― 537 ―

33. Chapter XXXIII. Trade Unionism as an Investment.

ONE of the many foolish excuses given by men for not joining a Union is that they cannot afford to pay the contributions. The fact is that one of the first effects of unionism is to make the industry pay the cost of the workers' organizations. It is a very weak and badly managed union which fails to secure for its members more in return than the amount of contributions and levies paid. As illustrations I will quote a few cases. Whilst secretary of the Creswick Branch of the Amalgamated Miners' Association, I prepared a special report of the results of its first ten years' history. The union had sprung into existence to resist a reduction of wages of two shillings per week, and did so successfully. Four years later we secured a rise of three shillings per week per man. Without organization the earnings of miners would have been forced to even a lower wage than was first attempted, but without taking that into consideration, the gain in actual cash for the ten years totalled £129,480. Direct benefits from accident pay, funeral allowance, assistance to members, and strike pay, totalled £13,221. Added to wages, this makes a total of £142,701. The total amount paid in entrance fees, contributions, and levies was £19,773, or taking off the balance in hand,

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£18,013. This leaves a clear gain in hard cash of £124,688, or about £100 per member clear of all cost for the ten years. The gain for the ten years following would be still greater. In addition to the above, the sums paid to help other unions, to assist members in difficulties, to support local hospital, etc., totalled £4505. It will thus be seen that a vigorous union not only made the industry bear the cost but return the handsome dividend of £10 per year to each member.

Take another case. The Australian Workers' Union is not only the largest, but the most vigorous and aggressive of Labor organizations. I have recently finished a summary of the total receipts and expenditure of the organization since its inception in 1886, including the Queensland section. All cross entries have been eliminated so far as I could trace them. The various items have been concentrated under as few heads as possible, so as to present the statement in a simple form. The following is the result of my investigation of the various balance-sheets:—


£  s.  d. 
To Entrance Fees and Contributions..  273,327 
Levies .. .. .. .. .. ..  19,700  12 
Fines .. .. .. .. .. ..  1,826  19  10 
Donations .. .. .. .. ..  16,735  14 
Various other items, such as rent, sales of material, etc. .. ..  5,721 
Total .. .. .. ..  £317,312  11 

  ― 539 ―


£  s.  d. 
By Salaries .. .. .. .. .. ..  61,320 
Organizers' Wages and Expenses  39,913  11 
Strike Expenses .. .. .. ..  54,533 
Law Expenses and Legal Charges  12,823  18  11 
Printing and Advertising .. ..  20,922 
Postage, Telegrams, Etc. .. ..  13,946  17 
Committee Expenses .. .. ..  4,703  12 
Donations to other Unions and various objects .. .. ..  26,537  12 
Co-operation, “Worker,” Etc. ..  44,491 
Political and Parliamentary .. ..  6,465 
Refunds, Fines, Forfeited Wages, Etc. .. .. .. .. ..  5,543  13 
Various Other Items, totalling ..  15,128  10  10 
Total Expenditure .. ..  £306,329  13 
Leaving balance in hand of  £10,982 

Of the above the following may be classed as direct benefits returned to Unionists:—

£  s.  d. 
Strike Expenses .. .. ..  54,533 
Legal Charges .. .. ..  12,823  18  11 
Donations .. .. .. ..  21,537  12 
“Worker,” Etc. .. .. ..  44,491 
Refunds .. .. .. ..  5,543  13 
Political .. .. .. ..  6,465 
Total .. .. ..  £150,394  12 

  ― 540 ―

Practically one-half the moneys paid are returned in benefits, the other half paying for cost of running the Union. No allowance is made for the very large saving effected by having the two “Workers” as a means of communication between the office and the members. Thousands of pounds per annum are saved in advertisements alone. As a matter of fact the Union could not carry on its work at present cost without having its own organs. This is looking at it from a purely business point of view. From the educational standpoint the good done is simply incalculable. In our Universities teaching is carried on by means of lectures. Professors condense into a series of lectures the essence of thought and knowledge of the world, thus enabling the youthful listeners to start at the point of evolution now attained. “The Worker” and the travelling organizers are the educators of our members. They give extension lectures. They tell of progress made. They set forth the ideals of the great Labor movement. In that sense they do University work, and the cost is more than repaid in the enlightenment of our members, who are notoriously the best informed of Australian unionists.

