How Labour Governs. Vere Gordon Childe 1923
THE most momentous event in the political industrial history of Australian labour, since the historic decision in favour of political action in 1890, was the establishment of locals of the I.W.W. No body has exercised a more profound influence on the whole outlook of labour in Australia. Yet its beginnings were insignificant.
Two years after the foundation of the parent society in America in 1905, small I.W.W. clubs were founded in several industrial towns in Australia. These bodies were closely affiliated with, and indeed subordinated to, the Socialist Labour Party. The latter exercised a strict oversight over the activities of the clubs and overshadowed their industrial propaganda with its own political campaigns. There was, in fact, nothing outwardly to distinguish these clubs from the numerous small Socialist sects that are dotted all over our industrial centres, eking out a precarious existence in trying to convert the workers to dogmatic Socialism. However, the industrial unionists, especially after the split in the I.W.W. of 1908, found their subordination to the political aspirants of the S.L.P. irksome. They resolved to launch out on their own and become not merely clubs, but locals – i.e., branches – of the One Big Union.
Hawkins, Secretary of the Sydney club, condemned this proposal as “insane.” “One of the conditions,” he wrote in a letter to the Adelaide Secretary, “of a successful revolutionary union, is the existence of a proletariat awakened to a very considerable degree of class-consciousness.” There was much spade work to be done ere that condition of affairs could be realised in Australia. Still the South Australians resolved to apply to headquarters for a charter. The preamble of 1908 was only accepted after a struggle, the adherents of the S.L.P. preferring the preamble preserved by de Leon and the other secessionists from the 1908 Convention. Nevertheless the Chicago preamble was supported by former members of the Australian Socialist Party and carried the day. The Adelaide local received its charter in May, 1911, from Chicago, and later in the same year was granted a charter as the Continental Administration for Australia with the right itself to charter locals. The Sydney branch received its charter from Adelaide on the application of members and ex-members of the S.L.P. and A.S.P. who were “tired of the tortuous methods of the politicians.” The first Secretary, however, G. G. Reeve, was a follower of de Leon rather than of Trautmann, and did not, therefore, promulgate the doctrines of “go-slow” and “the propaganda of action” characteristic of the Chicago I.W.W. In fact, he used to denounce such methods at the Sunday meetings. But as in America, an extremist section was organised to capture the Sydney local at the end of 1912 and during the first months of 1913. One day (according to Reeve) a meeting was packed with new members, and the Secretary was voted out of office. Shortly afterwards the Continental Administration was transferred from Adelaide to Sydney, which became thereafter the headquarters of the I.W.W. in Australia.
Hereafter the characteristic doctrines of sabotage and “go-slow” were vigorously preached and illustrated by the propaganda of action and organisation “on the job.” The society was reinforced by exiles from New Zealand after the collapse of the Waihi strike and deportees from South Africa, and soon made remarkable progress.
The programme of the I.W.W. had been mainly drawn up to meet the needs of the semi-skilled nomadic worker of the Western States. In Australia, too, there was a precisely similar class which, with the formation of the A.W.A. and kindred bodies, was coming to play an important part in the organised industrial movement-the unskilled worker who roved about the bush to mines, railway-construction works, to harvest the cane and grain or fruit of the farmers, or take casual employment in meat works or shearing sheds. This class of worker approximates far more closely to the ideal proletariat described by Marx than any other section of the Australian working class. The artisan, the State servant, the coal-miner, has a relative certainty of more or less regular employment. He has the chance to subscribe to benefit societies, to save money, quite often to acquire his own little home, or even to purchase a little shop and retire as a petty capitalist, or alternatively of spending his money so as to get a quite appreciable amount of fun out of life to banish care. In a word, such workers have something to conserve and are, therefore, not likely to be the revolutionaries Marx assumed. The unskilled worker, the navvy or general labourer, has almost literally nothing to lose but the chains that bind him, and nothing to sell but his simple labour-power. He lives from hand to mouth with the spectre of unemployment ever at his side, deprived of the solaces and distractions provided cheaply in a big city. He has no incentive to thrift, for his position is too precarious; the nomadic life forced upon him prevents the formation of home ties and precludes the possibility of settling down close to a regular job. To such it seems really more sensible to have a good time when they have money than to hoard savings that are sure to be exhausted as soon as the period of slackness comes round, and cannot well be turned to the same channels as those in which the more fortunate class of toiler can invest them. At the same time the nomadic life fosters a spirit of hardihood and self-reliance which would not be found in a mere slum proletariat. To this class the so-called benefits of modem civilisation, which might be impaired by a catastrophic change, are of small moment, beyond their reach, while the loosening of the bonds of customary morality in wanderings exposes them to permeation by revolutionary propaganda. Moreover, comradeship in the hardships of life in camp or mine engenders a realisation of the solidarity of the proletariat. Thus there were closely analogous conditions for the spread of I.W.W.ism on both sides of the Pacific. But it is important to note certain distinctive differences.
