« ForrigeFortsæt »
in the past suffered from inability or unwillingness to combine. The owner of a large mine, the proprietor of a large manufactory, or the manager of a great joint-stock business establishment naturally thinks he knows his own business, and understands how best his own interests can be safeguarded ; and such men have been reluctant to act with others or abandon one iota of tbeir individual discretion. Such events, however, as the great engineer strike, the coal dispute of 1894, and that which recently affected the South Wales coalfield, have done much to convince wealthy and powerful employers that organisation is necessary if they are effectually to meet combinations of their workmen. And inasmucli as the feeling has grown that combinations of workmen not only cannot be prevented or crushed out of existence, but if properly managed are not without much mutual benefit to employers and employed, the desirability of combination of employers is becoming more and more generally recognised. One factor, then, in the creation of quarrels is being steadily removed.
There are still some employers who think that trade unions can be effectively tabooed. We will meet, such men say, our own workmen. We will have nothing to say to any of their representatives not in our employ. This amounts to a refusal of advocacy which cannot be defended and maintained. The very employers who attempt to maintain it will engage a solicitor or a manager to aid in the conduct of a negotiation, while they refuse to allow free selection of a spokesman to their men. The position of such employers cannot fail to be an isolated one. A big railway company may maintain it for some length of time, but even in such a case it is not impregnable. An individual employer cannot expect to do so. If he refuses to recognise unions as a factor in negotiation he places himself in a dangerous position, in which the strategic advantage' to which we have previously referred is with his workmen, not with himself.
Combinations, however, though they may make collective bargains which have strong moral sanction, are, as the law stands at present, debarred from making agreements for the enforcement of which they can institute legal proceedings. The Trades Unions Act of 1871 seems to be clear upon this point, and consequently the Royal Commission on Labour reported * that it does not appear that such collective agreements can be otherwise than morally binding. The
* Fifth and final Report, par. 149.
sense of fair-play inherent in Englishmen gives strength to such agreements as a rule. But, as we have pointed out, there have been cases in which the more turbulent members of trades unions have repudiated bargains authoritatively made. Exceptional though these cases have been, they have done something to swell the reluctance with which employers have approached the proposal for a collective agreement. In order to remove the difficulty, it has been suggested that trade associations should be allowed and encouraged to make themselves bodies corporate by registration, and should put themselves into a position of being sueable and able to sue. This course was recommended in an able and powerfully argued memorandum * appended to the report by the Duke of Devonshire, Sir David Dale, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Courtney, and four other Commissioners. In it the advantages which would accrue to workmen and employers alike were clearly pointed out. The acquisition of legal personality by a trade body would facilitate reference to arbitration and the making of bargains or awards. For a breach of an award, or even, though this is more doubtful, of an undertaking to go to arbitration, a body might be sued for damages, and the prospect of this would render less likely resort to a strike or a lock-out. "If a strike or a lock-out did take place, * although it is true that any damages which could be re
covered would probably not ... be sufficient compensation, ' yet an action at law would render more visible the breach of • contract, and serve to guide public opinion. For instance, an employer might insist on a reduction of wages contrary to a collective agreement. Then, instead of starting a strike, with all its attendant losses and sorrows, the workmen might sue the employer or his association for damages. Or, in the alternative, workmen insisting on a rise of wages contrary to an award, might be sued through their association, instead of being locked out. Tersely summing up their recommendation, these Commissioners say: 'It might be 'anticipated that if by the method of collective agreements 'a more concrete guarantee were given to arbitration, it * would be more frequently resorted to by those who have a
boná fide preference for it over more violent methods of settling differences.'
The objections to this suggestion are set out in another appendix to the report signed by Messrs. William Abraham, Michael Austin, James Maudsley, and Tom Maun. The * Appendix Report, p. 115.
† Report, p. 146.
proposal, these gentlemen say, is open to the gravest objection.
• To expose the large amalgamated societies of the country, with their accumulated funds, sometimes reaching a quarter of a million, to be sued for damages by any employer in any part of the country or by any discontented member or non-unionist, for the action of some branch secretary or delegate, would be a great injustice. . . . The present freedom of trade unions from any interference by the courts of law ... was, after a long struggle, conceded in 1871, and finally became law in 1876. Any attempt to revoke this hardly-won charter of trade-union freedom would provoke the most embittered resistance from the whole body of trade unionists, and be undesirable from every point of view.' The idea of freedom here inculcated, freedom in which the funds of trade unions may be employed to produce agreements either among the members of the unions or with other bodies, but must not be made available to compensate for breaches of such agreements, is on a par with the ideas of freedom held by those who would allow A., B., and C. full liberty to refuse certain conditions of labour, but would break the heads of D., E., and F. if they display unwillingness to accept them. The wiser leaders of trade unions are growing out of such one-sided notions of freedom, and the prudent suggestion of the Duke of Devonshire and his colleagues is becoming more and more recognised as a safe and sure method of promoting arbitration as an alternative to strikes and lock-outs.
