§ Captain HAMBRO
I beg to move,That this House regrets the action of certain trade unions in refusing to admit ex-Service officers and men to their unions and in preventing many gallant men from obtaining employment, or such training, under the State scheme, as would fit them for certain skilled trades; further, although this House has passed the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act in order to fulfil certain pledges given daring the War, it is of opinion that it is unjust to men who have been fighting for their country to apply such restrictive legislation to them when they cannot otherwise obtain employment, and calls upon the trade union organisations to reconsider their attitude with the view of assisting such men in every possible way.I shall endeavour in my few remarks to say nothing to embitter any feelings of my hon. Friends below the gangway. This question of the action of certain Trade unions in regard to demobilised men is exercising a great amount of interest throughout the country. I only wish that this motion had fallen into abler hands than my own, as it is some years since I had the honour of addressing this House. Trade Unions as a body, I know, are playing the game throughout the country, but there are a certain number who, in my opinion, are not, so to speak, playing the game. What are the facts? A lot of these men, when the War broke out, were training for employment in the trades they wished to join. The War intervened, and the survivors who came back after four years of war took every opportunity they could to go through their training, but they found, in a number of eases, obstacles put in their way by certain Trade Unions.
We all talked during the War of what we were going to do for the boys when they came home. I frankly admit that the vast majority of people have done all they can to get these men back to a healthy, civil life, but I am afraid that the War fervour has evaporated in some quarters, and these men are not receiving the industrial welcome to which they are entitled. Personally, I am of the opinion, and I am certain it is shared by every single Member of this House, that for these men everything ought to be done by employers, managers and workmen to get them back to the employment they wished to take up, even if in so doing a certain amount of sacrifice has to be made by some of those employers, 967 managers or workmen. Trade unions are large, powerful and valuable organisations, carrying out a great work in the industrial organisations of this country. They have a great duty to perform, and rightly so, in protecting their members from any unfair action on the part of employers or any other section of the community, and to help them to do that Parliament has conferred upon them special privileges. It is our experience that sometimes when people have these special powers and privileges they are abused, and I am sorry to say that in some cases they are being abused at the present time by certain trade unions. On the other hand, I quite understand the point of view of certain trade unionists, but on this question I appeal to hon. Members who sit below the Gangway. We had a speech from the Prime Minister the other day, who said there were 350,000 of these men who wanted work; there was no lack of work, and he appealed to the Labour party. If it be the case that the country at the present time is crying out for that production which we all know is the panacea for the ills from which we are suffering, I submit, to my hon. Friends above the Gangway that certain trade unions are not playing the game. I know that the trade union regulations may have been absolutely necessary before the War, but surely the War has changed things. We have to get back to the production that is necessary to put this country once more on its feet.
I am not going' to weary the House by producing a great number of concrete cases, although I could do so, but I am going to produce two or throe which, I hope, will illustrate what is going on throughout the country at the present time. The Ministry of Labour asked the Campbell Gas Engine Company, of Halifax, to take 12 men into their factory. They agreed to do so four men were sent, an officer, two non-commissioned officers, and one private. A fifth was sent later. What was the attitude of the Union concerned? The workmen objected to these ex-soldiers being sent, and they said if they were retained they would go out on strike. The men were approached by the management of the firm and asked if they would stand by them, and they agreed to do so. The strike took place. The workmen objected to the ex-soldiers 968 on two grounds: First, because they were officers, and that their status in life would give them an advantage over the other men who worked in the factory; and, secondly, that increasing the number of workmen would tend to make wages fall. Surely, the first reason is rather novel and curious. I am told that the trade unions are a great democracy. They believe in a democracy that allows their members to participate in the work of other classes, but they do not believe in a democracy that allows other classes to participate in their work. That is what is called the liberty and freedom of the subject in this country. I quite understand the other reason about wages. I suppose that is the old reason for the limitation of the apprenticeship system. That was absolutely necessary before the War, but surely the War has changed things. I submit that the trade unions would have been well advised to have abrogated this regulation, at any rate, for the time being, in favour of these demobilised men. The strike took place, and I am told that the firm sent out for help in other directions and received between 700 and 800 men. It is, however, the principle that I am after this evening. Certain trade unions, at any rate, are not playing the game.
Another specific instance is brought to my notice of a man who served 4½ years in France and became a skilled electrician. He was offered a post in a big shipbuilding firm, with high wages and a chance of improving his position, but the firm said that he must join the union. He applied for membership of the union, but he was turned down. He could not, therefore accept the post, and he is now working where skilled labour is not required, where wages are much less, and where his chance of promotion is nil. Then we have the case of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson). but I am not going to deal with that. There was another case in the Gloucester Wagon Works, where an ex-soldier was taken on as a fitter. The man had to leave to save a strike, and eventually he got a job in the firm's drawing office. Incidentally, I may say that the man sued the union for libellous statements, and he got £300 damages. There are many other cases which we could go into, but I am certain that other hon. Members will produce cases later on. Last Sunday, at Walworth, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 969 Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) made a very fine speech, such as we all expect from him. He was discussing the advantages of evolution as against revolution, and he said:He found to-day that large masses of people, who had risked so much for us, who went through the hell and horror of the trenches, had returned to find themselves in competitive struggle for employment.I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this has not something to do with the regulations now enforced by certain trade unions. Surely it has. Further on in his speech he said:He thought that the word 'labour' could only exclude those who had contributed nothing to the well-being of the community.Have these men who have gone through the horror and the hell of the trenches, as he describes it, done nothing for the well-being of the community? I submit that they have, and that they deserve every consideration. I am perfectly satisfied that hon. Members who sit above the gangway agree and are in favour of doing away with this thing which is a blot on their escutcheon and which hangs round their trade unions at the present time. They represent a minority of manual workers in this country, but industrially their influence is very great. Surely it is Dot too much to ask them to use their influence so that these men may get the employment which they require and so that they may return to the life which they have fully earned by risking their lives for this country. I should like to ask the Leader of the Labour party—I am sure that the ordinary Member would agree—to ask the Government if an inquiry could not be set up into this question. There is a great deal of talk going on about it in the country. Let us get down to the bedrock facts of the case. We can do that if an inquiry is set up by the Government with representatives of the Ministry of Labour, the employers, the trade unions, and members of the ex-soldiers' association on the Committee. Personally, I am not out for any political kudos on this subject. I want to see justice done to these men. No hon. Member can accuse me of taking up too much time of the House, or of being too keen to advertise myself. I have had the honour of being in the House for ten years, and this is exactly the third time that I have had the audacity to address it. Therefore I hope the right hon. 970 Gentleman the Leader of the Labour party and his colleagues will realise that I am sincere on this subject. I simply want to see justice done. If hon. Members above the Gangway have a good case, lot us hear it. They cannot surely object to an inquiry being set up to find out what are the reasons for the unemployment of these men, and whether it is the fault of the trades unions. There is in the country at the present time a certain amount of ill-feeling on this subject, and, therefore, I would press for an inquiry, which, at any rate, would show to these men that the House of Commons is doing its level best for them.
§ Major HAMILTON
Although I have been in the House for some years, like my hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken, I have not often addressed it, and I certainly have not taken up any of its time during the present Parliament. But this is a question on which I feel deeply, and when I learned that my hon. and gallant Friend was to move the Resolution now before the House, in a friendly spirit to-night I begged him to allow me to second it. I want hon. Members, and especially those belonging to the Labour party, to realise that I speak in a dual capacity. I am a working man myself. I started at 15 years of age in an engineering shop, and I served my time right through. I know, therefore, the difficulties of this question, and I feel I know something of the feelings of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers in relation to it. In addition to that I speak with all humbleness as a temporary soldier during the War. My chief interest was in electrical engineering, and I think one of the very worse examples which I have to bring to the attention of hon. Members opposite was the treatment meted out to Naval ratings by the Electrical Trades Union. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty is not here to-night. If he were, I am sure he would bear me out when I state that a great effort was made by the Government to persuade the Electrical Trades Union to allow certain Naval ratings, which had worked through out the War with great risk to their lives at their trade as electrical workmen, to be admitted as electrical wiremen to the membership of the Union. But the request was refused, and the refusal still holds good. I have been an electrical wireman. I have been the head of one of 971 the biggest firms of electrical wiremen in this country, and I know there is no finer educational training for the work of electrical wiremen than the training which Naval ratings obtain at sea. Yet the Electrical Trades Union refuse these men and will not accept them as members. They will not allow them to earn their living as electrical skilled men all round.
