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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76

No. II. — Conciliation a Failure

page 8

No. II.

Conciliation a Failure.

In the meantime, let us consider it as a means of promoting conciliation. As we have already seen, the author of the system was utterly mistaken as to the purposes for which it would be used, and I propose to show now that he was equally mistaken as to the method in which it would be used. In moving the second reading (in 1894) Mr Reeves said: "I do not think the Arbitration Court will be very often called into requisition; on the contrary, I think that in 99 cases in 100 in which labour disputes arise they will be settled by the Conciliation Boards; but unless you have in the background an Arbitration Court the Conciliation Boards will not be respected, and they will be virtually useless." If he had been asked how long it would take for a hundred cases to arise he would probably have said nearly as many years; at any rate, there can be little doubt that, if lie could have foreseen that within six years of the act coining into actual operation such a multitude of "disputes" had "arisen" (or rather been manufactured under it), he would have run away from it as from a dangerous monster. Thin is the outcome of a measure intended by its author to promote conciliation and goodwill between employers and employed, and still people can ask whether it has been a success! One member of the Upper House who opposed the bill spoke as follows: "Talking about reconciling the employer and employed in the way proposed by this bill reminds me about the little rhyme about the young lady from Riga:

There was a young lady from Riga,
Who went for a ride on a tiger:
They returned from that ride
With the lady inside,
And a smile on the face of the tiger.

There can be no doubt as to which of these members had the clearest conception of the probable outcome of the measure—the tiger has indeed lain down with the lamb—inside, and the smile on his face is very broad. Three years ago the present writer contended that as a means of promoting conciliation the system had failed, and that the Boards of Conciliation should be abolished; and within the last few days the Premier hay practically admitted this, although, instead of blaming the unionists, he blames the boards.

Reverting to our question, then, we can have no hesitation about saying that as a means of promoting the settlement of labour disputes by conciliation, this scheme, so far from being a success, has been an almost complete failure. The position, then, is this: that the measure intended to serve the same purpose as the Massachusetts system—namely, the settlement or prevention of strikes and lock-outs and disputes likely result in such—has completely missed object. If it can be said to be a success must be in some quite different way that intended. Now, we know there [unclear: has] been a general disposition in the community to take for granted that the system was success; employers thought of nothing beyond being left in peace to make the of the good times while they lasted, [unclear: of] they were ready to concede almost [unclear: of]demands of their men, believing that [unclear: they] could reimburse themselves by raising [unclear: prices]. Thus it was that so many of them [unclear: were] inclined at first to regard the system [unclear: with] a certain amount of favour. As a class [unclear: they] have shown singularly little provision, [unclear: and] an almost total disregard for their [unclear: comm] interests. In the past, the leading [unclear: charac]teristic of the average New Zealand employer was fairness towards his employees and for some time after the new [unclear: system] came into operation this continued; but [unclear: of] is now giving way to a tendency to [unclear: be] aloof and to concede nothing more [unclear: that] law compels; whilst, as between [unclear: employes] and employees, there has been almost a [unclear: was] absence of that spirit of combination [unclear: to] common defence which saved the [unclear: English] engineering trade in 1898. But now [unclear: a] length there are indications that they [unclear: of] beginning to realise the necessity for [unclear: co]mbination for the common defence against [unclear: de] tyrannical exactions of the unions, and [unclear: the] tendency of the Conciliation Boards and [unclear: the] Arbitration Court to act upon the [unclear: principal] of giving the unions every time some [unclear: a] of their demands, instead of being [unclear: good] by principle. The truth is that [unclear: who] idea of conciliation and the [unclear: existenes] so-called Conciliation Boards is an [unclear: she] incongruity in a system applied not for [unclear: the] settlement of real disputes, but for [unclear: the] lation of all industries on the demand the unions. When the President of [unclear: the] Court said, shortly after his [unclear: appointment] that the boards should be retained [unclear: book] they bring the employers and employees [unclear: to]gether for friendly discussion, he [unclear: case] have realised what the boards have [unclear: been]—namely, courts of first instance, [unclear: where] employers as a rule do not meet [unclear: the] employees, except, perhaps, as [unclear: witness] called by the labour advocates, who are [unclear: a] even appointed by the employees, but [unclear: a] the Trades and Labour Council. There [unclear: was] be no such thing as conciliation [unclear: is] the proper sense where there is no real [unclear: dis] between employers and employed, [unclear: a] merely a long list of demands [unclear: formulae] by the union and the council. Even in [unclear: the] cases that have not gone beyond [unclear: the] ciliation Board there has been [unclear: no] page 9 [unclear: tion] in the ordinary sense. The employers have as a rule yielded to the demands where they could see their way to pass on the burden to the broad back of the pubic, and they have shown no determination to [unclear: fight] for important questions of principle [unclear: which] as the iniquitous demand for preference to unionists. There has been too much [unclear: concession] and compromise, but very little [unclear: liation;] whilst on the part of the [unclear: unions] there has been very little of either: [unclear: they] have no doubt in some cases accepted [unclear: less] than their full demands so long as they [unclear: secured] a minimum wage and preference; [unclear: but] it has been with the full determination [unclear: to] renew the fight on the expiration of the [unclear: period] of the armistice. Of the true spirit [unclear: of] conoiliation they have shown none. Con [unclear: rious] made by the employers the unionists [unclear: have] treated as the Boers treated the con-[unclear: cessions] made by the British—as signs of [unclear: weakness].

Our conclusions, then, so far are that, as [unclear: a] scheme intended for the substitution of [unclear: conciliation] and arbitration for strikes and [unclear: lock]-outs in real industrial disputes, the sys-[unclear: tem] has never been tried, and therefore to [unclear: speak] of it as either a success or a failure [unclear: is] a misuse of terms, and that as a scheme [unclear: for] the promotion of conciliation it is a [unclear: failure] I am convinced that no one who [unclear: has] followed the reasoning with competent [unclear: knowledge] of the nature and working of the [unclear: system] can fail to admit the correctness of [unclear: there] conclusions; but it must be observed [unclear: that] I do not say the act has been a failure. [unclear: What] I do say is that, if it is a success, [unclear: it] is not as that which it was intended to [unclear: be], but as something quite different. It [unclear: follows] that those who describe the system [unclear: as] a success by reason of its securing to us [unclear: immunity] from strikes are either wilfully [unclear: or ignorantly] misrepresenting the facts. The [unclear: very] title of the book, "A Land Without [unclear: Strikes,"] is a misrepresentation, inasmuch [unclear: as it] implies that the system has been com-[unclear: pletely] effectual in the settlement of dis-[unclear: putes] which would otherwise have resulted [unclear: in] strike, whilst the fact is that no one [unclear: can] say it has ever been invoked in such [unclear: wa] When the then Premier of New [unclear: South] Wales, Sir W. J. Lyne, met a deputa-[unclear: tion] opposing the introduction of the system [unclear: into] that colony with what he apparently [unclear: considered] the conclusive answer that in [unclear: New] Zealand the system had been satisfac-[unclear: tory] because "it had put a stop to strikes," [unclear: he was] simply showing how utterly ignorant [unclear: he] was of the subject.