Pending legislation on the subject--and the House of Commons nowadays works its legislative machinery very slowly-something may be done by voluntary arrangements to secure more than a moral sanction for collective bargains or awards based upon them. An interesting experiment in this direction was made under the collective agreement made in 1895 between the respective associations of employers and workmen in the boot and shoe trade. Under this agreement, commonly known as “The Settlement, local boards of conciliation and arbitration were set up for the purpose of settling disputes or questions between employers and employed in the trade, with umpires to come in in case of difference. In order to secure due adherence to these awards each association deposited with two trustees, Sir Courtenay Boyle, Secretary of the Board of Trade, and Sir Thomas Wright, a solicitor of high position in Leicester, the sum of 1,0001. An indenture was executed vesting this sum upon certain trusts in the trustees. In any case where a breach of a decision of a local board is alleged, complaint is made to the umpire (at present Lord James of Hereford), who is empowered to decide whether any provision of the settlement, or of an award or decision made under it by a local board, has been broken and, if so, to determine that the whole or any portion of the 1,0001. deposited by the side responsible for the breach shall be forfeited to the other. In the event of such forfeiture a sum equal to the amount so forfeited is at once to be replaced by the association mulcted. The arrangement was made for a period of two years, but is renewable. Under it forfeitures have already taken place. The forfeits have been paid, and the amount willingly and promptly made good to the fund. The consequence is that breaches of local awards made by boards carefully constituted under the settlement, and thoroughly qualified to deal with disputes involving highly intricate and technical questions of the custom of the trade, have been punished by a moderate pecuniary fine.
All the friction and soreness necessarily following continued breach of contract have been avoided, judgement has been pronounced by a competent and selected authority, and public opinion both in the trade and out of it has been provided with a trustworthy guide. The method seems simple, and under ordinary circumstances is so. It depends of course to a large extent on the goodwill with which the main agreement or settlement is regarded. But the prospects of a duration of that bargain are enhanced by the fact that it is provided with a simple, easily applied, and not unduly severe sanction.
The experiment seems to be one worth following: In many trades there are associations on each side able to make a deposit as a guarantee of a bargain. Bargains made with such a guarantee would tend to become more lasting than those made without such surety. But a voluntary submission to forfeiture, though a useful expedient pending the establishment of trade associations as corporate entities, cannot have general avail for the enforcement of collective agreements. If trade unions adhere to the policy of collective bargaining, and we believe there is every probability of their so doing, in their own as well as in other interests they will sooner or later be obliged to adopt the position of sueing and sueable bodies.
Before we pass from this branch of the subject it may be desirable to point out one not universally recognised danger which such a change of the law would diminish. If trade associations were registrable the memorandum of association, or whatever the document might be called which provided for the allocation and appropriation of the subscribed funds, would probably be legalised, and moneys subscribed for one purpose could not be liable to appropriation for another. As things are, when a new union is started, or even where a union is in its teens, there is risk of a distinct cleavage between the interests of the younger and those of the older subscribers. The latter have more regard to the beneficiary application of the funds than the former. Young subscribers not looking forward to early sickness or death are apt to ask themselves what good they get from the fund, and to follow this up by the more concrete question, if a strike were to occur should we not have a thoroughly enjoyable holiday at the expense of the common fund? There have been many instances, not perhaps in the great trade combinations, but in those which are more local, where the real motive of a strike has been the feeling of the younger men that they can have a play' without cost to their own pockets or suffering in their own persons. If the older men object, they too often find themselves in a minority, or on the unpopular side. The consequence is a wholly unnecessary cessation of work, which benefits no one, and tends to the settlement of no trade principle. A strict allocation of subscribed funds would probably do much to check the operation of so undesirable a motive.
The causes then leading to strikes and lock-outs would be diminished by the following expedients : the developement of organisations among employers, and the assumption by trade associations of a legal personality. To these may be added the education of leaders of trade unions in economical laws, and a study of the effect of these laws on the trade disputes of other countries, and, notably, of the United States. The operation of the first is progressing. For the legislation necessary to the second we may have to wait for some time, and as regards the third the progress of learning must be slow. But as it would seem that the tendency to search for some more peaceful and less costly method of determining disputes than a strike is growing; it remains to consider what can be done either to prevent an outbreak of imminent war or to shorten its duration when hostilities have actually commenced.
The constitutional circumstances of this country are such that more reliance must necessarily be placed on voluntary action than on State interference. In such a matter the