The biggest is that sectionalism is much less rigid and exclusive in Australia than in the States. It is true that Australian craft unions act in most cases independently and sometimes even in opposition to one another. But there is not the same degree of aloofness that seems to prevail in America. Despite the absurd multiplicity of unions they do generally manage to present a united front to the boss. Examples of one union continuing at work or even replacing another at the time of a strike are excessively rare. Cases can indeed be raked up during the strikes in the Maryborough ironworks, for instance, in 1908 and 1911, and when the Sydney power- house staff remained at work during the Tramway Strike of 1908. But these are isolated and exceptional examples. The development of the doctrine of “black” goods and the unifying influence of the Labour Councils have usually prevented anything in the nature of “organised scabbing” by one union on another. On the contrary, instances can be multiplied in which the skilled men have come to the aid of the unskilled-for instance, the support given by the seamen, ship painters, engineers, etc., to the Sydney wharf labourers in 1908. Again the distinction between skilled and unskilled-for example, in rate of pay is much less marked in Australia than in the States. In the former the ratio between the average rates paid to skilled and unskilled workmen is as 100 : 82; in the States the unskilled man barely averages 59 per cent. of the wages of the artisan. The living wage doctrine finally established by Higgins J. in 1907 inevitably tended to level up working conditions and bridge the gulf between skilled and unskilled. It was the latter who received most protection from the courts and wages-boards. In America, on the other hand, the general labourer was downtrodden to a degree, and the craft unions in the A.F.L. really did little to alleviate his wretched state. The American I.W.W. was above all successful in organising the unskilled workers, outcasts from the craft and sectional societies affiliated with the American Federation of Labour. In these circumstances its slogan of “solidarity” had a meaning and cogency to the oppressed outcast that was really wanting in Australia.
In the second place the brutalities meted out by the employers in the U.S.A. were never reproduced on the same scale or with the same nakedness on the other side of the Pacific. As E. G. Theodore put it, “the doctrine of the I.W.W. was preached in a country where the industrial workers are ground under the iron heel of Capitalism, where the worker has no liberty, and very few rights.” Not only are the whole forces of law available in defence of the employers in time of strikes, their operations are actually suspended in the interests of the masters, who are at liberty to import armed strike-breakers, whose Pinkertons and gunmen are granted almost unlimited immunity to maltreat and murder strikers, while the latter can be herded into “bullpens” or rail-roaded into deserts in cattle trains. Such lawless brutality combined with the inhuman conditions, under which the workers are exploited, encourages brutality on their part in reply. Force and fraud are met by force and fraud. Australia did not reproduce these conditions. The capitalist was not sufficiently firmly installed for public opinion to tolerate American methods. The legal status conferred on trade unionism by the arbitration system was a serious obstacle to their application. The existence of Labour Parties, which might at any time elevate union leaders into legislators with all the influence and patronage a parliamentarian can exercise, had a restraining effect upon the police and legal authorities. We have, indeed, quoted cases where unionists suffered severely at the hands of the police or the minions of the employers. But the reaction of such incidents on the political parties responsible was not calculated to encourage their repetition.
Finally, political action-apart from the successes it had actually achieved in ameliorating the lot of the workers had become to many toilers “almost a religion.” At the same time it had become a profession which opened to many a hard-worked and underpaid union Secretary-and even to a rank and filer, if he was a fluent and bold talker-an easy and comfortable mode of exit from the ranks of the proletariat. Hence the I.W.W. preacher, in addition to the capitalist class, in addition to the adherents of craft unionism with their prejudices and their jobs, had also to face the hostility of ingrained faith or reasoned decisions in favour of political action, and the cupidity of those who relied for a livelihood on the workers' votes. And the strength of the political machine was such that this was no mean task.
Nevertheless, the new doctrines spread like wildfire. In 1914 there were four locals – Adelaide, Sydney, Broken Hill, and Port Pirie. Early in 1915 locals were opened in Melbourne and Brisbane, and in the following year branches were established on the Westralian Goldfields, at Fremantle, and in North Queensland, till they numbered a full dozen. Probably the membership rarely, if ever, exceeded a couple of thousand, but the circulation of their paper, started in 1914 under the splendid title of Direct Action, went up as high as 16,000 weekly. But the influence of the organisation was entirely disproportionate to its numerical strengths. These facts are the most eloquent testimony to the insight into proletarian psychology of its founders and propagators and the direct appeal of its doctrines to the toilers.
The I.W.W. did not rely exclusively on high-flown appeals to lofty moral sentiments. It was quite prepared to appeal to base motives. “Fast workers die young”; “A little sugar in the concrete will make a few more jobs for the unemployed” – Such are some of its aphorisms. True to the teachings of Bakunin and Netchaieff, the organisation was not afraid to admit members of the so-called criminal classes. Anything tending to the overthrow of the existing social order was in itself useful, and the so-called criminal was, after all, only one who set at defiance the law and morality of the capitalist class. He was akin to the class-conscious unionists, inasmuch as they, too, were at war with capitalist society and bound to repudiate bourgeoise morality. Hence there was an additional reason for the alliance than that advanced by the early anarchists; for the I.W.W. recognised the class war, and were not afraid to draw the inevitable corollary. As W. M. Hughes well expresses it: “The association, in fact, sets up two codes of morality – one to be observed towards its members and those who think with it and that to be observed towards all persons who do not think with it.”
