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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76



Let us now proceed to consider the actual working of the system, and whether it can be described as a success. Although it is incorrect to say that "it has put a stop to strikes," the fact remains that during the period the act has been in operation New Zealand has been a "land without strikes," I am prepared to go the length of admitting that the probabilities are that but for the existence of the act we should have had one or more strikes. Is it then correct, after all, to say that the act has prevented strikes? Have we simply been splitting straws all the time? By no means: the act was intended to be applied, like the Massachusetts system, for the prevention of strikes in the sense of providing the means of settling disputes resulting in or likely to result in strikes or lock-outs. If the system has prevented strikes it has done so by reason of its being worked, not as a method of settling disputes arising in the ordinary course, but as a method of enabling unions to get up factitious "disputes" for the express purpose of having them adjudicated upon by a court of law. Herein lies the whole crux of the question. This is one way of "preventing" strikes, but it is not the way contemplated by the author of the measure nor by the Parliament that enacted it. Still, the question is whether it has been successful, and we should have had no fault to find with those who declare that it has been successful had they not used terms implying that the system had been used, and successfully used, in the settlement of disputes in the ordinary sense. That it has been successful as a system for getting up "disputes" for the express purpose of having them adjudicated upon there is no doubt; but the real question is whether a system which "prevents strikes" in this way is necessarily beneficial. We have now succeeded in making clear the absurdity of describing as a method of preventing strikes a system used for an entirely different purpose—namely, the regulation of all the details of trade and industry by the decrees of a statutory court of law made under the pretence of settling disputes—disputes got up for the express purpose of being, submitted to the court, and which in all probability would never have been thought of but for the fact that the existence of the court prompted them.

What we have to inquire about, then, is the success or failure of a scheme, not for preventing strikes, but for the control and regulation of the trade and industries of the country with the object of making strikes impossible—two very different things; and the real question is whether immunity from strikes is a matter of such transcendent importance as to make it worth our whiile placing the regulation of our industriies under the control of a court of law. That is the real question, and books like "'A page 10 Land Without Strikes" must be re-written to be of the least value. "Liberal" politicians for whom the history of the "wretched past" has no lessons, and socialistic unionists who think they enjoy immunity from the laws of political economy since it was banished to Saturn, will have no hesitation in saying, not only that immunity from strikes is worth the price, but that the regulation of trade in that way is a good thing in itself; but I confess that to me there is a very strong presumption against the permanent success of any such arrangement.

Let us see what it means in actual practice. During the period of less than six years that the act has been in actual operation a multitude of disputes have been "faked up" under it, and there is scarcely an industry or trade in the colony that is not subject to restrictions imposed by an award of the court at the instigation of the unions, and in a sense at their dictation, inasmuch as they can call upon the court .to adjudicate upon any question they think proper to raise affecting any industry. There is scarcely an employer in the colony that is not subject to an award of some kind, and many are subject to quite a number of awards at the same time: in the engineering trade, for example, an engineer may be hedged round by seven different awards. The modus operandi is very simple. A meeting of the union in any industry, from shipping or coal mining to hair-dressing or shirtmaking, is held. A long list of demands is drawn up, and great ingenuity and resource is shown in formulating them so as to cover the minutest details of the trade. This list of demands is sent to the employers in the trade, and in case of any of them refusing or ignoring the demands, a "dispute" is held to have arisen within the meaning of the act, and the machinery is put in motion for the "settlement" of the "dispute." As a rule many of the employers, and those of the employed who do not belong to the union, are not aware of the existence of the "dispute" until they see some reference to it in a newspaper. In many instances the so-called trades union is as purely factitious as the "dispute," inasmuch as it is formed for the express purpose of getting up the dispute. And so the formation of unions, the getting up of "disputes," and the settlement or the adjudication of them goes merrily on. If the act was intended simply to provide the means of getting up disputes for the express purpose of being adjudicated upon, regardless of ultimate consequences, then it must be pronounced a success; but I have shown clearly that it was intended for quite a different purpose. It cannot be said [unclear: to] have failed (except in so far as its [unclear: objects] was the promotion of conciliation), [unclear: into] much as it has never been tested for [unclear: its] proper purpose. Neither has it been a [unclear: su] cess for that purpose, but it does not [unclear: fol]low that it may not have been a success [unclear: is] a different and perhaps better way. This is what we have now to consider.

The position, then, is this: that the [unclear: people] of New Zealand find in active, very active, operation amongst them a system which controls and regulates all the industries of the country in a manner that neither the people nor the Legislature intended; that the system has been diverted from its purpose in this way by the unionists, who form [unclear: a] comparatively small proportion of the population, and furthermore by a comparatively small proportion of the unionists-namely, the agitators or wire-pullers amongst them. As we shall see further on, the system has been thus perverted to serve the ends of one particular class, the unionists. From their point of view and as a means of [unclear: securing] political support for their Government the scheme has been a decided success; but the real questions are: Has it been a success in the sense of being beneficial to the country as a whole? Is it likely to be, or is there any chance of its being a success in this sense?

