§ It shall not be lawful for any society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, 1893 to 1913, or for any public utility company to make it a condition of employment or continuance in employment of any person that he shall or shall not be a member of a trade union.
§ In this Section the expression "public utility company" means any company carrying on any undertaking for the supply of gas, water, hydraulic power, or electricity, any dock or canal undertaking, or any tramway undertaking, including a light railway constructed wholly or mainly on a public road.—[Captain Cazalet.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Captain CAZALET
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
Clause 6 of this Bill refers to public and local authoritiees and makes it illegal for them to insist on their employés either being or not being members of a trade union. It might be argued that if this principle is right for public authorities it should logically be also applied to all employers. I realise the weight of the arguments, however, against making it applicable to all private employers, especially because of the difficulty of enforcing it. In this Clause, therefore, I desire only to make it apply to those societies and companies which either have some special exemption given by Parliament, or trade under some privilege granted by Parliament, and which have some specific duties and responsibilities towards the public. I am aware that within the last few weeks a decision has been taken in regard to the Co-operative 1510 Wholesale Societies in which they expressed their desire to join their fortunes to that of the Socialist party. I realise that it would be out of order on this occasion to offer any observations on that point. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not true!"] It is commonly believed that that is the case. I realise that it would be out of order to offer any observations upon it, and therefore I will not follow the red herring which has been drawn across my path.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
The hon. and gallant Member said that the Co-operative Wholesale Society had decided to join their fortunes with the Socialist party, and that statement is not true.
§ Captain CAZALET
I understand that the Co-operative Conference passed a resolution to that effect. I think this decision makes it all the more desirable that the Government should adopt this Clause, because, if and when hon. Members opposite sit on this side of the House and form a Government, surely the Co-operative Wholesale Society will—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—the Co-operative movement, if I may say so, will be a kind of glorified Government Department, and its employés will be the equivalent of civil servants. [Interruption.] In order to illustrate the hardship which can occur under the present law, I desire to tell the House of an instance which has taken place in my constituency during the past few weeks. Between the villages of Compton Bassett and Cherhill, the Co-operative Wholesale Society own an estate of some 5,000 acres, which they farm, and where they employ 169 agricultural labourers.
I desire to state the case as fairly as possible, and I admit at once that they pay their labourers a higher wage than is paid in the neighbouring districts. I admit that at once, but I think it has also to be borne in mind that this farm is not run on an economic basis, and that only the other activities and interests of the co-operative movement allow them to pay these additional wages. Some of these men have worked on this estate for 20 or 30 years. The other day they received notice to the effect that, unless they joined a trade union—the Agricultural Workers' Union—they would be dismissed from the service of the Co-operative 1511 Wholesale Society. As I have said, some of these men have worked 20 or 30 years on the estate—[An HON. MEMBER: "They ought to have joined before."]—and I should like to add that they are not, for the most part, Conservatives or supporters of mine. They do, however, very strongly object to being dictated to, and to being ordered to join a particular union, because, they disapprove both of its politics and of the policy which has been pursued in the past by that particular union, and, rightly or wrongly, they disapprove of the manner in which that union spends its funds. They therefore, signed unanimously a resolution, which was sent to the directors, asking that the matter might he reconsidered. A large number of them—in fact, I believe the majority—already belong to local Wiltshire organisations which give them many of the benefits which they might receive if they belonged to a trade union—
§ Captain CAZALET
No; I refer to sickness benefits, maternity benefit, and things of that kind. They might be willing to join a trade union such as the Co-operative Employés' Union, which, I believe, has been recently formed in the neighbourhood of Newcastle—I have a copy of its rules here, and I believe it has been registered with the Chief Registrar of Trade Unions. That organisation has all the ordinary rules and regulations which are common to trade unions, but it is not affiliated to the Trades Union Congress, and, therefore, membership of it does not satisfy the qualifications demanded by the directors of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. Hon. Members opposite may think it right and just that these men should belong to a trade union, because, as I know they will argue, it is only the work which has been done by the trade unions, in co-operation in many cases with the co-operative movement, which has given them the wages that they receive to-day. That may be a very just argument, but that is a totally different proposition from threatening these men with dismissal unless they join a particular union within 10 days.
