I seconded this motion formally before, and if the Minister desires to intervene now—I suppose he read Senator Douglas's speech —I am quite prepared to give way to him. We would like to hear the Ministerial view on it.
Permanent Court for Industrial Disputes—Motion.
I would prefer to listen to the wisdom of the House first.
It is so long ago since this motion was proposed that, in seconding it, one must recall what its terms are, and what precisely it means. The motion asks the Seanad to express the view that we should like the introduction by the Government of a Bill generally amending the law in relation to trade disputes. That is the general proposition. In particular, Senator Douglas's motion asks for the establishment of a permanent industrial court for the examination of industrial disputes and the promulgation of advisory judgments. I would like to call the attention of the House to the words "advisory judgments".
At the present moment the law recognises trade unions and it recognises their right to strike. It gives certain rights to strikers and prescribes certain restrictions. The motion does not propose to restrict or deny the right to strike. It is not a motion for compulsory arbitration. The words "advisory judgments" are inserted advisedly and Senator Douglas made it clear that he does not propose that the right to strike should be taken away from the workers in any industry. He even rejected explicitly the proposal, of which a great many people are in favour, that, in certain essential industries, the right to strike should be taken away.
The motion, therefore, proposes that there should be a general amendment of the law, about which, of course, there could be discussion when the Bill was introduced, but that, in particular, the Government should examine the proposal for an industrial court delivering advisory judgments and thus leaving the right to strike unimpaired. The right to strike is one of the few rights which workers have and I, for my own part, would not be prepared to second this motion on the understanding that that right was to be taken away from them. It has very often, against unsympathetic employers and in difficult conditions, succeeded in improving the lot of the workers very considerably. The proposal in the motion is that the improvement should continue, or should be maintained, but that it should not be accompanied by the loss to industry, to the community generally and to the workers themselves which industrial disputes, whether by way of lock-out or strike, so frequently involve. One sometimes meets the type of person who says to one when passing a picket: "That kind of thing should be stopped." He has not given any consideration to the matter at all, but he means that the right to strike should be stopped, and I want, at the outset of my remarks, to make it quite clear that I have not the slightest sympathy with that point of view, whether expressed by an industrialist, an employer, or by the ordinary citizen who is inconvenienced by a strike.
I think this proposal for an industrial court would, in fact, tend to strengthen trade unions. It would certainly lead to further recognition of them. Senator Douglas made it clear that the court could not be appealed to by an individual worker, but that it would have to be appealed to by a recognised union. It might lead—and I think it would lead—to better organisation of workers from the trade union point of view, and it might also lead— and I think Senators on the Labour Benches would be in agreement with me—to a decrease in the number of unions which would, I think, be an excellent thing and would be welcomed by most trade union leaders if they knew how to get it done, as they have some difficulty in getting it done among themselves. I understand that there are up to 150 trade unions in this State at the moment. Strikes and lock-outs are, of course, a form of war and we all of us, and more particularly persons connected with the Labour movement, are in favour of international peace and of every and any instrument which might avert, or even delay, war-like action. I, therefore, feel that there will be general agreement upon any proposal which would tend to delay or finally to avert entirely trade disputes.
The scheme proposed in the motion is one which has been tried in other countries, and which, on particular occasions and for specific disputes, has even been put into operation in this State. It means that a person with the status of a judge and accompanied by a representative of the two sides to the dispute, would consider, perhaps even in public, the case made by both sides and would then make a report. Before that report was made, no action could be taken on either side by way of lock-out or withdrawal of labour. When that report was made, it would be made in public. The public would have access to it, and instead of misunderstandings and ignorance which so frequently surround trade disputes— very often, I suggest, to the detriment of the worker—one would have a calm, reasoned and complete account of the whole business from a person in a position to have a detached and impartial view, a person independent, as judges are when they have been appointed, of political considerations and not subject to any Minister, so that it would not lie in anybody's mouth to say that he had been influenced by a particular policy of a Minister or otherwise. I think we have had examples in Dublin in my own experience of a Circuit Court judge—I think Judge Davitt— being called in under the Tribunals Act to adjudicate on a tramway strike, but that took place only after the dispute had occurred and after considerable damage had been done and considerable suffering inflicted upon the workers themselves and upon the travelling public. The suggestion in the motion is that a scheme should be devised, and should get statutory authority, whereby that kind of inquiry would take place not after a strike had come into operation but before it.
There are some arguments perhaps against the employment of a person of this kind with the status of a High Court judge. One argument is the expense, but the cost of such a court would be very small compared with the immense loss—material loss and, I think, to a certain extent, moral loss, because embittered feelings have always to be taken into consideration and are in themselves a loss to the community—inflicted upon the community by trade disputes, no matter what their origin and no matter what their result. A strike is in many ways like a war, and I speak with considerable intimate and personal experience of what it means to workers—when they win, as they very often do, it takes the victors a long time to recover from the effects of the struggle to win, just as a nation which wins a war is not as well off as it thought it would be when beginning the war. The expense, therefore, would be very small and, in any event, the court would certainly pay for itself in its settlements of disputes.
There are examples of similar courts. There was one in Canada. The Canadian Disputes Investigation Act, 1907, aimed at postponing strikes and lock-outs in mines, public utility services, transport services, telegraph services, gas services, and so on. Thirty days' notice had to be given to the Minister of Labour before strike action or lock-out action could take place. In the period from 1907 to 1925 90 per cent. of the total disputes in public utility services were settled and, in other industries, I think all were settled. Legal difficulties were then encountered owing to the Federal Constitution of Canada.
But, as far as we are concerned, we have a problem of our own to decide here and this matter is certainly one worthy of investigation. I think the establishment of such a court would actually benefit trade unions and would be of great benefit to the public as well as to the workers themselves. There are other amendments which Senator Douglas did not mention but which I, personally, should like to see effected in the Trade Disputes Act. My experience over a long period of years, in which I have been intimate with a large number of trade unionists, is that strikes in particular very often start with a show of hands and nearly always conclude with a secret ballot. I think that is true. I think it would be desirable that the practice which is observed in some unions at the present moment should be made general, and I would even be in favour of giving it statutory authority, that the withdrawal of labour, as a regular trade union act, should only take place after a secret ballot of the interested parties had been taken. What happens at the present moment is that somebody makes a speech, a show of hands is taken, and a show of hands, you are frequently told, does not represent the views of the persons attending the meeting. One might be told that that is the fault of those attending the meeting but human nature is an imperfect thing and, in this country, with its particular history, it has certain peculiar imperfections. That is one of them.
The motion is one, Sir, which is not revolutionary and which is not reactionary. It is not put forward from the point of view of depriving workers of their rights. It is put forward in order that the House, and the two Houses afterwards, if legislation is introduced, should have an opportunity of seeing what we could do in our particular circumstances to settle our own problems. It does not commit the House to particular types of amendment of the Trade Disputes Act except in one matter. That is in the matter of the Advisory Court or Industrial Court to promulgate advisory judgments. I think, therefore, that it is difficult to see how it could be opposed at all, because it does not commit the House to particular types of amendment. It merely means that the Government should examine our position in the light of our own circumstances and then the two Houses would have an opportunity of deciding what legislation was desirable.
I personally feel that the worst possible type of amendment from the point of view of the country and from the point of view of industry in the country would be what some employers describe as "drastic and necessary legislation." I would myself oppose that strongly and I think it would fail in its object, but the particular amendment suggested here providing for a court presided over by an impartial person, free of ministerial and other influences, and which would give public decisions, to enable the ordinary citizen to come to a conclusion himself, is very desirable. I have, therefore, much pleasure in seconding the motion.
I support the motion as a representative of the agricultural industry, which is the biggest employer of industry in the country. I think I can say on behalf of the agricultural workers that legislation to prevent strikes and lock-outs is now over-due. The majority of the employers and workers of this country, I am certain, would welcome legislation which would prevent strikes and lock-outs. Thank Goodness, the farmers and the agricultural workers have always lived in peace and harmony and I think there have been only two or three disputes of any consequence within the last 40 years but, even though we have peace in our own industry, we still do not escape the consequences of labour troubles in other industries.
In 1923, there was a labour dispute which closed all the ports in Eire. That dispute was not a dispute with the employers—there was no employer concerned. It was a dispute between two labour unions and it held up the ports for four or five months with an enormous loss to the country, a loss which ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds—I might say some millions. There was nothing to be gained by either side from that particular dispute. There was no employer implicated. It was not a question of trade union wages or anything pertaining to that, but simply that two unions started to fight between themselves for supremacy, with such disastrous consequences to the country. I think that no Government should sit idly by and allow such things to occur.
On Senator Douglas's recommendation I have read statistics in the Irish Trade Journal for the year 1937—I am taking that year because it had the biggest number of disputes. In 1937, there were 145 labour disputes which affected 333 establishments and involved 26,734 workers with a loss of 1,754,949 working days. Putting the pay of those workers at an average of 7/- a day, it meant a loss to themselves of over £600,000. I could quote many instances from my own experience in which strikes and lock-outs had disastrous results for the country, for the employers and the workers themselves, but, as this motion is to request the Government to introduce legislation to stop all that, I do not think anything can be gained by quoting such cases.
It is better to forget the past. I do not agree with Senator Douglas or Senator Hayes in their suggestions for settling those disputes. I think the proposal made by Senator Douglas would only be tinkering at the job. Strikes and lock-outs and peaceful picketing should be prohibited by law. In particular, peaceful picketing should be prohibited. There is no such thing as peaceful picketing. Peaceful picketing in a great many cases means attempted murder—at least it does in some cases which I see. Talk about peaceful picketing—did anyone ever see it if the Guards were not standing at the front of the shop or wherever the picketing was going on? If the pickets got somebody who was against their interests doing anything, they would throw him into the canal or the river.
That is a fact. That is what happened at the North Wall quite recently.
That was very exceptional.
I hold that we should guard against the exceptions, because if they had the opportunity they would do it in all cases. The only thing that the Government should do is to set up a court of justice or an industrial court and everybody should be compelled to recognise that court. If it is good for the employers it should be as good for decisions of that court should be a criminal offence. There is no use in tinkering with the job and saying that you do not want to take away the workers' rights, but the employers have rights just as well. We are here to do the best for the country—for employers as well as workers—and if you talk to any worker who has been engaged in a dispute he will tell you that he was no better off after the strike than before it started. Strikes or lock-outs never did any good to anybody, and it is time that both workers and employers and the Government came together and devised some means by which those things could be settled. I would appeal to the trade union leaders and the Minister for Industry and Commerce to devise some means by which such things can be stopped in future. That is the only contribution I have to make to this debate. I think tinkering with the job will get us nowhere. It will leave us just in the same position as we were before.
It is rather difficult to listen to speeches which suggest that Senators have so far forgotten themselves as to put forward the most extreme views from their own standpoints. An extreme outlook on matters at issue has always been the cause of many difficulties in this country. We have had Senator Counihan getting quite excited on this whole question of trade disputes. Yet, recently we had a farmers' strike which simply meant that these people tried to enforce their own views and their own outlook on certain matters to the utmost limit. That led to the spilling of milk on the roadside and similarly useless actions of that kind. A narrow-minded outlook of that kind is never going to lead to success for the cause which it is supposed to serve, nor will it contribute to the prosperity of the country as a whole. There is always room for compromise in any dispute. No matter how good the case of one party to a dispute may seem to be, it is much better in the end to try to meet the other party half way. The qualities of our Irish temperament are such that once we make up our mind to do anything or to attain anything, we go at it bullheaded without thinking of the consequences. That is unfortunately a trait in the Irish character which needs correction if this country is ever to develop along peaceful lines. We might as well be frank about it. We have come to a stage in the country's development when, if it is to survive or to emerge successfully from the tremendously delicate situation which now confronts the whole world, we must be prepared to listen to the other man's point of view. We can then assess whether there are any merits in his point of view and if there are, let us be honest and frank enough to admit it.