Then I have another case in connection with a branch of the Ironmoulders' Union at Leeds, That branch has taken up the position that no discharged soldier, be he disabled or not, can be admitted as a member of the trade union unless he is under 16 years of age. It is explained that it is a byelaw of the union that no apprentice or learner shall come in unless he is under the age of 16, I put it to the House, and I put it to my hon. Friends opposite, is it possible for men who have been fighting for five years to still be under 16 years of age? I want next to turn to an entirely different aspect of the question. This House and Parliament have passed into law the Restoration of Pre-war Practices Act. I know that some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Moseley, has suffered both in pocket and in mind as a result of that Act, and he feels that the Government is to blame for having put it on the Statute Book. But I want to say this, that the Act was passed by this House to redeem pledges emphatically given as a matter of bargain between the country and the trade unions during the War. We were in extremis during the War; we wanted men badly: we wanted dilution of labour in certain trades, and the great trade union agreed to that dilution, but stipulated that when the War was over their pre-war practices should be made legal again. Their prewar practices were returned to them by this Act, and in this way the Government and the House of Commons have fulfilled the bargain entered into with the trade unions. But I want to put to the powerful men who face me on the benches opposite, this question: Had the organisers of labour trade unions in pre-War days to face the question of discharged soldiers which has now to be faced? Had they to face the question of disabled men? Did they realise in framing their trade union regulations that there might be exceptions which everyone of them, as good 972 citizens of this country must feel, should be met. Did they realise that they would have to make provision firstly for the man who had been disabled while fighting for them, and next for the man who had been lucky enough not to be disabled, but who had done his best for them and had saved their trade unions, their factories, and everything else?
Do let us think, in connection with these pro-War practices, that when they were drawn up there were not any disabled soldiers or discharged soldiers to whom their regulations would apply. Do lot us realise that the boys at 18 who entered the Army as volunteers, or who were compelled to go in, are now men. Five years have passed, and it is only by the good will of the trade unions that such regulations as the one I have instanced in connection with the, ironmoulders can be waived in their favour. Are you going to compel these lads to be unskilled workers all their lives, or will you give them a chance to become skilled workmen The Amalgamated Society of Engineers is one of the vastest and most powerful unions in this country. It is a union with which I was in very close touch when I was a lad in the shop, and knew the men intimately—when they called me "Geordie." That society has not yet been able really to make definite and concrete arrangements, as I understand it, for the admission on special terms of ex-soldiers and disabled men. I know they have their difficulties, but surely you who face me to-night, after the speeches we heard from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day, and with your own knowledge, know that there is to-day a tremendous boom in the engineering trade. The chief difficulty of employers in the engineering trade is lack of labour. They want more skilled men. I am not going to throw any stones at the moulders or at their strike. We know that engineering has been hung up owing to the moulders' strike, but if we sit down and think we also know that there is any amount of room in the engineering industry for any number of unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled men, and those places would be filled, and with goodwill on the part of the unions will be filled, by partially disabled and discharged soldiers, who have done their bit to protect those trades.
973 Then there is the clock and watch trade. My Chief may think I am speaking from information obtained at the Ministry of Pensions, but I really am not, when I say that when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hodge), one of the most substantial and distinguished members of the Trade Union circle, was Minister of Pensions he endeavoured to persuade the Clock and Watchmaking Union and industry to take in disabled men who had still got the use of their hands and their brain, but who had suffered possibly by the loss of a leg or in some other way, to learn to be trained at the Government's expense, and then to become skilled repairers of clocks and watches. Before the War we bought hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of clocks and watches from foreign countries. Surely if that trade had only held out a friendly hand to partially disabled soldiers, with the help of the Government to train them, our position to-day would have been that we could compete with the foreigner in the manufacture of watches and clocks. In addition to that, if one takes a watch to a jeweller's to be repaired, one is lucky to get it back in three months. There are hundreds of ex-soldiers with neat lingers and brains who are longing to learn that trade, and, as I understand it, the Government is prepared to train them, and it only wants a little support from the unions and a little lead from the workmen in the trade and then we could get these men put into an industry which will bring to this country trade which has gone abroad before, and which will give them employment, so that while receiving their pensions in full they can add to their income in the interest of themselves and their kin.
I know the difficulties which the larger trade unions have. When the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hodge) was Minister of Pensions he made tremendous efforts to get some of the larger trade unions to adopt the ideas I am trying to put before you. I know actual cases where the Executive Committees of Trade Unions agreed to his proposals, but when they started to put them into practice the local branches refused to comply and turned down their Executive. Then I realise the difficulties of hon. Members opposite. They cannot force their views down right throughout their branches, but when hon. Members opposite are out for the nationalisation of coal mines or 974 any other of their great political propaganda they go into the country and preach it, and they take great care that not only they, but their friends throughout the country defend the principle which they really start. Cannot they do the same on this subject? If the Executive Committee of a trade union agrees that it is right and just to admit disabled and discharged soldiers to the benefits of that union and to training in the trade, so that they may earn a good living, I am sure the hon. Member (Mr. Sexton), who is a brother Irishman of mine, will agree with me that his Amendment blaming the employers is really burking the question. I am not blaming the trade unions in the least. The wording of the Motion may have given some little offence, but you have to word a Motion and put it on the Paper in a hurry. I am sure nothing my hon. and gallant Friend said has given offence to the trade unions. We are appealing to the trade unions to help ex-service men more than they have done in the past. Are the hon. Members (Mr. Sexton and Mr. T. Shaw) really going to say that employers have treated ex-service and disabled men badly?
§ Major HAMILTON
They responded to that very well indeed, and with a little more help from trade unions they will respond better. I can quote instance after instance where there have been strikes because employers have brought ex-service men and disabled men into their factories. Can the hon. Members (Mr. Sexton and Mr. Shaw) quote one instance where there has been a strike of workmen because an employer would not employ disabled men or ex-soldiers, or can they quote an instance where an employer had shut down his works—
§ Major HAMILTON
Perhaps the hon. Member will accept the challenge. I am sure Mr. Speaker will call on him later, and if he can give one instance—
§ Major HAMILTON
It is not proper to bet in the House of Commons. If it was, I think that is a statement on which I might make a fortune. We do not want to look at this question in the sort of feeling which has been expressed in the last half minute. This is really a great and serious question. I air appealing to the trade unions for good reeling. If I have said anything to offend my hon. Friend, I withdraw it. I honestly think that the employers are out to help the ex-Service men, and especially the disabled men. If not, and if there are bad employers, then it is up to the trades unions to expose these bad employers, and they will have the support of this House and of all the decent-thinking men and women in the country. The human sympathy which I feel is essential is this: Only by consultation and discussion on the spot can these difficulties be got over. If a branch of a trades union resents the employment of certain men in a certain factory, and if those men are disabled soldiers or ex-soldiers, surely with your influence in the branches you could get them to meet the men themselves, or to meet the ex-soldiers' organisation, if there is one in the town or village, and to hear their case; also to hear the employers' case and, after discussion, consultation, and goodwill, to arrive at a reasonable settlement of the difficulty and allow the soldiers to go on with a prospect of earning a good living in the future.
I feel quite honestly that the leaders of the trade unions have done their best, but it has not been a good enough best up to date. They have failed. The Government have done their best; their absolute best. They have poured out money. As an example of the difficulties, I may say that the Government is trying now to set up treatment and training centres for these disabled men, but owing to strikes, the moulders' strike, a little sectional strike amongst builders or carpenters, a sectional strike amongst slaters, or in some other trade, these institutions on which the Government under the authority of this House are pouring out money in the interests of the disabled men are held up. Cannot the leaders of trade unions say that these institutions are exactly on the same footing as hospitals? When there is a strike in the carrying trade or in the milk trade or any other trade, they always make an exception with regard to hospitals. Could you not 976 help our friends the disabled men by making the same exception in favour of these training and treatment centres. You are just as keen to-day, if one may judge from the hundreds of letters which we get from Labour Members at the Ministry—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
I would remind the hon. Member that it is advisable to address the Chair and not to address hon. Members by the term "You." That is a very valuable old rule of the House.
