― 111 ―

11. Chapter XI. The Turning Point.

THE great turning point in the history of Australian Labor was undoubtedly the maritime strike, as it was termed, in 1890. In reality it was a lock-out, and came about in this way. There had been a boom in land speculation, good seasons in pastoral pursuits, and capitalists had somewhat lost their heads. On the Labor side there had been steady advance, and quite a number of requests of various kinds had been submitted to different sections of the employers. Labor was considered too aggressive.

The year 1889 had been full of trouble. There had been a big strike at Broken Hill in November of that year, a strike of miners in Ballarat, and strikes in the building trades of Sydney, in the collieries of New South Wales, and amongst the waterside workers in Queensland. The Seamen's Union had one or two matters which they asked should be adjusted; whilst the shearers in Queensland, backed up by the Labor Federation, were asking for full recognition of Union men and the withdrawal of the boycott. The shipowners were then, as now, more or less closely associated with the pastoralists. The former were organized, whilst the Pastoralists' Union had just come into existence. Both were intercolonial bodies.

  ― 112 ―

Photograph facing p.112. HON.J.C.WATSON, M.H.R., First Labor Prime Minister of Australia

Early in 1890 a meeting of representatives of employers' organizations of each colony was held in Melbourne, and it was determined that steps should be taken to stop the aggressiveness of Labor Unionism. A Federation of employers' organizations was formed, known as the Federated Employers' Union. A strong feeling against Unionism soon developed, and it was argued that the dictation—as they termed it—of trades unions and their “irresponsible” leaders must be put a stop to. The term “freedom of contract” was adopted as if it were some great and sacred principle. They gave no definition of it, but as time went on what they really meant came out. At a conference in Adelaide between the bakers and the employers, the President of the Master Bakers gave the following definition of the term:—

  • “1. That they have the right to discharge any man without being asked the reason for so discharging.
  • “2. They shall have the right to bring a man into their shop without being questioned whether he is a union or non-union man.
  • “3. They shall have the right to employ whom they please.
  • “4. They shall pay what they choose without being questioned on the matter by anybody.”

Mr. E. M. Young, then president of the Employers' Union, gave the following statement of its meaning as reported in the Capitalists' own

  ― 113 ―
official organ, the Melbourne “Argus,” of the 27th February, 1891:

“All that employers insisted on was that they should be allowed to conduct their business as they pleased, and to employ whom they pleased, whether the men were in unions or not.”

Practical proof of what they meant was given by the following notice posted by Messrs. Flood and Co. in Sydney on the 19th August, 1890:—

“Let it be understood that for the future all men working for us will be expected to do such work on such terms and arrangements as may be required by us.”

Some time prior to this the “South Australian Register,” when engaging compositors, compelled them to sign a thirty-six months' agreement containing the following clause:

“The employee shall not, during the service aforesaid, be or become a member of the South Australian Typographical Society or any of a similar nature or having similar objects.”

It was clear that the employers, though becoming organized themselves, set up the aim of refusing to recognise the right of the worker to organize. They wanted to revert back to the days of the iron law of wages and unrestricted competition by workmen for work on such terms as the selfish, greedy employer might choose to fix. Whilst the capitalists were nursing this grand idea of freedom of contract the workers' unions kept steadily on in their own way, and no doubt by some

  ― 114 ―
of their actions helped to add fuel to the fire of hatred burning in the breasts of capitalism.

Finally, in 1890, the Employers' Union conceived the ambition of wiping out Australian Unionism at one blow. They first had the idea of a universal lock-out. With this end in view the co-operation of certain bodies which had hitherto held aloof from the Employers' Federation was sought. The Mine-owners' Association of Victoria, whose head-quarters were in Ballarat, were asked to join in this grand coup. They, however, declined, as they were on good terms with the Miners' Association. The mine-owners of Broken Hill were sounded, but mainly through the influence of two of the directors, support in that direction was declined. The heads of several large firms in the cities were also humane enough to decline to be a party to such a plot. These rebuffs caused a change in tactics, though not in design; and it was decided to take the unions in detail.