I think that the motion of Senator Douglas shows great vision and, while keeping an open mind on it, I think that it provides the essence of fair play for all parties to a dispute and a basis upon which we can work in the future. It may be that it contains some drawbacks either from the workers' or the employers' point of view. I do not know. It is not my business to interpret the workers' views. There are many people here and elsewhere quite capable of doing that, but, in any case, I think that it can be said that there is a certain amount of merit in the line of thought which underlies the motion. It is only right and proper that the means which it suggests should be explored to the fullest possible extent to see if it is possible to make them a workable proposition. Strikes, as we know, invariably injure the poor man more than anybody else. He has always the bigger price to pay and frequently he has to pay a price which he never thought he would have to pay. If it is possible to save him that misery by any means, there is no reason why we should not make every effort to do so.
If I were a worker myself, I would be a member of a trade union, but I am not sure that if I were a trade unionist I would like to be in charge of the organisation responsible for the control and discipline of the workers. My experience of trade disputes in this country has been that where you can get to the stage of sitting down at a table, not with the trade union organisers so much as with the workers directly concerned, while the atmosphere may not be too healthy in the first hour or half-hour, it definitely improves when you come to the hard basic facts and when the workers become realists about the dispute at issue. Very often both sides are very much more inclined to listen to reason when they meet at a round table conference of that kind than if the negotiations were conducted by parties who were not directly interested. I am not so sure that many of the disputes which have arisen are not due to a lack of some system of that kind by which such a conference can be brought about. There should be some means, readymade, which the workers can make use of. So far as my limited experience goes, I would say that one of the principal difficulties arises from the fact that when the dispute arises, a lot of wrangling takes place between the trade union leader on the one side and the industrialist on the other— each side putting forward its own view without making any definite attempt to understand the other side's point of view. The trade union leader is subject to the majority vote of his own workers, and he finds great difficulty in making any concession.
If a readymade court of the type suggested in the motion were actually in existence, it could act immediately when a difference arose between an employer and his workers, and it would afford an opportunity both to workers and employer to make their case. The workers would be acting under the guidance of their union leader, and they could have it out immediately with the employer. The rougher the words the more healthy would be the atmosphere when all is over. If a sense of fair play animates both parties, the dispute should be speedily settled. The only hope for the country is to have such a sense of fair play operating in all spheres of life. There is a campaign going on in this country to-day about the high cost of living, the high cost of Irish-manufactured goods, and so on. After all, if we look at conditions in other countries, I think the comparison is one upon which we can congratulate ourselves. We never had the same situation existing in this country as existed in England in 1926, for instance. The blackguardism which prevailed in Paris at one period has never prevailed amongst the workers in this country. There is no use in our exaggerating conditions here because a few isolated incidents may occur now and again. There is no necessity to magnify them. That is merely going to the extreme on the other side.
Without labouring the question any further, I would appeal to the House and to all concerned to avoid as far as possible that extreme outlook and to try to see the other person's point of view. I believe that there is a method here through which every worker and employer can get whole-hearted cooperation and that there can be that genuine feeling on both sides that by going into court they are going to get fair play and that, whatever the result may be, it will be for the good of all concerned.
Probably it is because I have spent a lifetime at this work that it is with great diffidence I take part at all in the debate on this motion. To the uninitiated, it may seem that it is a simple motion, but to those of us who have a responsible position in the trade union movement it is neither simple nor is it easily disposed of by us here in this Chamber this afternoon. First of all, I want to say that the motion will not, as it stands, be acceptable to us, principally on the ground that it is an omnibus motion in the first instance. It deals with two very separate and distinct matters, the first of them, where extremely ambiguous phrasing has been employed, being of the greatest importance to the trade union movement. The second portion of the motion is not so intricate, neither is it so ambiguous, but as these two ideas have been loosely strung together in this manner, it cannot find acceptance with us.
I listened with great interest and pleasure to the statements made by Senator Hayes and Senator McEllin. The subject which this motion is dealing with is of the greatest importance to a very large and, I may say, respectable portion of the community, organised in the trade unions, and it is right that it should be treated seriously. I deplore the attitude of mind brought to bear on this subject by Senator Counihan. The extremely Hitler-like manner which he adopted is certainly not what one experiences from Senator Counihan in private life. No more genial member of this Assembly is to be found than Senator Counihan, and it passes my comprehension why he should become so terrifically bellicose over a motion such as this. Perhaps the milk strike to which Senator McEllin referred stirred certain dormant chords, or was the port strike responsible? It is, however, a subject which ought not inspire people to bellicosity. Nevertheless, the portion of the community which Senator Counihan is associated with here has behaved in a manner which— from long experience of the trade union movement—I would say was more barbarous than the trade unions were ever responsible for in this country.
I do not know why motions of this character are placed on the Order Paper of the Seanad. We had another one recently in which there was a very wide and general discussion on currency. That may have brought out ideas valuable to this Assembly and to the country, but I doubt if a discussion on this motion will be as advantageous. It is one of those motions, however, where those of us who have a particular interest in it feel that we must be extremely guarded as to what we say. Consequently we can only go on what Senator Douglas himself said when he was moving this motion on the last occasion. He had some very interesting things to say, and some contradictory things to say also. It is inevitable that contradictory things would be said on this motion, as it deals with an extremely difficult and intricate subject. Implied in the speech made by Senator Douglas there will be found almost a subtraction of the right of the worker to go on strike—at least, a subtraction of that right by implication; though I think it will also be found expressly stated that Senator Douglas has no intention whatsoever of taking that right from the worker. There are, however, more ways of killing a dog than that of choking it with butter.
One has to carefully peruse and analyse Senator Douglas's statement in moving this motion. He started off by referring to the number of days lost through industrial disputes. Undoubtedly, a large number of days was lost in industry through industrial disputes, but we should also remember that quite a large number of days also is lost in industry through unemployment. There are over 100,000—if that figure is contested, then a very large number—unemployed who would be very pleased to be employed if they could find work. Unfortunately they cannot get it. We must take into consideration the loss that means in industry. Of the two, I think it is far more important to save the loss caused through unemployment than to save the loss caused through industrial disputes. However, I would like to see both losses provided against, if it were possible.
In approaching this subject, we must ask ourselves what is the genesis of the trade dispute, so that we may provide a remedy. Why should there be such a thing at all within the community? If we analyse the question, we will find that it is due entirely to an irreconcilability between certain interests in industry. Can we get over that and reconcile those interests? If we can, we have gone further on the road to providing harmony in industry, rather than merely providing machinery for the adjudication of the dispute when it arises. Therefore, our minds ought be directed primarily towards finding a solution for the causes of the dispute rather than towards finding a remedy for it when it has occured. The motion deals with matters which are old. Not only in this country but in other countries, various attempts have been made by Governments and Parliaments to provide methods and means of disposing of industrial disputes.
I think all we can say, after very much effort having been made, is that there has been a limitation in the number of disputes which have taken place from time to time, but we must have it clear in our minds that until something is done, as I have already said, to avoid these disputes taking place, no matter what we do we are not going to eliminate such disputes unless we deal with them in the forthright manner suggested by Senator Counihan which, I do not think, would find acceptance by responsible people engaged in industry either on one side or the other, and which I hope will not be accepted by representatives of the Government.
The worker has a right to cease work. That is a fundamental right of the citizen. He may go into employment or he may leave that employment. That is his fundamental right. He may be dissatisfied with the particular type of employment into which he goes, or he may be dissatisfied with the contract into which he has entered with his employer, and surely he has the right to cease work or to end that contract, just as much as the employer has the right to fix the price of commodities. It is the right of the employer to fix the price of the commodity he is producing, but the workman has the right also to cease work for that employer if he is not satisfied with the conditions. It must be remembered that the workman has to contend with a fluctuating standard of living for himself and his dependants, and hence the workman has nothing to put into the market except his power of service in that market, and surely he has the right to get the best he can for that service. His only way of maintaining that standard of living for himself and his dependants, in a competitive world, is to bargain collectively in association with his fellows. By this means he fixes, or endeavours to fix, the price of his services.
Has the individual an absolute right to sell his labour? Does the trade union allow him that right?
The workman in fixing the price, has to deal with the rise in the cost-of-living from time to time, and in doing that he sometimes comes up against obdurate employers, and therefore the workman endeavours to fix the price of his services by collective bargaining, as I have said, in association with his fellows. If a stoppage should eventuate, may it not be due to the callous and indifferent attitude of the employer who refuses to recognise the necessity of the workman to secure an adequate wage? In such a case a dispute takes place, but why should the worker be blamed always? There may be good and there may be bad employers, but at all events, it seems to be impossible very often to deal in a conciliatory manner or adjudicate in these disputes, as between the employer and the employee, and then the only arbitrament is that of the strike or of voluntary arbitration machinery, which may be employed in certain circumstances.
Everybody, and none more than the trade unions, deplores the necessity for these stoppages or strikes. As has been said already here this evening, it is the worker who suffers. I am sure that no one will contradict the statement that the workers suffer immeasurably in these disputes. At the same time, it has been imputed by Senators here that these workers go on strike frivolously.
Senator Lynch may be referring to me, but I did not imply, in any of my remarks, that workers went out on strike frivolously.
I was not referring to Senator Hayes. I said that that implication had been made, but I think that anybody who has had any experience of these matters must know that it is with the greatest reluctance that these stoppages take place.
These stoppages take place with the greatest reluctance, because such a stoppage means that a man's weekly wage is cut off and the amount of benefit provided by his union is very small in comparison with his weekly wage. Hence, there is no inducement for him to cease work, and if he does cease work, it is in response to an economic compulsion applied to him from outside.
This motion, therefore, is one that requires very careful consideration, not alone from the standpoint of my Party but from the standpoint of the House, and from the standpoint of the influence which this debate may bring to bear on the mind of the Government in connection with these matters. The terms of the motion are: "That the Seanad would welcome the introduction of a Bill amending the law, generally, in regard to trade disputes." Now certain rights, and very important rights, have been secured by the trade unions in regard to trade disputes, such as the right to appear at or near the place in which a dispute is taking place. That is a very important right, but I think it has been said by Senator Counihan here that these pickets in connection with trade disputes are more in the nature of riotous conduct than peaceful picketing. I do not think the Senator is correct in saying that. We have all seen these trade dispute pickets on our streets, and they are extremely small in numbers, and I do not think Senator Counihan—unless he is referring to things that happened many years ago—can say that he has seen any of these pickets taking on an aspect of anything like a violent or riotous character.
Now Senator Douglas, in his speech introducing this motion, said that he did not believe that anyone who believes in democratic freedom, as he does, could support legislation which would prevent workers from endeavouring to improve their lot by collective bargaining. He then went on to say that he would like to make it clear at once that he did not advocate legislation for the purpose of denying the right of workers to withhold their labour and to make strikes illegal. He said:
"We have at present several kinds of conciliatory machinery, the most important of these being trade boards which recommend rates of wages for particular industries, joint industrial councils which exist in certain industries and, of course, the general conciliation work carried on by the Department of Industry and Commerce. Now, I do not want to discount the value of such machinery, but we must recognise that it has two serious defects. Firstly, it has failed to prevent the loss on an average of a very large number of working days per annum; and, secondly, it fails to take into adequate consideration the extent to which the country as a whole can afford to pay the increased prices which may result from an agreement between the employers and the workers themselves."
That machinery already exists, and I am sure it could be developed, and I think it would be better to develop such machinery so as to provide a better means of dealing with these disputes rather than by taking away from the workers the rights they already have, especially in view of the fact that these rights have not been improperly used. I want to emphasise that, because many cases have been taken into court by employers in recent years, in which violence has been alleged but not proved.
Occasionally of course, there might be a case where young people, of an irresponsible character, might take part in violent actions, but generally speaking the trade union movement has been conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner. Now, one of the reasons that Senator Douglas gives for the use of such conciliatory machinery in this country is that it is much more suitable for industrial disputes in a free trade country because, under free trade conditions, there was no danger of employers and workers in any one industry agreeing together to raise the prices to the consumer beyond a reasonable level. "If they did," he said, "the industry would be destroyed by outside competition."
