John Warren, chairman
Thos P Whelan, secretary
Price’s Family Hotel, November 6, 1882
“Sirs … This is to certify that the lumpers employed on the wharves are kindly asking you for an increase of wages of threepence per hour owing to things being so dear. A committee of four will wait upon you at the Chamber of Commerce at 10am on Tuesday for an answer. Hoping you will give it a kind consideration, we remain your humble servants,
Lumpers of the wharf
The Companies refused the appeal and the strike went on.
The men were defeated and returned to work on December 6, 1882.
In 1885 they made yet another bid for a wage increase. Other ports joined them. Scabs were freely used and the strike collapsed.
Minutes of the union in the early days show that the most meeting time was preoccupied with learning and establishing the form of union organisation and management, the hours and wages questions, “ways and means of stopping the ships discharging their own cargo and “binding themselves together that they shall not work with non-unionists”.
The initiation fee into the union was one shilling and it took months to resolve the contentious question of whether the contributions should be collected at the rate of threepence per week or five shillings per quarter.
History shows that the union was smashed when it took part in the big general strike of 1890. The wharves were alive with non-unionists.
The start of the present WWF branch was organised in a most elaborate way. After the defeat of the 1890 strike, the union collapsed, the owners used blacklisting and victimisation to hinder its reorganisation for a few years. On the other hand, the owners encouraged the formation of a number of company unions. They went so far as to charge the wharfies l½d. per hour for financing the company union. However, a small nucleus of wharfies with strong union consciousness battled on and assisted by friends outside the union such as WM Hughes and other politicians and trade unionists, they were able to make a strong attempt in 1896 to get the union going again.
On July 15 a mass meeting for this purpose was practically a failure. Not many attended and a strong appeal for funds raised only five shillings and sixpence. However, the organisers did not give up and after many speeches, exhortations, intense organisation on the job and around the localities, meetings and incentive systems for enrolling new members, only 350 were enrolled by the end of 1896.
The branch staggered on in this condition and after 16 months collapsed at the end of 1897.
The reformation two years later was performed on a more grand scale. Edward Kelly, a well-tested loyal battler chaired the inaugural meeting in St Phillips Church on December 27, 1899.
WM Hughes, member for the Lang electorate of the NSW parliament was elected secretary. Lang electorate covered the then thickly populated area around the Sussex Street wharves.
This was followed two days later by a public launching in Federation Hall. The Premier of the State Mr WJ Lyne, one or two of his ministers, WM Hughes, and other politicians, Archdeacon Langley of the Church of England and the Rev Father Aubrey, a Roman Catholic priest, were on the platform.
Member of parliament EW O’Sullivan, who was an old trade unionist and ex-president of the Seamen’s Union, spoke of his pleasure in “seeing the wharf labourers’ union fresh-rigged and manned”, and premier Lyne expressed hope that the union “would be carried on in a spirit tinged with the doctrines which the archdeacon preached so ably on Sundays”.
One thousand three hundred men registered in the new branch, but only 600 were paid up.
This was a period of much unemployment. Archdeacon Langley addressed the first meeting on the unemployment problems.
By 1902 the membership had risen to 2356. In this year WM Hughes, who had entered federal parliament, then seated in Melbourne, gave up the position of branch secretary. He afterwards referred to himself as the secretary.
Mr S Harrison, who had been doing the secretarial work almost from the start of the reorganised branch, was elected secretary.
The first WWF office was established at No 2 Grosvenor Street, Sydney, on December 21, 1901, but the main centre of branch life was the hotel of “Manchester Jack” Killberg, corner of Grosvenor and Kent Streets.
The big, red-faced Irish licensee was a friend of the union and helped it to organise.
So was the Rev Archdeacon Langley, who took up the position of trustee from the outset and held that position for many years. The other trustee was Duncan Robertson, a very fine wharfie who continued in the position for 47 consecutive years.
Those good men set the union a very fine example, for not once in the history of the branch has there been any embezzlement of union funds. This is a testament to the honesty and sincerity of the men who have guided and guarded the union during its life.
The union office remained in Grosvenor Street until 1904, when it was shifted to Erskine Street, near Sussex Street corner.
The Rev Archdeacon Langley continued to father the branch and the meetings of members were held in his church, St Phillips near Wynyard.
In 1914 they moved to a union office at the rear of the present building. It was built by the McGowan government, which saw the need to house, off the street, the body of men hanging around waiting for the waterfront pick-up.
In 1927 the JT Lang state government built additions to it.
It may appear strange to modern wharfies that the Archdeacon Langley aided a trade union in that way, and questions will arise as to why.
Perhaps it was because his church was in the heart of the main residential area of waterfront workers. Great poverty and unemployment existed at the time and no doubt Archdeacon Langley realised that union organisation was a means of relief for the masses of impoverished people of his then narrow-streeted district.
Apart from occasional visits to the waterfront by clergymen such as Revs Clint and St Clair Anderson seeking aid for missionary work or the peace movement, and the remarkable scenes in Sussex Street when the majestic figure of the Dean of Canterbury appeared there in 1950, ministers of religion fail to look to union organisation as a means of economic security for their flock, as Archdeacon Langley did at the turn of the century.
Historic struggles of international working class solidarity In 1889 during the great strike of the United Kingdom dockers for the “tanner” (sixpence per hour), a huge meeting in London cheered the arrival of £150 from the Brisbane wharf labourers. A total of £30,000 was sent from Australia in a great demonstration of international solidarity.
The international cries of:
Hands off Russia (early 1920s). Wars of counter-revolution and imperialist intervention.
Hands off China (1922). Japanese aggression in Manchuria.
Hands off Indonesia (1945). Dutch counter-revolution.
These were landmarks of international solidarity, as was the refusal of Sydney WWF branch members to load the Samona (1919) because on that ship, Irish patriot Paul Freeman was being deported.
And so it has been right through the branch’s history. In 1937 wharfies walked off the Japanese ship Melbourne Maru at No 19 Wharf Pyrmont, sacrificing much-needed wages. They refused to load a cargo of scrap iron, knowing that it would later be used by Japanese warlords for arms to kill Chinese and Australians.
And the wharfies stood their ground for five months against all the ridicule and attacks of the press in a historic stand to stop unwarranted aggression against peaceful peoples. Events in the Pacific soon proved that they had acted in the interests of Australia’s security. Port Kembla, Sydney and other waterside workers had to face threats of jail and hunger.
The Lyons-Menzies government threatened them with the “dog collar” Transport Workers Act Licence for their refusal to load war materials for Japan.
Work was not too plentiful in 1937 when I, as representative of the Communist Party branch, went over to No 19 Pyrmont that December to talk to the men on the Japanese scrap-iron ship during the mid-day break, but to their everlasting credit they walked off it … every man.
The people took up the fight also by a broad and successful campaign not to buy the cheaper Japanese goods common in the shops in those days.
The pro-militarist Japanese Australia First organisation became very active and their chief propagandists, Mrs Adela Pankhurst Walsh and PR Stephenson held regular meetings on the Sydney waterfront.
Their posters were everywhere. Their talk and their policy made it clear that they stood for the aggressive policies of the Axis powers — Japan, Germany and Italy. Red-baiting was the chief front of this pro-fascist movement … the usual trademark of such people.
Something had to be done.
One night in 1942, a body of wharfies went to the Adyar Hall, where Australia First leaders were meeting, to rout out and wind up the pro-Japanese movement.
We managed to capture most of their records in that raid and handed them over to the Curtin Labor government, which subsequently interned many members of that organisation for the duration of the war.
No arms for the Dutch It would be hard to calculate the amount of wages sacrificed by the wharfies when in September 1945 a complete ban was imposed on Dutch ships in practical aid of the Indonesian peoples’ efforts to free themselves from the exploitation of the Dutch imperialists.
As the Japanese occupation forces were driven from Indonesian territory, the local resistance movement took control.
The Dutch exploiters then decided to return and re-establish their shameful imperialist rule. The native people told them to stay out. The Dutch assembled their strength to enforce entry.
The Indonesian people appealed to the world for help. Our union heard the appeal and set out on the historic struggle: ban Dutch ships.
The ban was successful, for the Dutch could not succeed without ships.
Great credit in this struggle must go to the Indian seamen of the Dutch shipping lines, who en masse walked off all the Dutch ships as they arrived in this port.
They left ships in a strange land without money or food and with little clothing. They did this because they knew that Indonesia’s struggle against foreign imperialists was part of the same struggle being waged for independence by India.
Naturally, they gathered around the wharfies and seamen, who helped to place them in accommodation and maintain them. Strong bonds of friendship that will later surely serve Australia’s interests were thus developed with hundreds of Indian seamen.
Hughie Grant, Sydney secretary of the Boilermakers’ Society, and myself had the task of taking a rail carriage full of these Indian seamen to Canberra, where we demonstrated at the Indian High Commissioner’s office.
