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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

Branch Resolutions and Decisions of Council

Branch Resolutions and Decisions of Council.

Non-Free Members.

Bury Branch.—Resolved—

"That this branch wishes to draw the attention of the E.C. to their reply to the Birmingham 2nd Branch in the Monthly Report for October, 1877, and to Rule 8, clause 5, and to reconcile the same."

Reply.—Previous to 1866, non-free members were exempt from all levies, but at the Manchester Delegate Meeting the rule as amended took the form which it still retains in Rule 8, clause 5, namely:—"Non-free members shall be subject to all fines and levies to which free members are liable, except during sickness or want of employment." This rule was in force for six years before local levies were adopted in our society, and the four members of the E.C. who recorded their votes in favonr of the decision referred to, did so in the belief that they were providing for a contingency not contemplated by the framers of the rule. They knew that many newly admitted members have heavy entrances to pay, and that if they were also required to pay local levies as soon as they were admitted, the effect would be that candidates would be deterred from joining our ranks during the period when a local levy is being enforced. They therefore considered that the society's interests would be best served by deciding that the payment of local levies is not compulsory on members admitted after the levy comes into operation.

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The London District.

Vauxhall Branch—Proposed by Br. Stone, seconded by Br. Burton—

"That we, the members of the Vauxhall Branch, call the attention of the E.C. to their answer to the Paddington Branch in the March Monthly Report. If the votes of the members in the London District were taken in accordance with Rule 11, clause 1, upon the advance of wages movement, the delegates representing those Branches were not allowed to record their votes at the delegate meeting, according to their instructions, although it had been earned by a majority of the delegates present to do so. Therefore, the votes of the members were set aside. We would ask what is the use of taking the votes of the members and then not acting on them? We also consider the answer given to the Southampton and Plymouth Branches is not in accordance with the duties of the E.C., which in our opinion should be to carry out the wishes and interests of the members, not to withhold resolutions which are not in accordance with their views; and we are of opinion the sarcastic language used in their reply exceeds the duties of the E.C., and is not in keeping with the principles of unionism or the spirit which should actuate members in carrying out those principles."

Reply—If the Vauxhall Branch has a complaint to make, why is it not stated in specific terms which can be comprehended? We fail to understand whether the E.C. are blamed, or some unknown persons are censured. It is stated that the delegates were not allowed to record their votes at the delegate meeting according to their instructions. Who prevented them from voting in accordance with their instructions? This statement may not be intended to be sarcastic, but it will hardly be regarded by the delegates as complimentary. Our experience of London men has not induced us to regard them as being likely to be easily prevented by anyone from doing that which they consider to be just and right. The fact is that at both of the meetings referred to the delegates were put in possession of information relating to occurrences which transpired subsequent to the dates of the summoned meetings at which they were appointed. They acted as sensible men should act. They said, "We now know what our constituents could not possibly know when they elected us. We will modify our policy in accordance with the facts laid before us, and act as we believe our members would have wished us to act were they in possession of the information we have received, and which we shall lay before them at the earliest possible opportunity." This action is strictly in accordance with the spirit and intention of our rules. If argument and reason are to pass unheeded at London District delegate meetings, at the next revision of our rules we can with advantage curtail our expenses by eliciting the opinions of our branches by voting papers, instead of paying members for their attendance at district delegate meetings.

Members Leaving the Society.

Toronto Branch.—Proposed by Br. R. Heath, seconded by Br. G. Langridge—

"That whereas, in the Monthly for February, 1878, in reply to a question asked by the Dover Branch, relative to the proper course to pursue in the case of a member resigning, the E.C. state there is no provision in our rules dealing with such cases; members who resign cease to be members when their arrears amount to twenty-six weeks, &C. And whereas a similar question, of identical meaning, though couched in somewhat different terms, was forwarded from this branch to the E.C., namely, 'That the B.S. of this branch be empowered to write to the E.C. for information whether we receive a certain member's (name omitted) money or not, after his request to be taken off the books;' whereas the E.C. did reply to the foregoing, and order us to expel said member without delay, said member not having been expelled from this branch by the members for misconduct; be it therefore resolved—That this branch do hereby respectfully request the Executive Council to explain this extraordinary divergence of opinion between the two answers; also to inform us which is the correct course to follow."

Reply.—The E.C. gave no orders in this case. They advised that a member should be expelled, in conformity with Rule 4, clause 7; not for resigning his membership, but for bringing discredit on the society. At a special summoned meeting of the Toronto Branch, held on April 18th, 1877, it was resolved, without a single dissentient:—"That no member of this branch work for less than 17½ cents per hour from and after May 1st." A member of the branch in receipt of 17 cents per hour was, on July 3rd, by resolution of his branch, requested to leave his employment. He refused to comply, and for thus setting his branch at defiance and bringing the society into discredit, the E.C. advised that he should be legally expelled, in accordance with rule.

