― 519 ―

32. Chapter XXXII. Trade Unionism.

IF Altruism is the ideal of human brotherhood and high civilisation, the trade union is the first step towards it. Like most of the world's evolutionary developments, it starts on what may be termed the material plane. It begins mostly in connection with the bread-and-butter question, and too many “within” want to keep it there, whilst those “without” misjudge it as looking after nothing else. Unfortunately, the main struggle of life is in getting the bread and butter, hence if unionism did no more than secure butter where there was none before it would amply justify its existence. Unionism is a necessity under present conditions. Organization will always be a necessity under any highly civilised state of society, therefore unionism has come to stay as a principle, though its objects and methods may change to meet changing conditions.

All experience proves that wages are higher, hours of labor shorter, and conditions generally immensely better in an industry where the workers are organized than in the same industry and same country where the workers are without a union. Without it there is no standard wage. No one can tell what the wage rate is, because it is left to the greed of the man who wants someone to work for him, and the needs of the man who is looking for

  ― 520 ―
work impel him to accept it. As there are always more than one man looking for a boss, and scarcely ever two employers looking for a worker, it inevitably follows that the poor, needy work-seeker gets the worst of it. The law of supply and demand being unrestricted in such a case, wages fall below a bare subsistence level. On the other hand, when a union is established, the first thing it does is to set up a standard of wages and other conditions for the particular industry its members are engaged in. It may be that it does not in all cases secure a minimum rate at once; still, though some employers may pay less, there are others who pay more, so that the average will be the union minimum. The main point is that the rate is known and published abroad, so that any man seeking work expects to get that rate. Many will not accept less. Some employers decline to pay less, so as to avoid trouble.

Custom is the parent of law. The trade union is a law-maker, as it sets up a new custom, and the parties concerned are driven to an approximate observance of the new law. The law of custom always precedes Statute law. The union gives courage to its members. It opens a door for the ventilation of each member's grievance. It provides a court to which the individual can appeal. He is heard with sympathy, and, if he suffers injustice, his feelings of indignation spread to others who feel his cause to be theirs, and steps are taken to seek a remedy. The success attending the attempt gives encouragement to the timid, who, fearful of losing their position, suffered in silence until the union gave them courage to speak; and thus

  ― 521 ―
members one after another realise what an advantage the union is to them. In the mind of the employer the union appears, not as a person working for him, but as a giant fighting for each one of his employees. The giant has, in fact, swallowed his employees, and he loses sight of their individual personality. The union speaks through its mouthpiece, and has completely changed the position. An employer can no longer send an employee away or refuse to listen to his request, assured of the helplessness of the worker to resist if the employer was unprepared to grant it.

Photograph facing p.520. Federal Labor Party, 1907.

The difference between the collective and the individualistic is so great that, when an individual worker asks for some concession which the employer knows the union is supporting, he has a dim, half-conscious idea that the poor worker is being coerced into making the request, and therefore he does not send him away without hearing him, nor does he readily refuse. Man generally has a respect for power, and anything big is treated with much more consideration than anything weak and unable to hit back. Man crushes an ant under his heel, but gets out of the way of a bull.

As an illustration of how the unit is swallowed up in the collective mass, I will quote a case which occurred some years ago in connection with the Miners' Association. As Secretary of the A.M.A. I became aware that a mining company was going to offer its bracemen on the next pay-day a rate of wages lower than the union rate. It expected the three men concerned to accept the reduction and say nothing. I wrote a letter to each of the men,

  ― 522 ―
calling attention to the standard rate of the union, which was paid in other mines, and pointing out to them that no member of the union was allowed to accept less. I instructed each of the men to take the letter with him on pay-day, and when he saw the paysheet and found the rate to be below the right amount he was to hand my letter to the paymaster, who was manager. The men acted accordingly, and, on the first man handing over my letter, the manager read it and without a word raised the sum to the union rate and paid it over. The men did not have to speak, and were not discharged, nor was a word said to them by way of complaint. The A.M.A. was like the blue coat of the police constable—the wrong doer is not afraid of the man in the coat, but of the power behind the uniform. The company in the case referred to recognised the power behind the three men, and was not prepared for a trial of strength with it.