As a result of this demonstration we forced the Dutch shipping companies to pay the seamen the wages they held, provide them with accommodation in the Waterside Workers camp in Centennial Park and finally to repatriate them to India.
Our demonstration in Canberra won agreement on the full 10 points put to the Indian High Commissioner’s office.
It was a most unusual experience for Canberra people to witness this struggle.
Later it was necessary to stage further demonstrations in the KPM Shipping office in George Street, Sydney, to have implemented the full list of the demands promised as a result of the Canberra demonstration.
On that occasion I saw the Indian seamen use the Gandhi method of demonstration. They had infiltrated the whole building, sitting on the office floors, hallways and stairways.
Many police came, but not enough to carry each from the building. The seaman made it more difficult by going in more than once to resume their sit-down-on-the-floor tactics.
Their tactics were good enough to enforce the Canberra undertakings given to our deputation.
The wharfies’ ban on shipping to Indonesia played a part in keeping the Dutch from getting back. The victory of the Indonesians was a turning point in struggles on behalf of colonial people seeking national independence. More than that, it was the first decisive and positive action against war in the post-war era.
It is worth pausing to compare the independence of our modern organisation with the miserable position of that original labour force of Sydney Cove.
Australian Labour Party Many of those transported to the Australian penal settlement were men serving sentences for political activities.
The ruling class of England used transportation to get rid of them.
In the 10 years 1851-61, years of the great gold rush, some 700,000 immigrants came to Australia from all parts of the world; 50,000 of them were Chinese.
There were English Chartists (the Chartist movement was for parliamentary reform, for universal suffrage, vote by ballot, annual parliaments, equal electoral districts and payment for members of parliament); Irish Fenians and republicans, anarcho-syndicalists, early socialists and revolutionaries from the 1848 upheavals in Europe. Most of them remained in Australia, and many continued the work for their beloved political movements.
The variety of political sects all operated side by side, with none of them really winning a large mass following. Generally speaking, until after the 1890 strike, the mass of the workers were confined to the more narrow economic form of organisation of the trade unions.
Trade unions came into being in every branch of industry. They openly worked for the defence of the individual workers against tyranny and injustice of the employers. Their aims were to fix wages by collective bargaining and negotiation with the employers of labour; to raise wages and conditions and shorten hours of work whenever possible. In the particular economic development of Australia, the success of the trade unions was spectacular, and caused a great confidence in them as the ultimate form of working class organisation.
I mean this, of course, in a broad sense for it was true that the pre-1890 unionists did take part in the main political movements (as already shown in the previous chapter), and, in fact had trade union representatives elected to the NSW parliament years before 1890.
One was Mr Angus Cameron, representative for West Sydney in the NSW parliament in 1871.
The Australian workers had great hopes of the power of their unions. They received an important lesson in the big 1890 maritime strike, when a general understanding was reached that there was a capitalist state and it had given them a thrashing.
So it was resolved that the workers should set out to organise a labour party to take over the state machine and use it on their own side during the strike struggles (it most always worked out that way) and to legislate benefits for the working people. The Labor Party then had support from small farmers and important sections of native Australian capital, which objected to British imperial restrictions.
The Labour Party won 36 seats in the NSW elections in 1891. The first NSW Labor government was the 1910 McGowan government.
The first federal Labor government was in 1904, but the first real majority was in 1910.
The realisation of the need for political action was a great development of the Australian working class.
The socialist objective: Those great thinkers of socialism, Marx and Engels, had already pointed out that the working class could not simply take hold of the ready made machinery of the capitalist state and use it to their own ends. They declared that in the struggle for socialism it was necessary for the working class to reorganise the machinery of the state and to establish instead a government based upon an alliance of the working class with the farmers and which at once proceeds with the socialisation of the means of production, etc.
From the inception of the Labour Party there was a contradiction between the interests of the workers who formed the mass basis of the Labour Party and the non-working-class, non-socialist policies of the right-wing leaders. A non-socialist policy was contrary to the objective laws of society.
This contradiction has led to continuous internal struggles, and it is the basis for the disruption and divisions that have so frequently occurred within the Labor Party.
During the World War I, when capitalism demanded conscription, the extreme right wing of the Labor Party were the main advocates of conscription. They split the Labor Party on this issue and caused a trade union drift from the Labor Party.
This breach continued until 1921, when the Labor Party made approaches to the unions and in effect, said: “Get together with us — tell us what is wrong and what you want.”
So in 1921 the biggest representative trade union gathering that had ever been held in Australia to that time demanded that the objective of the Labour Party should be socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Thus the socialisation objective of the Australian Labour Party was a product of discontent among the working class. When the vote was taken, they sang The Red Flag.
The right wing, to allay suspicions of the capitalists that they might be socialists, have written various interpretations and preambles, all of which are designed to show that the objective does not mean socialism. And of course, we have during the years since World War II witnessed a further rift between the Labor Party and the unions, precipitated by the extreme right wing policy of the Industrial Groups.
Even though officially endorsed for a while by the ALP, the Industrial Groups’ role was not an industrial or political trend, but disruption by open agents of capitalism.
And now, with the defeat of Industrial Group control, another attempt is being made to heal the breach between the trade unions and the ALP.
During the series of attacks by the imperialists against the socialist countries, ie the Berlin corridors, Korean, Indo-China and Hungarian offensives, the Australian trade union movement was under heavy attack. All the weapons of oppression, smartened up by American technique and efficiency were used against us.
Union offices were being raided by police. There were jailings of union leaders, and in the heat of the workers resistance the courts, with Industrial Group backing, played a prominent part in the attack against the workers. On this particular occasion, the ironworkers official, Jack McPhillips was sentenced to jail for some criticism he made of the court.
It has since transpired that the jail sentence was quite illegal, however, he was sentenced to jail and the WWF Sydney branch decided to call a stopwork meeting to protest against this action.
When it became known that Sydney branch was to call an official stopwork meeting for this purpose, Judge Kirby with Industrial Group backing issued a letter calling on waterside workers to ignore the union meeting and continue working.
However, the judge did not have much influence over the wharfies, and only about 200, mainly Industrial Group members and supporters, stayed on the job.
This was in March 1949, but the reaction did not give up. By July both our main leaders of the federation, Healy and Roach, were in jail and the struggle has continued ever since.
Looking back over this, it does appear to me that the attack on the unions was the heaviest ever experienced in this country and in resisting it the Australian workers have achieved the most meritorious victories of their whole history.
It is clear that the struggles will continue against the international monopolies, centred in America aided by the developing monopolists of Australia and they will launch more severe attacks to subdue trade unions and workers’ political organisations with the objective of disarming the people.
I have great confidence in the Australian people to see it through and to win the great victory of the Australian people against monopoly.
On the waterfront, from 1899 to 1910 ALP men have led the branch. Firstly WM Hughes, MHR, was the ideological leader of the branch until 1916 when he was expelled, but even after that, stood behind Jack Woods, Bill Scale and for a while during the secretaryship of GB Mullins, MLC.
Since 1940, leadership has been shared — a united ALP, Communist and non-party leadership.
Industrial Workers of the World Opportunism of ALP right-wing leaders and lack of support for union struggles led to a wave of dissatisfaction and leading up to World War I many workers turned to the IWW (centred in America).
The theory of the IWW was a sharp turn away from the opportunism of right-wing parliamentarians. They advocated the one big union so that the unions could run the country. They wanted neither a state nor parliament. They were based on anarcho-syndicalism.
One of the main errors of the IWW was to antagonise the craft unions, often referring to them as “graft” unions. They sought to build the one big union outside of the reformist-led unions.
There was an organisation called the OBU taken from the policy of the IWW.
This was formed by the craft unions and they did hold a conference called the One Big Union Conference. For some time they issued a journal.
This organisation did not come to anything, as the AWU stepped in.
It was formed after the illegalisation of the IWW.
Actually, they sought to establish a rival national trade union body, scoffing at the craft unions and saying it was a waste of time to work within the existing trade unions.
Undoubtedly it was militancy, fervour and fighting ardour added to spectacular emotional propaganda appeals that won support for the IWW.
However, when illegalised by Billy Hughes’s Unlawful Associations Act, the IWW folded up, mainly because they had no real basis among the masses.
Their conception of the state was faulty.
They failed to appreciate its class character as an organ of class power. This explains why a number of IWW leaders in America attacked the Russian Revolution, particularly when the Bolsheviks used state power to crush the class enemy.
Actually, in America, the centre of the IWW, Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, were the only two outstanding IWW leaders to embrace the Russian Revolution and join the Communist Party. Notable IWW men to join the Communist Party of Australia were Norman Jeffrey, Bob Besant and Tom Glynn. Norman Jeffrey, a waterfront tally clerk, is still giving grand service to the working class (the other two have passed away).
The IWW ridiculed all politicians sharply.
Remember their songs in which they lampooned the politicians, with Bump Me into Parliament, and the capitalist ideology with Pie in the Sky, and the weakness of the economic system with the song Tramp, Keep on Tramping.
