My Union Right or Wrong.
A history of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900-1932
By Issy Wyner
With Bob Mahony’s influence, the Union affiliated with the Labor Council soon after he became Secretary in 1900, when the Sydney Labor Council was also undergoing a reformation. He was elected, together with the President, Joseph Creighton, to represent the Union on that body. Mahony, having led the Union to the Labor Council, was obliged to ensure that affiliation was maintained in the face of attempts by some members to seek disaffiliation from time to time. He could always see benefits for the Union in such affiliation, despite occasions when he was at odds with Council officials. The general militancy and radicalism of the Council were in line with his own views and outlook in the early years of the reformation of the Union and of the Sydney Labor Council, and continued for some time when more radical elements took over the Council leadership.
Among the benefits from affiliation, Mahony saw the importance of the Council’s support for efforts to unionise workers and he gained its support for unionising those who performed the work of Painters and Dockers in shipyards and dockyards.
The hardships experienced by many union officials in the early 1900s included that of having to work for a living while also carrying out their duties as officials, as was the case when Robert Wilson resigned and Mahony took his place as the Union secretary. In 1901, the Labor Council arranged for a deputation, comprising officials of the Council with Mahony and Creighton to meet the Minister for Works, E.W. O’Sullivan on problems at Cockatoo Island. On that occasion, Mahony reported to a meeting that
after waiting some time they found the Minister could not see them that day but he would receive them the same hour he named tomorrow June 5th. The Secretary explained to the members that he could not attend the deputation on the next day as he had asked the foreman for the afternoon off & he stated he could not very well ask him for two afternoons in succession & he stated the matter could very well be left in the hands of Mr. Creighton. (Minutes, 19/5/1901.)
The Labor Council generally supported strikes and the Union generally supported the Council, so that when the Ironworkers Assistants went on strike for a wage of seven shillings a day, and the Council sent out an appeal for financial support for the strikers, the Union decided to vote £20, which was a big amount for a small union at that time. (Minutes, 17/6/1901.)
Ever-vigilant for the interests of the Union, Mahony reported to a Union meeting on a dispute he had had with the officers of the Labor Council. He informed the meeting
that he had succeeded in altering the Rules of the Sydney Labor Council bearing on sustentation fees & in the future the Union will only have to pay on the basis of financial members. (Minutes, 15/5/1905.)
Among issues on which the Union differed with the Council was that of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). While the Council tended to come under the influence of the IWW as the first decade progressed, in 1907 a meeting of the Union debated a motion from E.Talbot and Geo.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. H.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….After further discussion the motion was put and carried. (Minutes, 25/11/1907.)
Scott-Bennett was a noted public speaker who strongly favoured the IWW and resigned from Parliament as being a useless body for gaining improvements for workers. With the IWW holding to a line of direct action, as opposed to political action, and favouring the organisation of the workers on industrial rather than craft lines, the Labor Council was in a state of some uncertainty in 1907, when some of its officials supported the IWW. But it was moving closer to a more sympathetic approach and soon the leadership of the Council was to become known as the "Trades Hall reds".
A surprising motion, having in mind the basic nature of the industry in which the Union operated and the possibility of more ships on which to gain work, was moved by Ostler and Sloan
That this Union protest against the action of the Sydney Labor Council in carrying a resolution in favour of building an Australian Navy. (Minutes, 25/11/1907.)
The fact that Ostler of the IWW proposed the motion suggests its anti-war purpose. In the event, a general discussion on the motion left it undecided, not having been put to the meeting for a vote.
Following a report from the Sydney Labor Council on attendances at its meetings by the Union’s delegates (E.Talbot – 21; H.McMillan – 19; R.Mahony – 19) a report was given on the Council’s decision reaffirming opposition to the State Government’s Industrial Disputes Bill. Indicating the militant position of the Council, Talbot added to the report by pointing out that the decision brought the Council
up against the Act. they 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 but it was the intention of the unions to render the assistance asked for and put the Act to the test. (Minutes, 22/6/1908.)
In 1909, Scrimshaw and Nash, as the Union’s delegates to the Council reported a move to alter the Council’s rules to give it full control in the event of a general strike. The Council vote for the alteration was 53 to 50. The Painters and Dockers Union meeting made no decision on the report although it jealously guarded its right to strike. (Minutes, 8/1/1909.)
Later in the year, Talbot declared to a meeting
that he intended to move that we withdraw our delegates from the Council. he considered the Council had no power whatever and could not do anything.
The Secretary stated that the Council had the same power today that it had 10 years ago. we during that time took no objection if the Council did not on all occasions suit our views. that should not be a reason to desert them. it should be our duty to try and improve the Council not desert it.
Mr. Talbot said he would not go on with the matter, he was satisfied to let the matter drop.
The meeting then elected Talbot as one of its delegates to the Labor Council to replace Scrimshaw who had been removed from official positions in the union. (Minutes, 15/3/1909.)
Talbot took the opportunity at the next meeting to ask how delegates to the Trade Union Congress had voted on a motion put forward by Peter Bowling, the popular official of the northern miners who, as Ray Markey noted in his fine history of the Labor Council, In Case of Oppression,
represented more militant, class-conscious, socialist tendencies in the labour movement, but who failed to persuade the 1909 Trade Union Congress to support a general strike.
Bowling was later arrested during a miners’ strike, put in leg-irons and carted off to gaol by order of the anti-labor Wade Government under its amended Industrial Disputes Act (the "Coercion Act"). He was later sentenced to two and a half years gaol, of which he served nine months before being released, when his sentence and that of three others, was reduced. The motion to which Talbot referred read
That this Congress enters its most emphatic protest against the action of the authorities in changing the venue of the trial to Albury of the unionists arrested at Broken Hill, and hereby pledges itself to do all in its power to prevent the maladministration of the law, and to secure justice to those arrested.
J.H.Sutcliffe, in his A History of Trades Unionism in Australia, stated that discussion on this motion left no doubt, however, as to the intention of the mover and his supporters. It was an attempt to pledge the Congress to the General Strike if other means failed to secure what they wished.
Mahony, as one of the Union’s delegates to the Congress, reported that the Union’s delegates had voted for the motion, which was defeated, (Minutes, 24/4/1909.)
In November, the Labor Council delegates reported on what had been done to secure the release of the gaoled Broken Hill miners
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.)
On the matter of the Industrial Disputes Act, which provided for savage penalties against unionists taking strike action, the Act required Unions to register and provide various kinds of important information on individual members and the Labor Council had proposed that the unions ignore the Act. Mahony reported that
About 50 unions had registered under the Act and the majority of them now wanted the resolution to be rescinded. our Union had considered the matter at a Special Meeting & had decided to ignore the Act. the delegates therefore desired to know whether the union was going back on that decision.
Moved by Mr.Thos. Sheridan and seconded by Mr. Sloan that delegates be instructed to vote against the motion to rescind the resolution carried advising unions to ignore the Industrial Disputes Act. carried. (Minutes, 10/5/1909.)
The Union took up the matter of the State Government’s Theatres and Public Halls Act under which
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.)
Mahony reported a fortnight later that the Labor Council had adopted the Union’s protest decision and
the press 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.
At its next fortnightly meeting, the Union responded to the appeal by the Sydney Labor Council to help "liquidate the debt" from convening the Trade Union Congress, by a vote of £2.2.0.
They were not so forthcoming on a proposal that the Council acquire a controlling interest in the Star Newspaper Company, declaring "that at the present time it is not advisable to deal with the matter pending further information". Some months later when the Council proposed to publish a Labor Daily controlled by the unions, the decision was in favour of the scheme but the Union was not in a position at the time to take out shares. (Minutes, 29/4/1910.)
In 1910, too, the Council decided to perpetuate, by way of a plaque in the Trades Hall, the memory of E.W.O’Sullivan, Minister for Works in a non-Labor Government, who had been sympathetic and helpful on a number of issues of concern to the union movement. The Union was supportive of the Council’s decision and in July, donated £1.1.0 to the fund established. (Minutes 4/7/1910.) (see Appendix 8 (20).)
In 1911, the Council gave solid support to the Lithgow miners and ironworkers, during whose strike men were gaoled under Wade’s Coercion Act. The strike occurred under the McGowen Labor Government, with Holman as Deputy Premier and nothing was done to get rid of the draconian legislation. The Union adopted the Labor Council’s stand and gave solid support to the strike. In a motion moved by E.Talbot and seconded by J.B.Jenkins, the Union condemned the "present Government for jailing men under the Coercion Act". In putting his motion, Talbot stated
The Secretary of the Ironworkers at Lithgow had got two months jail. The Government had taken no steps to repeal the Coercion Act.
The Secretary stated that the Government had introduced a measure to wipe out the Coercion Act last May but owing to the state of the parties in the House the Bill was only in its second reading stages.
In reference to the liberation of the Secretary of the Ironworkers he would be out in a day or two. (Minutes, 25/9/1911.)
While Mahony’s words may have seemed apologetic of the Labor Government, he was clearly supportive of the Labor Council’s position and of the Lithgow strikers.
In 1912, the Union responded to a Labor Council request to send delegates to a meeting to "further the proposed Labor Daily", by electing Scrimshaw for the purpose. (Minutes, 25/3/1912.) And the continuing Lithgow issue was once more raised in correspondence from the Lithgow Prisoners Release Committee, which requested the Union to send delegates to a meeting in the Trades Hall and Talbot was elected. Talbot reported to a later meeting that
about 74 unions were represented and it had been decided to ask all unions to carry resolutions asking for their release… moved by Mr.J.B.Jenkins and seconded by Mr.A.Fisk that this union is in favour of the release of the Lithgow prisoners…. (Minutes, 22/4/1912.)
In September, 1912, Scrimshaw read out a motion which he asked the meeting to adopt, as follows:
That owing to the operation of about a dozen rings, combines and monopolies in our midst we the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union of Australia NSW Branch are of the opinion that the deliberations of the Labor Council of NSW has little economic value and to show justification for delegates attending same, we ask as an urgent matter of privilege that our delegates be heard to move the following resolution viz: That political action having failed in dealing with Rings & Combines it is the opinion of the Labor Council of NSW that the most effective way to deal with the matter is by Industrial action.
The motion was put to the meeting and carried. (Minutes, 23/9/1912.)
A strike by the Gas Employees Union led to much discontent in the Union and on the Labor Council. The Council decided to convene a special meeting for a Saturday afternoon, if a "probability of settlement" did not eventuate, and the meeting also considered the "Proclamation by the Government". From debate on the matter, it was decided to instruct the delegates
To support a resolution condemning the Government for the issuing of a proclamation calling on the workers to scab on the Gas Workers.
At the same time, the meeting adopted a further resolution to submit to the Labor Council
strongly protesting against the interference with free speech….a number of persons had been arrested for speaking in the street and had been jailed for doing so. (Minutes, 10/3/1913.)
The undoubted sourness of attitude towards the State Labor Government expressed in these motions reflected the Labor Council’s views and decisions and clearly reflected the Union’s views.>
As war was declared by Britain, unemployment was still rampant in Australia and, together with sending delegates to a conference with other labouring unions on the subject, the Union welcomed the Labor Council decision to send a deputation to the Government to push for work to absorb the unemployed. (Minutes, 21/9/1914.) The same meeting also endorsed the Labor Council request for unions
to only purchase bread from Bakers who do not bake at night time and also asking members to purchase Australian goods.
A fortnight earlier, the Union had received a request from the Labor Council
That during the present crisis all unions refrain from Industrial Strife.
No decision was taken on this request, undoubtedly due to the number of occasions when the Union was involved in disputes over wages and conditions. And the Council’s decision did not appear to be in tune with its IWW influence in that period. And as Ray Markey noted concerning New South Wales, in his In Case of 0ppression:
….the general trend for frequency and size of strikes was upwards, particularly after 1910. The period 1913 to 1919 was not equalled or surpassed until the mid-1970s in Australian industrial history, in terms of working days lost by strikes or lockouts…..
The high frequency of strike action was bred by three inter-related factors. First, by the end of the first decade of state arbitration, the unions were experiencing a growing sense of frustration over the costly legal delays in achieving gains under the system, and over the high level of employer opposition to the implementation of gains. The holding down of wages during the First World War exacerbated this frustration.
Secondly, this situation bred a growing industrial militancy based on syndicalism ideology exemplified by the IWW and the OBU.
Thirdly, the decline in margins in award rates increasingly forced craft unions into direct action, in order to maintain wages through over-award payments.
Later in the year, Mahony reported on a Government proposal to suspend any new awards in wartime, which caused the Labor Council to decide to call a meeting of unions for the purpose of electing a representative to appear before Mr. Justice Heydon who would be dealing with such matters as well as suspending sittings of the Wages Boards. (Minutes, 2/11/1914.)
In 1915, Scrimshaw, one of the Union’s delegates to the Labor Council at the time, reported to a meeting that he had seconded a motion at the Council meeting to send a deputation to the Government on a number of issues: the Fair Rents Bill, the regulation of commodity prices and provision of work for the unemployed. Scrimshaw stated that he "had the honour to be elected as a member of the deputation". He also reported that the Council had issued a call to unions to assist the Newsboys in their dispute and the Wire Workers in their strike. As well, the Council had issued
an ultimatum to Fullers with regard to the employment of non-union musicians asking what course they intended to pursue. If an unfavourable reply be received to boycott Halls under Fuller management. (Minutes, 11/1/1915.)
The Union supported the Labor Council in these decisions and at its next meeting, the Union was advised by the Council of those
places of amusement which work under union conditions and asking members to assist Musicians Union by only patronising these places.
This was endorsed by the meeting which then had a report on other business transacted by the Labor Council. The deputation had put to the Government a reduction of fares on trams on Sundays and holidays which was endorsed. Delegate Tarlington reported that
the Newsboys strike could have been fixed up long ago if the Typographical Association had refused to print papers unless the boys got proper treatment. (Minutes, 27/2/1915.)