Now, it is hard to say what type of country we are in to-day, but I think we may say that at least it is not a free trade country, and if, as Senator Douglas says, the legislation now enforced in this country dealing with trade disputes was devised in Great Britain at a time when Great Britain was almost entirely a free trade country, I do not think it is right to contend that England is a free trade country to-day, whatever she may have been some years ago; but although the machinery that was established here took place at a time when Great Britain and Ireland were one political and economic unit, still, at the same time, the remedies which that machinery provides are just as applicable in this country to-day as they were then, and are now, in England, because of the nature of the industries to which they apply in both countries. Senator Douglas goes on to say: "It seems to me, therefore, that any change in the law should be directed towards making it less easy to strike or to lock-out and, if possible, to provide that there will never be a strike or lock-out until the dispute has been considered by an independent person or independent persons and a proposal for settlement made." If the intention of that paragraph is to put the dispute to compulsory arbitration then it seems to be the negation of what he has already said and it seems to us that it would be quite easy to accept from statements made by him on the previous occasion that there is a gradual development in his mind towards the idea of compulsory arbitration. He may say not and, unquestionably, he has made it expressly clear that that is not his desire but in a paragraph of that character, if I am not over-suspicious, one could see a tendency towards taking from the worker the right to strike or, as the Senator says, making it "less easy". You may make it less easy in the first instance and make it impossible afterwards.
May I just correct the Senator? I think it is made quite clear. I have my own speech before me. What I said was that it should be made less easy to strike until there would be an independent examination and an advisory opinion given. I do not think it matters twopence whether I am in favour of compulsory arbitration or not, but it would be very useful if the Senator would give reasons why it should not be introduced. I made it clear that I am against it at present, but, dealing with the thing generally rather than what may be at the back of my mind, I think it would be helpful if the Senator would tell us why it should not be.
Senator Douglas, speaking of the judgments of the industrial court, said that they should be advisory and acceptance not legally binding on either side until they are accepted by both sides. It is all very well to piously express something like that, but what has been the history of industrial disputes? Is it not just because the offer is not accepted that the workers, having taken consultation amongst themselves, decide to strike? The Senator says that judgements of the industrial court should be advisory and acceptance not legally binding on either side until they are accepted by both sides. To my mind, that just leaves us exactly where we are, and once you arrive at that stage you are inevitably driven forward to the other stage which you say you do not desire but about which you may have to change your mind when you arrive at that particular stage. Senator Douglas goes on to say: "Should the representatives of a trade union concerned in the dispute refuse to accept a judgment of the court which has been accepted by the representatives of the employers, the dispute should cease to be an industrial dispute within the meaning of the Trades Disputes Act, and picketing or other hostile action should be illegal if a strike does take place." There you have the genesis and, in my opinion, the kernel of his whole argument. Very often the representatives of the trade union would, quite naturally, on behalf of their members, reject the judgement of the court and then, forthwith, there is to be withdrawn from them the very important right to picket the place of the employment and the dispute shall then cease to be an industrial dispute within the meaning of the Trades Disputes Act. I do not understand what the Senator means by "other hostile action".
The only right the workers have is the right to peacefully picket, but that important right is to be taken from the workers forthwith. The whole substance of that means, if it means anything at all, that the Trade Disputes Act, guaranteeing this right, will be immediately nullified, and the right of picketing will be taken from the workers. The Senator then goes on to say:
"Should an employer refuse to accept the judgement of the court, which has been accepted by the representatives of the trade unions, or should neither side accept the judgement, then the rights of picketing as provided in the Trade Disputes Act should be as at present."
That is all very fine. "Should neither side accept"—that is hardly ever likely to take place, because it is usually a dispute over an offer, and a refusal of the offer, and, consequently, that last statement is mere furnishing and of no great significance. The former is the more important one. He also says:—
"I would also like to make trade unions responsible for any illegal acts by their members during a strike."
That is very significant. At present you cannot make a trade union liable for the torts of its members. That was specifically provided by the British Parliament.
In what Act?
The Trade Union Acts. It would immediately mean that the valuable property of the trade unions, especially in the funds subscribed by its members for the purpose of maintaining the members and for the purpose of organisation, would be immediately destroyed by way of damages. The trade union might be taken into court every hour and minute of the day, and in the space of a few months all the money ever subscribed would be taken from them if they were made liable for the torts of their members.
Surely the members do not behave like that.
Do they ever commit any torts?
At present the unions are legally not liable.
The Senator has shown there were not any torts.
Not by the union. The individual is not the union. That is the point.
The Senator might have made that clear earlier.
If Senator Douglas's point was to be conceded in legislation then it would immediately destroy the whole structure and fabric of the trade union movement overnight although he says that is not his intention. Perhaps if he goes into the legal aspects of the trade unions he will find that he would do what he says he would not like to have done here. In regard to his other point—that there are too many trade unions and too many employers' organisations—that may be so——
Did I say anywhere that there were too many employers' organisations? I thought I said there were too few.
Too few? Too many trade unions.
That is a different thing.
If the Senator goes into that labyrinth he will find that even if he still believes that there are too many trade unions, very often each of these unions has its own specific outlook on very technical matters and that if you were to forcibly or arbitrarily weld them into a larger organisation, unless you were to keep them in that organisation in an arbitrary manner, they would break from it again. It would be a better thing in dealing with matters of that character to proceed more slowly. Festina lente is a good motto to adopt in a case of that kind.
These are just some of the points that arise on the statement by Senator Douglas. After all, they are his own views and he is perfectly entitled to them. I am merely pointing out from my experience in the trade union movement that I demur to many of them. I see profound and basic difficulties in many of the things which he suggests should be done. The approach to this is neither easy nor simple but if anything could be done, without subtracting from the rights of the workers, which would bring greater peace and harmony into industry I think we would all be pleased with it.
Surely the true issue raised by this motion is whether or not it is worth while trying to substitute third party judgment for industrial war. I submit that it really raises a principle closely analogous to the principle which was raised when it was first proposed to form the League of Nations for the purpose of avoiding the settlement of international disputes by bloodshed. Senator McEllin has appealed to us to be moderate, compromising, and conscious of other people's point of view, and such an appeal ought never to be disregarded, least of all when it comes from so unaccustomed a quarter. I would venture to make the suggestion to him that those admirable sentiments could be extended to some other domains of our politics besides the particular one we are discussing to-day and to questions which are even more fundamental than this to the happiness and peace of this country; but is that appeal of his really relevant to the question whether arbitration should be compulsory or merely advisory? I suggest that it is not so relevant.
Senator Counihan has been compared to Hitler. I think perhaps it would have been more appropriate to compare him to General Goering, who, I believe, shares his geniality in private life. The remarks which Senator Counihan made may have been delivered with some heat, but in so far as they merely concern the question of whether or not arbitration should be compulsory rather than advisory, I suggest that no question of compromise, of conciliation, of seeing the other man's point of view, really enters in. The question is what will work best. At the time the League of Nations was created, in my opinion, all those concerned made a great mistake in going too much along the lines which the moderate men here to-day want us to adopt. They did not put enough teeth into the idea. They so arranged matters that practically nothing could be decided except by the unanimous verdict of all the members, and the consequence was that, through all these years, the League has failed to fulfil its functions and has presented a picture of painful impotence.
I am inclined to wonder—it is not a matter on which I should dogmatise, especially after listening to what Senator Lynch has had to say— whether advisory verdicts by an industrial court would have any effect. Senator Lynch seemed to be very doubtful whether such a thing would occur as employers and wage-earners ever both accepting an advisory verdict from an industrial court. I do think that there is ground for considerable doubt on that subject, and I put it to Senator Douglas, Senator Hayes and others whether, if this principle which they have been advocating here is of value—and I think myself it is of enormous value— the principle of trying to substitute third-party judgement for industrial war, which brings about great suffering to a vast number of people and great loss to the country—it ought not to be very seriously considered whether it may not be best made effective by setting up a court which has real powers to reach decisions, and will be supported by the whole machinery of justice in having those decisions enforced. That is not a question of taking extreme views, of being against the working man, or even being against trade unions. It may be that, in the majority of trade disputes, the claimants for improved conditions are in the right. I do not wish to say anything one way or the other about that, but I do feel that, whether that be true or not, trade disputes have become impossibly expensive and a nuisance which this community can no longer bear. There can be no equitable ground that I can see to be urged against these questions being taken out of the hands of the disputants themselves and settled by as impartial a tribunal as we can manage to set up.
Senator Lynch, in a debate on a similar subject in connection with the Fire Brigades Bill the other day, spoke about the right to strike as one of the fundamental rights of the individual citizen, and he has said something of the same sort to-day. I do not know that anything could be more difficult than to draw up a satisfactory table of fundamental rights of the individual citizen, a table of the rights of man. It has been attempted very often, but never, so far as I know, with any success. It was attempted in the French Revolution with great eclat, and the French revolutionaries themselves produced constitution after constitution which failed to carry out, even on paper, the rights of man which they had laid down as fundamental. There have been many attempts since to do the same sort of thing, and none has succeeded. There are attempts going on at the present day in connection with the issues of the present war and I have not found any of them that I have seen satisfactory or convincing. Indeed, our own Constitution attempted somewhat the same kind of thing. There were a lot of resounding general principles which were very good in their way, but each of them had to be eaten in on almost immediately by a whole lot of reservations and modifications.
I do not think we can make any exception of the right to strike from the general rule that the rights of the individual citizen are limited by the rights of other people, of the community as a whole, and of the community as represented by its government and its legislature. I ventured to interrupt Senator Lynch with the question of what he thought about the right to sell one's labour and whether that was any less fundamental than the right to strike.
I did not know what the Senator meant.
Whether the Senator had any idea of what I meant or not, he prudently pursued the even tenor of his way.
Quite truthfully, I do not know what the Senator means when he speaks about a person selling his labour. Does the Senator mean the fruit of his hands? Does a slave sell his labour when he gets certain food?
I will tell the Senator exactly what I mean. I read in the papers a fortnight ago a case of a girl who had been employed in a cinema who brought an action—I forget against whom—to try to get her position restored after she had been thrown out of employment, at the behest of a trade union, because she refused to join the trade union.
Did the Senator ever hear of a combination of employers doing the same thing with a competitor?
I am not attacking either the lady who brought the action or the trade union. I am not saying the trade union was wrong, but I am saying this: that, to me, it would appear that if we are talking about fundamental rights, the right to strike is not a more essential right of the individual citizen than the right to sell his labour, and if the second can be encroached upon for good and sufficient reasons, I suggest that the first can also be encroached for good and sufficient reasons. I hope that that argument is not an unsound one; it is not intended to imply that the trade unions have acted immorally in that matter, or in similar matters, but it is just to sound a warning against the habit of picking out something like the right to strike and saying: "It is fundamental, it is God-given, and we cannot tolerate any encroachment on it." When you come to think about it, there is hardly a human right on which you can take up that attitude.
It is particularly odd that there should be this insistence on the right of the individual citizen as against the State from Senator Lynch, who, a couple of weeks ago, was denouncing the Manchester School in this House because of its exploded theories that the State should interfere with the individual as little as possible. It was just that School which went to extremes about the rights of individuals that we do not go to nowadays, except when Senator Lynch wants to make a particular point and it suits him to take up that line. Again, it was only a couple of weeks ago that Senator Campbell was imploring us to join him in a crusade against poverty and unemployment—a crusade that many of us have preached about before, but, if we are to have a crusade against poverty and unemployment, I suggest that we cannot be terribly particular about rights. I never heard of any crusade being conducted without the sacrifice of a lot of rights in order that it might be pursued effectively, and a crusade against poverty and unemployment, particularly the latter, which Senator Lynch showed some courage in mentioning in the course of his speech, appears to me to require that something should be attempted to eliminate these constant strikes that have done so much harm, diminished the wealth of the country, and caused so much individual suffering.
Senator Lynch suggests that it is a mistake to bother too much about the motion before us and that we should go deeper to find out the cause of strikes and do something which will prevent disputes from ever arising. That sounds very profound, but I wonder how much practical meaning there really is in it? The most disappointing thing about Senator Lynch's speech is that there seems to be nothing constructive in it.
He objected outright to the first part of the motion, because it involved changes of the law relating to trade disputes, and, although he did not say in the beginning that he objected to the second half, the whole drift of his speech suggested that he did, and he did not say that any alteration of the motion would make it acceptable to him. I cannot help feeling that Senator Lynch could be of a little more assistance to us and more constructive if he were freer. The recent conference of his Labour Party was a very depressing performance, and it gave the impression that they were unwilling to lift a finger to solve this question, which we consider to be such a serious one.
