to the defeatist aspect of his argument, and urged that it was important to take up the struggle now. Various speakers stressed the need to attack this legislation now; to form a solid base for a future struggle if the laws were implemented. It was important to unite and educate all elements of society especially those most affected i.e. rank and file unionists.

The repressive legislation should be attacked from all angles — broadbased educative and publicity campaigns were a vital necessity. It was stressed that the time element was very importent; as history had illustrated, once the legislation was on the hooks there might be little trade unions and interested groups could do to remove it.

Confronting Fascist Violence

Jim Turner raised the question of civil liberties and fascist violence and suggested that until a trade union was strong enough to confront such a threat that it should retreat and build up its forces. This was strongly refuted by several speakers from the floor who argued that it was suicidal to retreat and that fascist violence should be met with counter-violence.

History has shown in fascist Italy and Spain that once fascist violence became entrenched it could effectively destroy any progressive movements, for a considerable length of time.

The seminar then concluded with a short speech from the chairman emphasising and summarising the calls to immediate action to fight the threat of-fascist legislation.