A whiff of the War entered the Union’s meeting in March, when a request was received from the Labor Council to support the National Belgian Relief Fund and it was decided to advise the Council that members already contributed at the yards where they were employed. (Minutes, 22/3/1915.) A further request from the Labor Council, at the next Union meeting, was for assistance in starting a fund for "starving Belgians". The German invasion of Belgium was an issue which had become one of the talking points of the war, but the Union’s Minutes record no discussion or decision on the Council’s request. Later in the meeting, the then-President, and Council delegate, Scrimshaw, gave an indication of the expectancy that the war, now in its ninth month, would not last much longer,
A resolution was before them (the Council) as to what stand Labor would take immediately after the war. a conference to be held. (Minutes, 31/5/1915.)
Among the Labor Council’s activities during the war, was the attempt to establish a "Trade Unionists’ Australia Day Fund". A request to the Union to support it brought a decision to donate £3. Swadling then proposed that in forwarding the donation, the Council be told "why the donation was so small" and to build up the amount, it was decided to send collection lists around the jobs. (Minutes, 26/7/1915.)
The first moves towards conscripting Australian youth came under discussion when a meeting of the Union received a request from E.("Ernie") Judd, of the Socialist League, who wrote asking the Union to send delegates to a Trades Hall meeting against conscription. The Scrimshaw and Tarlington motion was carried to
instruct Labor Council delegates to strongly support resolution before Council against conscription. (Minutes, 20/9/1915.)
Judd was an important member of the Socialist Labor Party and a delegate from the Municipal Workers Union on the Labor Council. He was active in the labor movement over a long period of years up to the late 1930s when the writer heard him speak in the Sydney Domain. He also played an active and powerful part in exposing the frame-up against the IWW men gaoled later in the war. At a Special Meeting of the Labor Council on 8th March, 1917, he was removed from the Council’s Executive Committee for contesting both State and Federal elections as a Socialist candidate against the PLL candidates.
Scrimshaw reported to a meeting of the Union on an issue of concern to the Union which confronted all new employees (including casuals), including casuals, at Garden Island. The Labor Council had carried a motion
That Council protests against the action of the Naval Authorities at Garden Island in insisting on applicants for employment signing a form which gave the authorities the right to stop all or any part of their wages and dismiss them without notice for specified offences.
War was once more the background to a dispute on the Labor Council. Among correspondence read to a Union meeting at the outset of 1916, was advice from the Australian Peace Alliance "re Prime Minister’s proposed visit to England". (Minutes, 10/1/1916). At that time no decision was made on the matter, but "Billy" Hughes, as Labor Prime Minister, was to return to Australia and plunge the country into a massive furore over his fervent demand for conscription into the armed forces, an issue on which the Union took strong and active opposition and which led to Hughes’ expulsion from the ALP. Later in the year, the Labor Council decided to purchase two tickets to a banquet arranged in honour of Hughes’ return from England (Minutes, 3/8/1916.) But a few weeks later, the Council felt it necessary to ensure that no Council support for Hughes’ conscription existed in the public mind and the Union supported the Council’s stand
That this Council does not subscribe to the statement of Hughes and Holman at the banquet tendered to Prime Minister: That the Democracy of Australia was prepared to follow Mr. Hughes in any steps he may deem it advisable to take in connection with the war. (Minutes, 24/8/1916.)
The strike of workers at Broken Hill raised some question as to the support of the Labor Council for the strikers, and Johnson and Sawyer ensured the Union’s position by having their motion carried for the Union’s delegates "to vote in favour of the action of the Broken Hill unionists". (Minutes, 7/2/1916.) The Council was soon sending out appeals for financial help for the wives and children of members of the Federated Ironworkers Union "who are out of work owing to a dispute with their employers at Hill End against the employment of non-unionists". (Minutes, 27/4/1916.)
Taking a leading position on a matter of concern to many unions, a Union meeting carried a motion from Talbot, for the Labor Council to put to the Hobart conference of unions
That this Union suggests to the Conference that the Legal Profession be excluded from all Arbitration Court business. (Minutes, 6/3/1916.)
The hostility engendered by lawyers acting for employers in the Arbitration Court was widespread even though tempered to some extent by those unions which may have afforded lawyers. With Painters and Dockers, the occasional representation by Brown and Beeby, Solicitors, did not alter their regard for the profession in industrial affairs.
The constant disputation with the Professional Painters arose once more with their refusal to sign a document from the Chairman of an established Demarcation Board, which set out spheres of work for each union. On this occasion, the "Pro" Painters referred the matter to the Labor Council which proposed that a special Demarcation Committee should be set up comprising a representative from each union and an agreed-upon Chairman. Failing agreement on a Chairman, the Labor Council proposed that it appoint one. The Union advised the Council of its agreement on the issue "as soon as the dispute we have at present with employers is completed". (Minutes, 15/5/1916.) The Demarcation Committee was eventually set up and presented a report to the Labor Council where it was adopted with only three (Painters Society) votes against. (Minutes, 12/6/1916.)
In the matter of strike action, the Union was confronted with a serious problem when it was asked to give financial support to striking shearers. A shearer, O’Sullivan, was permitted to address the Union meeting.
He was a member of the AWU for 12 years. In 1910 Mr. Justice Higgins had granted an award 24/- per 100. Since then living had gone up 50 per cent. There were about 2000 on strike. They had asked for 30/- per 100 and £3 per week and keep for shed hands. The AWU had turned them down. They were holding their meetings in the IWW hall. The Trades Hall had refused them a room for their meetings. The IWW had collected £32.4.4 on their behalf. The Provisional Strike Committee were members of the AWU. Were not members of the IWW. (Minutes, 7/8/1916.)
A debate ensued over whether to make a donation to the men on strike, but it was finally decided that the Management Committee should meet with the Strike Committee to ascertain what support should be given to what was probably regarded as an unofficial strike. Later, the delegates to the Labor Council reported that the Council "had turned down the section of shearers that were on strike". (Minutes, 21/8/1916.) Thus were "unofficial strikes" placed outside the Labor Council’s interests or concern; the Union left the matter unresolved as to assistance for the striking shearers.
A notice issued by the Labor Council was read to a Union meeting, advising of a Special Meeting of unions
To consider Government proposals re conscription and requesting subscription to the fund to carry on fight against conscription. The appeal was issued by the No Conscription Congress. (Minutes, 18/9/1916)
Delegates to the Labor Council reported that the Council meeting had been taken up with discussion on the conscription proposals of the Labor Government under Hughes as Prime Minister. A motion had been submitted calling for a stop work meeting of all unions to consider the situation which was carried, as well as a decision to "fall in line with the Anti-Conscription League". The Union, on receiving this report, then adopted a motion from Sawyer (IWW) and Smith that
we instruct our delegates to vote for a one day stop work meeting.
It was a month later when a meeting was advised that the Australian Anti Conscription Trade Union Congress had expressed support for the stop work meeting and the Labor Council had decided to call the stoppage and requested financial support for which the meeting voted £3. (Minutes, 16/10/1916.)
Shortly after this, an issue arose which was indicative of Mahony’s wide concern for the interests of members of the Union. On 28th September, 1916, the Labor Council took up his report of the callous action of a landlord "who had forced the wife and children of a member of his union who had gone to the front to vacate premises on an order by a Magistrate in the Balmain Police Court". The Council Secretary, Jack Kavanagh, was instructed to "bring the facts before the Premier with a view to action being taken in the interests of the wife and children and the eviction prevented". The Council also called for the use of "the Moratorium" in this and similar cases.
Early in 1917, the Union decided to concur with the Council on: a refusal to touch State trawlers which were manned by scabs during a strike by ships’ engineers and, through a letter from "Ernie" Judd, appointed by the Labor Council to investigate the charges against the twelve IWW men, to call for their immediate release.
The Union was still involved in demarcation issues during the war and in February 1917, when Jack Kavanagh, Secretary of the Labor Council sought to increase the Union’s representation at discussions on demarcation problems at Garden Island, a third delegate was elected. (Minutes, 5/2/1917.)
At the same February meeting, advice was received that the Painters and Dockers in Newcastle had withdrawn their representation on the Newcastle Labor Council and the Secretary was given the task of enquiring into the matter. Nothing further was reported on the subject and probably Mahony’s intervention overcame the difficulty.
The Labor Council made its annual request for a donation towards the provision of a children’s cot at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and a donation of £1.1.0 was voted by the Union. The meeting also considered itself unaffected by a proposal from the Council’s Unemployment Committee
That Council recommend to unions affected by retrenchment in the Government services to accept a 5-day week as a temporary measure on condition that all retrenched men are re-employed. (Minutes, 19/2/1917.)
In April, the Labor Council found itself the subject of much misrepresentation by the newspaper, The Sunday Times, chiefly arising from the Council’s anti-conscription stand, and called on all unions to "leave the purchase of paper to those who desire misrepresentation, calumny and conscription", and the meeting agreed to this call for a ban on the paper. (Minutes, 16/4/1917.) The Union remained solidly with the Labor Council in its anti-conscription fight and from time to time voted funds for the Council’s campaign, and also decided
That members throw in their lot with the No-Conscription Committee and that the Union contribute £3.0.0 to the Anti-Conscription League. (Minutes, 12/11/1917.)
The fight against Hughes’ second attempt, in 1917, to introduce conscription ran parallel with the case of the Twelve IWW men and the General Strike by the Rail and Tram Men over the introduction of the American Taylor card system, a device regarded as a means of checking on every minute of a worker’s working day to provide a basis for introducing speed-up methods. The Labor Council Secretary, Jack Kavanagh, and other Council officials sought to avoid industrial action over the issue but the Tramway men were adamant in their opposition to even a trial run of the outrageous system. It was not long before the Government took action and Kavanagh (who was also an MLC) was gaoled together with officials of the striking union and others. When the strike began in August, wharf labourers and seamen were early in joining, and a special meeting of the Painters and Dockers on 13th August quickly decided to cease work "until the card system be withdrawn from the railways". Painters and Dockers were among the last to resume work, on 3rd October, 1917.
In 1918, with war still raging, the second anti-conscription campaign ending in a further defeat for Hughes, and the unions still licking their wounds after the debacle of the 1917 general strike, the Labor Council continued its fight for the release of the twelve IWW men. The Union supported the Council’s every move towards this end, especially after Judd submitted his report to the Council on the blatant frame-up perpetrated on the Twelve. Calls from the Council for financial assistance were always met with money votes from the Union. In the Labor Council’s election of officers, early in 1918, the IWW was well represented on the Executive, including "Jock:" Garden as Secretary, replacing Jack Kavanagh who had been appointed to a position on the Board of Trade.
Among its many activities in 1918, the Labor Council debated the reorganisation of the Council. Initially, discussion centred on a proposal to form a State-wide federation with the Sydney-based Labor Council as its centre and head. But this was quickly shed in favour of the principles of the One Big Union. With the Ship Painters and Dockers Union being strongly sympathetic to the IWW, it supported the Council’s moves and agreed to hear a speaker from the Council on the matter. (Minutes, 13/5/1918.)
At this time, the Labor Council’s President, William Morby, sought to move a motion aimed at pledging support for a recruiting campaign for the Army. The Union’s delegates to the Council sought instructions on how to vote on the issue and the meeting decided to instruct the delegates to vote against Morby’s motion. (Minutes, 13/5/1918.) A fortnight later, the delegates reported that Morby’s motion had been ruled out of order. But when Judd then sought to move a motion on the subject, the Council’s President adjourned the meeting "through the Public occupying the Council Chamber".
The Council President’s action in closing the meeting brought much anger when reported to the Union meeting and it was decided that the delegates be instructed to vote for Judd’s motion and the Union
emphatically protest against the high-handed action of the President and Executive of the Labor Council in refusing to proceed with the business of the Labor Council on Thursday last and recommend to delegates to refuse to allow the business of Council to be dictated by "The Sun" newspaper. (Minutes, 27/6/1918.)
Eventually, Judd’s motion, which was a declaration against participating in any recruitment campaign, was carried.
Shortly after this, Judd was arrested and the Labor Council sent out an appeal for financial assistance
towards the legal expenses to defend Mr. Judd who has been charged with breaches of the War Precautions Act. this being a matter when freedom of speech is being curtailed and public speakers are being terrorised. Council considers it a duty to provide all possible assistance. (Minutes, 22/7/1918.)
and the Union responded with a money vote.
The same meeting received a report from its delegates to the Labor Council which at its last meeting had decided to allow representatives of the Sydney Morning Herald to attend its meetings. As well, it had decided to render support to some hundreds of workers at several woollen mills who had been paid off when a "bounty" paid by the Government was withdrawn and the company decided to shut down the mills. The Union decided to support the Council’s efforts. As well, the delegates’ report included the issue of "enrolment cards" by the Government for the purpose of conducting a ballot for recruits for the military forces. The Council called on all workers to refuse to touch the ballot papers and the Union meeting carried a motion from H.Ostler
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 card issued by the Government. (Minutes, 22/7/1918.)
Mahony reported to a meeting on the need for the Union to give him instructions on how to vote on a number of matters at a forthcoming Trade Union Congress in New South Wales. It was resolved that he vote for the OBU preamble (see Appendix 11(h)) and use his discretion on other agenda items, recognising that he was in tune with the general thinking in the Union. (Minutes, 5/8/1918.) At its next meeting, Mahony reported that the OBU preamble had been adopted together with the OBU framework which provided for six industrial departments with the Ship Painters and Dockers Union placed in the somewhat inappropriate Division of Building and Construction. (Minutes, 19/8/1918.) There was no demur at the meeting on the Union being placed in this category, but some time later, it preferred and sought inclusion in the Water Transport group.
J.S. ("Jock") Garden, Secretary of the Labor Council, sent a request for the Union to contribute ten shillings per hundred members or part thereof, to constitute a fund for the immediate advocacy of the OBU scheme. The meeting decided to defer the request to a Special Meeting to discuss all the ramifications of the scheme. (Minutes, 2/9/1918.)
In line with the Union’s general support for the Labor Council under its strongly IWW-influenced leadership, endorsement was given to a Council request to support a petition for the release of "Mr. Mooney of California". Thomas J.Mooney was a member of the American IWW who was sentenced to death in the USA under legislation similar to the draconic Hughes’ Government’s War Precautions Act. The death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. (Minutes, 28/10/1918.) At the same meeting, the Secretary, McDonald, reported that
Mr. Peter Simonoff had delivered a lecture to the Labor Council on Bolshevism in Russia and the action of the White Guards re same.
