My Union Right or Wrong.
A history of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900-1932
By Issy Wyner
The reformed union saw its first elected Secretary, Robert Wilson, obliged to tender his resignation on 24th April, 1900, some four months after its inauguration. He explained that the pressure of earning a living at Mort's Dock while endeavouring to attend to the demands of his secretarial position was too much. This pressure was highlighted by discussions at union meetings on how to ensure that the Secretary was not out-of-pocket from carrying out his duties, as instanced by the following Minute from the meeting on 13th March, 1900, in the copper plate handwriting of Robert Wilson,
Moved by Mr Creighton & seconded by Mr Morris that the Secretary receive the sum of two guineas per week & that he devote the whole of his time to the Union. Amendment, moved by Mr Toovey & sec. Mr Tarlington that the Secretary receive the sum of £3 per quarter. Further Amendment, moved by Mr Brennan & sec. by Mr Tate, that the Secretary of this Union receive the sum of ten shillings per week for one day's service a week to visit different shops & induce workmen to join this union. Further Amendment, moved by Mr Wood that the Secretary be paid at the rate of £2.14.2 per Quarter for every 100 members this was carried the other amendments being lost.
With the resignation of Wilson, Robert Mahony, the Assistant Secretary, was elected in his place. This was the essential decision which ensured the forward movement of the Union. Without Mahony, the Union would probably have floundered in the doldrums for a long time with less in the way of achievements and certainly without the democratic approach which it developed under Mahony's leadership. His remarkable natural abilities as an organiser, advocate and genuine representative and as a dedicated unionist, left no doubt as to the Union's course. He was the driving force and the members showed their appreciation from time to time in a number of ways.
In June, 1900, the secretary's salary was fixed at £12 per annum. Some months later, the matter was again raised when, on 5th October
A discussion here ensued about paying our Secretary a fixed salary & Mr Patterson gave notice of motion that we pay our Secretary £2.2.0 a week.
At the December 5th meeting, Patterson withdrew his notice of motion in favour of a motion by E.Creighton, which was carried
That the Secretary's salary shall be at the rate of £24 per annum
This was apparently regarded as some form of retainer to which time lost from work would be added. All the discussion on payments to the secretary in those early formative months was based on a possible weekly wage for a member working a full week of forty-eight hours, which was approximately £1.16.0, or six shillings per day, or for casual workers, nine pence per hour. The members, in meeting assembled, sought to establish a reasonable wage for the secretary which would also express their appreciation for the popular incumbent, Bob Mahony.
It is unknown whether Mahony was in constant employment at Mort's Dock, but from time to time, he reported to union meetings on having to obtain permission from his employer to take time off in order to attend to some Union matter. It appears that he had joined the Union in preference to continuing his apprenticeship as a boilermaker. The actual classification of painter and docker work which he performed is also unknown. Like the great majority of members of the Union, Mahony retained little in the way of documents, letters, photos, etc., to show something of his personal life and similarly, there is little in the way of personal records concerning his activity as a unionist or parliamentarian.
With his taking over of the secretary's position, Wilson's copper plate handwriting was replaced by the rougher handwriting of Mahony. While his minutes were at times ungrammatical, with many misspellings and lack of formation of sentences and punctuation, nevertheless Mahony's minutes were an excellent, meticulous record of proceedings including motions, discussion on motions, amendments, information on Rules, finances, admission of new members and financial standing of all members, reports on what was said at conferences with employers, judges, Government Ministers, etc.
By reason of his insistence on keeping the members fully informed on everything affecting them and the Union, by his also insisting on full consultation with and decision-making by the members in meeting assembled, he was a most popular, regularly elected secretary. He continued as Secretary of the Balmain-based union for many years, even after he was elected as Federal Secretary when similar unions in Victoria and Queensland took up his prompting and decided to join with New South Wales in forming the Federal Union in 1916. He retained his Federal position until his retirement in 1944, after which he still continued as a Member of the N.S.W. Upper House until his death, recording some 39 years in that arena.
