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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76

V.—Colonial Trade Unionism

V.—Colonial Trade Unionism.

Dominations in alios servitium suum Mercedem dant.

Having shown, I think conclusively, that the system is not, and never can be, a success [unclear: for] the purpose for which it was intended, I [unclear: propose] to consider the chance or possibility [unclear: of] its being success as a system for the [unclear: regulation] of industries. A glance at an award [unclear: will] show the lines upon which the court [unclear: pro]-under the guidance of the unions. The [unclear: two] points upon which the unions have [unclear: insisted] most strenuously are the minimum ([unclear: living] wage and monopoly of employment for [unclear: ists], But, besides these, the court [unclear: deals] all the usual aims of trades unions, such [unclear: as] reducing the hours of work, limitation of [unclear: member] of apprentices, and making [unclear: indenturing] compulsory, abolition of payment by [unclear: the] and of overtime, etc. The first thing [unclear: top note], then, is the enormous power of the [unclear: unions]; the act gives them the right to [unclear: call] the court to adjudicate (practically [unclear: legislate] upon any subject, however important or [unclear: however] insignificant, and the right might [unclear: as well be] exclusive, for the employers never [unclear: exercise] it, and probably never will, and the court has made the unions masters of the situation by granting them monopoly of employment, as this has led to great increase in their numbers.

It has been truly said that unionism must dominate Parliament if it is not controlled by Parliament, and in New Zealand for some years it has dominated the government, and through it the Parliament. The ultimate aim of the ringleaders in the conspiracy is to dominate the employers and control all the industries of the colony; and Parliament has deliberately furthered their aims, whilst the court, by awarding preference to unionists, has unconsciously played into their hands. They have achieved their object, and the employers from end to end of the colony feel themselves to be at their mercy. This is no exaggeration, but a sober statement of fact. Is it possible or conceivable that such a system can be a success?

If the teachings of history have any value at all, there is a strong presumption against the success of legislative and other artificial attempts such as this to fix wages and otherwise arbitrarily regulate the production and distribution of wealth; and this presumption is almost raised to a certainty when the attempt is made by means of a system so completely controlled by unionism as the New Zealand system is. In New Zealand, as in the other colonies, and in the United States, there is amongst the working classes generally a growing tendency towards socialism of a vague kind; whilst the leaders of unionism are, with probably few exceptions, influenced by the materialistic socialism of Karl Marx. They regard Marx's "Capital" as their Bible and accept as infallible truths fallacies which have been exploded over and over again, and doctrines which Marx himself admitted towards the end of his life to be erroneous. Many of them accept as gospel the asserted right of the worker to the whole produce of industry, which has been called "the fundamental revolutionary conception of our time," and consequently they regard the capitalist as the vampire that sucks the blood of the workers. They accept as beyond question Marx's teaching as to class warfare, which sees in society simply a war of classes for the posssession of material adventages, and regards the capitalist as a stranger and an enemy; it is not justice they demand for the workers, but power, looking forward to the time when the workers, organised into federated unions and societies, must obtain complete control of the government of the country and of all the instruments of production. They also echo his contempt for patriotism: the union and the interests of one particular class have taken the place of patriotism, and there is good reason to believe that many of the leaders are pro-Boer in their sympathies.

page 14

Unionism in Now Zealand has become a triple tyranny—the ringleaders and agitators tyrannise over the general body of unionists: the unionists, who are only a minority of the workers have established a tyranny over the workers generally, and they exercise almost complete control over the Ministry and the Legislature. They are at present concentrating all their efforts upon one object—to compel employers to use their capital according to the determinations of the unions, dictated through the Court of Arbitration, and in the meantime to give the least possible return to the employers for wages received.

