My Union Right or Wrong.
A history of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900-1932
By Issy Wyner
Among the more vocal and generally more radical of the earlier members, was EDWARD TALBOT who moved the motion in 1902 for the Union to register under the Arbitration Act, at a Special Meeting called to consider the matter. His motion was carried by "an almost unanimous vote in favour" and against an amendment by G.Brennan "that we take a referendum on this matter" which the President ruled out order. (Minutes, 3/2/1902.)
In 1903, he held the position of Vice President when an industrial agreement was reached which he and other officers of the Union signed. When the matter was being reported at a union meeting, as the Acting Chairman, he was obliged to deal with the disorderly conduct of Joseph Creighton which matter was eventually referred to another meeting on a motion by Tarlington. (Minutes, 11/5/1903.)
In the serious case of the expulsion of Joseph Creighton (q.v.above) from the Union, which Creighton took to the Court with a request that the Union be de-registered, and with the result that the Registrar threatened to de-register if Creighton was not restored to membership, Talbot proposed that Creighton be reinstated. When put to a vote it was carried by a near-unanimous vote. (Minutes, 28/12/1904.)
In the Union elections at the beginning of 1905, Talbot was elected to the Management Committee which was obliged to deal with the Union’s involvement in the s.s. Ventura issue. The strike by seamen soon embroiled Painters and Dockers and led to disputes over the employment of non-members on the ship while members were sacked. (Minutes, 1/2/1905.)
In 1907, Talbot took up the issue of Scott Bennett being invited to address the Union on the IWW cause. He moved, seconded by George Collett
That Mr. Scott Bennett be invited to attend a meeting of the Union for the purpose of explaining the objects of the Industrial Workers of the World Union and as a protest against the action of the Sydney Labor Council in refusing to hear him on the subject.
Amendment moved by Mr.H.Tickner and seconded by Mr.Ostler, That a member of the IWW Club be invited.
After discussion, the amendment was carried.
Moved by Mr. H.Ostler and seconded by Mr.H.Tickner
That this Union emphatically protest against the action of the Sydney Labor Council in refusing to hear Mr. Scott Bennett….carried. (Minutes, 20/11/1907.)
Harry Scott-Bennett was a noted socialist, a leading member of the Victorian Socialist Party and a Member of Parliament for one term, from 1904 to 1907. He conducted classes in economics from a Marxian point of view and went on speaking tours in Australia, America and New Zealand. He was also active during the period when the Red Flag was banned and many carrying it were arrested. He campaigned strongly in defence of the framed twelve IWW men. Talbot, therefore, would have regarded Scott-Bennett as a kindred spirit. (see Appendix 12(a) re Red Flag issue.)
Talbot showed his interest in the Industrial Workers of the World, too, when a Union meeting was addressed on the subject by a Painter and Docker, H.Ostler, who was also a member of the IWW, and had been appointed by that organisation to speak to the Union as its representative.
At the termination of the address it was moved by Mr. E.Talbot and seconded That a hearty vote of thanks be tendered to Mr.Ostler for his very able and lucid address. Carried by acclamation. (Minutes 9/12/1907.)
Talbot was elected to a committee charged with preparing a draft set of new working conditions. At the meeting which considered the changes, he proposed that "a portion of each meeting be devoted to the discussion of Industrial Political & Economic subjects". He argued that the purpose was to educate members and cause the younger members to take an interest in matters for their own and other fellow workers benefit. His motion was seconded by Tarlington with whom he often clashed. When put to a vote, the motion was defeated. (Minutes, 9/12/1907.)
The One Big Union found favour with Talbot so that he proposed that the Union ask the Labor Council to place on the agenda for the forthcoming Congress of Unions
That in the opinion of Congress a comprehensive scheme of federation should be brought about for the purpose of united action being taken in all cases of industrial disputes and for the general betterment of the condition of the workers….carried . (Minutes, 20/1/1908)
He held, also, to the IWW notion concerning politics, by declaring that the IWW preamble "would be bettered by the elimination of all reference to politics". (Minutes, 13/4/1908) Despite this, when he and Mahony, as the delegates to the Congress of Unions, reported to the Union meeting, it was to state that they had voted in favour of a federation of` unions based on the preamble to the IWW, which was defeated by the Congress. They had also voted for an apprenticeship system, a juvenile workers’ union, 44 hours week, abolition of overtime where practicable and a declaration that the working of overtime was against the true spirit of unionism "as it tends to increase the number of unemployed". (Minutes,27/4/1908.)