Another case will illustrate the law-making effect of unionism. A party of six men was put to work in a paddock held by the Madame Berry Co. They were engaged on boring, and were strangers to the district, and not then members of the A.M.A. They had received one pay when I learned that the rate paid them and without demur accepted was lower than the rate fixed by the A.M.A. I waited upon the manager and called his attention to the fact, and he readily agreed to pay the higher and correct amount next pay day. He kept his word, and to the surprise of the men concerned they received an increase in their wages without having to ask for it. This is one of many instances which

  ― 523 ―
could be given showing that the non-member benefits by unionism, and has no right to escape paying his quota to the funds necessary to carry on an organization.

One of the subjects often discussed is that of whether unions should use coercion in regard to non-members. It is too late in the day to object to the principle of coercion. Every municipality enforces payment of rates and taxes. The State does the same, and they justify so doing by the fact that the moneys thus collected are utilised for the common good. In a municipality you may be forced to pay rates from the expenditure of which you get no direct benefit in your immediate neighborhood, but any objection you may make on that score is not listened to. The man who will take the advantages which other men's efforts bring to him, and refuse to give in return either effort or cash payment for the maintenance of the organization which secures to him those advantages, is not only mean, but should receive no more consideration than is given to any one who tries to escape the payment of just taxes.

Those outside of unions are of different classes. There are many who are unionistic in principle, but who have not organized a union in their calling as yet. These are simply non-members, and there is no feeling against them except a complaint of their apathy. On the other extreme there is the anti-unionist—the creature who hires himself out to take the place of unionists when standing out for better conditions. They are the strike-breakers. Such persons are of a very low class. They belong to the

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criminal type—the person who cares for nothing but the gratification of his present wishes, regardless of what effect his actions may have on anyone else. Then there is the non-unionist—the man who is sometimes in the union, and sometimes out—who pays up if he cannot escape it. He is often induced to go in against his fellow in time of trouble. Strong unionists call him “scab” and “blackleg.” Some of this rather bad breed are eventually made better men, but most of them require watching, and are ever a source of weakness.

In my thirty years' experience and association with many thousands of men I have never known an anti-unionist who was any good. If I was an employer I would not have him near my workshop. The non-unionist—the “scab”—is only a trifle better. He will take advantage of the employer if he gets a chance. By nature narrowly selfish, he uses any means to gratify his own desires; and, whilst he will cringe and crawl after the boss, he will act just as unfairly to him behind his back as he does to his fellow-worker when it suits him.

Unionism has a markedly beneficial effect on character. It inculcates brotherhood. It gives the right to one member of the union to speak to another if he thinks that he is doing or contemplating a wrong act. The effect of discipline is seen at its best, and its effect is to make men better citizens, better husbands, and better fathers. The principle of sacrifice of self for the good of others is seen in operation in unions as nowhere else. They readily help other bodies which are fighting against injustice, and the interest taken in such cases

  ― 525 ―
broadens the minds of members and enlarges their world. The extension of unionism over the world will do more to bring peace than all that can be accomplished by Hague Conferences.

Where those engaged in an industry are combined in a union, or where all unions are associated together as in a Labor Federation, they become a community within society doing good unseen all the time. In the Creswick mining district the Miners' Association has for nearly thirty years enforced the rule that every person working there in connection with the mines must become and remain a member, and there has been no complaint about it from the employers. Large benefits are paid. No widow is allowed to go short of the necessaries of life. Every case of hardship is looked into and a sum collected to help. All is done without parade, and is prompted by the feeling that all are one family and mutual help should be their guiding principle.

The real fact is that a unionist does not pay his contribution—it comes out of the industry, and the employers have to pay it. The workers are slow to grip this salient fact, but it is well known to the capitalists. Elsewhere I give illustrations of the same truth. I mention it here to support the position I take up in favor of the enforcement by law if necessary of the payment of dues to a union which the majority in any occupation may have established. I justify it on the grounds that unionism is a necessity, is a good thing in itself, is highly beneficial to society, and makes for the uplifting of the human race.

  ― 526 ―

In organizing a new society or union it is well to watch for a favorable opportunity. There are waves of feeling which pass over men's minds, and it is best to take one of those occasions when something has arisen to arouse a feeling either of discontent or of desire to become part of a big movement. It is best for some experienced officer of a union already in existence in the same trade to get the new society under way. The most important of all, and a matter workers are most frequently careless about, is the selection of the persons who are to fill the offices.