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Actions at Law for the Recovery of Wages.

Birkenhead Branch.—Proposed by Br. J. S. Roberts, seconded by Br. W. Shannon—

"That, having both replies of the E.C. in reference to the cases of Brs. Williams and Turney before us, and seeing that they are in our opinion diametrically the opposite of one another, we, the members of the Birkenhead Branch, desire to record our utter inability to understand the ambiguity and apparent inconsistency of our E.C., as exemplified in the two documents referred to—in the one epistle stating that "the society never takes action for the recovery of wages due, unless there has been an attempt to reduce wages or infringe on the recognised customs of the trade," &C.; in the next, qualifying the first by stating that "where it is considered to be in the interest of the members, the E.C. sanctions the employment of a solicitor," and further stating that "in the case of one of our Walsall members, the solicitor engaged was paid from the funds of the society." We are of opinion that such vacillation on the part of our E.C. is calculated to do infinite harm, and to cause members to lose confidence in their decisions. For we, the members of the Birkenhead Branch, desire to state, in reply to the first communication, that there had been a deliberate and flagrant infringement of the recognised rules of the trade in the case herein referred to. Rule 7 of our working rules, agreed to so recently as last May, distinctly states that all employers must commence to pay not later than ten minutes after leaving-off time, and we are of opinion that where employers take ten days instead of ten minutes to commence payment of a week's wages, that it is, to all intents and purposes, a deliberate infringement of the recognised custom of the trade. Whilst, in reference to the second communication, we can conceive nothing of more vital importance and interest, not only to ourselves, but to the members generally, than the prompt payment of wages due to every man; and we are strongly of opinion that employers should be taught that they cannot with impunity act in this off-hand manner, at least with members of this powerful society. We would therefore respectfully request our E.C. to reconsider, not their decisions in the cases herein referred to (as they have been settled to the satisfaction of the members concerned), but the whole subject, with a view of enabling members—especially those who may be in poor circumstances—with the aid of the society, to take prompt action for the recovery of wages in all such cases, some of which are cases of peculiar hardship. A man with a large family might be out of employment through slackness of trade or sickness for a number of weeks, and at length obtain employment from some unprincipled scoundrel, who, when pay time came round, would coolly tell him "he had no money." What, we ask, under these circumstances, is a man to do? Go to a lawyer. Yes, but that means 6s. 8d. down on the nail—where is he to look for it? Go to his friends and tell his troubles, and thus raise the necessary funds. In our opinion this should not be; on the contrary, we are of opinion that a member of an association like ours ought to have a claim of this sort upon a society whose fundamental principle is that it is organised for the protection of our interests. We trust that our E.C. will give the subject their best attention."

Number of votes recorded in favour of the resolution, 54; against, none.

Reply.—There is not a single line in our rules which authorises the expenditure of the society's funds in legal proceedings instituted for the protection of our members in cases of dispute with their employers. But in the early history of the society an unwritten law gradually came into operation, which made it the duty of the society to bear the legal expenses of members who in a court of law might defend and maintain the privileges of the trade. The E.C., some years ago, saw that this custom, if not strictly regulated, might lead us into great expense, and might sometimes entail mischievous results. They therefore announced their intention to reserve to themselves the power of sanctioning or refusing to sanction the institution in any law court of legal proceedings at the society's expense. For their own guidance, they decided that whenever any branch could show that one of their members had a fair case, likely to be substantiated in court, of an attempt on the part of an employer to reduce wages, or to encroach on any of the recognised customs of the trade, the case should be taken into a court of justice at the society's expense, and that legal assistance should be secured whenever the case proved to be sufficiently important to warrant the adoption of such a course. But they have always regarded unpaid wages, whether for daywork or piecework, as a debt, which it was no part of the society's duty to recover. If this decision had not been steadfastly adhered to, we should frequently have been involved page 75 in intricate and costly questions connected with cases of liquidation and bankruptcy. But each succeeding E.C. has been consistent and unanimous on this point. They have agreed to sue for justice in any encroachment on the privileges of the trade, but not for the recovery of debt. In the case cited by the Birkenhead Branch, if it could be shown that the member had any reasonable chance, in accordance with local customs, of obtaining ten days' pay for the ten days during which he was kept waiting for his wages, the E.C. would have been willing to sanction legal proceedings for the recovery of the ten days' pay, but not for the recovery of the wages originally due. Such is the policy which the E.C. have pursued. They may have been obstinate in adhering to the lines laid down in the society's interests, but they certainly have neither been ambiguous nor inconsistent. There has been no more ambiguity in the policy of the E.C. on this question than there is in the wording of the various compliments paid to them in the pages of the present Monthly Report.

Tool Benefit.

Liverpool 1st Branch.—Proposed by Br. T. Elltoft, seconded by Br. A. Rees—

"That the following question be submitted to the E.C.:—If a member of our society lose a tool, the property of a member belonging to the G. U. Society, can our member make a claim on his branch to replace such tool?"