This was the first indication, from the Minutes, of the Union’s awareness of the Russian Revolution which had occurred some twelve months earlier. The Minutes, too, do not indicate whether any discussion followed McDonald’s report, but no doubt the members would have been aware of Peter Simonoff, a Russian living and working in Australia, who had been appointed as the first Consul to Australia from the new USSR. He had brought credentials signed by Leon Trotsky, but the Hughes Government refused to recognise him. (see Appendix 8 (8).)
Towards the end of 1918, McDonald reported that the Labor Council had decided on to call 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 meeting supported the motion, adopted by the Labor Council, calling for
all enemy subjects interned in Australia on no other ground than that of nationality be immediately released. (Minutes, 23/12/1918.)
In October, 1918, the Labor Council had accepted an offer by Conrad von Hagen to write the history of the 1917 General Strike and in the following year, copies of the book were offered to the Union by the Labor Council, with the statement that the proceeds of the sale would go to various needy causes. The meeting which received this offer did not clearly decide on purchases; nor did it make any decision on another Council initiative: the formation of a Labor College. (Minutes, 10/6/1919.)
The decision to carry out the Labor Council’s boycott of the Registrar in his demand for sending in returns of information on the Union (membership lists, etc.) continued into 1919 when the Department of Labour and Industry threatened action if the boycott did not end. At the same time, the Labor Council advised that it was calling a special meeting to deal with the matter which the Union then deferred pending the outcome of the special meeting of unions. (Minutes, 23/6/1919.)
A report was given to a Union meeting that the Labor Council had decided to call a meeting of union secretaries to hear a report on the continuing Seamen’s Union strike which had begun in May and did not end until August. The report covered the serious effect on all waterfront unions and, particularly in Melbourne, the hardship experienced by workers and their families. It was agreed that the Union should be represented at the special meeting. (Minutes, 21/7/1919.) A week later a Special Meeting of the Union heard a report from Mahony on proposals made by the Government for ending the strike, the acceptance of which was recommended by various bodies including the Seamen’s Union Federal Council. The Union meeting adopted a motion from H.Ostler and C.Thomas
That we congratulate the Seamen on their splendid solidarity and wish them success in the grand fight they are putting up against the Federal Government and further that if an immediate settlement is not arrived at a sum of twenty pounds be donated to them to help them to continue the splendid fight. (Minutes, 28/7/1919.)
The same meeting heard a report on a move by the Labor Council to call on the British Government for the release of the twelve IWW men and of J.B.King. In what way the British Government was expected to intervene was not indicated. King, an engine driver, had been given a separate sentence of three years for forgery on top of the five years imposed for "seditious conspiracy" as one of the Twelve. (Minutes, 28/7/1919.)
A dispute within the Labor Council was reported on by the Union’s delegates when a motion to investigate the financial transactions of the Council, was deferred. The Union meeting decided to instruct its delegates to vote for a committee of inquiry or presentation of an interim balance sheet. As well, the delegates were instructed to vote against the Council affiliating with the Workers Educational Association but no reasons were recorded for this opposition to the Fabian socialist WEA. (Minutes, 25/8/1919.) At its next meeting, Mahony and the other delegates reported that the Council had decided to appoint a committee of three to investigate the financial position of the Council. (Minutes, 1/9/1919.) Eventually, the
Committee reported that the Council’s funds were in "a satisfactory state" and nothing more was done in the matter. (Minutes, 19/1/1920)
The Labor Council wrote requesting unions "to refrain from shopping on Friday nights for the purpose of forcing legislation to have six o’clock closing". (Minutes, 27/10/1919.) No decision was made by the Union.
At the Summons Meeting in the Oddfellows Hall, on 22nd December, a call from the Labor Council for financial assistance for the Miners in Boulder, in Western Australia, was responded to with a vote of £3. And the Council’s decision to set a week of self-denial from 15th to 20th December, for the Broken Hill miners was adopted together with a vote of £20 and purchase of tickets for a benefit on behalf of miners. Having shown support for the Council in these matters, the meeting then debated a motion by A.Wheeler and J.Morrison, who were generally of a less militant character than most members
That we withdraw affiliation from the Labor Council as we consider that the Council is neglecting the Trade Union Movement and giving undue preference to the individual political opinions of some of the officials of the said Council.
Strangely, Swadling, a long-standing supporter of the Council, supported the motion. But, the newly-elected delegate to the Council, McDonough and Ostler opposed it, and the President left the Chair to express his opposition. When put to a vote, the motion was defeated by 50 to 17, so that the Trades Hall reds in charge of the Council received no heat from the Union at this time. (Minutes, 22/12/1919.) But, in this period, a number of unions disaffiliated
The change to a more militant and radical leadership from 1917 motivated the Printers’ withdrawal in 1918, and six other unions and the Newcastle Labour Council because ‘the Council devotes too much of its time to political matters’. (In Case of Oppression, Ray Markey, p.77)
In the New Year, the delegates to the Council reported the end of the brewery strike except at Reich’s, and on a tangential issue, Wheeler and Thomas moved to instruct the delegates to vote against prohibition at the next Council meeting. However, an amendment from Chapman and McDonough was carried which provided that "our delegates be allowed a free hand to vote as they think best on the question of prohibition". (Minutes,19/1/1920.)
The Labor Council once more called for financial assistance "to carry on a vigorous propaganda for the release of the Twelve IWW men now in jail" and a donation of £3 was passed. (Minutes, 2/2/1920.) The meeting also supported the Labor Council in its opposition to a tobacco company which, in order to avoid paying award rates to its girl employees, had instructed the girls to apply for slow worker’s permits.
Labor Council support for the Labor College was reported to a meeting of the Union by Mr. Hade, a lecturer at the College whose classes were conducted at the Trades Hall on Industrial History, Economics, Grammar, etc. He explained why funds were required to pay for rooms and for lecturers’ salaries. After giving him a hearty vote of thanks for his address, the meeting decided to defer consideration of making a donation until a Special Meeting. (Minutes, 16/2/1920.) Without any reasons being recorded, a motion by Swadling at a meeting a week later to disaffiliate from the Labor Council’s Labor College was defeated by 41 votes to 21. (Minutes, 22/6/1920.)
In this period, the Labor Council dealt with a number of strikes over wages and conditions, including demands for a 44-hour week. The Miners for whom many fund-raising endeavours were undertaken, were on strike from May 1919 to November 1920 and issues involved included a demand for a 30-hour week as part of their response to the many cases of "lung disease" among miners, a complaint which was to become known as the deadly silicosis and to be a part of the responsibility of the State Government’s Dust Diseases Board. The Miners’ strike at one stage involved the Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Union in a demarcation strike created by some of the drivers changing over their membership to the Miners’ Union. In another strike, the Marine Engineers experienced one of Hughes’ new forms of attack: the freezing of union funds, making it extremely difficult, though not impossible, for a union engaged in strike action to function or to assist those on strike. The Labor Council condemned the anti-strike laws and the Union, too, expressed its opposition. [This form of dealing with strikes was reflected many years later in the harsher laws against "secondary boycotts" introduced by Labor and Liberal Governments in the 1990s.]
In March, a donation of £10 was made towards the costs involved in the Labor Council’s court case in Melbourne where it claimed a general wage increase based on the rising cost-of-living. As well, on the deferred matter, a Special Meeting decided to adopt the Labor Council’s request for the Union to pay 5/- per 100 members to assist the Broken Hill Miners. (Minutes, 15/3/1920.)
Among Labor Council matters reported to the Union in April, was McDonald’s election to a committee to investigate a charge against the United Labourers Union; a call for assistance from the Victorian Printing Trades (a donation of £3 was made) and a profit-sharing scheme submitted to the Council by Teasdale Smith which was rejected by the Council.
In May, McDonald was also elected to represent the Labor Council at a conference with the Eight Hours Committee, to discuss a request from the Melbourne Wharf Labourers to make May 1st the official Labor Day. (see Appendix 11(g).) (Minutes, 24/5/1920.) The subject did not surface again for quite some time, until the Labor Council sent out a call to unions to adopt 1st May as a public holiday which should be proclaimed and the Union decided to support the proposal if it did not clash with the existing Eight Hour Day holiday. (Minutes,28/2/1922.)
At the same meeting, Swadling, sought information concerning the Union’s delegates to the Labor Council. He
desired to know whether the delegates were voicing their own opinions or the opinions of the Union as he knew of numerous cases where Union delegates at different gatherings voiced different opinions. Mr. Thorljonsen stated that it was the militant members who attend meetings and were elected to the positions. They therefore voiced the opinion of the Union as the Union knew their views.
Mr. McDonald President stated that he voted as he was instructed by the Union and in matters of doubt he refrained from voting.
The matter was taken no further. (Minutes, 24/5/1920.)
The continuing problem of gaining the release of the twelve IWW men was once more before the Union when Sinclair from the Labor Council addressed a Union meeting about the IWW Men Release Committee
He did not want men to go on strike but he wanted the Union to voice a united opinion demanding the release of the men. It was a question of public policy and the united demands would have an effect on the Government and the Commission (inquiring into the gaolings)
And following the address, the meeting decided to comply with the request. (Minutes, 7/6/1920.)
In July, a meeting of the Union heard a report from its delegates to the Labor Council concerning the Prince of Wales and "how he treats his tenants", but no details or decision were recorded. (Minutes, 19/7/1920.)
Labor Council delegates reported on a decision by the Council to oppose any proposals for intervention in Russia and Poland. (Minutes, 30/8/1920.)
In September, when discussing the Union’s application for changes in its constitution, Mahony advised the meeting that, in his opinion, "Jock" Garden, Secretary of the Labor Council 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, 20/9/1920.)
At this stage, Garden was probably involved in the founding of the Communist Party in Australia. Soon after, a request was received from the Labor Council for the Union to contribute 1½d. per member to send Jock Garden to England to attend a conference. The meeting decided that the letter "lay on the table", the polite form for deciding that no action be taken. At the same time, the delegates to the Council reported that the conference which Garden proposed attending "was not one in which the Council should be represented". And on the charge against Garden, Mahony reported on the meeting with the Labor Council’s Executive Committee, arising from which, the meeting decided
That this Union has the fullest confidence in the Secretary in the case against Mr. Garden, Secretary Labor Council. (Minutes, 11/10/1920.)
Early in the New Year, the Boilermakers Society wrote to the Union requesting a statement concerning the charge made against Garden and the matter was left in his hands to reply. (Minutes, 17/1/1921.)
In January, although the Depression was not to be officially declared for some years, the Labor Council advised that it had decided to accept an unemployed worker, Joe Warren, as an organiser who would work in conjunction with the Council officials on matters affecting the unemployed. (Minutes, 31/1/1921) (see also Appendix 13(b).) This was followed, at the next meeting by a letter from Garden, stating
I have the honour by direction of the above Council to make an appeal in order to assist the unemployed….The unemployed question is becoming an acute one, all unions being affected and the tendency will be to have more unemployed….every man on the unemployed market is a danger to the men in employment. Unemployment means hunger, Depression and all that follows in its train. This appeal is not a charitable appeal. The unemployed are not looking for charity. They are looking for work. It is essential they be….organised.
A donation of £2.2.0 was made in response to the appeal. (Minutes, 14/2/1921.)
A fortnight later, the Labor Council delegates reported on the unemployment demonstration
Mr. Garden marching to A.Horderns with the unemployed, where they were refused food also interference by Police. Mr. Garden received since invitations to take unemployed for meals which he refused. (Minutes, 14/3/1921.)
At the weekly meeting of the Labor Council, on 24th March, 1921, the President, J.Howie, "referred to the sad news from South Australia re the death of comrade Percy Brookfield". (see Appendix 8 (11).) In April, a report was received from the Brookfield Memorial Committee with a request for delegates from the Union to join and Swadling and Elvin were elected. A motion was then carried
That this Union fall in line and make a success of it. (Minutes, 25/4/1921.)
President John McDonald reported on Labor Council proceedings including a deputation to the Minister concerning
Magistrate Gale fining a returned soldier for assaulting a man who wore a red carnation when he said no doubt he had provocation as he thought he was a red ragger.
The Labor Council had decided
to circularise all affiliated and unaffiliated unions, Labor Leagues and all political parties asking them to send men to form a bodyguard to protect workers and platform and speakers in the Domain and Elsewhere.
Murphy and Cook moved a motion which was carried that
the Union send a bodyguard to protect the Platform. request of Labor Council be complied with. (Minutes, 9/5/1921.)
The first meeting in June had a report from McDonald on business transacted at the Labor Council including
It had been decided owing to numerous requests from unions by resolutions submitted to have a deputation comprehensive in its character to wait upon Mr. McKell Minister for Justice to discuss the liberation of Mr. C.Reeves.
And the Union meeting elected McDonald to represent the Union on the deputation to put the case for the release of the last of the IWW men after the wartime frame up. (Minutes, 7/6/1921.)
A donation of £3 was made towards the Labor Council’s appeal for assistance to finance the visit of J.Howie, President of the Council, to England. (Minutes, 29/8/1921.) This trip, as a representative of the Council, would probably have other interests involved as well, for Howie was one of the "Trades Hall reds". Being involved in the formation of the Communist Party, some two years earlier, Howie now found the time to visit Moscow for the founding of the Red International of Labor Unions and following his return to Australia, convinced the Labor Council to affiliate with this body.
The association of the Labor Council with the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) at this time was very close. Apart from Garden’s position of dual leadership, most of the remainder of the Council’s officers were communists, or close sympathisers, including H.L."Snowy" Denford, W.Gibb (vice President, 1923-25), J.Howie (president, 1919-22), J.Kilburn, A.McPherson (vice president, 1918-19) and A.Rutherford. From 1920, the term ‘trades hall reds’ became a common description for this executive. (In Case of Oppression, Ray Markey)
Recognising the political character of the Labor Council in this period, and in view of Mahony’s dispute with Garden, the vote of £3 for Howie’s overseas trip indicated the Union’s strong support for those in control of the Council, although this was to change later. It was during the next month that Mahony was appointed to the N.S.W. Legislative Council as a Labor Member, but this did not deter him from holding radical views or supporting the militancy of the Labor Council.