To return to the economic. In order to present in a concrete form the monetary gain, I have taken the number of sheep in the four States in which the union has hitherto operated. Making a deduction for those slaughtered unshorn I find the average per year about 76,000,000. I have taken the last twenty-one years. Making allowance for actual increase in shearing rates, abolition of second price, saving in cost of rations, etc., and adding on the gain to shed

  ― 541 ―
hands in wages, together with the direct return in Union benefits beforementioned, the total gain for twenty-one years in round figures reaches about £4,000,000. For this shearers in Southern States have paid £12 17s. 6d., and shed hands £7 15s.' in the aggregate £306,329, including Queensland. The gain to the shearer would be about £1 per week on the average. The shed hands in Queensland organized about the same time as the shearers, but in the Southern States they did not unite till 1890. In Victoria-Riverina they did not rally into the union until 1900. Since that date their increase in wages can safely be stated as ten shillings per week per man. The gain in South Australia would be similar. The gain in other States is not quite so much on the average, but is not less than five shillings per week in any case. Taken all round the gain would be from five to ten shillings per week above what the employers wanted to cut it down to. We must also never forget the fact that the rate offered in the face of an existing organization is itself much higher than it would be under full “freedom of contract,” as desired by employers.

In a comparison table of the wages paid in 1886 and in 1896, issued by the Statistician of Victoria, covering twenty-two rural industries and occupations, only one had secured an increase, namely, the shearers. All others had suffered reductions varying from twenty to forty-seven per cent. The shearers had not only not suffered a reduction, but had obtained an increase. Of the twenty-two sections of labor on the list they were the only section organized. Looked at as a commercial

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investment, the cash contributed to a union secures a return which, in its percentage of profit, would make a Rockefeller's mouth water. Leaving out Queensland, our A.S.U. and A.W.U. charged entrance fees for shearers and cooks for three years of two shillings and sixpence, two years ten shillings, and seven years of five shillings. Contributions were, one year at five shillings, twelve years ten shillings, four years twelve shillings and sixpence, half-a-crown of which went to “The Worker,” and four years at fifteen shillings, five of which go to “The Worker” as subsidy for which members get the paper weekly free of further cost. In addition, a levy of £1 was paid. Shed hands, six years a ten shillings contribution; two years two shillings and sixpence entrance fee, and five shillings contribution; one year five shillings, with no entrance fee; four years seven shillings and sixpence, two shillings and sixpence of which went to “The Worker”; and four years ten shillings, five of which go to “The Worker.” Totalled and averaged for the twenty-one years, members in the three Southern States have paid twelve shillings and threepence per annum for shearers and cooks. Shed hands' payments to the union have averaged eight shillings and sixpence per member for seventeen years. Let shearers make up their tallies at four shillings per hundred sheep shorn, and shed hands their gain on the time worked, and they will find the percentage higher as a result of paying into a union than any investor can secure in any enterprise other than monopolies. It must also be noted that shearing only lasts about three months each year.

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We must not forget in this connection that unionism has been applied to politics. Unionism has sent its own men into Parliament, and as a result trade unions have now an opportunity in several States and in the Commonwealth of bringing injustice into the light of day in an open court such as Arbitration or Wages Boards. It was by means of arbitration that the members of the A.W.U. secured such a rise in rates as will restore their wage to what they originally forced it up to by means of strikes. Labor in Politics has secured the increase by peaceful methods, and enabled the work to be carried on under more harmonious conditions as between employer and employee.

Take another instance of Labor in Politics. From the report of the Inspector of Factories in Victoria I find there were 160 separate industries in which the Wages Boards gave an increase in wages. These employ 40,680 hands. I have taken out each case separately, and find that the increases total in the aggregate no less than £343,584 13s. 4d. per year. It means so much increased purchasing power, so much increased demand for the things which the workers require, and which they and other workers have to make. It means so much increased sales to people who are distributors. It means that large sum distributed amongst 40,680 persons instead of its going into the pockets of a mere few. The average is £8 8s. 9d. each, but actual amounts vary, of course. For a few pence per week contribution to the union and the trouble of walking to the polling booth once in three years and voting straight, the unionists secure an average of £8 8s. 9d.,

  ― 544 ―
and no lost time or fighting. The bakers gained an increase of ten shillings and twopence per week. That means £26 8s. 8d. per man per year. The coopers got 11s. 10d. per week increase. That is £30 15s. 4d. per year. Is any stronger evidence needed in support of Unionism and Labor in Politics? You must not forget that it was the declared intention of at least one Premier in Victoria to abolish the Wages Boards, and it has only been by the continuous fighting of Labor-members that new Boards have been appointed.