Meantime, in pursuance of the policy of ignoring Unionism, the pastoralists in Queensland had instituted a boycott of union men, and the Australian Labor Federation determined to bring things to an issue. The Darling Downs pastoralists were the aggressors, and, as stated in the last chapter, the Waterside Workers' Unions were asked to refuse to load non-union shorn wool from the Jondaryan Station unless the pastoralists agreed to recognise Unionists. A big demonstration was made, and the co-operation of all the southern organizations of Labor was readily granted. The waterside men refused to load the s.s. Jumna with the Jondaryan

  ― 115 ―
wool, and when it was seen that Labor was determined the pastoralists gave way, a conference was held, and an agreement arrived at in Brisbane on the 17th May, 1890.

In the meantime keen interest had been taken in other parts. Careful enquiry had shown that in a large part of New South Wales pastoralists had become tired of an unsuccessful fight year after year with the Shearers' Union, and were in an unsettled state of mind as to the best course to pursue. On ascertaining this we felt that some movement on our part was necessary to make them decide one way or the other prior to the beginning of the shearing season. Following the lines of Queensland, the A.S.U. issued a strong manifesto appealing to the other unions, and especially to the waterside and maritime workers. At the same time we appealed to the Pastoralists' Union to meet in conference and settle matters amicably.

The move was so far successful that several sections did meet us, and agreed to leave the matter in the hands of their executive. The latter also agreed to meet us, and everything was working smoothly, when suddenly the maritime trouble was sprung upon us owing to the action of the employers, who put into force the new policy laid down in secret, namely, to take the Unions in detail. The marine officers were an organized body, and in Melbourne they were affiliated with the other maritime bodies. In Sydney they were not affiliated with any other section of Unionism. Communications had passed between them and the shipowners

  ― 116 ―
in both colonies, and their Union was fully recognised, as also was the fact that they had reasonable grounds for increased pay.

No considerations of fair-play actuated the Employers' Union, however. They, like the Zulu chief, tackled the weakest Union first. They placed the matter in the hands of the late Mr. Alfred Lamb, of Sydney, who acted promptly by ordering the refusal of a conference to the marine officers. The latter, acting without consulting anybody, refused to sail; and when others took their places the seamen refused and stood by the officers, and thus the whole trouble was precipitated. The president of the Employers' Union (Mr. E. E. Smith), when responding to a toast at a function in Victoria, said:

“They had to thank the executive of the Employers' Union for the way in which the strike had eventuated, as well as the secretaries and the other gentlemen who had worked so amicably with the executive through a difficult and trying time. The late Mr. Alfred Lamb, of Sydney, was the man who had really brought the thing forward. He knew it was the intention of the Labor bodies to postpone the difficulty until the height of the wool season, and he thought it was better to bring it on sooner. He was very sorry that the country should have lost over a million of money in proving to a section of the community that it could not coerce the whole. This was now, however, laid down, and it would be difficult to disturb the position which matters had assumed.”

The statement that Labor intended to postpone the difficulty had no foundation in fact. Labor

  ― 117 ―
had no desire for trouble, and as it had no executive or other head managing affairs in the way the employers had, each union was simply dealing with its own affairs in its own way. The only threatened action was with regard to non-union shorn wool, and this was only a factor in Queensland and New South Wales, and would have been out of the way had the promised conference between the P.U. and A.S.U. taken place.

In Melbourne the shipowners' excuse for declining to meet the officers was that they objected to their being affiliated with any other body. In Sydney they had no excuse of this kind, and so simply refused straight out without any reason being given. After the seamen and cooks and stewards had refused to sail under blackleg officers, some creatures were obtained to take their places, and a steamer called at Newcastle for coal. The miners in the mine from which coal was being obtained at once dropped their tools and went out without any orders from their union. This excuse was eagerly taken advantage of by the mine-owners, as next morning the white flag was up, and all the miners were locked out.

When the trouble was precipitated there was no organization to take charge on the Labor side, so I at once called together representatives from the Trades and Labor Council, the Maritime Council, and such unions as were directly concerned in the matter. In addition to the councils mentioned there was also in Sydney at that time a Builders' Trade Council, and many unions were not affiliated with any of the Councils. The Committee organized by

  ― 118 ―
myself was called the Committee of Defence, and took charge of affairs so far as Sydney was concerned. In Melbourne a Committee of Finance and Control was set up, whilst in other colonies the local councils dealt with matters as they cropped up.

