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6. Chapter VI. Capitalistic Intrigue.

NOTHING so manifests the unfairness of the press generally as the way they hide or condone offences committed by capitalists whilst they invariably exaggerate any mistake made by Unionists, and too often invent an offence in order to cause public opinion to be in favor of the commercial classes, in whose interests most newspapers are run. One of the most cruel means adopted by employers is that known as the “boycott.” I early had my first personal experience of it, and of the bitter hatred employers feel towards one who takes an active part in inducing his fellow-workers to seek justice. As I have said, I was working in a gold mine at Creswick, Victoria, when we organized the Miners' Association. Shortly afterwards we took the mine on tribute under a three years' agreement. Thus we could not be treated as ordinary wages men. So soon as we finished our term, however, there was no more work for me in any mine. The boycott was enforced, and I had to seek a living for myself and family as best I could. It turned out a good thing for me, however, as I have not done any mining work since; and it really gave me greater freedom to become a bigger thorn in the side of capitalism by

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my being able to devote my whole efforts to organizing work and extending Unionism. Our first president of the Miners' Association at Creswick (Mr. J. Sampson) was also boycotted as soon as he got out of the job he was working at. Another of our presidents (Mr. T. Phillips), a very fine, quiet, decent, and moderate man, with a big family dependent upon him, was boycotted because of a remark wrongfully attributed to him by the press in reporting one of our general meetings. He was driven out of the district, and it was over a year before he could get back to his family. Several active members of our committee were treated in the same way, and had to leave to seek work elsewhere. At last, when the employers came to realise that many of these men were getting into something else much better than mining, they eased off the persistent boycott. They found also that there were others ready to take the places of the men who were put out of office, and that they could not kill Unionism that way.

Shortly after we organized the miners of Broken Hill in 1887, a black list, containing the names of eight men, was sent round all the mines in that district by the Mining Managers' Association. The eight men were not to be employed in the district. No reason was given, nor were the men informed. They were allowed to go from mine to mine seeking work, always hoping to get a chance, but always meeting with the reply that they had “no room for more hands.” These are only illustrations of a practice quite common. In some cases where it was clear that men were spotted because they were

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Unionists strikes eventuated; but this only made the employers more careful in the method of boycott; it did not stop the evil.

The Pastoralists' Union is without doubt the most bitterly unscrupulous organization in the world, hence we find them carrying out the most complete system of organized boycott it is possible to conceive of. Under the guise of giving references as to character and ability, they have extended over a whole continent a huge system of organized boycott intended, not to weed out incompetent workmen, but all Union men who had the courage to ask for a reasonable measure of justice. The system was first introduced into Queensland after the industrial war of 1891. At the finish of shearing work in each shed each workman was handed a reference, giving name of station, classifying the man as “good,” or “very good,” etc., under the head of ability; also stating how classed under head of character. The document was signed by the employer or his manager, and so far as appeared on the face it was a genuine document. Each reference was numbered, and exceptional type and paper were used to prevent fraud. As it is well-known that Union men are invariably the best workmen, they thought they had nothing to fear from honest references, and so accepted them. They soon found out, however, the real object. Two men, each holding a reference filled up exactly in the same way, present themselves at a station, and ask for work. They are asked to produce their reference. One is put on; the other is refused employment, although the station is short-handed.

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The plan adopted by the P.U. is this. A confidential list is sent in by each station manager at the end of each shearing season to the P.U. office. This list contains the men's names and the number of their references. Under the head of “remarks” it is indicated as to whether the man is “desirable” or no, and “agitators” and “staunch Union” men are specially noted. The man's ability as a workman is quite a secondary consideration. (As a matter of fact, a man may be considered a good workman by one manager and inferior by another, so that it is often merely a matter of opinion.) Prior to next season a book is made up for each district and a copy sent to each station, and hence when a man presents himself and his reference, or when he writes applying beforehand and encloses his reference, the employer or manager simply looks at the list in the book and decides accordingly. The good man from the Union point of view is sent away, or refused work by letter in case of writing. By this system they drove all the active spirits of 1891 out of Queensland.