Other cases as illustrations could be added by the score. In December, 1908, the Marine Cooks', Bakers', and Butchers' Association of Australasia haled the shipowners before the Federal Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, and secured an award which means £4000 a year increase in wages. The Engine Drivers on the goldfields in West Australia raised their wages for first-class from 13s. 4d. to 15s. per day by unionism. When Labor secured the Arbitration Act, they took the employers to Court and gained another 2s. per day; that means a gain through union effort of £57 4s. per year per man. It is admitted that the workers have not always won in these courts. In Western Australia on the average the results are about even. Without unionism wages would certainly have fallen. New South Wales experience shows that thousands of pounds have been gained by the workers in wages, and shorter hours and better conditions have also been secured. The strong opposition of the employers, and the action of the present Government —which is elected by the employing classes and their

  ― 545 ―
tools—are clear evidence of the value of such a means of settling industrial disputes. Previous to the setting up of Arbitration in Sydney the case of the bakers provides a fine example of the difference between workers who look after their own interests and those who do not; in short, between unionists and non-unionists. Union bakers were getting £2 12s. per week of eight hours in decent bakehouses, whilst non-union bakers were slaving ninety hours per week in insanitary bakehouses for thirty-six shillings per week. Illustrations like these could be multiplied if space permitted. A striking case showing the value of maintaining a strong union in the face of powerful opposition is that of the seamen on the Australian coast. Their union costs 24s. per member per year. They have forced up their wages by £3 per month. That means £36 per man per year. For 10,000 men it means £360,000 a year. It means that large sums circulated amongst commercial firms. It means more home comforts, with increased happiness and contentment; it means a higher standard of life, even though far short of what it should be, and what it will be when more of the workers realise their power and their duty.

The unions of the Commonwealth probably bring a gain to the workers of six and a half millions per year. Amongst many trades unionists there is a tendency to overlook the real object of an organization of this kind. A trade union is not a benefit society in the sense in which the law provides for Friendly Societies. Just as a live union makes the industry pay the upkeep of the organization, so should it make the industry pay for all contingencies,

  ― 546 ―
such as accident, sickness, etc. If all the unions took up the work we would soon have such Acts of Parliament as would force the profit-grabbing employer to make provision for all that concerns his employees, out of whose labor his profits come. Unions with Friendly Society benefits simply relieve the employer. If they could enforce higher wages to such an extent as to make up for what they now contribute to accident funds, etc., it might meet the case; but they are almost invariably so hampered by the necessity for keeping funds in hand to meet benefit claims on the one hand and by the objection of special levies on the other, that such unions are seldom found amongst aggressive forward unionism.

Again, a trade union is not a commercial, money-making concern. So soon as it goes in for the saving of money and piling up of funds it becomes conservative, and a block in the way of industrial progress. Money is power, but active unity is greater than money. It is wise to have something in hand for contingencies, but it is essential to remember that success comes not from hoarding funds but from spending them—wisely, of course, but keep on spending. When any group of persons, such as a union or any other organization, becomes proud of its funds or its benefits to members paid out of members' own pockets, it is becoming a danger, and the sooner it ceases to exist the better. The whole object of unionism is to find a common ground of agreement, so that all can act together. Unity and effort of a united kind are the sole aim of organization. Funds are only

  ― 547 ―
necessary for paying inevitable expenses. The best work of the world's workers has been and still is being done without money. A financially strong but numerically weak union is of much less value and influence than a penniless organization which contains within its ranks all having a common industrial interest. The conditions of industrial life have changed. Unions must adapt themselves to the altered conditions, or they cease to be properly classed as unions. Such an organization as the M.S.U. was clearly a union in the interests of the employers. In effect there are other unions whose bona fides no one doubts, which are nevertheless acting the part of a bogus union, and may be termed non-union unions so far as the movement is concerned.

When a strike takes place every union man is expected to cease working in the particular industry concerned. The large mass of unionists in Australia have declared a strike against electing any but Labor men to Parliament, realising that the battle ground is now on the floor of the law-making chamber; yet some unions stand aloof and decline to join in support, thus helping to defeat the main body. Neither rules nor benefits should stand in the way. Old laws made by the dead have hampered progress, and it is our duty to change them. It would be better to wind up all such unions as feel tied up by rules, and reorganize on up-to-date modern lines. Unions are good, and are profitable only whilst they live up to the ideals underlying the movement which gave them birth. Such a union is worth belonging to, and the return is great. Its

  ― 548 ―
members gain in social status, in self-respect, and in development of social instinct and interest in the realisation of social and political power. Industrial unionism is the first step toward securing a Co-operative Commonwealth. The second step is the application of union principles and machinery to the exercise of political power. With all workers organized and acting together complete control of the country's Parliament is assured, and the banishment of enforced poverty certain. Injustice will disappear, a new and healthier environment be created, and mankind raised to a higher plane of existence. The workers who stand aloof from unionism retard progress, and help to add to the sum of human misery. Those who join become part of the grand army working for better and saner conditions of life.