The Farmers' Union.
(By " Rousoabout," iv the Timaru " Post.")
la South Canterbury, at any rate, the Union may be said to be, to all intents and purposes, dead. With the exception of Pleasant Point, and perhaps Fairlie, the various branches appear to be quite lifeless, and those named can, only raise a very occasional and a very poorly-attended meeting. These little meetings are the only sign of vitality, and they are rather feeble at best. The late Mr Acton managed to keep the Union alive, but enthusiastic and capable as he was, he could not succeed in making a success of it. Mr Wilson doe 3 not possess the same gifts of speech and catching enthusiasm as did Mr Acton, and he has now gone for a trip to the Old Country. No annual branch j meetings have yet been held. It j is therefore not too much to say that in I South Canterbury the Union, which might have been very large and useful, is practically dead. In Ashburton and in North Canterbury a more prosperoua state of • things exists, but even there the Union is really lamentably weak and small. It possesses a few influential, shrewd, and more or less talkative members, who keep the doings of their part of the Union before the public. By all accounts, the North Island branches are doing fairly well, and in Otago and Southland the Union makes a pretty good showing.- But even there difficulties have not been absent. Mr Patterson, who was engaged as organising secretary down there, and who was also to give veterinary service to members, has resigned, and a good deal of difficulty has been experienced in finding him his guaranteed salary. He has held meetings at many branches and was a most energetic man. But the meetings were often very poorly attended, in spite of the fact that his lectures contained some valuable and useful veterinary information. I notice that a moating of one of the Obago branches of the Union a letter was read concerning the re-appointinent of Mr Paterson at a salary of £100 under certain conditions. It was resolved that, owing to the financial position of tno Union, Mr Paterson be not re-engaged in the meantime. The sura of .£IOO spread over, I presume.a good deal, if not tho whole, of Southland, does not seem much to raise, and the inability to do so doas not speak well for the strength of the Uniou down there. It ia neither correct, nor fair, however, to say that the Union is dead, or practically so, all over New Zealand. The Taranaki Union possessed 1113 paid-up members last year, and as there 740 paid-up so far this year, it is anticipated that this year's membership roll will exceed that of last year. But, taking New Zealand as a whole, there are many districts in the same state as South Canterbury, aB far as unionism among farmers ia concerned. That being so, it is not ao powerful in the land as the Trades and Labour Councils, which are well organised, aud which contain a large number of members who ungrudgingly, pay up, perhaps ten times as much in proportion to their income as does the average farmer. By combining as they have done they have secured for themselves many things to which they wero, of course, fully entitled, such as better pay, better aceoairao dation in factories and workshops, more regular hours of labour, and more leisure. Itjmust be remembered that workers in. the cities have moro opportunities for combination than have farmers. They can more easily attend meetings, and their requirements are more general. Farmers, on the other hand, are not great at attending meetings, especially when doing so means uight travelling in the dark and cold. On sale days they have other business to attend to, and are often anxi-_ ous to get home after having bean ab" sent for the greater part of the day. But, in my opinion, the Union, at any rate in South Canterbury, has been injured ialmost totally by the hide bound Conservatism of some of its leaders. They apparently wish to use the Union for the purpose of worrying the present Government, and that disgusted many farmers who are the truest of Liberals, and who, while not regarding the present Government as altogether infallible, look upon it as being progressive and as being the friend and helper of the small settler. Times, too, are prosperous, and things are going well. There is no real discontent; why, then, bother with the Union ? Well, it is worth bothering with, partly from an educative point of view, and partly for a political reason. It would be a splendid thing for farmers if they would so combine that they could engage veterinarians to travel through the country distriots, say, one to each electorate, lectarisg to farmers, conducting inquiries into diseases as they occurred, and, as far as possible, attending to individual cases. That last, I know, might cause a lot of f riction,but surely some system could be deyised to get over that. Farm instructors could be engaged who would lecture on subjects other than those relating to veterinary science. And from a political point of view farmers would do well to combine. Socialism is in the air, and it is bound to come in some form sooner or later. No one need feel alarmed about it, as long as the socialism is of a sane and sound kind. But there are some very extreme people who plainly talk of confiscation, communism, and the like. We are not prepared for that yet, and farmers would do well to be ready to combat any very extreme measures which extreme! people may propose to take. We want evolution in our political progress, and not revolution. While not favouring combinations of class against class or [country against town, I think that there is a common ground upon which both the big and the little farmers can stand politically. And if each farmer in the land paid 6d a week to the funds of his Union, or a payment fixed according to hia rating valuation, the educative advantages I have mentioned could be easily obtained.
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Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume XXII, Issue 6571, 16 May 1905
The Farmers' Union. Ashburton Guardian, Volume XXII, Issue 6571, 16 May 1905
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