The organisation was not indeed without ideals, not even without a constructive programme, but in order to arouse the class- consciousness necessary to make its ideals real, it harped freely on the negative aspects of the class struggle. Thus it attracted to itself, besides those who were in glorious revolt against the injustices heaped upon themselves and their fellow wage-slaves, others actuated by motives intellectually lower. Loafing on the job appealed to man's natural inertia. “The Right to be Lazy” had an attractive sound. Sabotage provided a relatively safe means of venting one's spleen on the boss or his hirelings, and gave a spice of excitement to the dreary monotony of daily toil, without exposing one to unreasonable risks. Men who were too mean to pay a real union subscription might salve their consciences by paying 6d. a month to the I.W.W. and claim to be unionists at a third of the cost of an A.W.U. ticket. The extreme anti-militarism of the organisation during the war provided a specious excuse to cowards who were not really class-conscious idealists. The I.W.W. took a leaf out of the Salvation Army's book and used crude songs with catchy tunes to draw a crowd and attract converts. Their songs are remarkable for their coarseness and brutality, but are all the more proletarian for that; they take their diction from the real everyday life of the camp, the factory and the mine. Street meetings were livened up with these in true Salvationist style. The union rooms offered members the advantages of a club.
But it must not for an instant be thought that the members of the I.W.W. were all or even largely recruited from loafers, cowards, or criminals. They displayed enthusiastic and unflinching energy. Members were entirely careless of their personal safety; the propaganda of action, for example, sometimes took the form of free- speech fights, in which comrades were called upon to surrender their liberty in flocks. So the I.W.W. secured the right to sell literature in the Sydney domain by simply exercising it in defiance of the existing regulations. A few members were gaoled for so doing, but their comrades soon demonstrated that there were plenty of other recruits to hand on the lamp of life, and the Labour Government had in the end to climb down. In a similar way, by simply “singing through the streets” of Sydney in defiance of traffic ordinances, this enterprising body secured the right – long ago accorded to the Salvation Army, but hitherto denied to the Socialists – of speaking in certain streets at night. In June, 1914, the free-speech fight at Port Pirie was more serious. Some thirty comrades went to prison defying the traffic police, but the local announced its ability and readiness to fill every gaol in South Australia, and in the end the authorities had to give way. Early in 1915 a similar campaign was conducted in Newcastle. The method adopted was to put up a young member to speak right under the nose of the “cop,” and as soon as he was hauled off struggling to put up another until the police were tired.
Some of the “agitators” may have lived on the game and found it more congenial than dull manual labour, but at least they were game enough to act and speak boldly in defiance of the law and take long terms of imprisonment as the penalty. Tom Barker, the editor of Direct Action, did several long sentences, and all the rest had to take their courage in both hands every day. As they defied the law, so they faced mobs of soldiers and patriot roughs undismayed. Before “No Conscription” became a popular watchword, while the Labour Party was still toying with militarism, the I.W.W. steadily and unflinchingly denounced the curse and prepared the field where the Labour Party afterwards reaped.
On the other hand, the leaders generally discouraged martyrdom. Open defiance was only to be used when underground working became impossible. Members, when before the courts, always asked for time to pay the fines imposed on them, though they never had any intention of paying, and when the time had expired they never gave themselves up; they did not believe in saving the policemen trouble. So, too, they applied their methods of go-slow and sabotage most freely where they could do it most safely – against the State or against the most lenient employers. The application of these doctrines to the State enterprises, which under a Labour Government tend to become refuges for militant unionists, was naturally peculiarly embarrassing to such Governments. This circumstance may partly account for the intense bitterness displayed by Theodore against the I.W.W. in Queensland.
In January, 1914, the I.W.W. published in Sydney a paper under the striking title of Direct Action. Its contents were worthy of it. The first leader contains the following passages:
“For the first time in the history of the working-class movement in Australia, a paper appears which stands for straight-out direct-actionist principles, unhampered by the plausible theories of the parliamentarians, whether revolutionary or otherwise. We are, therefore, free from those handicaps which bind the working-class aspirant for political 'honours,' who sees before him a safe and sure means for advancing his material interests and consequently, since economic determinism is such a powerful factor, cannot logically be blamed if he advances those interests quite regardless of the workers' welfare. . . . Our age-long tendency of putting our trust in princes has been a most potent factor in our enslavement.
“Every contributor, every supporter, is a member of the wage-earning class, who is conscious of his slave status in modern society, who is imbued, therefore, with motives stronger than mere sympathy or sentiment in voicing the aspirations of his fellows. . . . Parliamentarians who, from motives of timidity or self- interest, are content to move within the circle which the legal and moral code of capitalism allows . . . have been the real stumbling-blocks to revolutionary education.”
The theoretical argument against political action based on the dogma of economic determinism here adduced is later supplemented by more concrete contentions. So on May 25th we read:
“When the Governor-General of South Africa, in the so-called riots last July, called upon the military, without consulting Parliament, to assert by force the supremacy of cosmopolitan capitalism on the Rand and the right of the capitalist class to exploit unmercifully and without interference, he was giving only a bloody and material significance to the oft-expressed opinion of revolutionists that the ballot is the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on a long-suffering and over-patient working-class.”
Political action was futile, because at best the State was only the managing committee for the bourgeoisie. The labels of the committeemen made no difference. Even Labour Ministers would have to uphold middle-class laws and administer capitalist justice. In so doing they would be in conflict with the working-class, and must assume the attitude of the employer and cast off that of the wage earner. So Direct Action glossed the issue of 800 summonses by Labour Minister Cann against the miners of Maitland for illegally striking in June, 1914. Sentiments, pity, gratitude or loyalty – were puny and unreliable; in the test only economic motives would count.