1512 Coercion and compulsion of this kind are, surely, contrary to all the principles of co-operation. The co-operative movement is a vast organisation, which includes among its members and shareholders thousands who are Conservatives and Liberals, and it also includes many more thousands who desire to take no part in politics whatever, but who in the past have joined the co-operative movement, and who desire to continue in it, merely for the economic benefit which they receive through their association with it. We have but to look at the pages of the People's Year Book to see what immense benefits the co-operative movement has conferred on the people of this country. There may be sections of the community that are opposed to the competition of the cooperative movement, but no political party in this country has ever been opposed to the co-operative movement. In fact, it is with the consent of all parties that co-operative societies to-day are exempt in certain matters of Income Tax under Schedules C and D. As I have said, the co-operative movement is a national organisation, embracing manufacturing, wholesale and retail branches, and including millions of members who do not desire that through their membership they should be made to take part in party politics. Efficient management and good relationship between employers and employés have always been conspicuous in the development of the movement. These characteristics cannot continue, in my opinion, if political prejudice and political bias are to influence and control its decisions. Complete political impartiality is necessary for its success, as it is for the success of any company or society which stands in a privileged and national position. To quote a phrase used in a recent publication:Voluntary, free and independent should be the principles which underlie the co-operative movement.Free and independent should be members, both shareholders and employés, and, if coercion and compulsion in these matters are to take the place of freedom and independence, then, whatever the Socialist party may think it is going to gain in political or other directions from amalgamation with the co-operative movement, the co-operative 1513 movement will lose in material prosperity.
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
I beg to second the Motion.
My hon. and gallant Friend has been inspired to move this proposed new Clause by circumstances which have arisen in his own constituency. I desire to support it, as he does, of course, on general grounds. People who join trade unions should joint them of their own free will; there should be no coercion to force people to join, and, equally, there should be no coercion to prevent people from joining. If a movement has intrinsic merits, people will join that movement because it is worth while to join it, and there is no need for compultion behind a movement that is good. Equally, if people desire to join an organisation for their own self-protection, I do not think that employers should be in a position to prevent them from joining. Although, in practice it would be difficult, probably impossible, to make what is proposed in this Clause of general application, I certainly think it should apply to organizations that enjoy special privileges from Parliament. My hon. and gallant Friend has referred more particularly to the co-operative movement, but the Clause also refers to public utility companies. They enjoy certain privileges from Parliament. They work under certain, restrictions and they are semi-public in character, and for exactly the same reason that this principle should apply to municipalities I think it ought to be applied to the organisations mentioned in the Clause. I do not see any reason why the employers referred to, the co-operative societies, whether wholesale societies or any distributive societies which may attempt to apply the principle, should object if their power of coering their workpeople is in any way restricted.
There is nothing particularly magic about co-operation. It is only a form of capitalistic enterprise, though with a rather larger number of shareholders than is found in many public limited companies, and that its members regard it as a capitalist enterprise is quite obvious because there is a phrase in the co-operative movement, "no divi, no co-op." I merely mention that because there is rather a tendency, when the co-operative movement is referred to 1514 from this side, to regard it as something sacrosanct which must only be spoken of in hushed tones, whereas it is only a straightforward kind of business enterprise whereby people think they get certain benefits by trading in that way or buying their goods in that way. Whether they do or do not will vary according to circumstances. In some cases it is probably advantageous to trade with co-operative societies and in others it is not; but they enjoy certain special privileges from Parliament in the matter of taxation. Though the hon. Gentleman opposite who is one of their representatives in this House rather denies that, it is really the case, and if all trading was taken from private traders and transferred to the co-operators the Chancellor of the Exchequer would lose an immense amount of revenue and someone or other would be gaining, and however many arguments may be put forward with regard to the profit arising from mutual trade it is certainly regarded as of great advantage to them, otherwise they would not get so excited when any suggestion is made about modifying it. Here we have co-operative societies and other organisations occupying a peculiar position and enjoying peculiar privileges, and since they enjoy those things from Parliament, Parliament is entitled to say to them, "You shall not coerce your people one way or another," and for that reason I second the Clause.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
This matter has been before the public through the Press, so much during the last few weeks that I am not sorry the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) has seen fit to secure greater publicity by moving this Clause. I regret, however, that he seems to have changed his mind a little since he first made the announcement of what he intended to do in Committee on this Bill. In a speech he made on 9th May, he said no employer should have a right to say that an employé should or should not belong to a union, and he hoped during the Committee stage on the Trade Union Bill to move an Amendment to that effect. There is a curious difference between the Clause and the public announcement as to what he intended to do.