§ Major HAMILTON
I hope that in future the trades union leaders will realise that it is in the interests of ex-service men that these institutions which the Government are setting up should be allowed to be set up as quickly as possible, and that if there is a strike and certain machinery or a particular portion of building is wanted for these institutions an exception might be made in those cases. Like my hon. Friend who moved the Motion, I feel that this is not a question for rancour, heat or dispute. It is a question on which we are all agreed, but somehow or other there are 350,000 ex-soldiers out of work. Someone is to blame. Some people blame the Government, some people blame the trades unions, while other people blame the employers. If we all worked together; if we could only realise that it was these men who saved our country and made it possible for us to have this Debate or to have trade unions at all; if we realised that the Pre-war Practises Act was not intended to effect ex-soldiers, and especially disabled men; if we could get the right spirit into these things, not only in this House, but in the trades unions and amongst the working classes of the country; and if we could get the trades unions to agree that disabled men should be admitted on special terms to learn their work, and that other ex-soldiers who have done their bit should also be allowed to come in on exceptional terms, it would be an excellent thing. I would say to hon. Members opposite, "Make it easier for the Government to train these men. Persuade your local branches that there is plenty of room in your unions for the next twenty years for all skilled men and all hard-working men, who will work when they are at work." We are looking for men in the building trade, the engineering trade, and every other trade. 977 I hope we may get that spirit as a result of this Debate. Although the Motion may be worded in such a way as to give a little offence to some of my hon. Friends, the speech of the Mover and my own speech have not been intended to give any offence. We are pleading with you on behalf of your own brothers, the most gallant fellows in this country.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Major COHEN
I make no apology for taking up the time of the House for a few minutes on this subject. I very much regret the necessity for doing so. There are a good many ox-service men in this house, but this question affects more than ex-service men. It particularly effects the disabled men, the men who have been maimed in the service of their country, and for them, perhaps, I have a right to speak. I have not the eloquence of the hon. Member who has just sat down—he is an Irishman—but if my tongue is not as quick as his, I am sure that my heart is as full. There is very little doubt about the facts. Some of the stories may be more exaggerated than others. There is one particular case, of which I have no doubt we shall hear more later, of one hon. Member of this House who was fined for employing disabled men. Worse than that, he not only employed them, but he paid them more than is usual for the peculiar class of trade in which they were engaged. That, seemingly enhanced his offence. If this state of things were not an actual fact it would appear incredible. I think that W. S. Gilbert never imagined any thing so fantastic as this, that men who had been taking part in one of the greatest Wars in history, fighting for their country, should on their return home be debarred from earning their own living in their own country. I do not think that it is the fault of the Government. They have done all that is reasonably possible towards helping the discharged and disabled soldier, both by pension and training. I do not say that everyone is satisfied, or that the system is perfect, but I feel sure that any faults which there are are faults of detail and not of policy.
I know that it is not the fault of the actual members of the different trade unions. They were the men who largely made up the army. There is no class in this country, either rich or poor, brain worker or manual labourer, which 978 shirked its duty during the last five years. They all gave their utmost. It is inconceivable to me that any individual man would object to his pal, his brother, or his son—in a great number of cases these relationships must exist—obtaining employment. The bogy of unemployment must surely be a myth, for a great number of these soldiers would, in the ordinary course of events, without any war, have become trade unionists. In addition, there would be a great many more men, now lying on the fields of Flanders and France, who would have swollen the number. During the last five years all constructive work has been at a standstill. Therefore, it must logically follow now that there is considerably more work to be done by considerably fewer men. If it is not the fault of the individual, the blame must rest, I fear, on the Trade Union Council and the Committee. I do not envy them the burden of the responsibility which rests on their shoulders—that men who fought either for or with them are to be out of employment, not because there is no work, but because, owing to red tape and old-fashioned regulations, they are not permitted to work. The hon. Member for Belfast, in his speech the other night, said that, in his opinion, all soldiers after a war ought to be in prison—at any rate, they would not starve there. I flatter myself that I have a number of friends among the gentlemen on the Labour Benches—among whom I would like to name the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton)—and I would ask them to do all they can to plead with their friends outside this House to bring this sorry state of things to an end.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I make no complaint of the manner in which this resolution has been introduced. The temper was admirable, and the eloquent appeal made by the last speaker in my opinion was the most forceable of all. I approach this question from a standpoint entirely different from that of the mover and seconder. Every man on these Benches is just as anxious to assist disabled or discharged soldiers as any who have spoken or may speak in support of the Resolution. The mover and seconder are placing the whole of the burden in connection with this matter on the heads of the trades union. It is quite true that there are thousands of discharged 979 soldiers and disabled men out of employment to-day, but the hon. Members seem to forget the salient fact that these men are now seeking to enter industries to which they did not previously belong. The inference, therefore, is that these men who served their country did not belong to the organisation to which they are now seeking admittance. The hon. Members will remember when all of us, myself among the number, applauded the very generous response of the workers of this country when the call to the colours came. These men, who are now unemployed, were engaged in industries different from those which they are now seeking to enter. Otherwise there would be no necessity for the Government or anybody else to train them.
These men were patted on the back and eulogised by their employers, who said, "Good lad; your King and country need you. You are going to fight for that country," and I am glad they went. I am one of those who if I were young enough would have gone myself. "We will keep your jobs until you come back and we will look after your wives and children." Well, they came back and if their jobs are there for them, why do they want to take somebody else's job? The fact is that their jobs are not there for them. Many of these men have come back and have found women in their places, and the women are working at 50 per cent. less than the men got. Now why will not hon. Members recognise that if there are any sins at all some of the responsibility ought to rest upon the shoulders of the employers who promised to keep these men's jobs open and failed to keep their promise? I was told, and very pertinently told, in the outer Lobby the other night that that did not cover all the cases, and that there were thousands and thousands of men who were small business men and now had no occupation and no business. On account of the War they have come back, have found their businesses ruined and they have nowhere to go. All the more shame to a Government which allows that kind of thing to exist! I am not finding fault so much with the hon. Gentlemen who are anxious that the discharged soldier should get a job. As a matter of fact, I would do all I possibly could, either as a representative man or as an 980 individual, to assist them in carrying out their wishes. But this question is not confined to the discharged soldier alone or to the skilled trades. It affects every trade, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has told us.
The hon. and gallant Member below the Gangway opposite (Major Cohen) spoke of doing justice to everybody. I want him to do justice to everybody as well. Take our own case. It not only affects the engineering and the skilled trades, but it affects the so-called unskilled trades, which are not unskilled, but are as highly skilled as any trade in the country. Let me give the House an example of what I mean. I represent an organisation which, when the War broke out, in the Mersey district alone comprised 31,000 men. Out of that 31,000, 7,700 joined the colours, ranging from 18 years of age up to 41, the very cream of the physical workers at the docks. Other men came who were physically unfit to take their places. When the hon. Member opposite talks about increased production, let him not forget the fact that the depreciated physique affected not only the transport trade, but every other trade. It could not be expected to produce the same results as the efforts of the men who went a way, who were the very cream of the organisations to which they belonged. Let me also remind the hon. Gentleman, when he talks about the men who saved the country, that if it had not been for the trade unions the country would never have been saved. When the War was on the employers were patriots and we were all patriots. Now that the War is over, when dividends come in at the door, patriotism ought not to fly out of the window. What I complain of is not so much the speeches made by hon. Members, but the speech made by the Prime Minister on the first night of this Session in reply to the Leader of the Labour party. I will not say that an unfair advantage was taken of that occasion, but a very trieky debating advantage was taken of it. The Prime Minister said:I would point, out to the Leader of the Labour party that yon are the people who are responsible for this.I would remind the right hon. Gentleman and those who sit behind him that they must bear their share of the responsibility for the sin, if there is any sin to 981 answer for at all. Mention was made also last night of the building trade. It was stated that, previously to the War, there were 800,000 men engaged in that trade and that now there were only 600,000. What is the reason for that? Out of the mouths of hon. Gentlemen opposite shall they be convicted. An hon. Gentleman who spoke last night said that one of the reasons why building was not proceeding was the infamous crime of the Lloyd George Land Tax. How chickens come homo to roost! It is practically admitted that the builders of this country, owing to the Land Taxes and the increased cost of materials, absolutely refused to go on with building, the result of which is that the 200,000 men who are now missing from the building trade have drifted into other industries, where they are getting better wages than they were paid in their own, and in consequence the master-builders of the country refuse to go on with building. Last night, not for the first time, we had the phantom millions of bricks trotted out. Last year they were put at 5,000,000,000; last night they were put at 2,000,000,000. I do not know where the difference has gone, unless it be to build castles in the air to redeem the election pledges of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Mention was made of the fact that only so many bricks were handled by a bricklayer. I have a record, and can let the right hon. Gentleman see it if he wants to, of the particular relations between the building trade and the unemployment question. The building trade is the most highly organised trade in the country. They have national councils and also local councils which meet periodically. Since the creation of that federation of employers and workmen, I challenge hon. Gentlemen to search through its records and find one case where any complaint has been made of the lapse of any bricklayer.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
On a point of Order. Is not the hon. Member referring to yesterday's Debate and not to tonight's Debate?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
I think the hon. Member is rather going back upon yesterday's Debate. We must keep to the terms of the Notice of Motion to-night.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I was coming to the point, which was only to show that, when hon. Members speak of training men for 982 these particular industries, they do not seem to know the technique of the case at all. Take the building trade. What would you do there with the discharged soldier or the disabled soldier? A bricklayer is a very important man, but he is not the shadow of use unless he has a skilled labourer with him. The skilled labourer is the man upon whom the labourer depends. Where could you place a disabled or a discharged soldier in a building trade? [Laughter.] It is idle to laugh; where could you do it? Will any hon. Member get up and tell me—
§ Mr. A. HOPKINSON
I may tell the hon. Member that I employed soldiers, recently discharged from the Army in actually laying bricks.
