My Union Right or Wrong.
A history of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900-1932
By Issy Wyner
H. SCRIMSHAW took an active interest in Union affairs, but first appears in the Minutes when called on to present the Auditor’s Report and Talbot asked whether Scrimshaw was drunk when carrying out the audit. Another of the Auditors replied
that it was a difficult question to answer whether a man was drunk or not.
Mr. Talbot then asked the President if Scrimshaw was in a fit state to audit the books. The President stated Scrimshaw could have attended in a better condition to do the work.
Mr. Talbot then asked the Secretary whether Scrimshaw was in a fit condition to audit the books. The Secretary replied that he considered Scrimshaw was not in a fit condition.
Mr.Scrimshaw stated that he was in a proper condition to audit the books and in proof thereof he said he could relate every little detail of the audit.
After further discussion on the subject, the Auditors Report and Balance Sheet were put to a vote and adopted. (Minutes, 21/12/1908)
He next appears attempting to move that a donation of £1.0.0 be made towards the Sydney Labor Council’s public meeting against the immigration system, a motion which was defeated without any record of members’ views on the subject. (Minutes, 18/1/1909)
The Secretary, Bob Mahony, reported to a meeting in February that Scrimshaw had told the Foreman at Mort’s Dock, Armstead,
that there was no necessity to pay double time for the tea hour until after 7 p.m. and further stated that he had papers to prove it. Armstead therefore desired to know from me was there anything in the Rules to that effect. I told him there was not as the Rule was very explicit.
Mr. Scrimshaw stated that he had only received 9d. for the hour up to the present and he thought in his own mind that he had to give an hour’s grace up to 7 p.m. he was working on the ship when the Foreman spoke to him about the matter.
Mr. Finlayson condemned the action of Scrimshaw in trying to go behind the back of the members.
Mr. Talbot stated that he was very much disappointed with Mr.Scrimshaw as he thought when the Union placed so much confidence in him that confidence should not be abused. He now found that the confidence was misplaced as Scrimshaw was a man that would sell the union for a few hours work.
The Secretary stated that before reporting the matter to the Union he had spoken to Scrimshaw and pointed out that the fact of him going to the Foreman and making such statements was tantamount to putting his hands in the members’ pockets and taking sixpence out.
Scrimshaw had also said that he never got double time for the tea hour. The Secretary invited him to go to the Dock with him and he would get the money for him. he refused to go. R.Dolby was present and heard the conversation.
Mr.Scrimshaw denied that the Secretary asked him to go to the dock for the purpose of getting double time for the tea hour.
Mr.Geo. Welsh condemned the action of Scrimshaw. He had deliberately tried to injure the Union. By his own statement he had not denied speaking to the Foreman in reference to the tea hour.
Moved by Mr.Sheridan and seconded by Mr.Finlayson that this Union has no further confidence in Mr.Scrimshaw.
Mr. Welsh desired to know whether Scrimshaw desired to be dealt with at this meeting or at a Summons Meeting. Scrimshaw stated that he did not care whether it was decided at this meeting or a summons meeting. He tendered his resignation from office which the President refused to take while the case was still pending.
The suggestion of the President, George Dulstone, for the matter to be referred to a summons meeting, was put in the form of a motion which was carried. (Minutes, 5/2/1909)
The Special Meeting convened at the beginning of March in Dick’s Hotel, when the whole matter was regurgitated by the Secretary and Dolby verified what the Secretary had reported on offering to go to the company and demand overtime payment for Scrimshaw’s work during meal hours.
Mr. Scrimshaw in reply stated that if he had done any wrong he was sorry for it and was quite ready to apologise and let the matter drop. He stated that he had never smooged to any boss in Mort's Dock or told them anything. Armstead spoke to him first. He had always thought that an hours grace was allowed. That had been his impression since the conference (with the employers.)
Moved by Mr.E. Talbot and seconded by Mr. Welsh that the members of this Union refuse to work with H. Scrimshaw for a period of twelve months from date. He stated that Scrimshaw had acted the part of a traitor. He had went behind the backs of the members and had carried information to the Foreman. He had also offered to show him confidential papers which were not his property but were the property of the Union. This was not the first time that Scrimshaw had acted against the Union. His record was not good in the Wire Workers Union or amongst Sugar Workers.
Amendment moved by Mr. B. Ellis and seconded by Mr. Jno. Martin That Scrimshaw be dealt with according to Rule 16 clause b and that all offices held by him be declared vacant.
Rule 16(b) read: "Any Officer misconducting himself, or guilty of any act or breach of trust contrary to the welfare of the Union shall be called upon for an explanation, and in the event of the members called together at a Special or General Meeting not considering the explanation satisfactory, his office shall declared vacant, and nominations shall be then taken for such office."
