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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76


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The real point of Mr Macgregor's attackers disclosed in his article on Colonial trade unionism, and the malevolence which he feels makes him ridiculously overstate the case. Colonial unionism, he says, dominates parliament, dominates courts, and dominates the majority of workers. And the evil of this is, according to him, that the domination comes from the inner circle of wire pullers, who arrange the ticket at elections and foist upon constituencies candidates sub-servient to themselves. In this case it is an easy task to confute the libel, because, for the first time, he descends to particulars. "At our last election" he says, "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."

This bold assertion is merely a surmise, for which events have given no justification. It bears on its face the stamp of improbability. It is well known that in concerted politics the Catholics have only one aim, which is the obtaining of a state subsidy for their schools. Is it at all likely that they expected Mi Millar to grant it? Could they expect it from Mr Arnold? Was Mr Barclay at all a likely partisan of denominational education? The supposition is absurd. As a matter of fact, these gentlemen have been denounced by the official organ of the Catholics over the Stoke school inquiry. It is more than likely that a number of individual Catholics supported the Government candidates, but that is merely evidence of their discrimination and good sense. It is well known that a number of individual Catholics also supported the Opposition candidates and have been regretting it ever since. The Catholic vote is one of those bugbears that hysterical and designing persons periodically raise for the purpose of discrediting opponents, even though it should be at the cost of raising degrading party issues that evoke the basest passions of human nature. In point of fact, Mr Macgregor has wilfully raised the "no popery" cry in readiness for next election.

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For a similar reason he has raised the "no liquor" cry. An unholy alliance between the liquor party and the unionist coterie is attributed to the "wire pullers." Where is the evidence of this? Is it in the Amending Licensing Bill before Parliament? Surely any political party is possessed of more sense than to imagine that measure a reward for support. The plain fact simply is that the majority favoured the Liberal candidate, and we must not look to the Catholics or the liquor party, or the Wesleyans, or the temperance party, or to any organisation in particular, but to a majority of the whole, who were determined that in Dunedin at all events the hands of the clock should not go back, but that men should be sent to Parliament to push forward the work of industrial reform, already so well begun.

As for foisting candidates upon the constituencies, it may be raid at once that a fool has no chance of selection, which is far more than can be said of Conservative candidates who may happen to be wealthy. The process of selection before nomination is a most protracted and searching one. The names of candidates are submitted to all the unions individually, and the one who obtains the greatest number of votes becomes the accepted candidate, when the minority loyally fall in with the choice. If there is a better way of choosing a candidate, if there is one more free from the suspicion of favour, undue influence, log rolling, or corruption of any kind, Mr Macgregor ought to come forward with it and earn the thanks of a grateful country.

Another dastardly charge against colonial unionism is the one that it d teriorates individual character To a certain extent individual character must be submerged in any collective effort for a common purpose, but Mr Macgregor has the impudence to declare that "the whole spirit of unionism in New Zealand is to give the employer as little value as possible for the maximum of wages." To such a statement the obvious retort is that all lawyers are arrant rogues, and one is as capable of proof as the other, and quite as reasonable. Nevertheless, unionism has an aim with respect to the output of labour and its relation to the wage. Does anyone outside the field of practical labour realise what the maximum amount of work is? It means "racing" the whole time; the utmost tension of mind and body during the whole of the working hours. Why should any man or woman sacrifice himself or herself on the altar of greed in this way? This is the real "ca' canny." Some persons can produce a given result with less exertion than others. If they exert themselves to the full extent of their powers they fix a page 11 standard which necessitates a killing pace for all around them, and the fixing of a standard is the inevitable consequence of the adoption of a uniform wage in lieu of piecework. The employer is not content to strike a balance between the output of the exceptionally skilful operative and his less richly endowed shopmate. Once a certain standard is reached by any chance it must be maintained. The tale of bricks must be delivered each day, and when the standard has been reached by exceptional ability, an injury is inflicted on all the others, who are compelled to work out of their natural speed at an injurious and, where there is machinery, a dangerous, rate. This is one of the dangers of a uniform wage, and "ca' canny "in the limited sense here indicated is the worker's only protection. The grocer does not give eighteen ounces to the pound of sugar, and it is difficult to see why a workman should be expected to give £3 worth of work for £2 2s.

The limitation of the number of apprentices is an arguable matter that Mr Macgregor very wisely does not dwell upon, but relies on Dr and Mrs Webb's dictum that it is undemocratic. It would be so if apprentices were rigorously bound and scrupulously taught, but it is not so where the apprenticeship system is prostituted for the purpose of flooding the market with cheap boys, who are discharged half taught when they begin to want men's wages.

The employees in a given industry combine to improve their condition. A union is formed and steps are taken to formulate the grievances (which may have existed for years without a gleam of hope of improvement). At this stage the employer becomes alarmed lest the light of day should be let into his (or her) practices. The ringleader in the movement is dismissed for the encouragement of the others. The law has foreseen this contingency, and has ordained that while a dispute is pending no employee shall be dismissed without sufficient cause The union directs the attention of the employer to the infraction of a very wise law, and Mr Macgregor terms this "interference with management." And it really is so. It is interference with business in the same sense as the bull's eye of the policeman interferes with the business of the burglar.

Go into any factory, and you will see pasted up the notice: "No smoking allowed." This is perfectly justifiable, according to Mr Macgregor, though it may be in a foundry, where a fire could possibly rise from smoking. A cumber of employees page 12 ask for a remission of the rule where it would hurt nobody, and give a little relief during a foodless and interval-less "shift" of nine or ten hours, and Mr Macgregor's hands are held up in holy horror at the "cheek of the working classes." Virtuous Mr Macgregor