The submissiveness of the general body to a small clique has always been characteristic of unionism. "There is too little individual thought or volition among them, and that little is rarely courageous. They follow others, thinking they are going with the majority, when in truth often half the majority are ignorant or reluctant, the impulse being given by a small, often unwise, sometimes selfish and dishonest clique. There is, perhaps, no such thorough oligarchy as that often to be found among trades unions." In order that they may coerce the employers, they are content to surrender their individual liberties and individual judgments, and they show no resentment, however dictatorial may be the rule exercised over them by their self-constituted leaders. This feature of unionism generally is specially characteristic of the peculiar variety created and fostered in New Zealand, inasmuch as the preference of employment to unionists compels large numbers to join the ranks who would much prefer to retain their liberty. A solidarity which is quite artificial and unreal is made the pretext for tyranny, not only over members, but also over non-unionists.

We have already seen how completely the unions have captured Parliament; this is entirely the work of a few wire-pullers, who arrange the "tickets" at elections, and succeed in imposing themselves, not only on the unionists, but upon the workers generally. At our last general election, for example, the wire-pullers consummated a secret alliance of the labour party with the Roman Catholics and the liquor interest, by means of which they succeeded in foisting upon the constituencies members of whom they were in some cases ashamed when they came to know them. But there are indications now of a determination on the part of the other classes to throw off this infamous tyranny of a minority of a minority—this government within the government.

With such a spirit animating trade unionism, it was inevitable that our system of conciliation and arbitration should be perverted into an instrument of tyranny over employers; and the action of the court in granting the right of preference to [unclear: uni] presents an instance of fatuity that [unclear: would be] difficult to parallel. But it is [unclear: incono] that such a detestable tyranny as the [unclear: leading] of unionism are striving to establish [unclear: can] be tolerated. It has been said that labor passes through three stages—when it [unclear: is] slaved, when it is free, and when it is the [unclear: try] cal; in New Zealand it has reached [unclear: the] stage.

One of the features of new unionism [unclear: gen] ally is its contempt for the old [unclear: unioness], especially for its encouragement of [unclear: thrifts] self-help. The inculcation of thrift is [unclear: lo] upon with coldness, if not with aversion our New Zealand variety of unionism, [unclear: as] indeed, it is by materialistic socialism [unclear: generally] Experience shows that amongst [unclear: the] as a rule, thrift goes with [unclear: unselfishness] a sense of duty and responsibility and unthrift with selfishness [unclear: and] self-indulgence. The whole tendency of [unclear: ism] amongst us is to destroy in the [unclear: wo] the one thing on which his [unclear: manliness] chance of real happiness depend, by [unclear: dispa] ing the old unionist idea that it is [unclear: a] duty to carry at least his own [unclear: burden]; tends also to discourage the foresight [unclear: and] control which form one of the [unclear: element] factors of morality—"a quality in [unclear: moral] actor which determines the [unclear: happiness] misery of them who possess or do [unclear: not] it, in a way that goes far deeper into [unclear: life] by mere success or failure in laying by [unclear: a] of money." The difference between [unclear: the] unionism and colonial unionism is [unclear: clearly] in their different attitudes towards the [unclear: motion] of old age pensions, the [unclear: tendency] us being to look to the State for [unclear: everything] and to discourage self-reliance. It [unclear: is] more clearly seen in the fact that [unclear: among] unionists in New Zealand there is almost [unclear: comp]lete indifference to real [unclear: co-operation] in England has made such [unclear: remarkable] gress in recent years. The whole [unclear: tend] our boasted labour legislation is to [unclear: discomfort] real co-operation, and one of the [unclear: worst] of our arbitration system is that it [unclear: tends] only to divide permanently [unclear: employer] wage-earners into two hostile camps, [unclear: and] render it more and more difficult [unclear: for] wage-earner to become an employer, [unclear: but] to segregate the wage-earners more [unclear: and] from the other classes in the community.

Such are the general tendencies [unclear: and] ter of unionism of the colonial [unclear: type] must be admitted that the [unclear: probabilties] against the success of a system of [unclear: conciliation] and arbitration in which [unclear: unionism] such a preponderating influence. [unclear: Con] and class-warfare are of the [unclear: very] it, and we can now see that [unclear: failure] inevitable fate of any system [unclear: based] conciliation. Unionism, like [unclear: other] page 15 [unclear: possesses] no other virtue than that of [unclear: the] men of flesh and blood who apply it, and [unclear: the] leaders of colonial unionism, like their [unclear: master], Karl Marx, profess the most pro[unclear: found] contempt for moral ideals generally. [unclear: Their] reliance is upon force, not upon character.

