My Union Right or Wrong.
A history of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900-1932
By Issy Wyner
On 16th September , 1915, Professor David addressed the Labor Council on the objects of the Universal Service League
the present position of volunteering was insufficient and the League was agitating for an amendment to the Defence Act .... during the currency of the present war to give the Government power to organise all sections of the community and if necessary send them to any part of the world where their services may be required in defence of the Empire...
and on 30th September, 1915, the Council adopted a motion stating
In view of the fact that the British Government have not deemed it advisable to introduce conscription we see no reason for the action of the Universal Service League in advocating the adoption of conscription in Australia
While the Deakin and other non-Labor Governments had introduced a form of conscription for boys from 12 to 14 years of age and for youths from 18 to 20 years of age between 1905 and 1909, it was a Labor Government which brought into force from 1st January 1911, provisions which required all males from 14 to 18 to be trained as senior cadets, and boys from 12 to 14 to be trained as junior cadets. John Barrett in his study of boy conscription, Falling In, noted
But the Saddleworth branch of the Labor Party was roundly opposed to conscription when it wrote to all South Australian branches in 1912. It wanted the compulsory clauses in the Defence Act repealed, condemning 'the present system of Boy Conscription' and declaring 'the domination of the Military Authority to be antagonistic to the true Labor and Socialist ideal'. The forced militarising of boys was opposed to true education, on both humanitarian and economic grounds. The loss of parental control to the military was 'causing the mothers of Australia to stand aghast'. Militarists despised civilians, and a conservative force would result from the 'enormous vested interest' in universal military training that was being created.
As can be seen from the Union's minutes, the notion of compulsory military training, especially for boys and young men, continued to rankle, and brought such protests as noted therein. The draconian measures, introduced to ensure that all boys were dragged into the scheme, still failed to achieve 100% acceptance. Barrett records that
In 1911 there were approximately 350,000 boys of an age (10-17 years) to register for compulsory training up to the end of 1915. Since 'universal' was a misnomer, about half that number were exempted from training, or perhaps never registered, reducing the group to 175,000.
But, Barrett also notes evidence of opposition to the Government's draconian military legislation,
"With 161,000 individual trainees resulting in a four-year aggregate of 636,000 potential defaulters, it is no wonder that by July 1915 there had been 34,000 prosecutions and 7000 detentions, among the trainees and the others involved as parents, employers or persons required to register".
Labor Governments under Hughes in the Federal sphere, and Holman in New South Wales, were held in low regard due to their policies on military conscription of any kind, but particularly in the area of forcing the young into militarist conformism, thinking and attitude towards society generally.
Captain R.McDonell, in his Build a Fleet, Lose a Fleet, recorded some of the history of shipbuilding in Australia and notes with regard to the First World War:
That there was little merchant ship construction carried out during the war was in part due to the lack of local materials. A meagre amount of small plates was produced by the end of the war, at the new steelworks at Newcastle......
The secretary of the Boilermakers' Union, Mr. R.O'Halloran, complained in June 1917 that seven hundred ironworkers, including two hundred boilermakers, had been thrown out of work by the war; there was a strong case, he said, for the establishing of a shipbuilding industry. In the same month Prime Minister Hughes was meeting representatives of the shipyard unions, with the Minister for the Navy, Mr. Cook, accompanying him on his tour of the main ports.
.... Mr. Hughes told Parliament in July: 'It was emphatically impressed on delegates (at his meeting with the unions) that this absolutely precluded cessation of work, for any reason whatever, whether arising out of a dispute in the industry itself or from that other cause which has been, and still is, so prolific of industrial unrest, so difficult of settlement and so utterly inconsistent with collective bargaining and the principle of arbitration --- I mean the sympathetic strike...... I am glad to say that the delegates entirely agreed with the views of the Government and were practically unanimous in agreeing to this vital condition.'