He was born in Cork, Ireland, on 3rd October, 1872. As a young man, he was a foundation member of the first Labor Electoral League formed in Balmain in 1891 (the L.E.L.s being the forerunner of the Political Labor League which then became the A.L.P.). As a member of the Upper House he used it to great advantage in his work as a union official, including not accepting a full salary for his union work. However, he was, also, one of the few Labor men who stuck rigidly to his pledge to abolish the Upper House, consistently voting thus whenever the issue was raised.
Married on 17th July, 1893, his wife Margaret, bore eight children, of whom, at this date (1999), only Mrs. Nell Ellis is alive. One son, Harry, was killed in the First World War. Another son, Frederick, was Sergeant-at Arms at State Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney, for many years. These details, among others, were provided by one of his nine grandchildren, Jack Adams, son of Mahony's daughter, Mary. Jack Adams was for a time a Painter and Docker as was his father before him.
Bob Mahony's wife, Margaret, was given the honour of`opening the Union's headquarters. The invitation to her from the Union, on a decorated card, read:
TO MRS. MAHONY
The Union requests the pleasure of your presence at 3 p.m., Saturday, January 8th, 1916, at 36 Mort Street, Balmain, when you will be asked to officially unlock the door of their new hall.
The invitation carried the names of E.Talbot, President; G.McBeath; Treasurer; and F.H.E.Anning, Assistant Secretary. (see Photo)
Jack Adams, grandson of Mary and Bob, told the writer that Mrs. Mahony was given a gold key with which to open the building and the key had since gone astray.
The Hon. R.R. ("Reg") Downing, Labor leader in the Upper House, in moving on 22nd February, 1961, the condolences of the Upper House, on Mahony's death, referred to some of his other activities, such as Trustee of the Balmain Workingmen's Institute and his qualifications as an ambulance man under the St John's Ambulance Brigade for which he was presented with its medallion. Downing, also, made mention of Mahony's being a foundation member of the A.L.P.,
joining up at the inaugural meeting at Balmain in 1891. I think he was the last surviving foundation member. It is not generally known that Bob Mahony was president of the Labor League in Balmain on the night that the late William Morris Hughes joined the Labor Party. . . .
In 1954, when a group of 174 flats was built at Balmain by the New South Wales Housing Commission quite near to his home in Glassop Street, and a name was being sought for these dwellings, representations were made from many quarters for the building to be known as "Robert Mahony Place" --- a request which was gladly acceded to by the Government of the day. (see Photo)
But, apart from being a member of the Upper House for some 39 years, Whip for the Labor Members in that House, and Patron, President and Life Member of the Balmain Rugby League Club, his work with and for the Union was outstanding. As Downing pointed out
During his term as general secretary of the union, Mr. Mahony travelled extensively throughout Australia, obtaining awards and greatly-needed improved conditions for its members. We all lack an appreciation of the great work that was done by these men in the early days of arbitration.
What was most remarkable about Bob Mahony was the impression he left with many people, often referred to by members on both sides of the Upper House when joining in the condolences moved by the Labor Government under "Joe" Cahill as Premier. Thus, the State Hansard records
The Hon. T.Steele: . . . .I found him a man of forthright opinions and actions. Nevertheless, he was courteous and most co-operative. He was a person of outstanding character and his honesty and integrity were undoubted.
The Hon.P.R.Grace: . . . .For all his ruggedness and all his forthrightedness --- and he was a disciplinarian ---he was a kindly and gentle creature
The Hon. S.C.Williams: . . . . In the industrial sphere, as in other spheres, Bob Mahony had one aim and object --- the betterment of the underdog. His ambition always was to try to leave this world better than when he entered it and better than it was during his life.
In the Union's roneoed Branch Bulletin, the writer, as Editor, wrote, for the issue on 10th February, 1961, announcing Bob Mahony's death,
"His biography is a history of the Labor Party and of our Union."
