A tribute to the life
and legacy of

A. E. Clarkson

Peace In Industry -
Bridging No Man's Land

Appeal by Mr. A. E. Clarkson

In a recent address to members of Rotary Club of Adelaide Mr. A. E. Clarkson (retiring president) touched on the existing industrial situation.
Asked to-day to expand his ideas on this subject, he said: –
“Rotary has taken on a serious task. It is more than a luncheon club. Week by week about 80 men gather for fellowship and conference. They are all prominent in their profession or craft. They possess gifts of leadership and organisation, so that we have a right to expect some practical outcome from our luncheon hours.
“Our slogan is ‘Service before self.’ But how do we propose to translate that sentiment into commercial currency? We do not want any flag waving or catch cries! We have something to fight for mentally-something different from and better than the innumerable well-intentioned paths that lead to the present hell of industrial chaos.
“How are we to carry the spirit of Rotary into our business and professions?

“One cynical friend described a Rotarian as ‘a very upright man who rotates on his own axis. But are we content to rotate on our own axis? Cannot we make a great adventure for Rotary?
“Rotary challenges us to high ethical standards. Are we simply to applaud the ideals we are afraid to practice?

“I believe that as Rotary grows in strength it should be prepared to face the present industrial chaos. Rotary is not a political body. It would be fatal to introduce the rancour and bitterness of party into our meetings, but surely Rotary has some message for the present situation.

“Recently the Prime Minister called a ‘peace conference.’ No one in Australia was more sincere in the desire to bring about industrial peace than he, but because he was the leader of a great political party he was ‘taboo’ and the opposing party would have nothing to do with it.

Believer in Unionism

“I have been invited to many roundtable conferences to discuss industrial questions, but after the first meeting or two both sides grew suspicious of the intentions of the other, and the conferences were futile. I am a believer in unionism. It is the only way labour can make its ideas articulate and command respect for its demands.
Today we as employers are reaping what past generations of employees have sown. The history of unionism shows that some of the finest men Australia has produced were at some time champions of the cause of Labour.

These stewards paid the price of their convictions, but they compelled both attention and respect. This great party grew as the years rolled on, and today to a great and powerful organisation.
“The Conciliation and Arbitration Art is a beautiful piece of legal machinery. It was designed to maintain industrial peace, but today it is the cause of most of our troubles. It has driven the industrial world into two armed camps with a No Man’s Land between.
“Is no one game to traverse this land? Must we forever remain in our trenches with occasional attack and counter-attack? Can Australian Rotary raise its voice and make some overture and bring about the conference which the Prime Minister desired to execute?
It is almost hopeless to expect much in this direction from politicians. They are not the men who framed the legislation. In the background there is another group which dominates and pulls the strings. I am not one to hold up the Parliamentarian to ridicule. I have a wholesome respect for the man who devotes his life and thought to politics, but the politician will tell you himself that the present institution in beyond control.
The Rotary Club should throw out a sympathetic overture to the other side.”

Inexperienced Men in Parliament

“Have you any political aspirations?” Mr. Clarkson was asked.
“No; none whatever.” He replied. “I have never been a strong party man. I have the sincerest respect for the two great political organisations, but the crack of the party whip today almost extinguishes independence of political thought and action.
“I am a believer in unionism,” Mr Clarkson said, “because I came from a working man’s home, and have an intimate acquaintance with the problems of the worker. My father had to maintain a family of eight on a worker’s wage, and there was always the ominous shadow of fear of want, unemployment, and old age. These spectres always cloud the horizon of the home of the worker, and are often the soil upon which strikes and revolution thrive.
“So, of course, I approve unionism.

How else can the worker command respect? But if in days gone by the employer was tyrannical, the swing of the pendulum has thrust the power into other hands. Have we changed the tyranny of the few into the despotism of the many? One of the catch-cries of the great Labour Party is ‘Death to war. No more shall our sons be conscripted to bloodshed and strife.’

Strong and Noble Leaders Wanted

“This is a noble sentiment. But we must beware lest in our eagerness to avoid conflict with a stronger nation we do not destroy our own kith and kin in ruthless class warfare. Yet to what lengths is unionism driving its followers today? The recent strike of cooks is an evidence of the hopelessness of unionism.
“I firmly believe that 90 per cent of the workers were against that strike, but because of the fetish of unionism the political leaders of the Labour Party were afraid to lift their voices in protest. I talked to many workers about strike and never met a supporter of it. Yet this mad hold-up of the commerce of a continent continued for weeks, because there was no man strong enough to get out of the morass of political stagnation.
“If a strong man had arisen and been brave enough to cross this No Man’s Land the mass of workers would have rushed to his support. I was tremendously impressed with the report in “The News” on Saturday of an interesting admission in the last issue of “The Waterside Worker,” the official journal of the Melbourne branch of the Waterside Workers’ Union.
“It said:–’After all, the strike weapon is a crude one. Co-operation and conciliation before conflict should be our motto.’
“Then we have the spectacle of Mr. Tom Walsh being expelled from the Seamen’s Union because of his proposed activities to promote peace in industry. One leading union official is reported to have said in support of the expulsion of Mr. Walsh ‘that if Mr. Walsh were engaged in the formation of a peace-in-industry union in Australia, the Seamen’s Union contended that the formation of such a body was diametrically opposed to the best interests of unionists in Australia.

Sinister Class Warfare

“So there we have it. The sinister thing is out in the open. The poisoner shows his hand, but will the rank and file of this great party be gulled with this sophistry. Class warfare is hell, and I hate it as I hate the devil. Why should my accident of position in commerce make me an enemy of my fellow worker? My sympathies are all with the workers; no silver spoon was put in my mouth; no worker ever toiled harder than I, but in the process of climbing I have not deadened my sympathies.
“There may be some quarrel with the rewards of toil. That is a matter for debate, but because by the turn of fortune’s wheel I find myself at the head of a large industrial concern, have I forfeited my right to the affection and respect of the worker?
Mr. Clarkson was asked his opinion on the effects of Arbitration Courts and awards. He replied:–
“In its original conception it as a perfect piece of industrial machinery, but it appears to have passed its usefulness. Today we find that the administration of the Conciliation and Arbitration Acts is directed to litigation and not toward conciliation and arbitration.
“This piece of machinery has driven employer and employee into opposing and hostile camps, and a few learned judges and an army of legal advisers have succeeded in keeping these two camps apart. These, together with the ‘Bolshevists’ of both groups are now in command of No Man’s Land. Who will be brave enough to cross this fire-swept territory?

Believer in the Worker

“Let me say that I believe the great mass of workers is sound at heart. The average worker is keener to resent an injury to his fellow-worker than to himself, and this virtue often leads to the ill-considered strike. The fear of the word ‘scab’—that catch-cry of the militant—keeps the honest unionist both loyal and silent, but for all that no one can silence his thinking. Who can make his thinking articulate?
“So, in spite of the failure of the Prime Minister, cannot someone continue the peace overtures? As the poet puts it:–

“Nation with nation, land with land, Unarmed shall live as comrades free;
In every heart and brain shall throb
The pulse of one fraternity.”

Mr. Clarkson admitted that Rotary was composed only of leaders in professions and commerce, and that the working man had no representation.
“But,” he added, “there is nothing in the constitution of Rotary to prevent this happy combination. Many thoughtful minds in Rotary are thinking along these lines, and we are hopeful that some suggestions can be made to bring about this desirable end.”.

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Monday 2 July 1928, page 8
National Library of Australia