Whereas the parties of the Second International of Labour had lined up with their respective ruling classes and urged their followers to use the bayonet on class brothers during the 1914-18 war, the imperialist war, the IWW consistently opposed it and gave inspiring leadership that urged the Australian working class to realise the great anti-conscription victories of 1916 after the late WM Hughes, Labor prime minister, had agreed to conscription.
The IWW fought well and strongly, but they caustically condemned and offended the less advanced trade unionists and workers who did not agree with them and called them “boneheads”. This was a negative approach and caused disunity among the workers.
They also foolishly ignored the important fact that as well as the advanced trade unionists there were other wage workers, farmers, professional workers, servicemen, etc.
They preached an isolationist policy that surely led to their segregation. They were beheaded and defeated when the ruling class blatantly framed their leaders and threw men into jail with savage prison sentences of up to 15 years. The red bogey was the smokescreen of that terrible crime.
Their contempt for, and non-recognition of, the organs of oppression the state made the task easier.
The late Percy Brookfield, of the Barrier district used his balance of power in the state parliament of John Storey’s government and ultimately forced an inquiry into the evidence of the IWW case.
The Inquiry was set up under Judge Ewing. He made a searching test of the police case and found that it was baseless. He then ordered the release of the IWW leaders, declaring them to have been unjustly imprisoned. However, these working class leaders had already served more than two years of their sentences.
On the waterfront The IWW had many members on the waterfront. They provided militant leadership for the struggle against the bull domination in the union. They reached the position of strong influence in the Sydney branch leading up to the 1917 strike, and played a prominent part during that strike.
They made it hot for Billy Hughes in the branch and had him expelled from the WWF in September 1916.
It was not only Hughes as an individual who was involved here in the betrayal of the working class.
The war sharpened all the class issues to the utmost, it brought the interests of the workers and those of the capitalists into the sharpest conflict and Labor’s right wing, led by Hughes, was faced with the need to make their decision — for the workers or for the capitalists. As we know they came out against the workers and sponsored the cause of their class enemies. Such is the inevitable fate of those who follow the path of reformism to its end.
Following his desertion of the labour movement, Hughes organised attacks against the working class. On his initiative the IWW was suppressed. The IWW member whose letter appears in this material was a victim of the persecution initiated by Hughes on behalf of the capitalist class as a whole. Likewise, in the 1917 strike the federal and state governments combined against the workers.
Hughes was also in the government parties that introduced the Dog Collar Act. He was the minister in 1940 who issued regulations banning the workers’ press, including the Communist paper on the waterfront — The Wharfie — which proved the most able fighter for improved conditions and correct political issues.
After the defeat of the 1917 strike the employers’ black list dealt with them severely and forced many of them away. For example, the State industrial Commission.
All that is now gone. The new leadership set out to put an end to the reformist methods that led to division and weakness, set themselves the aim of building the WWF into a powerful united organisation that could defend the members from attacks of the shipowners and they succeeded.
The P and C organisation and the snipers have gone, and the federation is now the only organisation that covers all workers engaged in loading and unloading ships. Under the leadership of the union, the unity of the Communists and the Labor Party members that the Communists set out to secure has gone right down through the union. In the past 20 years under the new leadership the union has waged its biggest struggles and has made its greatest gains.
Defeatism has gone because the members have come to know the strength they have if they act in unity. The federation relies on the strength of its industrial organisation and not on arbitration. Thus it is more united and more powerful than ever before. Such is the change that has been brought about.
The Communists (did not seek to dominate this leadership but to establish a union leadership that included both Communist and Labor party members, a leadership capable of carrying the idea of unity down amongst the members.
Moreover, under this leadership union affairs were never so democratically controlled as today. Every major proposal affecting the members is now submitted to the membership for discussion and decision.
The Communist Party led a fine battle to win independence for the union against the domination of the shipping companies. Unity in action for democratically determined independent policy is now the main characteristic of union life and this is welding together the wharfie followers of the Australian Labor Party and the Communist Party; this will lead to closer and more effective alliances needed to win socialism in Australia.
Following World War II, there was a tremendous socialist advance throughout the world. In Eastern Europe, in China and other parts of Asia the people have put an end to capitalism and have taken the path to socialism.
Before arbitration, the workers had learnt much in collective rank and file organisational tactics up to and during the 1890 strike. The diggers of the minefields specialised in independent forms of organisation — discipline or vigilance committees, as they called them.
The diggers were not trade unionists. They did not receive wages and they owned their own means of production — pick and shovel, etc.
When the alluvial gold petered out, crowds of these capable men drifted to the main industry of Australia — the big shearing sheds.
In the second half of the century there were big sheep holdings, which at shearing time could engage more than 200 men, and as many as 300.
There were no awards (pre-arbitration) to set the conditions. The state forces were sparse and the squatters felt some concern at their inability to deal with the vast assemblies of men gathering on the days and even weeks before the roll-call (engagement for the shearing).
It is natural that these men did get around to organisation of camp discipline and catering arrangements and working out a plan for conditions to be demanded of the squatter before a single man was engaged.
And it was principally because of this peculiarly Australian situation that the system of arbitration was worked out in a form differing from elsewhere in the world.
It was designed to break down the democratic collective bargaining organisation the workers were perfecting even in spite of the defeat of the 1890 strike.
State arbitration first Not only did the workers draw their conclusions from the 1890 strike, but the bosses did also and saw the need for some method of settling industrial disputes to break up the collective bargaining groups of the shearing industry.
Accordingly, the NSW government appointed a Royal Commission with terms of reference “to investigate and report upon the causes of conflicts between capital and labour, known as strikes, and the best means of preventing or mitigating such occurrences and to consider from an economic point of examination the measures that have been devised in other countries by the constitution of boards of conciliation or other similar bodies to obviate extreme steps in trade union disputes and to consider a report upon the whole subject”
The report of the Royal Commission recommended that a labour tribunal be constituted to discharge the double duties of conciliation and arbitration. The first NSW Industrial Arbitration Act came into force on December 10, 1901. It created a Court of Arbitration to consist of a Supreme Court judge with a representative of employers and of employees. Billy Hughes had entered the federal parliament, seated then in Melbourne. Here he had organised for the formation of the WWF. He left Sydney early in 1902 with a mandate from the Sydney Waterfront Labourers Union to join the federation. In his absence, thoughts of the new arbitration system suddenly altered the Sydney Wharf Labourers Union attitude on the matter of affiliation. At the second meeting of the federation in Melbourne a letter was received from the Sydney Wharf Labourers Union stating “because of the newly established Arbitration Court it was now no longer necessary to join the federation.
The federation president, Hughes, said he would attend to the matter. He returned to Sydney a very annoyed man and called for a special meeting of the union.
Arbitration had caused many illusions from the outset. There was great preaching by politicians and industrialists that it new “Messiah” organisation was reached. “No more need for strikes”, “The impartial judge would decide on the merits of the case put forward.” The workers had such a cast iron case that many welcomed arbitration to reap the just wages and work conditions they were entitled to.
The special meeting of Sydney Wharf Labourers Union to hear Hughes was a stormy one. He complained: “After having been appointed our agent or mouthpiece in the matter, it was rather painful to him to find that not only were we the only union which had not paid up, but that we were inclined to revoke and repudiate the authority that we had previously invested in him. If we entered into this contract and authorised him to act, not as WM Hughes, but as the secretary of the Sydney Wharf Labourers’ Union — the most numerous, important and influential waterside union in Australia.
“Referring to the Arbitration Act, he said: “Every man seemed to be permeated with a fear of what the law was going to do with him and we had blossomed all at once into a very law-abiding community.
“No law in the wide world,” he contended, “could make a man work when he refuses to work or when he chooses not to work with any particular man or body of men.
“The Act, no doubt was a very good thing but not a settlement of all human difficulties. If we are going to sit down and rely wholly on the Arbitration Court to adjust our grievances and look after our interests then what is the good of our union to us, for the court will do as much for five, 10 or 50 men as it will for 3000. If we are relying on the law to enforce rates of wages, then according to our agreement the union is useless. But this is all tommyrot,” he said, “and every concession wrung from the employers was not through dread of the law but through the stability of our own union.
“Supposing the court decides to reduce our rate of pay to ninepence an hour, are we going to calmly fold our arms and make no effort to better our conditions? The court may prevent a strike but through the Waterside Workers Federation we can incommode the shipping at all the ports along the coast.
“On the other hand, if we win in the court, all Australia wins. But if we don’t get one shilling and threepence an hour in the court then we may rest assured that, in any action which we may decide upon, we will have the active assistance and co-operation of the other coastal unions, which will be in a position to inconvenience and harass the shipping at the various ports of call. But to suppose that 3000 men are going to rely on Judge Cohen (NSW judge) giving them one shilling and threepence an hour is most astounding. If there is no chance of benefit for us under this federation, there is for the other unions and consequently we must benefit indirectly. West Australia, he pointed out, although an Arbitration Act was in force there, was the first to join the federation. He pointed out that the shipowners were increasing their freights all round the coast and through this waterside federation we will be able, instead of dealing with them singly, to deal with them all over Australia.”