The Union’s position, and that of Mahony, was also apparent in the move by the Labor Council to call a Special Conference re
forming an industrial group to exercise decisive influence over political parties claiming to represent the working class.
And the Union decided to participate in the conference. (Minutes, 26/9/1921.) While there were good and cogent reasons for the unions to consider that the ALP was not carrying out what was considered its primary task, catering for the unions’ needs and aspirations, this move undoubtedly was pressed by a Labor Council still essentially dominated by Communist Party members and sympathisers. Nevertheless, the rank and file of the Union supported it.
The Labor Council sent a request for the Union to carry a resolution "protesting against the proposed action of the BMA to expel Dr.Thompson" and the request was complied with. (Minutes, 12/9/1921) Dr. J.R.M. Thompson became involved in the case of Farr, committed to a lunatic asylum, claiming that Farr was not insane. Hostility to the British Medical Association, as it was still called in Australia at the time, existed within the union movement. The Labor Council minutes were uninformative on the case, giving simply: "for his activities in the Farr case", and that the Council "is prepared to cooperate with all other organisations to secure the deregistration of the B.M.A. in N.S.W." (see Appendix 8(15).)
Still championing underdog causes, a Labor Council resolution was received and adopted at a Union meeting, declaring
That this organisation demands from the Queensland Government the release of James Nicholls who was sentenced to six years imprisonment on a charge of burning cane as we consider a gross miscarriage of justice has been perpetrated. (Minutes, 24/10/1921.)
Nothing more was reported on the matter.
Differences still existed within the Union on whether the Labor College should be recognised and joined and a decision was made for the Union to invite J.B.King of the Labor Council to attend a meeting and "explain the workings of the Labor College". King was one of the twelve IWW men gaoled during the war on allegations of incendiarism and other charges, one of which, that of forging and uttering, brought him an additional five years sentence. He had joined the fledgling Communist Party, but broke with it towards the end of 1920.
King addressed a Union meeting in November and explained the purpose of the Labor College as
To instruct the workers in economics and working class ideals. he pointed out the position of the workers today under capitalism and said the only solution was for the workers to take over the means of production and distribution.
He was accorded a hearty vote of thanks. (Minutes, 21/11/1921.) In the following year, McDonald, Swadling and Fielberg were elected to attend the College’s Annual General Meeting (Minutes, 30/1/1922.)
In December, 1922, delegates to the Labor Council reported that the Council had received advice that the last of the twelve IWW men, Charles Reeves, had been released.
Mahony reported to the same meeting on the Court’s judgment on the Labor Council’s 44-hours claim. This was the culmination of the general fight for shorter hours in that period, when unemployment was rife and the Courts, the Board of Trade and other authorities threw out any proposals or earlier decisions favourable to reduced hours.
In early 1920 and 1921, the building trades and maritime unions also struck over the 44-hour issue. Their success was followed by State legislation in support of a 44-hour week, and Justice Higgins granted Commonwealth awards for the same to the AEU and the Timberworkers. However, Prime Minister Hughes responded with legislation requiring a full bench of the Court for variation of standard working hours. Higgins thereupon resigned, because he interpreted this action as an attack upon his integrity.
Justice Powers became the new Chief Justice of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. He joined a full bench which overturned Higgins’ reductions to working hours, upon appeal from employers, and rejected all further union applications for reductions. (In Case of Oppression, Ray Markey.)
A debate arose at this meeting over a Labor Council proposal to raise funds for the Percy Brookfield Memorial by selling copies of his photo. Arguments developed over whether to purchase a limited number of copies, or allow members to endeavour to sell them around the jobs or whether it was unconstitutional to expend Union funds on such matters. No decision was recorded.
A report was given to a meeting on the Labor Council’s position on the OBU and its Council of Action. The Council of Action was a policy adopted by the Labor Council from OBU programmes as a counter to lockouts and other actions by shipowners and other employers. A lockout had followed action by marine stewards in their attempt to gain an eight hour day and all seagoing unions were soon involved. (Minutes, 13/2/1922.)
A powerful front of unions --- the Labor Councils and the federal unions of land transport and maritime workers --- met the shipping lockout with a revolutionary challenge to the employers and the government. "Carefully deliberating on the disabilities and limitations of the working class movement in this country", they declared, "and anticipating the threadbare argument that the working class are not ready, we state emphatically, to safeguard the Movement from disaster, the time for battle is now". But there must be no repetition of the "1917 fiasco"; the unions must form a Council of Action, empowered "to order a cessation of work, or to take any action deemed necessary", and "to organise the forces to take charge of and regulate food necessary for the working class to live". The bluff was for the moment successful; the Commonwealth government relented on its previous unwillingness to appoint a tribunal to consider the shipping dispute, and within five days the trouble was over. (Industrial Labour and Politics, 1900-1921, Ian Turner, p.211-2)
The same meeting received a report from Swadling, McDonald and Murphy on the Labor Council discussion on the Red Flag Movement, established after the Government’s crackdown on the flying of the red flag. (see Appendix 12(a)).) As well, it was reported, the Labor Council had discussed a "round table" conference proposed by Hughes, but in this matter, there was no need for guidance from the Council, since the Federal Council of the Union had already made a determination on the matter and issued an edict:
That….no Branch of the Federation should take part in any conference convened for the purpose of reducing wages
….the conference convened by the Prime Minister has for its object a reduction in wages and the lowering of the standard of living of the workers.
In April, the Labor Council sent out advice to all unions which was adopted by the Union
That all unions be circulated re the danger of accepting gifts of stationery and other matter from various dentists as it has been stated that most of these Dentists are opposed to union labour. (Minutes, 10/4/1922.)
As well, the Labor Council recommended to all unions
That all men who scabbed during the 1917 strike be again admitted to membership excepting those who were employed as special pimps by the Military Commission. Each union to deal only with individuals. No loyalist organisations to be recognised.
The Union chose to ignore it. (Minutes, 6/6/1922.)
The April meeting of the Union heard a report from its delegates to the Labor Council on a request for each union to donate £5 to the May Day Committee "for initial expenses" and a vote of 10/- was passed. (Minutes, 10/4/1922.)
Labor Council business at later meetings, reported to the Union on 6/6/1922, included
- unemployed Army in New South Wales numbers nearly 50,000 and in its unorganised state is a great menace to organised labour.
- Mr. Larkin’s Passage Money. As one of the twelve IWW men, Larkin was released from gaol and sought funds to take him and his family back to Ireland.
- A request to release the Secretary or Organiser "to assist the Unemployed when called upon to speak" and this was agreed to.
A decision of a meeting of union secretaries under the aegis of the Labor Council was transmitted to the Union
That we pledge ourselves to do our utmost to resist a reduction of wages and a lengthening of hours and will assist all other bodies in that direction. (Minutes, 31/7/1922.)
The meeting also agreed
that each union be asked to notify their members to refrain from purchasing goods at Murdoch’s in Park Street who are the prime movers for the reduction in wages in the retail trade. This firm also employs non-union labour in their clothing factory. (Minutes, 14/8/1922.)
Among other matters dealt with by the Labor Council and reported to the Union meetings were the trip to Russia planned by "Jock" Garden; the donation of £200 to the strike by tailoresses in South Australia. (Minutes, 14/8/1922.) A request was received from the Melbourne Trades Hall Council via the NSW Labor Council, for financial assistance for the wife and family of G.Kerr, President of the Barrier Miners Union in Broken Hill "whilst he remains in prison". And a donation was made. (Minutes, 11/9/1922.)
The Union’s minutes-taker at the time was extremely brief in his recording and thus at one meeting, he simply took note of a report from the Labor Council on the WWF withdrawal of its affiliation with the Council, the tailoresses’ strike in South Australia and the expulsion of some members from the Seamen’s Union. (Minutes, 9/10/1922.)
Other matters reported on were the Labor Council’s decision to call on the State Government to change the "alleged" employees’ representatives on the Board of Trade, as….the present representatives "do not represent the employees nor do they hold the confidence of the workers" and support for this stand was carried. (Minutes, 23/10/1922.) As well, it was reported that an emergency meeting of the Council had decided
That the Trade Union movement should immediately launch a propaganda campaign against the wage reductions and lengthening of hours now being enforced by the capitalist class courts and employers.
The meeting endorsed this without opposition. A further motion was carried which called on the Labor Council to invite the world-renowned socialist, Tom Mann, who was at the time in South Africa, to visit Australia and the Council to pay the expenses. (Minutes, 23/10/1922.) Early in 1923, the delegates reported that the Labor Council had elected a committee "to interview the Prime Minister about granting a passport to Tom Mann". (Minutes, 3/1/1923.)
In December, a Union meeting donated £3 to the appeal from the Labor Council on behalf of the wives and families of striking Stovemakers, Sheetmetal Workers, Ironworkers and Boilermakers; and defeated a motion from Jack Lannen and H.A.C.Smith, for the Union to withdraw from the Labor Council. (Minutes, 18/12/1922.)
The fight against restoring the 48 hours per week was continued with the Labor Council calling for assistance for the Coopers on strike against the lengthened hours, and the invitation to "Mr. James from Western Australia who would address the Council on the fight against the 48 hour week". The Union complied. (Minutes, 12/2/1923.)
Financial assistance was solicited by the Labor Council for Tom Glynn, for whom a benefit social evening had been organised and tickets for the function were purchased. Glynn was one of the imprisoned twelve IWW men, who took ill in gaol and had some continuing ailment after his release. He was a family man and continued with political activity for many years after his release. Following his release in August 1920, he and J.B. King joined the Communist Party when it was formed in October 1920. He was elected editor of the CPA’s paper, but left the Party after some two years. (Minutes, 18/6/1923.)
The June meeting also adopted a proposed motion from the Labor Council, for forwarding to the anti-Labor Prime Minister, Stanley Melbourne Bruce. The motion declared
That this Branch of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union desire to enter our emphatic protest against the sale of the Commonwealth ships believing such action to be against the best interests of the working class. (Minutes, 18/6/1923.)
Interest in the Labor Party continued within the Union and was demonstrated in the Union’s response to a call from the Labor Council for all unionists to join the Party. A Union meeting took the extreme step of deciding
That it be an instruction to members to comply with the request. (Minutes, 30/7/1923.)
In September, the Labor Council proposed a boycott of papers printed by the New Century Publishing Company, namely, "Humour" and "Fairplay", and the Union meeting agreed to the boycott. (Minutes, 10/9/1923.) The Labor Council’s decision, stated
That the Labor Council of New South Wales desires to bring before the notice of all affiliated unions the fact that certain papers are being printed by the New Century Press a printing company which was instrumental in having one of the affiliated unions to Council fined £100. The papers published are "Humour", "Fairplay" and "Aussie". The Council recommends to all unions to bring before their members the facts of the case, in order that the working class in the State may take the action necessary to make these people understand that their (sic) is a spirit of solidarity in the ranks of the workingclass. (L.C.Minutes, 6/9/1923)
Bakers gained support for their opposition to night baking and the meeting of the Union concurred in the Labor Council’s condemnation of the anti-Labor Fuller Government which gave support for employer bakers
by giving instructions that no action has to be taken against any Master Baker who violates the Bread Act and asking that a letter of protest be forwarded to the Government against their lax administration of the Bread Act. (Minutes, 10/9/1923.)
A donation was made to the Labor Council’s appeal for financial assistance arising from the Bellbird disaster. On 1st September, 1923, 21 lives were lost in an explosion in the Bellbird mine near Cessnock in New South Wales. (Minutes, 22/10/1923.)
As the Communist Party developed, so it came into dispute with the Labor Party, leading to known members of the CPA being expelled from the ALP. The Union, consistent with its militant and radical character, decided
That the Branch enter its emphatic protest against the executive of the Australian Labor Party expelling the members of the Communist Party and that the Assistant Secretary write on the same to the Labor Council. (Minutes, 22/10/1923.)
The Labor Council acknowledged the Union‘s letter. Clearly, at this time, when the Labor Council had decided, in 1922, to affiliate with the Red International of Labor Unions (a CPA initiative) and when most of its officers were either members or close supporters of the Communist Party, and when the CPA-Labor Council attitude towards the ALP was highly critical and condemnatory, it was to be expected that the ALP would take some action against the "Trades Hall reds", but the CPA persisted in its desire to continue as a part of the Labor Party and there would have been some indignation at the ALP’s action. The ALP’s response to the protests was an insistence that its rules provided for such action against members of other groups.
The ALP’s expulsions did not end the matter. At its meeting in November, a motion by Bill Swadling and Thomas was carried, calling on the Labor Council to seek support from other unions
to call a conference in January re faked ballot boxes and expulsion of the Communist Party. (Minutes, 19/11/1923.)
Early in December, the Labor Council wrote to advise of a Police dispute in Melbourne and appealing for funds, in response to which it was decided to invite "Mr. Tucker to address the next summons meeting and hear his views re the dispute". (Minutes, 3/12/1923.)
In his A Documentary History of the Australian Labor Movement, 1850-1975, Brian McKinley wrote
On Wednesday, 31st October, 1923, a number of Melbourne Policemen refused to carry out duties under a new roster which placed them under constant surveillance by police inspectors. Their suspension from duty lead to a general stoppage of Victorian police and by Saturday much of Melbourne was without police. There was widespread rioting and looting before special constables restored order on the following day. The Victorian Government acted with great severity towards the strikers and none of those dismissed was ever reinstated in the Victorian police force. Initially, there was sympathy for the police, whose wages and conditions were seen to be poor; when rioting developed, however, conservative opinion was soon marshalled against them. (see also Appendix 12(c).)
While support for the striking police was strong, this solidarity was frittered away in later police action, similar to the scab-herding and other offences against striking workers in previous periods.