Sloan opposed the motion and Ostler considered that there was no case to answer. It was then decided that the motion and amendment be determined by a ballot. Scrimshaw declared that the matter should be put to the meeting on the basis of those supporting the motion voting Yes and those for the amendment voting No. Before it could be put to a vote, an argument arose as to whether the Vice President, E.Talbot, was permitted to move such a motion. This was finally cleared up by Talbot being obliged to leave his position as Vice President and moving his motion as an ordinary member of the Union. Still, the matter could not be put to a vote, when H.Ostler raised the question as to whether unfinancial members could vote on the question. The President ruled that only financial members could vote and although Sloan objected, the issue was not tested and Dulstone proceeded to put the matter to a vote, which resulted in the amendment being carried. (Minutes, 1/3.1909)
Despite the decision, more or less clearing Scrimshaw of any wrongdoing, he resigned from his position as Delegate to the Labor Council and as a member of the Management Committee and H.Ward was elected to replace him (Minutes, 15/3/1909)
In mid-year, Talbot raised the matter of acquiring premises on the Sydney side together with a telephone, with the aim of eventually moving the Union’s head office away from Balmain. On this issue, Scrimshaw opposed Talbot’s views asserting that "the room would not be used, members preferring to be in the sunshine". Talbot’s motion was defeated after which Scrimshaw came up with his proposal to appoint "a youth for the office at a salary of £1.0.0 per week". Without spelling out what the youth would be required to do, Scrimshaw withdrew his motion. (Minutes, 21/6/1909)
The apparent hostility between Talbot and Scrimshaw was once more in evidence later in the meeting when Talbot proposed the sending of two delegates to Melbourne "for the purpose of bringing about a federation with the Melbourne union". Scrimshaw
opposed the motion….putting the cart before the horse. The Secretary should correspond with the union first. He moved as an amendment that the Secretary be instructed to write to Melbourne and Brisbane unions…. The President ruled the amendment out of order and the motion was then put and carried.
With Talbot’s motion carried, the President then called for nominations for the two delegates. Scrimshaw was nominated and objection was taken to his nomination by reason of the decision to remove him from all official positions, but the President stated "that it laid with the members to elect him or not". He was not elected.
The Miners’ strike towards the end of 1909 found Scrimshaw seeking to evade any action to assist them, and therefore opposed Talbot’s motion to come out in sympathy with the miners because there were too many scabs loading coal on ships and using scab coal on ships. This brought forth an amendment by Scrimshaw for members to continue at work and assist the strikers financially. As it happened, there was much opposition among the members to taking strike action, and when the Secretary, Mahony, intervened in the debate with a proposal to delay any action, other than financial support, until the congress of unions made a decision on the dispute and if such decision was to bring about a general strike, the Painters and Dockers Union would join in, this was adopted by the meeting. (Minutes, 8/12/1909) As a result, when a levy was struck and a member refused to pay it, Scrimshaw was in the van for action against such member or members. (Minutes 17/1/1910) And, again, at the next meeting, he proposed that failure to pay the levy be regarded as making a member unfinancial and therefore not entitled to claim preference in employment, which was carried. He then supported the motion for members to refuse to dock and paint any ships carrying scab coal. (Minutes, 31/1/1910)
When it was stated at a meeting that a member of the Rules Revision Committee was unfinancial, the position was declared vacant and nominations called to fill it. Scrimshaw was nominated, but the President refused to accept it and his ruling went unchallenged (Minutes, 4/4/1910). At a later meeting, Martin and Talbot moved that the decision concerning Scrimshaw, made on 15th March, be rescinded. This was aimed at reversing the decision which cleared Scrimshaw of any wrongdoing. The motion was carried by the meeting. However, he appeared to fade from view for a while, until, at the outset of 1915, he was elected as President of the Union and as a delegate to the Labor Council. (Minutes, 11/1/1915)
As a delegate to the Labor Council, Scrimshaw reported on a meeting of the Council at which it was decided to send a deputation to the Government on a number of issues: the Fair Rents Bill, regulating prices of commodities and provision of work for the unemployed. He "had the honour to be elected as a member of the deputation". As well, he reported Council’s decision to support the Newsboys on strike, the Wire Workers’ strike and a proposed ban on Fullers if the company refused to employ musicians who were members of the appropriate union. In all these matters, his reporting suggested that he supported the decisions taken.
In 1916, Scrimshaw was re-elected as President and also announced that he, and other members, had joined the "Expeditionary Forces" . Thus the "war to end all wars" received its quota of sacrificial lambs from the Ship Painters and Dockers Union.
Although he had joined up in the Army, it was apparently some time before he was required to report, and so he continued to work in the industry and conduct meetings of the Union as President. Never far from trouble, he was the subject of a charge of working in a confined space (bilges) for less than the prescribed Award rate. When dealt with by the Management Committee, it was decided
That on the evidence Scrimshaw was not working in the bilges. The chargehand’s evidence clearly proves this. We further find that Scrimshaw stated that the spaces were limbers. He gave this opinion as a private member, as he had no jurisdiction. (Minutes, 28/2/1916)
To what extent the members of the Management Committee were concerned to clear Scrimshaw of any wrongdoing may be gauged from their assertion that the President of the Union might offer an opinion "as a private member" when it was obvious that, as President, his opinion would be taken as authoritatively as that of the Secretary.
The meeting in April heard the Secretary read out a letter from Scrimshaw advising that he was in hospital for an operation with a view to joining the Expeditionary Forces. He wished the Union success. (Minutes, 3/4/1916.)
And, some months later, he wrote again, as Corporal H.Scrimshaw (late President) on the eve of his departure for the front thanking members for trusts and honours bestowed upon him by the Union and wishing the Union every prosperity for the future. And the meeting decided to send him its appreciation of his activities. (Minutes, 24/7/1916)
The War spared Scrimshaw to return to Union meetings and in 1917, at a Summons Meeting, in the Oddfellows Hall, the President opened the meeting with the announcement on behalf of officers and members….
welcomed Mr. H. Scrimshaw (who had been severely wounded) back from the front. Mr.Scrimshaw who was received with the heartiest applause in a few well chosen words thanked members for his reception.(Minutes, 10/12/1917)