While thus pouring contempt upon the pretensions of political emancipators, the I.W.W. ridiculed no less the Labour Party's ideal of “emancipation” by the gradual and peaceable buying out of the capitalists. They denied, indeed, entirely that nationalisation meant Socialism. It would not even end the exploitation of the workers, but only meant that the State relieved individual capitalists of the trouble of themselves extorting surplus value from their slaves, paying them instead that surplus value in the form of guaranteed interest on the purchase-money. The State enterprises of Messrs. Holman and Griffiths are worse than puerile:
“The State makes a hell for every worker employed under it by placing its time-servers and toadies in the most desirable positions of authority, by systems of pimping and espionage, while superannuation schemes and sliding wage-scales are used to sap and demoralise whatever militant spirit there may be among the men.”
The I.W.W. asserted that the Sydney trams, owned by the State, were the worst in Australia in respect of working conditions. It certainly is a fact that George Boss, whose business Labour Minister Hall bought to be a State bakery, had always employed exclusively non-union labour, and continued to do so when he managed the bakery as a Socialistic undertaking under a Labour Government – he told me so himself!
That pet creation of political Labour, the Arbitration Court, was anathema to the revolutionists. Tom Glynn writes:
“The Arbitration Court has bled the pockets and befogged the minds of the Australian working-class, and it has filled the pockets of the patriotic gang of legal luminaries who are the noblest product of Labour Parties and antiquated craft unionism.”
The strike, on the other hand, it was held, by its concrete expression of solidarity and the spirit of comradeship in the struggle which it engendered, setting as it did the master class and the working-class in opposite camps in open physical antagonism, embodied and symbolised the unseen struggle of the classes, promoted the class-consciousness of the proletariat, and so promoted the revolution.
Not only was the Labour Party, on this view, doomed by economic laws to futility; its vote-catching policy made it an absolute hindrance to the necessary industrial development of Australia. It aimed at creating small landholders and “cocky” farmers, at assisting the workers to own their own little cottages and become small blockholders, and at encouraging the little shopkeeper and the cockroach capitalist generally. These are notoriously the most conservative and reactionary classes in the community. The Marxian regards them as economic throwbacks, since they contradict the law of concentration of capital; to protect and foster such a class, if feasible, would only be to retard the development of the conditions postulated by these economists for the revolution.
An even graver error in the eyes of the I.W.W. was that the Labour Party stood for nationalism as against the internationalism of the proletariat in their world-wide struggle against cosmopolitan capitalism. Capitalism knew no boundaries of space or race, but organised internationally; yet the A.L.P. pandered to nationalist aspirations and fomented race prejudices in enunciating its White Australian policy. Even worse, it supported the jingo imperialism of Great Britain and her allies-and called on the workers of Australia to murder their fellow-workers of Central Europe in the interests of the capitalist class. The I.W.W. maintained that the employers and financiers should be left to wage their own wars. Direct Action thus described the famous “last man and last shilling” pledge, enunciated by Federal Labour Leader Fisher to win votes in the war-time election of 1914:
“When George the Least, by the Grace of God and ignorance of the working-classes Emperor of the Britains and a million-pound shareholder in the American Steel Trust, wants a great European war to create a vast demand for steel, Mr. Fisher and his gang and all their toadies rise to the occasion, and are prepared to give our last man and our last shilling to see Georgie and his cobbers through the business deal.”
That sums up the I.W.W. attitude to the war.
Naturally their hostility to war and later to conscription brought them into conflict with the military authorities. The Australian War Precaution Act and the innumerable regulations thereunder contained the familiar clauses about prejudicing recruiting. For breaches of these regulations several I.W.W. men went to gaol. Tom Barker, the editor of Direct Action, was sentenced on no less than three occasions, but in each case the Fisher Government had in the end to release him under pressure from the leagues and unions or from fright. It was during his third incarceration in 1916 that incendiarism as a means of intimidating the authorities was first tried.
Finally, the I.W.W. perceived the dangers of the alliance between the political Labour leaders and certain sections wholely disconnected with the industrial workers. Direct Action exposed and denounced the thinly-veiled intrigues between the Labour members and the liquor interest and their coquetting with the Catholic Church.
In a word, then, the I.W.W. were revolutionaries. They did not believe that the transformation from Capitalism to Socialism could be brought about by the gradual process of reformation advocated by the Labour Party. The transformation would be cataclysmic and probably violent, inasmuch as the possessing would seek to oppose it by force. To this extent, however, the I.W.W. was only repeating the oft-reiterated phrases of the A.S.P. and the S.L.P. But they were revolutionary in a further sense. They definitely advocated violence both to carry the revolution through and hasten it on. Here they definitely broke with the Socialists. Both believed in the inevitable and abrupt collapse of Capitalism as predicted by Marx. But the I.W.W. proposed to facilitate its collapse by doing everything in their power to make the capitalist system unworkable here and now. This was the philosophical justification for “go-slow” and “sabotage.” This ideal provides the inner motive for the so-called criminal acts perpetrated by prominent members of the association. For instance, J. B. King, Morgan, Goldstein and others, carried on the business of forging £5 notes (for which they were convicted), not with the idea of enriching themselves, but with the deliberate intention of accelerating the debacle of bourgeoise society by deprecating the circulating medium. It is true that in the execution of this plan the conspirators had to make use of men of a different calibre – ordinary criminals – but the prime movers were not actuated by a desire f or gain, but by the ideology of the class war. The same holds good of the fires and the murder of a policeman at Tottenham. The I.W.W. believed in making the established system unworkable, and had no scruples about the means they employed to that end.