§ Captain CAZALET
If the hon. Gentleman refers to the Order Paper he will see 1515 that I gave notice of several Amendments carrying out fully what I said, but unfortunately, through no fault of my own, they were ruled out of Order.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The hon. and gallant Gentleman applied this restriction to all employers without any distinction at all and I think, if he refreshes his memory by a reference to the actual printed slip, he will agree. This Clause is directed against two forms of employers only, the industrial and provident societies, generally known, when speaking of them in a trading sense, as co-operative societies and public utility companies. We have heard very little argument about public utility companies, but we have heard a great deal about co-operative societies. We have heard also a very curious difference in the arguments used. The hon. and gallant Gentleman talked about what he regarded as an agreement made between the Co-operative Wholesale Society and the Labour party. There has been no such agreement. An agreement has been discussed at the Co-operative Congress at Cheltenham, but has not yet been submitted to or ratified by the annual conference of the Labour party. It was based not upon a request from the Labour party, as has been stated, but upon a request from the Co-operative party.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
Did not the inspiration come from Labour people who belong to co-operative societies?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Not at all. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to draw a connection between the discussions which have been going on of a political character with an actual case that arose in his constituency between the Co-operative Wholesale Society and the employés on their farm, but there is absolutely no connection at all between the political discussion in the co-operative movement and the actual relationship, as employer and employed,, between the Co-operative Wholesale Society and their farm workers. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is doubtful about that, he might refer to the advertisement of the Co-operative Wholesale Society in the "Times" to-day. He is such a frequent contributor to the "Times" and such an ardent reader of it that I should have imagined he would be fully informed on that point already.
1516 But there is another point. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) said that after all we are only an ordinary capitalist organisation, that we have probably a larger number of shareholders than other companies, but in all other respects we are just like a capitalist trading organisation. If that is so, why come to the House and ask for special Parliamentary powers against our organisation and against no other kind?
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
There are no special privileges conferred by Parliament upon this great, trading body of working-class consumers which are not equally conferred upon every other company which enjoys the protection of the Companies Act. The hon. Member says we have special privileges in relation to Income Tax. Never was there a greater mistake. We enjoy no special privilege. If the hon. Member wants confirmation of that, let him ask the Attorney-General to give the legal opinion of the Treasury. It has been stated with great orthodoxy and with great power many times in the last 12 months by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He might also refresh his memory by reference to the issue of frequent Treasury memoranda in which it says we as co-operators are not in any case exempt from Income Tax. The only difference is that we are not assessed at the source under Schedules C and D, because if it were so, the loss to the Treasury would be greater than the gain, and, apart from that variation in machinery, not a single privilege is conferred by the Provident Societies Acts or the Income Tax Act, 1918, upon co-operative societies. Therefore, if that be the only reason hon. Members bring forward this Motion to-day, they have built their case on a very insecure foundation. Whatever becomes of the actual principle involved in the Clause, it is suggested that it is iniquitous, very unfair and very wrong for a body like a co-operative society to say to its employés, "You must belong to a trade union." I am the last one to subscribe readily at any time to compulsion. I do not like compulsion; I never did. But we must have regard to the facts 1517 and to the growing needs of the industrial situation. There are one or two things which, I think, will illustrate my point. In the first place, the Co-operative Wholesale Society are acting upon the direct vote and mandate of their shareholders, and when the question was first brought up in the Co-operative Society's quarterly meeting of shareholders, the position was that there was a trade union of co-operative employés at that time not affiliated to the Trade Union Congress who held up the movement for conditions of wages and hours which were not applied to their outside competitors, and, out of self-protection, the shareholders of the Co-operative Wholesale Society required their directors to lay it down that their employés must belong to a trade union which was capable of affiliation to the Trade Union Congress, and that, therefore, there should be no unfair conditions applied to them by a specialised body against the co-operative movement which were not applied against other capitalist employers.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Was it that the Wholesale Society objected on the ground that they were demanding high wages?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am not to be drawn in that way at all. I will only say that if you were conducting a business you would know that you must have some regard to what were the general conditions obtaining in the general market. It was in order to protect themselves against specialised action that this line was taken. That resolution has been confirmed since from other motives, because trade unionists in the co-operative movement, have begun to see that there was not only a reason to take that, line in self-defence, but that there was sound logic for them as trade unionists to require that their employés should also be trade unionists. Let the House examine the case impartially. Here are two great movements, very largely composed of the same people. There are millions of trade unionists inside the co-operative movement as members of trade unions organised for defence against their employers, in order that they may conserve or improve their standards in relation to hours, wages and other conditions of employment. They organise the consumers in the co-operative movement in order that they may protect 1518 themselves against the forces of exploitation, and thus increase, as far as possible, the purchasing power of the wages they have been awarded. When they grow in their consuming organisation, they find themselves in the dual position not only of trade union employés fighting in a capitalised world, but in the position of employers.