The principal centre was Sydney, and there the burden of supporting over 30,000 men, most of whom were married, became a serious problem. Throughout the continent the loyalty of the Unionists was wonderful, and astonished the employers. Unionists employed on buildings in the city of Sydney, and entirely unaffected by the strike, came to the committee begging permission to come out also, and it took all the efforts of the committee to prevent a universal strike taking place. The committee had promised the mayor and the people of Sydney that the city would not be put in darkness, and had great difficulty in inducing the gas stokers at the gas-works to continue work. As a matter of fact, they refused unless a written order was served upon them showing that they, as individuals, were not blacklegging, and not responsible for handling coal which was “black” from a union point of view as well as by nature.

Out of all the hundreds of unions in Australia, but one was found to side with the employers. The Marine Engineers held the key of the position. Every possessor of a certificate was a member of their union, and under the law no ship could sail without a certificated engineer in charge. Every influence was brought to bear to induce them to throw in their lot with their brother Unionists and thus end the trouble with a win for organized Labor. Not

  ― 119 ―
only did the refuse, but they took a selfish advantage by accepting a bribe of better terms from the ship-owners. As might have been foreseen, they have had to accept a reduction since. Fortunately for the credit of Australians, this was the only exception, but, together with the luck of fine weather, it had the effect of enabling shipowners to carry on in a rough sort of way.

The trouble having extended around the coast, it was found necessary to have a committee to deal with intercolonial affairs, and so, on the 12th September, delegates from each colony met in Sydney in conference. This sat continuously until the end of the strike. As the official records of this conference were very foolishly destroyed since—though they contained nothing which might not have been published—some particulars from my own notes taken from the minutes ere handing them over may prove of interest.

The conference met at noon on Friday, 12th September, 1890, in an upper room in the Protestant Hall, Sydney. There were present Messrs. J. Finch, G. Herbert, R. McKillop, W. A. Murphy, P. J. Brennan, and T. M. Davis for New South Wales; J. A. Thomson, Newcastle miners, N.S.W.; J. B. Nicholson, Illawarra miners, N.S.W.; W. Trenwith, C. Cox, F. Hall, C. E. Parkin, J. M. Mansfield, and W. G. Spence for Victoria; R. S. Guthrie, G. Mellor, and J. MacGillivray for South Australia; A. Hinchcliffe, H. Turley, F. E. Holmes, and C. Seymour for Queensland. Messrs. Davis, Mansfield, and Seymour also acted for New Zealand. Messrs. J. H. Cann, R. Sleath, and P. Quinn, from Broken Hill, attended

  ― 120 ―
on the 27th. Mr. P. J. Brennan was appointed chairman, Mr. G. Herbert vice-chairman, Mr. W. A. Murphy treasurer, and Mr. W. G. Spence secretary.

Reports were obtained from the representatives of each colony, giving cause of trouble, number of men affected, and funds in hand.

In South Australia the trouble was over the marine officers only. They had 500 men out; had received £800, and spent £400.

In Victoria it was marine officers only. There were 3500 men out, and they had £4000. Had expended about £500.

In Queensland there was the Corinna case, the marine officers, and the non-union wool. There were 2000 out; they had spent about £1000, and had about £500 in hand.

New Zealand had 5000 men out. No report as to funds.

In New South Wales it was marine officers first and non-union wool question second. In Sydney there were 4748 out. They had expended £2253, and had a balance in hand of £5553. Newcastle men had been locked out because a few men in one mine had refused to supply coal for a blackleg crew. There were 4500 men idle in consequence, and they had £7000 in hand. Illawarra reported 1600 men locked out.

Summed up, the reports showed that there were 28,500 men idle, with about £20,000 at their back.

The first resolution was one asking the employers for a conference, and appointing delegates to meet them. These were given a free hand as to terms. The representatives of the employers'

  ― 121 ―
organizations were sitting at the time in an intercolonial conference, and we sent on the appeal to them at once by letter. They refused to meet us, and at once closed up their conference and cleared out of Sydney. Every effort was made to induce them to meet in unconditional conference, but without avail. Lord Carrington (then Governor of New South Wales), Mr. S. Burdekin (Mayor of Sydney), Cardinal Moran, the Chief Justice, and others all tried hard to get them to meet us, but in vain.

The fight became more severe, and on the 15th the miners of Lithgow and Broken Hill were asked to cease work, and the stevedores and others at Melbourne and Adelaide were asked to block vessels in those ports. It was decided to allow coal to be supplied to the various Governments. We tried to arrange for running a steamship in opposition to the steamship owners, but the miners objected to cut coal. By the 18th everything was at high pressure, and it was felt that some decided and strong step must be taken so as to help on the efforts of those who were still trying to secure a conference.

