― 494 ―

30. Chapter XXX Labor Federation.

IT is not my purpose to attempt a record of the many strikes and lock-outs Labor in Australia has had to face. The coal-miners have ever been good fighters, and the conditions of coal seams, as well as the competition between mine proprietors in cutting for trade, render the calling one of uncertainty, and place it on a different footing from that of gold-mining, where the product has a fixed price. The coal-miners of Newcastle and Illawarra districts in New South Wales have paid many thousands of pounds in strike pay, and have lost much time by enforced idleness; nevertheless, when the output of coal is taken—as furnished in the Government returns—and the difference between what the coal-miners wanted to pay and that which they were forced to pay by the miners' unions is calculated, it clearly proves that the men have gained more than they lost—in short, it paid to strike.

In the wool industry the gain is also clear. One of our Union organizers was met one day by a squatter who knew him. He said:

“Well, Pat, I see you have a nice easy billet now, riding about the country. I suppose the Union pays you well; you seem to be doing alright out of it.”

  ― 495 ―

Pat replied: “You make a mistake. I am not being paid by the Union.”

“No?” said the squatter. “Who pays you, then?”

“You and your friends are paying me,” said Pat.

The employers are not so foolish as to spend time and money and worry themselves in fighting unless they are going to gain by it, and they know well that the millions diverted into the pockets of the workers would remain in their own—and, what is perhaps more valued by some of them, they could act the autocrat more completely—if the Union could be crushed out of existence. These facts account for the vigorous but ineffectual efforts made by the Pastoralists' Union to crush the A.W.U. Nearly all the unions have had their industrial battles, some of the most severe being between the years 1880 and 1890, which period saw great activity amongst the workers in a trade union sense.

As to the present strength of the trade unions in Australia there is no official record except in New South Wales, where those registered under the Arbitration Act numbered about 86,000. Making allowance for those who for various reasons cannot become organized, or do not need to, the majority of workers in that State are members of unions. Probably there are at least 300,000 trade unionists in actual membership in Australia. I venture the opinion that in union spirit the workers of Australia stand higher in proportion to population than workers in any other country. Unionism is also strongly Federal. Industrial battles have proved

  ― 496 ―
that. The more severe the struggle the more closely it united the different unions, and the ready response for monetary aid drew organizations of Labor nearer to a federation of Labor.

The first attempt was made in October, 1879, when an Intercolonial Congress was called together in Sydney, N.S.W. There were thirty-six delegates, representing 11,087 members. These were practically all from New South Wales, as only three outside societies were represented. A second Congress was held in Melbourne in April, 1884. This was attended by fifty delegates from Victoria, fifteen from New South Wales, and four from South Australia— sixty-nine in all. No returns were given as to numbers represented, but it is recorded that the Trades Hall Council, Melbourne, represented 10,000, the Trades and Labor Council of South Australia 3000, the Trades and Labor Council of New South Wales 8000, the Coal-miners 2500, the Seamen's Union 1000, and the Amalgamated Miners' Association of Victoria 8000. Two lady delegates were present. The third Congress met in Sydney in October, 1885. There were 100 delegates present, including two ladies. It was roughly estimated that the Congress represented about 150,000 unionists. New Zealand and all the colonies except West Australia sent delegates. At the fourth Congress, held in Adelaide, S.A., in September, 1886, sixty-eight delegates were present. The fifth met in Brisbane, Queensland, in March, 1888, sixty-six delegates attending. The sixth met in Hobart, Tasmania, in February, 1889, with fifty-seven delegates present. The seventh Congress met in

  ― 497 ―
April, 1891, in Ballarat, Victoria, 114 attending, one of whom was a lady.

Photograph facing p.496. International Trades Union Congress, 1884.

If any evidence was needed to prove that the workers will never get their demands recognised in Parliament until they elect enough members of their own choice to form a majority it can be found on looking back over these several Congresses. The following subjects were submitted to the first Congress in 1879:—Eight Hours, Encouragement of Native Industries, Legalisation of Trades Unions, Laws Affecting Mercantile Marine, Question of holding an Annual Intercolonial Congress, Factory and Workshops Act, Co-operation, Education, Land Boilers Inspection, and Workmen's Compensation Act. Nearly all these questions were dealt with at each succeeding Congress.

The following additional items were debated at the second Congress:—Amendment of Master and Servants Act, Payment of Members, Direct Representation of Labor in Parliament, Local Government, Amendment of Mining Regulations, Employers' Liability, Mining on Private Property, Amalgamation and Federation of Unions, Recidivist Question.

At the third the Enfranchisement of Seamen came on.

At the fourth Arbitration and Conciliation and Land Value Taxation were discussed, in addition to the old questions.

At the fifth, in Brisbane, we find added to the previous list:—Organization of Labor, One Man One Vote, Marine and Sanitary Inspection, Apprentice Question, Land Nationalisation, Labor Lien and

  ― 498 ―
Wages Act, Technical Education, Inspection of Scaffolding, Wages on Government Contracts, and Competitive Examinations in Civil Service.

