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ONE-SIDED LEGISLATION. &.…

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ONE-SIDED LEGISLATION. &. 'I A singularly clumsy attempt was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday even- ing to obtain special, one-sided legislation on behalf of trade-unions. It was professed by the advocates of this policy that great con- fusion exists in the minds of the Judges as to the actual state of the law bearing upon trade- unions, but the debate in the House proved clearly that the confusion exists solely in the minds of the advocates of special legislation in the interests of this particular body of workmen. All the trouble arose over the notorious House of Lords decision in the Taff Vale case, which laid it down that a trade-union is liable to be sued for the illegal acts of its accredited officers. No very great hardship, surely, in this. It is on ly what all other bodies of men are subject to, and why trade-unions should expect to be placed on a different plane and to be allowed all the advantages or combination and! corporate existence without accepting the consequent responsibilities it is difficult to comprehend. Mr. Beaumont, who intro- duced the question, moved that legislation was necessary to prevent workmen from being placed by Judge-made law in a position inferior to that intended by Parliament in 1875." The hon. member contented himself with simply submitting that the Judges had not interpreted the law in the spirit in which Parliament intended, but the following speakers on the same side went much further. Mr. Bell, for instance, in a hectoring speech, declared that two millions of trade-unionists would not be satisfied to remain in their present position, and the employers would be responsible for any unwise opposition to the present demand." He further argued that if trade-unions were liable to be sued, they ought also to have the right to sue. All he professed to desire was absolute equality of treatment. The member for Derby, how- ever, was simply beating the wind by this sort of argument, for the right to sue has never been denied to trade-unions. He claimed that hitherto the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act and the common law afforded sufficient protection to employers and workmen, but he conveniently overlooked the fact that the individual officers of trade- unions who might be proceeded against would possibly turn out to lie: men of straw against whom redress in. a civil sense was impossible. In his catalogue of the grievances of trade- unions Mr. Bell was betrayed into a state- ment which brings himself and his cause into ridicule. He complained that, through the medium of the character system, employers constantly prevented workmen from getting employment from other firms. "He knew from experience that railway companies would not give work to any man until they had a reply from his former employer, and there was grave justification for the suspicion that, as the result of these investigations, men often failed to obtain employment." Mr- Bell must, indeed, have been hard driven for grievances, when he ventured to bring forward this common business principle as an indict- ment of railway companies. What have railway companies done that they should be compelled, at the bidding of a trade-union or any other body, to engage men without making enquiries as to their characters in the most natural quarter, namely their former employers? It is the employment of wild, reckless statements of that description that brings a cause into disrepute. Scarcely less unhappy was another supporter of the motion. .J. V .J..L I Sir Robert Reid, who in an unguarded moment, urged that the House of Lords had decided that a wrong committed in the course of a strike by an obscure person-one of many thousands of men—might result in thD taking of funds which had been dedicated to charitable purposes." Now, as the Attorney-General, in his reply clearly shewed, this statement was amazingly in- accurate. The House of Lords decided no such things as Sir Robert alleged. The decision was, not that any stray member of a trade-umion might, by his act, cause the union to be sued in the courts, but that the unions nnpst be held responsible for the act of its accredited officer or agent, just as any other body of men would be treated under the common law. The assertion that money intended for "charitable purposes," namely the relief of the widows and families of deceased members of the union, might be forfeited through the act of a member was equally misleading. If such an event happened, it would be the fault of the trade-unionists themselves and not of outsiders. So long ago as 1871 Sir Michael Hicks-Beach proposed that the trade- union benefit funds should be separated from the "fighting funds," but the then Home Secretary, Mr. Bruce, declared that no trade- union would accept such a condition. Mr. Broadhurst, on Wednesday, cordially applauded this interpretation of the spirit animating trade-unionists, and the Attorney- General thereupon asked in the name of com- monsense how any member could now manu- facture a grievance out of this, if that was the attitude of trade-unions themselves. It had occurred to him, as it might to many people, that it would be advantageous to keep the two funds separate, but if the trade- unionists deliberately elected to blend the funds, it was preposterous for them to say that it was a hardship for those funds to be made liable. The Attorney-General, through his trenchant reply to the advocates of the motion, pulverised their case. He shewed with great lucidity that all the House of Lords decision amounted to was that the ordinary law of the land applies to trade- unions, as to everyone else in this country- that a trade-union is liable to be sued for acts which are done by its ofifcers within the scope of their authority." Dispassionate on- lookers will cordially re-echo his emphatic pronouncement, that anyone should get up and gravely propose that a decision of that kind in the interests of any body or bodies, however respectable and useful, should be repealed by legislation was simply astound- ing." There is no other word that adequately describes the suggestion, and the only surprise is that the motion was not defeated by a larger majority than 29 votes.

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