We have now 200,000 employés in the co-operative movement. What does a trade unionist say in such a position? He is bound logically to say to himself, "If I in my union have set down a platform of conditions of hours and wages for which I shall fight in a capitalist system, I cannot logically adopt a lower standard for the employés who have to work for me in my capacity as employer." There is not a single craft union which will not admit at once that it gets the trade union platform as a mere matter of form at once from the co-operative movement. There have been disputes about the interpretation of platforms—disputes which have been very less frequent in the co-operative movement than outside it. When a trade unionist has fought to get these conditions from his employer, and when he also confers those conditions and privileges upon the employés of his own society in the capacity of employer, is it not logical that he should say to those people, "If we confer upon you these privileges for which we have fought, you must be a part and parcel of the organisation which has secured the adoption of that standard of conditions?" For that reason there is nothing at all illogical in the attitude which is taken up by the co-operative movement in this particular matter.
There is only one other point which I would like to make. If the Government were prepared, as they have been asked to do on more than one occasion from these benches, to withdraw this Bill at this moment, and really to confer with the trade union movement of this country as to the proper processes for conciliation, they might find a very good example in the events of the last 12 months in the co-operative movement. I have said that we have had our difficulties in regard to trade union relationships to the co-operative movement. Arising out of those troubles, we have found that the best way to deal with 1519 them is to get together, and, in the last 12 months, machinery has been set up under which a joint conciliation board, half provided by the Trade Union Congress and the other half by the co-operative movement, hear appeals in the case of all disputes. Already a number of cases, which formerly would have led to disputes, have been referred to that court—shall I say a court of arbitration, a conciliation board—and with very satisfactory results. If the Government really want to come to peace and conciliation in industry, I am firmly persuaded that if you would get your people into a trade union as a first step, and then agree to set up joint conciliation machinery, with the aid of the trade union movement, you would come much more rapidly to the spirit of peace and good will in industry than you will by imposing such a Measure as this.
We have nothing of which to be ashamed in the position co-operators have taken in this matter, and if I need any support for that, I will only add it is significant that although the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham has in the last two or three months made a strong point of the Wiltshire case, the whole co-operative movement—I am not speaking of the political section—has come down officially on the side of the trade unions in the fight against this Bill. It is all very well for hon. Members to smile, but if they had been present at Congress they might have seen the different aspects of the question. The co-operative movement is following on the lines of the Trade Union Congress in its fight against this Bill. If hon. Members really understood that, they would see how very strongly we are supported in our attitude in trying by the means we have adopted to secure a more uniform trade union position right through the movement.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) seems to have a happy knack of reinforcing the arguments made on the side opposite to him. I had sympathy with the case which the hon. and gallant Member who moved this Clause brought forward, and I am bound to say that that sympathy has not been lessened, but has been reinforced by the speech of the hon. Member for Hillsborough. 1520 Hon. Members opposite seem always to claim that they can administer to others particular treatment which they would be the first to execrate if it were administered by anybody else. What is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. Let me make my point quite clear. The hon. and gallant Member who moved this Clause brought forward the case of the co-operative societies who put pressure not only on their own employés to join a trade union, but who specified what trade union they would be at liberty to join, and what they would not. We have had no answer or explanation of any sort or kind from the hon. Member for Hillsborough, unless—