The sixth added Early Closing, and Limitation of Age in Government Offices.

The seventh brought up Political Organization, a General Defence Fund, Labor Department, Profit Sharing, Prohibition of Government Officers taking Outside Work, Abolition of Free Passes on the Railways, Abolition of Sweating, Extension of the Government as an Employer, and Best Means of Educating the Workers in Unionism. It is worthy of note that though this Congress followed the Maritime struggle of 1890, it was the largest ever held, there being 114 delegates present.

The eighth Congress was held in Adelaide in September, 1898, at which thirty-one attended. The following items were discussed in addition to old questions:—Weekly Half-Holiday, Old Age Pensions, Shearers' Hut Accommodation, Abolition of Contract under Government, Minimum Wage, Payment of Jurors, Trade Union Officer to be permitted to attend inquests.

The first Commonwealth Congress was held in November, 1902, in Sydney at which all the States were represented. In addition to many of those previously named, the following new items came up:—Nationalisation of Coal Mines, Uniform Factory Laws, Trade Union Label, Railway Carriages to be constructed in Government Workshops, Federal Arbitration Act, Full Citizen Rights, Labor Bureaux, Nationalisation of the Iron Industry, Amendment of Taff Vale Law,

  ― 499 ―
Nationalisation of the Drink Traffic, Abolition of State Governors, Weights and Measures, State or Municipal Lodging Houses, Right of Access to Shearing Sheds, etc.

The Congress of 1907, which met in Melbourne in February, added the following to our list:— Immigration, Boys in Sugar-cane Fields to be Limited, Free Transfer in Unions, Protection against Dangerous Machinery, All work to be done in Australia, Uniform Fruit Cases, Monopoly of Machines in Boot-trade, Child Labor, Mine Ventilation, Light Work for Old Men, Prison Labor, Medical Examination of School Children, Feeding of School Children, and Abolition of Sunday Work.

Great interest has always been taken by the public in these Congresses, and prior to Labor taking a hand in politics Premiers and Cabinet Ministers frequently attended as visitors. The subjects were discussed each time with earnestness and enthusiasm. Delegates seemed filled with hope and confidence, based on the sweet reasonableness of their claims; but, alas, what has been the result of all these years of effort and talk? Trade unionists meeting time after time, voicing their grievances into apparently sympathetic ears, only to find failure and broken promises after twenty-eight years of united Australian work, to say nothing of the local demands. And yet some unions, so-called, stand aloof. Practically about seventy of these questions remain to be dealt with by law in spite of all the effort, time, and money spent in urging them on Cabinets and candidates. Surely in face of these facts members of trade unions should see that the

  ― 500 ―
only way to secure needed legislation is to put their own men into power. One is also struck with the fact that nearly all the questions are such as require political action.

The Congresses were termed Trade Union Congresses, yet the matters over which the trade unions, as such, have control are very few indeed. Out of over eighty questions, only seven can be dealt with by the unions. The earlier Congresses held lengthy debates on the fiscal question, and in each case went strongly for a protective tariff. It was only at the later Congresses that the importance of the land question was seen. At each gathering delegates favored some form of Labor Federation. In the Congress of 1884 the following resolution moved by myself was, after discussion, carried unanimously:—

“That the Congress recommend the federation of the trade unions of each colony after the following manner:—Each trade to be recommended to amalgamate the several unions of the same trade under one head or governing body; each of the latter heads then to appoint representatives to a conference at which a Federal Council shall be elected who shall watch over the interests of the whole and deal with matters affecting the well-being of the working classes generally.”

This proposal bore fruit, as many unions became one where engaged in the same calling. The second part of the proposal has only been carried out in

  ― 501 ―
Queensland, where they have a federation of all the unions under the title of the “Australian Labor Federation.” At the Congress of 1891 the Queensland system was recommended and a comprehensive scheme adopted by Congress. New South Wales adopted the scheme for a time, but has since reverted to the old system of a Trades and Labor Council—in fact all the States except Queensland and Western Australia work on that system.

The introduction of Compulsory Arbitration and Wages Boards has rendered the complete Federation of Labor less a necessity than formerly. At the first Commonwealth Trades Union Congress, held in November, 1902, a scheme of federation was agreed to under which the organizations are now working. It meets the circumstances, and is found more practicable in its operations than the larger and more ambitious scheme of the Ballarat Congress of 1891. The first three rules of the new body will give its basis, and are as follows:—

Name and Constitution

1. The central consultative and recommendatory authority shall be called the Federal Council of the Australian Labor Unions, and shall consist of six delegates elected by and from each State, the delegation to be apportioned in such manner as may secure the most complete representation of all Labor unions. Each State to bear the expenses of its delegation.

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2. The objects shall be (a) to strengthen and consolidate the Labor Unions throughout the Commonwealth; (b) to confer upon all matters of general concern to wage-earners; and (c) to promote and extend such legislative reforms as will secure justice to all.