The half yearly meeting in June, 1908, elected Talbot as a delegate to the Labor Council, together with Mahony and Dulstone. The meeting also received the regular report from the Labor Council showing the attendances by delegates at Council meetings. On this occasion, the report showed that
Talbot had attended more meetings than Mahony or H.McMillan. And Talbot reported that the Council
had decided to issue an appeal for assistance for the Balmain Miners who are at present locked out. Any union voting money would be liable under the provisions of the Act (Wade’s Industrial Disputes Act) but it was the intention of unions to render the assistance asked for and put the Act to the test. (Minutes, 22/6/1908.)
Talbot’s concern for the needs of the workers led him to become the Union’s delegate on the Workmens Dwelling Committee, set up by the Labor Council. He reported on the Committee’s need for finance to carry on its work and obtained a decision to donate five shillings. (Minutes, 30/3/1908.)
One of the Union’s thorny problems was the shipping companies’ practice of insisting on seamen performing a great variety of duties when the ship was in port (normally left for Painters and Dockers to perform) and seamen not prepared to refuse such duties. This led to many demarcation disputes when Painters and Dockers complained that work which they were accustomed to perform, was being done by seamen. Talbot raised the question at a meeting when he asked
as a matter of privilege to bring forward a matter of importance….. the fact that seamen were doing our work on several ships on the Sydney side which was against our interests. Ships crews were paid off & worked by the ships. Others stated that they were going away on the ship but when the ship sailed they did not do so. He desired an interpretation on the clause dealing with ships crews in Agreement……The Secretary stated the understanding was that the crew of the ship whilst off articles but working by the ship should be considered as the ships crews.
The matter was left in the Secretary’s hands to take up with the Seamen’s Union. (Minutes, 17/8/1908.)
The hostility which existed between Talbot and Tarlington surfaced once more when the Rules Revision Committee reported. While most of the proposals were adopted by the meeting
Mr. Tarlington objected to proposed alteration to Rule 30. Mr.Talbot objected to Mr.Tarlington as a member of the Rules Committee speaking against the Committee’s report and considered that the correct way to act when a member of a Committee found something is carried which may be against ones ideas is to resign. Mr.Tarlington moved and it was seconded by Mr.Sheridan that we adhere to the old Rule. He said his mouth was not going to be shut up by anyone and he was going to speak about any matter he thought fit…..
Tarlington’s amendment was carried. (Minutes, 17/8/1908.)
Talbot continued to show interest in all matters affecting the Union, such as taking up the question of proper accommodation for members seeking work on the Sydney side
Moved Mr. E.Talbot and seconded that the Secretary be instructed to make enquiries for the purpose of finding out a suitable place for awaiting room for the Sydney men. He stated that it was disgraceful to have to hang about the street corners while awaiting work. Carried.(Minutes, 7/12/1908.)
At the half-yearly meeting, on 21st December, 1908, it was Talbot who took up the matter of whether Scrimshaw, as an Auditor was drunk when auditing the books, which led to some debate on Scrimshaw’s condition, but the meeting finally adopted the Auditor’s Report.
Still pressing his OBU views, Talbot successfully moved in 1909 to submit for the 1909 Trades Union Congress a motion declaring
That in the opinion of this Congress the time has arrived for the organisation of the workers upon the principle of Industrial Unionism. (Minutes, 18/1/1909)
At a Special Meeting, when Scrimshaw was charged with working against the best interests of the Union by advising the employer that he did not have to pay double time for working through a meal hour, Talbot moved, and it was seconded,
That 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 eventually defeated by an amendment which declared open all offices held by Scrimshaw. (Minutes, 1/3/1909.)
