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My Union Right or Wrong.
A history of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900-1932
By Issy Wyner


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H. Ostler

Among those in the Union who were supporters and members of the IWW was H. OSTLER who, in 1907, was deputed by the IWW Club to address a Union meeting on that organisation’s objects, etc. It had originally been the aim of E.Talbot that Scott-Bennett, a leading IWW figure, should be invited to speak as a protest against the Sydney Labor Council’s refusal to hear him. But Tickner and Ostler gained the support of a Union meeting to invite a member of the IWW Club. In the event, the Club authorised Ostler to address the Union. Thus,

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)

(NOTE: The IWW Club was first formed in Australia in October 1907 by the Socialist Labor Party, a group which issued a paper entitled The People, whose front page always carried the following quotation from Karl Marx:

(In every civilised epoch the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange and the social organisation necessarily flowing from it form the basis from which is built up and from which alone can be explained the political and intellectual history of the epoch.

Based on the American experience, under the leadership of De Leon and Eugene Debs, the essence of the IWW philosophy was that the workers’ problems could only be solved by the workers themselves in properly organised unions, industrialised unions, rather than craft, trade or professional unions. Thus, for example, the coal industry union could cover all skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers in the coal industry and, as Tony Laffan noted in his Good Work at Westy,

This new union would with a socialist electoral victory, take over capitalist property. Organised on an industrial basis it would then proceed to create the future socialist society.)

At an earlier meeting, Ostler attempted to move that the Union "protest against the action of the Sydney Labor Council in carrying a resolution in favour of building an Australian Navy", but, while there was some discussion on the subject, no vote was taken on it. (Minutes, 25/11/1907.)

In 1908, he gained the support of the Union to submit his motion for the forthcoming Trades Union Congress

That delegates to Congress be instructed to vote for resolution by Newcastle Labor Council and N.13 on agenda paper. He stated that that was the only resolution that had any substance in it and its objects were clearly defined. He explained the preamble of the IWW and pointed out the fact that we could not have anything in common with the Capitalist class, and we would never have peace until the workers took control of the whole of the machinery of production and worked them for their own benefit.

Opposition came from Scrimshaw who considered "by adopting No.13 we would be doing away with competition. There would therefore be no incentive. no energy and it would cause indolence. The world would not progress under the system". Talbot, one of the Union’s delegates to the Congress considered "the preamble to the IWW would be bettered by the elimination of all reference to politics". The Secretary, Mahony, too, felt that "the preamble suited American ideas. but did not suit Australian conditions when it asked the unions to cooperate on the political as well as the Industrial field…. Sufficient organisations existed outside of unions for the political aspect to be considered in". The meeting sided with Ostler. (Minutes, 13/4/1908.) (For the IWW preamble, which was the subject of Ostler’s motion, see Appendix 3(a).)

After the Congress, Mahony and Talbot reported to the Union on how they had voted on various issues. They had voted in favour of a federation based on the IWW preamble which motion was defeated. (Minutes, 27/4/1908.)

In July, the Union considered a set of draft rules prepared for the new Maritime Council and Ostler expressed his opposition to the section dealing with its Objects, asserting that "the only correct objective was as contained in the objects of the IWW", but on this occasion the meeting did not support his views. (Minutes, 20/7/1908.)

When the case against Scrimshaw of giving advice to the boss was debated, Ostler "considered that there was no case against Scrimshaw". Ostler also raised objection to any unfinancial member voting on the issue which was upheld by the Chairman, but the meeting then decided that all positions held by Scrimshaw in the Union be declared vacant, indicating that the meeting considered that there was a case to be answered by Scrimshaw(Minutes, 1/3/1909.)

In 1910, Ostler supported Talbot’s move to break with the Eight Hours Committee.

With him it was a question of principle especially of men that are unionists. They had been parading for fifty years now and no serious demand had been made for Eight hours. We condemn the action of Wade (the anti-Labor Premier) yet invite him to a banquet. We should not tolerate it. We don’t want to drink good health to our enemies. Had anyone tried to put an eight hours into operation. He had tried it and was left in the Paddock for a month.