.... The first constructional work was started in March 1918 at the Walsh Island yard and at Williamstown....The first keel of a commercial cargo ship to be laid at Cockatoo Island, that of the "Dundula", was also laid at this time... Work was started on 21 October 1918, on the building of the naval collier "Biloela", most probably a few weeks earlier than the "Dundula" for her launching took place on 11 April 1919, and the "Dundula" was launched on 10 July.
.....Another factor which added to the delay was decried by a leader in "The Argus" on 13 February: 'Organised labour has at various stages', wrote the editor, 'placed every possible obstacle in the way of the Commonwealth Government's scheme of shipbuilding. The industrial anarchists at Cockatoo Island have now brought work to a standstill....An ordinary day's work for a riveter, as is done in other yards, is two hundred ninety-five rivets. The Cockatoo Island riveters fell to seventy-five....Cockatoo Island has been notorious for years as a hotbed of all the forces which dishonestly seek to obtain money.....' Work was then at a standstill.....Mr. Salter produced for the reporter a card which was "dedicated to the memory of piecework --- born 10 July 1918, died fighting 16 July 1918. R.I.P."
The "Loyalist" union took on the name, and was registered as the Permanent and Casual Wharflabourers' Union and continued to function in Sydney for many years, though limited in their field of work to certain NSW coastal shipping companies. In the 1950s, they were absorbed into the Waterside Workers Federation.
Ian Turner records, in his Industrial Labour and Politics,
From the beginning of the strike they (the Wharfies) had been largely replaced by volunteers; an attempt by the Waterside Workers' Federation to call the strike off had failed when most of the branches had refused to obey the direction, and Mr. Justice Higgins had cancelled preference in employment for the members of these branches. On 19 September the Sydney branch had decided to call the strike off, but when the men applied for engagement the following day there was no work for them. A fortnight later, the Federation asked the shipowners to confer on a general resumption, but the owners refused; they had in the meantime instituted a new system of hiring labour under which, instead of the old system of casual work, most wharf lumping would be done by permanent hands, registered with the shipowners' Labor Bureau and paid a regular weekly wage. To register, a watersider had to have 'a reasonably clean record and physical fitness and no association with the IWW; the Federal Government had also instructed the shipowners that aliens were to be kept out of the maritime industry. Men wanting registration had to sign a declaration that they were not members of the Waterside Workers' Federation; those who were prepared to do this were given preference of employment and, by 5 October, over 2,000 men had so registered.....the Court registered the Permanent and Casual Waterside Laborers' Union, as a rival to the Federation.
Ian Turner, in Industrial Labour and Politics, writing of the "industrial unrest" in the years 1919-20, notes the especial grievances of the seamen who, having made an
important contribution to the war effort had been almost the only Australian union which had made no wages claim in the war years, but they had not benefited from the gratuity awarded to those whose active service had been in uniform......the influenza epidemic had hit Australia; if a seaman fell sick at sea he was put ashore at the first port, without wages, to find his way to his home port at his own expense.
Turner sets out the issues arising from an unsatisfactory Arbitration Court decision on the Seamen's claims for improved wages and conditions. A conference with the shipowners, including the Commonwealth Government with its own ships, produced a flat rejection of the Union's claims: minimum wage of £14 a month, decent living conditions and food, adequate compensation for illness, and death. The strike followed rejection of the claims.
....the Melbourne Trades Hall Council, alarmed by the serious consequences of the strike for Victorian workers, stepped in and invited the 'key' unions (the miners, carters, and railwaymen, as well as the seamen) to join it in attempting a settlement. After discussions with the government, the combined unions agreed to recommend to the seamen that they resume work on the basis of the government's undertaking that an immediate conference would be held......But by now Walsh (the newly-elected, militant Secretary of the Union) had been gaoled, and meetings of seamen in all ports refused to go back to work until he was released......
At last, late in August, under pressure from their own and the combined unions, the seamen accepted the government's proposals and returned to work; the conference met most of their demands were granted, and Walsh released --- as 'an act of leniency' --- soon after.