That was only the first round of the battle.
I do not know what the battle is. If it is the battle against poverty, I am afraid that we have not got very far, and that we are not likely to get very far unless those representing the Labour movement will readily throw themselves into it. They come here and make fantastic proposals about creating vast quantities of credits and printing quantities of money in order to enable the wheels of industry to be set working, notwithstanding the results experienced where policies of that sort have been carried out elsewhere. Having done that, they seem to feel that they are exempt from making any further effort.
What did Lloyd George do on the 4th August, 1914?
I do not care what Lloyd George did in 1914. I never held a brief for him, but at the same time I do not admit that there is any analogy between his views and those of the Labour Party. It all comes to this so far as I am concerned: that I shall support the motion of Senator Douglas, but I would like to suggest to him, and to other Senators, and most of all to the Government who, I hope, are going to introduce some sort of legislation, to consider very seriously whether it is not a mistaken idea of moderation to set up an industrial court which will issue only advisory judgments. It is not a matter in which I have formed hard and fast opinions, but I cannot help thinking of the analogy of the League of Nations. I feel that the main cause of the failure of the League was that it was not really given proper powers. The League Council and the League Assembly were not given proper powers, no doubt because there was not the will that there should have been on the part of the individual nations. There was not that crusading spirit that was needed in order to get rid of war. The question is whether we are going to get the crusading spirit here that is needed in order to get rid of poverty.
This resolution proposes that the Government should take certain action. When a resolution is worded that way, it seems silly to talk about a crusading spirit in the country. The Government can pass legislation, but it cannot create goodwill. The League of Nations when it was formed had to advert to certain facts. There was no good in some people coming together and saying that everybody shall divest himself of exaggerated nationalism such as that that causes wars. The League of Nations had to advert to facts as they were, and no Act of this Government can make us virtuous people full of goodwill. The Government can only pass laws and see that the laws are operated. Neither have I much sympathy with the suggestion that so far as the right to strike is concerned there is another right— the right to sell your labour and that the way to meet the open conflict between the two rights is to abolish both of them. People talk about totalitarianism but there were a number of statements made to-day the logical conclusion of which is the abolition of rights.
I never say anything about abolishing rights.
I think you implied it very strongly in your references to the rather futile constitutions put up at the time of the French Revolution setting forth rights which in the end could not be operated.
I said they had all to be modified as in our own Constitution.
The only point about the relationship between the right to strike and the young lady treated unjustly by the trade unions is that both rights had to go. I think two rights exist and they are two rights which can be compatible with each other. I was throughly disappointed in Senator Lynch's speech. We have this pseudo-vocational representation body which really amounts to nothing whatever, but I do think that Senator Lynch, representing what was called Labour—all of us represent Labour— should have come along with something more definite. He says he could not support this resolution because the first part is rather vague and he was also dubious about the second part. There is a very ordinary way of dealing with that. The resolution begins with the word "that" and it is open to any Senator to bring in an amendment to delete all the words after it. Moreover, this is merely a resolution, a pious aspiration suggested to the Government.
If the Government brought in a Bill more or less to implement this motion, it could not bring in a Bill with this vague wording. The Bill brought in would be set out in various sections, with very exact definitions. We, and many others who support the resolution might then come along with quite a lot of severe amendments to any legislation brought in by the Government. It does seem to me that Senator Lynch completely failed to define his attitude. He says that his position is not too fixed, not too determined. He demurs and he is doubtful about certain aspects of the motion. He has, moreover, refrained from defining exactly, or even from suggesting along general lines the steps the Government should take to remedy a certain evil which I think we all recognise as an evil.
I do not quite know what this question of compulsory arbitration means. I personally would be against any decision of a court if that decision meant that men were ordered to go back to work and were offending against the law of the State by withholding their labour. I must insist on the right to strike. If the State says to me: "You have got to work; the court has decided that," I do think that I should have the right to say: "I have the right not to work and to suffer any inconvenience that that course of action may bring upon me." To make it a criminal offence for a person to say that he is not going to work, is something with which I could not agree. It may be that when people talk about compulsory arbitration they mean another thing, namely, that when a trade union and an employer are before a court and the court decides the matter in the favour of the trade union, the employer should have a perfect right to say: "The conditions are not such as I am prepared to accept. I prefer to let them go on striking indefinitely." On the other hand, the decision may be given in favour of the employer and the trade union might say: "Our members are not going back to work under those terms." You might call it compulsory arbitration, if certain peculiar privileges which had been granted to organised workers under various Acts were not to apply in the same way if the workers refused to accept the decision of a tribunal in that manner.
I am all for the tribunal idea because, at the moment, walking along practically any street in Dublin, you see men or women marching up and down, with notices announcing: "Strike on Here." What is the purpose of that so-called peaceful picketing?
The purpose of these pickets is that the information that they are on strike, given to the public, will be such as to deter the public from giving their trade to that particular firm. The argument that the mere fact that there is a strike on, means automatically that the rights are all on one side and the wrongs all on the other, does not convince me in the least.
Senator Lynch said that the statement of Senator Douglas implied the denial of the right to strike. I do not think that that could be read into Senator Douglas's speech, if the right to strike means simply the right of a man to withhold his labour from a given employer. The question is whether, following on the decision of the court suggested in the motion, the men refused to accept that decision, certain privileges would continue to be enjoyed by these men. That is a matter which the Government should consider if they were bringing in legislation in regard to this matter. Senator Lynch talked about a sort of conflict of interests between the employer and the employee, and he said that we should try to harmonise these. He said that the harmonising of the two is more important than the setting-up of machinery. The setting-up of machinery is really a means to an end. The machinery is the means of harmonising the claims of the two sides with justice.
Senator Lynch, although he condemned the Manchester school on a previous occasion here, seemed to me to accept it in a very wholehearted way to-day. He says that the worker has a right to use his organisation to demand for himself the maximum price for his labour that he is able to get by that machinery. I do not agree with him there. He has no right whatever to demand for his labour more than the real value of his labour, even though he has machinery at his disposal by which he might be able to impose his demands on his employer. As a correlative, he says he has just the same right as the employer has to demand the maximum price that he can get for the goods that he has to sell. The employer has no such right. That is the Manchester school completely. Why, at the present moment, everybody is watching to prevent profiteering. Nobody, nowadays, agrees that a producer has the right to get the maximum he can squeeze out of the unfortunate public for the commodities which he sells. The very analogy which the Senator put forward was disastrous to his case. A fair wage is not necessarily the amount which the combined forces of the workers can squeeze out of an employer. Neither is a fair price the price which the producer can squeeze out of the public when they are in a desperate need of a certain commodity which he holds.
Senator Lynch also mentioned Senator Douglas's reference to the fact that arbitration was suitable for a free trade country. This certainly is not a free trade country at the moment. The very fact that we are crushed and that the country is disturbed by these fantastic tariffs has created a new problem here. It is well to recall in this connection the method by which industrialism first developed. Simplified it might be put this way. The capitalists discovered, because a man had to keep himself and his family alive, that they were able to get the maximum labour from the workers and make a maximum profit. As time went on, the labourers coming together established organisations and found they had a weapon against the employers. The employer was out for big profits and the workers said to him: "You must give us a fair wage, otherwise we shall withhold our labour and your profits will drop to nothing." That seemed to be the second stage. The third stage was when the two of them, the employer who was out for profits and the labourer who was out for high wages, came together and finally the employer said: "I want to get my profits and you want to get your wages. I will have my profits and you will have your wages and we will both make the consumer pay." It seems to me that the condition of the agricultural industry all over the world has been to a large extent brought about by that development. I remember a number of years ago when Mr. Ford, in America, was talking about buying power. He was cutting the time worked to five days a week and six hours a day, and there were high wages for the workers in his motor works. It was said that this was magnificent and that it solved the social problem. I saw another side of the matter where Mr. Ford, in another way, was saying that the farmer who needed a tractor would have to work seven days a week and 24 hours a day to buy that tractor. The unskilled workers in the Ford works could stroll in for their six hours a day during five days, and with the fruits of the labour given in that time were going to demand from the unfortunate farmer the fruits of labour which amounted both in time, skill and personal endurance to more than twice what was received in the form of a tractor.
It does seem to me that under organised trade unionism—which I entirely approve of and regard as a social necessity—as it happens to affect the whole condition of agriculture in this country, the town workers have become a privileged class as against the workers on the land. The reason is that in industrial production, so called, you can rationalise. If a man is making boots and at any given moment sees that he has more than he can sell in the market, all he has got to do is to cut off his overheads and close down the factory until November, saying that he will open again on the 27th November. The man on the land, however, cannot do that. He cannot at any given time say that as the cabbages are growing so fast that there is going to be a glut on the market, he must tell the cabbages to stop growing until the 5th November. The result is that the farmer has to co-operate with nature and has got to produce, while the man who works artificially by machinery in factories is able to rationalise his position.
I do not see the Senator's point there.
When everybody was talking about the disastrous condition of society some years ago, it was pointed out that in Brazil there was an abundance of coffee and it was burned, while in Canada there was an abundance of wheat and people were using it for driving steam engines. People said then that it was criminal that, when people in Europe were requiring coffee and bread, people over there should be burning it. When I examined the position, it seemed to me that it was just exactly the same as a strike here. When growing coffee or wheat, you cannot at a given moment say it has got to stop. Nevertheless, when the world crop exceeds a certain point and goes beyond it by 5 per cent. you may find the price you get per lb. or per ton drops by 10 per cent., and if the crop exceeds by 10 per cent. you may find the drop per ton or per lb. is 50 per cent. The result is that, when the great crop comes, the farmer, who is the producer, knows that, as a result of that benevolence of nature, his year's labour is going to bring no payment to himself at the end of the year and that, after his year under bleak skies or hot suns, his savings will only have diminished as a result of his labour. In the case of labour in the industrial sphere, if the employers or workers find that they are producing too much, they have only to restrict the amount of the commodity by merely, at a given moment, ceasing to produce, with an arrangement to continue producing at a later date.
Consequently, in that aspect, the attitude taken in regard to the wheat in Canada and the coffee in Brazil was to let the crop grow on and then to take a certain portion and burn it, in order to get an amount which would bring in a minimum payment for the arduous labour. The industrialist just closes his factory for a time. That is to say, in industrial production you destroy by refusing to produce over a period; in agriculture you have to produce and destroy afterwards. That is the difference. The industrialists were the very people who cried out against the scandal of the people in Canada and Brazil destroying goods which other people needed—though I do not wish to hurt Senator Lynch's feelings when I say that.
If I were one of those farmers, I would have said: "I have as large a heart as anyone else. I have worked hard and realise that I am going to get nothing for my labour. I realise the needs of the unfortunate starving people in Europe. I am prepared to give them what I produce instead of burning it, to give it to them for nothing, on condition that the men who run the engines—the firemen—on the trains will give their work for nothing, that the men who are working on the ships will also work for nothing, that the men in Europe who are serving these things across the counter, and the carters, will also work for nothing." If that proposition were put to the trade unions, it would have been denounced as a most reactionary proposition. Yet they were denouncing— and we were all denouncing—the farmers in those countries for not agreeing to do what any trade unionist, or any of us here, or any intelligent person would agree to do.
The Senator spoke about the suggestion that some strikes are run frivolously and he countered that by saying that the strikes brought a number of hardships to the worker and his family. At the same time, there have been frivolous strikes, such as the double strike on the railways some time ago: one lot was striking against the railway employers because they employed members of another trade union. They carried on the strike, upset the transport and imposed material loss on the people, because one lot of them wanted to use the railways, and the needs of the railways by the people, to force another lot to join their trade union. That was a scandalous and frivolous strike and one with which I have no sympathy whatever. The Senator says that there may be a lot of trade unions but that, when you come to examine them, you will find that there is some craftsmanship difference which necessitates their being separate. I can believe that in some cases, but I understand that there are two trade unions for carpenters and that there might at any time be a strike by one to force employers to make employees join their particular union. I understand that there are two trade unions for plasterers. What the technical difference is I do not know. I only know the difference between good plastering and bad plastering; I also know from experience that from a trade union you may get both good and bad plasterers.