The A.W.U. in the Southern States fought against the system for some years, but eventually had to give way, though steps were taken in other ways to counteract its effect. The system is still in force. Some of the references acquired a money value, and £1 each for those given by a certain station manager was readily paid. It has been reported that as high as £5 has been paid for one of the references issued by Mr. Chase, of Lanillo Station, in 1894. The possession of one of these was certain to secure a man a job, because it had

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originally been issued to one who had taken a striker's place. The man who bought the reference simply assumed the name for the time being.

Change of name in dodging the boycott became so common that it is alleged that some men forgot what their right names really were. One man who had bought one of Chase's references for £1 did not get through with it. It was in the name of Cohen, and that name suited the buyer with his Irish brogue well enough. But it just happened that the original holder of it was a Jew with somewhat broken English; so when the Irish “Cohen” presented himself Chase remembered the peculiarity of a Jew shearer, and so he impounded the reference and the £1 deposit, and “Cohen” lost his job as well.

Other means of using the boycott were adopted—such, for instance, as punishing the local storekeeper or butcher if he supplied a strike camp with rations or meat. They could make it uncomfortable for the butcher by refusing him agistment for his horses or cattle, and as the squatter held nearly all the country it would prove effective enough to close up his shop. They also controlled the Bench, as the squatter is always a J.P. Then there were the many methods taken to block the Union organizer from getting near the men. In many cases they ordered them off the run, and if they refused had them fined for trespass.

Organizers have been fired at and Unionists have been shot by non-Unionists without any action being taken by the authorities. All the old musty laws which, though repealed in the land of their origin, are found to be in force here were dug up

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against Unionists. Since the advent of Labor in politics, however, these things are disappearing fast.

Experienced Trade Unionists know that many strikes have been secretly organized by the employers for trade purposes, and with a view of affecting the prices of either commodities or shares. One such attempt, of which I had experience, will prove of interest. Briefly, the circumstances were these. The Amalgamated Miners' Association included in its membership every person employed in or about a mine, and in Creswick included the engine drivers. The engine drivers in Victoria formed an organization of their own, and a branch of it was opened in our district. Those who joined it remained members of the A.M.A. as well. There was much discussion, however, as to whether they should not cease to do so, and it was then that a few schemers who did much mining speculation saw their opportunity.

The plot was laid by the Board of one mine, and they arranged to call a meeting of mine directors. The meeting was duly held, close upon 40 being present. No one who was known to be favorable to the miners was invited. An understanding was arrived at that in the event of a strike taking place there was to be united action on the part of all the various Boards, and all the men were to be locked out. But stoppage would save calls upon the pockets of the directors and shareholders. The mines were all on private property, and those in the call-paying stage could not be stopped without an excuse of this kind or the landowners would come down on them under the agreement. The other

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dividend-paying mines chanced to be in a good position just then for being allowed to stop without much damage occurring underground.

If a strike took place over a quarrel amongst the members of the A.M.A. a lock-out would be popular amongst directors, and the stoppage of all work would send the price of shares down with a run, When they had got to the lowest the directors in the know would quietly buy up, and when they had got possession they could start the mines going again, either at reduced wages or even at the same rates; the shares would jump in value, and the buyers would steadily unload and thus quietly pocket thousands of pounds among them.

Thus was the plot made, and everything was ready, even to the man who was to make the trouble. The secretary of the newly-formed Engine Drivers' Association allowed himself to run into arrears. He persisted in his refusal to pay, and so it was decided that the men were to refuse to go underground until he paid up. He was on afternoon shift, which starts work at four o'clock.

As secretary of the A.M.A., I went to the mine. The men were all ready to refuse to go below unless he paid up. I had found out the plot by this time, but could not betray my informants. I wanted to gain time, so I used plausible arguments, flattered the vanity of the weak man who was the tool to be used, and got him to agree to pay up. I pointed out that I was sure he wanted to do the honorable thing, and that was to do as men did in a Friendly Society or other body—they paid up and then sent in an official resignation of membership. He

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hesitated, and did not give way until he went to the office of the mine manager to consult him. I knew it would be all right when he went there, as I had been there before him.