The Whitely Scheme was a British arrangement aimed at reducing or eliminating job action, among other things. Beeby, one-time solicitor for the Painters and Dockers Union (among others) on industrial matters, had become the Minister for Labour and Industry in the Nationalist State Government, and proposed to introduce the scheme by
amending the New South Wales Arbitration Act to empower a Board of Trade to establish 'mutual welfare committees', 'industrial councils', and 'shop committees'. Following an overseas trip to the USA and the UK, Beeby issued a report that recommended the introduction of Whitleyism, a British wartime concept that proposed management and employee joint committees at the national, industry and workplace levels to defeat worker militancy and increase productivity. Beeby argued that state enterprises, such as the railways should be the initial starting point..... (Australian Labour History, Greg Patmore, p.147)
.....it was also predictable that unions should oppose profit sharing as a form of 'slavery' resulting in unemployment and the breakdown of working conditions. The Labor Council also rejected the 'evils' of the English Whitley scheme of industrial democracy proposed for the railways in 1919 by the Minister for Labour, G.Beeby. Beeby had been the legal adviser to the Labor Council, but had left the ALP with Holman to form the Nationalist government. The scheme for industry councils of employer and union representatives at national and workplace level did not extend far outside the public sector in Britain, where it had originated after the report of the Whitley Committee on industrial relations after the War. British unions resisted the scheme, as the Labor Council advised New South Wales unions to do now. (In Case of Oppression, Ray Markey, p.108)
The Sydney Branch Bulletin, a monthly roneoed foolscap pamphlet issued by the New South Wales Branch of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union, Vol.4, No.12, 28th April, 1955, edited by the writer, carried this message on May Day:
MAY DAY is with us again, and we take this opportunity to offer a few thoughts on this all-important occasion.
All of us know something of the old history of May Day, which dates back hundreds of years. During our lifetime we have read of occasions when the people used to welcome the first signs of spring [in the Northern hemisphere]; when the youth of the land would dance around the gaily-decked maypoles; when the people sang songs of May Day.
But MAY DAY is also the anniversary of Spiess, Engel, Parsons, Lingg and Fischer, the organisers and leaders of the fateful demonstration in Haymarket Square, Chicago in 1886 --- a demonstration called to protest against the shooting down of strikers for an eight-hour day in the McCormack Harvester factory in Chicago. These five men were framed on a charge of throwing a bomb amongst a squad of police who stood threateningly near the demonstrators [for which they were hanged]. They were framed because they were outspoken in the cause of the workingman, and they died with the last words of Spiess as their epitaph: "The time will come when our silence in the grave will be more eloquent than our speeches".
MAY DAY, 1945, was a day of great rejoicing throughout the world, as the war --- with all its barbaric destruction and horror --- was drawing to a close. From the heart of every worker a great load was lifting. Six years of pent-up feelings broke their bonds to produce one of the greatest displays of the desire for a new world ever witnessed in this country. Another thought had been added to the meaning of May Day --- a thought expressing a condemnation of all war-breeding actions, of racial discrimination, religious hatred, colour bars......
The ideal of the "Brotherhood of Man" has inspired all the struggles against inequality and oppression which appear throughout history. A living demonstration of the meaning and spirit of that ideal is to be found in the May Day celebrations. For on this day the common interests of the world's workers overflow all national boundaries,, and the practical possibility of a world of peace and plenty, a world of the free and equal, may be readily envisaged.
In Australia, while those with an international outlook saw the importance of recognising and commemorating what had occurred in Chicago, the labor movement generally placed its own significance on the day. L.G.Churchward, in his introduction to R.N.Ebbels' work, The Australian Labor Movement, 1850-1907, notes:
The Unemployed Workers' Association formed at an open-air mass meeting in Richmond, Melbourne, in April, 1893, was typical of the unemployed associations of the 1893 depression. Under radical leadership (Andrade leadership (Andrade was a well-known anarchist), the organisation was soon at loggerheads with the Trades Hall Council. It joined with other "outside organisations", the Knights of Labor and the Single tax League, to organise Melbourne's first May Day march.
