The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76
When a hostile critic like, Mr Macgregor asks whether the Industrial Arbitration system in New Zealand has been a failure, and puts the question affirmatively, it is only reasonable to expect him to show that it has been a failure. This, however, he has completely failed to do, and for the simple reason that the facts which are available prove the contrary. It may be possible for him to give us a hundred reasons why, in his opinion, it should be a failure, but his long stream of diatribes contains not one single fact to warrant them. It certainly cannot be said that the system has injured any industry. The number of persons employed under the Factory's Act in 1894 was 25,851. In 1901 it is 53,460, or an increase of upwards of 100 per cent. And if this increase is analysed it is found to be a genuine one. It is spread, over the whole field of industrial activity, and it is not due to any sweeping change in the law defining factory workers. As a matter of fact, the colony has enjoyed a period of great prosperity, attended by great industrial activity. It is not claimed that the arbitration system has brought this prosperity about. A variety of causes have operated. The change in the incidence of taxation is one of them. The growth of the dairy and frozen meat industries is another, The Liberal policy of the Government page 20 has also been a factor. And without a doubt industrial peace has done its share. At least industrial warfare has not at any time checked production.
[unclear: It] is in this connection that the fallacy of Mr Macgregor's special pleading becomes apparent. There has been since 1894 a steady increase in the number of factory workers. This implies a demand for labour. At the same time the Government has consistently prevented congestion of the labour market by means of co-operative works, thus necessarily intensifying the demand for labour. Is it not inconceivable that, without the arbitration system, this demand for labour would not have led to industrial trouble? Yet there have been absolutely no strikes and no lock outs since 1894. Critics of the description of Mr Macgregor may still say that there "might" have been strikes nevertheless, but so "might" the world be flat, or the sun go round it. You might demonstrate to him that any two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third side, but he would still reserve the right to doubt it.
It has been shown that by regulating the system of labour strikes are prevented, but Mr Macgregor has another argument in reserve. He is like the woman who would not lend her neighbour a tub because it leaked, and another neighbour had borrowed it, besides which she haden't got a tub. Ho says the real question is whether immunity from strikes is, after all, "a matter of such importance as to make it worth our while placing the regulation of our industries under the control of a court of law." The English is a little shady, but much may be excused in a critic who attaches so little importance to the disastrous influence of industrial convulsions. Millions upon millions of pounds have been wasted in fruitless and unnecessary industrial war. Countless women and children have "clemmed" to death, as the expressive Lancashire phrase has it. The lowest passions that debase human nature has been evoked. Disastrous strikes become as memorable as plagues or famines. And yet we are coolly asked whether the regulation of industries—a regulation that defies proof of economical unsoundness-is not too great a sacrifice I Surely the "wretched past" so glibly quoted by the critic has failed to impress him. For such critics history has been written in vain
The attention of a whole civilised world is arrested when a Tzar proposes a method of adjusting international differences without resort to the last argument of nations. Industrial war is far more calamitous, far more injurious, than international page 21 war, yet writers like this seem to regard it as a normal factor of industrial life—regretable, perhaps, but still a painful necessity, as the plague was formerly considered a visitation of God. In one State, small and remote from the world centre of industry New South Wales—the statistics show that between 1889 and 1897 there had been a loss to the State of £1,219,000 by strikes, of which Labour's loss in wages was £873,000 and Capital's £346,000. In New Zealand over a period of the same duration there have been no strikes, because they were prevented by the existence of a court of equity that has cost at most only a few thousands.
The parish politician holds views that are circumscribed by local influences and interests, or he would not fail to admit that the New Zealand system of compulsory arbitration is an epoch making institution. Perhaps its ultimate influence is dimly discerned and correspondingly feared. It admits the right of the workers to a share of the profits of industry. All employers allege that if the demands of the workers are granted, the industries concerned must be closed down They have said this so often that probably they begin to believe it themselves. They are like the capitalists who threatened to leave the country when the plutocrat special aversion, progressive taxation, came into existence But they have not left yet. Clipped though their wings have been by the State lending department, gloomy as the outlook may be for the man who has merely money and no other recommendations, they still cling to New Zealand. So it is with industrial employers. They have always been going to close down, but no one has done so. The most hostile critic has not, so far, been able to point to one industry that has been destroyed or even injured, by the system of conciliation and arbitration.
There was a young lady from Riga (Industrial Unionism).
Who went for a ride on a tiger, (the complaisant Capitalist).
They returned from that ride
With the lady inside.
And a smile on the face of the tiger.
Allusion was made above to the pur blindness of the critic whose horizon is bounded by local influences. To such persons the [unclear: steady e o uti n] of trade unionism is a dead letter. Freedom of contract, which means the "freedom that comes from full purses on one side and empty stomachs on the other is as dead as the feudal system. Unionism is the symbol of a silent but irresistible revolution against the modern curse of capitalism or the curse of modern capitalism, whichever definition is preferred. It has still higher aims than the mere immed at matters of wages and hours, it is dest ned to be an immense force in trade and politics. In New Zealand an impetus has been given to it by one sample provision authorising an inspection of an employers books. If puny critics cannot see the immensity of the possibilities that will arise from this, there are others who can and who rejoice that another trench has been won, and that the day is nearer when the giving of employment will not be a favour or an act of charity, when the grimy hand will not necessarily imply social or mental inferiority; when the artizan will be as highly honoured as the capitalist, because he is personally of as much value to the world, when the worker shall look the employer straight between the eyes and realise that they are partners in industry and not superior and inferior, when the humblest home shall be replete with the comforts and adorned with the amenities that are now the exclusive property of the rich; when the child shall no longer be torn with stunted Bind from school and condemned to waste its youth in a gloomy page 23 factory; when women old or young, shall no longer unsex themselves by premature or uncongenial toil; and when industrial relations, founded on reason, and not on brute force, shall ensure lasting peace.
The Industrial laws of New Zealand have brought the millennium a step nearer, and for this organised Labour must thank the present government. Men who are both learned and wise, and who are also good, have suggested successive amendments, made desirable after experience. With a hostile or indifferent government these would have been baffled or delayed. The strong position of the Seddon government has made amendment easy, and the development of the law has been a natural and rational process, not begotten of political expediency. It is the forefront of a mighty wave, rolling majestically on to the shore of industrial peace and social development. And critics of the kind we are now dealing with are like little fractious boys who imagine they can stay its progress by throwing peebles at it.
Otago Liberal and Workman print., Kensington, Dunedin, New Zealand.