Federal Council Sessions.

3. The Federal Council shall sit at such time and place as may be from time to time decided upon, and not less frequently than once in three years.

Provision is made for calling special sessions and for an executive, the duties of the latter being defined.

A special Intercolonial Congress was held in Brisbane in 1899, at which a comprehensive scheme of federation was adopted, to be brought into operation when three or more colonies adopted it, but it was never put into force. The scheme provided for proper control in case of strike or lock-out, and for providing funds. The rules were very complete, but the following will indicate the difference in the objects between the two schemes of 1899 and 1902, those of 1899 being:—

The following shall be the objects of the Federation:—(a) To improve, protect, and foster the best interests of all classes of labor throughout Australasia. (b) To secure direct Labor representation in the various Parliaments, and to promote and extend such legislative

  ― 503 ―
reforms as will ensure social justice to Australasian workers. (c) To prevent, as far as possible, any strike or dispute between the members of the Federation and their employers by conciliatory means, and by appeal to any recognised Board of Arbitration. (d) To uphold the rules of all federated bodies and ensure justice to all their members. (e) To provide funds for the assistance of any Federated Union involved in a dispute, such funds to be used only after all conciliatory measures have failed. (f) To secure a better advocacy of the principles and rights of Labor through the press, and, if deemed necessary, to establish journals for the promulgation and defence of all classes of Australasian workers. (g) To prevent the influx of colored races.

Interstate Congresses are now held triennially and have a smaller delegation, the delegates being mainly Labor Members of Parliament, as their possession of free railway passes enables them to attend at small cost. Labor unions have also come to realise that all big questions are political. As a consequence the Political Conferences in each State have grown in importance and the others have lessened. Interstate Political Conferences are held every three years for dealing with Federal matters and for framing the platform for the Commonwealth elections.

The Parliamentary Committee of the 1884 Congress, in its report presented to the Congress in 1885, introduced the question of direct representation

  ― 504 ―
of Labor in Parliament, and the subject was discussed at that and succeeding Congresses. Delegates could not, however, induce their societies to take up the matter, and it was not until 1898 that the unions in New South Wales affiliated with the political section of Labor. The unions in the other colonies were several years ahead of them in that respect. The Shearers' Union stood up all along in favor of political action, and not only passed a resolution at its 1891 Conference, but appointed a committee to draft a platform. Several unions still hold out and take no part in political work. The members are gradually awakening, however, and when they do take the matter in hand they will soon over-ride the narrow-minded persons who now fight against electing to Parliament their own men so that they may remedy the evils which have been brought under the notice of the legislature in vain for thirty years past.

During the sittings of the Intercolonial Congress in Brisbane in 1888, the then Premier (Sir S. W. Griffith), now Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, issued a political manifesto in which the following passage appeared:—

“The relations between Labor and Capital constitute one of the great difficulties of the day. I look to the recognition of the principle that a share of the profits of productive labor belongs of right to the laborer as of the greatest importance in the future adjustment of these relations. The experiment of giving to workmen

  ― 505 ―
a personal interest in the success of the industrial undertakings in which they are engaged has already been tried in a few cases by the individual of the employers, and has resulted in conspicuous advantage to all parties. I entertain a strong hope that before long this principle will form a part of the positive law of Queensland.”

Like the other promises of old political parties nothing was done by Sir S. W. Griffith, though he had a splendid opportunity, and the pressure of an evil social system is daily becoming more severe in Queensland as elsewhere.

The trade union has not become less necessary because of political activity. It has become more than ever important. It has still plenty to do in watching over the bread-and-butter question which is with us all the time, and it is at the same time the backbone of the political Labor movement. The unions give stability, continuity, and solidarity to it. They form a training ground for future Parliaments. It is rare that a member trained and disciplined in a trade union goes back on his principles. The unionist is more loyal and reliable, and will stand the decisions of the party with less strain than others. The organization of unions must not, therefore, be neglected if the masses wish to work out their political and industrial salvation.

The Melbourne Trades Hall Council has a very fine set of buildings in Carlton. The old hall, which is still in use, was built in 1857. The foundation stone of the first portion of the new building was

  ― 506 ―
laid on 26th January, 1874, and that of the second part on October 21st, 1882. The approximate cost to date is £24,000.

The Trades and Labor Council of Sydney made a start to secure its Trades Hall in 1884. The committee appointed had £17 to start with. The foundation stone was laid by Baron Carrington (then Governor) on 28th January, 1888. The building and property are now valued at £26,000.

The Trades Hall in Adelaide, S.A., took eleven years' agitation to get. The foundation stone was laid on Eight-Hour Day, September 2, 1895, by Mrs. C. C. Kingston. It was opened on the 14th March, 1896, by Mr. T. Price, and cost £6490.

The Trades Hall, Brisbane, Q., was officially opened on May 5th, 1894, and cost £5200.