All organizations of any size should have a paid secretary, who can give his whole time to the work of looking after members' interests. In such case they should select the ablest man they can find. It should never be a question of giving a friend a billet. One large branch of the A.M.A. in a district where there were 4000 miners put the most unsuitable man into the position of secretary out of sympathy, and because he had had the misfortune to lose an arm in a mining accident. It would have paid them better to give him a pension of an amount equal to his salary, and then put the most brainy man they could find into the position. Sympathy must be extended to the mass of the members, and they need the best man and the most intelligent amongst themselves, or even from outside if he is a tried man.

The secretary should remember that he is a manager, not a clerk. He is an elected officer, not a mere hired scribe. He is the recognised constitutional adviser, and is answerable to the

  ― 527 ―
members. He needs to have energy, enthusiasm, calmness, good judgment, and tact. He must have a knowledge of the Labor problem, and a knowledge of men—of human nature. The secretary of a big union has a more difficult task to perform than any other person in the community. He must be able to keep his own counsel, must be always sober and vigilant, and must never give the enemy a chance to take an advantage. He will find scores of things which he himself can do which it is unwise to allow anyone else to know, even his president or committee. If a secretary is vigilant he can nip in the bud incipient strikes—that is, he can stop a trouble from arising because he will find that it is over the little things that quarrels arise, which if dealt with in time are never heard of, but which, if they are allowed to grow, drag other matters in and a conflagration ensues which is hard to put out.

If a difficulty threatens, get it put off. Very often the excitement cools down and a way out is found which is impossible at first. “Avoid strikes as long as possible” is a good motto; at the same time do not give away anything. Work for delay, and things will often come right. Don't assume anything. Get at the facts. If possible, get inside the enemy's camp and learn how he looks at matters, and if he is in any way prepared to recede without appearing to back down, find a door to enable him to do so. Never let temper get into the question. Never try to humble or humiliate your opponent. It will leave a bad taste in his mouth, and he will watch a chance to seek revenge. There is some human nature left even in capitalists.

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As to how the official is to get inside information no general rule can be laid down, except that he must be one who never betrays a confidence. My own method was to act promptly and quietly in any threatened trouble. The managers controlling affairs for companies do not want any quarrel to arise, as it often puts them in a false position. Many of them are good friends to unionism, but it does not suit to have the fact paraded. When a member of the A.M.A. came to me complaining that he had been wrongfully dismissed I did not wait for a meeting of the committee, but went at once to see the manager of the mine from which the man had been discharged. Frequently mutual explanations would result in the manager saying, “Tell him to come to work to-morrow;” and I would so inform the member interested. The latter would perhaps want to know what had been done or said, when I would remind him that as he had got his job back again it was all that concerned him. It went no further, and was not even reported to the other officers or the committee. This prevented directors hearing a possibly garbled account and making it unpleasant for the manager at next board meeting.

Tact is required in all these matters. You must study the kind of man you have to interview. I never bluntly introduced the subject I had called about when interviewing a man for the first time. Get into conversation first and find out his hobby. Put him in good humor, then mention your matter in quite a casual way as if it was only a trifle. I once drove some twelve miles to interview a stubborn

  ― 529 ―
old Scotch mine manager about the discharge of a workman, and after the interview was over and he walked to the fence where I had left my horse and buggy he said on saying “Good-bye” that he knew when he saw me coming what I was after, and had made up his mind not to tell me a word or even to discuss the case of dismissal, yet he said, “You have got it all out of me.” It all depends on how you go about it!

A study of mental science questions and of how to read character is essential. This is especially the case where a conference is held between representatives of Labor and capital, or where delegates from a union meet employers. As a rule employers will only meet when they feel their position to be such that it pays better to compromise than to fight. The management of the conference is therefore all important. The side which carries out its share with most ability and in the ablest manner will get the best of the other. When you hire a lawyer to conduct a case you select the best and brainiest man you can afford. Delegates to a conference must be very carefully selected. Pick the most calm, level-headed men, not the noisy talkers. Choose the men who are far-seeing and tactful. You must have men who carefully choose their words.