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I think the right hon. Gentleman could not have listened. I explained very carefully to the House that the object of the Resolution was to provide that they must belong to a union which was capable of affiliation to the Trade Union Congress. That is not laying down what union they should or should not join. There are many other unions which they could join, but the hon. and gallant. Member wants them to join a special co-operative employés' union which would seek to impose the very special conditions about which I spoke.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Can the hon. Gentleman explain in the case of these various union, which have been banned by the Co-operative Wholesale Society and ex-communicated, what are the reasons which caused them to be excommunicated; were they not properly acting for the rights of their members, or what was the reason? Or are we to have a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde business in which Dr. Jekyll says, 'The union which the member may join must be approved by Mr. Hyde,' and Mr. Hyde comes forward and says. "We will not allow affiliation to be given"? I wonder what hon. Members opposite would say to the one analogy which naturally occurs to anyone who thinks of the subject. Supposing the coalowners were to say, "We will not only encourage any person who works for us to join the union which is at present led by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer), but we will stipulate that he does so. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do not use that 1521 illustration," and "Why not?"] Can any hon. Member on the other side produce evidence that there has been a definite stipulation that any of the miners in the employ of the coal-owners should join the union of which the hon. Member for Broxtowe is an official—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!]—and should not be allowed to join any other union? If so, we shall be very glad to hear of it. What the hon. Member also said is illustrative from another point of view, because the argument he has used is different from, and largely incompatible with, the argument used against Clause 6.
In the very interesting speech of the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) against Clause 6, the reason he objected to Clause 6 was, he said, that if non-unionists were allowed in the employment of local authorities, their presence would tend to undermine the position of trade unionists, that they would take away the guarantee or the security that trade unionists might have for the rate of wages, and that, therefore, their presence ought not to be tolerated, because it constituted an element of weakness in the position of trade unionists in bargaining. That was the principal argument against Clause 6 of the Bill when it was discussed, and, by the hon. Member's own showing, it is completely incomparable with their arguments against this Clause. The bulk of the members of the Co-operative Wholesale Society are trade unionists, and, therefore, whether they give a little freedom or not to their own employés, it is quite clear that the rate of remuneration cannot be prejudiced one way or the other. The two arguments are incompatible. I am bound to say, that from that point of view what I have listened to makes me sympathise with the hon. Member who introduced this Clause. On the other hand, as was explained when this Bill was in Committee, there is a real difference between the public employer and the private employer.
The Co-operative Wholesale Society, the co-operative societies and the public utility societies are in the position of private employers, or, at the very least, in a position which is very much more analogous to that of private employers than that of the public authority which has been Publicly elected. The public authority has to observe a neutrality 1522 which is not necessary in the case of the private employer. Further, there is a special reason for the public employer which does not apply in the case of the private employer, and it is this. Where you have a public authority and where you have elections from time to time, if yon had a variation from the position of neutrality, you might have oscillations to and fro which would be both harmful and disastrous. But the same objection does not apply in the case of the societies we are considering now. As has been explained during the Committee stage of the Bill, the Government do not consider that the same objections apply from the point of view of the private employer and from the point of view of the public authority. Though much, as has been said, would naturally predispose one to sympathise with the point of view of the Member who brought forward this Clause, we do not wish to have the area of this Bill unduly extended, and, therefore, we must either ask the Proposer to withdraw the Motion, after he has had it considered, or, on the other hand, ask the House not to accept the Clause.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
The right hon. Gentleman has delivered us a lecture on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. All the time he was looking at us, but he was really talking to the hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side who supported the Motion for our benefit. He might just as well have got at it straight away and said, "The Government never intended to accept the Clause." They knew perfectly well that they were not going to accept it, and the Mover and Seconder knew perfectly well before they got up that they were not going to accept it. All this co-operative humbug is really camouflage. Therefore, I will answer the right hon. Gentleman about the coal-owners and the justice of this particular Clause. The Mover of the Clause showed his ignorance of the entire situation in the first five minutes of his speech. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman heard it, but what he said was this, "If any justification were needed for this Clause that I am now moving, it is the decision arrived at by the Co-operative Wholesale Society at their Cheltenham Conference." Is that correct?