Yes, but we have not a trade union. While we are on that point, if you had a trade union of politicians the public would demand, when they put forward someone as a trade union politician, a certain standard of excellence. At the present moment you can get a man as a trade unionist—I am not generalising now; we all know the jokes about plumbers, and some of us have been horrified to find that those jokes were true—and I know that one can get a man from a trade union to do a job which I, who am not expert in anything, could have done better myself. I am not dogmatising here, but it would seem to be a very good idea that when a man is approved of by a trade union, the trade union should guarantee the excellence of his work and if it is not good you can then call the trade union's attention to it and show what a mess has been made by the carpenter, the plumber, the plasterer or whoever he may be.
That is done through vocational schools in conjunction with the trade unions to-day and very largely it is the employers who do not treat the apprentices properly.
But the trade unions say they are satisfied to accept them.
They are trying to obtain some improvement in the skill of the operative.
I am all for improving the skill. The resolution proposes that there be a court of arbitration to which these disputes must be submitted but that the finding of the court will not be binding, but will be an influence on public opinion. If I had been drafting this resolution I should have wished to put in more details, but I do not propose an amendment to it as I realise that it is not a subject on which I could dogmatise. We all know—as Senator Hayes has pointed out—that a strike is generally decided on by a show of hands and we all know, too, that when a number of men are heated and excited in talking about their rights, to withhold your hand when there is a show of hands requires very high moral courage.
Sometimes it is a show of hands, but more often it is a ballot.
I have known many cases where it was a show of hands. I think there may be a useful point in suggesting that legislation introduced by the Government must insist that no trade union may call a strike until it is so decided by its members by a secret ballot. I think that in that way we should have a lesser number of strikes. My only feeling here at the moment is that the State should set up the machinery for arbitration. That is, in my opinion, the most essential function of the State, the juridical function, and I think the State here should sit in judgment and declare that such and such a solution of a dispute would be equitable. The Senator says: "What is the good of such machinery, when there is a conflict of interest?". One may just as well say, when there are murders in this country or in any other country: "What is the good of having courts to try persons charged with murder?"
You might just as well say, what is the use of having a court to try murderers, and that it is better to stop murder taking place. We all agree that it would be better, if it could be done, to stop murder taking place, but we all agree also that, unless there were these penal sanctions of the court there would be more murderers and more murders. I do not think that Senator Douglas's motion offers any ideal solution, therefore, of what could be done in connection with these disputes. I think that, no matter what the Government may do or may not do, you will always have a certain divergence of view between one man and another, or between one section of society and another. I do not suppose that I will be in agreement with any member of the Seanad on certain matters, but if I want to punch another Senator's head, the police will come along, probably, to stop me. There will always be these divergences of opinion as between one man and another, and as between one section of society and another, but if you have judicial authority, and if that authority says that certain things should be done in accordance with a certain arrangement, then the person who refuses or refutes that authority, first of all, does not assist the authority concerned, but also does not assist himself in showing how that authority should give a guidance to the public as to how the dispute concerned should be judged.
I do not think any case has been made against the motion as it stands, although a case could be made against it; but personally I hope that the Government will go into this whole question of trade disputes. Senator Eamonn Lynch says that these trade disputes are not entered into frivolously. I agree, but I think they are entered into more frivolously or more lightly in this country than they are in England. I do say also that the standard of employment in this country compares very favourably with a similar standard in any other country—that is, in industrial employment—whereas the standard of living of our agricultural worker is on a lower average than that of an agricultural worker in other countries. It must be remembered, however, that while our industrial worker is on the high average as compared with other countries, and our agricultural worker is on a low average as compared with other countries, when there is a stoppage of work in an industry here, lasting for a number of days or weeks, the workers concerned would not strike unless they hoped to make up for the loss of their working days by the increased pay they expect to get as a result of their strike, and the employer concerned also hopes to be able to make up for that increased wage by putting an added price on the commodity he is producing. As a result of this, what happens? The consumer has to pay all the time. The consumer has to pay for the time the factory was idle and for the time the workers did not work. In that connection also it must be remembered that the vast bulk of the unfortunate consumers is composed of the farm labourers or those who work on farms.
The position is that the farm labourer or the man working on a farm, for whom there is no provision made, in the way of hours of work or conditions of labour, by legislation, has to work longer hours and get less pay in order to make up for a period of strike that may occur in various industries. That is what it all comes down to, and therefore I think it is the Government's business not to consider one section more than another but to try to establish a reign of equity amongst all classes, and to consider not alone what is suffered by the unfortunate farm labourer, but also to consider the chances of improving the situation of the town or city employee as well as taking into consideration the factors that the employer has to face. I think that, for the alleviation of the unemployed people in this country, as well as for the alleviation of the farm workers of this country, the Government should put into effect some kind of machinery to put an end to, or at least diminish, this enormous outcrop of strikes which have been occurring and which have led to cessation of work all over the country.
Senator Lynch spoke about the loss of time and production brought about by these strikes, and then he came on to speak about the number of men who were unemployed. Certainly, the unemployment problem in this country is appalling, but the only conclusion I could draw from Senator Lynch's argument is that there is an enormous waste occasioned by these strikes and that the problem is further added to as a result of these disputes. I was quite prepared to hear some argument from somebody here which might lead me to vote for an amendment to this proposal for the introduction by the Government of a Bill generally amending the law in relation to trade disputes, and in particular providing for the establishment of a permanent industrial court for the examination of industrial disputes, but everything I have heard leads me to support this motion, because, in supporting it, we will be urging the Government to bring thought to bear on the problem of seeing whether any change in the present legislation, or any new legislation, can be brought about, with a view to ending this endemic condition of strikes in this country. I do not assume, as Senator Lynch evidently does, that the trade unions are always right, and neither do I assume that the employers are always right, but I think that, on the last occasion, Senator Lynch mentioned that a trade union was a responsible body and I pointed out on that occasion that a Government was a responsible body also, and that, in setting up a Government, you have to take into consideration all kinds of circumscribing things. The same thing applies, in my opinion, to a trade union. It may act justly or unjustly, and the circumstances that might have been eminently suitable ten, 15, 20 or 50 years ago might not be suitable to the conditions of the present day. That has to be taken into consideration. As I say, I was prepared to hear some amendment being put forward to this motion, but I have not heard any proposed amendment with which I could agree.
Labharfa mé ar son an ghnáth-phobail, nach lucht oibre ná fostuitheoirí sinn. Is minic a chuireas na stailceanna oibre seo isteach ar an ngnáth-phobal agus sílim go mba cheart don Riaghaltas sinn a choinneáil i gcuimhne agus a ndicheall a dhéanamh, más féidir leo cosc nó laghdú a chur ar na stailceanna sin. Cuir i gcás, bhí stailc oibre ar siúl i mBail Átha Cliath le goirid agus bhagair sé go han-trom ar ghnáthdhaoine na cathrach. Bhí an bhagairt ann go scaoilfeadh sé leis na teine tríd an gcathair agus bhí bagairt ann go bhfágfadh sé lucht na cathrach gan aon uisce agus bhí bagairt ann don tsláinte phuiblí. Sílimse go mba cheart do Riaghaltas na tíre a ladar a chur isteach sa ghnó gan ró-mhoill eile agus deireadh a chur leis na stailceanna oibre sin. Taobh amuigh de sin, is minic a chuireas na stailceanna isteach ar lucht oibre iad féin agus ar dhaoine eile nach bhfuil baint acu le ceist tuarastail an lucht oibre. Cuir i gcás, tá stailc tar éis críochnú annso i mBaile Átha Cliath ag lucht iomchair adhmaid —obair nach go leor ata ag plé leis. Chuir sé isteach agus chuir sé stad, ar obair eile—obair thogála tighthe annso —a bhfuil an-phráinn leis. Tá gá le tuille tighthe a thógáil go fóill annseo i mBaile Átha Cliath agus in áiteacha eile. B'éigin do lucht tógála tighthe agus b'éigin do lucht oibre stad den obair ar na tighthe sin agus suidhe síos gan rud a dhéanamh le mórán seachtaine. Sin rud a bhaineas leis an bpobal.
Níl mé ar aon intinn le na daoine adeir—ní dóigh liom go bhfuil morán daoine annseo ar mhaith leo a rá—nach bhfuil ceart ar na fir oibre stad den obair nuair is mian leo. Is dóigh liom gur ceart é sin a bhaineas le gach aon duine, ach ní shílim go bhfuil an ceart acu bagairt ar dhaoine eile gan an obair sin a dhéanamh más mian leo. Tá mé cinnte nach ceart dóibh stad a chur le obair a bhaineas le beathadh an phobail. Mar sin, is dóigh liom go mba mhaith an rud don Riaghaltas cuimhniú ar phlean, ní deirim deireadh a chur le stailceanna oibre, ach chun beagán maolú a chur ar an gceist. Ní fheicim go bhfuil aon locht ar an tairiscint seo ón Seanadóir Dubhglas, tairiscint a chuirfeadh cúirt ar bun, cúirt a bhéarfadh breith chomhairleach agus annsin má déantar an cheist iomlán a phlé annsan agus má socruítear cad é an taobh a bhfuil an ceart acu; agus annsan mara n-aontuíonn na daoine eile leis an mbreith sin tuigfidh an pobal annsan nach bhfuil an ceart nó an cóir acu. Beidh sé an deacair dóibh dul ar aghaidh annsin. Ní bhead i bhfabhar aon phionós nó aon foiréigin a chur ar na daoine seo ach ní bheadh tuairim na ndaoine leo. D'fhéadfaimís annsin, i gceann roinnt blian, féachaint cad é mar tá an plean ag obair agus b'fhéidir leigheas a chur ar an scéal, an chúirt do dhéanamh níos daingne agus níos déine ach sílim go bhfuil an tairiscint seo láidir go leor agus nach bhfuil sé go ró-láidir le beagán bisiú, agus beagán leighis a chur ar an ngalar sin, na stailceanna oibre.
In this, as in so many other proposals brought forward both here and elsewhere by Senator Douglas, I discern as the inspiring idea the precept of seek peace and ensue it. In so far as that is embodied in this resolution it commands my complete sympathy and it should command my support were it not for the details that are involved in the full resolution. It is undoubtedly high time that society should be saved from the commotion and not only the civic disorder but the painful moral and economic consequences that follow strikes. It is a task for a Government undoubtedly to reorganise society, particularly in the domain of industry so that force and the power of endurance to break down an opposing body in a dispute should not be regnant, but that Christian charity and principles of equity should reign instead. I am quite sure that we are all with Senator Douglas as regards the spirit of his resolution, but there is a number of things that have to be considered. I was particularly struck by the opposition of Senator Lynch, who is undoubtedly qualified in every way to speak for Labour and to put forward clearly and unmistakably the demands of Labour. He fears that legislation of this type, an amending Bill dealing with the legislation that is, would possibly detract from or diminish the advantages that the working body already enjoys. His opposition at once suggested to me that a preferable course rather than the introduction by the Government of a Bill would be the setting up by the Government of a commission of inquiry to consider the whole question of industrial disputes and to report what might be done in the way of legislation. It does not matter how long the commission took if it was worth while to have them. Undoubtedly I admit a drawback is the weary length of time over which their deliberations are spread. That is incidental to the fact that the members of the commission are themselves engaged in various avocations and they can only give of their leisure time to this public service, but it is better to have it. I think that a commission made up in its personnel of men like Senator Douglas and others representative of employers who are animated by the same sense of fraternity and equity as he always exhibits and others who are representative of Labour and of Labour's claims, and the general public who are affected by the disputes between bodies, would shorten the work of a Government and it would contribute to this, that the measure introduced by the Government would be more likely from the very outset to command support from the people who are most concerned, that is to say, those between whom disputes more or less naturally arise, and also from the general public.
One thing in the proposal that, I may respectfully submit, has been misunderstood by some of those who have debated it is what is intended by the establishment of a permanent industrial court for examination of industrial disputes and the promulgation of advisory judgments.