The quality of our unionism strengthens [unclear: enormously] the presumption against the [unclear: success] of the system as one for the regulation [unclear: of] trade and industry by legal decree. In [unclear: "Industrial] Democracy, a book that is [unclear: regarded] as the very gospel of unionism, we [unclear: read]:—"The economist and the statesman will judge of trade unionism, not by its results [unclear: in] improving the position of a partiular [unclear: section] of workmen at a particular time, but by [unclear: its] effects on the permanent efficiency of the [unclear: nation]" Is it to be expected that unionism, [unclear: bned] with such a spirit as I have [unclear: described], promote the efficiency of labour? How[unclear: ever] may be elsewhere, there can be no [unclear: doubt] of this—that unionism in New Zea[unclear: land] does not even Profess to have any such [unclear: aim], that its whole tendency and infl[unclear: uence] is in the opposite direction. If it be true that [unclear: unionism], like government, is to be [unclear: measured] by the men it eventually makes, not by the advantages it immediately confers, [unclear: them] colonial unionism and the new unionism [unclear: generally] stand condemned.

The authors of "Industrial Democracy," in [unclear: their] advocacy of the cause of unionism, find [unclear: themselves] compelled to make an important, [unclear: disclamer] of certain abuses which they [unclear: describe] as mere accidents, and which, [unclear: according] to them, form no part of the policy of [unclear: lsm]. On behalf of English unionism [unclear: they] disclaim the following:—The exclusive [unclear: right] to a trade, the restriction of the number of apprentices, the objection to piece [unclear: work], objection to the introduction of [unclear: roved] machinery, the "ca' canny" [unclear: principle] and interference with management.

[unclear: Now], most people will be inclined [unclear: in] doubt whether even English union[unclear: ism]; is entitled to this disclaimer; [unclear: but] it certain that colonial [unclear: union] and specially the bastard New Zealand [unclear: variety], is not entitled to it. The whole spirit of [unclear: anionism] in New Zealand is to give the [unclear: loyer] as little value as possible for the [unclear: maximum] amount of wages. To say that this is [unclear: true] of all unionists would, of course, be [unclear: el] on many excellent men who are [unclear: ists] but my reference is to the general [unclear: spirit] and tendency of the system. Employers are [unclear: fully] that, whatever the theory [unclear: may] be there is a good deal of "ca' [unclear: canny]" is [unclear: actual] practice. Judge Backhouse, the [unclear: south] Wales Commissioner, in his [unclear: report], mentions a case in New Zealand in [unclear: which] the offence had been sheeted home: [unclear: the] the value of the disclaimer of Dr and Mrs Webb on this point may be judged from the following facts: Sir Hiram Maxim gave an instance of a small gun-attachment which the union committee classified as a-day-and-a-quarter-job. He invented a machine to make it, but the men would produce the piece only in a day and a-quarter, even with the machine. He then hired a German workman, who easily produced 13 pieces a day. It is only necessary to add that Dr and Mrs Webb admit that the "ca' canny" rule is an "adulteration of labour" which may "easily bring about the final ruin of personal character."

The limitation of the number of apprentices is a subject on which New Zealand unionism insists very strongly, and almost every award of the court imposes such restrictions; and yet our authors describe it as "undemocratic in its scope, unscientific in its educational methods, and fundamentally unsound in its financial aspects."

To see how little New Zealand unionism is entitled to the disclaimer of interference with management, one has only to read the demands filed by the unions and the awards of the court. That court has stretched its enormous power of interference even beyond its very wide legal jurisdiction by ordering an employer, on the demand of the union, to reinstate certain unionists whom he had dis-missed. As an instance of interferences on the part of a union, I give the following sppecimen of a letter from the secretary of a unnion to an employer:—