At the same time as it rendered support for the striking police, the struggle for recognition of unionism was still essential, and the Labor Council advised unions concerning a blatant case concerning the Sydney Industrial Blind Institution in William Street, Sydney which had refused
employment to Messrs. J.Sharp, G.Scott, F.Lucas such refusal being on the grounds of their identity with a Trade Union known as the Association for the Advancement of the Blind. The Council requests all affiliated & unaffiliated bodies to refrain from contributing or supporting the above institution until the three men are re-employed by the Institution.
The Union adopted the Council’s proposal. (Minutes, 3/12/1923.)
A later meeting was advised of the need to seek ALP support for its stand against the Blind Institution and called for adoption of a motion for submission for the Agenda of the ALP Conference, declaring
That the State Labor Party nationalise the affairs of the Sydney Industrial Blind Institution subject to the provision of direct union representation on the governing board. Further that the minimum living wage prevailing in the State be paid to all blind adult employees.
The motion was adopted by the Union meeting. (Minutes, 17/12/1923.)
Problems continued with the Blind Institution and the Branch received representations some years later from the Institution and from the Chief Secretary’s Department
Regretting that the Union endorsed representations made from the Association of the Advancement for the Blind without hearing both sides.
The Secretary reported that Mr.Hedge of the Blind Institute had interviewed him in the presence of the President and Mr.Terry (Management Committee) and had explained the working conditions and rates of pay given to blind workers…. The President….suggested the information should go to the Labor Council for all unions to be informed….The Manager had invited any members wishing to inspect and talk to blind workers….
The President’s suggestion was adopted by the meeting. (Minutes, 23/2/1926.) A later invitation to the Branch from the Blind Institution to inspect its arrangements for blind workers, was deferred until the Labor Council decided to lift its boycott. (Minutes, 22/3/1926.) Twelve months later, the Branch, following representations from the Association for the Advancement of the Blind, decided
- That the State Labor Party nationalise the affairs of the Blind by taking over the Sydney Industrial Blind Institution with the provision of direct representation by the Blind on the governing Board.
- That the minimum living wage prevailing in the State be paid to all blind adult employees. (Minutes, 4/4/1927.)
Dispute concerning blind workers continued for many years. In 1931, the Blind Workers Association sent the Union three tickets for a dance "to try and raise sufficient funds to aid those blind men who have been victimised by the Sydney Industrial Blind Institution". A meeting decided that any member wishing to purchase tickets should do so from the Secretary. The three tickets were bought by Weston, Goddard and Shaw. (Minutes, 31/8/1931.)
A major strike by the crews of overseas ships gained the support of the Labor Council whose Transport group dealt with the s.s. Port Lyttleton which was declared black as "a ship belonging to the same company" as the s.s. Port Curtis whose crew were given gaol sentences described by the Group as "savage and vindictive". (Minutes, 25/2/1924.)
Branch Secretary Jack McDonald represented the Union at the meetings of the Transport Group and thus became embroiled in reactions over the seamen’s strike, so that he reported to a Union meeting that on April 23rd at about 9 a.m.
three policemen arrested him on a charge of conspiracy in connection with the "Port Lyttleton". They also took the minute book and rough minutes book. The case was brought before the Court at 2.30 p.m. when it was remanded until May 1st. The men were allowed out on bail. They appeared ….and further remanded to May 15th.
He also reported that the Labor Council had issued an appeal to the workers of Australia over the strike. A motion to pledge moral and financial support to the men arrested from the various unions on the Council’s Transport Group was carried. (Minutes, 5/5/1924.) Eventually, the six union officials, including McDonald, were completely cleared of the frame-up charges and a meeting congratulated McDonald, condemned the frame-up and voted him £20 "in lieu of holidays due to him and to show our appreciation of his conduct during the severe trial". (Minutes, 28/7/1924.)
In June, a report was given to a meeting on the Labor Council being addressed by
Mr. Begley, Senior Medical Assistant of the mandated territory of New Guinea….gave some horrible reports as to the treatment meted out to natives by some of the officials.
The report was received without comment. ( Minutes, 2/6/1924.)
In the fight within the ALP over banning members of the Communist Party, the Union still stood with the "Trades Hall reds". Thus, when the ALP decided to call a Special Conference to deal with, among other matters, the alteration of the rules on pre-selection ballots, the meeting rejected an attempt to instruct the delegates to support a Central Executive proposal which would have reduced the strength of union voting in such ballots. Unionists, who were financial members of their union, were known as Rule 6 voters and were entitled to vote in pre-selection ballots. (Minutes, 16/6/1924.)
The August meeting of the Union received a report on its finances and decided that 10% of the half year’s healthy balance "go to the Labor Council for funds for the unemployed". (Minutes, 23/8/1924.)
In the following month, the Union dealt with, and adopted, a motion from the Boilermakers Society concerning a petition for a Special Conference of the ALP, which the Labor Council asked unions to adopt, thus
That this Union views with disgust the EXCUSES put forward by the Executive of the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Labor Party as to why they have changed their minds re the holding of a Special Conference which they agreed to hold on 30th August 1924.
….We are further of the opinion that the statement issued by them doubting the validity of the petitions forwarded from the various leagues and unions is an insult to every affiliated unionist and fully bears out the contention that the cleansing of the movement attempted at the last conference has been a dismal failure. (Minutes, 22/9/1924.)
At this time, Jack Lang, who had been elected Leader of the Party in New South Wales in July 1923, was prominent among the parliamentarians pushing for rejection of the "dual membership" which allowed members of the Communist Party to be also members of the ALP.
The State Executive declared against dual membership of the ALP and CPA, and by a narrow vote expelled Garden and Howie as communists. A number of ALP branches and unions, of which the FIA was the most important, protested. The Labor Council mounted a campaign to reverse the expulsion, gaining considerable sympathy from many unionists who had ‘communist-style’ views without being members of the CPA. The Council endorsed a proposal from the communist-led FIA for a special conference to deal with the issue. According to ALP rules, twenty unions or branches were required to call such a conference, and the Labor Council succeeded in gaining support from fifty-two. However, after weeks of delays, the ALP executive decided to cancel a conference it had sanctioned for August 1924, on the grounds
that amongst the appellants there were not twenty of the bodies competent under the rules to demand a conference. The requests came from branches of the ALP that were not` ALP branches and from sections of unions.
The 1924 ordinary State ALP conference confirmed the executive’s action against the communists, as did the federal ALP conference in October 1924.
--- In Case of Oppression, Ray Markey.
In November, The President of the Union, Weston, reported as a delegate to the Labor Council "whose meeting had discussed at great length" the matter of representation to the Australian Labor Party from affiliated unions and had decided
That any union affiliated to the Australian Labor party should have the right of sending whom they think should represent them at any conference no matter what school of thought they belonged to as long as that school was in the interest of the workingclass. (Minutes, 2/11/1925.)
The "Labour Bureaux" established by the Government on the pretext of providing work for the unemployed was branded by the Labor Council as the "Scab Bureau". A mass meeting organised by the Council and held in the Hippodrome was a strong rallying point for the campaign to have the Bureaux abolished. In December, the Union meeting decided to pay £5 as its share of the cost of hiring the Hippodrome. (Minutes, 1/12/1924.)
The Labor Council’s Transport Group, covering all seagoing and waterfront unions took up a dispute with the Newcastle Hunter River Company and declared the company’s wharves and ships black. When reported to the Union meeting, with a request that all unionists refrain from travelling on the ships, the action was adopted. (Minutes, 29/12/1924.)
The Tramways Employees Union wrote to the Union seeking support for its attempt to censure the Labor Council for its action in declaring the Labor Daily black. The Union’s response was debated around a motion by Swadling and Murphy
That the Acting Secretary reply requesting the secretary of the Tramways Union to be sure of the position before forwarding any letter to this Union.
But, an amendment was then carried "That no further action be taken" from which the Union’s position was shown as favouring the Labor Council’s action. (Minutes, 9/2/1925.) (see also Appendix 12(d).)
In this period, the Labor Daily was becoming more and more anti-communist and thus anti-Garden as Secretary of the still-red Labor Council. But the ban on the paper lasted for some months and eventually saw Garden becoming one of the paper’s directors.
A call came from the Labor Council for financial assistance for the crew of the s.s. Volumnia,
Who had been sent to gaol for 24 days and on completion of their sentence another batch of summonses were taken out by the master of the vessel. The men were on the second occasion sent to gaol for eight weeks, for refusing to be a party to the scheme of the Commonwealth Line to evade the Award of the Commonwealth Court. These men were on English articles and would have been working against the interests of the members of the Australian Seamen’s Union. A donation of £3 was made. (Minutes, 9/2/1925) (see also Appendix 12(e).)
Jack McDonald reported to a meeting on the Labor Council’s black ban on the Newcastle Company. The ban had then been lifted for Painters and Dockers, by the Council’s Transport Group, but this was reversed by the Labor Council meeting held on the same night. Following the report, Talbot moved to "condemn the opinion of the Labor Council re the Newcastle dispute". Thomas seconded his motion. O’Keeffe declared that "it was a stab in the back for the Secretary", and Murphy stated that "the Newcastle Company was black since 1917 as far as he was concerned".
The meeting heard about the "scurrilous attack" made on Bob Mahony by the Communist Party’s paper, the Workers Weekly, while he was attending Court in Melbourne. The attack concerned tactics adopted by Mahony in his negotiations with employers and in his actions in the Arbitration Court. McDonald stated that he had been with Bob Mahony during the whole hearing of the Union’s case and condemned the attack on Mahony
as mean and despicable, that the principal officer of the Labor Council was conversant with the tactics being used and the conditions prevailing, as the case was a case of tactics against tactics and the employers were outwitted. He also stated that no industrial advocate or Barrister could have put up the fight that our General Secretary had and the successful conclusion it had been brought to.
A further attempt was then made by Talbot to have the Union withdraw its affiliation with the Labor Council, which was ruled out of order by the President whose ruling was not challenged. (Minutes, 4/5/1925.) A Special Meeting, a fortnight later, placed on record its
sincere appreciation of the very valuable services rendered to the Union by Mr. Robert Mahony, General Secretary of the Federation in the recent Arbitration Court proceedings in carrying out the Policy and Instructions of the Federal Council of the Union….. (Minutes, 18/5/1925.)
Mid-year, the Labor Council called for financial support for the Liquor Trades Union, involved in a fight over preference to unionists, and a vote of £3 was carried. As well, the Union agreed to pay £10 towards the cost of a handbill issued by the Labor Council, entitled, "Unionists Don’t Scab!". But the Council’s scheme to establish a Workers’ Club which would provide billiards, card games, library and social hall, plus a liquor licence, for which a down payment of £1000 was required (the Union’s share being £10), was deferred to allow President or Secretary of the Labor Council to address a Union meeting. (Minutes, 1/6/1925.)
At a Special Summons Meeting on 24th August, 1925, a letter was received from Chinese seamen concerning the shooting of students and seamen during the seamen’s strike. The letter was deferred pending a decision on the matter by the Labor Council. (see Appendix 12(f)) It is interesting that Rowan Cahill’s history of the Seamen’s Union makes no mention of this. Nor do published histories of the Labor Council.
Mr. R.Day, from "Radio for Labor", on behalf of the Labor Council, addressed a Special Summons Meeting on 7th September, giving "a lengthy outline of the scheme", after which the meeting adopted the scheme. At a later meeting, McDonald reported that the Labor Council had decided that the official opening of the Wireless Station would be on Saturday, 31st October, 1925, by the Hon. A.C.Willis, MLC, with representatives from the Labor Daily, Labor Council, Eight-Hour Committee, Trades Hall Committee, Miners and the various groups connected with the Labor Council. Short speeches were broadcast from the 2KY station. McDonald had spoken on behalf of the Transport Group (Sea.) (Minutes, 2/11/1925.)
At the same meeting, the Labor Council requested that the Union send a letter to the Minister for Health, G. McCann
That the State Government enter into negotiations with Spahlinger with the object of getting his serum for the benefit of sufferers of tuberculosis in New South Wales.
Among issues confronting the labor movement generally was the legislation by the Bruce anti-Labor Government, known as the Deportation Bill. This was a blatant attempt to silence workingclass advocates, and among the first victims were Walsh and Johnson, officials of the Seamen’s Union, charged with being responsible for the Seamen’s strike which ended in a defeat for the union. The Labor Council sent out a call which was reported to a Union meeting, to support its "plan of attack" on the Federal Government which had decided that
an amendment to the Immigration Act was necessary, a state of emergency must be declared and a deportation tribunal set up so that anyone foreign-born and associated with the seamen’s strike might be deported…. A Deportation Board of three was set up, consisting of a solicitor, a former policeman and an accountant…. Lang refused to give the Commonwealth any help. The Deportation Act, he said, was ‘monstrous and a disgrace to our statutes’. When Walsh and Johnson, four months later were arrested, he refused to allow the State to act, and the Commonwealth police, created by Mr. Hughes, were called in for the occasion. Then Lang refused to allow Walsh and Johnson to be lodged in a State jail. They had to be taken by the Commonwealth police to the naval establishment at Garden Island…..The case was finally argued before the High Court…. In his challenge to the Commonwealth on the legality of the Deportation Act Dr. Evatt made seven points…. A majority decision freed Walsh and Johnson.
--- Evatt: Politics and Justice, by Kylie Tennant.
In November, the President, Weston, explained to a Special meeting why it had been called, namely,
To deal with a Labor Council resolution instructing the Transport Group to meet on Friday afternoon, 27th November, to deal with the question of Deportation as a matter of urgency….
From Weston’s report, the meeting decided
That it be a recommendation to the Federal Union to call a stop work meeting throughout Australia on the day of deportation of Messrs. Walsh and Johnson. (Minutes, 30/11/1925.)
In January, 1926, a meeting of "members affected through the dispute at Mort’s Dock" was held under the chairmanship of the President, Charles Weston. The meeting was attended by "Jock" Garden, Secretary of the Labor Council who reported to the meeting that
….individual action had been taken by the members of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union employed at Mort’s Dock against the introduction of the permanent rate. A number of men had received permanent notices….which they handed back.