At the same time these activities would develop class-consciousness among the toilers by openly embroiling them with the bourgeoise authorities, and thus contribute positively to the constructive outcome of the revolution. For once class- consciousness was developed in it, the proletariat would arise in its might, and in blind mass action sweep away the master class and take possession of the means of production. Class-consciousness was more important than own momentum would carry through the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. On this theory preparatory skirmishes in the way of strikes, riots, and acts of defiance towards the established social order generally, had an intrinsic educative value whatever their outcome.
In many ways I.W.W. philosophy foreshadowed the Bolshevik dictatorship of the proletariat. They did not consider it possible or necessary to convert a numerical majority of the population or even of the workers to their creed; they believed that a class-conscious minority could carry along with them the inert mass of unorganised “boneheads” just as the small block of intelligent and wide-awake militants who are usually left to conduct the business of unions can rely on the support of their fellow members if an open struggle is precipitated. They envisaged the new social organism on the model of just such a union. To attain their end it was necessary to band together all wage-earners into one single organisation, centrally controlled and capable of acting unitedly in defence of its members. This was the positive constructive side of I.W.W. philosophy.
The one great union of their dreams was to be not only the weapon of the workers in their continuous struggle against the master class, and in the end the instrument of revolution, but also the organ of the new social order to be brought into being by that revolution. As the 1908 preamble finely puts it:
“The Army of production must be organised not only for the everyday struggle with capitalism, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organising industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.”
Plainly, then, the I.W.W. was not a strictly syndicalist or anarchist body. It was, indeed, syndicalist in the sense that it repudiated political action and the machinery of the middleclass state as an instrument of proletarian emancipation. With the revolution the political State would be superseded by an economic organisation. Bourgeoise democracy, representative of unreal local interests, would give place to an industrial democracy representing real economic interests. In place of the middle-class Parliament, purporting to represent the consumers, but in fact only reflecting the general will of industrial magnates and financiers, a union Executive would arise, composed of the delegates of the producers grouped in the several industries. But with the destruction of the political State the industries and factories were not to be left unco-ordinated and autonomous. All the producers were to be gathered into one union on whose directorate the various industries would be represented. Instead, therefore, of the chaos of warring interests which seems possible under syndicalism proper, the I.W.W. offered a highly centralised organisation of society, modelled, indeed, on unionism and restricted to “producers,” but transcending the limits of individual industries, just as it overleapt craft divisions.
For the same reason the form of organisation recommended by the I.W.W. differed vastly from what is called “industrial unionism” in England. In fact, there is no hard-and-fast line dividing industry from industry, and industrial unionism in the narrow sense can assign no logical limits to the industrial units it wishes to establish. This breakdown of all attempted limitations is particularly obvious in new countries. For instance, railway construction is proceeding almost continually, and the navvies building the new lines are often, as in Queensland, employed by the Railway Commissioners. Should these men belong to the Railway Union? Clearly they have more in common with the builders of roads and dams than with engine-drivers, porters, or even permanent-way men; by downing tools the construction workers could not really assist in paralysing the traffic of existing lines which would be the object of a railway strike. (This contest has actually been fought out in Queensland, both the Q.R.U. and the A.W.U claiming the construction men. In the end the Railway Union surrendered them to the A.W.U, which on its side gave up all claim to the navvies employed permanently on repairs, etc.)
Industrial unionism as preached by the I.W.W., and as now generally understood in Australia as also in America, does not attempt to make the individual industry its basis. It is, indeed, an all-grades movement that ignores craft and sectional divisions, but it recognises the industries only as departments within a larger union. The I.W.W. scheme provided for six such departments, viz.: (1) Agricultural Land, Fisheries, and Water Products; (2) Mining; (3) Transportation and Communication; (4) Manufacturing and General Production; (5) Construction; (6) Public Service. Within the departments room was left for industrial unions in the narrower sense – e.g., in (3) for unions of railwaymen, seamen, waterside workers, carriers, post and telegraph employees, etc. But these latter unions were to be subordinate to the departments, and they in their turn under the rule of the General Executive Board. This structure the I.W.W. sedulously preached as the unique scientific form of industrial organisation. The departments and unions, however, only existed on paper; no attempt was made in Australia to create these members ; only the skeleton of the organisation – locals and the General Executive Board in Sydney – ever existed there.
It was inevitable that the propaganda of this body should incur the hostility of all the recognised officials of labour in Australia. We have already seen what craft unionism said of the I.W.W. The politicians were even more outspoken. They had been spending years trying to convince timid voters that their Socialism did not mean revolution or violence. Now the capitalist press was not altogether unsuccessful in coupling the Labour Party with the revolutionary aims of the industrial unionists. Those, too, who really believed in “socialistic enterprises” saw the success of the existing experiments, from which the whole fabric of competitive industrialism was to be socialised, menaced by the “go-slow” doctrines inculcated among their employees. So every political leader of Labour came out with a denunciation of the I.W.W. W. M. Hughes, who was then writing a series of articles entitled “The Case for Labour” in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, devoted a whole article to a criticism of the new doctrine. E. G. Theodore, the founder of the militant A.W.A., and now Acting-Premier of Queensland, speaking both as a political and industrial leader, issued the following statement:
“The Industrial Workers of the World are a body of irreconcilables who stand for direct action and sabotage in industrial matters. They will have nothing to do with arbitration courts or any kind of legislation for the betterment of the workers.”