Early in the struggle the shearers had been asked to stay at home and not accept engagements. It must be remembered that the Pastoralists' Union had in the beginning thrown itself into the struggle by uniting with the shipowners. The call to stay at home did not affect many, as shearing was in full swing in New South Wales and in parts of Queensland. On the 19th the following telegram was sent to every shearing shed where men were working:—

  ― 122 ―
“Instruct all shearers, laborers, and carriers to cease work after Wednesday night next at all hazards. No man to go to work till further notice. This step absolutely necessary to protect Australian Unionism.”

This notice had splendid effect. It brought some of the big squatters to the city, and caused them to throw their influence on the side of a conference. Unfortunately, the press ridiculed the idea that men would forfeit their earnings and lose employment for the sake of the marine officers and at the behest of an irresponsible body. Writing daily in this strain had some effect on the employers. On the 23rd a motion was proposed, delaying the call-out till the Monday following. There was a long discussion, lasting until the afternoon of the 24th, when it was defeated, the only two voting against the call-out being Mr. (now Senator) Trenwith and myself.

I was president of the Shearers' Union at the time, and that fact no doubt added to the loyalty of the shearers, as the wires were sent in my name—though in my capacity as secretary to the strike conference. The wires were sent, and the result proved the press to be false prophets, for 16,000 men ceased work at once on the day fixed. Their loyalty stands out as a magnificent monument of what true Unionism means. They asked no questions, took all risks, and left their work, in most cases penniless and not knowing where their next meal was to come from. Before the end of the month the effect on the employers was such that they promised Mr.

  ― 123 ―
Burdekin (then Mayor of Sydney) that if the shearers were sent back they would meet us in open conference.

A resolution that the shearers be sent back to finish their contracts had been discussed for nearly three days, and was carried late on the afternoon of the 2nd October. The men were ordered back; and though on that very day the employers had definitely promised Mr. Burdekin that they would meet us in open conference, they failed to keep to their promise. Had they kept their word the call-out would have been a success, and those who voted for it would have been lauded amongst Unionists. As matters stood, it proved a mistake, as it had cut off supplies and involved the men and their union in serious loss. It cost the A.S.U. about £9000 afterwards to pay for fines and forfeited wages.

Though the men had only been out for a week, most of the squatters refused to let them go back, and so wires daily poured into the conference asking what they were to do. Delegates at conference, in the face of this demand, frankly owned up that they had more than they could manage, so on the 4th October they passed a resolution that the question of dealing with the shearers be left entirely in the hands of Mr. Spence. Conference saw that Labor was defeated—not from lack of loyalty, but from want of funds. On the 9th it adjourned sine die, leaving the executive to wind up affairs, which they did on the 13th.

Twelve of the delegates were subsequently elected to Parliament as Labor men. Two of these have since died, and seven are still members—four

  ― 124 ―
in the Commonwealth Parliament, two in New South Wales and one in Queensland State Houses.

During the sittings of Conference a good deal of information was supplied to us by an anonymous writer, of whose reliability we had evidence. He was in some position in close touch with the Government of the day, and we found his hints useful. In one letter he stated:

“Your bitterest enemy is Lamb; your best friend Lady Parkes—she has the curb on Sir Henry.”

In Donnelly's “Caesar's Column” the clever schemer is a Jew with a crooked neck. During our sittings a Jew, a man of independent means, came to me with a scheme which had much merit in it. This particular Jew had a crooked leg. He said he knew there would be no freedom if the capitalist won, and his race were ever lovers of freedom. His scheme was that we should arrange that a large body of the miners of Newcastle, who were idle by reason of the lock-out, should commence to march to Sydney, carrying their tools, or at any rate a pick each. They were to walk, and not to hurry.

Meantime, secrecy as to why they were coming to the city was to be maintained. As they came nearer, arrangements could be made for bringing the shearers down from inland, and the city Unionists were also to be in readiness. It was the mystery of the procedure that was to tell. The reporters would be busy; they would interview all and sundry; but as nobody could tell them anything the effect would be to frighten the wits out of the capitalists, whose whole life is bound up in property

  ― 125 ―
and business. The chairman of the Defence Committee and I were prepared to act on the suggestion, but we could not get the representative of the Newcastle miners to agree, and of course we could not do anything without his consent.