Garden then went over the facts concerning members of the docking gang and other gangs refusing to work for the permanent hire rate and others being sacked for refusing to do the work of those who rejected the rate. The Shipwrights refused to dock ships without the dockers. He then went on
Had the troubles remained with the Painters and Dockers only the Disputes Committee could not have taken any action unless requested by the Painters and Dockers Union, but seeing that the Shipwrights were connected with the trouble and that they were affiliated to the Labor Council along with the Ship Painters and Dockers Union, the Disputes Committee stepped in with the result after a lot of negotiation between Mr. Silk and Messrs. Garden and Day, the following propositions were placed before the men affected:….
Garden then outlined how permanent and casual rates would apply to the various gangs of Painters and Dockers. His report provoked a great deal of debate until Feilberg and Shaw moved to accept the proposals. Foran and O’Keeffe opposed and George Brennan supported the motion. Emil van Rugge sought to have the matter deferred, but this was defeated by 114 votes to 28. Feilberg’s motion was then put and carried, after which "a hearty vote of thanks" was accorded Garden and Day. (Minutes, 9/1/1926.)
Disputation did not end there, however. Mahony was before the Arbitration Court to explain to the Judge, Sir John Quick, why members, "individually", would not accept permanent hire at Mort’s Dock. (Minutes, 8/3/1926.)
Between the permanent hire issue and the Branch decision to work only 44 hours per week and only work Saturdays if paid overtime rates, Mort’s Dock was in constant turmoil in this period. Other unions were seeing their members stood down and the Labor Council sent out appeals for financial assistance for the wives and families of all those affected. In March, the Council appeal sought financial assistance for 1200 workers thrown out of work as the result of the Painters and Dockers dispute. (Minutes 22/3/1926.)
A Special Summons Meeting convened towards the end of March, when a report was given on the intervention in the dispute by the Labor Council. Negotiations were conducted between C.Bellemore representing the State Government, T.Silk (Mort’s Dock General Manager) and .S.Garden (Labor Council). A conference was then held involving "Jock Garden; C.Weston and J.McDonald (SP&DU); Silk, King and Cox (Mort’s Dock). From this conference and ensuing telephone calls, Bellemore later advised Garden of Sir John Quick being prepared to come from Melbourne and hear the case if the Union was prepared to apply for a variation of its Award. From this information, Garden convened a meeting of the Disputes Committee which then issued a directive to the Union to convene a Special Meeting of Painters and Dockers for 10 a.m. the next day. When this meeting opened "Jock" Garden and Jack Beasley addressed it
at great length and stated that as far as the members of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union were concerned they were in a fairly good position, but that 1150 other men had been locked out and that it was in the interests of these men that the members of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union should go back to work on Monday morning.
Mr.Garden was asked quite a number of questions which he answered satisfactorily.
and so the meeting eventually carried a motion by J.Corrigan and J.Wilson, by 98 votes to 57.
That we the members of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union, New South Wales Branch, have every confidence in the Disputes Committee and that the members return to work on Monday morning as instructed. (Minutes, 27/3/1926.)
Sir John Quick brought down a judgment on 14th April, 1926, which provided for limited application of the permanent hire conditions in the Award.
A meeting of the Branch considered a request from the Labor Council to adopt a motion expressing emphatic protest against the ALP Executive in requiring
Messrs. J. Beasley, J. Kilburn, C.K. Tannock and A.E.Bennett to show cause why they should not be penalised, whose only offence is in participating in a Trade Union Congress representative of all working class organisations in the State, the object of which was to eliminate the existing gulf between the Industrial and Political Movements. The cablegram referred to was not of a political nature but greetings from one representative body of workers to another for the improvement of material conditions.
The motion was adopted. (Minutes, 22/3/1926.)
At a meeting of the Branch in May, a report was given on a policy on strikes endorsed by the Labor Council Transport Group, and adopted by the Labor Council which read
- That no strike be declared on by any section of this group unless and until the Group has been called together for the purpose of thoroughly discussing the matter.
- That in all disputes affecting this Group, that no strike can be declared off unless by a majority of delegates assembled at a special meeting called to consider the matter.
This report was adopted by the Branch, although it must have been with tongue firmly in cheek, for stoppages continued whenever some injustice was considered to have been done, or some safety or other issue arose, or support for another union was called for. (Minutes, 3/5/1926.)
In the period when the Victorian Branch Secretary, Moloney, was also acting as Federal Secretary, he attended, together with McDonald and Swadling, a meeting of the Labor Council’s Disputes Committee which was dealing with the 44 hours campaign and the Branch stand on the issue. Moloney reported to a meeting of the NSW Branch on "them", the Disputes Committee
instructed them to only work 44 hours.
The Disputes Committee said that their policy at the present time was to confine the dispute to the Metal Trade, and they had laid down a line of policy for the other States. The policy of the Council is as follows
- That the Council endorse the principle of 44 hours.
- That no overtime be worked until the 44 hours principle be recognised by the employers.
- That no new shifts be allowed….until the 44 hours principle is recognised by the employers.
The Council was definite that no other matter should be allowed to crop in on this issue. The question was the fight for the 44 hour principle and every means to be used in order to accomplish this…
Moloney added that a special committee had been elected to handle the campaign and that
The committee consists of the Disputes Committee of the Labor Council in conjunction with the sub-committee of three of the Federal unions and a delegate from each union involved in the dispute on the 44 hours question, this committee having full power from each Organisation to act in relation to policy as laid down on the principles agreed to by the Council….
The Committee unanimously decided that the fight should be concentrated in New South Wales and that the other unions in this State enjoying the 44 hours and every Council in the Commonwealth should be appealed to to assist financially…. This way they believed that they would circumvent the policy of the employers and would keep the fight within a short compass, and the men called out, so directed by the Committee to act in any capacity whatsoever would be looked after by the other workers in the other States and those in this State enjoying the 44 hours.
(In this way, the Council leaned heavily on the 44 hours legislation introduced by the Lang Government in 1925 for NSW workers employed under State Awards.)
…..We found that the employers, to circumvent the 44 hours , wanted to inaugurate a shift system and therefore could say to their association that they were not engaged in a 44 hour week but they were fulfilling the terms of the Federal Award in relation to shifts.
In connection with the position of the Painters and Dockers being only a casual occupation and having only three hours guarantee the Committee agreed that our members could work a job as long as they did not work more than 44 hours, even if they had to work until the job was finished.
The Disputes Committee further agreed to let us have a decision by Saturday morning, May 5th 1926, but did not comply with the request and the Federation appointed Messrs. Moloney and McDonald to attend the Disputes Committee on Monday morning at 10 a.m. to know what the decision was …. We returned at 2 o’clock and it was not until three o’clock that I received the following letter
"I have the honour by direction of the Disputes Committee of the above Council in conjunction with the unions involved in the struggle to forward to you the following decision.
"1. On General Principle. That all members, whether involved in the 44 hours dispute or otherwise, are instructed to take no action on this question unless and until directed by the full Disputes Committee, the Disputes Committee having the power to handle all matters in relation to the 44 hours.
"2. In relation to the specific case of your own as reported by Comrade McDonald and yourself, the Committee’s decision is as follows:
That your members continue to work 44 hours at present unless otherwise ordered by the shipowners by the usual notification, and the moment that the shipowners give instructions to revert to 48 hours, that the matter be referred to the Disputes Committee and they receive instructions along the present line of policy as adopted by the Council.
"We find the Employers Federation has instructed all organisations working under Federal Awards, that the members must make the employee work the full number of hours, e.g., the Motor Traders Association, the Manufacturers Association and Government institutions.
"The Committee desires to circumscribe the fight in order to make it a success. A general enlargement at the present time would tend to defeat the aims of the workers in obtaining the 44 hours.
"The dispute between the Mine Owners and the Engine Drivers accentuates this difficulty, the employers believing that if the coal fight continues for a short period of time, they will ultimately have to close down their factories and therefore it is just as well if they did engage in the fight with the workers at the present time on the 44 hours issue, than have to wait to close down the factories through the coal owners’ struggle.
"Yours fraternally, J.S.Garden, Secretary"
Following the report from Moloney, there was discussion on the Disputes Committee’s order to members at Garden Island to revert to 48 hours and Moloney then
questioned the rights of anyone instructing our members to return to work at Garden island as the Branch had definitely decided on a 44 hour policy.
Mr. Feilberg said to test the feeling of the meeting he would move That this Branch have the control of the 44 hour question over the Disputes Committee of the Labor Council.
The motion was promptly put to a vote and defeated. The matter was not taken any further at that stage. (Minutes, 17/5/1926.)
Within this whole debate on the 44 hour question, there was a strong, though not necessarily a majority view, against being dictated to by some body remote from the membership, such as the Labor Council and its Disputes Committee. It was in keeping with the tenor of the OBU theory that workers should not take action, or make decisions on action, but that such matters should reside with some elitist leadership group, so that strikes or other forms of job action could be turned on and off like a tap by a small band of officials sitting at the head of a mesmerised work force. Moloney’s view, as quoted in the Minutes, reflected rank and file opposition to denying the members their established democratic right to determine such important matters. In the Disputes Committee attitude resided the essence of the danger in major amalgamations of unions. To create a few monoliths with remote controllers standing astride them and issuing directives regardless of rank and file opinion or desire is a hazard to be witnessed in the post-Hawke amalgamations which wiped out so many established unions with their close affinity with their memberships and more in tune with rank and file aspirations and mateships. From just such policies grew the justification for referring to union officials as "union bosses".
The NSW Branch persisted with its action aimed at achieving a shorter working week and the fight developed into the longest strike in the history of the Union and possibly of the union movement. A Special Summons Meeting of the Branch was called on a Friday in May to consider a letter from the steamship owners on the refusal by Painters and Dockers to work on a Saturday as part of the 48 hour week.
Burns Philp’s s.s. "Marella" was due to dock on the following day (Saturday). Discussions had taken place between the Disputes Committee and Moloney and McDonald on the Shipwrights being asked to dock the ship without Painters and Dockers and the attitude of other unions. There had been no change in the attitude of the Disputes Committee. All this was reported to the Summons Meeting and the President had then introduced Falkingham from the Disputes Committee who endeavoured to put the Labor Council viewpoint on the 44 hours fight. O’Keeffe demanded to know who had given instructions to call this Friday night meeting. The Secretary explained that it was the Union’s Federal Council which had instructed him to do so in order that members could have an opportunity of making a decision before the threatened docking on the following morning. McDonald also read out the letter from the Labor Council given to Moloney and stated
That in view of the policy of the Labor Council the Disputes Committee instructs the Ship Painters and Dockers, Shipwrights and any other union involved that they must work on Saturday morning if necessary providing they only work 44 hours per week.
Falkingham then endeavoured to justify the Disputes Committee position, but while he was speaking, a motion was moved
That Mr. Falkingham be no longer heard.
The motion, on being put to a vote was defeated by 126 votes against and 11 for. But this was followed by a further motion
That no member of the Trades and Labor Council be heard until next December.
And this was carried. The President then announced that the Branch position remained unchanged, from which O’Keeffe and Murphy sought to move that the Labor Council policy be adopted, and this was defeated by 22 votes for and 115 against. (Minutes, 21/5/1926.)
An appeal, sent to all unions by the Labor Council, for financial assistance for the men involved in the 44-hour fight, brought a decision to donate £3.
The Bruce Government decided to hold a referendum to obtain an extension of Federal powers over industry and commerce, involving some State industrial powers being displaced by Federal authority. In seeking to gain general support for his referendum proposals, Bruce agreed to add certain powers over corporations as well as over unions and the Federal Labor Party agreed to give its support. The N SW Labor Council, however, rejected this approach and its campaign inside and outside the Labor Party in New South Wales won the strongest endorsement and, eventually, the referendum in September was defeated. In this campaign, the Painters and Dockers stood solidly with the Labor Council and its campaign for a "NO" vote at the referendum, supporting a motion to this effect moved by Falkingham at the Council meeting. (Minutes, 14/6/1926.)
Discontent with the Labor Council was expressed when McDonald reported that the Council had done nothing over the Union complaint against overcrowding of launches and that the Council failed to "give any consideration to the health of men working on vessels during repair or under construction" and he was instructed to write once more to the Council on the issues. (Minutes, 15/11/1926.)
Always aiming to expand its control over unions, the Labor Council introduced new rules for the guidance of the various groupings of unions, including
In the event of any union in a group making new demands of a general character on the employers, the union must immediately notify the groups of its intentions with a view to creating a united union front on the matter.
Unions must submit new agreements with the employers to their groups before signing them. If this should prove impossible, the union will explain the circumstances as soon as possible…..
The report on this attempt to limit the actions of individual unions was deferred, with Bill Swadling remarking that he did not think the rules would work, since "most unions were of a Federal character". (Minutes, 13/12/1926.) The subject did not appear to surface again.
With parliamentary elections once more on the horizon, the Labor Council sent out an appeal to unions to strike a levy of 5/- per worker for a fighting fund to return a Labor Government and the Branch gave expression to a new attitude towards the Labor Council
That we are an affiliated Union to the ALP and we should confine our efforts in that direction, the ALP being the only body to issue appeals for subscriptions. (Minutes, 22/12/1926.)
Early in the New Year, the Labor Council’s call for a 5/- levy for an election fighting fund was once more considered and rejected. However, a call from the ALP for a voluntary levy of 1/- per member was "stood over until further information" was obtained. (Minutes, 24/1/1927.)
A Special Summons Meeting early in February, 1927, elected five delegates to attend a special conference called by the Labor Council for 19th February to consider a number of issues:
Those elected were Branch Secretary McDonald, Branch President Weston, Swadling, Murphy and Johnson. (Minutes, 7/2/1927.)
From this conference, Jack Ryan was elected as the secretary of the Basic Wage Committee and soon after the conference ended, he wrote to the Union with a request that it carry a motion in the following terms:
That the Union endorses the principle of Child Endowment but demands that the Basic Wage be immediately increased to £5.6.0 in accordance with the findings of the Basic Wage Commission arrived at after an exhaustive enquiry into the cost of living.
A meeting carried a motion from Swadling and O’Keeffe to adopt the proposal and also to send a copy of it to the Labor Party. (Minutes, 7/3/1927.)
