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4-243 (Raw)

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addressee author,male,Royal Commission,un
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Clark, 1975
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4-243-raw.txt — 5 KB

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One part of our instructions was to inquire into the cause and cure of strikes. So far as this colony is concerned there does not appear to exist any systematic record of the number of strikes in recent years, nor of their causes, their duration, and the way in which they were settled. From the evidence it appears that until recent times the most frequent causes have been an effort to raise wages or to resist the reduction of wages, an effort to secure shorter working hours or to resist any covert or open increase of the hours of work, or claims for the intermission of labour for rest, or a demand to employ more hands for a given work, or to resist the discharge of men supposed to be punished for their positions ifl a Trades Union, or their prominent labours in connection with it. All these are matters which affect the personal comfort of the workmen, and his status as respects his material interests. The last, however, is specially in defence of the principles and practice of Unionism. And this leads to the remark that at the present time more important than all the causes mentioned is that which is rapidly becoming the chief ground of contention between employers and employed, namely, the employment of non-Unionists. The late strike turned almost wholly upon this extremely important point. The incident of the discharge of the stoker Morgan from the Tasmanian Company's steamship "Corinna," though it turned on the dismissal of a man who was a delegate, and who was thought to have been dismissed for that reason, was comparatively unimportant, and arrangements had been made for settling in by negotiation. But the refusal of the ship-owners to allow their officers to affiliate their Union to the Trades and Labour Council was resisted as an opposition to the development of Unionism itself, it being contended that the right of affiliation was only an extension of the right to form a Union. The ship-owners took the ground that their officers had the right to form a Union of their own, but that the necessity for maintaining discipline at sea made it inexpedient in the owners interest, and in that of the travelling public, that officers who represented employers should affiliate with other labour bodies, because when at sea they could hold no direct communication with such employers, and therefore occupied a position that distinguished them from ordinary servants. It is obvious that this distinction raised the question whether the right to form Trades Unions has any limitations, and whether the position of ships' officers constitutes one of those limitations. The question was, therefore, distinctly raised as to the rights of Unionism, but it was raised in a form as to whether those rights were subject to the limitation referred to. It was not the question of Unionism in the abstract that was raised, but the restraint on affiliation as being a restraint on Unionism. The difficulty with the shearers also raised the question of Unionism, and it did so in this form - whether the Shearers Union was entitled to demand the non-employment of non-Union men. This question was raised in a practical way by the declared refusal of the wharf labourers to handle non-Union wool. [762] It is clear from this statement that a very broad and important distinction is to be drawn between all those demands of the wage-getting class which directly affect their comfort, and those which are put forward in defence of the labour organisations and in assertion of their right to extend the operations of those Unions and their confederation. This difference will be further emphasised when we come to consider the cure of strikes.
The federation of labour and the counter-federation of employers is the characteristic feature of the labour question in the present epoch. A few years ago each Union was an independent organisation, though the sympathy between different trades was strong, and showed itself repeatedly in the form of subscriptions to assist other trades when their members were on strike or were locked out. But the union of men in a trade has developed into a union of different trades together, and practical sympathy has taken the form of aiding a strike by striking also. This, of course, has the effect of increasing the area of contest, and dragging into it persons not originally involved. It is obvious that there is no limit to this extension of any strike, except the limit of the labour organisations themselves, and what the colony has already experienced in the way of suspension of industry is only a fraction of what it might possibly experience if a more general strike took place. The difficulty in any one trade may become a cause of quarrel in many trades, and employers and workmen in no degree connected with the point at issue, and otherwise working harmoniously, may be forced into hostility. The effect of this organisation of labour has already been to draw employers together, and, though their organisations have not at present the mature experience or the proved loyalty of the labour organisations, and although, from the nature of the case, it is more difficult for employers to come together than it is for workmen to do so, still the sense of danger is now so keenly felt that jealousies and rivalries are being overpowered by fear of loss. The industrial community is thus being organised into two vast camps jealous and suspicious of each other, and preparing for a possible conflict, which, in a few months, may destroy the saving of many years. The extent to which this organisation of employers and employed has now attained gives the whole question its present public and even its national importance.