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4-241 (Text)

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addressee author,male,Spence, William Guthrie,45
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Clark, 1975
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4-241-plain.txt — 6 KB

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You consider that Union men are justified in refusing to work with non-Unionists? Yes, certainly.
And is a principle of Unionism involved in that rule? Experience has shown that non-Unionists are used as elements of destruction.
Have not Trades Unionists in England worked side by side with non-Unionists for very many years? Some of them do it still, and So do some of ours, but it is done to protect their lives, and is justified under those conditions. In our case all our means are used to induce a man to join the Union, such as interviewing him at his own home, and persuading him, and at last it comes to the period when only one man will be left out, perhaps. In one case, only one man out of 1,400 was not a Unionist, and had set his face against it. We always find that this is a class of men who will take any benefit so long as they have not to pay for it. In my own district the managers will not allow any man to work unless he joins the Union, and the captains of shifts have orders to discharge any man who refuses to join.
If the managers do that, that supersedes your compulsion? Al together.
But you still exercised compulsion in the first place to induce the managers to take this stand? We do not look upon it as compulsion to ask a man to join our Union. We do not compel men to join at all, but their not joining sometimes cannot be left unnoticed. As an instance, sixty men were working at a certain mine, and one man refused to pay a levy of 2s. The other men at once took up their clothes and said they were going home. The captain of the shift asked them what they were going away for, and they said there was a man who would not pay the levy. They proposed sacrificing their places, but, as the manager was not going to have his mine stopped, he gave way to their wishes; he was not going to let fifty-nine men go for the sake of one who would stay.
Was not that compulsion? No; there was no compulsion. The Union men were ready to sacrifice their positions, and the other man could stay on.
But you made the manager use compulsion? No; we are always prepared to sacrifice something in support of our principles. If our rules say we are not to work with non-Union men we will go away and leave the field clear. Our experience just now is that they can try as they like, but they cannot get men to put on the mines in Victoria.  I can justify our refusal to work with non-Unionists on other grounds.
What are they? We are justified on the ground that the rules of a community which are followed by a majority are recognised as the origin of our laws.  These customs or practices guide magistrates in their decisions in court in cases where the law itself is not explicit. The community does not allow anyone to avoid taxation, because it is the law, and we are justified in using compulsion when the desires of the community are known, and in the absence of any specific law on the part of the State, as it is the community which makes the law.
But a Trades Union is not the whole community? It is the whole in this way - that it represents the whole of that particular branch of occupation which may be under consideration at the moment.
But there is a great difference between State control and voluntary control? There is no such thing as freedom for men to do as they like if by their conduct they injure others. We have to take men as we find them - for example, that man who opposed 1,400 others. The effect of his holding aloof was that he was allowed to exist for a very long time without paying to the funds of the Union, but the officials at last had to deal with the fact that this man was beginning to spread disunion amongst the rest. One would say, "Oh, so and so does not pay, why should I?" and you would be surprised how quick that feeling spreads. Therefore, to prevent the spread of disunion, you are bound to treat all alike. Another ground is increased wages. We find in one branch of our Association, through the establishment of the Union, that men have received benefits, including increased wages, to the amount of £142,701. They have, as a matter of fact, received over £100 per man more than they would have had had there been no Union. We say, "Why should men who are discontented and refuse to pay not be dealt with?" and so we find we are compelled to deal with them, in order to prevent the Union from going to pieces.
That is a very good argument as to preventing the Union going to pieces, but is it any explanation of the function .of the State? The State is bound by practice where there is not an explicit law on any particular subject. Unions are recognised, and the practices that are followed are the custom. The same thing happens in commercial life, and although it may not be in the organised way in which Unions work, the principles are the same.
Then do I understand you to argue that any Trades Union has the right to establish a custom introducing class interest, and then that this custom shall be recognised as law? I do, provided there is a very large majority. I do not agree that a bare majority should recognise that there is a rule, but when the minority is narrowed down to a very few men then those men should not be allowed to share in benefits they do not contribute to. Take Creswick, for example. Every man going there knows the rules of the district before he reaches the place; and if any man comes who does not agree to the rules of the district it is not fair that he should be allowed to upset the whole of the rules of that district because he wants to save a paltry 6d. a week.  My experience is that there are men mean enough to save the paltry 6d. but do not object to the benefits.
You speak of these men who oppose Unions as men wanting to get benefits at other people's expense, but cannot you imagine that men might have very good reasons for not being connected with Unions ; - they might not care about being dragged into strikes, for instance? I do not find men dragged into strikes against their will.
Strikes are the act of the whole Union? Yes; and my experience has been that the executives have been a strong restraining influence on the men. This has occurred over and over again. We have sometimes, too, positively refused to give strike-pay if men persisted in going on strike. They have possibly 500 men arrayed against them who pass a resolution in the face of the determination to strike.
Don't you know that in the Northern mines the minority against a strike has been a very large one, and yet there has been a strike? In some cases. There is a great mistake generally current that it is the leaders who precipitate strikes. That is altogether a mistake; they usually are a restraining influence, but the men get carried away by excitement. I am a believer that in any large organisation a central council exercises a checking influence, because men sometimes decide very hastily, and in such cases it requires some power that has authority to make them take more time over their actions. I am a believer in going slow, and taking time enough to look at these matters calmly.