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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76


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It is with a certain amount of reluctance that we take up the pen to reply to Mr Macgregor's question: "Is Industrial Arbitration a success?' and for a variety of reasons. He gives hardly any facts upon which ho may be confuted He gives no proof that the system has not been a success. He does not point to any industry that has been ruined, or to any that is in danger of being ruined by its operations, but he argues on abstract grounds that the system must be a failure because it conflicts with the law of supply and demand, and because the intention of the framers of the Act of 1894 has been departed from.

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"Instead of this" (the settlement of disputes that have actually come to a point of tension not defined) he says, "we have a Court that undertakes to regulate all the industries and most of the other businesses of the country down to the minutest details, simply because a union of perhaps only seven men, or even seven girls, has got up a 'dispute' with the employers and cited them before the Court to have all their business which the anion has thought proper to mention adjudicated on by the Court."

This is apparently regarded as a crime, and for the reason that it conflicts with the sacred law of supply and demand (which he says elsewhere has been banished to Saturn), and is a gross and flagrant abuse of the powers given by the Act in 1804. The reluctance of which mention is made above arises from the difficulty of adequately dealing with a critic like this, who does not enter upon the discussion in an honest spirit of enquiry, but in a manner which is unfairly hostile, though the hostility is disavowed. As to the intentions of the framers of the Act, they can only be gathered from the Act itself. We do not go to 'Hansard' or to files of hostile newspapers of the day to find the intentions of legsilators; we assume that they are able to put their intentions into intelligible words, and when we find this Act entitled and described as "an Act to encourage the Formation of Industrial Unions, and to facilitate the settlement of industrial disputes by Conciliation and Arbitration," and then encounter a critic who complains because unions have been formed and the settlement of disputes facilitated without calamitous strikes, we must either conclude that the critic has not read the Act, or puts forward a half-truth in support of his arguments.

Further reluctance is created by the difficulty in finding expressions sufficiently decorous in which to describe one who is opposed to any attempt to better the condition of the workers. What is the nature of the mind that can ignore the sufferings that lie behind low wages and the evils that inevitably arise from unrestricted competition? He must have been aware that under the old rudimentary labour laws the evils that make the lot of the bulk of the toilers in the old lands a long drawn agony, offering no hope but the imminent grave, were also growing here. Would he have the worker remain under the stigma of mental inferiority because the means of education are denied him; would be confine his ameliorative efforts to spasmodic and hysterical protests against sweating? If he would not, but would see the worker lift himself to a higher plane, why sneer at

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"This statutory court, which has enormous powers against which there is no appeal, perambulating the country like a peripatetic police court, inflicting fines of a few shillings upon some employer who has dared to give a job to a starving youth who has the misfortune to be a non-unionist."

It is to the last degree difficult to abstain from characterising such criticism with the heat it deserves, when we know as a matter of fact that under such circumstances the employer almost invariably takes advantage of the youth's starving condition to get work out of him for less than its fair value. And surely it is wiser to endeavour to bring about such conditions that there shall be no starving youth to be a menace to the well-being of his fellow workers. It is this strained and prejudiced view that makes it difficult to deal circumspectly with such a critic. But it throws a flood of light on the mental habit of the critic, and makes it easy to understand why the Macgregors were so frequently outlawed in the past.

It will be noted that those who are attempting to copy this law elsewhere are termed "politicians," and those who recommend it are termed "faddists." Writers like Mr. H. D. Lloyd, who venture to affirm after full enquiry that New Zealand is a land without strikes, have "failed to realise the real nature and operation of the system." It is only statesmen like Mr. Macgregor who are able to peer below the surface and discern that New Zealand is walking on the thin crust of an industrial volcano, which may at any moment collapse and engulph the whole community in the molten lava

He tells us that Industrial Arbitration

"As a scheme for the settlement of industrial pursuits in the ordinary sense of the word has never been tried; and the ordinary argument in its favour—that it has saved the country from strikes—reminds one of the number of lives saved by pins—by people not swallowing them. The reply will probably be that it has made strikes impossible by reason of the fact that all industries are regulated by the decree of the Court. So be it, but let the system be judged as one used for that purpose, and not for the purpose for which it was intended."

But it has been shown that the Act was expressly intended "to encourage the growth of unions." What, then, do unions exist for? Are they merely to be debating or social clubs, not daring to discuss the conditions under which their daily lives are spent, and not venturing to dispute the terms upon which page 4 they are to sell the commodity which is their all, but to accept the crumbs which fall from the employer's table. When in the name of all that is reasonable is a dispute a dispute? If a number of persons in a trade, dissatisfied with the conditions forced upon them in their disorganised state, organise themselves under a law expressly designed and stated to be for the purpose of encouraging the formation of unions, and if they formulate demands that are rejected with silent contempt, as the earlier demands under the Act were, if they then carry those demands to a court expressly designated in the Act a court of equity and good conscience against which there is no appeal, just as in similar circumstances there is no appeal against the decisions of the stipendiary magistrate; and if that court in the full exercise of its power grant their demands either fully or in part, and that after full inquiry into the facts and the circumstances of the business affected, what right has any man claiming the title of responsibility to term this process a "faking" of disputes and the court a unionist's court? And how shall we properly describe the political animosity that underlies a sneer like this:—

"Surely never outside of Barataria was such a court ever held or imagined, and yet the court goes on its way, trying hard to look dignified as it hurls its mimic thunderbolts against some wicked master baker for the heinous offence of employing some hungry boy guilty of the offence of being a non-unionist."

At the very moment Mr. Macgregor was inditing this sneer there were women working in Dunedin in hosiery factories who had been nine years and upwards at the trade and yet were earning only seven shillings a week, while out of their labour the employer was making £1000 a year. These women formulate their demand for a more humane condition of things. Afraid to appear in the forefront themselves, well knowing that a speedy "holiday" would be their lot, they obtain outside assistance to represent them before the court, and lo, instigated by self-seeking and venal agitators, they are "faking" a dispute before a burlesque court and Mr. Macgregor can find nothing but a lofty sneer with which to designate the process. The worker has reason to thank God that such as Mr. Macgregor have by a discerning Government no longer the power to shape his or her destiny.