You may have the worst case and yet get the best of the bargain if you run the conference on what I term scientific lines. See that the place of meeting is a quiet room undisturbed by external noises. Arrange to sit opposite each other at a narrow table. If men have to raise their voices it

  ― 530 ―
raises their tempers, and that must be avoided in conciliation, as men become stubborn when out of temper. Get to the meeting place early. The first arrival from the other side must be closely studied without the appearance of doing so. Read him by the language of movement, which I will assume you understand. You will mostly find that he enters with a serious expression on his countenance. He is full of the importance of his mission, and feels weighted with responsibility. His mind has been crammed with points which he must not forget, and you must quietly start to make him forget them. You will be introduced. Meet him genially; keep up conversation in a light vein. Any light topic will do, but avoid the matter about which you are meeting as far as you can. Tell a funny story and make him laugh. Treat each the same way, and before the preliminaries are over your opponents will have become genial and forgotten all the strong points they had so prominently in their minds, and will have been made insensibly to feel that there is nothing worth quarrelling about after all, as these Labor chaps seem to take things easy and have no worry.

After arranging about a chairman, etc., it is sometimes best to take the points of minor importance first. On these you can afford to give away a good deal, and in their discussion you have the chance of feeling each of your opponents and seeing how he is likely to go on the main issue, and can lay your plans accordingly. When it comes to the real point at issue the advantage is shown of a knowledge of men and their mentality. Jump

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into the lead at once. Put forward all your strongest arguments first. Keep these to the front all the time. Your opponent will reply, but if he makes a point that you have no effective rejoinder to, ignore it and again state your own. Whilst courteous all the time, take care that you keep the strong points of your own side prominent all the time, even for hours. Do not give a chance to the other side to do so with theirs. By this method you break down opposition. There is a law in mental science which causes an idea kept under attention in consciousness to gather strength by drawing to itself all contiguous ideas bearing on the same subject which may be floating about on the sea of memory, or which may be suggested by argument of those present.

As all thoughts involving action have a tendency to act themselves out, so by the method indicated you force your opponents to give way by wearing down their objections and tiring their powers of concentration. It is seldom that the employers send men who are much accustomed to sustained argument, and hence if Labor picks the right man it starts with an advantage. By the method indicated thus briefly you will, after it is all over, often hear remarks made by one employer's representative to another, such as, “Why didn't you bring forward such and such a point?” The other will reply, “Oh, I quite forgot; and those Labor chaps gave me no chance.”

One point to be remembered in trying to win by argument or conciliation is that you must never contradict a combative man. He is easily read, and

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nearly always has a soft side. Differ with him in argument, but in a round-about way. If you contradict him direct he becomes fightable and stubborn. Appeal to him on behalf of the women and children. That will generally touch the softest side of him; if it does, keep using it. Many a strike has been brought about by sending one combative man to interview another. You might as well apply fire to powder and not expect an explosion.

As a case in point, I will mention that in 1887 a strike took place at the Kaitangata coal-mine, New Zealand. All efforts at settlement had failed. Several mediators had tried ineffectually, and it had cost the A.M.A. over £3000. I was on a visit to New Zealand, and had to report to the A.M.A. Executive. On arrival in Dunedin I went to see the company's general manager, Mr. Henderson. He was pointed out to me in the street whilst on my way to his office. I saw at a glance that he was decidedly combative in character, but genial and kindly in disposition if you took him the right way. In our interview I simply kept appealing on behalf of the women and children. When he expressed his soreness at the way the miners had treated him by burning his effigy, etc., when he had really gone out to the mine prepared to come to a settlement I took care not to say a word against his denunciation, but brought in the women and little ones again. Briefly, I got all I expected to get in the circumstances, and we parted with a letter of introduction in my pocket to the mine manager and a free pass on the company's railway. I did not use the latter, but walked the four and a-half miles from Stirling and

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passed amongst the men who were idle without their knowing I was there. I saw the mine manager and with him went underground, so that I saw how many and what sort of non-unionists he had at work, and finally came to a understanding with him as to putting on the unionists if the strike was declared off. I then called on the union leaders, and found in the president a splendid fellow, a man of ability, and a sturdy stubborn fighter for the interests of the unionists; but he was also combative, and to send him to meet the general manager of the company was not the right way to secure a settlement, as they were bound to quarrel.

