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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

Labour Legislation

Labour Legislation.

I am in favour of legislation in the direction of securing to workmen payment of their wages and compensation for injuries sustained in the performance of their duties, thus imposing on the employers the duty of taking all reasonable precautions against accidents, and particularly in the direction of limiting like hours of employment of boys and girls and of securing that they, and the adult workers also, shall work under health conditions. I am in favour of eight hours being declared the legal working day and of the appointment of a standing commission, or board of conciliation, to which may be referred all differences between employers and employed with a view to their adjustment and the prevention of strikes and their attendant hardships, inconvenience, and loss. In this connection I may say that in giving exmission to my opinions I am not truckling to a section of the community or making a bid for their support. I am not a man of that sort, as the people of Dunedin should know by this time. For years past I have by voice and pen, in my small way, stood up for the dignity of honest labour and the rights of the workers; and although the recent unwise and unreasonable action of the leaders of the labour bodies in endeavouring to cause a general strike and paralysing the trade and industry of the colony, just when it was recovering from severe depression, has for the time alienated public sympathy with trades unionism, I do not recede from the position I have taken up regarding it, and I still believe that the trades unions, properly conducted, will benefit alike the employer and employed. But I object to unions that limit their membership and practically claim a monopoly of the work in any trade, regardless of the fate of those outside their ranks. Whilst I concede the right of every man to join a union, I claim that he should be allowed to follow his lawful calling un-molested, whether he belong to the union or not. To deny such a right would be to outrage the liberty of the individual in a free country, and an exercise of tyranny which must be resisted by every lover of freedom. I cannot help admiring the loyalty of the men in obeying the call of their supreme council, but I consider the leaders are to blame for raising a false issue and for not recognising that a general strike that does not carry public sympathy with its object cannot be successful. There was no attempt made by the so-called capitalist in this country to crush labour or to put down unionism. Generally the relations between employer and employed were of the most satisfactory character, and in most, if not all, cases I venture to say the men who came out at the call of the Maritime Council had no genuine cause of complaint against their employers. Such being the case, is it surprising that the general public, almost to a man, outside the ranks of unionism, should have resented the attempt of an irresponsible body to paralyse the trade and industry of the colony without any justification. In this country employer and capitalist are not convertible terms. I speak with some knowledge when I say that a large proportion of the employers of labour are practically little more than managers, and many of them get very little remuneration. The capital employed in their business is borrowed from the banks, and where do you suppose the banks get the money from? I am informed on good authority that of the number of interest-bearing deposits in the banks those of the working class far outnumber those of any other class. So you will page 12 see that the so-called capitalist is really a man who finds employment for the savings of the people, and of the very people who join in the cry of the tyranny of capital. Such a cry in a country like ours is meaningless to any man who is sober, and takes the trouble to think.

Rely upon it that the interests of both capital and labour will be best promoted by their working in harmony, each respecting the rights of the other.

I may express the hope and belief that respectable working men, having had time to reflect, will, on the polling day, show that they can distinguish their real friends from those who, presuming on their credulity, expect to secure their election by raising false issues. I think, Mr Chairman, I have dealt with the various questions of interest to the electors at the present time, and hops I have succeeded in my endeavour to conver my opinions upon them.—(Applause.)

Having replied to several questions to the evident satisfaction of the meeting, Mr Leary retired, whereupon the question as to whether! he should be asked to become a candidal was put to the meeting. There was a difference of opinion as to his views on the education question, the large majority appearing to hold opposite views, but the general opinion appeared to be that the point should be waived, and a resolution proposed by Mr Haynes, and seconded by Mr Hardie, that Mr Leary be requested to become a candidate for one of the city seats and expressing entire confidence in him was carried unanimously, amidst applause.

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