Talbot’s move was defeated. (Minutes, 28/2/1910.) At a later meeting, Ostler sought to have the Union disaffiliate from the Eight Hours Committee and the move was once more defeated. (Minutes, 29/8/1910.)

In the matter of the member Edwards accusing Sloan of being a "poler", on which Sloan accepted an apology from Edwards at a meeting, Ostler’s attitude was that "he did not want to be too hard on Edwards but he hoped it would be a lesson to him in the future". (Minutes, 9/5/1910.)

In the argument over the financial status of Tarlington, Ostler expressed the view that the President had "done something illegal" in debarring Tarlington from nominating for the position of President, even though he was in arrears in his contributions. The meeting disagreed with this view. (Minutes, 13/6/1910.)

On the issue of men hanging around in the paddock until late in the afternoon in the hope of getting picked up for a job at Mort’s Dock, on which Tom Sloan sought to set a limit of no one remaining in the Paddock after 3 p.m., Ostler proposed that the time limit be 2 p.m. and his amendment was carried by the meeting. He then followed this with other propositions which the meeting adopted: to include the 2 p.m. decision in the Rule Book; to notify all employers of the decision; and should the Secretary receive any call for labour after 2 p.m., "the Secretary shall not engage men until starting time next day". (Minutes, 5/6/1911.)

When a proposal was submitted to a meeting to seek an increase in wages, Ostler declared that he was in favour of gaining a higher rate of pay but "he did not favour fattening up the Lawyers", it being a matter for a lawyer to make the necessary application to the Arbitration Court. The motion was defeated. (Minutes, 15/1/1912.)

Ostler had been elected as the Union’s delegate to the Labor Council’s Lithgow Prisoners Release Committee. When reporting on a meeting of the Committee, he also moved

That this Union protest against the continued imprisonment of Mr. H.G. Hatton in connection with the Lithgow strike and is of opinion that as the strike had now been settled and the other strike prisoners have been set at liberty and we consider the time has now arrived when the Government should liberate him also. (Minute1/7/1912.)

No reasons were given as to why the McGowen Labor Government made no move to set Hatton free until he had served almost half of his sentence in 1913.

Later in the year, when conferences with the employers aimed at obtaining a new award had been held, a report was presented to a meeting on how the matter was proceeding. On one issue, Ostler sought to claim double time for all overtime, but this was rejected by the meeting. The meeting then decided to defer a decision on whether to impose an overtime ban to hasten negotiations and then elected Ostler and Scrimshaw to accompany Mahony to the next round of conferences. (Minutes, 25/11/1912.)

Negotiations with the employers continued into the new year and eventually in February, the delegates reported on the employers’ final offer which included a small increase in the hourly rate. Ostler once more proposed that a claim for double time should be made which was once more rejected. He then joined with other delegates to the conference in suggesting that the offer be accepted and he, Mahony and the President (Scrimshaw)were elected to meet the employers for the last time. (Minutes, 24/2/1913.)

Among the many occasions when the gaoling of the twelve IWW men was discussed by the Union, was the meeting when a letter from the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage Employees Association was received. The letter called for

a combined effort by all industrial organisations with the object to bring about the release or at least a new trial of those members of the IWW who have been sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

Ostler then moved

That this Union whilst declaring itself in entire opposition to all acts of arson and destruction of life and property desires to enter its emphatic protest against the unfairness of the manner of conducting the trials of the members of the IWW and demands in the interests of justice and fair play a new trial.

His motion was carried together with a further decision to send a copy of it to the Daily Telegraph and the Evening News. (Minutes, 8/1/1917.)

In 1918, Scrimshaw as delegate to the Labor Council reported that the Council had appointed a Committee to deal with the IWW case and following this report

Mr. Ostler stated that our Union should take a prominent part in the matter as four of our members were concerned. He would be pleased to render any assistance possible. (Minutes, 21/1/1918.)