As well, McDonald reported on other matters that the Labor Council’s special conference had dealt with, including the sending of delegates to Canton, on which the meeting agreed but Swadling opposed
owing to the internal trouble in China and that any delegate from here may be placed in a false position by stating that they had the support of the workingclass of Australia and owing to the possibility of hundreds of members of the Trade Union movement volunteering to go and fight against Chinamen in the event of the war extending and Great Britain taking part.
The meeting also carried two motions from the conference stating
- That the portion of the minutes(of the conference) sending fraternal greetings to the Chinese Nationalists on their victorious march on the City of Shanghai be endorsed.
- That the report of the "Hands Off China" Committee and the various resolutions carried be endorsed. (Minutes, 7/3/1927.)
However, a fortnight later, the meeting carried a motion
To protest at the failure of the Labor Council to notify the Branch by circular letter re the position of delegates to Canton so that the same could be discussed at the meeting. (Minutes, 22/3/1927.)
This, apparently, did not concern the sending of the delegates, but rather the arrangements, representations and other organisational matters which the Labor Council took upon itself to handle without consultation with other unions.
A Trade Union Defence Fund was set up by the Labor Council, which required each union to contribute one penny per member to cover expenses and render financial assistance to strikers, and the Union was advised that
the Council, realising that the majority of unions were tired of spasmodic appeals made to them on behalf of workers engaged in a struggle for better conditions and further recognising that the time had arrived when a well-ordered scheme should be adopted which would place the burden upon all sections of the workers on an equal basis, decided to inaugurate a Penny a Week Fund.
Those who were not convinced of the validity or usefulness of the proposal, and probably saw the dangers in a centralised means of financing such strikes as the Council might approve, sought to have the matter deferred and invite a speaker from the Labor Council to address a meeting on the subject. This was defeated, however, by those who were already convinced of the efficacy of the proposal and carried a motion to comply with the request for a penny levy. So far as the Branch was concerned, though, it still continued to provide such financial assistance as it could to its members when taking strike action. (Minutes, 4/4/1927.)
In June, 1927, as the ACTU followed its May inauguration with moves to establish itself more firmly in the union movement, the Labor Council wrote to the Union, attaching copy of a letter "from Comrade Crofts, Secretary of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions", with a request that he and Mr. Garden be notified if the motion for 1d. per member had been carried.
A lengthy discussion took place and it was decided that the money should be paid direct to the Federation and the Delegates to the Federation should support the same.
This was a parallel penny per member to help finance the activities of the ACTU which had declared in its constitution for "The socialisation of industry, i.e., production, distribution and exchange" and included
(a) The closer organisation of the workers by the transformation of the trade union movement from the craft to an industrial basis, by the establishment of one union in each industry
(b) The consolidation of the Australian labour movement with the object of unified control, administration and action.
(c) The centralised control of industrial disputes.
This approach blended in well with the outlook of the Labor Council in New South Wales which had long sought a centralised control to remove individual initiative in the never-ending struggle for improvements and defence of achievements. While the Press, as well as union officialdom decried unilateral action by individual unions and by groups of workers regardless of their officials, there was, and remained, a real need for "grass roots demonstrations" to overcome official tardiness, procrastination and other evidence of failing to take the rank and file seriously. And the Union clung to this attitude.
In August, 1927, the Branch President advised a meeting of the Union that two delegates from the Labor Council, Kavanagh and Lyons, had requested that they be heard "on the appeal of Sacco and Vanzetti, they having the authority of the International Defence Committee", and each speaker was allowed 15 minutes to address the meeting. Following the speeches, Murphy and Johnson, moved
That a hearty vote of thanks be accorded Messrs Kavanagh and Lyons and that this Branch cease work for 24 hours in order to take part in a demonstration of protest against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti.
The motion was lost by 37 votes to 56 and undoubtedly, the decision was determined by the fact that the executions had been carried out on the morning of the day of the meeting, news of which would have reached Sydney during the day and the call to demonstrate after the action would have appeared as pointless. Even so, it is difficult to appreciate why a Union which was always so open-hearted and supportive of any protest against outrages against political activists in any section of the labor movement, should fail to record its disgust and anger at this case: one of the most blatant and venomous attacks on freedom of thought and expression in the history of the labor movement. The Labor Council proceeded with its demonstration, however.
Possibly the most damning indictment of the American justice system and, in fact, of American capitalism in its various, social aspects, was the novel written by Upton Sinclair, published in 1928, the year after the executions. The two humble Italians, Sacco and Vanzetti, members of an anarchist organisation in Boston, were put to death on 22nd August, 1927, the day on which the Labor Council sought to give an Australian expression of outrage and hostility at the frenzied frame-up. Sinclair, in that period, was possibly a writer as powerful and condemnatory of the brutality, hatred and vengefulness of capitalism as Zola and Dickens in an earlier era. (see Appendix 13(f).)
A report was received from the Labor Council of a case concerning rural workers. Mr. Justice Piddington had given an interpretation of the term "rural worker" as used in the Living Wage Declaration Act No. 38 of 1927. The basic wage was set at £4.5.0 per week and for rural workers at £4.4.0. As a result, Piddington was attacked by J.W.Allen, Secretary of the Graziers Association and by the Sydney Morning Herald and he decided to charge them with criminal libel. The Council decided to intervene in the case and briefed the Sullivan Brothers, Solicitors and Cantor, Barrister and
the matter being of vital interest to all unions the Council had decided to ask each union to contribute £1.1.0 towards the cost.
And the amount was passed for payment. (Minutes, 22/8/1927.)
It is interesting to note that the anti-Labor State Government of Bavin, in order to reduce Piddington’s dominant position in the Arbitration Court, appointed two other persons as judges who could then out-vote Piddington in any of his favourable judgments for workers. When he was outvoted in a against a decision to reduce the basic wage,
The President, Mr. Justice Piddington, dissented and attacked his brother judges in these stinging words:
It is in strict definition a catastrophe wage, and the term ‘living wage’ cannot be applied to it unless every definition of that term by publicists from Pope Leo XIII to Mr. Phillip Snowden, by Australian jurists from Sir Samuel Griffiths, in 1891, to the late Mr. Justice Higgins in 1907 and the late Chief Justice McCauley, and by the great international jurists who were legal advisers in the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles, is ignored, and this bulwark of social justice through industrial law overturned. It is for this reason that I have expressed the hope that no part of this innovation upon the universally accepted meaning of the term ‘living wage’ will be ascribed to me.
--- The Great Bust by J.T.Lang
The Eight Hour Committee, an essential part of the Labor Council’s functions advised the Union in October that the procession due on 22nd October had been abandoned "owing to the Government not proclaiming it a public holiday", The Lang Labor Government had been defeated at the elections on 10th October, 1927, and the public holiday issue was among decisions made by the anti-Labor Government which replaced his. (Minutes, 17/10/1927.)
In November, amongst donations to worthy causes, the Union responded to requests from the Labor Council for the wives and children of two men in gaol in Adelaide for nearly a month on a freedom of speech issue, for the Irish Fishing Fleet Disaster and for the Sydney Harbour Tragedy. The latter case, in which a member of the Union lost his life, occurred when the Union Steamship, "Tahiti", caused the sinking of the "Greycliffe". (See note in Chapter 3, p.45-6.)
The same Union meeting, on 28th November, 1927, joined with the Labor Council in condemning the Bruce Federal Government decision to sell the Australian Commonwealth Line and calling for a boycott of the sold vessels.
Early in 1928, the Union’s delegates reported to the Management Committee that a meeting of the Labor Council had heard an address by E.Theodore, MHR, on the Bruce Government’s amended Industrial Bill, and the Council had decided to call all its Groups together to discuss methods of defeating the Bill. The matter was left for later advice before making a recommendation to a general meeting. (Minutes, 31/1/1928.) A later meeting voted £1.1.0 to the Labor Council’s call for financial assistance "to fight the proposed drastic amendments to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act". (Minutes, 20/2/1928.)
On another issue, the Management Committee decided to recommend that action be taken against any member who refused to pay the levy which the Labor Council had called for to assist the struggling Labor Daily. (Minutes, 31/1/1928.)
Two votes of £3 each were made to calls from the Labor Council: one to support the Boilermakers in their fight against a bonus or "gratuity" system introduced at Walsh Island, in Newcastle; the other for the "Colorado miners in their fight against the Mine Owners in America". (Minutes, 19/3/1928.)
The Labor Council advised the Union of a Special Extraordinary Meeting to be held on 3rd May, "composed of Council delegates, the full Executive of all unions and two delegates from the Newcastle Industrial Council", for the purpose of considering the "gratuity system" and "to form a general policy for the Trade Union Movement". Hostility to this system whereby employers rewarded those willing to work harder or speedier than the average and thus expose the slower or weaker worker to possible dismissal, caused the meeting to decide to be represented at the Council’s Special Meeting. (Minutes, 30/4/1928.)
A new Department was established by the Labor Council, to operate from Room 55 in the Trades Hall, to deal with cases under the Workmen’s Compensation Act. The Department was placed in the charge of "Comrade Ritchie". An Industrial Department was also set up with "Comrade Bryant" in charge. A Union meeting decided to ask O.Bryant to address it on the innovations and Bryant was welcomed to a meeting on 11th June when he outlined the Labor Council’s decisions. Ritchie, he advised, had handled successfully workers’ compensation matters for the past five years and
In fact there had been so many cases coming forward that it had been found impossible to file the papers in each case and give each case the attention required, so the Council had decided…. That immediate steps be taken to place the Department on a sound basis. A number of unions at 6d. per member per year, same to be paid on financial members. He also stated that a number of years ago an Industrial Department had been in operation … and it had been decided to try and revive it. He had been appointed to do so. The idea was to assist unions on matters coming within the province of both Federal and State Industrial Arbitration Courts….
The same meeting took up the Labor Council request to purchase copies of a publication entitled "Pan-Pacific Worker", and 50 copies were taken. (Minutes, 14/5/1928.) In its first issue, dated 2nd April, 1928, this magazine-type publication carried a statement from the ACTU officers:
A Message to the Workers of the Pacific Countries
The opportunity offered at this juncture to deliver a message to all workers of the countries bordering the Pacific is indeed an honor, and our message is:---
"A sincere wish that the day is not far distant when we shall be closely allied with each other, not only in order to prevent devastating imperialist and capitalist wars, but bound together in a solid working class phalanx, to ensure to all workers the full product of their labour."
(Signed) W.J.Duggan (Pres. ACTU)
C.Croft (Gen. Sec. ACTU)
Above this message was a statement of the paper’s policy commencing with
This fortnightly bulletin, the "Pan-Pacific Worker", is the official organ of the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat formed at the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Conference held at Hankow, China, in May, 1927. It is published by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (Pan-Pacific Relations Committee), and constitutes a sister-organ to the fortnightly bulletin published by the Secretariat in China and bearing the same title.
Among the five points of its policy, Item 3 stated
To support actively the liberation movements of the oppressed peoples and exploited classes in China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Philipines, Latin America. To establish close contacts with the Trade Union organisations in these countries, as representative of the working class, which in every case is the real vanguard of the national liberation struggle.
Those contributing articles to the first issue, included J.S.Garden ("Australian Blacklegs’ Charter") and Arthur Rae ("The Curse of Compulsory Arbitration") . The paper was generally regarded as being in the hands of members of the Communist Party.
Standing Orders were suspended at the meeting on 11th June to allow a report to be given by the delegates to the Transport Group concerning a major maritime strike. McDonald reported on the meeting. He advised that an outline of the dispute and the Group’s decisions had been published in the newspaper, The Sun, on that Monday, 11th June. A copy of the newspaper’s report was pasted in the Union’s Minute Book and stated that the meeting of the Group (see report under Strike).
A later meeting in June received a request for funds to combat "the action of the Government under the Crimes Act, funds required at once in order to campaign for the release of`J.S.Garden, or any other victim of these oppressive laws". A donation of £3 was made. (Minutes, 25/6/1928.)
When the Labor Council wrote asking permission for Norman Jeffrey (a member of the CPA) to address the Union on the Fourth Congress of the Red International of Labor Unions (RILU) which he had attended in Moscow, the Secretary explained that Jeffrey had intended to address a meeting of the Labor Council but owing to the poor attendance of delegates, it had decided to have a full discussion and report on 2nd August. McDonald, therefore, suggested that "it would be better for anyone who wished to hear Comrade Jeffrey to attend the Council Meeting", and the Union adopted his suggestion, (Minutes, 23/7/1928.)
The President, Weston, reported to a September meeting of the Union as a delegate to the Labor Council on the Labor Defence Committee whose meetings he had attended on behalf of the Union in a voluntary capacity and the meeting decided that he continue to represent the Union. He also reported that
the Labor Council had decided that each delegate to the Council and full-time union officials should contribute £1 to the Labor Defence Fund. He and the Secretary (McDonald) had contributed 10/-d. He did not know what Mr.Swadling (the third delegate) had contributed.
The Defence Committee also requested that unions strike a levy of 1/- per member to establish a fund "for the defence of members of the working class who may become victims of the repressive anti-union laws now in operation". The matter was stood over to a Special meeting. (Minutes, 17/9/1928.) When dealt with, no donation was made. (Minutes, 29/10/1928.)
A request from the Labor Council for financial assistance for J.Dwyer, 74 years of age, who "had devoted the whole of his energies to the Labor movement" and who was now almost totally blind, brought a donation of £1.1.0. Dwyer, a long-time socialist, whom Jack Lang referred to as a "red flagger" devoted much of his time and energy to fair rents issues and other causes of unemployed workers. (Minutes, 10/12/1928.)
On another matter, when the Council asked the Union to nominate a member to join a delegation to the Soviet Union and contribute to the expenses of the delegation, it was decided to ask for a speaker on the subject to come to the next meeting. (Minutes, 10/12/1928.)
Among IWW men who rated a mention in Bertha Walker’s Solidarity Forever! was Ted Dickinson, of whom she wrote that he
was executed in Spain fighting against Franco. Well known for his daring in action, when captured by Spanish Fascists and Moorish mercenaries he made his famous utterance just prior to his execution "If we had 10,000 Australian bushmen here we’d drive these bastards into the sea".
