The Prestigious William Harold Hutt Award for Commentary on Industrial Relations is an occasional award for people who have made a significant contribution to the public debate on industrial relations, wage fixing and the trade union movement in Australia. This is the first occasion and the award is long overdue because there are many other worthy contenders for it.
This is an appropriate time for two reasons: First, contemplating the financial state of the nation, it is hard to find a more vital area for critical review than industrial relations (with productivity in mind). Second, the Royal Commission on the trade unions will bring to light a number of issues that Hutt illuminated with a mixture of historical, economic and political analysis.
Hutt famously wrote that most economists are forgotten when they die but he was forgotten while he was still alive. If the proceedings of the Royal Commission are covered adequately by the commentators and media, the matters that concerned Hutt in his long career will become daily talking points across the nation. His take on these issues should become familiar to all people who are seriously interested in wage fixing and industrial relations and the potential of the trade unions for good and ill. Ideas matter, and the time for W. H. Hutt’s ideas has come.
Congratulations to Gerard Henderson and Grace Collier!
For more on William Harold Hutt. Most of my essays on Hutt are now behind a paywall at Amazon books but there remains a deal of material including an extract from ne of his most important books, The Strike Threat System.
• “The strike-threat system is an intolerable abuse of economic freedom. The strike is a type of warfare under which privileged groups can gain at the expense of the unprivileged.”
• “I shall argue that while taxation can have limited effects in bringing about property and income transfers from rich to poor, the strike threat cannot. Forcing up the price of labor in different firms, occupations or industries does not effect an income redistribution from investors in general to workers in general.”
• “I must make it clear that I do not dismiss the more positive side of union functions. The union framework has become an indispensable part of the institutional apparatus of this age. But the private use of coercive power in determining the price of labor is not a necessary concomitant of unionism, although it is its overriding purpose at present.”
• “The strike-threat system must accept main responsibility for the political expediency of inflation in modern societies.”
• “I want the reader to consider whether the survival of the democratic system may not be dependent upon a general recognition of the illegitimacy of privately motivated coercion in all forms.”