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34. Chapter XXXIV. Propaganda Work.

VERY early in my work as a union organizer I realised how hopeless the struggle of the masses against the capitalists must prove unless the unions took up the more important question of taking control of the law-making machine. Not only were the laws bad, but their administration was worse. It was always against the masses, and in favor of a class minority. The organization of the shearers gave an opportunity denied to me by the miners, and hence I was able to do some effective work in co-operation with the many splendid officers and members of that large body. Active propaganda has been the special feature of the organization.

Very soon we had a paper of our own. At first a paper was run by a private firm solely in the interests of the union, and its policy was controlled by the officers of the A.S.U. Later a union-owned paper was started, which has since grown into a power. Many pounds were spent annually in the dissemination of literature. For instance, we purchased many hundred copies of Bellamy's “Looking Backward,” as soon as it was published, and sent these out amongst the members. We did the same with “Merrie England.” Leaflets, articles, etc., were sent out by the thousand. At the opening of each Annual Conference of the


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A.S.U., as president, I delivered an address dealing with some phase of the social problem. This appeared in the official report, and thus reached thousands of readers. Secretaries of branches generally touched on the subject of social reform in their reports.

As a sample of the line of reasoning followed, and also of the method adopted, I quote a portion of one of my reports when general secretary of the General Laborers' Union prior to its amalgamation with the Amalgamated Shearers' Union. After dealing with the details of work done and attempted, the report runs as follows:—

“The unfortunates who form the mass from which non-unionists are drawn are the products of our present social system. Natural opportunities being in the possession of the few, who employ workers only for the purpose of making a profit out of their labor, together with the effect of competition and the steady displacement of men and women by machinery, it of necessity follows that there must be a large number of unemployed. Employers select the best workmen only, hence the inferior tradesman is driven out and becomes absorbed into the ranks of the class called unskilled —a mass embracing in its ranks not only the strong general laborer, but also the weak, the improvident, the helpless. To make an effort to change our social system so as to give full opportunity to every honest man to earn a livelihood for himself and those dependent upon him, to give hope to the despondent and help to the weak, and to secure


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the moral improvement of all, should be the aim of our organization. To accomplish this there must be unity of purpose and method on the part, not only of our particular union, but of Labor organizations generally.

“Already the platform of unionism has been extended, its aims broadened, and new methods adopted. We realise that to continue upon old lines would never bring about that change in our social system absolutely necessary to secure more just and happier conditions for mankind. Old trade unionism has done a wonderful work. It has been the only institution that has in a practical form done something to improve the lot of the workers of the world. It has paved the way for and given a start to co-operation. So long, however, as it confined its attention to the trade interests of its own members it could do nothing for the ever-increasing mass which our keenly competitive social system constantly forces out of the ranks of organized Labor. Workmen are in competition with each other for employment, which decreases in ratio of population, relatively fewer being required to supply the wants of the world. Old unionism has done much, but it has failed to shorten hours or increase wages in keeping with scientific, social, and economic changes.

“Fighting by the old method of strikes it can accomplish less now—in the days when production is in the hands of powerful syndicates—when the employing classes have their unions and world-wide federations—than it could when greater numbers rendered employers' unions more difficult of


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establishment. In the past we have permitted ourselves to be governed and ruled by the class whose members form the minority—those who enjoy class privileges, who hold a monopoly of those natural opportunities which justly are the common heritage of the whole human family. They make and administer the laws, control the education of our children, own and direct the policy and tone of that great educator, the press. They can swamp the Labor market with men, women, and children needing bread whenever they think that trade interests demand such a step. An insane competition places commercial and trade interests—the profit-making, money-getting of a few—above the well-being, the happiness, and even the lives of the many. Competition forces employers to act unjustly, and under the conditions which regulate production in society, as now constituted, they must continue to crush their weaker or more unfortunate brother.

“We must look behind the employer and carry that bitter feeling, which injustice naturally gives rise to, beyond and away from the employer, and let it burn in its fullest intensity against the system which produces for profit instead of, as it ought to, for use, for the satisfaction of human wants and desires—the utilisation of Nature's unlimited bounty for making mankind as happy as our control of conditions can render the human family. No man or set of men can change our social conditions. We cannot even blame any man or set of men for the continuance of an admittedly evil system. We cannot expect the ruling classes to do other than go on selfishly looking after and maintaining the interests


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of their class. They do not govern because of any superior ability, but simply because they have secured control, and because the masses have been apathetic, easy going, and careless, and have allowed themselves to be split up into factions.