The meeting, after a tussle, came on Hughes’s side and the affiliation with the federation was consummated.
On May 16, 1902, the court entered upon the hearing of its first industrial dispute, between the Newcastle Wharf Labourers Union and the Newcastle and Hunter River Steamship Company. In 1892 the company employed wharf labourers at Newcastle and Morpeth at a weekly wage of 40 shillings for unrestricted hours of employment, which meant the labourers had to respond to the call of the company at any hour of the day or night. The men, desiring to be relieved of the hardship of this agreement, in May 1900 struck for an increase of wages and shorter hours. The strike resulted in the company granting a wage of 42 shillings per week of 60 hours with overtime at the rate of one shilling per hour for Sundays and holidays. Not content with these conditions, the men again struck in October 1900. The men were, for some time thereafter, employed on a casual system.
From these disputes emerged the first award of the NSW Arbitration Court.
Sydney’s first experience On December 5, 1902, the court considered all agreement that had been entered into between Sydney Wharf Labourers Union and the Sydney Stevedoring, Wool Dumping and Lighterage Association, and made an award covering additional stevedoring firms such as Napiers, Dalgetys, Central Wharf, Browns, Port Jackson and Alexanders.
On September 14, 1903, the Sydney Wharf Labourers Union got the award extended to all persons in overseas trade doing the work of stevedores in the port of Sydney. This application was made because on several occasions deep sea cargo had been discharged from vessels in the port with the observation of the conditions contained in the above award. The only opposition to the application was made by the Orient Company and the P&0 Company. They objected to being covered by the award on the grounds that it would interfere with the proper performance of their mail contracts.
On October 30, 1903, the court held that a master of a foreign ship trading to the Port of Sydney was subject to the jurisdiction of the Court of Arbitration and was liable to a penalty if he employed his crew for discharging cargo contrary to the terms of the Wharf Labourers’ Award. Failure to comply involved a penalty of £50.
On September 27, 1905, an industrial dispute between the Sydney branch of the WWF and the Interstate Steamship Owners Association and the Coastal Steamship Owners Association over preference of employment was litigated.
It was disclosed in evidence that the number of men in the branch was 2603, equally divided, claimed the secretary, Mr Harrison, between the local and the foreign ships, or as it was put, between Sussex Street and Circular Quay. The court was inclined to think that there were rather more employees in Sussex Street, but did not decide how many.
The average number of men working at the wharves on the 26 Mondays from January to June 1905 was 759 and on the 26 Wednesdays, only 400. There were in the port men known as “preference men” who were given the first chance of all work. Those men got work nearly every day and got a lion’s share of the overtime, while outsiders only came on when there was more work than the preference men could cope with, or when it was desired to get the work through quickly. The preference men all got wages, but many of the outsiders got very little.
The union contended that this employment of preference men and the concentration upon them of the bulk of the work and pay was a thing done by the companies for their own advantage.
The court said that this was no doubt true. Certain returns were tendered showing the degree of employment. One return, for instance, showed that during the first six months of 1905 the highest number of employees on any one day was 1029 and the least 12, and the least but 204.
Those figures, it was explained, were complicated in view of the fact that one wharf labourer might work on two or more ships or for two or more companies on the one day. After examining the various statistics the court found that on the 156 days the number employed were as follows:
On 13 days less than 300 men worked
On 31 days, less than 400 men worked
On 53 days, less than 500 men worked
On 78 days, less than 600 men worked
On 112 days, less than 700 men worked
On 141 days, less than 800 worked
Using these figures, the court considered that the work of the wharf could be done with a fixed body of less than 800 men and suggested that 765 should be the number based on an average of 85 for each of the nine companies.
After doing certain calculations the court determined that the wages being paid, namely £1/15s/9d per week, should not be increased.
On the February 22, 1907, an agreement was made with the NSW Interstate Steamship Owners’ Association.
Clause 13 of that agreement gave members of the union preference over non-unionists. An employer had the right to engage non-unionists to make up the deficiency.
Disputes Board In 1909, the Industrial Disputes Act was passed. It provided for the setting up of Industrial Boards.
A board was established on the application of the Sydney Stevedoring, Wool Dumping and Lighterage Association following a deep-sea strike. The Sydney Wharf Labourers Union at first opposed it, but subsequently nominated two representatives to sit on it.
It was known at the Waterside Workers (Deep Sea) Wharf Labourers Board. On November 10, the board made an award for deep-sea wharf labourers that contained no preference.
The board president made the following comment about preference "Even its to preference itself, it seems to me that the question is not so much whether the union is to have it, as how is it to have it; is it to get it by law, or is it to get it by the permission of the employers.
“The Sydney Wharf Labourers Union is a very strong body and contains a number of splendid and experienced workers. Before the court the employers fight desperately against preference but out of the court they always grant it. Their object seems to be to get the court to refuse it so that they themselves will be able to sell it. At the very time the deep-sea wharf labourers struck during the recent troubles they were working under an agreement with the employers that gave them preference. True, when they struck the employers took on free labour, cancelled the agreement and successfully applied for a wage board before which (their representatives tell me) they will oppose preference — I suppose with the same deep earnestness and air of conviction as formerly.
“Yet only a fortnight ago, as abovementioned, they gave it back. The coal lumpers simply refused to work with the free labourers, and the employers, though perfectly free and with nothing to fear but inconvenience and pecuniary loss, possibly considerable, at once dismissed tile men who had come to their assistance when the union left them in the lurch and against whom, from what Mr McCoy tells me, there was no objection, and put on the unionists again. Can there ever be a stronger case? Can it be seriously supposed after such an illustration as this, that whatever the board does, the preference of the union is in any danger?”
On December 20, 1911, the board made an award for waterside workers in Port Jackson in the interstate and coastal trades. Except for the November 1917 state award for volunteers, the branch had little to do from then on with the state court.
The branch retained its registrations in the state court until 1937. It then withdrew.
Then comes commonwealth arbitration Although the Commonwealth Arbitration Act was introduced in 1904, two years after Federation, it was not until 1906 that the Waterside Workers Federation registered under it and secured the first award by 1914.
Justice Higgins, then president of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, sat in Melbourne and Sydney in March and April of 1914 to deal with the first log of claims of the WWF, but because he was going abroad on a visit to England, he intimated that he would only deal with the wages question and the working conditions would have to wait until he got back.
His judgment of April 16 awarded one shilling and ninepence per hour. The federation presented a considerable amount of good evidence exposing the injustice and the viciousness of the bull system, and Mr Justice Higgins had this to say:
“In finding the minimum rates of pay proper for the ports of Australia on the General Australian Level, the court must first find the proper basic wage on the General Australian Level and must then find what hourly rate will give the wharf labourer that basic wage. The court fixes the proper basic wage on the General Australian Level at eight shillings and sixpence per day and finds that one shilling per hour is the rate which, under present conditions will secure this basic wage to the labourer of average strength and competence who devotes his working life to this industry.
“In this case, the employers admitted that the industry can bear any rates that may be imposed within the limits of the log, and did not bring any evidence to show that freights must be raised as a consequence of this award. It is lamentable that so many lusty men, mostly in the prime of life, should have to stand about idle, waiting for a job at the usual place of hiring — earning nothing some days, nothing even some weeks and earning high wages some weeks by excessive hours of toil. The frequent bouts of idleness must tend to lead to bad habits and to loss of muscular condition. There is a tremendous waste of potential human energy involved.
“They are entitled at the least to food, clothes and shelter for themselves and their dependants, during the whole term of this service. If a man keeps a horse, he has to feed the horse on days when he does not use him, as well as on the days when he does. If he keeps two or more horses and uses them in rotation, they must be fed all the time.
“If people expect cabmen to be ready for a call at a stand they must pay an extra rate to cover the time lost in waiting.
“It would be absurd to say, as has been urged here that the obligation of the master ceases with the actual physical exertion. They also serve who only stand and wait. I am sure that I need not remind the federation of their promises to exert their full influence to secure a proper organisation that is to affect this anomalous situation.”
On December 13, 1910, after a hearing lasting four months, the first comprehensive commonwealth award was made.
1928 strike disunity industrial beacon The pre-depression 1928 award of Judge Beeby disillusioned many wharfies who had faith in arbitration.
In the award no badly needed increase in wages was granted. There had been a few years of boom and prices and rents had risen.
Shift rates were introduced in the award for men starting work after ordinary hours — time-and-a-quarter instead of time-and-a-half for men starting after 5pm and time-and-a-half instead of double-time for men starting after midnight. The claim for a daytime smoko on all cargoes was rejected, but granted on bulk and freezer cargoes.