Senator Douglas obviously contemplates, not an ordinary court of arbitration, not an arbitration board, because arbitration, taken in its exact significance, does not issue in advice. It issues in a finding, in a decision, and in 99 per cent. of cases, if not in 100 per cent. the understanding at the outset is that the arbitrator's decision shall be final and binding upon those who have participated in the arbitration. I think that, very rightly, Senator Douglas does not desire to have all disputes arbitrated on in that way, but the reason that would support his substituting a body with advisory functions—advisory to the Minister for Industry and Commerce—reacts against his own proposal in the earlier part of the motion. If it is to promulgate advisory judgement, it should not be a court. Courts, as understood, and especially as understood, I think, by Senator Counihan, are courts of law which adjudicate in accordance with certain accepted principles of law, but, very often, the disputes which occur in industry and which give rise to prolonged warfare are not susceptible of adjudication in that definite way.
We are all too familiar with the vast variety of strikes that can arise in the industrial sphere. While I, of course, uphold the right to strike as an indefeasible right of the worker, at the same time, I do not agree that he has the right to strike just as he likes, when he likes and for as long as he likes. Senator Lynch, I think, spoke without thought when he suggested, or rather, seemed to suggest, that there are no unreasonable strikes. They were called frivolous strikes, but I would apply a very different adjective. I have before my mind the case of the brother of a friend of mine who, finding that the business in which he was engaged was beginning to lose, and having come to the conclusion that its decline was directly attributable to the negligence of the manager, remonstrated with the manager, gave his proofs of the accusation and said: "While I am unwilling to dismiss you, you must permit me to lower your salary. Otherwise, unless you accept this by way of penalty to induce you to resume your normal activity and attention, I shall be obliged to dismiss you." The man immediately called a strike of all the employees, and, thanks to picketing and a strike carried over for two years, the employer was ruined and he died of a broken heart. Not only that; his brother, my friend, had to take charge of his children and they, in time, became a weighty burden on his income. There are such things as that, and I who uphold, and strenuously uphold the right to strike, must regret that such things as these can occur. Obviously, the remedy for that is not in legislation, but in education, to renew in both workers and employer a new heart and a keen spirit. But that takes a long time. It means the reorganisation of our educational system as well as the reorganisation of the industrial system.
I was astonished to find that Senator MacDermot who, in public and in the Press, is so severe upon professors who go about the country quoting Papal Encyclicals, should display such a lamentable ignorance on his own part of Papal Encyclicals. I would recommend to him, for the beginning of his education in these matters, the reading of three of these Encyclicals. They are comparatively recent. There is, firstly, the Encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII, which is called the Workman's Charter and which revolutionised, to a large extent, the relation of worker and employer at a time when, in France, it was illegal to have workmen's associations and when, in a mistaken conception of liberty, workmen were also forbidden to set up defensive corporations on their own behalf. In addition to that Encyclical, which is the charter of the workman, there is the continuation of it, and the bringing of it down to date, so to speak, in the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, and, as having, in some respects, a more immediate bearing on the present issue, there is the Encyclical known as Atheistic Communism. A very slight study of these Encyclicals would assure Senator MacDermot that there are such things as inalienable rights of personality and that the worker, just as much as the nobleman and the king, in virtue of his human personality, is invested with these rights, that no one can deprive him of them and that the society that does not allow of his exercising them is an immoral association and badly in need of reorganisation.
He talked of the worker selling his work, of maximums and of demands for maximums. Pope Leo XIII, in Rerum Novarum, laid down a correction of the fallacies of various economic schools of thought in regard to what is an equitable return to the worker for his work. He denied, and proved the justice of his denial, that the workman's work is as a commodity to be bought and sold in the market. He laid down that the worker is so placed in the social fabric that the only thing he has to give for securing the net wherewithal to maintain him at the level of personal life, to secure for him a truly human living, is his labour, his toil, his energy and his skill, whatever be the measure of it, and that, therefore, the minimum he is entitled to get—and what, therefore, he is entitled to demand, and what, therefore, becomes the duty of society to ensure to him— is such remuneration as will give him a living at the human level for himself; further, that when he marries and provides that great centre of social community, the family, he must have what suffices to support a wife and children, and that, to relieve his anxiety with regard to a possible future, he should be in a position to have something, as we say, to put by for a rainy day or something to contribute to a benefit society or charitable association that will secure him a contribution when his days of energy are gone. That is a thing which was asserted in the name of Christianity by a Pope and which was accepted in legislation on the Continent but, unfortunately, there is another side to that which is commonly overlooked by those who make claims in virtue of their charter.
The Pope in that Encyclical, Rerum Novarum, is equally clear on this—on the right of the individual to withhold his work, because, after all, it is his own living that he is bartering or dealing with in the matter. He may need rest—he may need a variety of things—but a worker's association by the exercise of force will deprive him of the enjoyment of that personal right and will say “join our union and come out” or will go to someone in a different union and say “we will ruin you”, or they can threaten your employer by strikes to compel him to put you out, and such things have happened in holy Ireland, as we are all painfully aware. Some of us can recollect the details of such cases.
Now, that is an attack on personal liberty, on the rights of the individual, and just as the worker has all these rights the Pope claims for him, he claims those other two rights for him: that he shall not be forced into associations of which he does not approve. Mark you what this tyranny amounts to in some countries—a man who is a Christian, a fervent and sincere Christian, must go into association with active and virulent atheists whose gospel is anti-God. Whether he likes it or not, the Christian worker must either work with them and support their aims and give what he can towards the prosecution and achievement of their purposes, or be crushed. That is a tyranny. I do not say that tyranny of such enormity is exhibited frequently in this country, but wherever there are these associations, wherever there is this enormous power exercisable by compulsion on an employer, of leaving him with all his installation of equipment and investment of capital deprived of workers, there is the temptation to use it.
Of course, there is the well-known passage: "it is excellent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant". Society must be protected from these tyrannies as well as the individual worker in a Christian society, and in this State our Constitution begins by declaring it a Christian State. All the claims of fundamental rights put forward in the Constitution are consonant with only one Christian philosophy or, in present-day jargon, Christian ideology.
It is, therefore, for us in the spirit that has prompted Senator Douglas to get active, to try to save the country in time, not merely from economic injury but from the social debasement that will follow if strikes and lock-outs are permitted at the will of people who feel that they have the power to exercise it without regard to justice, equity or what we call common decency. In view of that, I think that Senator Douglas has done a service by bringing this forward in this House. If the Minister would prefer to bring in the Bill I think we should all applaud but, if he prefers to institute an inquiry to have the matter predigested for legislation, we equally will applaud. For my part, personally, I will applaud him.
In my younger days when people had not such a sad world we had our sorrows in song. There was one song, I think it was the Fishers of Dee, which contained the words "For men must work and women must weep." We have all come to a sad world to-day when men on certain occasions must not work and women weep all the harder. However, strikes are hard on everybody, but they are particularly hard on the women. The men engaged in the strikes have their interest in the fight, they have their association, but the women at home have a great deal to suffer. For that reason, it is not unimportant that a woman's voice should be heard for a few moments in this discussion.
Two Senators stressed a very important point. That is, that in strikes it is not the protagonists alone that are concerned—the public are concerned as well. Therefore, the duty of the Government is to hold a watching brief for the third party, which is the general public. We have seen that in many recent instances that I need not advert to, but it gives justification for some Government action, and the question now arises on what lines should this action take place. Senator Douglas suggested one line in the terms of his motion. I examined it very carefully and I am very glad he introduced it, because it voiced what we all feel, that the Seanad, representing very important elements of public opinion, should express its interest in a position that affects the happiness of us all. But I do not think that the Seanad ought to accept the resolution as it stands. It commits us really to what we do not know. In the first place it says
"That Seanad Eireann would welcome the introduction by the Government of a Bill generally amending the law in relation to trade disputes ..."
That is asking a great deal, and the discussion already has proved that there are a great many points of view to be considered, a great many difficulties to be faced and solved, and a great many rights to be adjusted, but in the other analysis it is a matter of adjustment of rights—the right to work and the right to withhold work. These are big rights, but other rights have also to be taken into consideration, although largely it is an adjustment of rights that has to be considered. Senator Magennis made a very important suggestion that the Government should institute a commission. I do not know whether that would be the best method but, certainly, it should be inquired into very carefully, and we should have spokesmen of Labour, of the employers and also spokesmen of the general public. We should have women on this inquiry to devise means that might be suggested to the Government as a basis for legislation. I just wanted to say those few words.
I think this is an occasion when I should be prepared to listen rather than to speak, because it is in debating matters like this that the Seanad, as representative of all classes and sections in this community, can render a great public service by indicating the trend of public opinion. I do not propose in a matter of this sort to use any argument to induce you to form a judgment one way or another in regard to this motion. I can say, however, that if the motion is passed by the Seanad it will receive the most careful consideration of the Government. I say that because its adoption by the Seanad will be an indication, or rather confirmation, of the view that the Government already has that this evil of the undue prevalence of strikes, and so many cases of participation in unjustifiable strike action, is one that is arousing public anger.
The speech of Senator Counihan was very strongly criticised by Senator Lynch. I should regard that speech as a portent because undoubtedly as this European war progresses, and the need for this community to maintain uninterruptedly its productive resources becomes more urgent, the demand, the clamour on the part of the people, for some method by which the exercise of this right to strike can be regulated, will become much more exigent. No person wishes to deprive any man of the right to withdraw his labour if he sees fit to do so, but modern communities are so organised that every man who is in employment plays an essential part in the economic activities of the community as a whole. The individual engaged, for example, in a public transport system, the person engaged in any one of our essential public services, can only refuse to play his ordinary accustomed part in the organisations, which constitute these services, by occasioning grave inconvenience if not serious loss, to the rest of the community.
Now a matter which must be taken into consideration by all interests in our industrial life as it is at present organised, is that the community as a whole does a great deal for every person engaged in industry whether he is there as an employer or as an employee. If he is there as an employee, the State and the community have afforded him certain statutory rights and given him certain protection. The State does even more than that. It insures him against extreme hardship if for one reason or another he is unable to follow his customary avocation. If he falls ill, it provides for him; if he is out of employment it provides for him and it provides for him in his old age. Because the community does all this for those who are engaged in industry, naturally the community is entitled to expect that those for whom so much is done will make some public recognition of the fact and that, at any rate, if they have to exercise their right to strike, they will only do so in circumstances which make it plain that they have no other recourse or that the decision to strike has been taken with a full sense of responsibility.
We have had occasions within very recent memory where, without any warning or notice given whatever, labour has been withdrawn in essential undertakings and the men of the working class whose own livelihood depended on their being able to reach their places of employment at an appointed hour, suddenly found themselves deprived of the means of getting to their work. I could cite other instances of a like nature which have occurred in other undertakings. I know where an important public utility was in danger of being closed down by reason of a lightning strike within the past two or three months. I am perfectly certain that there is no responsible representative of Labour who would say that the right to strike had been either wisely or justly exercised in those instances. I am sure that if the Legislature were to decide that, however this right may be exercised, it could not, and should not be exercised in that arbitrary way, it would receive the fullest support of those who wish to see our Labour Movement a great disciplined co-operative element in the community.
But this matter is bristling with difficulties. It is a mistake to think, as some Senators here, to-day, seem to think, that there is any analogy between this question and the judicial machinery which is set up to consider ordinary individual disputes. Naturally, we pass laws to restrain the citizen from evil-doing but, as a rule, the sanctions with which such laws have to be armed, have to be enforced only against the individual. It becomes a much more difficult matter when you have to deal, not with an infraction of the law by a single individual, but with an organised infraction of the law by large bodies of people. A very serious situation might then be created if your sanctions were not enforceable and if your law were challenged by organised public defiance. On the other hand, it would be equally stultifying for the Government to set up tribunals, whether you call them advisory courts or give them an even more nebulous, ambiguous title, and yet allowed the findings of such courts to be completely disregarded. The Government cannot put itself, and the Government cannot allow its organs to put themselves, simply in the position of being good advisers.