Ebbels quotes from a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, of May 2, 1891, written by its "Barcaldine, Queensland, correspondent":
This is Eight-hours day in Queensland, and the unionists in the district took advantage of the occasion to make a demonstration....
The feature of to-day has been the great demonstration by the unionists, in which 1340 took part. Of this number 618 were mounted. Not included in the count was the Oddfellows' band, which headed the procession. Then came the banner of the Australian Labour Federation and the men carrying samples of the trades in which they were employed.....
Ebbels also quotes from The Age, May 1, 1893:
An open air meeting was held yesterday on the south bank of the Yarra to formally celebrate for the first time in this colony what is known in European countries as "Labor Day". It has been arranged that sympathisers with the movement should meet at the Burke and Wills statue at two o'clock. About half an hour after that time there were some 250 men at the rendezvous, and about twice as many apparently careless onlookers. A little later a move was made to the Yarra bank. The Knights of Labor, members of the Single Tax League, Melbourne Democratic Club and the unemployed fell into a straggling procession, which wended its way down Burke Street and over Princes Bridge. The behaviour of those forming the procession was quite orderly. When the men defiled on to the river tow path two red flags were unfurled to the accompaniment of a feeble cheer......
The Chairman said the meeting had been called in order to demonstrate the awakening of labor to a sense of its duties and its rights. The day they were celebrating marked the upheaval of the laboring masses all over the world.
"That this meeting sends fraternal greetings to the workers of all lands and rejoices that the celebration of Labor Day by the workers of the world has become a bond of international brotherhood and a sign of impending emancipation."
"That this meeting declares the equal right of all men to the natural opportunities of wealth, that it recognises land monopoly as the main cause of existing social injustice, misery, vice and crime, and that it therefore demands the gradual nationalisation of the land by means of a tax on its rental value, all improvements being exempted."
"That this meeting demands legislative recognition of the absolutely equal political rights of every adult member of the community; strenuously protests against monopoly and privilege, in every guise; and that while declaring the solidarity of the interests of all workers everywhere, pledges itself to strive for the substitution of a co-operative for the present immoral wage system of industry."
It might be noted that, some fifty years after the move to amalgamate the May Day and Eight-Hour Day movements was defeated, the Labor Council of New South Wales did change the title of the day from one aimed at gaining shorter hours, to "Labor Day", a title implying that it was no longer a day for indicating the constant need to shorten the working week and the working day in the interests of full employment, health and leisure. After the successful campaign to reduce hours from 44 to 40, the new campaign eventually succeeded in reducing hours to 37½ and 35 in various industries, some expressed through the monthly Rostered Day Off. But the whole of this development occurred without an official holiday carrying the significant title of a Shorter Hours Day.
on 4th April, 1918, the following Preamble was adopted:
First.- We hold that there is a class struggle in society, and that the struggle is caused by economic conditions.
Second.- We affirm the economic condition of the producer to be that he is exploited of the wealth which he produces, being allowed to retain barely sufficient for his elementary necessities.
Third.- We hold that the class struggle will continue until the producer is recognised as the sole master of his product.
Fourth.- We assert that the working class, and it alone, can and must achieve its own emancipation.
Fifth.- We hold, finally, that an industrial union and the concerted political action of all wage workers, is the only method of attaining this end.
Sixth.- Therefore, we the workers employed in ............ have associated in the Department of ........... of the Workers Industrial Union.
The Labor Council, on 9th May, 1918, adopted the following motion:
That in view of the fact that the people of Australia have twice by referendum vote declared against conscription, this Council protests against the action of the Commonwealth Government calling upon Italians in Australia to render compulsory military service.
That the above be forwarded to the Minister for Defence demanding an immediate cancellation of the mobilisation order.
*the motion on Labor Council moved by its President, Morley, on 9th May, 1918, read:
That this Council, meeting at a time of unparalleled emergency, resolves to make all possible efforts to avert defeat at the hands of German militarism and urges the people of Australia to unite in a whole-hearted effort to secure the necessary reinforcements under the Voluntary System.