Qualified preference was granted. A new transfer of labour clause was introduced and the claim for one pick-up per day was rejected on the grounds that “it was in reality formulated by the WWF in pursuance of its policy to secure greater control of waterside operations and to limit the selection of labour by foremen”.
A copy of the proposed award was immediately despatched to all branches.
Branches in all states wired their objection to the award. As a result, a special meeting of the committee of management (which comprised the general secretary and one representative from each state) was called.
When the COM met on August 24, an immediate decision was made to convene in All Ports Conference. On September 6, representatives from branches assembled in Melbourne. After hearing reports from COM members, president Mather and AE Turley, South Australian representative, conference decided to repudiate entirely the Beeby award, to convey this decision to the employers and to request a conference to discuss wages and conditions on the basis of existing awards.
By the September 10, no reply had been received from the employers. It was then decided “to instruct the COM to enter into negotiations with all maritime unions in the transport industry with the view of effecting an immediate amalgamation for the purpose of building powerful organisation capable of defending the workers’ interests and resisting the onslaughts of the employing class in the developing economic crisis.”
On the morning of the September 11, Mr Fred Bates of Melbourne suggested that the members be instructed to accept employment and work until any conditions contained in the new award were imposed by the employer. After discussion this proposal was adopted by the motion of WH Seale and J Ward, secretary and president respectively of the Sydney branch.
On the September 12 a letter was read from the shipowners refusing the conference. Conference then carried by 60 votes to 11, a motion by Thompson of Brisbane: “That they repudiate entirely the Beeby Award.”
The prime minister was informed of this decision and asked to arrange a conference between the parties. On September 15, word was received from the ACTU that it proposed convening it conference for September 17 of all unions involved or likely to be involved in the waterfront dispute.
Following the receipt of this notice, Thompson of Brisbane moved:
“That it is the opinion of delegates at convention that no good purpose could be served by preventing members from presenting themselves for engagement under the Beeby Award, as the resolution repudiating the award has served its purpose for the time being and to persist with it any further would be detrimental to the best interests of the federation as a whole by preventing negotiations with the shipowners, and although we, as your representatives, realise the conditions are hard, we instruct you to accept work under the new award so as to maintain the industry in your interest.”
This motion was carried 48 votes to 22. The branches and the shipowners were notified that members were to return to work under the Beeby Award. Confusion and doubts existed in the Sydney branch, where the majority of members wore unable to fully understand the position. Many branches decided to strike. The federation was badly split and in no shape to take on such a fight.
On September 19, the employers notified the federation that they had decided to advertise immediately for free labour in ports where members were not offering under the Beeby Award.
The Committee of Management, continuing in session after conference, itself did not know definitely which branches had accepted the decision and which had not. Although the conference decision should at least have bound the committee to order a return to work, the committee was just as divided as the branches. For example, on September 25, the committee debated a resolution and two amendments, each moved and seconded, even though there were only six members.
It was decided to ask the ACTU to arrange a conference with the maritime unions as soon as possible.
However, the committee was united on this decision:
“"Realising that arbitration has become a measure only operating to the detriment of the workers this federation proceed at once to take all the necessary steps in making an application for deregistration under the federal arbitration court”
In the meantime, the commonwealth government had proceeded with its threat to take special steps to deal with the waterfront dispute.
The federation had been fined £1000. The Transport Workers Act had been rushed through parliament, and its provisions proclaimed in those ports — Melbourne, Adelaide and most Queensland ports — where members were refusing to offer under the Beeby Award.
These required each waterside worker in those ports to register and take out a licence to work. Sydney was very divided and most meetings were in uproar. But Sydney was on strike for no more than a few hours.
The Melbourne branch was the main strike centre. Many street battles were fought against “volunteers” and their police protectors.
One wharfie, Allan Whittaker, was killed by police bullets. George Grey and others were wounded; hundreds were injured by police batons. The branch fought courageously and well, but the state forces under the control and direction of the Hogan Labor government were too strong. Hogan assured the parliament that his police commissioner, Thomas Blamey, had his full authority to deal ruthlessly with the strikers.
Later, in the aftermath of the strike, five strikers were framed on charges and two were given life imprisonment. They were accused of an attack upon a club with which some volunteers were associated. They were subsequently released in 1939 after 11 years imprisonment.
One of these men, Alex (Sandy) McIvor, later became a most worthy officials of the Melbourne branch.
For years after the strike Melbourne remained a licence port, which divided the men following the industry into several divisions.
The big old ramshackle pick-up place (still there) was subdivided by high tin fences — permanent and casuals (Loyalists), WWF and others in three divisions: first preference, second preference and blanks.
Old control fails — new form of arbitration When the 1939 war came, work became plentiful. The shipowners could not get enough labour. They lost their power.
The wharfies responded to this and got busy wiping out the backward and barbaric conditions imposed by shipowners and the courts.
The initiative on the job passed into the hands of the men, so that in 1941 the late John Curtin, prime minister of Australia, had sent for WWF general secretary Jim Healy, Sir Thomas Gordon (maritime shipping director) and Sir Owen Dixon (High Court judge). He gave these three men the task of planning the Stevedoring Industry Commission in a bid to organise the waterfront out of the wretched mess left by the employers’ bull system and arbitration.
Whereas the reformist leadership of the past put their faith in arbitration and feared the struggle the new leadership set out to build confidence in the struggle and on the basis of strength to negotiate with both the shipowners and the Arbitration Court.
A new body, the Stevedoring Industry Commission, was formed and commenced operation in April 1942. This body got its powers from the Commonwealth Wartime Emergency Regulations. It was both an arbitration and regulation-making body. It was co-operative in the sense that its organs, the national and ports committees, had union representation.
In January 1942, the National Security Manpower Regulations were imposed. The director-general of manpower issued regulations to cover waterside workers, WWF and P& (Permanent and Casual Union of Intrastate Stevedoring) members, over 25 years of age on the March 17, 1941, exempting them from Civil Construction Corps call-up as well as from military service.
The non-union snipers who followed the industry for the surplus of work from the pick-ups were subject to both army and Civil Construction Corps (manpower call) and this reduced them considerably.
The figures show the mess that free selection had got the industry into by 1942, even after the waterfront had been “cleared” by the National Security Defence Regulations. The 5884 men, ie 4201 WWF members and 1684 snipers were only on two days, the July 1 and 18, able to produce a total of 4000 men for work. In fact, on April 20, which was a day of labour shortage, the labour supply was only 1758, on May 2 only 1487.
The average daily employment over the 35 days of shortages of labour was 2785 or only 47 per cent of the 5884 labour force protected by defence regulations to carry on the industry.
During 1942 were critical days of war. Singapore shipping was diverted to Sydney and there were as many as 80 ships in the port at once, yet men still carrying it chip on their shoulder would not make themselves available to foremen who did without them when work was scarce, so fierce was their recrimination against past ill-treatment.
The shipowners had been appealing to the Curtin government for help and the members of the branch began to divide on the all-important need for a more intelligent organisation of the manpower, as proposed by WWF general secretary Healy.
The culmination of this struggle was the defeat of the bull system by the gang rotary scheme in April 1943 after 16 days of strike. Because of the degree of co-operation in this organisation, the Stevedoring Commission succeeded in organising the industry for the prosecution of the anti-fascist war.
With the termination of the war and cessation of legal life of the wartime powers, the question was discussed as to whether organisation such as the Stevedoring Industry Commission should continue under commonwealth government legislation or revert back to owners’ control of engagement centres and to the Arbitration Court.
Mr Justice Foster was assigned the task of inquiring to decide. He did this in November and December of 1946 and, as a result of his report, the Chifley government brought down a bill in parliament to set up a Stevedoring Industry Commission, much on the same lines and with similar extent of powers as the previous wartime body.
The commission carried on until the 1949 “cold war” period, when after failing to force the union representatives who were members of it to desert the struggles of the men and join with the Stevedoring Commission in imposing anti-union sanctions, the Chifley government passed a new act replacing the 1947 act and brought into being the new Australian Stevedoring Industry Board.
Co-operation of the federation was not asked for. The bill excluded union representation. Port committees were not operated, although the act under section 30 still gave discretion to the minister for labour to set them up.
Another basic difference was that the bill returned to the Arbitration Court powers to arbitrate on industrial matters and changed the objective of the Stevedoring Board to operate pick-ups, attendance money, amenities, discipline, quota fixation and registration, and generally to be an industrial police force to assist the shipowners and capitalists to halt the developing struggles of the federation around its democratic policy for a better deal in the industry.
This measure recalled Robert Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamelin Town. After piping the city tree of a plague of rats, the Pied Piper went to the mayor for his promised reward, but:
A thousands guilders! The Mayor looked blue;
So did the corporation too.
For council dinners had made rare havoc
With claret, moselle, vin-de-grave, hock;
And half the money would replenish
Their cellar’s biggest butt with Rhenish.