§ Mr. SEXTON
Anyone can lay a brick, but how long will it lay there after he has laid it? We have heard a lot about what men can do and cannot do. But I want to say to hon. Gentlemen opposite, fancy putting a discharged soldier on a ladder with a hod!
§ Mr. SEXTON
I am sorry for the brick-layer, waiting for the bricks on top, that is all. I want to point out that right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite are making the biggest mistake of their lives when they do not see that, whatever sins of commission there may be on this side, there are bigger sins on the other side than those committed by the trade unions. These men want work; they want training in certain industries. In the early part of last Session we pointed out from these Benches continually that the wholesale methods of-the Government in breaking up and selling big War establishments at less than the cost of building was a mistake, and that these establishments should have been utilised for training men and producing things that the country wanted. For instance, we are short of rolling stock on the railways. It would not have taken much to convert these places into wagon shops or engineering shops. Why did not the Government utilise them to find employment for discharged soldiers?
We have going on now an inquiry with respect to the dockers' minimum of 16s. 983 a day, and I ask, why should we, who have a surplus of men in the transport trade, be expected further to congest the transport labour market by employing discharged soldiers, simply because they are discharged soldiers? [HON. MEMBERS: "Because they fought for you!"] We have had applications every day from societies of discharged soldiers for work at the docks, and to protect ourselves we have had to raise our entrance fee to almost a prohibitive price. We have more men than we want, and still they are coming down to the docks. Is this all the reward the Government are going to give to a man who has fought for his country—to let him drift down to the ranks of casual labour? There is no man who would do more than I to assist a discharged or disabled soldier. But let not the fault lie at our door. Take your own share of the fault, and yon will have enough to think about if you do.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
May I say a few words as one who is connected with an organisation of ex-service men numbering 750,000? I much regret that during the last half-hour our debate has drifted away from the high level with which it started, and has rather degenerated into incriminations between different sections of the House. What I had hoped for from this Debate, and what I still hope for, is some definite conclusion whereby the ex-service men can be benefited, and if blame is to be apportioned let us all take our share and put our shoulders to the wheel with a view of putting things right. I do not deny that some employers have not shouldered their part of the burden. Very likely a great number have not done so. Probably those were the employers who profiteered during the War and made large fortunes out of it. If any means could be devised by the Government by law to get at these men, I for one would cordially support them, and I believe the whole House would do so. You can deal with individuals, but it is not so easy to deal with vast bodies of organised Labour which have powerful representation in this House and which can, if they will, make things extremely difficult for the Government and for the country. Therefore, I would appeal to the good sense of organised Labour and for their kindly feeling, and not endeavour to threaten them in any way or suggest that the 984 Government should bring in penal clauses against them. May I, on behalf of those with whom I am associated, frankly say that we do appreciate the way in which we have been met by the vast majority of trade unions? I do not think the House realises how well most of the trade unions have behaved. As I have said that, I would say equally frankly that there are three large bodies of Labour which have not played the game to the ex-service man. Above all, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers have been, and actually are, hostile to the discharged men. The bricklayers and those engaged in the carpentering trade have been resisting the claims of the ex-service man, possibly because they did not see how to alter their rules. They have not been actively hostile.
The Amalgamated Society of Engineers, however, have, for some reason unknown to mc and unknown, I believe, to the majority of people in this country, done all they could from the beginning to prevent the ex-service man, because he is an ex-service man, from getting any employment in that trade. The Minister for Labour some time ago approached the employers and the trade union with a view of getting some plan agreed upon for the training of the disabled and discharged man, who, after all, is the person we ought to think about most, for the able man can shove his way through the crowd. I believe the Government modified their proposals more than once in order to meet the objections of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and they cut down their proposals to this: That they asked the Amalgamated Society of Engineers to take in 1,750 disabled men who have been trained, which is one-third of one per cent. of the total membership of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. What was the answer? The proposal was absolutely turned down. I believe the membership of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers is over 500,000. Can it be contended that that small number of 1,750 men would in any way injure the society? It was true that the society says it has 35,000 men not fully employed now, but surely 1,750 extra men would not hurt the society if it merely wished to do the right thing by the discharged men? The Government undertook that these 1,750 men were not to be employed as journeymen but almost exclusively in office work. 985 They also undertook to train nobody for that particular society unless he was unfit to return to his pre-War occupation. Was it worth the while of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers to return that answer to the Government? I cannot really think that the general body of members of that society hold that opinion, and I cannot help thinking that the executive of that society so arranged it. I would urge on the two or three unions concerned that they should have a secret ballot of the members of those unions which are now standing out to see what is the real opinion of their members. I am quite sure if they will go down to their members and ask them to do the right thing, which is, I am sure, what hon. Members opposite want, by the discharged men then I am certain their members would respond. If the trade unions will do that with the few outstanding I will personally, in my humble capacity, do all I can to support any measure the Government may bring in to compel the private employer who is not doing his duty to do so by force of law.
§ Mr. R. YOUNG
In rising to address the House on this very important question, I want to say that I personally felt very much the stirrings appeal made by the hon. Member below the Gangway, and in discussing the question I trust I shall say nothing that may be construed to indicate any lack of sympathy with the gallant and courageous men who went and fought our battles during the Great War. I personally feel that I am indebted to them, and I am sure that every right thinking working man in our country shares my view. But when we come to discuss a question of this character I find that very often those who criticise the action of Labour in connection with this seem to say to us, "You and you alone are responsible," forgetting all the time that the Government had the opportunity of doing a great deal to settle this question even prior to the Armistice. I am not going to blame the present Minister of Labour, because I do not think he was in office at the moment when a very responsible committee, in discussing the demobilisation of soldiers, made a very important recommendation, and one which I should have thought would have commended itself to the Government and to every employer of labour. Unfortunately that recommendation was 986 ignored, and why it was ignored I up to this time am at a loss to understand. That recommendation would have done much to have obviated the need for discussion in this House to-night. It was to the following effect:That any man who as in tile employment of a particular employer on the 4th of August, 1914, and remained in such employment until he joined the Army should upon his return have the right to be reinstated by his employer in his original grade at the current trade union rate of wages.If that had been acted upon it would have meant to many a returned soldier that he would have had no difficulty in securing a place on his return. There are those of us on this side of the House who have been endeavouring to do what we can for the returned soldier, and who have been continually met with the argument, "What is the good of you coming and asking us to do this for the man who does not belong to our trade, when there are men who do belong to our trade who are not being reinstated by their employers?" That being so, there is a certain amount of justification for the attitude adopted by some men in relation to this question. There is an old saying that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to me to say to the Labour party very often, "You are not privileged to live in a glass house, and, therefore, you must not throw stones." But when charges are being made against us in relation to any of these questions, we cannot but retort as to what is occurring in the country day after day in relation to these very same men and yet we find no protest from the opposite side of the House. I read in yesterday's paper that a soldier, thrown out of his house with his wife and seven children, appeared on the doorstep of the Prime Minister of this country. I have heard no protest against that kind of treatment. I read yesterday that a disabled soldier had been thrown out of his house to give to a man who, merely for the purpose of hunting, is to be established in that house in his place as groom to the Surrey Foxhounds. What has the Government done to safeguard men in that direction? Is it always labour, and labour only, that is at fault? In relation to the question of discharged men and the training of those men we are told by a prominent official of the District Building Trades Federation that a scheme for the training of disabled 987 soldiers in London, to which the Federation had agreed, was held up by the Treasury on financial grounds. Evidently, when it comes to a matter of money on the part of the Government or the Government's supporters, difficulties are placed in the way, and yet the hon. Gentlemen opposite tell us that the Government have poured out money on these plans. If they have, they have poured out very little in comparison with that which they have given to those who have given their money to the State during the War. If there be anything in favour of the men at all, it should be that the Government should be determined that, before those who merely gave money for the purpose of carrying on the War, the men who suffered and were prepared to suffer should first be regarded by them as deserving of support. Not only that, but in other directions we find there is an attack made on the trade unions. Hon. Gentlemen speak to us as if we belonged to trade unions and they did not. They belong to some of the strongest trade unions there are. I understand the Prime Minister is a member of the Law Society, and I believe the Minister of Health is a member of the British Medical Association. I want to know what those trade-unions are doing for the discharged or disabled soldier.