Dickinson was a member of the Storemen and Packers Union and was very active in the interests of the unemployed during 1924 and, as Bertha Walker noted, addressed the Trades Hall Council in Melbourne on unemployment issues and sought to have an Unemployed Union affiliated with that Council. It is uncertain whether he was the A.E.Dickenson reported to the Labor Council as having been arrested for his activities on behalf of the Waterside Workers in Adelaide, for whom the Union carried a motion calling on then Attorney-General to cancel the sentence. (Minutes,19/12/1928.)
The meeting also received advice of a demonstration against the breaking down of the 44-hour week, to be held in Belmore Park on Saturday, 19th January. McDonald stated that, since the demonstration was held two days before the present meeting, and after consulting the President and Vice President, he placed an advertisement in the Labor Daily in time for members to be advised. His action was endorsed.
While supportive of the Labor Council in these matters, a letter from the Council on the delegation to the Soviet Union was allowed to "lay on the table".
In February, 1929, a Special Meeting of the Branch was called to consider the Labor Council’s recommendations on the Timber Workers’ strike against the Court’s decisions to extend working hours and reduce wages of its members. (see Appendix 13(g) re the strike.) The Branch decided to give the Timber Workers moral support in the fight against the Lukin award. But, instead of adopting the Council’s recommendation for 1/-d. per week levy for the strikers, it was decided that the Union’s
full Industrial Fund be set aside for the purpose of supporting the Timber Workers. (Minutes, 18/2/1929.) (see also under Strike.)
In June, Labor Council advice was received of a conference it had organised for 6th June, to deal with a number of major issues: the Timber Workers’ strike, the attack on the coal miners, the attack on the Railway Transport service and the attack on the metal trades. In reporting on this to a meeting, McDonald also advised that the date coincided with a Union meeting and so was unable to be represented at the conference, and this was endorsed by the meeting (Minutes, 10/6/1929.)
J.J.O’Reilly was given ten minutes to address a meeting of the Branch on the Labor Daily and its problems. He spoke of fines inflicted on the paper and of the action taken against it by a "volunteer worker" (read "scab") in the timber industry, named Jackson, V.C. After his speech O’Reilly was given "a hearty vote of thanks for the very able manner in which he put the case" and a motion to donate £3 to the paper together with a Special Meeting to be called to consider a further vote of £25 was defeated in favour of a decision to refer the matter to the Labor Council with a request that it strike a quota payment per union on all affiliated unions. (Minutes, 19/8/1929.)
The first September meeting agreed to the Labor Council’s call to organise lunch-hour meetings in support of the Timber Workers and against the arrest of seven members of the Disputes Committee including officials of the Timber Workers Union, on charges conspiracy. (Minutes, 2/9/1929.)
The reactionary decisions of the Federal Government of Stanley Melbourne ("Spats") Bruce and his partner Page, produced a position where members of the Government deserted them over some of their arbitration proposals and forced them to an early election in October 1929. The Union went into election mode.
At its next meeting, Ted Dodds reported as a delegate to a conference of union delegates convened by the Labor Council, which was held on 20th September and which he described as "the largest ever held in the Social Hall", of the Trades Hall, and which carried a number of resolutions:
In view of the fact that the Bruce Government, first by injecting vicious penal clauses into the Industrial laws of the Commonwealth which were imposed upon the workers and not applied to John Brown (coalmine owner), and secondly by attempting to destroy Federal jurisdiction in industrial matters, is paving the way for a Commonwealth-wide attack on hours and wages, coupled with a determined attempt to break up the organisation of the Trades Unions, this Conference of Trade Union Executives determines that each member, individually, collectively and through his organisation, will accord the fullest cooperation to the ALP in its struggle to overthrow the Bruce Government in the present general elections.
The conference also decided to call on all unions to weigh-in heavily with finance, motor cars and officials, in support of the ALP election campaign. The Branch meeting which heard this report decided to adopt the motions of the conference and to donate £30 to the ALP Fighting Fund. (Minutes, 30/9/1929.) Labor won the Federal elections, including Bruce’s own seat.
Meanwhile, the Timber Workers strike continued and union officials languished in gaol and the Lang State Labor Government was dilatory in dealing with the matter of the railroaded union officials. As well, the miners on the northern coalfields were locked out and led to another parallel long struggle in defence of wages and conditions, in both cases experiencing widespread use of scabs and, in the miners’ case, the use of guns and the killing of the young miner, Norman Brown. The December meeting of the Branch instructed its three delegates to the Labor Council to attend a special meeting of the Council convened for the purpose of laying down "a policy for assisting the Miners in their struggle against the mine owners". (Minutes, 9/12/1929.) At its next meeting, the Branch carried a motion for forwarding to the Labor Council, condemning the Bavin anti-Labor State Government for "employing the police to shoot down miners and murdering Norman Brown at Rothbury Coal Mine" and pledging moral and financial support for the miners. (Minutes, 18/12/1929.)
With Labor in office Federally, the last meeting of the Branch for 1929 called on the Labor Council to
get in touch with the Hon. J. Beasley, protesting against the action of the Ministers in sending men to Cockatoo Island in preference to unemployed members of the Union who generally follow the industry and further that he suggest to the Ministers that if they have money to spend they might employ 50 members of the Union. (Minutes, 18/12/1929.)
Unemployment, which had been constant on the waterfront for some time, was now growing as the officially declared Depression bit deeper and deeper. The Labor Council organised an OBU of Unemployed demonstration to be held on two days, 19th and 20th February, 1930. The Branch adopted a motion from Swadling and Hill
That unemployed members be urged to attend on both dates, same to be advertised in the Labor Daily. (Minutes, 17/2/1930.)
Another meeting also discussed the Labor Council decision to appoint S.Brown as Organiser of the OBU of Unemployed, when Brown wrote to ask unions to contribute 10/-d. per 100 members to pay him a wage. It was decided to leave the matter to a Special Meeting to deal with. (Minutes, 3/3/1930.) A fortnight later, when the question of the Unemployed Organiser was discussed, the delegates to the Council reported that few unions had agreed to contribute to the Fund for an Organiser and the Branch decided against making any contribution. (Minutes, 17/3/1930.) However, the Branch continued to advise unemployed members to attend Labor Council-convened meetings of unemployed workers, so that for such a meeting called for 1st May by the Council, it was decided to join with other unions in advertising it, in the Labor Daily. (Minutes, 31/3/1930.)
Among Labor Council issues reported by the Branch’s delegates was the matter of a meeting of Executives and delegates which the Council had called and from which
an expression of opinion was given by those who would be affected by the increase to 48 hours, viz., the Railway and Tramway men, that there would be no possible hope of a general strike being declared against the principle. (Minutes, 14/4/1930.)
As well, the Labor Council had received a letter from the Premier, Bavin, asking for a meeting with representatives of the unions, which
the Council had turned down…. and suggested that Mr. Bavin and his Government should come to the country. (Minutes, 14/4/1930.)
The unemployment question was ever a part of the Branch’s business and various problems called for consideration. During April, 1930, an issue arose concerning the use of the Union’s hall. Jack Sylvester, a member of the Union who had taken a prominent position in the organising of the unemployed through the Unemployed Workers Movement, reported to a meeting that he had written to the Labor Council with a request for the Council to make application to the Union for use of its hall by unemployed workers for meetings. After the meeting had discussed the matter for some time, Bill Feilberg and Harry de Boos moved
That the Secretary have full power to sanction the use of the Hall if he receives a telephone message from the Trades and Labor Council before correspondence is received.
The Secretary stated that he had given the use of the Hall on Tuesday 15th April to a representative of the Unemployed but had informed him that any future application would have to come through the Labor Council as any person could come along and say they were representing the unemployed and in the event of the Hall being loaned and any damage occurring they could not hold any person responsible, but if it came through the Labor Council, they would be responsible for any damage done.
Feilberg’s motion was then put and carried. (Minutes, 28//4/1930.)
As a result of Sylvester’s representations and the Union’s support, the Labor Council advised of its endorsement of the request for the weekly use of the Hall, after which McDonald gave instructions that the room should be let every Wednesday afternoon. (Minutes, 12/5/1930.)
Meanwhile, the meeting also discussed the strike at Mort’s Dock by the Engineers and a debate proceeded on whether the Union should "define its action in the event of non-unionists being employed in their place". In reporting on the issue, the President, Weston, sought to express solidarity with the Engineers, but this was passed over in favour of the Secretary’s advice to rely on the leadership of the Labor Council and the ACTU and await decisions from those bodies. (Minutes, 12/5/1930.)
Finally, the meeting decided to take no action on a request from the Labor Council for financial support for sending delegates to a conference of the World Trade Union Congress to be held in the Soviet Union.
In June, the President, Weston, brought before a meeting, "certain statements" made by the Chief Judge of the Federal Arbitration Court, Judge Detheridge, an appointee of the Bruce-Page Government. In a case before the Court by the AWU, Detheridge had declared for the new principle of the capacity of industry to pay a reasonable basic wage as opposed to the more humanitarian principle of Mr.Justice Higgins in the 1907 Harvester Judgment. The meeting decided to forward to the Labor Council a motion declaring
That we protest against the statement of Judge Detheridge made in the Arbitration Court during the hearing of the AWU case, viz., ‘that it did not matter which government was in power they would have to take into consideration the economic conditions of the industry etc’, and we also endorse the action of the AWU in withdrawing from the case. (Minutes, 23/6/1930.)
The Labor Council, while still at odds with the AWU, was by now also at odds with the Communist Party, but nevertheless supported the AWU move against the Arbitration Court.
Unemployment still dominated the Branch and the Labor Council when a Union meeting received a report of a Special Meeting convened by the Council. This meeting consisted of the full Executives of all unions, Labor Council delegates, ALP Executive officers of the State and Federal Parliamentary Parties and one delegate from each of the District Unemployed Groups. The purpose of the meeting was to deal with the general question of unemployment. The Branch decided to support the special meeting. (Minutes, 18/8/1930.)
While the Branch retained a generally radical and militant stand, and still felt animosity towards the Communist Party and stood with the change away from CPA control of the Labor Council, when the Labor Council sought support from unions for the official organ, The Labor Weekly, it brought a decision from a motion by Sylvester and Hankinson,
That we repudiate the "Labor Weekly" and support the "Workers Weekly" (Organ of the CPA). (Minutes, 1/9/1930.)
The same meeting received copy of the decisions of the Labor Council’s special meeting of union executives, etc. One decision stated that
It was decided that each union be asked to contribute the sum of £2 per 1000 members to be used for organisational work such as Town Hall meetings, etc.
Sylvester and DeBoos moved
That the whole of the proposals be adopted with the exception of the word "union" in Clause G which has to be deleted and insert the word "movement"
The motion was carried. The full copy of the resolutions arrived at by the special meeting, including the Clause G referred to. (Contained in Appendix 11(h) - Labor Council decisions on unemployment) It is interesting that Sylvester’s motion meant support by the Union for the Unemployed Workers Movement rather than the CPA-oriented Unemployed Workers Union in Balmain. There was then a report that the Labor Council supported the UWU, but the Secretary of the central UWM organisation (Shayler) claimed that the UWU was bogus and only the UWM with Sylvester as Secretary, was genuine. (Minutes, 13/10/1930.)
McDonald reported to the meeting on the conference arranged by the Labor Council between the Union and Ironworkers Union over a demarcation dispute on the rights to do staging. The conference had decided that the Ironworkers would seek a three-way conference with the relevant employers and the two unions to overcome the difficulties. This was accepted by the Branch meeting. (Minutes, 1/9/1930.) Finality on the issue was not reached until 1931, when the two unions agreed that the work in dispute should be done by Painters and Dockers. However, Mort’s Dock rejected this and it was decided to refer the matter to a Board of reference. (Minutes, 2/3/1931.)
Financial assistance was sought by the Labor Council for the International Class War Prisoners Association (ICWPA) "as it had done good in the past in defending the working class". The organisation was regarded as an appendage of the CPA, but a motion to reject the request was defeated and it was decided to make a donation of £1. (Minutes, 10/11/1930.) A later meeting also decided to support the ICWPA, and advise the Labor Council, in a protest against
the imprisonment of Shayler and Huggett and the 21 Clovelly men and that now demand their immediate release. We also protest at the police batoning the workers in the demonstration on Friday November 7th. (Minutes, 17/11/1930.)
Another affiliate of the CPA, the Anti-Imperialist League, notified the Union that the Labor Council had invited the Pan Pacific Trade Union Secretariat to hold its next conference in Australia and asked the Union to support this action. The motion to give support to this move was defeated by 28 votes to 25 in favour of deferring the matter "until further information is obtained". (Minutes, 8/12/1930.)
In a debate, later in the meeting, over the Lang Government’s 1/- in the pound tax, CPA member Hill’s move expressing opposition wholeheartedly against the tax and calling on other organisations to follow suit, and to place the motion before the Labor Council, was carried.
A Special Meeting of the Branch was held on a Saturday to consider a proposal by the Labor Council to call a general strike in New South Wales against a ten per cent cut in wages by the Federal Arbitration Court. The Branch Management Committee had met and recommended support for the Labor Council proposal. When put to a vote, however, the effects of the depression were reflected in the motion by Jim Shaw and J.Allen which was carried by 109 votes to 14 against. Shaw’s motion simply declared
That we instruct our delegates to oppose any move to precipitate a General Strike. (Minutes, 14/2/1931.)
A request from the Labor Council for financial support for Tom Glynn, one of the twelve IWW men gaoled during the War and released by the Labor Government in 1925, was deferred to a special meeting. (Minutes, 14/9/1931.)
With the depression now deeply entrenched, the Branch was finding it hard going to keep its head above water and a number of reductions in costs were made, including the number of delegates to the Labor Council being reduced from three to one. (Minutes, 7/12/1931.)
At the final meeting for the year, a report was given of the s.s. Koranui being declared black by the Seamen’s Union, because she was carrying a scab crew. All unions had been notified and the Labor Council had been asked to convene a meeting of all unions for the purpose of gaining support in the struggle against the Union Steamship Company if it continued to employ non-union labour. The Branch meeting deferred consideration until the Labor Council made its decision. (Minutes, 21/12/1931.)