Then, after contrasting conditions in America with those existing locally, he concludes:
“It would be nothing short of rank lunacy for the workers to discard these advantages and adopt the illogical and unreasoning phrases of the I.W.W. I believe that any person in Queensland who exhorts his fellow-workers to adopt any phases of sabotage is an enemy of unionism, should be treated as an industrial pariah, and refused admission to intelligent unions.”
But perhaps the most sweeping denunciation is to be found in the Presidential Address of W. G. Spence, M.H.R., to the 1916 Convention of the A.W.U.:
“A bastard kind of political philosophy has been imported from foreign parts. The real object of this egregious lunacy is concealed. I refer to the syndicalists. Against new lines of thought on progressive lines I have nothing to say; but from this line of thought has sprung direct action. This method stands for rule by minority. Reason and judgment have small part in the syndicalist philosophy. They expect when they have a general strike to get possession of everything and institute what they term industrial government. The I.W.W. want a perpetual state of war. They preach the immoral doctrine of not keeping agreements. A democratic community implies truth and honesty. A contract must be recognised. The I.W.W. set up shibboleths of class-consciousness and economic determinism. Whatever the I.W.W. do in America, I consider that the position in Australia, which is on democratic lines, is entirely different. Why resort to these things if lawful means are available? The I.W.W. is a throwback in unionism to the dark ages of the destruction of labour-saving machinery. Thirty years ago the A.W.U. contemplated organising all the workers, so there is nothing new in the One Big Union. Australia is committed to a Socialist policy. Parliament may be a cumbersome machine, but it moves just as fast as the people make it, sometimes faster, as the defeat of the Constitutional Referenda has shown. The syndicalists are the tools of the capitalists.”
Volumes could be filled with the denunciations of the I.W.W. by all the respectable Labour leaders in Australia, yet the organisation had immense influence. On the union movement it left an indelible mark. As already indicated, the impulse to amalgamation had been based largely on I.W.W. theory which was accepted by many unionists who were unwilling to subscribe to the doctrines of violence and sabotage. Perhaps its maximum of power was reached in the latter part of 1915. Then its individual supporters within the A.M.U. seem to have made a bid to capture control of that organisation. It was alleged that an I.W.W. ticket was run for the Executive posts that year. Certainly McNaught, who opposed Spence for the Presidency, was an avowed supporter of the I.W.W. At the 1916 Convention he defended the association against the President's attack :
“The I.W.W.,” he declared, “is endeavouring to point out the fallacy of craft unionism. When the A.W.A. had amalgamated with the A.W.U. there were great hopes of the one big union, but the President had expressed himself against the methods which would bring it about. The A.W.U. has failed in organising in North Queensland, and the union has been split up by arbitration which previously the A.W.A. would not stand for.”
And the same Convention, under the same influence, discussed a motion having for its aim the abandonment of arbitration. Several speakers were found, even at that highly conservative gathering, to endorse the method of direct negotiation, but of course they could not carry Convention with them. Yet at that time shearers had good cause to be annoyed with the interminable delays of court procedure. The old award granting 25s. per 100 had expired, and in the interim the A.W.U. Executive concluded an agreement with the pastoralists for the 1916 season granting 28s. 6d. per 100. However, as this was far from covering the increase in the cost of living since the previous award, the I.W.W. were strong enough within the union to foment outlaw strikes in several sheds in northern N.S.W. where the pastoralists were forced to concede 30s. a hundred before shearing could proceed. The union officials did their best to prevent these stoppages. In the Coonamble district they succeeded in getting the unionists to shear at the agreement rates, even though other sheds near by had won the higher rate. In the end the I.W.W. gave up the A.W.U. in despair, and went so far as to publish a booklet entitled, “Why the A.W.U. cannot become an Industrial Union.” It complained inter alia that the A.W.U. were willing to launch their amalgamation “only provided they got the consent of the master class of the registrar of the Arbitration Court” and that many of the members of the union were small farmers when they were not shearing, which was certainly true.
With the miners, the I.W.W. were more successful. The Barrier A.M.A. officially recognised their tickets, allowing I.W.W. members to work in the mines alongside the established unionists. This was not an unmixed advantage for the I.W.W. It meant that men, too mean to pay the high fees of the A.M.A., took cheap I.W.W. tickets, so that an undesirable type was attracted to the organisation. To prevent this Paul Freeman even proposed that the price of their tickets should be raised even higher than that of the A.M.A., but this self-denying ordinance was defeated, and Freeman had to dissociate himself from the industrialists.
The I.W.W. reached the zenith of their power at conscription time. It was, as already shown, largely to the untiring warnings of the I.W.W. speakers and the activities of their members and sympathisers within the leagues and unions that the emphatic decisions against conscription by the A.W.U. Convention and the N.S.W. and Victorian Labour Party Conferences were due. Even after the Labour Parties had declared their attitude, anti-conscription propaganda was long left mainly to the I.W.W.