§ Mr. HOHLER
Is he aware that at the Bar and in the solicitors' profession we can exclude nobody if they pass examinations?
§ Mr. YOUNG
I am indebted to my hon. Friend for that admission. Their trade union is exactly in the same position as our trade union. No member is refused admission who is qualified to enter it, but there is this difference, that I believe it is a criminal offence on the part of the people on the side of the law and the British Medical Association if they break the rules of their trade unions. We are often told that this is a matter in which we as workmen should extend the heartiest sympathy to these men, and I undertake to say that we are prepared to extend, not only sympathy, but practical help, provided we can induce the Government to do the right thing in relation to the industrial problem in which they are concerned. This is not a matter merely for sentimental talk. This is a very 988 practical question. The unfortunate thing from my point of view in relation to the Government and to many employers is that they fail to appreciate the psychology of the working man. They evidently do not understand his difficulties. They tinker at reforms in connection with unemployment, but until you settle the question of unemployment all these cases of dilution must of necessity meet with hostility from the organised workers of the country. Until you do settle that question, all other problems that we are trying to solve will be futile in their effect, no matter what legislation is passed in connection with them. I know this matter has been before members of my organisation, and I know that that organisation voted against the Government's scheme. Personally I have no hesitation in saying that I regret that vote. Nevertheless, while I regret it, I recognise that there is some justification for it. The members of the organisation to which I belong, and which has been alluded to to-night, realise that by increasing the number of men in the trade they are at the same time increasing the number of those unemployed in the trade. It is not true to say that there is labour for engineers in this country with the facts before us that there are thousands of engineers at the present moment out of work.
§ Mr. YOUNG
I shall give the hon. and gallant Member the figures, so that there may be no dubiety as to the numbers. In December there were 18,968, in January there were 24,629, and in February there are 23,356. The greatest injury that you can do to any man is to train him for a trade in which there is every likelihood that he is not going to have permanent employment. We know perfectly well that if these men are increased in numbers at the present moment you are only asking that one man should stand aside for another man to take his place, and we have no guarantee, except in an instance here and there, that if we agreed even to that, a decent minimum trade union rate would be paid to the men and permanent employment guaranteed to them. The case would be entirely altered if the Government or hon. Members were in the position of saying, "You have no unemployment in your 989 trade. The men who have served their time, the men who have selected your industry, as one upon which they are going to maintain themselves through life, are all fully employed, and we want more men." Then I, personally, would say that you would be justified in assuming that these men should be introduced into a trade in which there is a scarcity of labour, but not until that time occurs should you do any such thing. We regard the trade as a whole. We know, I know, that nearly every returned man wants to be an engineer. Why on earth he should want to be an engineer I am not quite sure, but I do insist upon this—and I trust my right hon. Friend opposite will recognise it—that the difficulty which stands in the way of this proposal and of similar proposals in relation to dilution and increased production is the fear that he will only aggravate in a few short years the unfortunate position of many people in this country by making them unemployed. Rightly or wrongly, that is the view.
I am told by a prominent official in the bricklaying trade that in pre-war days they found themselves out of work, and they can see that in five or ten years the same thing will occur again. They add that they know that under proper organisation there are sufficient men, even in the building industry, to carry out the Government's programme. My right hon. Friend can settle all these questions by tackling the question which lies at the root of them all, that is, by creating a condition in industry in which every man out of employment through no fault of his own will have a sufficient wage for the purposes of life. Once you have established that, then all the other restrictions will be more or less unnecessary. There will be no necessity to limit apprenticeship, there will be no necessity to put an age for starting and finishing apprenticeship, there will be no necessity for debarring men coming into the trade at any particular moment, as long as everyone understands that though unemployed they are not going to be forced back into the position many occupied before the War. I trust that something will be done on behalf of the discharged and disabled soldiers. I hope that conferences will take place.
Why is it that the Government has not pursued the course in connection with this matter that it pursued during the 990 War? Whenever they were up against difficulties, they conferred again and again until an amicable settlement had been arrived at. The question of dilution during the War created great difficulty, but by conferences ultimate agreement was secured. The question of military service created great difficulty, but by consultation again, an amicable settlement was arrived at, and, in connection with industry itself, the industry of the country was nearly upset in relation to the Leaving Certificate; yet the Government again conferred, and, as a result, no appreciable dislocation of industry took place. I suggest, oven now, it is not too late for the Government to pursue that course which they followed during the War. I was pleased to hear the Minister of Health making an application to be heard before the Trades Union Congress. I trust he will be heard. We want to tell him our difficulties as well as to understand his difficulties. I say again in connection with this question, it is a matter for conference. It is a matter for securing some guarantee in relation to these men. It is a question of settling something definite in relation to wages in days to come. It is a question also for laying down some rules whereby unemployment will not have the baneful effects it had in days gone by. We of the Labour party have continually advocated the claims of working-men. We are continually advocating the claims of discharged and disabled soldiers, but we do not see that it is going to help the country by any means if those in the industry who are not fully employed are to say, "We must increase unemployment so that these men may work at our trade."
I agree with the hon. Gentleman who said the Government itself could have tackled this question by keeping some of the large factories under their own control, and giving the discharged and disabled man a chance under their protection, whereby he would not have been called upon to compete with his fellows under a capitalistic system. I have no hesitation in thinking that even those who are already inside the industry will, in a few short years, be told that, not being physically fit, they are not able to discharge their duty as working-men to their employers, and many of them will find themselves on 991 the street. I for one devoutly hope that that will not be the case. I for one will endeavour to the best of my ability to create that spirit which will help those men on every occasion, but, at the same time, I do say that I do not think it fair that we on this side should be called upon to make sacrifices which are not being made, as they ought to be made, by the Government acting for all. We on this side recognise that to those of our trade unions—men who depend on their bread and butter—it is a very grave question indeed, and if there is no guarantee that by the introduction of more men in their trade, of men coming in later in life than is usual, of men being paid less than the ordinary rate of wages, the ultimate result will be that the last state of the trade unionist and the working-man will be worse than that which existed before the War.