If an economic dispute is submitted to the arbitration or the arbitrament of a fair-minded, reasonable, third party, then we should have to find, I think, some way of securing the acceptance of the award by all persons concerned in the dispute. We could not, of course, go to the length of introducing a system of industrial conscription and compelling a man, willy nilly, to go to work. But I think that if such courts were set up, the community would be entitled to put itself in this situation, that if a person defied what would be considered a reasonable and just judgment by the community on an issue of that sort, the community would be justified in refraining from doing some things for that individual that it would otherwise normally do. It has been pointed out here, that trade unions, at the present moment, claim to regulate employment in industry and claim to restrict employment to those who are members of their particular organisation. If they do take up that attitude in regard to industry, I think we cannot allow them to remain free from responsibility for the acts of their members in relation to industry. These are aspects of this problem which would have to be taken into consideration, naturally, if legislation were introduced following the acceptance of this motion by the Seanad.
Mention has been made of another fruitful cause of labour disputes in the country—and it has been adverted to elsewhere—that is, the rivalry which exists between the trade union organisations. We all can accept the principle that a man is entitled to withdraw his labour if he feels that he is not obtaining a just remuneration. We all can say that the workers have a right to organise and withdraw their labour in order to enforce what they regard as their claims to just remuneration. But it is quite a different matter to say that two bodies of organised workers can go to war with each other and to war with the community simply in order to decide which of them is going to have the right to control employment in any particular industry or in any particular concern. Yet, perhaps, one of the most fruitful causes of strikes within the past four or five years has been this trade union rivalry. That is a matter to which first attention should be given by those who are concerned to maintain in the fullest sense the rights of the workers to justly withdraw their labour.
So far as I can see—and I have studied the matter, though perhaps not as fully and as carefully as I would like—at the present time it is open to any person to set out to form a trade union organisation to-morrow and, in order to secure the adherence of members to his particular organisation, to take the most intransigent and irresponsible attitude towards an industrial undertaking and—not so much for the benefit of the workers, but in order that he may expand his organisation—to create trouble and to place the industrial undertaking in jeopardy. Obviously, that is a sort of evil which those who, as I said, are concerned to maintain undiminished the rights of the workers in regard to employment, ought to set themselves to solve. It may be that all their efforts would prove unavailing but, obviously, it would be one of the problems that would have to be dealt with if we were considering such legislation as is suggested here.
I was greatly impressed by the suggestion made by Senator Magennis that perhaps the best way would be to refer a matter of this sort to a public commission for investigation and report. That is a matter which I will consider, but there are some difficulties in that proposal. First of all, I do not know whether and to what extent the trade unions would admit that there were any grounds at all for the proposal made by Senator Douglas, and I do not know whether it would be possible to get people really representative of the trade union movement to sit on such a commission.
Why was the Minister impressed by the suggestion? It seems to me to be the most disheartening thing in the world to see the Government wish to thrust the responsibility on to a commission.
I do not know why I should open my heart to Senator MacDermot and say why I was so impressed. I think it would be considered by a good many people as a reasonable suggestion. If there is a conflict of interest to be reconciled, and if it can be reconciled around the council table, and if, as a result of investigation of all the problems involved by those concerned in the matter, one can produce an agreed solution, I think that solution would be generally acceptable to the body of the people. I may be wrong.
What have we got a Government for?
I think on the whole, when we have got a representative system of Government, where questions of legislation are concerned and where particularly the rights of individuals are to be regulated by way of restriction or expansion, that the Government is there to try and find the highest common measure of agreement in the community and to give effect to it. That is one of the ways in which democracy, representative democracy, is able to work. If we are going to proceed on the other assumption—that, simply because a Government is able to command a temporary majority in the Houses of the Oireachtas it may pass legislation through without taking into consideration the views of those who may not be in the Government and who may be affected by the legislation, legislation designed to affect one or other section of the community—I am afraid that our system would not work.
The Minister must see that there is a great deal of real uneasiness at the habit of thought that is developing that the Government cannot deal with anything that requires careful study unless they first appoint a commission that will spend two years in studying the problem.
If the Senator would allow me, I was going to point out that the proposal has difficulties. One of those is the length of time which a commission would take to report. First of all, there is the difficulty of securing a truly representative commission; secondly, there is the length of time it would take; and, thirdly, there is just the possibility that it would not be able to find that common measure of agreement which would be recognised as sufficient to justify action on a particular line. Naturally, those who have Senator Counihan's point of view would be represented on the commission, on the one hand. I am not going to say that Senator Lynch's point of view would be represented, nor views even to the left of his. I say to the left, for notwithstanding the criticism which has been directed against the Senator's remarks, I think when one reads his speech it will be found that it was a moderate and reasoned speech setting before the House the difficulties and the objections which undoubtedly the people for whom he speaks would have to a proposal of the sort.
As I was saying, when this commission came to formulate the results of its investigations, there would probably be on the one side people with Senator Counihan's views who regard the strike and the strike weapon, as an abomination and, on the other side—even to the left of Senator Lynch—there would be those who feel that not merely should the strike-weapon be used to settle labour and economic disputes but that also political and other disputes should be settled as well in the same manner. Naturally, they would not favour any limitation which might be imposed on the right to strike. I am doubtful if in between you would get such a mass of moderate opinion as would enable the Government to say: "Here is legislation which in fact embodies the finding of the commission." It is for these three reasons that I am doubtful as to whether we could proceed by way of a commission such as Senator Magennis has suggested. As I said, I really came here to listen and be guided by the opinions of the Seanad in regard to this matter rather than to try to lead the Seanad in relation to it or to set any views before it. If, as I have said, this motion is adopted by the Seanad naturally it will receive the careful consideration of the Government.
What that consideration will eventuate in, I am not in a position to say, but I think that, as most Senators here have indicated, public opinion is gravely concerned with the way in which strike follows strike in industries in this country, and the way in which these strikes occur—whether with reason or without reason I am not in a position to say—for I must remember that I have to hold the scales as evenly as possible between the various conflicting interests. I must say, however, that the manner in which, for the past few months, strikes have been embarked upon here in this city and in the country generally at a moment when it was imperative that there should not be any interruption in the inflow of essential materials into this country has done a good deal to harden public opinion in favour of a resolution of this kind.
In view of the Minister's remarks, I think that, before coming to any conclusion on this matter, he ought to try to ascertain the lines upon which the Vocational Organisation Committee have been going for several months past. I think it would be wise for the Minister to find out the lines that that committee has been following before he comes to any conclusion on this matter.
In concluding, Sir, I should like, first of all, to express my gratitude to the Minister for arranging a time that would be convenient for him to be present, in order to be able to deal—as was reasonably obvious from his speech—with the proposals I made when introducing this debate. I should like to say also that I do not think I ever brought forward any matter here that was more definitely non-Party than the motion I now have down. That has been made very clear by the correspondence I have received since I introduced the motion. One of the newspapers published a good deal of what I said, but none of the actual proposals, and that gave me the excuse to send the actual proposals, in the form of a letter, which was printed. As a result, I received many requests for a copy of my speech. I received communications from all kinds of people—with many of whom I would be in disagreement in most political matters, and I also received communications from justices and other people in high positions. Amongst these communications there were a good many criticisms of my proposals with which I propose to deal now— although not in detail—because they are matters about which it might be well to have a record as being thoughtful criticisms from other people.
Before going on to deal with these matters, I should like to say that the Minister was very moderate when he said that there was a strong public opinion in connection with this matter. If there were an extensive strike—no matter who was to blame for it— to-morrow, I think that public opinion would be much more vocal than it is at the present time. I am not speaking as a person who, at the moment, happens to be an employer. I brought forward these proposals on my own. To some extent, they were endorsed by a body of which I am a member, but they were brought before that body by me, and these proposals were the result of a considerable amount of thought. I do not mean that I expected them to be accepted in their entirety, but I did bring forward these proposals in the hope that they might be embodied in some scheme, which at least might be worth trying, before more drastic remedies would be considered necessary.
First of all, I should like to deal with Senator Magennis's suggestion. Under normal circumstances, I think I should agree with him, but I hold that his suggestion would be a serious blunder at the present time. In the first place, I think it would be regarded by the public as a put-off, and, secondly—and this is the chief reason—in the main these strikes are concerned with what we commonly call industries here. I do not want—particularly in public— to sound a note of alarm, but I think one thing is perfectly clear and that is that we, even though we are a neutral country, are not going to be able to get out of the sufferings entailed by this war, and that our industries are not going to get out of their difficulties as a result of our neutrality. Most of us who are engaged in industry here are worried, not so much about strikes, as to how to keep going, and we cannot afford to wait for a year or so for legislation to secure a reduction in the number of strikes. These strikes are not a question of the devil being on one side or the other; they just happen. Without saying which side is right or wrong I would like to state a suppositious case—but only suppositious in so far as it has not actually occurred in the exact form in which I am putting it. I refer to the case of a demand being made, in connection with a certain industry, for an increase in wages of, let us say, 20 per cent.
The workers in that particular industry felt that, owing to increased costs of living and so on, they ought to get a 20 per cent. increase in their wages, and they were supported in that demand by their trade union. That demand goes to what is commonly called the employer, who is rarely, if ever, able to act with regard to his own pocket alone; he is generally acting for others who are associated with him, just as much as the trade union is acting for others. Now, I must say that, in 99 cases out of 100, the discussion in these matters is quite friendly, but, for the sake of arguing, let us say that the employer is faced with this demand and that he is also protected by a tariff which we will call, again for the sake of argument, 30 per cent. If he has a tariff of 30 per cent., his prices cannot be more than 20 per cent. over the prices on which they come in from outside. I think that you may take it from me as a safe rule that the price must be at least 10 per cent. less. Of course, some people may say that it should be more, but if so, and again for the sake of argument, let us assume that it is 15 per cent. less than the imported price.
The demand for increased wages may mean an increase in the price by 5 per cent. which would enable the man just to carry on inside the tariff. Now, what should the employer do in such a case? Ought he to pay the increased wages and proceed to carry on at the expense of the general public? If it were a luxury article, I should say "yes", but if it is an article in general use, what is the employer to do in such a case? Is he to put the cost of that increased wage on the price of his commodity when he knows that, although the prices are increasing, the income of the general public is not increasing? Is he to do that, when he knows that the public generally will be hit as a result of that increase? It is not a question of a good or a bad employer, but it must be remembered that the temptation is there to concede the increase in wages, so as to avoid trouble, and to put on an increased price on the commodity concerned. I am not sure that he ought to do so, and I am certainly not sure that he ought to do so in the present economic circumstances of this country, and that is where, in my opinion, some kind of assistance should come from some independent person or court.
It is in the next three, six, nine months that we have got to avoid strikes and avoid any possible kind of loss. If we were going back a year or a year and a half, or pre-war, I would have put down a motion for a commission, in fact, I may say that I even considered that before I put down the present motion, but I rejected it.
The third reason is—and I hope I will not be misunderstood when I say this—I happen to have been a member of this House for a very long time and to have been in a fairly independent position. I can come down here with proposals and give my own opinions, and it does not very much matter to me what another employer will say. But many employers are in the position of belonging to associations and it would not be easy for them to come down and specifically approve of concrete proposals. If that is the case with the employers it is much more the case with officials of the trade unions. I am sure I could get half a dozen employers and half a dozen men like my Labour Senator friends here, if we knew the Minister was going to introduce legislation, and we could agree on what would be the best and what we would prefer he should do provided we could be locked up in a room and that no one would know who we were and who gave him the advice. But if a commission were appointed I can see all kinds of almost intolerable difficulties for certain individuals who attended it. I suggest that your commission on this particular matter, where you are dealing with organisations, would have just the same effect as if you had a commission to get agreement between the parties in the Dáil. A commission to report on a question such as this, a nonpolitical question composed of people who are free to put their best minds without regard to their positions or occupations would be valuable, but here we are dealing with certain organisations and I certainly would not like to invite the men who, I think, are the best and ablest in the trade union movement to serve on it, because I do not think they would be able to give their best. I hope I will not be misunderstood. I do not put that forward in any offensive way at all, because if it would apply to a considerable extent to one side it would apply just as much to the other if the other side were as well organised.