The matter was staved off for a month, but again it came to the time when a stand was ordered to be made by the same shift of men. I tried hard to induce the committee to take another mine as the test case—one which I knew to be outside the ring—but they were stubborn, and would not believe my forecast of what would result; and of course I could not give my authority. The vice-president of the A.M.A. (Mr. Evans) and myself on the day fixed for the stand to be made visited the private home of the secretary of the Engine Drivers, who had again refused to pay up his contributions. We were admitted to his front room, but I noticed that his wife (they were a young couple) stood behind his chair during the whole interview. He was a weak man. She evidently knew it. My persuasive tongue had won him over once—it was not to have a second chance.

However, we had a mission to fulfil. We pointed out the misery that would happen to the wives and children of the miners if a strike took place. We appealed-to his sympathy and fellow-feeling for the women and children, if he had none for men; but in vain. That thin-lipped woman behind him stood firm, and her heart was as stone. We pointed out that in any event his organization was bound to be crushed. If the mine-owners won—as they were likely to do—both Unions of the men would go under. If the A.M.A. won, then they

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would swallow up the drivers, the latter being so few in number. At last, in spite of that cold ruler of his life behind his chair, we secured a promise from him that he would call a special meeting of the officers of his Union for that evening, and that in the meantime he would not go to work.

We left it at that. I did not go to the mine; but evidently the woman did her part, because the man went notwithstanding his promise not to go; and, taking the engine, lowered the men to their work. They were prepared to stand out, but were too well disciplined to act without orders, so his effort to bring on a strike failed; and the letters lying in the drawer of the mine manager's desk—ready to send to the other mines—were not sent, nor was the horse which was ready in the stable needed to carry them. Had I carried out my committee's instructions there would have been a strike, followed by a lock-out, to the ruin possibly of a very fine organization. However, we met the executive of the other body that evening. They were all straight Unionists, and a mode of settlement between the two bodies was arrived at, and thus the plot of the schemers failed; and that wife's ambition, whatever it may have been, was not gratified.

No sooner had the Arbitration Act become law in New South Wales than a move was made by the pastoralists and shearing contractors to prevent the A.W.U. from securing any advantage under it. They secretly organized a bogus Union, called the Machine Shearers' and Shed Employees' Union. This body they registered, and were allowed to do so owing to

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bad regulations under the Act, though the Judge held that the intention of the Act was clearly that there should be only one Union representing an industry.

This bogus organization was backed up by funds given to it as donations. A conference was held between it and the Pastoralists' Union, which came to an agreement for a reduction of wages and rates; and this agreement was duly registered under the Act, and became binding under the law. The bogus Union—the M.S.U.—had but a small membership, but as employers refused to engage men unless they could show a ticket in it the membership naturally increased. It started with a subscription of 2s. 6d. per annum, but soon raised it to 7s. 6d. The rules secured the official positions for two years to those first elected, so as to prevent any scheme of swamping them out being carried.

The genuine body—the A.W.U.—was thus kept out of Court after fighting for arbitration for years, and by the Act itself was prevented from striking for higher wages. The fear of the law did not prevent its doing so, however, and a big strike took place in 1902. A Royal Commission was secured to enquire into the bona fides of the M.S.U., but could get no evidence from either the officers, the auditors, or the bank manager. These gentlemen took the risk of a £20 fine rather than disclose the crookedness of the bogus affair patronised and supported by the P.U. The Commission, of course, declared their lack of bona fides.

Still, their audacity knew no limit, and when the Federal Arbitration Court became law they

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registered under it, but withdrew when the A.W.U. began proceedings to have the registration cancelled. Fortunately, A.W.U. members are too strong in Union principle to allow their organization to be destroyed, otherwise the move would have succeeded in breaking up the Union.