§ Commander Viscount CURZON
I rise to support the Motion, and I would like to make it quite clear that I do so entirely as an ex-service man myself. I served throughout the War from beginning to end, and I have got no interest whatever in any industrial concern throughout the country. Therefore I can speak with a certain amount of impartiality. I heard it stated by some hon. Members who sit on the Labour Benches that the employers are to be blamed for the state of affairs that exists to-day. In certain cases they may be to blame, and if blame could be proved I for one should be only too glad to see it. But we know there are cases, and we know in particular of one definite case of an employer, a Member of this House, whose case has been alluded to two or three times this evening. It is that case which I propose to deal with this evening. In 1917 the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), who is a large employer of labour, I believe, started a scheme for the employment of discharged and disabled men at his works. The scheme provided that when a disabled man had acquired such skill as would enable him to pass the Trade Union test, he would be given the Trade Union rate of wages, and it provided certain safeguards for the Trade Union. The first was that if it could be shown at any time that the employer was gaining anything by employing ex-soldiers on the lines laid down, he would at once agree to modify 992 the terms. The second safeguard was to provide against the danger of the training of an excessive number of ex-service men. This scheme was sent to the Trade Union. No reply whatever was received for some months from the Trade Union. Meanwhile this employer of labour started a profiteering scheme at his works, whereby he definitely limited himself to 75 per cent. of his pre-war profits, and agreed to share out the remainder amongst his men. The effect of this was that the employes at his works were drawing very nearly 30s. a week in profit above their wages. He also was paying a rate of wage above the Trade Union rate, and was employing his men for rather less time than the Trade Union required. Eventually in June—that is, six months after the scheme was sent to the Trade Union—he got a letter from the Joint Committee of Engineering and Kindred Trades, Ashton-under-Lyne, District. I believe this federation is composed of three unions—the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, the Steam Engine Makers and the United Machine Workers. In the course of the reply it says that the workmen are not to accept this schemeunless you are prepared to give an under-taking not to employ disabled sailors and soldiers who have not been in the trade before.[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] This had absolutely no effect upon the employer. He still continued to employ his men as before. He got a further letter from the Trade Union in September, and it said in conclusion:We only desire you to give an undertaking not to employ disabled sailors and soldiers who were not in the trade prior to the War.About this time, or soon after, I put a question to the Minister of Labour, and in the course of his reply he stated:That his Department had arranged a conference between the employer and workmen's representatives, but it has proved abortive, as the representatives of the trade unions insisted upon prosecuting the employer before the munitions tribunal.The hon. Member for Ogmore asked a supplementary question of the Government as to whether the hon. Gentleman would get into communication with the heads of the organisations in relation to the matter: and the reply was:My impression is that there would have been no difficulty locally at all. The difficulty 993 really arose with the executive from outside.10.0 P.M.
The further development of this case, I think, was that this well-known employer was arraigned before the munitions tribunal in due course and fined £5 for employing disabled soldiers and sailors. That decision is not understood amongst the dischared soldiers and sailors. I know something about what is thought of it in the Navy; and I have heard a good deal from those of my friends who are in the Army. What are discharged sailors and soldiers to think when they go seeking for employment and positively find that an employer who pays them above the trade union rate of wages, and employs them for rather less than the trade union hours, has had to appear before a court of law under this Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act for employing them? We have heard from hon. Members very often about the need of making this a land fit for heroes to live in: but I think that only heroes will be able to live in it under these conditions.
I heard the hon. Member for St. Helens, I, think it was, who said something about women being employed by employers. "Surely, if action like this can be taken against employers under the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act for employing men, some similar action can be taken against a man who employs women? I want to appeal to the hon. Gentlemen on my right—those who sit on the Labour Benches—really to symathetically consider this matter. I have read a speech from one of the hon. or right hon. Gentlemen, who sit on the Benches opposite, saying that Labour cannot govern. I am not one who believes that the heads of the trade unions, or any of the hon. or right hon. Gentlemen in this House, are responsible for the action that has been taken. But I do say that it is "up to them" to prove that they can govern. Let them prove it by exercising such pressure upon the trade unions as will prevent action like this being taken. I do most earnestly appeal to them to put forth their best efforts to help the men who have served their country during the War.
§ Mr. A. HOPKINSON
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that nobody in this House will pity me, because I do not think that is 994 necessary. Action was taken against me to prevent me employing disabled soldiers and sailors. I am doing so, and I initend to do so. The mere fact that one had to pay a fine of £5 was annoying at the moment, but it was amply met by the fact that I won! The next move remains now with the trade unions concerned. They could make a motion now, I understand from the lawyers, under this wonderful Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act and have that fine made a permanent daily fine of £5 for, I do not know how long—probably for the rest of my life. Let them I shall pay the £5 per day with the greatest goodwill in the world. They can then go to the Court, and—if it be the proper legal term—make a motion to get me committed for continuing my offence, in which case, I suppose, I go to gaol. We hear a great deal about the cost of living from the opposite side of the House, but it is not only Labour Members who find the cost of food a very serious matter indeed. If I am committed to gaol, at any rate I shall get the benefit of free rations and free lodgings.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
During the last portion of the War I was getting up at 5 o'clock in the morning to perform the operation usually known us "mucking out stables." There are two points I wish to put to the House. My action in this matter has been along the line of getting two different sets of people to see the results of action taken without due consideration. The two sets of people concerned are, first of all, the Government, and secondly, the trade unions. When last Session this Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act came before the House, I happened to be on the Committee which dealt with this question upstairs, and I endeavoured to get that Act amended in such a way that the Government would not be put in the absurd position they now find themselves in, of having passed an Act of Parliament which produces an obvious and clear injustice. The decision of the Court was perfectly correct, that I committed an offence under that Act, and I am going to continue to commit that offence.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I say this with all due diffidence and modesty, that we have a case here where the Government is put in an absurd position through their own action, by passing legislation without any proper consideration and placing this Act on the Statute Book—I ought not to say placing, but spilling this Act, because a sloppy thing like this Act cannot be placed anywhere, and it must be spilled. In Committee I did not bring up this particular question. I gave the Minister in charge of the Bill the opportunity of putting his foot in it, and he did so. I suggested if a law was made creating a new offence hitherto unknown to the law of this country, it was advisable that that law should define the offence. I am not a lawyer, but I understand that one of the first principles of legislation is that if you say that it is an offence for a man to do something, it is as well to say what that something is.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I make the Government a present of the situation I have created, and let them find a way out. As regards my hon. Friend opposite, I think he will bear me out when I say that, as long as I have been in the engineering industry, I have done everything that mortal man can do to help the trade union movement. Year after year I have forced up the rate of wages in my district; I have forced down the number of hours, I have encouraged the trade unions in every possible way, I have consulted them in every difficulty, and this is the result. This question of the employment of these disabled soldiers is not merely a matter of my sympathy with my own unfortunate comrades. It is part of something very much bigger, and this is what I want particularly to say to hon. Members on the Labour benches. To my mind, the future of industry in this country, and possibly throughout the world, must follow a certain course of evolution. The old system will not do any longer. Speaking as an employer and as one of a very large number of employers, we want to see it altered. I speak again with diffidence, but I think that the course of evolution of industry should be somewhat along these lines. First of all, we should introduce a method of sharing the profits of industry between those who work with their brains and 996 those who work with their hands. Secondly, the discipline of industry should be handed over to the men themselves in the industry. It is not right that any casual person for a salary should have the disciplining of grown men in industry. We have now reached a stage, in my own particular trade, at any rate, where the trade unions are perfectly capable of exercising trade discipline over themselves, possibly at first through their elected representatives, but finally the individual doing it for himself.
The next stage is to get over this haunting terror of unemployment and the haunting terror of old age in the workhouse. Hon. Members opposite are always saying that the Government must do this and do that. I believe, and, if they think it over carefully, I think that they will also believe, that the State has no right whatsoever to be generous. The State cannot be generous, because the money which it is doling out is the money of other people. It is right for the individual to be generous, but the State must be no more than just. Therefore, I say that these problems of old age and of unemployment are matters for the industries themselves and not for the State. The next stage in this evolution of industry must be the buying out of the private individual by the men concerned in the industry. Those surplus profits which they receive as their share should accumulate to a certain extent so that if they object to me as their employer they can get rid of me and run the show themselves. The danger of all this is in the turning of industry into guild socialism. If the interests of the employer and the interests of his working begin to coincide, then God help the consumer. The only way out of the difficulty is co-operative dealing with the customer. I contemplate therefore an evolution of that sort in the course of the next generation of industry, ending up in something like co-operative dealing to prevent the exploitation of the public and the general consumer by the trades concerned I think most Members opposite will agree with me on these points. Now comes the difficulty. I have talked this matter over with my shop stewards, with the men and with representatives of the trade union. Perhaps it is a matter of sentiment, but I say it is no use whatever any association of men getting together unless they admit they have some duties to other 997 people besides themselves. I introduced this system of employing disabled soldiers simply and entirely for that reason. I held it should be one of the conditions of their shaving the profits of my industry that they should admit that they have duties to those less fortunate than themselves. There was no man in my works who was not willing to admit that and who has not for the past two and a half years done everything possible to help these unfortunate men. But I was up against something, very different. I was up against a spirit that has entered into trades unionism, and which has grown worse perhaps since the war than ever before—a spirit of absolute selfishness, a spirit that suggests that the only people who matter are those in the society, and that they have nothing whatever to do with those outside. I have not appealed to the trade union on behalf of those men. I thank God they are in my guarding, and I will keep them there as long as my works run; these men will be there until they die, and I do not appeal to the trade union on their behalf.