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gipsy coat of red and yellow!
“Besides,” said the Mayor with a knowing wink,
“We saw with our eye the vermin sink,
“And what’s dead can’t come to life, I think.
“Besides, our losses have made us thrifty.
“A thousand guilders! Come take fifty!”
The war was over and the danger was past and the ruling class, like the Mayor of Hamelin, lost no time trying to get back on top.
Arbitration back on the scene The union then was in grave danger and fought the greatest and most vital fight of its whole existence, for it was faced with a vigorous alliance between the courts and the Industrial Groupers, the Stevedoring Board, the security police, the shipowners and the Menzies government.
The courts began to blatantly interfere in our union affairs, both directly and with the assistance of the newly formed Industrial Groups of the ALP.
Remember Judge Kirby’s famous letter of 1949? With Industrial Group backing, he wrote to the members attacking the WWF leadership and its policy and calling upon wharfies not to go to an official stopwork meeting, but to work on in defiance; to follow the judge, owners and Groupers instead of the union leaders.
The court strove to get right into the administration of the union, even to the control of union ballots. Sydney branch vice-president Bill Brown, reported in Maritime Worker:
“Group Leaders handed our 1950 ballot for Sydney federal councilors over to Judge Dunphy to check. Another official, Ted Ross, and myself were sent to the Arbitration Court
office, where an elderly Sherlock Holmes was examining the papers with a magnifying glass. We had been advised to examine each individual who was there checking papers. We learned that the sleuth was
a retired bank manager looking for forgeries. Needless to say, he found none.
“On the scene was a middle-aged woman whom we discovered to be organiser of the girls who were there to take records of our union matters.
“We queried a number of the girls as to where they worked, but they were cautious and apparently had been warned against us. So we decided to follow the ‘panno’ and tracked her to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board office. We made further inquiries and found she was, in fact, from the ASIB. We identified another woman as the sister of a well-known Sydney detective.
“Another girl was from the Ironworkers’ office, employed by Laurie Short. It certainly seemed wrong in principle for one union to poke its nose like this into the affairs of a fellow trade union.
“We queried more people, as we were entitled to know where our union data was going. As they refused to satisfy us, Ted Ross and I decided to go on strike and impounded the keys of the ballot boxes there and then.
“When they saw that we meant business and as they couldn’t get the boxes open, the women packed up and left.”
Down on the jobs, wharfies became very angry at the Grouper-ASIB-Arbitration Court interference in our union affairs. Feeling got very hot until ship meetings demanded the Groupers to withdraw their court application.
The court imposed crippling new penalties on the union in an effort to hamstring independent union actions designed to end the unjust conditions still being imposed on the wharfies by the shipowners.
In this period of capitalist class counter-offensive to smash the development of trade union progressive life in our country, the government armed the Arbitration Court with new punitive powers, “to put teeth into the actᰵ said RG Menzies. Ted Roach, assistant general secretary of the WWF, for criticising the court, was convicted by that court and sentenced to 12 months jail in Long Bay.
However, protests about this prosecution and the subsequent actions of the court inflamed public opinion so much that the 1955 ACTU Congress (a big change in many minds) unanimously condemned the arbitration system and asked for its reorganisation.
The punitive powers of the court were challenged in the Boilermakers case. That union was fined for collecting money for ironworkers on strike at Cockatoo Dock.
The High Court ruled that the court could not employ both judicial and arbitral powers. Therefore, the working class had a victory against the repressive provisions of the Arbitration Act, but the Menzies government hastily reorganised the arbitration system, setting up one court with arbitration powers, and one with penal powers.
Such is a brief outline of the history of arbitration, its rise and decline.
Ironically enough, those that comprise the arbitration cheer squad: judges, politicians, lawyers, company directors, newspaper editors, and so forth, do not sample it as a means of fixing their own salaries. Oh! No sir!
But they insist that it be enforced on the workers and it is now clear by the policy of the 1955 ACTU Congress that the workers do not want it. To its credit, the Waterside Workers Federation at many All Ports Conferences has consistently declared opposition to arbitration and in favour of collective bargaining. The Broken Hill miners discarded arbitration for collective agreement after the 1918 strike.
No one can say this had led to more strikes in that district.
November 1954 struggle leads to ASIA As an outcome of the November 1954 strike the commonwealth government of Menzies by act of parliament set up a committee of inquiry to make recommendations on future waterfront labour control, arbitration etc.
The ASIB pleaded for its continued existence, on contentions mouthed by chief officers, Messrs Hewitt and Reed and their legal advocates, that without their presence in the industry the WWF would be too strong for the shipowners and would force through more demands.
At the marathon inquiry, the shipowners pleaded for a complete return to the Arbitration Court with the control of pick-ups going into the employers’ hands. The WWF opposed this and sought amendments to the Stevedoring Board to have it take over completely from the Arbitration Court, leaving one body with WWF representation operating in the industry.
The inquiry committee, on labour minister Holt’s instructions, brought down a hasty interim report that the Menzies government used as an excuse for the harsh Stevedoring Industry Act 1956 and the handing of objectionable penal powers to the newly established Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority.
The Inquiry and the Stevedoring Industry Act, far from solving anything, have ushered in another phase of intense struggle on the waterfront for defence of union rights and conditions.
Wage movements over 84 years
a) Period of collective agreements
1872 The Sydney Labouring Mens Union was formed and failed in a strike to increase pay from eightpence to one shilling per hour.
1876 The union made another unsuccessful wage increase attempt on September 17. Wharfies demanded one shilling and threepence per hour. The defeat crushed the branch.
1892 Watersiders re-formed as the Sydney Wharf Labourers Union. They went on strike that November for one shilling per hour. They lost and returned to work on December 6.
1885 The waterside workers fought again, this time for a 10 shilling day, and again they were defeated.
1901 Wharfies achieved one shilling and threepence per hour (deep sea).
b) Commencement of federal award fixation of wages based on “living needs”
1907 Judge Higgins’ Harvester Award for Victoria of £2/2/- as a basic wage.
1911 On October 7 the branch entered into an agreement with the interstate owners to bring the Sussex Street hourly rate up to one shilling and twopence per hour or a penny less than deep sea work.
1914 First federal award for Waterside Workers. Using the £2/2/- Harvester award as a basis and estimating that the cost of living had increased by approximately nine shillings, he declared for £2/11/- as a needs wage. Judge Higgins also calculated that if only the necessary men followed the industry, they would probably average 30 hours per week, and thus introduced for the first time the 30-hour divisor. This brought the hourly rate to one shilling and ninepence.
1919 Second federal award for Waterside Workers. Judge Higgins again calculated that cost of living had increased by approximately 16 shillings since 1914 and from this established two shillings and threepence as the hourly rate.
1922 In October Judge Powers increased the general wage basis by one shilling and established the quarterly cost of living adjustment. This award commenced operation from January 1, 1923.
From January 1923 to September 1953 there were numerous cost of living adjustments. These automatic changes took the hourly rate to three shillings per hour in May 1929. Then it declined as low as two shillings and a penny-halfpenny in February 1932, followed by a continuous movement upward until the system terminated.
There has since been a further serious decline in the value of the eight shillings and twopence-halfpenny, but this is a real loss amounting to £1/10/- per week.
1931 August 10 per cent reduction in wages for crisis
1932 April Beeby’s twopence-halfpenny; depressed margin six shillings
1937 June Twopence prosperity loading granted, now absorbed in Basic Wage
1941 Threepence-halfpenny war loading granted by J Beeby
Secondary wage movements
1948, May 20 Fivepence-halfpenny, Kirby, margin
1950, December Federal basic wage increase of 20 shillings. Divisor altered from 30 to 32 hours
1953, March Divisor altered once again to 30 hours instead of 32 making the hourly rate eight shillings and tenpence.
September Freezing of the basic wage and elimination of quarterly adjustment
1956, June Fourpence per hour increase in Basic Wage granted by Full Court.
July 1 Award, J Ashburner, increasing marginal wage by eightpence per hour, making the total wage nine shillings and tenpence per hour.
It would appear from these rising hourly wage figures that wharfies had made great progress in their wage standard since the first award of one shilling and ninepence per hour by J Higgins, but of course that is not so, for real value has increased by little, and may even be down. Actually they have lost as far as the basic wage portion of the hourly rate is concerned, but have gained in the secondary wage (margins for skill, etc) and they have also gained in indirect wages, such as annual leave, attendance money, sick leave and public holiday payment.
Let us examine this question from the starting point when our currency was backed by gold. In my memory, in fact up to the World War I, sovereigns were in free use. A gold sovereign and an Australian note were of equal monetary value. It mattered not which you used in shopping as both bought the same amount of goods, you got the same change.
Notes were, in fact, used then because they were more convenient to carry and handle.
The first Commonwealth Bank note issue was in 1910, but sometime before that the private banks circulated their own notes. The government began to call in sovereigns in October 1914 to help finance the war.