One of Mahony's important early actions as Secretary of the Balmain union, was to propose that the name be changed from "Balmain Laborers' Union" to "Painters and Dockers Union", which was adopted in August 1901.
Bob Mahony carried out his duties as secretary with great drive and dedication. These duties were many and varied and onerous, including ensuring that his handwritten minutes of the fortnightly meetings of the Union were ready for reading out at each meeting; dealing with the constant problem of members being unfinancial (through illness, accident, lack of work or forgetfulness); prevailing on workers in many small yards to join the Union; seeking jobs for unemployed members; taking time off from work in order to represent the members in conferences with employers; attending funerals of members; and other Union needs. When taking time off from his job at Mort's Dock, any lost wages or out-of-pocket expenses were reimbursed by the Union.
Almost every Union meeting saw new members admitted, and, of course, the work load on him increased, as well as the Union's income from the threepence per week contributions.
Indicative of Mahony's principled approach to union affairs, was the outcome of his report of a successful deputation which he led to the Adelaide Steamship Company on the issue of applying award provisions. The Minutes for the meeting on 13th October, 1902, record
Moved Mr Liaubon & seconded by Mr H Reynolds that the members of the deputation receive the sum of one pound each for their services. The Secretary requested that he should be omitted from the vote on the grounds of he being a paid official of the Union. This was agreed upon.
His position as Secretary was not always plain sailing, however, as the following note in the Minutes for the meeting on 10th August, 1903, show that he
had some trouble with members coming to the Room & using abusive language to him & pointing out that one particular case had occurred that morning & having to protect himself, the member then summoned him for assault.
Whether the matter ever went to Court, was never recorded, but it is certain that Mahony's abilities as a union representative, advocate and adviser, was also supplemented by courage and some physical prowess for use when required.
Among matters demanding his attention was the anonymous attack on him and the Union in the Australian Star, during July 1906. In a letter signed simply "Mort's Dock", allegations were made concerning "the hardships we are under by being compelled to belong to a 'union by the Arbitration Act'. In a lengthy response, Mahony declared
However, if, as he alleges, there are 600 unfinancial members who object to the preference rule, why did they not vote against it? He knows as well as every other member of the union that that clause was carried unanimously at a special summons meeting of the union (as it has been on all occasions), and if he had any objections why did he not take a manly course and oppose it?..... I have no doubt that he ("Mort's Dock") belongs to a class that will take all the benefits that may be gained by unionists but are not prepared to pay for them.... [see Appendix 6(f)]
At the 3rd February, 1908, meeting, Bob Mahony initiated a move, adopted by the Union and later submitted to and adopted by the Labor Council for inclusion in the agenda of a forthcoming Congress of Unions
That a simple system of workmen's compensation be brought about without interfering with workmen's common law rights to sue under any other Act.
In reporting on the Congress, to a meeting on 26th April, 1909, Mahony explained that he was obliged to divide his attention between the Congress and the Union office. But this was not by way of complaint but simply as explanation for some small Union matter which could not be promptly attended to. His energy and stamina were undoubtedly tremendous and fully dedicated to the various tasks which the positions he held demanded.
He reported to the Union on the adoption by the Congress of a decision on workmen's compensation and, among a number of other issues dealt with, he laid emphasis on what he regarded as "the most important issue to come before the Congress", a scheme for federating labor, which, to him, meant that
for the first time in New South Wales the Trades Unions have declared for the full fruits of their labour for the workers. this is now laid down as the basic principle of the Federation of Labor.
This was basic to his thinking, to his actions and attitudes. He held to a militant line where workingmen's needs, aims and aspirations were raised. He was a "Labor man", schooled in the early outlook of Labor as the workingmen's party, an organisation formed to look after the workers' interests, and he would do nothing to harm those interests.
Among other matters, Mahony reported that he had been able to get the Congress to adopt a motion
that a clause be inserted in the Act compelling persons using launches or other vessels for carrying men to and from work to be certified as passenger carrying vessels.
