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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

V.—Colonial Trade Unionism

V.—Colonial Trade Unionism

Dominationis in alios servitium suum Mercedem dant.

Having show, I think conclusively, that the system is no and never can be, a success for the purpose for which it was intended, I propose to consider the chance or possibility of its being a success as a system for the regulation of industries. A glance at an award will show the lines upon which the court proceeds under the guidance of the unions. The two points upon which the unions have insisted most strenuously are the minimum (living) wage and monopoly of employment for unionist. But, besides these, the court deals with all the usual aims trades unions, such as reducing the hours of work, limitation of number of apprentices, and making indenturing compulsory, abolition of payment by the piece and of overtime, etc. The first thing to note, then, is the enormous power of the unions: the act gives them the right to call upon the court to adjudicate (practically ligislats) upon any subject, however important or however insignificant, and the right might as well be exclusive, for the employers never 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 unionsist, has unconsciously played into their hand. 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 again, and doctrines which Marx himself admitted toward 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 fundamential 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 possession 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, most 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.

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Unionism in New 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 through 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 nonunionists.

We have already seen how completely the unions have captured Parliament; this is entirely the work of a few wire-pullers, who arrange the "tikets" 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 aminority 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 info an instrument of tyranny over employers; and the action of the court in granting the right of preference to unionists presents an instance of fatuity that would be difficult to parallel. But it is inconceivable that such a detestable tyranny as the leaders of unionism are striving to establish can long be tolerated. It has been said that labour passes through three states—when it is enslaved, when it is free, and when it is tyrannical in New Zealand it has reached the third stage.

One of the features of new unionism generally is its contempt for the old unionism, and especially for its encouragement of thrift and self-help. The inculcation of thrift is looked upon with coldness, if not with aversion, by our New Zealand variety of unionism as, indeed, it is by materialistic socialism generally. Experience shows that amongst the workers as rule, thrift goes with unselfishness and a sense of duty and responsibility and unthrift with selfishness and self-indulgence. The whole tendency of unionism amongst us is to destroy in the worker the one thing on which his manliness and his chance of real happiness depend, by disparaging the old unionist idea that it is a man's duty to carry at least his own burden; it tens also to discourage the foresight and self-control which form one of the elementary factors of morality—"a quality in moral character which determines the happiness or misery of them who possess or do not posses it, in a way that goes far deeper into life than by mere success or failure in laying by a sum of money." The difference between the old unionism and colonial unionism is clearly seen in their different attitudes towards the question of old age pensions, the tendency with us being to look to the State for everything and to discourage self-reliance. It is still more clearly seen in the fact that amongst the unionists in New Zealand there is almost complete indifference to real co-operation, which in England has made such remarkable progress in recent years. The whole tendency of our boasted labour legislation is to discourage real co-operation, and one of the worst evils of our arbitration system is that it tens, not only to divided permanently employers and wage-earners into two hostile camps, and to render it more and more difficult for the wage-earner to becaome an employer, but also to segregate the wage-earners more and more from the other classes in the community.

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

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

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

Now, most people will be inclined to doubt whether even English unionism is entitled to this disclaimer; but it is certain that colonial unionism, and especially the bastard New Zealand variety, is not entitled to it. The whole spirit of unionism in New Zealand is to give the employer as little value as possible for the maximum amount of wages. To say that this is true of all unionists would, of course, be a libel on many excellent men who are unionists; but may reference is to the general spirit and tendency of the system. Employers are fully convinced that, whatever the theory may be, there is a good deal of "ca' canny" in actual practice. Judge Backhouse, the New south Wales Commissioner in his report, mentions a case in New Zealand in which the offence had been sheeted home: and 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-aquarter-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 runin 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 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 award 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 dismissed. As an instance of interference on the part of a union, I give the following specimen of a letter from the secretary of a union to an employer:—


"Dear Mdame.—I have been instructed by the___Industrial Union to inform you that unless Miss___(to whom you gave one week's notice without just cause whatever, after being in your employ for a considerable number of years) is reinstated within three days from date, further proceedings will be taken by the above union.

"I have also the honour, as secretary, of forwarding you the log, which is enclosed, and agreed upon by this union, to which we shall be pleased to hear of your answer on Saturday, June 1 inst. Failing that, we intend to file the statement immediately after that date. I am, dear madam,—Your truly,


This is an example of what employer are getting used to in the way of interference (to put it mildly) in the Land without Strikes; the case is interesting also as an illustration of the way in which a "dispute" is got up for conciliation. Down to the minutes details the unions interfere with management: in a reference filed by the tramway employees, one of the demands is, "That employees be allowed to smoke when the car is not in motion!"