The price of gold today is pegged at £515/12/6 per ounce and its production at this price is being subsidised. Therefore it is below its value because of manipulation and control by the USA.
From this it can be easily seen to what extent our note has lessened in value. Blame for this inflation is falsely said to be because of the rise in wages forced by the unions. Some right-wing union officials support such a theory. But the fact is that, although there is some relation between the laws that govern wages and the laws that govern prices, they are not the same.
For example, the price of wool is not so high because of pastoral workers’ wages. It is true that shearers are getting relatively high wages, but did they not by rank and file organisation and strike action force these modern shearing rates out of the squatters after the wool price had greatly increased during the last war?
The squatter would have taken all the extra profits but for the action of the shearers. And again, is it true to say that the wages of the plantation miners or tin miners of Malaya are responsible for the world market price of the commodities procured by their labour power?
The same can be said of many other commodities such as Holden cars, Ceylon tea, and so on. The main laws that govern these important matters therefore, must be studied by working class people, so that they will not be misled and duped by capitalist spokesmen.
Gains in indirect wages In addition to wages, there has been since January 2, 1947, attendance money.
In 1945 a ballot to set policy as a form of security was taken by the WWF. One proposition, for a guaranteed weekly wage, was outvoted.
The majority supported an alternative proposition for daily attendance money and a campaign was launched. Chief Judge Piper rejected attendance money as not being a matter for a commission to deal with.
The wharfies were resentful and eventually strike action was taken to force some authority to deal with the matter.
Judge Piper declared it was a matter for the government and beyond his scope.
At the end of 1946 attendance money was accepted by the Stevedoring Industry Commission. The chairman, Mr Morrison, after most careful argument and much evidence, decided on the payment of attendance money of 16 shillings per day. The commission at that time had no funds, and was still dependent on the Treasury for all monies that it expended. The prime minister, Mr Chifley, then overrode the SIC and issued instructions that the amount be reduced to 12 shillings.
The scheme had been continued under the Stevedoring Industry Act 1947, the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board established by the Stevedoring Industry Act 1949, and under the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority, 1956.
Although actual payments are made in most instances through the Central Pay Office, records on which payments are based, calculation of the amount due to each man and provision of the funds for effecting payments have, since the very inception of the scheme been in the hands of the body established by the commonwealth, that is the National Security Stevedoring Industry Commission (the expenses of which are met directly from departmental votes as a charge against consolidated revenue), the 1947 Stevedoring Industry Commission, the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board 1949, and the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority 1956.
In the case of each of the two last-named bodies, payment was made from its own funds, which are provided by special appropriation from consolidated revenue equivalent to amounts raised under the Stevedoring Industry Charges Act 1947 for ASIB funds (Section 41 of the 1947 Act, Section 41 of the 1949 Act and Section 5 of the 1956 Act).
|Attendance money entitlements (all Australian ports) since the inception of the scheme|
Attendance money was increased from 12 to 16 shillings as from October 1, 1952, following the settlement conference on the federation’s overtime ban.
In fact, the conference parties promised £1,I but Chief Judge Kelly made it 16 shillings.
On April 3, 1956, attendance money was increased to 24 shillings following the 23-day January-February nationwide margins strike.
|Man hour levy charged to the employers to finance the Stevedoring Industry Authority and attendance money|
|December 12, 1947||4½d|
|October 11, 1949||2½d|
|December 4, 1951||4d|
|October 28, 1952||11d|
|May 4, 1954||6d|
The gain of annual leave A further increase in the wages standard of waterside workers was annual leave. Prior to 1946, waterside workers paid for their own annual leave or went without, and following a series of struggles, 24-hour stoppages and overtime bans, the union was able to break through on this important question.
In 1946, the government appointed Mr Justice Foster as a special arbitrator to deal with the question of annual leave for waterside workers and he subsequently made the order on which the present annual leave provisions are based, ie eight hours pay for each 26 days qualifying service — a maximum of 88 hours pay.
Public holiday and sickness payments An outcome of our 23-day strike of 1956 was the July award of Mr Justice Ashburner. For the first time in this country sick pay for casual workers was achieved. This amounted to five days sick pay per year.
Payment for all statutory public holidays not worked and an increase in the minimum period of engagement from four to six hours — a condition that ensures more wages and security for waterside workers.
Study the economic laws So that we may see things more clearly it is necessary to delve into history to get the real picture of the economic laws.
The key to it is to understand what is a commodity. The study, of course, is difficult and many may say “why worry about it” or, “leave it to the professors”, but that is foolish indeed, for we live in a society of commodity production.
Is it not essential if we are to stand by our rights and know our own business for us to learn and understand the very economic life in which we work and struggle?
If all of us know these fundamental economic laws, a person such as Professor Keynes would not get away with his smart device of reducing wages by putting up prices to avoid strike resistance of the workers.
To have reduced wages directly in recent years would have brought everyone out fighting, but the capitalists sneaked through the back way. In 1953 the plan was complete when cost of living adjustments were frozen. By this means the real value of wages has dropped and Australian families have been forced to lower their standard of living.
Man does not produce all the necessities of life by himself, but produces them as part of a big, complicated organisation. la doing this he enters into definite relations with other people. For instance, a wharfie sells his ability to work (or labour power) to the shipping companies, who own the ships, in order that he may gain sufficient money to buy the necessities of life.
So we have social production and private ownership of the means of production and the goods produced. This is a class society where one class does the work and the other class appropriates the results of their labour.
Herein lies the bugbear of capitalism, and it is this factor above all others that lays the basis of social changes, under which ownership of the means of production can be brought into line with the social nature of production, so that both production and ownership can be social. From this basic weakness of capitalism arises all ills. The capitalists’ object is to make bigger and better profits. With the search for huge profits as their guiding light they proceed to attack anything and everything that gets in their way.
The law of the jungle operates in all its starkness. They develop monopolies. They develop political power to influence parliaments, courts, political institutions and law enforcement bodies. They attack trade unions and workers’ organisations in their drive for maximum profits.
Under Socialist Society, the people own the means of production (the ships, mines, tools, etc) and take what is produced for themselves. Here the relationship is different. The people still work in the social way, but they own the means of production, and social appropriation of the results of labour. That is why in the 1957 budget of the USSR only 8.6 per cent of it came from taxation on personal income.
Dark-uns the wharfies called them first The first federal award, of 1914-15, set eight hours a day ordinary time, with the remainder of the 24 hours at overtime rates.
The shipowners were quite free to work men as long as they desired. So inconsiderate were the shipowners that they had no hesitation in working men 24 hours and even 48 hours in a single stretch. The union had in 1913 to intervene and introduced a rule prohibiting men from working in excess of 24 hours or 28 hours to complete a job.
The award compelled the men once having accepted an engagement, to work so long as their services were required.
The battle against the “dark-uns” was one of our big tasks in the depression years. The bulls, holding branch power, were strongly in favour of them.
In fact, there was constant conflict with these more backward members who were “champing at the bit” after doing 24 hours straight: “dark-uns”, the wharfies called them, and still wanted to go on.
Union records show some men were fined for working as many as 86 consecutive hours. In the 1920s and 1930s most of the union’s disciplinary cases were of this character.
We laid down a propaganda barrage for years. We always failed to win it at a mass meeting, but finally we broke through with job action.
Early in 1910 we decided to take job action against the 24 hours shift on the Arkaba when ordered to work through. We declared that we would only work until midnight.
We were sacked and later taken to the Central Police Court, where a magistrate fined each of us £2 with costs. This caused something of a sensation and won us sympathy and improved the struggle to break the dark-uns.
The money was later garnisheed from our wages but the resulting campaign of protest tipped the scales in our favour and enough members came on our side to win a decision against the “mankillers”, the members had them abolished in that year.
That was a great victory indeed.
The new hours broke the 24 hours in two, with the change of shift commencing at 9pm.
Within six years, other improvements were achieved. These were war years and the wharfies had worked long hours to handle the enormous volume of cargo travelling through Sydney port: 12 hours a day, seven days a week for week after week without let-up. A great many of them sacrificed their health and their life in the process.
They were indeed very tired men who listened to our campaign for hours reduction by three short shifts.
Eventually, we got the matter to a stopwork meeting in 1946 and won the decision. Stan Moran, a Sydney wharfie and Australia’s greatest stump orator, moved the huge meeting with a stirring speech aimed at convincing the wharfies “that nights were made for love” instead of working cargo.
While they assented to such a romantic plea, the members were not really convinced that they would not lose wages by shorter hours.
Before the issue could be properly tested, the annual election came a few weeks later. Stan Moran, branch treasurer, lost his union position together with we other leaders responsible.
No doubt we pushed the condition through too sharply, too bureaucratically, and the wharfies expressed their criticism of our tactics in their ballot papers and returned us to the pick-up for a year.
Three short shifts divided the 24 hours.
That was a great advancement in conditions and is most popular to-day.
