The Ashburton Guardian. Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit. WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11, 1890. LABOR UNIONS.
The gigantic organisation of labor for defensive purposes now taking place is a justifiable and commendable act. In the various trades and occupations there are serious grievances which cry for redress, and any legitimate efforts put forth by the wageearners to impi'ove the conditions of their employment will meet witli hearty sympathy from the public, of whom the operatives themselves form the great bulk. Long hours, poor pay, " sweating," the " truck " system, and similar growing evils must be firmly stamped out, if the condition of the laborer is to be anything better than that of social serfdom. So long as the laboring classes confine themselves to redressing these evils, and go about the task in an intelligent and systematic manner, there can be little doubt of their success. But, unfortunately, there is danger that the more extreme leaders of the movement will bring discredit on fellow-workmen "ky re ort ing to strong measures upon matters of mere detail, the settlement of which requires temperate speech and a conciliatory attitude. Two instances of this character have recently occurred in connection with the Wharf Laborers and Seamen's Union. At one of the ]S rew Zealand pony recently a steamer, oil the point of sailing, was compelled to engage a non-Union hand for the simple reason that a "Unionist was not procurable. In taking this step the owners of the vessel ran a grave risk of provoking a strike'among the rest of their employes, not only on the vessel concerned, but upon all vessels belonging to the Company. Fortunately this danger was averted by a Union seaman arriving at the last moment and shipping instead of the non-Unionist. AtHobart on the 6th inst. the wharf laborers refused to discharge the steamer Waihora because, it is alleged, the stevedore favored certain Union hands as against others. This momentary " strike " was, fortunately for all parties concerned, settled by the prompt dismissal of the stevedore. In neither of these cases does it appear there was cause for the threatened paralysing of the shipping trade. In neither case were the owners of the steamers responsible, but had the threatened strikes occurred, they would have been the principal sufferers. It is not, we should hope, the intention or aim of Trades Unionists to encourage or support friction of this frivolous character between employer and employed. Had these threatened strikes not been averted in their incipient stage by the employers giving way on the spot, serious loss and inconvenience would have resulted to consignors and consignees of goods, and passenger.?. These persons were in no way responsible for the favoritism shown by a stevedore to a section of the strikers, nor for the extraordinary circumstances which compelled the I owners of a vessel to engage the first hand available during an emergency. From what can be seen on the surface, the only persons to blame in the matter were the Unionists, whose rules are of so inflexible a nature as not to bend J in cases of emergency. Nevertheless, the seamen and wharf hands, being masters of the situation, had it within their power to cause wide-spread inconvenience and loss to ship-owners, the trading community, and the travelling public' Had the question in either instance been one of practical protest against the oppression of employers, this would have been a suffiicient justification for the action of the men; but, reading between the lines, there was no such justification, and if Trades Unionism is to be put to such uses, there is a danger of the servant becoming a greater tyrant than the master. But, we trust, the two instances referred to are to be in the jjioye enlightened future the exception
and not the rule of action; and that arbitration and practical common sense will bebroughtto bear by Unionists in similar cases, should such arise. If the Seamen or Wharf Laborers Unions have no rule to .provide for the toleration of simple infringements of their usages until they can be settled amicably between the employers and themselves, they should lose no time in getting such a rule passed—that is if they wish to" have the sympathy and assistance of the public with them in their legitimate struggle to secure a " a fair clay's pay for a fair day's work." Unless they do so they will assuredly lose ground, and will be looked upon with ridicule by those who would willingly be their best friends.