Another illustration occurs to me of a different kind. A trouble arose in St. Arnaud, Victoria, and the president of the A.M.A. (the late Mr. M. Stapleton) and myself went there to effect a settlement if possible. We went up to the office of the mine manager (Mr. Z. Lane). We knocked at the door, and it was opened by a big dignified man of very austere appearance. He invited us in, and taking a chair slowly set it down in the corner of the room so that each of its four legs struck the floor quietly at the same moment of time. Without a word he pointed to the chair as an indication for me to sit down. Taking another, in the same methodical manner he set it in the opposite corner and indicated to Mr. Stapleton to take it. He next closed the office door, which was on the side and close to the other end of the room; and then, placing a chair just inside the door, he sat himself squarely down upon it, and with his hands thumb outwards on his thighs he faced us. His movements spoke as

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plainly as words, and said to us in the silent language of movement, “I have the best of this case. I have you two cornered. I am ready for both of you; so come on.” We entered on a discussion of the difficulty, and soon found that he had taken up three points. He took the weakest one first. Very soon he began to wriggle on his chair, and presently he gave up that line of argument and took his second point. We beat him out of this, and he assumed the third position, which he felt was impregnable. To his surprise we gave way at once and admitted that, whilst he was technically right, the attitude was not one which a dignified person could uphold. This so upset him that we were able to arrive at a settlement. He expected us to support and uphold the attitude taken up by the local branch, whereas we did not do so, and this made him amenable to a satisfactory solution of the trouble. He was a man with whom sound reasoning counted, and he could not fight against it.

The settlement of the Jondaryan shearing difficulty in Queensland was a case illustrative of the value of keeping to the front the strong points of your case and tiring out your opponents. There were seven of us, and those who were to act for the pastoralists numbered three. There were, however, nearly forty present—all anxious to see how things went. They were capitalists, and sat round in horse shoe form, with our little band across between the toes. The chairman was a capitalist. For three hours or over we kept at those three men. They retired frequently to consider our proposals, only to return without giving way. Again we repeated our

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strongest arguments just as if they were new, and again they would retire. We were ready to keep on all day, as we were not prepared to take “no” for an answer, and we knew secretly that we had the shipping company with us that time. At last, when it got past dinner-hour, the fat men began to get hungry, and the chairman came to our aid and said our proposals seemed so reasonable that he really thought the representatives of the pastoralists might very well accept them and thus come to an amicable settlement and prevent trouble. That settled it, and they gave way; but what won the day was our patient persistence and the power of an idea kept prominently over the minds of those concerned.

Once in Ballarat, Victoria, five of us from the Shearers' Union met sixteen representatives of the pastoralists. We had held a couple of conferences previously, and they knew our strength in argument. On this occasion they had organized the work of the conference, so to say, and had placed the leadership of their side in the hands of an able man who was a good debater, and who took notes of our remarks so as to reply. The crucial question was, as usual, that of shearing rates; and when we came to a deadlock on that, with a shilling per hundred between us, one of the biggest employers suddenly got up in an apparent huff, saying that he could see that “it was no use wasting time, as it was evident the shearers' delegates were not prepared to come to an understanding no matter what they did.” He bounced out of his chair and said he was going home. We learned afterwards that this move had been rehearsed beforehand, and was intended to bluff us into giving

  ― 536 ―
way, as they knew we were anxious for a settlement. He made one mistake, however, as instead of clearing out he went and sat down in a corner of the room. That told us that his action was only bluff, and so we took no notice of it.

Leaving these phases of the movement, I want to emphasise the need for unions being more careful than some have been in selecting representatives to act for them in any capacity. They should remember that a body is judged by its representatives. Some Labor Conferences have been spoiled in their results by neglect of this precaution. The apathetic do not attend the meetings of their union, and so the selfish seeker after a billet or prominence of any kind is sent to a gathering where he makes himself a nuisance and spoils the temper of everybody. Unions should pick the man who comes the nearest to an ideal man. He should be one who does them credit, and by whom they would not object to be judged. The work of unionism is becoming of more importance day by day, and its work is such that it demands the best intellect to be found within the ranks of Labor. The man who needs to be drawn out is generally a more reliable man than the noisy seeker after prominence. Members should seek out the brains within their ranks, and give opportunity for its influence to be felt in the larger field of annual conference and the like occasions. The level-headed trade unionist of experience is the most practical man or woman in the world, and God knows the world has need of them to push on the work of social and political reform.