[Editor: This article by W. Percy suggests that the Amalgamated Shearers’ Union should establish a strike fund, as well as implement a scheme to assist workers financially when they fall ill or become incapacitated (this was in the days before the advent of sick leave, universal health care, and workers’ compensation laws). Published in The Shearers’ and General Laborers’ Record (Newport, Vic.), 15 March 1893.]
Questions of interest.
(By W. Percy.)
A strike fund.
“The best way to preserve peace is to be ready for war,” is an axiom which has been both enunciated and carried into practice by the wisest statesmen of all ages and all countries. It is certain that if an individual, a body of individuals, or a nation, is in a position to resist aggression, it is not likely to be either attacked or molested.
For some years past an idea has been floating in the minds of many that if a strike fund were established the probability of collisions between employers and employed would be lessened. At the present time the employers are well aware that if the workers strike, they will in a very short time run out of funds. The unions, other than those on strike, make levies, and subscriptions are collected, but experience has repeatedly shown that the amounts contributed in that way are not sufficient to maintain a strike for any great length of time.
The employers, knowing this, as a rule, decline to come to any terms, or to agree to any conference, and when the workers are completely at their mercy, through the aid of their staunch ally starvation, either impose their own conditions, which are generally harsher than before, or yielding with ill grace to the pressure of public opinion, agree to a so-called conference, which really means placing the workers’ representatives in the position of having to accept humiliating terms, or have themselves and their fellow workers stigmatised as unreasonable, designing schemers, who not only do not desire a reconciliation, but wish to prolong the disastrous struggle. The workers, too, who may be suffering the direst privation, are cynically stigmatised as men who do not want to work, but prefer to idly loaf about, as long as they can extract funds from the other unions or the general public.
It is time to change all this. The workers have hitherto been fighting losing battles, simply because they have been impoverished with the sinews of war. These sinews must be furnished. And they can be furnished, and very simply too. Further, by furnishing them ourselves we shall acquire a spirit of self-reliance, which will be advantageous to our cause, and compel respectful observance of our rights, not only by the employers but the public generally.
The proposal I submit is to raise £25,000 or £500,000 as a strike fund — a fund to be held in reserve and operated upon only in cases of strikes authorised by the General Executive. Raising £25,000 would necessitate a levy of say £1 per member; £500,000 of course a call of double that amount. I propose that this £25,000 or £500,000 be invested at a fair rate of interest. The interest upon these amounts would constantly augment the principal, and in the course of a few years, the A.S.U. would have a formidable backing of capital.
The possession of a large strike or reserve fund would add stability and influence to the A.S.U., and would enable it to occupy a practically impregnable position.
This matter, I think, should be referred to a ballot of the members in connection with the insurance proposal.
Life, accident, and sickness proposal.
Should members be favorable to establishing an Insurance Fund to provide for cases of death, accident or sickness among members, the greatest care should be taken to found it on a sound financial basis. It would be advisable to employ a professional actuary to draw up a plan for the practical working of such a fund, to fix the scale of premiums, and to elaborate the details.
There is practically no difficulty whatever in successfully managing such a fund to the great advantage both of individual members and the A.S.U. There is a large clientele ready to hand who only require to be assured of the soundness and practicability of the plan to at once become insurers.
Those who have not given the matter consideration will doubtless consider the idea chimerical, and it will receive the strongest opposition from those interested in existing insurance institutions.
The underlying principle of all insurance is simply a division or distribution of the risk. This principle can be applied to the A.S.U., with its numerous members, quite as readily and as profitably — if not more readily and more profitably — than by a company which has to canvass for clients at a very heavy percentage, and to maintain branches and agencies at considerable cost.
An outline of the plan proposed will be self-explanatory.
It may be mentioned, before going further, that many large shipowners and shipping companies do not insure in the insurance companies — and many do so only partially. The plan they adopt is to form an insurance fund of their own, which they set apart and invest in the same manner that the insurance companies do — thus providing for covering losses, and at the same time obtaining the profit from the money invested, in the same manner as an insurance company would have done. The plan adopted by these steamship companies might, with the modifications necessary to the different conditions, be followed by the A.S.U.
The New Zealand Government, it may be mentioned, undertakes the business of life insurance, and its operations in that direction have been attended with remarkable success, for more than twenty years.
The cost of management would be much less than in an insurance company carrying on business simply for the purpose of making dividends. The head office would only require a manager and a couple of clerks, while the various branch secretaries, with clerical assistance, could act as agents in the various localities. The insurance fund would not be established solely for the purpose of profit, and the cost of management being much less than of insurance companies, the annual premiums would, of course, be less in a corresponding degree.
A sick and accident fund could also be managed in connection with the life insurance business, and would be of great benefit to members. A committee should be appointed to inquire into the matter and report. That the project is quite feasible is easy of demonstration, and, in addition to the direct benefit to members, it would have the indirect effect of strengthening the Union, by more closely identifying the interests of the individual with the whole body. I suggest that a ballot should be taken on the subject.
The Shearers’ and General Laborers’ Record (Newport, Vic.), 15 March 1893, p. 1 (columns 6-7)
Note: William Percy was the secretary of the Cobar branch of the Amalgamated Shearers’ Union.
See: “Amalgamated Shearers’ Union: Cobar branch, No. 4” (advertisement), The Shearers’ and General Laborers’ Record (Newport, Vic.), 15 March 1893, p. 3 (column 7)
A.S.U. = Amalgamated Shearers’ Union
axiom = a proposition, principle or rule which is commonly accepted as true; a self-evident truth
chimerical = wildly fanciful; an unrealistic or illusory dream, hope, or vision; relating to a dream, hope, or vision that is extremely unlikely to ever become reality; a dream or plan which is virtually impossible to achieve, existing only as the product of a wild imagination or a fanciful hope
[Editor: Changed “necessitate levy of a say” to “necessitate a levy of say”.]
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]