This problem was to continue over many years, seeking safeguards against companies which persisted in overloading launches when transporting men around the harbour especially when other larger vessels created dangerous conditions by speeding or otherwise creating a wash likely to upset launches. The overcrowding was essentially to avoid having to use two launches or one launch making more than one trip to get men to their workplace on some ship.
Mahony tended to lean towards the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) particularly during the First World War and before that organisation disappeared after the War. Some of the leading members of the IWW joined the fledgling Communist party which, in turn, soon developed as a force hostile to the Labor Party. While Mahony remained steadfastly Labor, this did not deter him from association with radicals of various kinds. He remained militant on issues affecting the members of the Union, as well as on issues arising within the Labor Party, throughout his career. At the same time, he had learned over a long period of years to use the arbitration system to bring benefits to the members. This was evident in a remark to a member complaining about a wage rise which the member thought should be more. Mahony's view was "Better a penny rise in the hourly rate, than no rise at all". Put in another way, he considered compromise results preferable to losses if they were gained without strike or other costly action by the members but he never opposed strike action when the members so decided.
In 1910, Mahony was elected to the Executive of the Labor Council, which the Union's meeting on 15th August "considered as a compliment to the Union ". This became a further duty for Mahony to perform (attending weekly Council and Council Executive meetings.). Added to this was his appointment by the Industrial Registrar to the Ship Building (Port Jackson Painters and Dockers) Board, which he announced to a meeting. (Minutes, 9/12/1910.)
His activities and persistence, aimed at forming a Federated Union eventually bore fruit so that he was able to announce on 15th August, 1910, that
the Federation was now complete but it was necessary to carry a resolution changing the name to the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union of Australia, New South Wales Branch.
However, the federal body was not fully fledged until 1916.
At a meeting in 1911, the Branch President advised the meeting of an important function which he wished to perform,
to make a presentation on behalf of some of the members to the secretary for his services on the recent Wages Board and he therefore had much pleasure in handing the secretary a gold chain and a pipe and tobacco pouch.
The Secretary thanked the members.... but considered it was too much to ask them considering their average earnings and he deeply appreciated their kindness. (Minutes, 17/7/1911.)
In 1913, Mahony's work load must have taken its toll, when a meeting was advised of his having taken ill and carried a motion that the President
convey the sympathy of the members of the Union to Mr and Mrs Mahony and Family hoping our worthy Secretary will be speedily returned to health again. (Minutes, 22/9/1913.)
In 1915, Mahony was given two weeks annual leave and the assistant Secretary, F.Anning, was appointed to relieve him.
The Secretary thought Mr. Anning would have little difficulty to pick up the running and everything appeared to be going smoothly. he remarked that it was his first holiday in 14 years. during the whole of the period he had not been from his post except when forced there thro' ill health for a while...... he had been absent from 2 meetings only & curiously enough Mr. Anning had been assistant secretary on both occasions, once 13 years ago & again recently.
At this stage the President asked the Secretary to retire from the meeting. on his complying & in a few well-chosen words voiced the Union's sentiment as regards Mr. Mahony's ability & wholehearted efforts in the welfare of the Union & thought we should at this time show our appreciation in some tangible form suggesting that we vote him an honorarium of £3.0.0 for first week holiday and £3 for second do.
It was indicative of Mahony's whole attitude to the Union that, on the motion being carried and he invited back into the meeting and told of the decision he said while deeply appreciating and thanking members for voting him the honorarium he felt as a matter of principle he could not accept it. (Minutes, 25/1/1915.)
Attending conferences in Melbourne with employers, in attempts to gain improvements in the Award, a little light was shed on Mahony's stamina and dogged persistence in pressing the Union's claims. One of the Union's delegates, attending some of the conferences with Mahony, reported to a Branch meeting
that the Secretary was working till 2 or 3 a.m. every day trying to combat the efforts of the Commonwealth Government which was trying to get a constant rate of £3.3.0 per week but he was hopeful of success. (Minutes, 10/10/1918.)