“If any body of persons in Australia is to blame for the evils of our social system, it is the working classes. We have the intelligence and the power to change the conditions of life for the better, and have only to put forth our energy, and by unity of effort we can gain all that is required. We know what unionism has accomplished in trade matters. It has forced numerous reforms in connection with all industries—has even influenced legislatures, and the stamp of its moral force is seen in our laws. Apply the same method—the same principle—to effort in the direction of the larger reforms absolutely necessary to effect social reconstruction, and we are certain of success. The masses must not only take a deeper interest in political questions, but they must make the politics of the country. The welfare of the people must be raised to the first place—must be the uppermost and foremost consideration. How best to secure the good of all without injury to any should be the aim— not commercial supremacy, not cheap production regardless of the human misery following, but rather the broadest justice, the widest extension of human happiness, and the attainment of the highest intellectual and moral standard of civilised nations should be our aim.

“To accomplish this the social machinery must be put together, set in motion, and kept steadily


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going until we weave the web of that destiny which we as a people decide shall be that of the Australian nation. The first step, then, is that of ceasing to leave the matter to others, and of taking an interest in the management and direction of the affairs of the country. To provide the machinery necessary even to ascertain the views of the mass, organization is required. When once organized the power is in our own hands, and practical reforms would immediately follow. Experience has over and over again taught us the lesson that an unorganized and undisciplined mass has but little if any influence for good. Time and again thousands of unemployed have met, and, after publicly stating their difficulties, have sent deputations representing starving men, women, and children to the well-to-do member of the Government, from whom they reasonably expected sympathy and help, only to be snubbed or at best put off with paltry excuses. The spectacle of thousands of idle men in a rich country like Australia is a disgrace to Australian democracy. Not only have the Governments of the colonies proved their utter incapacity for dealing with the great social question of the age, but they have displayed a lack of sympathy with the masses, and have made their burden greater and their lot worse.

“As before indicated, those who suffer most under a social system which favors the strongest—and in many cases the most unscrupulous—are the great mass known as unskilled labor. It does not deserve the name, as it contains thousands of men superior in skill to many an artisan. There is an


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ever-increasing mass of men who are forced out of steady, settled employment, and who frequently change both their place and occupation, and it is this class in particular that this union was established to assist, protect, and secure the co-operation of, in the endeavor to bring about such changes as will give every man the chance, as he has the right, to earn his living. Thousands are now denied the right to live. Although craving the privilege, they are denied the opportunity of working for the wherewithal to feed and clothe themselves or their families. They offer to hand over one-half or even seventy-five per cent. of what they would earn to those who hold a monopoly of the sources of production, but the employing classes will not accept. The market is overstocked. We have overproduced, and men and women can starve and die in the midst of too much food. We have an unpeopled continent where honest men are denied work. No change will come until the masses awake and elect their own Parliaments, make and administer laws that give equality of justice and opportunity to all—that does not make the success of one depend, as now, upon the crushing down of another. Already we rejoice to see Labor asserting itself, and, undismayed by the howls of let-things-be Conservatism, it has secured a place in our Legislatures, and has already done immensely good work in several colonies.”

The statement of the problem in that report is the same as I would write to-day, though the report was for the year 1891—the year of the turning point in the history of the Labor Movement in


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Australia. In that year we returned thirty-six members to the Parliament of New South Wales, and I am proud of having addressed public meetings and organized leagues in all the largest towns of eight electorates, my expenses being paid by the A.S.U. and G.L.U. Later on, after amalgamation, as president of the Australian Workers' Union, for four years in succession I averaged about fifteen thousand miles of travel each year, addressing meetings and advocating the cause of Labor in politics. The A.W.U. paid the expenses. In addition to my work and that of the branch officers, we send out organizers every shearing season, who all do propaganda work according to their several abilities. Last year we had twenty-eight out for several months. The result of this combined work of addresses, literature, and “The Worker” newspapers is seen in the fact that in all the electorates under A.W.U. control the electors are represented by Labor members.

This is true of all the States. We try to arrange for an agent in every country town, and have several hundred already. At shearing time there is a man selected by the members themselves as their representative, who becomes an active organizer and preacher of the doctrines of the union. Probably there are between two and three thousand of such men at work each year—splendid fellows, whose work tells. During 1908 we had in addition an able man in each of the States of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, and in conjunction with the A.L.F. also in Queensland, whose whole time and abilities were devoted to political and industrial


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organizing. They were paid £6 per week and expenses by the union. This work will be continued in every State during 1909, the A.W.U. bearing the cost. If other organizations only roused up and did as much, the capture of Parliament by the workers would be a reality in less than three years

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