§ Mr. THOMAS
That at least indicates that what he had in his mind, and what was confusing the whole issue, was that the decision at Cheltenham was a decision by the people who are affected by the Resolution. We had to correct him at once, by telling him that the Co-operative Wholesale Society, with which this deals, was an entirely different body. When I corrected him, he proceeded at once to say that the justification for this Clause was something that was happening in his own constituency. Let us examine the position. He frankly admitted that in his own constituency a number of men are enjoying superior economic conditions than those who are similarly employed by private employers.
§ Mr. THOMAS
He said that this condition, which is the improved status of labour in his own constituency, was brought about by the co-operative effort of the great mass of the working class. Yet admitting that, and that these people benefit to the extent of shillings per week and work many hours less per week, he immediately says that their objection is that they shall be compelled by the people who give them these favourable privileges to pay something towards the upkeep of the enjoyment of those privileges.
§ Captain CAZALET
I have no objection to them joining a trade union. I do not wish to put any objections in their way. I said I did not wish them to be forced into a trade union against their will.
§ Mr. THOMAS
That is to say, if they have no objection to enjoying those advantages you have enumerated. Not one of them objects to that. Not one of them says: "No; it is brought about by a trade union." [Interruption.] Here is the authority from Reading. If, admitting, first, that the great bulk of the members of the co-operative movement are themselves trade unionists and that by their co-operative effort they set an example to other employers, demand a high standard of conditions for their own employés, is it unfair that they themselves being the employers should take responsibility? Please let the House observe that it is not the director. It is not like the railway company. The railway director may take action and be 1524 responsible for it. A general manager can take action and be responsible for it. But everybody knows perfectly well in this particular case the great bulk of the membership—
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
Is it the case, that since the co-operators, who are largely trade unionists, provide subsidies to enable this farm to be carried on—and at a loss—they are entitled to coerce them into joining a union?
§ Mr. THOMAS
Now the hon. Gentleman has drawn a separate picture. I will tell you exactly what I mean. What I mean, and what I state truthfully, is that the great bulk of these people are themselves trade unionists. They themselves believe in trade union principles. They contribute towards making a profit. That is disputed, and surely as employers they are entitled to say, "We, as employers"—
§ Mr. THOMAS
The hon. Member says, "Is there any profit?" There is sufficient profit, to follow the words of the Mover of the Clause, to enable this society to pay higher wages and to enable its workers to work fewer hours than is the case with regard to all its competitors in the immediate vicinity. That is the case stated by the Mover. Surely if they are enjoying these conditions—
§ Mr. THOMAS
The hon. Gentleman says. "Even if run at a loss." We are dealing now with a concern that the Mover of the Clause says pays better wages out of their losses than all their competitors do out of their profits. But the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour asked the question directly, "Is there any employer that demands and makes it a condition that men should belong to a particular union?" I think that was the question?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I asked if there was any proof that the mine-owners made a direct stipulation that anybody should belong to the union of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer).
§ Mr. THOMAS
There are some Members behind me who will answer 1525 clearly and specifically that point, but here is a letter from the Notts and District Miners' Industrial Union:On behalf of the above union, I hereby appeal to you at once to join up. We are desirous that every man shall become a member willingly. You know its objects. You are reaping the benefits of the agreement it obtained. It is the only recognised union at the colliery. If your name is not entered in my book on Friday next, I shall have no option but to send your name into the office. On behalf of the local Committee, H. W. Cooper.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive my intervention, can he say that that letter from the local secretary is any proof that the employers compel the men to join that union? So far there is no proof whatever.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The right hon. Gentleman has asked the question, and I will answer it. During the first two days on the Second Reading Debate on this Bill, when the hon. Member who is the general secretary of this union spoke from below the Gangway, every speaker from the opposite side of the House and the papers outside drew attention to his speech as the justification for freedom in the trade union movement, freedom from the tyranny of the General Council, freedom from the Miners' Federation. That was the text. Here is an authoritative letter by a committee man, sent on behalf of the hon. Member's union, which says something more than any of us dare contemplate. Supposing I, on behalf of the National Union of Railwaymen, issued a notice and said, "If you do not join the National Union of Railwaymen I am going to send your name to the general manager." The answer to the Minister of Labour—and I had not seen this letter until this moment—is this: "Do not let him use the Member for Broxtowe any more, and do not let the Conservative party issue any more pamphlets to the effect that the Member for Broxtowe is the shining example of freedom from trade union tyranny."