In November, Mahony, having returned to Sydney, reported to a meeting on the outcome of Award hearings before Mr. Justice Higgins, which provided for an improved minimum rate of 1/8d. per hour, but also provided for a "constant", or "permanent hire" rate. A motion was unanimously adopted, expressing gratitude to Mahony for his work and achievements in the new Award. A month later, the Branch Management Committee submitted a recommendation to vote £30 to the Secretary for his work on the new Award and, steadfast to his principles
The Secretary stated that he considered if the Union had money to vote it should use it for the purpose of improving the conditions of the members or in organising work. He did not want the amount as the federation pays the expenses incurred according to Rule.
Despite his insistence, the meeting adopted the recommendation.
In 1920, Mahony became embroiled in an argument with "Jock" Garden, Secretary of the Labor Council. It appeared that during the Union's application to the Arbitration Court, for a change to its constitution, Mahony made the accusation that Garden was
working in conjunction with the steamship owners against the Union. A protest had been sent to the Labor Council and the case would be heard by the Council's Executive next Tuesday night. (Minutes, 13/9/1920)
Mahony reported on his attendance at the Labor Council's Executive meeting, but the Union's and the Council's minutes contain no information on what transpired there. The Union's Minutes simply record adoption of a motion
That this Union has the fullest confidence in the Secretary in the case against Mr. Garden, Secretary Labor Council. (Minutes, 11/10/1920)
The Union meeting on 12th September, 1921, congratulated Mahony on his appointment to the Legislative Council to which the Secretary suitably responded. This became another form of activity for the extremely active Bob Mahony. While generally regarded as no more than a "Club", it still required full attention to its activities and requirements, and he, always taking his tasks seriously, soon became the ALP's Whip, a position in which he was regarded as something of a martinet for ensuring that Labor members never missed a vote.
Despite his many and varied activities, Mahony continued to report regularly to the New South Wales Branch meetings on his Union work, including his trips to Melbourne, Newcastle and elsewhere. When not in Sydney, or when tied up in parliamentary matters, he reported in writing. His reports tended to deal with all Federation matters, so that the Branch had the constant benefit of knowledge of what was occurring wherever painters and dockers worked. The Branch meetings, therefore, were more like Federation meetings, and Mahony happily maintained this arrangement consistent with his belief that the members should be given the fullest knowledge and opportunities to make decisions on all matters affecting them, whether directly or indirectly. He still continued to hold both positions (Federal Secretary and Branch Secretary), with his main salary coming from the Branch, although this was soon to change.
Among the many issues which he confronted, was that with the Arbitration Court Judge, Sir John Quick. Unable to attend a Branch, he forwarded a typewritten report in which, inter alia, he stated
I am making arrangements to have a deputation with the Minister for the Navy, for the purpose of pointing out the Garden Island position to him.
Failing a settlement with him I have arranged that the attitude of the Judge in our case shall be discussed in Federal Parliament in as much as he went behind previous decisions of Presidents of the Court and furthermore he altered his proposed award on private suggestions made by certain respondents to which documents the Union had no access. (Minutes, 24/6/1922.)
Some years later, Mahony once more felt obliged to take issue with Quick when he reported to a meeting that
the judge was prepared to give the employers' representatives whatever was asked for by them and that Mr. Mahony was so incensed that he instructed Messrs. McDonald and Moloney to gather up their papers with the intention of leaving the Court. His Honour suggested that Mr. Mahony should take the risk that he could not settle everything.
Mr. Mahony then informed His Honour that he had stood for Industrial peace for some time and that he knew the Industry, this thing had been going on since July. His Honour stated that he would reserve the right to Mr. Mahony to apply again if any trouble or difficulty occurred. Mr. Mahony then said "We will find ourselves in this position, your Honour, that our men who are good workmen will be transferring their employment. Our Federal Executive feel that they cannot restrain the men if they know that they can get a higher rate from other employers than at Mort's Dock and Cockatoo".
Mr. Schwilk: The men are free agents
His Honour: As long as the men are not incited the Union is not responsible. (Minutes, 14/12/1925.)