But I do appeal to the trade union to reconsider their own position. I am a trade unionist to the backbone. I believe trades unionism is the most valuable educative influence the people of the country can possibly have, and I should be very sorry if any action of mine was to detract from that influence, or do anything to destroy the value of trades unionism. But the danger to trades unionism arises from its own purely selfish motives. I speak with all conviction and with some experience. At present, trades unionism is an absolute tragedy to anyone who takes an interest in it and who wishes to see it a success. Without faith, without hope and without charity it is going to its end, and we shall see the greatest of human tragedies arise if this goes on. The fact is, what trades unionists believe to be a sacred cause is now nothing but a senseless idol. They are realising that their own ignorance and their own selfishness have made it what it is to-day. To my mind, the trades unionism of to-day has no ideals. It simply has a desire to possess riches without duties, to have power without mercy. I speak not with any bitterness whatsoever, but in the hope that possibly these words of mine may be of use to hon. Members opposite, because I see the 998 tragedy of it all—the tragedy of a great and powerful assembly of men going downhill in the way that trades unionism is doing to-day. You cannot expect any society to flourish if its heart is of stone, and the heart of trades unionism to-day is absolutely a heart of stone It is the usual thing for political parties to talk about their ideals. The Labour party, perhaps more than any other, is prone to talk about its ideals. [An HON. MEMBER: "It cannot talk about dividends, at any rate."] I do not quite understand the object of that interruption, but it seems to me that the Labour party—that wonderful collection, that pathetic collection of contented hypocrites and broken-hearted saints—never had any ideals. It does not even know what an ideal is. If you ask the Laboiur party what is an ideal you will find they think it is something which renders a man comfortable, something that gives a man more Icisiure for self-indulgence, something to make him fat. That is their idea and ideal. Has it ever struck Members of the Labour party that ideals are thoughts which send men through pain and misery and weariness to death? They do not make men comfortable, and if your ideals are such that they make men comfortable the sooner you get rid of them the better.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir R. Horne)
I think the House will agree that the Debate is justified not merely by the importance of the subject, but also by the urgency and interest and the speeches which learned Friends delivered. I should like to join with the last speaker in proclaiming myself a supporter of trade unionism. Whatever comment I have to make upon individual trade unions or the returns of individual members of trade unions I am sure I shall not be regarded as a hostile critic of the great trade union organisations I have frequently, both inside and outside this House, avowed myself an ardent supporter of trade unionism. I agree that trade unionism was a great factor in our success in the War. It has also been a very steadying influence during the last twelve months of ferment and unrest in Labour circles. I have all my life regarded the trade unions not merely as a bulwark of the rights of the worker, but also as an essential element in the industrial progress of the nation. We see many times and lament the fact that trade 999 unions may fail to produce harmony or peace under particular conditions, but few of us realise the unhappy state to which this country would be reduced if we were deprived of the existence of these great organisations. There is one preliminary observation I should like to make. Many of the restrictions of which complaint is made have their origin in very bitter circumstances in the past, and to-day one must not blind oneself to the fact that some at least of the origin of the trouble of which many hon. Members have spoken has been due to the fear of unemployment, which carries in the minds of many workmen very poignant feelings.
hope in what I have to say I shall make proper allowance for the ideas to which I have just given expression. I should like to express my gratitude to a very large number of trade unions for the help which they have given me in instituting the systems of industrial training which are now in vogue. Something like 70 trade unions have taken an active and zealous part in this great object. We have had months of deliberations and discussions as to the particular training schemes to be set up. They were all of vital importance to the men who were being trained and others in the occupations for which they were being trained. The schemes which have been instituted do a great deal of credit to the men who applied their brains to working them out. When I have said that, I must refer to two notable exceptions in connection with this matter. The sheet metal workers have absolutely refused to have anything to do with assisting our training schemes, and the great society for which the hon. Member for the Newton Division (Mr. Young) speaks, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, has rejected the idea of helping in the training of disabled men. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] It is true that the executive of the society not only gave us every support, but helped us to work up a training scheme, so that no blame whatsoever lies with them. In particular we have had a great deal of assistance from my hon. Friend (Mr. Young), but the fact remains that the recommendation of the executive was rejected in a ballot by the members of the union. I have the greatest possible hope that the decision will not stand. Time is passing, and a 1000 quarter of the men who to-day are waiting for training, are asking for training in the engineering trades. Accordingly, one would desire that the change of mind should come quickly. I would ask hon. Members opposite to use the great influence which they possess to try to create conversion in the minds of the members of that great society. I am sure that can be done, and I hope that in the immediate future it will be achieved.
I have been talking about training. I propose now to turn to the question of employment. Here also the disabled men have received sympathetic treatment from the great bulk of the trade unions of this country; but, again, there are lamentable exceptions. There is the instance which occurred in the works of the hon. Member for Mossley. One has to think differently about the case of the disabled man from the case of the fit man. The disabled man's chance of get ting employment is very much less than that of the fit man. He has a far greater struggle in the labour market. There is another element one ought to keep in mind. He has not the amenities of life that the fit man enjoys. Often he is struggling about on crutches, or an empty sleeve hangs from his shoulder. We all owe the utmost of our sympathy to these cases. My hon. Friend has referred to the Pre-War Practices Act in somewhat severe language I do not profess tonight that I am going to cry over a spilt Statute, as he described it, any more than I would over spilt milk; but I am inclined to think that if he had managed his case a little better it is not impossible that he might have brought about a different result. The fact remains that the United Machine Workers' Union thought their case a fit one to be brought under the Act. I think that, of all cases, was one to which they might have turned a blind eye. Hire were two disabled soldiers with an opportunity for work. One of them had lost both legs and the other had been wounded. Each of them was enabled by the offer of this employment to earn over 77s. a week, and they had the added interest in life due to employment, which means a great deal to a man who has suffered from the shock of wounds. The Act was never intended to apply to such cases.
Hon. and right hon. Members who spoke from these benches indicated in their 1001 speeches what one would have readily believed, that it was the fulfilment of the pledge of the Government they desired, not that they meant to put into rigid operation every line and comma of the Statute. In particular, I remember an eloquent passage in the speech of the hon. Member for Leith, in which he expressed the, hope that when this Bill became law both employers and the skilled workmen and the representatives of semi-skilled workmen's organisations and the distinct trade union women's organisations might meet and endeavour to mitigate any particular asperities and hardships against the general workers that might be contained in the Bill. If you are to mitigate asperities in the case of the general workers how much more necessary was it to mitigate them in the case of the disabled men. That unfortunate case stands, but I hope that its example will be a deterrent to any similar operation under the Statute. The dread of unemployment after all cannot affect that particular question. There is a very small number of disabled men who are able to compete in the labour market for their jobs with the ordinary fit men. It is cruel to rob them of the free opportunities of employment in such circumstances as we have heard to-night. I turn for a moment to the case of employment for fit men. There is exhibited in this country to-day one of the most startling contrasts which anyone could have conceived. You have got now 400,000 ex-service men with no work. You have got a trade in which you cannot find a sufficient number of men to manage. Reference has been made to the building trade to-night already. I would like, if I may, to develop the argument a little. The shortage in the personnel in the building trade to-day, as compared with the pre-war period, is 200,000 men. The country is crying out for houses—
§ Sir R. HORNE
You may find a few sporadic cases of unemployment, but you could shift these persons to another district in which there is employment, but for the lack of housing for them. There is no unemployment in the building trade to-day in the ordinary sense of the term. There is employment, not only for everybody 1002 in the trade, but for hundreds of thousands of other men if they could be got. Even with the large complement of men who were in the building trade before the War you could not build more than 100,000 cottages in a year. To-day tenders are already accepted for 107,000 cottages this year, and the programme of the Government is to build 200,000 cottages. You not only require all the men you had before; you require a great many more. You have the opportunity to give these men work. The hon. Member for St. Helen's asked how we were going to create a skilled builder out of an unskilled man. The process has been proved to be perfectly easy. The hon. Member for Mossloy gave an experience within his own works. Let me give an experience out of my own training branch. We have men laying bricks to-day who have had the ordinary six months' training which we were able to give them, and we intend to turn out a great many more. It is idle to say that the builders of this country cannot train men in a short time to do a great deal of the work which is done in the building trade. The proposition is really much simpler than that. All you have to do is to grade up the skilled labourer, whom you will rapidly make a skilled workman, and the unskilled labourer will make a skilled labourer. When you shift up the grades in the way I have described, you open up illimitable opportunities for work to all kinds of people. There are all the men wanted to make the necessary roads and the men who will lay the drains. In addition, you open a vista of employment to all those who make the equipments which are required in all our houses. There is an opportunity which exists for us to-day. My hon. and right hon. Friends opposite have fre quently come to this House and said, "Our people want work. They do not want doles." what is the use of saying "Give us work" if, at the same time, by a resolution of your union, you close the avenue to the work which is available?