For that reason, I would hope that the Government will see its way to carefully consider taking some action at the present time and will bring forward proposals something along the lines which I advocated when we met last. It is a moderate scheme that would be worth trying without introducing something more drastic until and unless it becomes necessary. I have found in the course of the debate that there has been a good deal of sympathy with the idea, but a good deal of what seemed to me to be misunderstanding. I have no fault to find with Senator Lynch except that he did not say really very much, but I certainly agree with the Minister that it is not a question of saying that he made an unreasonable speech. If I wanted to make points, which I would much prefer to make privately, I think if I was guilty of some inconsistencies he doubled them at least. But that is of no importance. What is of importance is that the trade union movement can no more afford to ignore the public opinion at the present moment with regard to too great prevalence of strikes than the Government or any of us can. I have put forward this proposal only in the hope, not that it would be read by Labour leaders who I do know have read it—some of them have told me privately that it is a very important proposal and have spoken favourably to me of it—but that it should be considered by the trade unions, and by "considered" I mean that if they cannot approve they would introduce alternative proposals, because I think that they have got to realise that some steps will be taken and ought to be taken.
The essence of my proposal makes it necessary to ask you to pass the whole of the resolution or not to pass it at all. I could have made the resolution the full length of this Order Paper in order to embody what were the concrete proposals made in my speech. I did not do so for two reasons: first of all I was not egotistical enough to believe that I could get any number of Senators to agree with every detail and, secondly, I felt that the main object of this debate was to put forward a request—and I am very much confirmed by the correspondence I have had—a request to the Government to take some action.
If the Seanad, as I hope it will, passes this resolution, that is the effect. It does not say how the Act should be amended. That was suggested in my speech and suggested in different forms in other speeches here, and must be a matter, as far as initiative is concerned, for the Executive Government. But I say you must take the motion as a whole, because my proposals for an industrial court which will give advisory opinions would, in my opinion, be of little or no effect unless some change in the Trades Disputes Act accompanied it. The most important part of my proposals is really contained in the provision that strikes should be illegal if either party is willing to submit the dispute for an advisory opinion until that opinion has been given. That is taking away from the employer the right to dismiss or lock out his employees during that period, and is taking away from the employees or the trade union of which they may be members the right to stop work until there has been an advisory opinion. I believe that that is absolutely essential. I shall deal with what happens afterwards in a moment or two.
Senator Hayes referred to the common remark that is heard from time to time when pickets are seen in the street—"We must stop that." He said that the people did not mean that they must stop strikes altogether. People make casual remarks of that kind and I do not think they know quite what they mean. Judging from remarks I hear, people wonder why there should be a strike when they know nothing about it, and they resent being even peacefully stopped going into a shop if they have no way of knowing the merits of the case. And remember this, that because three or four people are outside a shop with banners that say, "Strike on here," it does not mean that any trade union has sanctioned a strike; it does not mean that any trade union is responsible for it; it does not mean that the employer concerned has been either unreasonable or reasonable. In fact, it means nothing except that some people have decided to do it. I hold strongly that in the various discussions that take place over matters in dispute one of the dangers is that the ending of them means a strike. I hold that there should be an alternative. If they cannot get agreement they should say, "We will go and have advisory opinion before we call a strike." Either side should be open to do that, and that would be equally a protection to reasonable employees or employers.
I suggest that the immediate facilities for peaceful picketing, which will take effect when a strike is called, but before there has been any examination into the reason for it, should be withdrawn, at any rate, temporarily, and if that is an infringement of the rights of trade unions, Senator Lynch's criticism of me was perfectly correct. The Minister's remarks were very pertinent but he did not tell us exactly how far he was prepared to go. Senator MacDermot would have compulsory arbitration instead of an advisory opinion, and quite a number of people who have written to me have said the same thing. Senator Counihan was probably quite as representative in the point of view he expressed to-day as he is on any other matter and perhaps more so. I am not trying to make a political point of it, but he does represent many people in the views he expressed.
My considered opinion is that it would be a mistake at this stage to say to responsible employers on the one side and responsible trade unions on the other: "If you do not agree, we will appoint an arbitrator and use strong legal methods to see that you both accept the finding." If that has to be resorted to, it should be as a last resort, and only as a result of complete failure. I do not believe that you can get good conditions in an industry in which the workers are there by sheer force, nor do I believe that you can get good conditions in an industry in which the people, commonly called the employers, those who are responsible for the general running of it, are forced to have workers there under conditions which they believe to be economically bad or wrong, and whom they cannot dismiss, other than by winding up the business, because there has been compulsory arbitration. The logical results of compulsory arbitration will carry us further than I believe we dare, or could wisely, go at present, and, although I am all in favour of arbitration, I believe that, to be successful, the essence of it is that there should be as little compulsion about it as possible.
I ought to say that most of the people who have written to me are of the opinion that compulsion should apply to what they regard as essential services and they disagree with my proposals so far as essential public services are concerned. They consider that there should be compulsory arbitration in that respect, but not necessarily in respect of other disputes. My reply to that is that I still think you will get a very long way without it and that it should be the last resort. Amongst those who have written to me are quite a number of prominent people in Dublin, Cork and other parts of the country. The Minister is perfectly right when he says that we do not all realise the difficulties but I could give him lots of difficulties which he did not mention to-day, and when he starts, or if he does start, to introduce legislation, he will want to get, and I believe he will get, quite irrespective of any Party considerations, help from those who have had experience because he will find many of the details extremely difficult to decide.
A representative body of employers have written to me saying that they quite agree with my proposal that the president of the court should be permanent and should be in a judicial position, that is, not necessarily a lawyer or a judge, but in the same position as a judge, so far as his removability is concerned, but they are most anxious that neither side should be obliged to employ lawyers to argue its case. That is a view which I personally entirely share and I pass it on as one of the suggestions which have come to me. On the other hand, a large employer in the south told me that he did not like the idea of a permanent head of the court at all, because he thought that once you got a permanent head, he would want permanent officials and before long there would be another Government Department. Again, I am not convinced that that could not be avoided, and I think it essential that the President should not be removable. One weakness of our present position, I think, is that in the case of the various conferences, arbitrations and industrial courts, as they operate under the present Acts, a man is appointed for the one job and then goes on to something completely different. If he is a civil servant, he cannot completely dissociate himself from the political responsibility of his Minister. By that, I do not mean that Party politics enter into it, but if a civil servant, acting under a Minister, makes a public pronouncement, it is practically impossible for his Minister to get away from some responsibility for it, if made by a public servant.
There are one or two other matters which I should mention because they have been passed on to me. The temptation to speak at far too great a length in reply to the points made, I think I must resist. One well-known gentleman—in fact, a justice with considerable experience—is very strongly of the opinion that the advisory opinions must be binding where essential services are concerned, if the Minister responsible for these services approves. He says that that is a reasonable position and I pass it on as a suggestion. The same gentleman thinks—though I would not go so far in interference with trade unions— that trade unions should be forced to pay strike pay on a family basis. He objects to the method by which single men can vote for a strike and not suffer half as much in the strike as married people with families, and he would like to interfere legislatively with the trade unions. I am not prepared to go so far, but I am prepared to pass this suggestion on to my Labour friends here. I think it possibly has some merits. Another employer writes to me saying, in effect, that the provisions of the Control of Manufactures Act should apply to the officials of trade unions—that there should be at least the proper percentage and that the shareholders, the members, should be 66? per cent. Irish before the union would be permitted. Again, I pass that on without much comment. It might be worth considering. There are many people who take that view very strongly, but I should not like to hold up the entire proposals until that matter could be dealt with because I am well aware that it is an extremely difficult matter. Possibility it is a matter in respect of which the idea of a commission might have some merit, because it could wait for a little time.
Another very well-known employer was most anxious that the penalties should be adequate. He is quite broadminded and says that they should apply to both sides. He is particularly anxious that the penalties for failure to carry out the new law—the penalty on a person who attempted to picket or an employer who dismissed a man before the court gives an opinion— should be substantial, but he is particularly anxious that the trade union officials, in the matter of an order for strike, when the strike would be illegal under these proposals, should be the persons who would be responsible. That would get over Senator Lynch's difficulty of making unions responsible and, perhaps, the unions would not be destroyed if it was only the officials who were affected, although, for my part, I would prefer to have the trade unions made responsible.
We still have our trades.
I find it impossible to believe that the question of trade union responsibility for the torts of its members would ruin the trade union movement but, not being a lawyer, I did not use the word "torts"—I did not go so far—but I do believe that where there is a strike on and where the union is responsible for sending persons out to picket, that while they are out the officials should be responsible.
What is the union apart from its members?
I do not think of the union as anything apart from its members.
But you speak of an entity, a personality, of something that has will and existence apart from the members who constitute it.
But we speak of the State and of the Government and the Seanad and it has no will apart from the members.
And no personality!
But it has to take responsibility, and although the Minister comes here his Executive will have to take responsibility for action or inaction on his part. It is a very great difference. The net effect would be that a fine would be imposed for a breach of the law on the union in very much the same way as I, as an employer, can be held responsible for the acts of my employees if they are acting on my instruction during business hours. It is a small point but, I think, of some importance.
But you are not dealing with trustee funds when you speak of yourself as an employer personally. I suggest that there is a very big difference.
I have already passed on the suggestion that individual leaders should be responsible and said that I was not in favour of it. I spoke of the trade union as a whole and if it has funds, whether they call them trustee funds or not, I do not know, but they are funds held in trust by them for the benefit of their members generally and for the cause for which they stand and I do not think it would be any undue hardship whatever if a union were held responsible for any fine or punishment that might come on the members acting on its instructions. I think that proposal of mine put forward in connection with the general scheme of altering the Trades Disputes Acts is not an unreasonable one and should not be hastily turned down.
Excuse me—you do not seem to realise that it is the members of the trade union who take the decision and put the machinery in motion. You are at a disability in not understanding the peculiarity of trade unions.
I am sorry for any culpable ignorance on my part, but my understanding is that if Senator Lynch is a member of a union and the union by vote decides that he is to strike, he has got to do it or leave the union. That is my understanding of the machinery and that he has got to strike or leave it even if he is of a different opinion.
But you are going to penalise trustee funds subscribed by a large number of people for the protection of their interests. Strike action may be taken as a result of the majority vote, but you are going to violently hurt the interests of the minority who do not agree with the majority.
When a society holds funds and entrusts the expenditure of those funds to a majority and they expend them contrary to the wishes of the minority the minority suffers. It is one of those things from which I do not see any way out—it happens in politics and elsewhere and it will continue to happen in trade unions, but if individuals carrying out the instructions of their union find themselves up against a fine such as I have mentioned, I think the funds subscribed by and controlled by the majority should be held responsible and nothing that Senator Lynch has said has changed my mind.
I am not endeavouring to change your mind. I am pointing to the fact that there are profound difficulties and I am afraid you would not be able to get away from the lawyers if you wanted to keep matters clear.
I never expect to get away from lawyers in this world.
And they will not get near you in the next!
That is rather getting beyond the question of industrial disputes. I want, in conclusion, to say this that I am convinced there is a demand on the part of a large section of the public, including those who support the Government politically and including those who do not, that we should not neglect the opportunity if we can find a method of preventing anything like the usual number of strikes during this war period—it is a war period for us although we are neutral—as we have had in previous years. They feel the Government should take steps to prevent it and it is our duty to try to help them either by proposals or cooperation. The proposal I put forward was put forward entirely in that spirit. Those who have written to me and those with whom I am associated would go a lot farther if they were doing the task themselves but they would be prepared to accept what I have advanced. I would urge that it is an urgent matter because the position of industry is by no means safe and, although we have been fairly fortunate in the earlier part of the war, none of us knows exactly what will happen to-morrow. I do not know whether another country will be invaded. Our own supplies may cease at any time even though we are able to get them now. Events of the last fortnight have been extremely serious for some industries, and in other cases a slight change in the conflict would make things very serious. There is no use in having unnecessary disputes in such times either between trade unions and employers or between political Parties and politicians.
Is the motion being pressed?
I would like to press it.
Senators who desire a division, please stand in their places.
Senators Campbell, E. Lynch and Tunney rose.
As there are less than five Senators challenging a division, we will have their names recorded as dissenting without dividing the House.
The Seanad adjourned at 7 p.m. until Wednesday, 1st May, 1940.