If the system had been put to the [unclear: had] say once in each of the six years it has been in force, for the purpose of settling [unclear: strikes], we might by this time have been [unclear: justified] in forming an opinion as to its success But since it has not once been put to the test, no man of competent knowledge, and having a due sense of responsibility? [unclear: would] commit himself to any opinion on the subject. When one finds the Premier of a great colony—the mother colony—[unclear: expressing] himself thus in reference to it: "Whatever will prevent the repetition of strikes is [unclear: as] absolute success, and they have [unclear: prevented] strikes in New Zealand—from whatever cause they have done it," one can only [unclear: it] claim with Oxenstiern, "with how [unclear: le] wisdom is the world governed?" If we [unclear: have] prevented strikes in New Zealand we [unclear: have] achieved this object, not in the way [unclear: we] intended, but by subjecting all our [unclear: industries] to regulation in every detail by a [unclear: con] if Sir W. J. Lyne had been aware [unclear: of the] would he have committed himself to [unclear: and] a statement? One can understand of the Marxian school of socialism [unclear: talking] up such a position, but not a .Minister of [unclear: the] Crown who makes pretensions to [unclear: statesman] ship. No man is justified in describing [unclear: the] system as a success either as a means [unclear: of] preventing strikes or as a scheme of [unclear: trade] regulation. Mr Beeves said, "It will[unclear: told] page 11 years before the public can say whether or not they consider it a good and useful measure—experience alone will show that." We Eve had absolutely no experience of it in the way in which he intended it to be used; but if, say, six years would have been necessary to test it as a means of settling strikes, how many years would be required to test it as a means of regulating all industries so as to make strikes impossible? Would any reasonable man say that a period of mx years of steadily-increasing prosperity in trade is sufficient to test such a scheme? Unscrupulous politicians and union agitators and fanatics are prepared to go further, and say that our prosperity his been largely due to such legislation; but it were waste of time to reason with people of this kind. But the point I wish to emphasise is that no one, so far as I am aware, has undertaken to estimate the success or failure of the system its what it really is—a system for placing all employers of labour and all the details of our industries under the control and regulation of unions issuing their mandates through a court of law; if it has been successful in the prevention of strikes (the purpose for which it was intended) it has effected this by being applied to a purpose for which it was not intended; and those who like Henry Demarest Lloyd and Sir W. J. Lyne, have pronounced it a success are found to justify the system as one of complete regulation of industries. This they have not attempted to do, and so they stand convicted of ignorance—or what is worse, disingenuousness,—and their opinion is worse than valueless.

Objection will probably be taken to my describing the Court of Arbitration as a court of law for dictating to employers and regulating industries at the instigation and dictation of unions, but the terms are perfectly justifiable. In the first place, the [unclear: court] has unconsciously allowed itself to be [unclear: verted] from the purpose for which it was [unclear: tended] intended by the Legislature—the settlement of real disputes and not mere factitious demands. This was done at the instance of the unions. The result is that a union that has been in existence only seven days, and probably consists of only seven youths or girls, can invoke the aid of the court for the purpose of enabling them to dictate terms to their employers, and to interfere in the carrying on of his business down to the minutest details. And the court has completed its own transformation by ordering employers to give a preference of employment to unionists! The system is in its very nature to a large extent one-sided, but the court has made it completely so. The result is that, instead of a court for the settlement of strikes, we have the sorry spectacle of a Supreme Court judge per-ambulating the colony from end to end, inflicting paltry fines upon employers for offences which have no existence in the jurisprudence of any other civilised country—offences that have no existence apart from the award of the court that created them at the instance of trades unions. The act says there is to be no appeal from this modern Star Chamber, and so far as the employer is concerned there is no appeal; but the unions have an appeal, in spite of the act, to the People's Government and the trades union Parliament, and they never appeal in vain to that quarter. If, for example, the court refuses the demand for a reduction of hours from 48 to 44 without reduction of wages a bill is brought in for that purpose, or if the court boggles about its jurisdiction to grant preference to unionists the question is straightway settled by statute. Surely never outside of Baratarea was such a court ever seen or imagined; and yet the court goes on its way, trying hard to look dignified as it hurls its mimic thunderbolt! against some wicked master baker for the heinous offence of employing some hungry boy guilty of the offence of being a non-unionist: fined 5s, with costs! Employers had better take warning, for this court had the power of inflicting a fine up to £500 and the next offender may not tret off so lightly!