[NOTE: As an interesting footnote to the brazen anti-union attitude of Sir John Quick, the Labor Daily, on 24th December, reported:
When the Legislative Council met yesterday.....Mr. Mahony, in the course of a personal explanation said he had received a letter from Sir John Quick relative to some remarks he had made in the Council. He Mr. Mahony had complained that Sir John Quick had asked a question of a person in the body of the Court during the hearing of a case.
Sir John pointed out in his letter that the Federal Arbitration Court was not bound by strict legal procedure. It had been nothing illegal or improper.
Mr. Mahony said he had not charged the judge with doing anything illegal, but with doing something irregular. In all probability the opinion the judge had gained made a serious difference to certain individuals in the industry.
The union had applied for a variation of award, and the opinion of the individual might have influenced the decision. It held that the judge should have obtained the information in a legal way. If arbitration was to be a success in Australia the judge should inform his mind in a proper direction, and the union must have an opportunity of cross-examining any person who was informing the judge's mind. He would leave the matter there.]
His report to a Special Meeting on 22nd December, 1925, on his difficulties with Quick, included reading from the transcript of the Court proceedings.
On 20th November, 1925, the Branch noted a further duty added to Mahony's already full calendar of activities, when the Acting Branch Secretary, Jack McDonald, moved a congratulatory motion on Mahony's appointment to the Parliament's Public Works Committee "over some of the older members of the Legislative Council". This Committee played an important part in the Parliament, being concerned with the Government's many and varied programmes to cater for the needs and requirements of the whole State, necessitating much travel around the State.
Taking over this Parliamentary position led to his eventual resignation as Branch Secretary of the Union. This did not occur until June 1925, when a meeting decided that the resignation be referred to the Management Committee "to see if arrangements could be made to retain Mr. Mahony's services" for the N.S.,W.Branch of the Union. This was indicative of his popularity and the members' concern over losing his undoubted ability to handle their affairs. So great was this concern that the Acting Branch Secretary, Jack McDonald, together with the Branch President, Charlie Weston, had written to Mahony "to see whether he would be prepared to accept the position of Industrial Officer of the Branch".
On reporting the offer, the Management Committee decided to recommend that the position of Industrial Officer be created at a salary of £250 per annum. This led to an important lesson being read to the Management Committee and the Union generally by Mahony. In a letter read to the meeting, he
thanked both officers and the Committee for their very kind offer but would like to point out that the first thing to be considered should be whether it is necessary to have such a position created, if so the position should be open to every member of the Union and nominations called for, therefore he would not agree to accept any position unless the Union as a whole agrees to it, and it is open to all members to stand. (Minutes, 10/8/1925.)
In the event, Mahony's democratic approach was adopted by the meeting and it was decided to create the position and call nominations for it. Two nominations were received on 7th September, 1925: R.Mahony and T.Sloan; the election was set down for a Stop Work Meeting to be held on 21st September. At this meeting, Mahony spoke on the position
In reference to the position of Industrial Officer, Mr. Mahony stated that he did not want the position as he considered he could deal with matters from a Federal standpoint. The Management Committee offered him the position some time ago, and he made a suggestion that should they decide that such a position was necessary nominations should be called. He understood that Mr. Sloan had been round addressing meetings on the question. He did not desire to contest the position with Mr. Sloan, but he was asked by certain members to allow his name to go to the ballot. He agreed to do so and stated he would immediately resign and ask the Union to leave the position stand over for twelve months, and in the intervening time the members could consider whether it was necessary to have such a position or not. (Minutes, 21/9/1925.)
A Returning Officer and four scrutineers were elected. In the ensuing ballot, Mahony was elected by 77 votes to 30, and
Mr. Mahony thanked the members for electing him to the position and tendered his resignation with the suggestion that it be accepted and that nominations be called this night twelve months.
From this point, arguments arose as to when the election twelve months later should be held. In the ensuing squabble, the position of Industrial Officer was not proceeded with.