During the sittings of the conference the first post one morning brought a letter addressed to Messrs. Brennan and Spence. Mr. P. J. Brennan (chairman of the conference) having arrived first, opened the letter and got somewhat of a shock when he found it to be a notice of doom, with a rough drawn coffin and cross bones at the bottom. There was a warning to both of us, and a note to each couched in similar language. That to myself read as follows:—

“Mr. Spence,—We have had enough of this game. I and a few others have stuck to the cause, but you and the cause have not stuck to us. Our wives and children are starving, and we see misery everywhere. You and your mates have ruined us all for the b— cause—what cause? Curse the delegates. We had a meeting and drew lots, and you are a marked man. So your b— life is not worth much. We have sworn to do it. You have ruined us. You are to be followed; prepare to meet your God. It is our rule to warn our victims. God help you. It is to be done.”

It was handed to me on my arrival, and I could see that Mr. Brennan, who was somewhat emotional, was upset and took it rather seriously. I laughed at it, as possibly some trick. That evening Mr.

  ― 126 ―
Brennan was on his way home just after dark, when by some peculiar accident a portion of a brick fell from the top of a building as he passed it, and striking him on the head caused him a slight injury but a worse fright, as he thought it was the threat of the letter-writer being put in force. He was laid up three days through it.

The manifesto issued at the close of the intercolonial conference read as follows:—

“To Unionists and General Public.

“We have the honor to submit the following brief report:—This conference of delegates from the committees, having the management of the strike in each colony, was convened by the Labor Defence Committee of New South Wales as quickly as possible after the Intercolonial Conference of employers had met in Sydney. It was felt that in view of the disastrous effect produced upon the community by long continuance of a strike it was the duty of both sides to endeavor to arrive at an honorable and amicable settlement as early as possible. Delegates met in the Protestant Hall, Castlereagh Street, Sydney, on 12th September. The first act of the conference was to pass the following resolutions:—1. ‘That this conference requests the conference of employers, now sitting, to appoint six of their number to meet six members of this conference with a view to (if possible) deciding upon a basis of settlement in connection with the present Labor struggle. 2. That a copy of the foregoing be forwarded to

  ― 127 ―
the employers’ conference, with a request that, if approved of, they will meet our representatives at 2 p.m., at the Town Hall, on Saturday, the 13th instant.' This was sent at once to the secretary of the employers' conference, but, we regret to say, was not dealt with by their body, who, we were informed next day, had dissolved on the afternoon of the day of our first sitting.

“A manifesto was issued to the public by the employers' conference, containing the following statement of the position assumed by them:—1st resolution—‘That this conference re-affirms the principle of “freedom of contract” between individual employers and employees, and asserts that any infringement of that principle is not only destructive to commerce, but is also inimical to the best interests of the working classes.’ 2nd resolution—‘That any attempt to apply force, or the threat of force, or any persuasion, other than that permitted and defined by law, to men who are not Unionists, or any other form of boy-cotting, should, in the opinion of this conference, be resisted by united action.’ 3rd resolution—‘This conference is of opinion that employers should declare that they will not be coerced in the dismissal of any labor that has taken service with them in the present emergency, and in the event of any attempt being made to coerce such labor to join any trade organization, or to interfere with them in the discharge of their daily work, the combined associations represented at this conference will take all possible means to

  ― 128 ―
insure their personal safety.’ 4th resolution—‘That this conference declares that to maintain discipline, and thus protect life and property, owners of shipping in the coastal and intercolonial trades should not engage or retain in their employ any captains or officers who may be members of a union affiliated with any Labor organizations.’ 5th resolution—‘That with a view to the extension of the various employers’ unions, it is desirable to encourage employers and others connected with all trades, businesses, and interests to join existing employers' unions, and form other unions where necessary for mutual protection and defence upon the basis of resolutions passed; that such unions form federal councils for each colony; that all such federal councils be affiliated and confederated. This conference desires a speedy termination of the present unsatisfactory state of affairs, and to facilitate a resumption of work employers are urged to proclaim as soon as possible the terms upon which engagements will be made.'