Delegate Ernest Judd, proposed a lengthy amendment containing twelve points, including: That as all modern wars are caused by conflicting interests of different sections of the capitalist class, a "conclusive" and "permanent Peace" is not possible under Capitalism.
The final paragraph of Judd's amendment declared
Therefore, whilst fully expecting anti-Labor forces to misrepresent and calumniate our action, we refuse to take part in any recruiting campaign, and call upon the workers of this and all other belligerent countries to urge their respective Governments to immediately secure an armistice on all Fronts and initiate negotiations for Peace.
*The Labor Council's decision, calling on all unions "to ignore" the submission of information to the Industrial Registrar, was made on 7th November, 1918, on a motion by E.Judd, and read:
That as in the opinion of the Congress held under the auspices of the Labor Council, the Government is seeking information referred to in Mr. Trivett's circular to Unions, for an ulterior purpose, possibly to enable employers to discharge men that are financial members of unions in the way proposed by secret memo of the Holman Ministry in the case of single men --- calls upon all unions to ignore the Registrar's request
*At the Labor Council meeting on 9th January, 1919, Labor delegates from France were welcomed and, after Council delegates had sung the Red Flag, they listened to speeches from the French delegation through an interpreter. At the conclusion of the speeches, Garden moved that the Council
send fraternal greetings to the workers of France and all other countries and realising that the calumnies now being hurled at the Bolsheviks --- like the calumnies that were hurled at the French workers when they were struggling for Justice in the Revolution of 1792 and in the Commune of 1871 --- emanate from the enemies of the Working Class --- expresses the hope that those now fighting for Freedom will triumph over the foul monarchists and militarists and all that support them.
The meeting closed with the Red Flag again being sung after the Frenchmen had responded.
Included in the Ship Painters and Dockers Union's Minute Book for the year 1930, with the minutes for 1st September 1930, is copy of the roneoed information sent to unions by the Labor Council, thus
RESOLUTION PASSED BY COMMITTEE APPOINTED BY A COMBINED CONFERENCE OF TRADE UNION EXECUTIVES, ALP EXECUTIVE AND LABOR COUNCIL DELEGATES DEALING WITH THE QUESTION OF THE ECONOMIC CRISIS AND UNEMPLOYMENT.
Resolution No.1. That the unemployed shall be mobilised on the following lines:
1. Mass meeting in the Town Hall
2. Eight-Hour Demonstration to be a mass demonstration of employed and unemployed workers
3. Demand work at Award rates and full maintenance for the unemployed men and women, married and single.
4. Organise mass meetings simultaneously in the various Districts and the whole of the ALP machinery as well as the Trade Unions to be mobilised for the purpose.
The Aims of the Demonstration to be:
- To demand that the Federal Government declare a 5 years moratorium on the interest payable on overseas Government Loans.
- To repudiate all war debts
- To mobilise the credit of the community for the purpose of providing work or sustenance for the unemployed.
- To demand that all Unemployed Relief Work be paid for at the General Rate of pay in the Industry.
- To demand full sustenance or work for unemployed men and women.
- That all unemployed men and women be placed on the same basis for obtaining relief or work.
- To organise the unemployed into the Unemployed Workers Union for the achievement of their objects.
Resolution No.2. This Committee appointed by the Combined Conference calls upon the ALP Executive to instruct its Federal Parliamentary representatives to repudiate the financial agreement made at the Federal and State Premiers Conference and instruct its representatives to break at once with the Nationalist Financial gang whose sole objective is the breaking down of wages, hours and working conditions of Trade Unions in Australia.
The Committee further urges the ALP Executive to declare that any member who refuses to give effect to the foregoing policy shall be expelled from the Party as an enemy of the workingclass.
The Committee urges the ALP Executive to endorse the decisions of the Combined Conference as follows:
1. Declare a five-year moratorium on the interest payable on overseas Government loans.
2. Cancel all War Debts.
3. Mobilise the credit of the community for the purpose of providing work or sustenance for the unemployed.