For ‘Liberty or Death’ is still
The Logic of To-day. —Ragnar Redbeard
Threatened Liberty—A Colonial Danger
(To the Editor.)
Sir,—-I fear trespassing on your valuable space, but as a great economic and political, principle is at stake, I crave your indulgence. It is a pity my friend, Mr. James Regan, and I cannot calmly reason together over a principle equally dear to both of us, and to every citizen, without his getting angry, calling me names, and dissevering from its context what I said to make it appear in a false light. By leaving out of the text ‘The fool hath said in his heart,’ this first part, and inserting only the latter part, namely, “There is no God,” one could appear to prove, even from sacred writ, that there is no Supreme Being to whom all are accountable. That is the way Mr. Regan treats my writings, perhaps not intentionally so, because his passion has blinded his eyes to what is seemly. I have never in my remembrance mentioned or alluded to Mr. Fawens in my writings. That gentleman has always appeared to me as useful and attentive as the other members of the Conciliation Board, and knowing he was appointed by the labour-bodies, I could not have suggested that he was appointed by the Government. Nor did I allude to the Hon. W. P. Reeves in the way Mr. Regan says; nor am I indifferent to the welfare of the workers, as all my past life in Auckland shows, for I have helped them and still delight to help them in many ways when they need help; nor do I oppose all that this Government does, because in my pamphlets, letters, and lectures I have approved its liquor law, land law, loans to settlers law, homestead protection law, and its saving the Bank of New Zealand.
What I have freely criticised and shall continue to criticise so long as freedom of citizenship, of speech, and a free press obtain here, is unequal laws and political tyranny. I was the first person in Auckland, if not in New Zealand, to start the movement for settling disputes by Conciliation Boards to avert strikes. I got, the Knights of Labour and the Trade and Labour Council to meet the Employers Association in conference at Robson’s Rooms on 9th February 1891 to form such a board. Meeting after meeting was held, and rules were agreed upon and printed, but the Hon. W. P. Reeves announced his intention of bringing in a compulsory measure, and that defeated our voluntary movement.
Then I tried to have his scheme workable jointly with Mr. Arch. Clark. ‘President of the Employers,’ Association. I wrote to Mr. Reeves on 4th August, 1893, urging him to amend See, 42 so as to read that ‘any person acting under this Section shall have a direct personal interest in an industrial dispute, and have been resident in the industrial district, for six months before the action is commenced;’ but our letter was ignored, and this very section has caused infinite trouble which we tried to avert. It enables paid agitators to set everybody by the ears.
All the papers bear me witness. The ‘Auckland Evening Star’ of 26th August, 1897, deplored that ‘There is, we regret to say, a good deal of reason to believe that the Act has unwittingly been an incitement to agitation when there has been no discontent or cause of grievance.’ The. ‘Otago Daily Times’ of 11th of last month said:
‘This weakness as regards Conciliation Boards, together with the undue frequency of references, will certainly have to receive the attention of the Legislature.’ The ‘New Zealand Herald’ of 27th April last said: ‘At the present moment there is a threat over every trade and every workshop in New Zealand . . .’ The ‘Mercantile and Bankruptcy Gazette’ of 28th April last said: ‘The Act is designed for enabling differences which may exist between employers and their men to be settled without an appeal to the passive force represented by a strike; in effect it has been used as an engine to squeeze concessions from the employers by continually bringing them before the Board of Conciliation and making demands utterly unreasonable upon the hope that the conciliators would at least award one half of what was asked and thus give the men quite as much as they expected to receive. . . . The employers are now incessantly worried and disturbed, not by their own men, but by the Unions and the paid agitators who live only by fomenting discord between the masters and their employees; trivial matters are worked up into grievances and then formulated as disputes in order to make an excuse to invoke the assistance of the Board of Conciliation. . . .’ Lastly, the ‘Observer’ of 4th instant says: ‘The Conciliation Act, instead of composing trade disputes and promoting industrial harmony, virtually sows the seeds of dissension and keeps the colony in a state of continual ferment and unrest.’
Hence it was time somebody spoke out, especially as the Act was made an oppressive engine to place free labourers at a disadvantage in the labour market. I ask why should free labourers be made to stand back until Trade Unionists get work first? The property which free labourers have in their own labour is as sacred and inviolable as The Unionists’ property in theirs is. Free labourers were doomed with the effects of the same original sentence as Unionists: ‘In the sweat of thy brow shall thou eat bread;’ and to wrest the law of the land to the risk of their starvation is a cruel wrong, and is against Divine law and the laws of Humanity. I am sure Mr. Regan is better at heart than he makes himself out to be when he says of free labourers: ‘. . . . and that they may be rooted cap in hand behind Unionists till they become bald-headed as a token of their miserable, contemptible meanness is the fervent wish of your humble servant.—James Regan.’
I advise Mr. Regan that as an officer of a union such language should not be used by gentlemen in responsible positions at a time like this when work is scarce and the necessaries of life like flour and potatoes are so clear, and while we are threatened with a hard winter. Don’t goad hungry men too much, Mr. Regan. Even ‘a worm will turn.’
All that I claim is equality of all before the law whether they be Unionists or free labourers. If a foreign foe put his foot upon our shores would the law say to free labourers: ‘Stand back until Unionists have first tried to repel the invader?’ No; the free labourers would then be hurried to the front to stand shoulder to shoulder with Unionists, to bare their breasts to the enemy’s fire and steel! Then each as brother to brother
Then let them stand together like brothers in the stern battle of life, and, sir, let us get this Act amended that all men may be free and equal before the law. That is true Liberalism!—I am, etc.,
F. G. EWINGTON.
June 4, 1898.
Auckland Star, 6 June, 1898.