“Our conference at once prepared a reply and set forth the position taken up by Labor in the following resolutions:—1. ‘That this conference agrees with the principle of freedom of contract between employer and employees, but holds that combination is absolutely necessary in the best interests of the people, and that trades unions, being legal institutions, are entitled to the recognition of all classes.’ 2. ‘The basis of Unionism being voluntaryism, it

  ― 129 ―
is against their principles to use coercion of any kind, and they therefore use moral suasion only. They claim that every workman should have freedom to join any organization he may choose, and deny that employers have any right to use any influence other than moral suasion to prevent his doing so.’ 3. ‘This conference claims that it is absolutely necessary in the interests of the working classes that they shall have the right to refuse work when the conditions under which they are asked to continue work are such as to be detrimental to their interests.’ 3. ‘This conference is heartily in accord with the general principles contained in the proposals of the Employers’ Conference as set forth in their fifth resolution, and on similar grounds claims that the workers should have absolute freedom to affiliate their various organizations.' It will be seen that there is evidently considerable difference in the position taken up by each side as set forth, and that to arrive at the real meaning of each resolution some explanation was required before either side could reasonably be expected to accept the principles involved therein. We deemed it best for both parties to the dispute to meet in conference without any conditions ‘a priori,’ and made a proposal to that effect.

“During the whole of the 20 days' sittings of our conference we have used our best endeavors to bring about a settlement by conference with the other side. The Most Worshipful the Mayor of Sydney (S. Burdekin, M.L.A.),

  ― 130 ―
and a number of other gentlemen, have also done all they could to induce the employers to meet us in conference, but without avail. The Employers' Union have during the whole period evaded the question as much as possible by shuffling and delay, putting forth the excuse that they must await the issue of negotiations going on in Melbourne; the Employers' Union in Melbourne acted on similar lines there, by putting forth the plea that they must consult the Employers' Union in Sydney. No definite reply as to whether they will meet us or not having been obtainable, we regret that we have been compelled to adjourn. Before doing so we make the following recommendations:—‘We are of opinion that no settlement of a satisfactory character can be arrived at except at an intercolonial conference of both sides.’ ‘In the event of the employers being at any time prepared to meet us in any of the colonies, we recommend that the delegates be at once called together by the committee having control of strike matters in the colony the conference is proposed to be held in.’ ‘That no terms of settlement be accepted by any strike or defence committee in any colony without first consulting kindred committees in all the other colonies interested; also, that no single society accept terms of settlement without first consulting the committee having control of affairs in the colony in which such body is situated.’

“The refusal of the employers to even meet and discuss matters, can only be construed as

  ― 131 ―
an evidence that they prefer to let the strike continue, in hopes that they may crush Unionism; hence it becomes necessary to close up our ranks, and loyally resist this unwarrantable attack on the rights of Labor. We recommend that each union, and every friend of humanity, be appealed to, so that full financial support may be secured. We suggest to each committee the desirability of directing their energies in the direction of a systematic collection of funds. We would also call attention to the actions of the Governments of each colony in regard to the strike, and recommend active, energetic work throughout all Labor organizations in preparation for taking full advantage of the privileges of the franchise by sweeping monopolists and class representatives from the Parliament of the country, replacing them by men who will study the interests of the people, and who will remove the unjust laws now used against the workers and wealth-producers, and administer equitable enactments impartially. We are pleased to be in a position to congratulate the unions on the splendid loyalty to the cause displayed throughout the strike. Every effort has been put forth by our opponents, assisted by their agents, the Governments of at least three of the colonies, to provoke breaches of law and order. We are proud to say that everywhere their efforts have failed. The workers of the colonies have demonstrated their powers of self-government, and proved that it is the discipline of Unionism, and not the power

  ― 132 ―
of armed force, which has guided their behaviour under most trying circumstances. We look forward with confidence that the loyalty and unity of our members will be maintained, and that in a short time victory will be on the side of humanity and progress.

(Signed) “P. J. BRENNAN, Chairman.

“W. G. SPENCE, Hon. Sec.

“Sydney, N.S.W., 8th October, 1890.”

In Melbourne the only question involved was that of the marine officers, and so far as the public and official statements of shipowners were concerned they only objected to the officers being affiliated with the Trades Hall Council. It will be remembered that in Sydney they were not affiliated with any other body, yet they were refused a conference just the same. However, no sooner had the trouble arisen in Melbourne than the Hon. James Service, M.L.C.—himself a shipowner—mediated between the parties, and on the 14th August the shipowners, by official letter to him, agreed to meet the representatives of the marine officers in conference. Mr. Service communicated with the Committee of Finance and Control at once, a meeting of the marine officers was held the offer was accepted, and delegates appointed.