Reply.—He can claim what he chooses, but his branch cannot legally grant him what he claims. Surely Rule 36, clause 3, is sufficiently explicit, when it says," Should tools be borrowed from a non-member, or should they be borrowed by a non-member from a member, and the same be lost, either by fire, water, or theft, the society shall not make good such loss." If the word "non-member" has been construed to mean non-society man, it is a mistake. It includes every person who is not a member of this society.

Remittance of Money.

Silver Cup Branch.—Proposed by Br. J. Benney, seconded by Br. T. Mitchell—

"That we, the members of the Silver Cup Branch, consider the E.C. have broken our laws, in authorising any branch to transmit money to any committee; and we wish the E.C. to give some explanation why the Silver Cup Branch was ordered to transmit the sum of £50 to the Strike Committee in Manchester, also the rule to show that they were right in doing so. The branch have refused to pass the audit until they have received some explanation."

Reply.—The money was duly ordered by the E.C., and the Silver Cup Branch has documents to show that it was applied for in proper form, sent, and its receipt acknowledged. Such being the case, they have no justification for withholding their March quarterly report from the G.O., and thus compelling the G.S. to publish an incomplete statement of the financial position of the society, in consequence of not knowing the exact balance held by the Silver Cup Branch. As soon as the quarterly report is sent to this office, the Silver Cup Branch will be supplied, through the Monthly Report, with the explanation asked for; but we shall certainly refuse to furnish any information when the demand for it is accompanied with a threat of withholding financial reports.

Suspension from Benefit.

Bolton Branch—Proposed by Br. J. Irving, seconded by Br. W. G. Robinson, that the following resolution be sent to the E.C.—

"If a member enter this society on the 15th January, 1877, and on January 14th, 1878, he is 18 weeks in arrears, and on the 28th January, 1878, our first meeting after the 14th, cleared off his arrears and declares on sick benefit, is he entitled to sick benefit according to Rule 8, clause 5?"

Reply—It was the duty of the member to have reduced his arrears below eight weeks on branch meeting night, June 14th, 1878, when he had been 52 weeks a member of this society. Having omitted to do so, he became legally suspended from benefit through arrears, in conformity with Rule 8, clause 5.

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Local Levies.

Chelsea Branch.—Proposed by Br. Austin, seconded by Br. J. Whines—

"That with reference to the reply of the E.C. to the question of the Pimlico Branch respecting suspension from benefit if a member be eight weeks contribution and eight weeks levy in arrears, is he disentitled to benefit. The members of this branch are of opinion the decision of the E.C. is erroneous, as the rules quoted by the E.C. distinctly state if a member is ten weeks and not ten shillings in arrears he shall be suspended two weeks from benefit."—Carried unanimously.

Reply.—Rule 17, clause 8, states that it is the duty of the B.S. to "bring forward every quarter all fines and levies which have not been paid, and enter them as arrears of contributions." In giving instructions for the guidance of officers and members on a silent point in the rales, the E.C. have decided that in bringing forward unpaid fines and levies, every shilling shall be treated as one week's contributions. The members of the Chelsea Branch have a perfect right to express the opinion that this is an erroneous decision, but they must remember that it is legally given in strict conformity with Rule 28, clause 1, and as such must be respected and adhered to until it is overruled by a superior authority.

Sheffield 1st Branch.—Proposed by Br. W. Dickinson, seconded by Br. G. Rodger—

"That we the members of the Sheffield 1st Branch protest with the Camden Town Branch against the answer sent in reply to the questions asked by the Sheffield 1st Branch in the October Monthly, it being no reply at all to the questions then asked, with the exception of the last one; therefore, we ask again, as the rule is silent on the point, what is meant by 'special fund for local purposes,' and likewise what is meant by the word 'district,' as worded in the rules? If it has no meaning, what use is it? as we are quite satisfied the rule is calculated to lead astray, which it has done already, and caused a great deal of dissatisfaction, by some of our best men leaving the society, and we consider the reply sent to the members of the Altrincham Branch will only have a tendency to aggravate the evil already existing, and if our E.C. thinks that the members are to be cajoled by such like answers, the sooner we have a change the better."

Reply.—The E.C. have decided that the words "local purposes" and "district" in Rule 9, clause 2, are elastic terms which can best be defined by the members who assemble in summoned meeting to determine whether they will by a voluntary act on the part of the branch contribute for the assistance of others in need of relief. Undoubtedly local levies produce dissatisfaction; so, also, do voluntary subscriptions; in fact, some men are always dissatisfied whenever they are called on to put their hands in their pockets. We have to the best of our ability endeavoured to give a straightforward answer to the question proposed; and if the members in their wisdom think fit to relieve us of our duties and entrust them to the care "of our best men leaving the society" to avoid the payment of a local levy imposed by a vote of their own branch, we shall cheerfully bow to the decision.