Mahony's retirement as Branch Secretary also produced a decision to present him with an illuminated address with photos of Branch officials and to make him a Life Member. Thus, at a Special Stop Work Meeting , after Mahony had given a report on proceedings in the Court, including reading from the Court transcript,
the reading was delayed at 9.20 p.m. so as to make the presentation of an Illuminated Address and Group photo of the officials of the Branch to Mr. Mahony who had just arrived from the Legislative Council and who wanted to get back as soon as possible to record his vote on any division that might take place.
The Secretary reported that a Mr. Tom Flynn for many years a prominent union official had gone to the Legislative Council in his car so as to bring Mr. Mahony over to the meeting and was going to remain to take him back again. Also that Mr. Flynn had made a small presentation to the function.
The Chairman then requested Mr. McDonald to make the presentation.....
Mr. McDonald in a few appropriate words conveyed to Mr. Mahony the feeling of the members of the Branch towards him, and asked him to accept.....
Mr. Mahony in acknowledging the Presentation ..... gave a brief outline of the history of the Union and pointed out that when they started, the rates of pay for Rosney's Gang and the docking gang was 34/-d. and 35/-d. respectively. The wages for the painting gang was 9½d. per hour. The difference today was that Rosney's gang and the docking gang were getting £6.2.0 and the painting gang 2/6½d. per hour. No union could show figures to equal these. He further pointed out the deplorable conditions under which men worked. They had to present themselves for employment at all hours of the day and night. They had to go in the dock up to their waist in water to scrub the bottoms of ships. This was a most disagreeable and unhealthy job particularly in the winter months.
Through the efforts of the Union these things were wiped out and today no member of the Union is asked to enter water to scrub a vessel.
He also gave a brief outline of the cases before Sir John Quick lately and pointed out the biased attitude of the judge wherein he granted an application for variation immediately upon being requested by the employer, but our application for variation as far as Garden Island is concerned was stood over for some considerable time.
Mr. Mahony then appealed for unity amongst the members and trusted they would stand loyal to the organisation as it was the only means of protection they had against inroads of the employer.
Mr. Flynn spoke.....He had known Mr.Mahony for a number of years and his sentiments were accurately recorded in the Address.
It was agreed that there was no need for further report on the Court after hearing Mr.Mahony.
Light refreshments were then served to members. and the meeting closed at 11.15 p.m. (Minutes, 22/12/1925.)
In 1926, he was made a Life Member of the Federation "in recognition of his past services from the inception of the organisation covering a period of over 25 years" (Minutes, 3/5/1926) But, at its next meeting, without explanation, the secretary of the Melbourne Branch, attended and gave a report on that Branch's objection to him (Moloney) acting as Federal Secretary.
When the Branch Management Committee met in 1926, the Branch Secretary, Jack McDonald, who was also Federal President, reported that he had received Mahony's resignation from the position of Federal Secretary, dated 1st March. (The Federal Council Minutes dated 13th May, 1926, contained no explanation for Mahony's resignation). McDonald also reported that he, as Federal President, had then called for nominations for the position and, Moloney's being the only one, he was declared elected as Acting Federal Secretary. Although Moloney had thus taken on the job, he later reported that he had advised his own Branch of this and had met with some concern over the matter, in part due to the added costs involved for his Branch. When McDonald's report was discussed, it produced a motion for any expenses involved to be paid for by the New South Wales Branch, which led to an amendment to offer Moloney the position at £5 per week. Then the meeting was given a further amendment
That Mr. Mahony be asked to accept the position of General Secretary and Industrial Officer for the time being, and that the New South Wales Branch pay all his out-of-pocket expenses and that we increase our contributions to the Federation to the extent of £25 per quarter
When put to a vote, the other propositions were defeated and this further amendment was carried. (Minutes, 24/5/1926). A month later, McDonald submitted to a meeting of the N.S.W.Branch that two weeks pay at £5 per week were owing to the Industrial Officer (Mahony). However, when offered the money, Mahony would not accept it unless it was first reported to the N.S.W. Branch. The meeting then passed the money for payment. (Minutes, 28/6/1926).