They succeeded in making a tremendous noise about it, and produced the impression that they were a formidable and desperate body that would resist to the utmost any attempt to impose compulsory service. This impression was heightened by the crop of incendiary fires that roughly coincided with the return of the Prime Minister. It is quite possible that Hughes was intimidated by the threats and deeds of this revolutionary organisation and, over-estimating their strength, feared to impose the system he desired by executive act or ordinary legislation unconfirmed by the popular vote. He probably could have carried the proposal through Parliament, and his apparent weakness in submitting the issue to a referendum may perhaps be best explained by a fear of a serious revolutionary uprising engineered by the I.W.W.
Be that as it may, the association was officially recognised by the bodies established by orthodox labour to organise the “no” vote. The I.W.W., for instance, was admitted to representation on the special Trade Union Congress called to devise means to oppose conscription, and this time Theodore had to sit with I.W.W. men as recognised co-delegates. Their propaganda was redoubled. Stickers and hand-bills were printed without permission of the censor:
“Do You want Conscription? While you are TALKING about what you will do at the BALLOT-BOX Hughes is ACTING and will have you called up next month and put under MILITARY LAW.
You must unitedly refuse to go up. If you are arrested, refuse to take the oath or drill.
If you do not help yourselves now, you will not have a chance afterwards.
Thousands of your mates will refuse.
Do not scab on them. REFUSE ALSO.”
The terror which the I.W.W. inspired in the authorities is clearly enough shown by the methods employed for their ultimate destruction. They had broken the laws freely. To force the release of Tom Barker, imprisoned for prejudicing recruiting, some members of the organisation resorted to the device of starting fires in warehouses or factories. A chemist named Scully, who was prominent in the society, prepared the fire-dope (P in CS2), as the inflammatory material was called. A wet rag soaked in the solution would soon burst into flames through the spontaneous combustion of the phosphorus, which would be left finely divided as soon as the solvent had evaporated. A number of fires had been started by these means, though they did not get far, and even after Barker had been released the incendiarism was continued. Whoever in the organisation was really responsible, it seems certain that the police had enough evidence to justify action nearly two months before the arrests in Sydney were made.
Other members of the organisation, as we have seen, were engaged in printing and uttering forged £5 notes to hasten the collapse of capitalist economy. At Tottenham, a mining and wheat-growing centre where the I.W.W. were powerful, a policeman was murdered in a peculiarly cold-blooded manner. The constable had just arrived in the town and had announced his determination to “clean it up.” One night two members, one only twenty years old, shot him through an open window while his back was turned – some say, signing a warrant for their arrest.
But the police stayed their hands till the middle of the referendum campaign. The forgers were dealt with first, and this charge was used as a lever to extract a statement from the Goldsteins. Then Scully, against whom the police had ample evidence, turned King's evidence. Armed with these confessions the police raided the I.W.W. Hall one Saturday night. They arrested those who were supposed to be leading lights in the association, confiscated all books, papers and documents, and carried off the printing press. Donald Grant was arrested at Broken Hill, and brought overland to Sydney. The sequel has become history. An attempt to implicate the prisoners in a treasonable conspiracy against the Empire - in which the king-pin would have been Franz Georgi, an escaped German internee, whom the I.W.W. probably succoured, broke down owing to the staunchness of the German; but a charge of seditious conspiracy and conspiracy to commit arson was worked up against the twelve prisoners.
It cannot reasonably be doubted that some members at least of the organisation were implicated directly in the incendiarism. Still the evidence brought against the twelve, and on which they were ultimately convicted, might have served to convict almost anybody. The Crown's case rested exclusively on the evidence of informers who were entirely in the hands of the police. These witnesses were easily shown to be perjurers and utterly careless of the truth. And even so, Donald Grant and one or two others could only be connected with the “conspiracy” by the flimsiest threads of evidence. All the usual laws about contempt of court were ignored while the twelve were awaiting trial. The trial and the charges arising out of it were freely used by Hughes and the capitalist press all over Australia to discredit the anti-conscriptionists and connect them up with disloyalty, arson, murder, German gold, and revolutionary violence. The unscrupulous use made during the campaign of material which was to serve as evidence against the accused, inevitably prejudiced their chances. Finally, on the eve of the trial, James, M.L.A., who had been briefed for the defence, threw up his brief in order to take a portfolio in Holman's Coalition Cabinet. These circumstances, combined with the severe sentences-ranging from five to fifteen years' hard labour eventually imposed, and the obvious political motives inspiring the whole proceedings led many to believe that the charge itself was a “frame-up.”
That is most unlikely. The inner circle of the I.W.W. was confessedly responsible for the fires, and some of those sentenced may quite possibly have been connected with the plan or its execution. But it is quite another matter whether the police picked the most guilty men. Probably the chief conspirators were Morgan, who got away altogether, and Scully, who escaped punishment by turning informer.
The arrests robbed the organisation of its best speakers, its printing press and much of its literature. Yet the Sunday after the raid the Domain meeting was held as usual. Direct Action never suspended publication, though it went off in brilliance. Some measure of decay infected the union. An inferior class of members was admitted, and jobs were created for prominent spirits, but the organisation lingered on for nearly a year.