No names were recorded for the four members involved. While they were not among the twelve IWW men gaoled, there was a large number of other gaolings of IWW members during the War years.

In June, the Labor Council delegates reported that the Labor Council had considered a report that at Cockatoo Island

a number of single men (Ironworkers) were put off. It was presumed because they were of military age. Returned soldiers were employed in their places.

Mr. Ostler stated that the Employers were doing their utmost at the present time to disorganise the workers. he advised members to stand together now as this was the most critical time in the history of unionism. (Minutes, 10/6/1918.)

The delegates to the Labor Council (McDonald and Wheeler) reported on consideration given by the Council to

enrolment cards issued by the Government for the purpose of conducting a ballot for recruits (for the War) Council urged all workers not to sign ballot papers.

Moved H.Ostler and seconded that the people of Australia having on two occasions carried no conscription and that the Labor Council representatives of the Industrial movement having carried peace proposals by a substantial majority we urge the workers to ignore the voluntary recruiting card issued by the Government.

The motion was carried. (Minutes, 22/7/1918.)

By 1920, despite the Judge’s findings, the IWW men were still in gaol and a speaker from the Labor Council, Sinclair, addressed a meeting of the Union on the activities of the IWW Men Release Committee, after which Ostler moved, and Thorljonsen seconded that

this meeting of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union having given full consideration to the case of the 12 IWW men is fully convinced that they are victims of a conspiracy carried out by the Fuller-Beeby-Holman Government and demands in the interests of justice their immediate release.

The meeting carried the motion and decided that a copy of the resolution be sent to the Press and the Government. (Minutes, 7/6/1920.)

The Secretary reported receipt of a pamphlet dealing with the calling up of Italian subjects, and the Union’s attitude to racial discrimination and conscription was expressed in the adoption of a motion from Ostler

That we enter a emphatic protest against introduction of conscription under any circumstances and protest against the deportation of Italian residents of Australia and that the fullest publicity be given to the deportation of neutral subjects. (Minutes, 29/4/1918.)

This, of course, left open the question of people of German origin who had settled in Australia, on which no expression of opinion was made, particularly with the cases of Painter and Docker Alf Bruchard and his brother who, though well-spoken in English and well inured in the Australian way of life, were interned for the duration of the war. In so far as Italians and other nationals were concerned, many had been admitted to the Union over the years, as well as the occasional Aborigine, such as Pliny Wise. But the Union did have the opportunity of expressing its views on the generality of migrants when Labor Council delegate Jack McDonald, reported on business transacted at the Council including

a decision asking for the liberation of the internees in the concentration camps. It was stated that the majority were married and had Australian wives and families. Cases were cited where the families were in dire distress.

The Council’s motion from E.Judd, on 19th December, 1918, called for all enemy subjects interned in Australia on no other grounds than that of nationality be immediately released and Ostler played his part in ensuring the passage of a similar decision through the Union. (Minutes, 23/12/1918.) (see also Appendix 11(h))

Towards the end of 1918, the IWW frame-ups case was once more before the Union when an investigation into the gaolings produced a clear case against the police and others. Ostler moved, and Jack McDonald seconded

That this Branch is of the opinion that the finding of Judge Street in connection with the inquiry into the allegation of corruption re the conviction of the 12 IWW prisoners is an astounding contradiction of the facts elicited at the enquiry and as the Judge himself is compelled to admit that the three chief witnesses for the Crown upon whose evidence the 12 men were convicted are men who are unscrupulous, unprincipled, criminal-minded and absolute liars. therefore we urge in the interests of Justice the early release of the twelve men. (Minutes, 23/12/1918.)

The meeting took into account the report by Ernie Judd (delegate to the Labor Council from the Water and Sewerage Employees Union) and Henry Boote, Editor of The Worker, to the Labor Council on 11th July, 1918, on their remarkably detailed research into the IWW case as well as Judge Street’s findings which substantiated their work and Ostler’s motion was carried.

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