25 SEPTEMBER 1915, Page 12


[To TUN EDITOR OP TRIO "BrZCTATOR."] Sia,—I have recently read an able paper on the subject of Trade Unions, written as long ago es 1891 by Mr. T. S. Cree, entitled A Criticism of the Theory of Trades Unions. From it I cite the following " Civilizations have before now suffered shipwreck, and, in my opinion, it is neither impossible nor improbable that Trades Unionism may bo the rock on which ours shall go to pieces."

I have always tried to see a real necessity and proper use for Unions, and do not hesitate to say that I believe that, in order that the men may have some protection from the tyranny of unscrupulous masters, union is a necessity. The spontaneous response to a nation's call for defenders is prompted by the same feeling as makes men form Unions. It is a natural human feeling, call it by whichever name you choose. It is neatly summed up in these words : "United we stand— divided we fall," which may be found at the beginning of a Trade Union's rule-book. As regards a proper use of the organization, I am convinced that it is a convenience, and simplifies and standardizes the handling of labour. Through it we know (1) the qualifications of each individual, (2) the rate of wage, and (3) we have to deal with a few individuals (secretaries of Unions) in place of millions of individuals.

It has been convenient to regard labour and capital as being commodities, but there is a difference, a very great difference in my opinion, because they are both inseparably associated with a personality, which invests in them a "human element" which gives them, an elasticity or flexibility similar to Professor W. R. Scott's description of credit: " Credit resembles a highly elastic body ; if it is greatly expanded a comparatively slight pressure may cause a rupture; if, on the other hand, it is not unduly distended, it will bear a shock, though with s01110 quaking, which would shatter a more solid substance into fragments." Does any one doubt that it is the personality of a nation that largely accounts for its credit P Unscrupulous masters in the past handled labour till it reached its breaking-point: strikes and the building up of Unions followed. These Unions rebound, and are now stretch- ing the nation to its breaking-point, and unless the education of the individuals is raised to that point to enable them to see that continual stretch is impossible, Mr. T. S. Cree's prediction will be fulfilled.

Generally disputes arise over the amount of pay. The men say : "It should be something more than it is"; the masters say : "It should he something less than it is." No one can fix the happy medium, but the following "outside human elements" will have a governing effect: (I) We are forced to invent automatic and semi-automatic machines which largely dispense with the need for skilled labour : a few days' apprenticeship is now equal to the old five-year apprenticeship. (2) The individuals of a nation naturally deal in the cheapest market. The nation that can satisfy these two items will command the supply of the world's com- modities. But we can imagine a Union so powerful as to enforce a law to the effect that automatic machinery shall not be allowed to be made, and that the minimum of employment shall be one man to one machine. This is no more'drastic than the limit to which the Unions have gone to-day in holding up the nation to ransom. •

There are many schemes for welding Capital and Labour. I am not a believer in half-way houses, but I am a believer in order, fairness, and that big returns are obtained at big risks. Trade Unions aim at big returns at no risks. This is where they fail ; it is contrary to, it is an infringement of equal rights. Co-partnership makes the workers shoulder their portion of the risks ; therefore I look forward to co-partnership solving in a practical way the one-sidedness of the existing system. whereby Capital and Labour work. Capital will drop a sentimental class distinction: Labour will take its equal share of risk. I use the words "class distinction" in the narrow and objectionable sense. We will never banish distinction in its true form, nor do we want to; it exists in its true form to-day between the aristocratic soldier and the humble soldier in the trenches : they have a common purpose—the defeat of the enemy : they bare a common rivalry—the attainment of honours, such as a Y.C., or of promotion : they take equal risks to a degree, but he who attains the greatest honour, the V.C., is not grudged it, because he alone took the greater risk.

We are all more or less Unionists without knowing it. Subscribing to the War Loan is an act of unionship. Union is natural and implies opposition, else what would-be the need for union P Co-partnership does not imply no union; it is a union free from unfairness in that risk is Bleared; its opposi- tion is the trade competition. Trade competition is an opposition which, under the present conditions, concerns Capital far more than it does Labour—an obvious fault. A true Unionist should look upon conscription with favour because the principle is the same. • Yet I notice with surprise that one of the resolutions passed recently at the Trade Union Congress is totally against conscription. This, to my mind, can only be taken to show that the controllers of Unions shirk taking on the principles they mete out to their members. Mr. T. S. Cree has rightly said : "Management divorced from risk is fatal." Whether firms practise co-partnership or not, the fact that it • is deemed illegal for them to form a price- controlling Trust is sufficient proof for me that it should be illegal for Trade Unions to form themselves into wage-raising organizations and to hold up the nation to ransom,-1 am,