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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

No. II. — Conciliation a Failure

page 8

No. II.

Conciliation a Failure.

In the meantime, let us consider it as a means of promoting conciliation. As we have already seen, the author of the system was utterly mistaken as to the propose for which it would be used, and I propose to show now that he was equally mistaken as to the method in which it would be used. In moving the second reading (in 1894) Mr Reeves said: "I do not think the Arbitration Court will be very often called into requisition; on the contrary, I think that in 99 cases in 100 in which labour disputes arise they will be settled by the Conciliation Boards; but unless you have in the background an Arbitration Court the Conciliation Boards will not be respected, and they will be virtually useless." If he had been asked how long it would take for a, hundred cases to arise he would probably have said nearly as many years; at any rate, there can be little doubt that, if he could have foreseen that within six years of the act coming into actual operation such a multitude of "disputes" had "arisen" (or rather been manufactured under it), he would have run away from it as from a dangerous monster. This is the outcome of a measure intended by its author to promote conciliation and goodwill between employers and employed, and still people can ask whether it has been a succees! One member of the Upper House who opposed the bill spoke as follows: "Talking about reconciling the employer and employed in the way proposed by tins bill reminds me about the little rhyme about the young lady from Riga:

There was a young lady from Riga,
Who went for a ride on a tiger:
They returned from that ride
With the lady inside,
And a smile on the face of the tiger.

There can be no doubt as to which of these members had the clearest conception of the probable outcome of the measure—the tiger has indeed lain down with the lamb-inside and the smile on his face is very broad. Three years ago the present writer contended that as a means of promoting conciliation the system had failed, and that the Boards of Conciliation should be abolished; and within the last few days the Premier has practically admitted this, although, instead of blaming the unionists, he blames the boards.

Reverting to our question, then, we can have no hesitation about saying that as a means of promoting the settlement of labour dispute by conciliation, this scheme, so far from being a success, has been an almost complete failure. The position, then, is this: that the measure intended to serve the same purpose as the Massachusetts system—namely., the settlement or prevention of strikes and lock-outs and disputes likely to result in such—has completely missed its object. If it can be sa.id to be a success, it must be in some quite different way from that intended. Now, we know there has been a general disposition in the community to take for granted that the system was a success; employers thought of nothing beyond being left in peace to make the belt of the good times while they lasted, and they were ready to concede almost any demands of their men, believing that they could reimburse themselves by raising prices. Thus it was that so many of them wen inclined at first to regard the system with a certain amount of favour. As a class, they have shown singularly little provision, and an almost total disregard for their common interests. In the past, the leading characteristic of the average New Zealand employees, was fairness towards his employees, and for some time after the new system came into operation this continued; but it is now giving way to a tendency to hold aloof and to concede nothing more than the law compels; whilst, as between employers and employees, there as been almost a total absence of that spirit of combination for common defence which saved the English engineering trade in 1898. But now at length there are indications that they are beginning to realize the necessity for combination for the common defence against the tyrannical exactions of the unions, and the tendency of the Conciliation Boards and the Arbitration Court to act upon the principle of giving the unions every time some of their demands, instead of being guided by principle. The truth is that the whole idea of conciliation and the existence of so-called Conciliation Board is an absurd incongruity in a system applied not for the settlement of real disputes, but for the regulation of all industries on President the the unions. When the President of the Court said, shortly after his appointment, that the boards should be retained because they bring the employers and employees together for friendly discussion, he cannot have realized what the boards have become—namely, courts of first instance, where the employers as a rule do not meet their employees, except, perhaps, as witnesses called by the labour advocates, who are not even appointed by the employees, but by the Trades and Labour Council There can be no such thing as conciliation in the proper sense where there is no real dispute between employers and employed, but merely a long list of demands formulated by the union and the council Even in those cases that have not gone beyond the Conciliation Board there has been no concilia- page 9 tion in the ordinary sense. The employers have as a rule yielded to the demands where they could see their way to pass on the burden to the broad back of the public and they have shown no determination to fight for important questions of principle such as the iniquitous demand for preference to unionist. There has been too much concession and compromise, but very little conciliation; whilst on the part of the unions there has been very little of either: they have no doubt in some cases accepted less than their lull demands so long as they secured a minimum wage and preference; but it has been with the full determination to renew the fight on the expiration of the period of the armistice. Of the true spirit of conciliation they have shown none. Concessions made by the employers the unionists have treated as the Boers treated the concessions made by the British-as signs of weakness.

Our conclusions, then, so far are that, as a scheme intended for the substitution of conciliation and arbitration for strikes and lock-outa in real industrial disputes, the system tem has never been tried, and therefore to speak of it as either a success or a failure is a misuse of terms, and that as a scheme for the promotion of conciliation it is a failure. I am convinced that no one who has followed the reasoning with competent knowledge of the nature and working of the system can fail to admit the correctness of these conclusions; but it must be observed that I do not say the net has been a failure. What I do say is that, if it is success, it is not as that which it was intended to be, but as something quite different. It follows that those who describe the system as a success by reason of its securing to us immunity from strikes are either wilfully or ignorantly misrepresenting the facts. The very title of the book, "A Land Without Strikes," is misrepresentation, inasmuch as it implies that the system has been completely effectual in the settlement of disputes which would otherwise have resulted in strikes, whilst the fact is that no one can say it has ever been invoked in such a case. When the then Premier of New South Wales, Sir W. J. Lyne, met a deputation opposing the introduction of the system into that colony with what he apparently considered the conclusive answer that in New Zealand the system bad been satisfactory, because "it had put a stop to strikes," he was simply showing how utterly ignorant he was of the subject.