The mystery of Mahony's action in resigning, remained even when in October, he attended a meeting of the Branch which received a report from McDonald (as Federal President) that he
along with Mr. Moloney under instructions from the Federation had interviewed Mr. Mahony as to whether he would accept the position of General Secretary and that he had accepted on the condition that the Branch was prepared to endorse the Federation's offer.
The Federation's offer, as recorded in the Minutes of the Federal Management Committee, for 8th October, 1926, was
That the salary of the General Secretary be £3 per week as from 1st January 1927.
That the Federation offer the position of General Secretary to Mr. Mahony.
Failing acceptance of the position of General Secretary by Mr. Mahony, nominations be called for the position from members of the Federation.
A ballot of the whole of the financial members of the Federation at December 1926, be taken on the election of the General Secretary if same is rendered necessary by Mr. Mahony's refusal or more than one nomination being received for the position.
The Federal Management Committee Minutes also noted that Moloney "be asked to continue to act as General Secretary pro tem until the end of the year and the Federation to pay the salary of the person acting as Secretary of Victorian Branch during Mr. Moloney's absence on Federation business". Moloney's salary as Acting General Secretary was set at £1 per week.
Neither the minutes of the Federation, nor those of the Federal Management Committee, nor of the N.S.W.Branch, carried any record of any discussion or explanation for Mahony's action. The Branch Minutes simply noted that the action taken was endorsed. (Minutes, 20/10/1926)
Bob Mahony continued to attend N.S.W.Branch meetings and participate in debates and offer advice such as on the issue in 1928 when the N.S.W. Branch was pressing for the State Government to provide suitable accommodation for men seeking work on the Sydney side waterfront. A Branch meeting decided to elect Mahony, Weston and McDonald as a deputation to "the Government". However, Mahony told the meeting that he did not wish to be part of the deputation, but rather, as a member of the Upper House, to be the one who introduced them to the Minister. This was in keeping with a practice whereby delegations were introduced to Ministers by a Member of Parliament who could then also become an additional member of the delegation if he or she was sympathetic to those approaching the Minister. Mahony's explanation was accepted and Bill O'Keeffe was elected as the third member of the delegation. (Minutes, 6/2/1928).
On another occasion, he was called on to act as Chairman of the Union meeting when the Branch President and other Branch officials were charged with having lost the confidence of the members. He expressed the hope
that members would give each speaker a fair and impartial hearing, no matter what their opinions were and he would see that the Constitution was carried out and that each member would be allowed ten minutes. (Minutes, 8/4/1929).
At the official outset of the Depression, in 1929, the Union still confronted the employers with its No Saturday Work policy, as part of its pressure for a forty-four hours week. At the same time, the shipowners presented a fresh log of claims aimed at further reductions in wages and conditions. Thus Mahony was constantly obliged to appear in the Arbitration Court and in conferences, following which he would then report to the N.S.W. Branch meeting which he regularly attended. Thus, when Silk, of Mort's Dock, proposed a means of settling the 44-hours dispute, Mahony presented this to the Branch.
Silk's proposal sought to have the Union accept the working of 44 hours in 5 days and guarantee to supply men to work on Saturday mornings at ordinary rates when necessary. As an alternative, Silk suggested that the 44 hours be worked in 6 days. The outcome of Mahony's reporting on these proposals was a decision "not to entertain the suggestion of Mr. Silk". (Minutes, 26/6/1929)
At the half-yearly meeting in 1931, when the President, Charlie Weston, was absent on holidays, Mahony chaired the meeting until the election of officers was concluded and
then left to catch the ferry or he would be too late to get to Harbord where he was staying at present. (Minutes, 5/1/1931)
It will be appreciated that a trip to Harbord was a long journey from Balmain in the early thirties, especially late at night (Union meetings did not start until 8 p.m.) Yet, Mahony, apparently spending a holiday there, still did the trip to attend the Branch meeting.