An official letter so informing the shipowners was sent direct so as to save time. No reply coming next day inquiries were made, when it was found that the shipowners, who had loudly objected to dealing in any other way than direct with their officers, had suddenly brought up a question of etiquette, and said that the letter should have been

  ― 133 ―
sent through Mr. Service, and without explanation they failed to meet or keep the promise officially made. The Hon. James Service said in the Legislative Council afterwards that “it was the refusal of the shipowners to meet the Trades Hall delegates that had precipitated the catastrophe.”

The fight in Melbourne went on; and, as in Sydney, quite a number of influential men tried to mediate, always to find the employers obdurate. They met with the same shuffling and lack of honesty as was our experience in Sydney. Of course, we could understand it later, when we found out the secret plot of the Employers' Union, but at the time no one could understand why men supposed to be reputable citizens should so far fall short of honorable dealing as to fail to keep official promises. Public opinion in Victoria was considerably aroused by their action, and leading men expressed their sympathy by monetary aid. That grand democrat, the late Chief Justice Higinbotham, sent the following letter:—

To the President of the Trades Hall Council.

“The Chief Justice presents his compliments to the President of the Trades Hall Council, and requests that he will be so good as to place the amount of the enclosed cheque for £50 to the credit of the strike fund. While the united trades are awaiting compliance with the reasonable request for a conference with employers, the Chief Justice will continue for the present to forward a weekly contribution of £10 to the same object.

“Law Courts, Melbourne, September 29th.”

  ― 134 ―

Another letter appeared in the “Age,” as follows:—

To the Editor of the ‘Age.’

“Sir,—Enclosed is a cheque for £50 in favor of the treasurer of the strike fund, which sum I intend to give weekly so long as the struggle continues.

“Yours, etc.,


“383 Latrobe Street, 3rd September, 1890.”

The Victorian committee were in a much stronger position for carrying on the fight than that of Sydney. They had only 3700 on the strike list. Of these the marine officers numbered but 150, and yet they were the men the whole of Australian Labor was fighting for. The strike, so far as Melbourne was concerned, was suddenly ended by the marine officers giving way without consulting those who had put up such a brave fight in their support. On the 30th October, 1890, Mr. C. E. Parkin, their secretary, sent the following telegram to all concerned:—

“Shipowners have agreed to recognise the association. We have agreed to forego affiliation. Settlement shortly.”

Whilst there was no doubt about the loyalty of the unionists, and whilst all concerned did their best, the event brought out the fact that if Labor was ever to go into such a struggle again it must be better prepared, and must have some governing head of an intercolonial kind. The calling together

  ― 135 ―
of the Intercolonial Conference on the 12th September was an attempt to provide this, but there was still lack of a recognition that only one central authority could properly deal with the whole trouble in the large sense.

For instance, the very day before the meeting of the conference in Sydney the Committee of Finance and Control in Melbourne had taken action by placing in the hands of Mr. Andrew Lyell, of Melbourne, proposals for settlement without consulting other bodies concerned. The first that our conference knew of it in Sydney was through an outsider, in the person of Mr. Champion. Three of us, as delegates from the Intercolonial Conference, were by appointment having an interview with the Mayor. Whilst there, Mr. Champion walked in and produced the document marked “private and confidential” which had been given to Mr. Lyell, and which contained proposals we did not agree with.

In Sydney we had been negotiating for an open conference without any beforehand restrictions, whilst in Melbourne proposals in black and white had been made without our knowledge, and which an unauthorised person brought to Sydney, and for all we knew might already have been submitted to the employers. The whole face of things has altered since, and hence it will not be necessary to make provision against any such thing again occurring.

Even with more perfect organization, the employers would have had the advantage. The question of whether it has paid them is one they

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may not care to answer, as it is pretty clear that they have placed themselves in a worse position owing to the fact that they aroused a sleeping, allpowerful giant, and by the peaceful method of straight voting for straight men of his own class, giant Labor is going to rule shortly over shipowners as well as shearers. The monetary cost to Labor, exclusive of loss of wages, of the various troubles the Employers' Union has brought upon the community by its secret plot of 1890, I estimate to be in round figures about £190,000. If we could estimate the good resulting to Labor it will be found to be cheap at the cost. The Employers' Union has no gains to count.