My report which was read here a fortnight ago, dealt with the negotiations up to that particular point. The point at which they broke up was where a temporary arrangement had been come to whereby a reduction of ten shillings a week was to take place. My report stated:
"The matter was very fully considered, and the discussion centred mainly on the Condensed Milk Co. of Ireland's application for a reduction of wages, the main grounds advanced being that the condensed milk portion of the business was being run for the past two years at a substantial and increasing loss. The representatives of labour view the Company's case with considerable suspicion, and with a view to arriving at an impartial opinion on the matter it was arranged that the Council should adjourn to the 22nd March, and that in the meantime the Chairman, with the assistance of an accountant and auditor to be appointed by the Department, should investigate the Company's books, and report the result of his investigations to the Council.
"When the Council re-assembled, the Chairman's report was read, and bore out the Company's contentions. The matter was very fully discussed during a two days' session, and the various schemes considered with a view to giving labour an interest in the business. Finally, it was arranged that a proposal to reduce wages and carry on the business as at present for a period of two months should be submitted to a ballot of the workers, and that the Chairman should prepare a statement of the whole question for circulation by the Trade Unions, so that the workers should be in possession of all the facts when the ballot was being taken. The Council adjourned to the 31st March to allow these arrangements to be carried out.
"The examination of the company's books and the circulation of the Chairman's statement referred to above are interesting as evidence of the value of the Council, after less than two months' existence, in the removal of that distrust of Capital and its statements by Labour, which is such a fruitful cause of friction between two elements in industry, whose interests are not in their essence antagonistic.
"The Council re-assembled on 31st March, and the result of the ballot—a very large majority against the proposal—was announced. The proceedings of the Council, however, had raised the matter from the level of a mere trade dispute, and the parties had come to look at the question as a matter of national interest involving not merely the Company and its workers, but thousands of farmers who supplied milk to the Company through the south and west of Ireland, and who would be forced to a radical alteration of their system of farming if the Company closed down. Strenuous efforts were accordingly made by both sides to prevent a breakdown of the negotiations and after a long discussion it was arranged that a proposal, of which the following is a summary, should be recommended by the Company's representatives to their Board, and by the Labour representatives to the workers:—Wages should be reduced for a period of a month during which time Labour would negotiate with any parties interested for the purchase of the Company's properties and interests. If the negotiations resulted in a purchase, the amount of the wages reduction should represent part of the purchase price, and if not, the amount should be refunded to the workers unless otherwise arranged by the parties.
"The result of the ballot of the workers shows a small majority in favour of the acceptance of this proposal. Save for a difficulty at one of the Company's establishments where the workers threaten a strike if the reduction in wages is put into operation, the matter is now proceeding smoothly and steps are being taken with a view to organising the parties who would be likely to take part in the purchase negotiations."
It was arranged, after negotiation, to have an examination of Messrs. Cleeve's accounts, and the result of the investigation bore out the Company's contention, that unless a substantial reduction in wages took place, the business could not be put on a sound footing. Even with a reduction of thirty-three and one-third per cent. in wages, the company would still work at a loss unless the cost of materials came down substantially. The Company was prepared to carry on for a time with a reduction of 10/- per week, but the workers were not willing to accept that and several proposals put forward by the Council with the consent of the Labour members, were rejected by the workers. Apparently the workers could not be convinced of the real state of the industry.