In April, Talbot asked how the Union’s delegates had voted on a motion moved by Peter Bowling, the popular socialist official of the Broken Hill miners. Mahony replied that they had supported the motion, but it had been defeated, whereupon Talbot moved "that the Union is agreeable to cease work at any time in support of the Broken Hill miners". When Mahony explained that the Congress was considering the issues and there was no necessity to carry such a motion, Talbot withdrew it, thus apparently accepting that the Congress of Unions would call a strike in support of the miners. (Minutes, 24/4/1909.)
At a later meeting, Talbot raised the matter of a letter which should have been received from Mr.Scott Bennett
Asking the Union to send representatives to mass meeting to be held in the Domain on Sunday next to protest against the unjust sentences passed on Messrs. Holland, Stokes and May.
Talbot pointed out that since the letter would not be received until after the Domain meeting he would move that a representative be sent to the meeting to speak.
He said the Jury were under the thumb of a certain member of the Jury, he being a moneylender etc and the other members of the Jury were afraid to go against his wishes.
The resolution was seconded by Mr. Fenwick and carried….. Mr. Talbot was nominated….there being no other nominations Mr. Talbot was declared elected. (Minutes, 10/5/1909.)
He was unable to report on this meeting in the Domain until later in the year, when he advised that it was
very successful, the different resolutions being carried unanimously and he was of the opinion that it would be the means of stirring public opinion and thereby securing the speedy release of the men. (Minutes, 30/8/1909)
The hardy annual concerning establishing a separate Sydney side office, etc., once more arose when Talbot, having given notice, moved
That a room and telephone be provided in Sydney. He stated that it was his idea to shift the head office to Sydney and he would alter his motion in that direction.
The President ruled that he could not do so and he would have to go on with the motion as he originally moved it.
Mr.Talbot then went on with his motion. He stated that he wanted the members to view the matter in a calm manner and to take into consideration the drawbacks which the Sydney men had to put up with. He considered the office in Balmain out of date, the volume of Sydney work was increasing year by year, the majority of the shipping companies doing their own work. A room in Sydney would be a great convenience to the members. The men could wait there instead of hanging about the street corners……
A lengthy debate followed, with a number of otherwise quiescent members joining in and finally Talbot’s motion was put to a vote with the result that it was defeated: 29 For, 58 Against. (Minutes, 21/6/1909.)
This debate was followed by another in which Talbot moved another motion of which he had given prior notice
That two delegates be sent to Melbourne for the purpose of bringing about a federation with the Melbourne union…. The employers every day were organising. It was therefore necessary for us to federate….the nations of the world adopt the principle of preparing in peace times for all emergencies. We should adopt the same method and prepare….
The motion was put and carried by 51 to 24 votes. (Minutes, 21/6/1909.) The outcome of this endeavour was an agreement from Victoria to meet and discuss the proposal, so that the meeting on 16th August adopted a further motion from Talbot, seconded Albert Fisk, instructing the Secretary to write to Melbourne and Brisbane asking for delegates to meet and discuss a constitution for the proposed federation. Later in the year, favourable responses were received from the two ports and Talbot was elected to accompany Mahony to the discussion with the Melbourne and Brisbane delegates on the proposed federation . (Minutes, 25/10/1909.)
Still fighting on many fronts, Talbot raised an issue concerning the Theatres and Halls Act whereby, under certain provisions of this Act
lectures were stopped on Sunday nights, certain schools that were held on Sundays where children were taught intellectual subjects were also stopped. A concert could not be held …. in fact nothing could now be held on that night…. Move that our delegates be instructed to bring the matter before the Labor Council for the purpose of protesting against the Act. Carried. (Minutes, 2/8/1909.)
On 16th August, Mahony reported that the Labor Council had adopted the Union’s motion and had then been confronted with the press which
had taken the matter up and had criticised the action of the Council and the mover of the resolution and considered they did not have sufficient knowledge on the matter.
Later in the year, Talbot reported that the Labor Council was calling a public meeting on the issue, and the Union meeting elected him as its official representative to speak at the public meeting. (Minutes, 11/10/1909.)
A fortnight later, he reported on his attendance at the public meeting which had decided to send a delegation to the Premier. Talbot was elected as a member of the delegation, but he advised the public meeting that "he would first have to consult his Union on the matter". The Union meeting endorsed him as a part of the delegation. (Minutes, 25/10/1909.)