I want to deal with another aspect that he put. Here is a new Clause before the House, and it is suggested we are only going to deal with a particular working-class organisation, namely, the Co-operative movement. They say, "We are going to make them do something that we cannot compel the ordinary 1526 employer do." The Minister of Labour challenged us on the question of coal-owners; but he knows perfectly well that there are a number of employers who may not specify a particular union to which their men shall not belong, but they make is a condition that the men shall belong to no union. Is it not as bad to compel a man to belong to one particular union as to compel him to belong to no union? The right hon. Gentleman, apparently, does not think so, but I think it is compulsion of the worst kind. The Government have intimated that they cannot accept the new Clause. I am surprised that the hon. Member should have moved the new Clause, because I always look upon him as a progressive hope. I happen to know the Wiltshire constituency that he represents, almost as well as he knows it himself, and I should not be surprised if when he goes to Wiltshire again he finds that someone has been pulling his leg in sending that letter. He must be thankful to the Government for saving him from embarrassment, and the Governmust must be thankful that, in asking him to withdraw his new Clause, it has given an opportunity to the Minister of Labour to give us an unnecessary lecture.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) stated very specifically that there was already an existing trade union in the co-operative movement, but it claimed special privileges which the society could not permit them to have He gave the best possible capitalistic argument against that union. That union is far too good for good trade unionists, according to his point of view. It wants something more from the co-operative movement than the other trade unions get, and so he will not have it Therefore, he says, "You must join a union which is connected with the Trade Union Congress. We cannot possibly have a privileged co-operative society union. It is far too much of a trade union for capitalists like Our-selves." That is his argument against this union When it comes to cash, he is in a quandary, for he has one foot in the capitalistic camp as a co-operator and another foot in the Socialist camp as a trade unionist. Therefore, we can expect a very lucid judgment from him. I will give his and his party's real reason for objecting to the Co-operative Workers' Union.
1527 I have here the rules of the Co-operative Society Trade Union. They are model rules. They provide that the union books have to be audited by a chartered or incorporated accountant. We do not find that in other trade union rules. That is a very desirable provision, because it shows that the members of the executive of that trade union are determined that the members shall be put into the same protected position as the shareholders in a limited company in regard to audit. There is another very important clause in the rules. I find that the objects of the union are to improve the conditions and protect the interests of its members, and to settle disputes between employers and employés in relation to conditions—
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The rules of the Co-operative Employés Union, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and they are printed by a co-operative printing society, so that everything is kept in the family. But here is the really ruling clause in the rules which is causing all the trouble. This is the murder and the murder will out. This co-operative union is to protect and to further the interests of the members in industrial life and to discourage all party, sectional and political interests. That is why it is objected to. It is because it cannot and will not subscribe to the Labour party's funds and objects that it is anathema. That is why the following letter has been sent from the Co-operative Wholesale Society to certain or its employés:It has been reported to us by the National Union of Agricultural Workers that you are not a member of a trades union, as requested in our notice of the 3rd March, 1925, of which we enclose copy. Please, therefore, let us know per return if this statement is correct, as although we have no wish to terminate your engagement with us, we shall be compelled to do so if you are not a member of a trades union before Saturday, 30th April, 1927. If you have joined any other trades union, please give the name of the union.What ate the facts about the Union of Agricultural Workers? In 1924 the income derived from members was £12,000 and the organisation expenses 1528 £14,000. What a union to join. In 1925, the position was a little better. The income was £13,978 and the expenses £13,831, so that there was a trifling balance. What has happened in the last few years I have not been able to ascertain. How can any hon. Member like the hon. Member for Hillsborough, a leading man in a very prosperous successful movement, which has done enormous good for the working classes, tell people to join a union like that, where all the money is consumed by officials? The members of that union are in a position to give the answer which was given to the question, "Why do the heathen rage?" "Because they do not get 10 per cent. of the money that is gathered." They get less than the heathen by joining a union like that. By paying their subscriptions they will only be providing funds for officials, and there will never be anything left for benefits. Cannot hon. Members opposite recommend something better than that? Cannot they recommend something solvent to join? Cannot they let people remain in the union for a few years longer, although that union does discourage all party, sectional and political interest? I know that it is an intolerable thing to hon. Members opposite that a working man should not contribute to the Labour party, which has managed in the last twelve months or so to bankrupt the trade anions of this country.