§ Sir R. HORNE
The Bar Associations have given up their pre-War regulations in order to give discharged soldiers a 1003 chance. A remark was made to-night by the hon. Member for St. Helens about the use of Government workshops. That was the remedy he suggested. He said that we ought to have taken steps to provide work for the discharged soldier. If we do open out the Government workshops, are the trade unions going to recognise those men as part of their craft and, if they have to go for work from one district to another, are the trade unions going to accept the men who have been working in Government workshops if they are not men who were members of their union or were not apprenticed to men who were members of that union? Then the difficulty only arises again in another form. We have a practical test in this matter. At Horbury there was a firm of Charles Roberts and Co. who took on a certain number of men who were discharged soldiers, with the result that they produced a strike among their workmen The strike continued until the Ministry of Labour brought the two parties together. Then a concordat. was arrived at. In the meantime the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade unions Congress had been urging us to give work at Woolwich, and we started wagon building and locomotive work at Woolwich. When we were in the process of fixing the terms upon which the discharged soldiers should be allowed to work at Horbury, the Union of Wagon Builders inserted a clause—in the teeth of everything that has been said from the Benches opposite, and in direct violation of what had been proposed by the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Unions Congress—to wit, that they would not agree to allow these discharged men back to Horbury at all unless the Government stopped building wagons at Woolwich. That is what you get when you attempt to apply, even in a small degree, this principle of the Government giving work: the jealousy of other parts of your trade union immediately rises against the project and your best efforts are defeated I hope that the ventilation of this question to-night will have good results. I am very confident that there is a chance of a new spirit being created and that those who are obstinate will, as the result of this Debate, do their utmost in order that the duty of all of us may be performed towards those who have fought our battles 1004 with so much courage and with such indomitable endurance.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
I, like my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches, want to express my appreciation of the studied moderation of the mover and the seconder and of the two hon. and gallant Gentlemen who followed. I also want to express my personal appreciation of the exceedingly interesting story told by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) and for the little sermon so eloquently delivered on economics. May I turn to the question before the House? It is an expression of dissatisfaction with the action of some trade unions regarding discharged and disabled soldiers. I do not think there is a man on the Labour Benches who has not the highest possible regard for discharged and disabled soldiers. Personally I never pass a disabled man without an instinctive feeling that I would like to raise my hat to him. In my own trade I do not know of a single case, of the hundreds of thousands of men who went out, of a man who did not come back to his own job. I have been to firms myself and told the employer that unless the discharged man went back to his job every member of ours would cease work until the man was reinstated. In the whole of the cotton industry I do not know a single case of a returned soldier who has not been able to go back to the job he had left. Let me turn for a moment to the volumes of sympathy which have been expressed from the Government Benches for the disabled soldier, and let me say to the gentleman representing the Government that we have more than once pressed the Government to express practical sympathy with these men, and the dependants of those who have fallen, by giving them a bettor living than they at present have. The sympathy was missing then. It is here now. I suggest the best thing both sides can do is not to make a question of this kind a matter of political jobbery, but to treat the matter on a higher basis. That game can be played by two sides, and we can point to where the Government have refused thousands of men the treatment we think they ought to have, and have not had, in spite of the statement of the Prime Minister to which I shall refer. We have only had incidental cases mentioned of so-called tyranny of trade 1005 unions. The Prime Minister said in his speech that 350,000 men were available for the building trade, possessed of full skill to build houses required. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—shall I read what he said? It wasIt is not because the houses are not needed; it is not because these municipalities are not prepared to build them; it is because they cannot get workmen, and after an appeal made it has been decided that trade union regulations cannot be suspended. What is the result? Although there are 330,000 soldiers anxious to work, willing to work, skilled enough to work, needed by the nation, needed by the workmen who help to build, these regulations are standing in the way."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 10th Feb., 1920, Col. 34, Vol. 125.]With all due deference I must have absolute proof that there are 350,000 discharged soldiers waiting for work in the building trade. Statements are easily made but not quite so easily accepted, and I will accept that statement when I see the proof. Turn to another side of the picture. I am an old trade union worker. I know all the prejudices and the bitternesses of the past, and I know how little, and for good reason, the workman trusts the employers. I want to see that feeling disappear, but what has grown up in a half century cannot disappear in a night. Hon. Members opposite ought to consider carefully all the things that have gone on and have left their mark on the workman, so that they do not easily accept the word of their employer. They have big reason to know whenever an opportunity has presented itself, the employers in the past have never hesitated to take the fullest possible advantage of the weakness of the workmen. I know of this, and having during fifty years of work built up certain positions for themselves, do hon. Members wonder that they make mistakes by being afraid that those things they have worked for will be filched from them. We have heard a lot of talk about the union rules. I make a present to the Minister of Labour of the suggestion that he might carefully train a lot of demobilised officers for the legal and medical professions. I am extremely glad to hear from another right ban. Gentleman that that is coming on. It is one of the best pieces of news I have heard for a long time. Will hon. Members also remember that during the war perfectly definite pledges were made on behalf of the Government, so far as pre-war practices 1006 were concerned, that as a matter of absolute right the men could claim that this agreement could be kept to the absolute letter. They may be mistaken in the exercise of the right, but that that is their right is absolutely unquestioned. I have heard about the great feeling that exists amongst demobilised and disabled soldiers against the trade unions. My experience is, and it covers a fairly considerable part of industry, that the demobilised and disabled soldiers have not a grievance against the trade unions at all, and show it in a practical way every time that they get an opportunity of so doing. No, the disabled soldiers are perfectly well aware where their friends are. There may be a few cases in which trade unions have made mistakes, but, compared with the sins of the opponents of the trade unions, those sins of the trade unions are very small indeed. The Ministry of Health told us this week that there was a genuine shortage of a certain number of thousands of bricklayers. The Prime Minister told us that there were 350,000 men ready and willing to work in the building trade. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Perhaps my reading of the right hon. Gentleman's statement was not sufficiently distinct, and if hon. Members have any doubt about it I will read it again, and perhaps by the second or third time it might sink in. Anyhow, that is what the Prime Minister said. Is it really suggested that the bricklayers are deliberately keeping 35,000 ex-service men, who could lay bricks, out of work? If that is not suggested, what do the two statements mean, and if it be true, why not give the House an opportunity of knowing the absolute truth without making statements and giving no proof in support of them?
I deny that it is the case that the Bricklayers' Union is keeping 35,000 ex-Service men out of work, and I leave the Members of the Government to prove the assertion. The trade unions have done invaluable service during the War, and if they have made in some cases a few trifling mistakes since the War, it is highly inadvisable that a Motion like this should be presented to the House, much less passed. It cannot in any possible way improve matters. It will make feeling more acute and it will destroy" the very object of mover and seconder. In fact, it is more likely to destroy that object than to help them. There may 1007 be a possibility, by careful and consistent action on the part of the House who may believe the trade unions are wrong— [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!" and interruption.]
§ Mr. SHAW
The feeling in this country is serious enough without introducing matters which will make conditions worse. There are amongst the trade union movement hundreds of thousands of men whose sole anxiety from day to day is to prevent developments which will be serious to the country. Are hon. Members thinking that anything they will do to kill that work will not result in the contrary? I appeal to hon. Members to believe that we on these benches love to see the country thriving and prosperous in every way, and that industries are made as efficient as they can possibly be made, and not to introduce matters like these which cannot do any good and may do irremediable harm. If there is a complaint to make, let the Minister of Labour appeal to the trade unions.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]—Hon. Members may cry "Divide," but I hope they will give me, at any rate, the courtesy which I have tried to extend to other hon. Members. This is not a question to be trifled with in this way. The statement of the representative of the Government has been made, and our statement in reply has