But as soon as Parliament met after the referendum campaign, Hughes, still Prime Minister, though no longer a Labour man, introduced special legislation to suppress the I.W.W. The Unlawful Associations Act, as this astounding measure was called, made it an offence punishable by six months' imprisonment to belong to the I.W.W. or other association to which its provisions might be extended. If the offender was an alien by birth, he might be deported after the expiration of his sentence. Hughes justified this piece of special legislation on the ground that society could not tolerate in its midst an organisation which arrogated to itself a special code of morality in conflict with that of the whole. He detailed at length the “criminal history” of the association, and even tried to implicate the Labour Party and its officers responsible for his expulsion with the organisation. The Labour Caucus was so much alarmed by these attempts that it decided to support the Bill. Tudor, their leader, declared himself absolutely opposed to “go-slow, sabotage, murder, and arson, which seemed to be the policies advocated by the I.W.W.” His only criticism was that, granting that the I.W.W. was all that Hughes said of it, the penalties imposed in the Bill were inadequate. Even Frank Anstey, who had championed Tom Barker, in his earlier imprisonments, was now at pains to repudiate the I.W.W. and all its works. So the monstrous measure was passed into law with the infamous blessing of the Labour Party.
Hughes probably hoped that the mere threat of such penalties would cause the organisation to melt away. It speaks highly for the courage and idealism of the members that, despite its illegality, the I.W.W. continued to exist and carry on its public work. A certain number of prominent members were occasionally gaoled, but it was not until the time of the Big Strike in 1917 that a thorough round-up of the members took place, and in the meantime they held meetings and published Direct Action as usual. But then the Federal authorities, fearing the intervention even of the rump of this militant organisation in that great upheaval, arrested several scores of members, and had them sentenced to the maximum terms of imprisonment under the Act. Tom Barker and other leading lights, after completing their sentences, were deported, and the organisation was finally crippled.
During 1917 the main work of the I.W.W. had been to agitate for the release of the twelve prisoners. A majority, both of the Labour Council in Sydney and of the rejuvenated Labour Party, let themselves be persuaded that the twelve were victims of a capitalist conspiracy. They certainly were prisoners of the class war-so also were the note forgers – and with a section of the workers this fact alone was a reason for their release whether they were guilty or not. But that would weigh with a section only. No powerful or official support could be expected for the release of incendiaries or forgers. The latter were abandoned to their fate-the longest sentence any of them had received was five years-and the champions of the imprisoned men concentrated their energies on proving the innocence of the twelve. When the I.W.W. was finally put out of business, the N.S.W. Labour Council and a number of unofficial bodies carried on the agitation.
E. E. Judd took a prominent part in this work, though as head of the S.L.P. in Sydney he bitterly hated the Chicago organisation and all its teaching. Scully was unearthed, and with his aid Judd and Boote, editor of the Worker, went through all the evidence on which the conspirators had been convicted. Boote published in the Worker a most convincing exposure of inconsistencies, contradictions, and absurdities in the Crown's case, and from the end of 1917 the “frame-up” theory was taken up enthusiastically by the official Labour Movement, industrial and political, which henceforth demanded a re- opening of the cases. In 1918 as a result, of the charges made by Brookfield and Mutch, Ms.L.A., in the N.S.W . Assembly, a Royal Commission was appointed with a rather restricted scope to inquire into the conduct of the police in connection with the cases. The mass of evidence presented at this inquiry tended to show the unreliability of Scully and the Goldsteins, the principal surviving witnesses for the prosecution, and to discredit the detectives; but Street, J., the Commissioner, did not recommend a re-opening of the cases. The agitation was, however, redoubled, and a fresh inquiry was made a principal issue in all industrial constituencies at the 1920 elections. The result of that inquiry was to clear all the prisoners but one of the charge of arson, and Ewing, J., recommended the release of the eleven who, with the exception of the forger King, were thereupon released by the Storey Government. King served out his full five years for forgery, and the twelfth, Reeves, was ultimately released by Mr. Storey's successor, Dooley.
The I.W.W. has now disappeared as a separate entity from Australia, but it has left an indelible mark behind it. It can claim the credit for the defeat of conscription, and its antiwar propaganda prepared the way for the A.L.P. peace proposals of 1917, the Labour Council's resolutions against recruiting and the Perth Conference decisions of 1918. The Leftward movement in the Labour Party, culminating in the formation of the industrial section in N.S.W., was partly inspired by I.W.W. propaganda. A. W. Buckley and at least one other leading spirit in the section were ex-members of the organisation. To the same influence must be attributed the increasing militancy of industrial labour in the period 1914-19. It partly inspired both the great Coal Strike of 1916 and the General Strike of 1917. The widespread ramifications of the latter stoppage are best explained by the existence of a general spirit in favour of mass action – a sort of “let-us-try-a-general-strike” feeling. The crudity and ineptitude of its execution, however, was not the fault of the I.W.W., who had they been on this side of prison bars, would never have countenanced the utterly unscientific extension of that dispute.
But philosophically the interest of the I.W.W. lies in the fact that it was the first body to offer effectively to the Australian workers an ideal of emancipation alternative to the somewhat threadbare Fabianism of the Labour Party. Accordingly its most permanent achievement was the birth of an industrial union agitation, framed on scientific lines as contrasted with the swallowing process of the A.W.U. amalgamation, and this time supported by many official leaders of unionism throughout Australia.