I have always been of opinion that it is illegal for co-operative societies to embark on political expenditure. If trade unions required a special Act, a fortiori co-operative societies require one to authorise them to dissipate their funds in that way. I have not been moved from that view by the statement that at Cheltenham recently the Co-operative Congress came to a foolish decision to do so. There is a co-operative society at Barrhead, and in 1918 a member got an injunction against that society subscribing, to political funds. The executive then called a meeting to alter their rules, is the terms of an opinion of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) and several other societies did the same, but the members turned up wholesale and voted these political proposals down. I know that a vast number of members 1529 of co-operative societies are opposed to being tied to the wheels of any party, and they are right in that attitude.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
Is that why Unionist headquarters are circulating leaflets to every society supporting candidates for election to management committees?
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
It was a wise thing to do, because it is in the interests of the co-operators that they should be protected from their political members, and that they should not be victimised by political co-operators who like Parliamentary life, but at the expense of the working classes. I formed the opinion in the particular case at Barrhead, and I am of the same opinion to-day, with regard to the co-operative movement, that it is illegal for co-operative societies under the law to spend their funds for political purposes, or to contribute to the Labour party. If the trade unions required an Act of Parliament in 1913 to give them political privileges, the co- operative societies also require an Act of Parliament to give them political rights, and I expect they will find them- selves in the Courts before very long, and a decision of the Courts will be given to that effect. Looking at the question from the political and party point of view, I think the resolution at Cheltenham will have a very far-reaching and beneficial effect on the fortunes of our party. To be able to tell a working woman that her dividends in future are going to help the Labour party is one of the finest pieces of propaganda that could be imagined. The Labour party has ruined the trade unions and it will ruin the co-operative societies, because there is no limit to the depths of their maws if they are not checked.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hillsborough with regard to the profits of the co-operative societies. I agree that the co-operative societies, theoretically, do not make profits. It was explained to me by a leading co-operator at Alexandria. I said to him, "What is your dividend but profit?" He replied, "It is not profit. Our dividend is the amount which we overcharge our customers." They are purely capitalistic institutions, and it is well that they should keep the moths out of the bee-hives, or, in other words, prevent the 1530 politicians in the co-operative movement from doing the same thing that they have done in the trade union movement. I hope to see the co-operative movement spread more and more, because the great trouble of present-day civilisation is that the producer at the one end is rooked by the big combines and the consumers at the other end is also rooked, and neither get justice. If we can bring the producer and consumer face to face, in co-operation, we shall have solved the great problem of civilisation, and that is what I hope to see the co-operative movement do. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh! "] Yes. I have been a member of a co-operatve society and I was exceedingly well served, and if I had a co-operative society in my own district I would join to-morrow.
The co-operative movement is a splendid movement. It does good work and contains a big hope for the working classes, but it is a purely capitalist institution, and exactly like a limited company. I do not admit that it has any privileges. You cannot say to the ordinary employer that he must make pro- or anti-trade union conditions, because he can get the better of that quite simply. Therefore, I am averse to depriving a capitalist institution like the co-operative society of the same freedom that we leave to ordinary employers; but I do say that they or any employer who do the like are acting tyrannically in what they have done recently that it is unjust, and that it would be far better that they should allow their employés to remain in their own beneficent union, a solvent union, even though that union does not believe in encouraging party, sectional and political interests.
§ Mr. KELLY
I desire to oppose this new Clause. It is an attack on the co-operative societies. It was good to hear the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) when paying a tribute to the co-operators, especially after the vicious attack he made on them in the earlier part of his speech. I wonder what offence the co-operative societies have committed that they have been singled out by the proposers of this new Clause for this treatment, when organisations on the employers' side have been left out entirely? It is not with any desire to give freedom to these societies; it is intended as a direct attack upon 1531 them, and the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment showed quite clearly that this is the desire, despite his lack of knowledge and utter ignorance of the co-operative and trade union movement. He has no regard for the co-operative movement and understands it less.
§ Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The next new Clause—(Non-recognition, of organisations of which established civil servants may not be members)—in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Mr. Gerald Hurst) and the hon. Member for Stoke Newington (Mr. G. Jones) is outside the scope of the Bill.