In November, Mahony reported to a meeting that the Northern miners had struck and the Western and Southern miners ceased work a day after them, on the general protest against
the unfair conditions they were working under…. For some considerable time every possible indignity was placed on the union. A systematic scheme had been adopted by the mine owners to smash up the Miners Federation that at last the miners had to take the step they did to protect themselves….
Talbot moved, seconded by Eastangriffe that
the miners have our fullest sympathy and that we would be prepared to act at any moment to assist them by ceasing work if necessary. (Minutes, 22/11/1909.)
He then asked for a report on what the Sydney Labor Council had done for the imprisoned Broken Hill miners, asserting that "the unions are not true to themselves if something is not done to secure their release". The delegates to the Labor Council replied that
The Executive of the Council had deputed Mr.Griffith to do certain things in reference to getting the men released. The Premier had been questioned about the matter and had stated that the men must do their full time. (Minutes 22/11/1909)
He did not take the matter any further at the time, but at the following meeting endeavoured to move "that we immediately down tools and come out in sympathy with Newcastle men". A point of order was taken that such a matter required a special meeting; the President so ruled and the matter was deferred to such a meeting.
The Special Meeting convened on 8th December, in the Workingmen’s Institute and Talbot’s motion, seconded by W.Hopkins, opened up a wide-ranging debate. He moved the simple proposition
That we immediately down tools and come out in sympathy with the miners.
Mr. Talbot stated that any unionist who had been working the last five weeks were scabbing it on their fellow unionists. The Coal Lumpers had refused to handle coal to the boats that we were working on…. Some would say we were not prepared for a general strike but if unionists were a solid body they would beat the employers. If they were true unionists every bone in their body would be quivering at the wrongs they had to put up with. The Employers had no right to the mines, they had been filched from the people. He trusted the members would give the matter their most serious consideration.
George Walsh and E. Knight moved an amendment to refuse to work on any vessel employing scabs and to strike a levy of 1/- in the pound to assist the miners. Walsh stated
They all knew why Mr.Talbot had moved the resolution, he considered it would shame the other unions. The Coal Lumpers had come out to shame the Wharf labourers.
Scrimshaw sought to avoid any action other than taking up a collection for the miners and foreshadowed such a further amendment. And Jos Hopkins spoke against the motion and amendment.
he said he was going to unfold a deep laid scheme. A bomb was thrown amongst them by Mr. Talbot asking for privilege at the last meeting. Heads had been put together for the purpose. He further stated that we could not afford to lose work. Let us keep in work and keep the men on strike.
Opposition to strike action came from other members. Brennan claimed that they had been led into a trap and "he had no time for a man that wanted a small section like us to knock off". And Addea opposed any action on the grounds that "the strike was run by socialists". Mahony intervened in the debate to suggest a motion which was then moved by another member:
That in the opinion of this meeting the time is not opportune for a cessation of work by the members of this Union, but if it is desired by the Congress at present conducting the strike to bring about a general cessation of work we were prepared to strike by its decision.
In replying to the debate, Talbot declared
they taunt me with being a socialist. But he gloried in it. He had no confidence in Congress. They were all politicians or would-be politicians.
The end result was that Mahony’s proposition was carried by 232 votes to 5 and this was followed by a decision to strike a levy of 5% on all amounts of one pound or more of wages. (Minutes, 8/12/1909.)
The passing of the amendments to the Industrial Disputes Act (dubbed by Labor the "Coercion Act") by the anti-Labor State Government and the use of the new provisions to arrest Peter Bowling (the miners’ leader) and take him in leg-irons to gaol, once more brought Talbot into action at the next meeting when he moved
That this meeting most emphatically protest against the iniquitous Bill commonly known as Wades Coercion Act which was hurriedly passed through both Houses of Parliament against the wishes of the public.
Mr. McKew objected to the resolution on the grounds of it being to introduce politics into the Union. He would therefore take a point of order on the matter. (See Appendix 9)
The newly-elected President, Eastergriffe, ruled the motion to be in order when McKew
stated that he perfectly agreed with all Mr. Talbot said but considered the ballot box was the place to protest.
