The Ashburton Guardian Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit THURSDAY, JULY 3, 1890. A STATE LABOR REFERENDUM
We have on several occasions, within the past few weeks, urged the necessity lor State interference m the case of strikes or lock-outs. The new departure taken by labor organisations m adopting the " complete boycott" has brought matters to the stage where it is practically impossible that the State shall stand by and do nothing, while the whole social fabric is thrown into disorder through the extreme demands of w&ge-earners or the selfishness and perverseness of individual employers. Under the "complete boycott" principle labor disputes will no longer be confined to the masters and men immediately concerned; .but will involve the whole community] There is a danger that at any moment a struggle may be precipitated by injudicious action on the part of either party, and the result is too serious to contemplate. Every workman on the railway, at the wharf, m the quarry, or m, the workshop, may be called upon to cease work because a certain coal proprietor m a little hamlet will not pay hi 3 laborers twopence or threepence a day more for their labor than they have been receiving. The proprietor may be able, but not willing to yield to the demands of his men ; or it may be that the men are asking for a greater share Of the profits of production than they are entitled to receive. The question is one for arrangement between the parties themselves, if possible, but when this is not possible it is, obviously, the duty of the State to step m, and, by means of arbitration or a judicial decision, set the matter at rest. We would be the last to suggest or support aay State legislation which would interfere with the workman fighting for an increase of his pay or a reduction of the hours of labor. Liberal pay and short hours is a legitimate goal for all wage-earners to strive for ; but the efforts to secure this must be so ordered as not to interfere with the free course of trade. Every petty dispute between masters and men must not be allowed to assume greater proportions than the i circumstances warrant, and those who are m no way concerned with the dispute must be protected from loss and inconvenience. It is to the best interests of the parties immedietely concerned that the State shall step m and appoint an Arbitration Board to whose decision both parties will be bound. The country looked hopefully for some Cabinet proposals m this direction m the recent Budget, but were doomed to disappointment. The Government evidently think that the best way to secure the favor of masters and servants alike on the eve of an election is to observe a discreet silence. We fire, however pleased to see th.it a, private member (Mr Downie Stewart) has had the courage to introduce a Bill on the subject, and we trust that legislation on similar lines to those set forth will be speedily given effect to. Mr Stewart's " Strikes and Arbitration Bill" provides that m case of any dispute between employers on the one hand and unions or members of unions on the other, these shall be referred to arbitration, each side choosing two arbitrators, and the four arbitrators to choose an umpire, and failing their agreement on an umpire, the local Resident Magistrate is to act. This arrangement, we have no doubt-, would be found to work satisfactorily ; but we think an independent tribunal, appointed by the State, and authorised to collect evidence from both sides on oath, would give greater satisfaction. In Mr Stewart's proposition the final settlement of a dispute would practically rest with one man—the umpire ; neither of the contending parties could be expected to budge an inch from the ground taken up. With a State Referendum, however, consisting of, say, three or five disinterested persons, the decision arrived at would represent the views of a majority of an impartial tribunal, and would, we think, be accepted .by the contending parties as a final adjudication. We see no reason, as we have stated on a former occasion, why a Sweating Commission similar to the one recently appointed should not have a permanent existence, and be invested with judical powers to bring about better relations between employer and employed. We think this would be a preferable course to that suggested by the member for Dunedin West, but, at the same time recognise the "Strikes and Arbitration Bill" as a well-meant effort to bring about legislation on the subject, and can only express regret that the Government of the day have shown that they have not the backbone to deal with an important social problem, which, if left at its present stage, may at any moment cause widespread disaster.