The Secretary stated that this was a measure aimed direct at the unions and if the unions did not protest who would do it for them. it was purely an Industrial measure that must of necessity be considered by all the unions as they were expected to abide by such measures and if a measure was obnoxious to them they must have the right to protest.
After further debate, Talbot’s motion was put and carried. (Minutes, 20/12/1909.)
In early January, 1910, Edward Talbot suffered a serious accident while working for Howard Smith & Co aboard the s.s. Barruch. Bob Mahony reported to a meeting that Talbot
with a number of others were working in the forepeak when through insufficient lighting of the place he missed his footing and fell to the bottom sustaining injuries that necessitated his removal to the Sydney Hospital in which Institution he had to undergo an operation. After the accident the foreman in charge of the job wanted the men to sign a statement drawn up by him of how the accident happened. One man signed the others refused. (Minutes, 17/1/1910.)
Mahony reported to a later meeting that he had lodged a claim with Howard Smith’s on behalf of Talbot. The company had done no more than acknowledge receipt of the Secretary’s letter and the matter was left with him to take up the matter of liability with the company. (Minutes, 14/2/1910.)
By the end of February, Talbot was back in action at union meetings (if not at work) and gave notice that he intended to move that the Union take no further part in the Eight Hour procession "as he objected to walk with scab unions". (Minutes, 28/2/1910. Also see Appendix 9). Thus, at the next fortnightly meeting, he put forward his motion and opened up a major debate on the matter. His motion was simply that Rule 26 of the Union’s Rules be rescinded
and that the Union take no further part in the Eight Hour Demonstration. He (Talbot) stated that he did not believe in the penal clause whereby a member would be fined for not walking in the procession. The demonstration was simply an advertisement for the Employers and not for the workmen. He also strongly objected to walk with scab unions.
Opposition came from D.Devers, E.Murphy (if carried "we would be departing from our sworn principle of acting in unity"), Scrimshaw ("Eight Hour Day was a day that we ought to be proud of"), Dulstone (when on the Eight Hours Committee, he had opposed sending an invitation to the anti-Labor Premier, Wade. "we are going to receive £173.0.0 in shares" from moneys collected for 8-Hour Day), Pat McDonough ("the Procession had a good effect on the youthful mind. When they grew up they would join unions"), and Brennan. Ostler supported the motion (condemning the invitation of the anti-Labor Wade to the Eight Hour dinner: "we don’t want to drink good health to our enemies". Thomas Sloan supported ("he as one objected to walk with scab unions…. it was a sham there being no eight hours…..he would not walk with the Trolley and Draymen who were deliberate scabs")
Talbot replied to the debate: "we the workers of Australia should have a day of our own. The present is a Boss’s day". When put to a vote, only seven voted for it and 27 against. ( Minutes, 14/3/1910)
Some months later, Talbot once more raised the matter of the Eight Hours Committee, stating
that in reference to his letter asking for information re the invitation of Mr.Wade to the Eight Hours Banquet he had made enquiries and found it was a fact. He considered it was a lasting disgrace to unionists to think they would lower themselves by ever considering such a thing. He also desired to know how our delegates voted on the matter.
The debate was once more opened up on whether the Union should withdraw from Eight Hours Committee, but on this occasion, the President ruled the matter out of order as it required a notice of motion. Dissent from his ruling was defeated. (Minutes, 29/8/1910.) The notice of` motion was given in and dealt with at the meeting on the 12th September, when it was once more defeated.
Talbot had another notice of motion dealt with at that meeting which was seconded by George Welsh
That the election of officers be by referendum. He said he considered it was the only democratic way to have an election…. At the present time any unscrupulous person could pack a meeting and get elected….the officers would then know that they had the confidence of the members.
Mr.Jenkins opposed…. Better for us to elect our Officers at the meetings. If the members wanted to they can attend and vote for who they like.
The motion was defeated. (Minutes, 12/9/1910.)
In keeping with his activity in the early moves to form a federation, Talbot was elected, together with Mahony and Scrimshaw to meet delegates from Victoria and Queensland, in 1915.
At the half-yearly meeting, on 1st January, 1919, Talbot was elected unopposed as Vice President.