Bosses gain by long hours It is necessary when considering this most important question of working hours to trace the history of society.
Under slave society the source of profit was easy to see: the slaves worked while the slave owners led a life of luxury on the products of their toil.
Remember the decline and break-up of this parasitical society in the fall of the Roman Empire.
Under feudalism, also, the source of profit was easily seen. The serf worked for so many days on his own land and for so many days on the land of the landlord.
Under capitalism the worker receives a weekly wage and the source of profit is hidden. Indeed it appears that the workers receive the full return on their day’s labour. The complicated nature of modern capitalist society further clouds the issue. The capitalist class and its hired lackies — editors, politicians, economists, statisticians, etc — spread erroneous ideas as to the source of profit.
One illusion spread by them is that money itself the source of profit. This reflects itself in the expression, “money makes money”.
This is not strictly true. If we, for example, were to heap a pile of sovereigns and silver in a room, it would remain the same amount for hundreds of years.
Another more popular and more insidious idea spread by the boss is that machines are the source of profit. If, again, we were to put machines and a large quantity of raw material into a factory, it would not make a profit if it remained there until doomsday.
The real source of capitalist profits lies in the unpaid labour time of the workers — that portion of the working day over and above tie time it takes the worker to produce value equal to the value of the necessities of life.
The worker under capitalism has only one thing to sell in order to live: his labour power, or ability to work. Unlike the tradesman or artisan of feudal society, (such as the bootmaker, weaver, etc) the worker of capitalism has no tools, nor could he compete with capitalism. So he is reduced to selling the one commodity he has: his labour power.
Labour power, like all other commodities, has a certain price. But price is only a monetary expression of value. It may go up or down a bit, depending on supply and demand.
The one thing common to all commodities is that they are the product of human labour. The necessities of life, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the trains in which we travel, the house in which we live, even money itself, are the products of human labour.
As human labour is the one thing common to all commodities, it is this and only this that can serve as a measure of value. So we can say that full value of a commodity is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour spent in its production.
The capitalist buys the machines and raw material necessary to start production. Then he buys the commodity labour power and puts it to work.
While this labour power is being used it creates a value greater than its own, greater than the value of food, clothing and shelter necessary to reproduce itself.
It could be that in about the first four hours of work the worker earns the necessities of life; that is, he produces value equals to these things. But he does not stop working. If he did, the boss would not make a profit. The worker must keep working right up to tile knock-off bell. It is this additional time of labour, this section of the working day for which the worker receives no remittance, that supplies the capitalist with his profit.
Division of the working day — surplus value Therefore, in a working day of eight hours, the worker labours, say, for four hours to supply himself with the necessities of life and for the remaining four hours he labours for the enrichment of the boss.
This is the source of capitalist profit. It is this fact of the unpaid section of the working day that the boss hides from the working people by all the devious means at his disposal.
He denies it when it suits him to and when he can no longer deny it he distorts it. He hires lackies and stooges for the purpose of refuting these facts and covering up his profits.
Lengthening of the working day An obvious way the capitalist sees to increase his surplus is to lengthen the working day. Supposing the working day was increased to 10 hours, it would still take, say, four hours to produce the necessities of life, but instead the boss receiving four hours surplus labour (as at present) he would receive six hours. This is why the shipping companies and their spokesmen are such good advocates of the 44-hour week. They would revert to an even longer working week if the organised strength of trade unions did not stand in their way.
Reducing necessary labour time Another way they can increase their profits is by reducing the necessary labour time (that section of the working day in which the worker produces the necessities of life). Supposing they reduced the necessary time from four hours to two hours, that would give them six hours surplus labour time of value without increasing the length of the working day.
They can achieve this reduction by the introduction of techniques, machines, etc, that speed up the process of work — by automation.
The favourite method of reducing the necessary labour time is that of speed-up. This drastically reduces the necessary part of the working day, as it does not take the workers as long to produce goods to the value of the necessities of life and again increases the surplus value for the boss.
It is obvious in the light of this why the shipping companies attacked our sling loads in court, why they wanted a return to the bull sling method of work and why they wanted eight men’s work from only six men in the ship’s hold.
The Stevedoring Industry Board’s fifth report demonstrates this point further. There was a fairly general increase in the cargo handling rate in the 1953-54 season. Yet the shipowners did not pass on to the workers any of their increased profits arising from the improved rate of handling.
Rather, they increased their demands for longer hours of work, less pay and harder working conditions.
The rate of loading of bulk wheat in the Port of Sydney increased from 293.62 tons per gang hour in 1949-50 to 422.65 tons per gang hour in 1953-54. Despite this enormous increase in the rate of loading the union had to stop the bulk wheat jobs in December 1954 to force the issue of a pint of milk, necessary because of the dirty nature of the wheat and its effects on the men’s health.
Systematic overtime threatens 44-hour week In 1948, after years of battling, the Australian workers nationally won the 40-hour week. It was a great victory indeed. But, that great achievement of militant postwar Australian unionism faced the spread of systematic overtime.
“Overtime”, said WFTU secretary Saillant, “represents another form of lengthening the working day. The recent strikes of dockers and bus men in London show how much a burden it is on workers.
“Systematic overtime leads to the same evils as did the cruelly long hours that prevailed in the past: physical deterioration and premature old age of the worker, demoralisation and stunting of young workers, and vicious effects on women workers and through them an adverse influence on home life.”
As the purchasing power of wages falls, workers are economically pressed to seek overtime. They may even feel eager for it and grateful to an employer, who is “good enough” to provide it.
Instead of fighting to restore the real value of wages, to win increases in the hourly rate and to press the demand for the seven-hour day, many workers concern themselves only with chasing overtime.
In NSW, workers in many factories abandoned strikes for margins in return for promises of regular overtime.
Throughout the 19th century there raged what Marx called “a protracted civil war” — the hours struggle between labour and capital. It still exists today.
The capitalist buys the labour power of the workers at as low a price (wages) as he can. He reasons that by working his employees for as many hours as are physically possible, he will make the most profitable use of this labour power. On the other hand, the worker who has sold his labour power is interested in short hours.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the idea of the eight-hour day gripped the imagination of workers in all capitalist countries. But the special honours went to Australia as the country that first secured eight hour-victories — in 1866 in craft unions
The capitalists these days, not content with their record profits, strive to end this wage and hour progress by pegging wage levels and lowering the purchasing power of wages. This impelled workers to look for an extra income through overtime. This economic pressure, of course, helped to undermine the workers’ freedom to accept or reject overtime as they pleased, and a number of court decisions stated conditions in which periods of overtime even became compulsory for various sections of the industry.
In 1953, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court abolished the quarterly cost of living adjustments. Gone then was the harrier that had partly shielded workers’ incomes from the postwar inflation.
It drives the workers to seek personal restoration of their “depreciated” income by accepting systematic overtime, which lengthens the working day and week, or by working incentive schemes that intensify the pace of labour.
Those who do not have been placed in the position where they now work 40 hours for 36 hours pay and thus are not receiving the fruits of the great 1917 and 1948 victories of the 40-hour week.
1847 Ten Hour Bill in Britain — the first significant limitation of hours under modern capitalism, applied first to young persons 13 to 18 years and to all females, extended from May 1, 1848, (symbolic date that first linked May Day with the hours struggle) to all other workers.
1856 Eight-hour victories for Sydney stonemasons.
February 18, 1873 “Clunes Barricade” in Victoria, mineworkers defeated police and scabs to win the principle of a half-day on Saturday without reduction of pay.
1886 Famous May Day strike in USA (May 1) for the eight hour day.
1890 First International May Day proclaimed by Second Workingmen’s International as a worldwide day of struggle for the eight-hour day.
1899 In December, NSW legislation for the early closing of shops.
WM Hughes led both the Early Closing League and the NSW Labour Party. He bartered Labour Party support to keep the Lye government in power, in return for government agreement to bring in the old age pensioners act and the early closing act. The latter bill passed through parliament in December 1899. Its effect was: 6pm closing of shops on weekdays, 1pm closing of shops on Wednesdays. 10pm closing of shops on Saturdays. Prior to this shops stayed open to 10pm on week nights and 11pm on Saturdays. Butchers and hairdressers opened on Sundays.
Later, in 1901, the Wade government was forced to grant Saturday as a half-holiday, but gave back 10pm closing on Friday nights.
During World War II, the late Friday night was ended.
1914 48-hour week recognised as the standard for most Australian industries.
1925 Fairly widespread reduction to the 44 hour week (although its extension to many sectors was slow) was retarded during the depression and was not complete until 1941.
1947 40-hour week. NSW award.
1948 Federal Arbitration Court award — 40-hour week.
History of union struggle for independence from shipowners’ domination Until the 1917 General Strike in NSW, wharfies were picked up at the wharf gates. The adopted union practice was for them to stand in a disciplined and orderly way in horseshoe shaped formation.
Union rules called for medals to be shown either on the lapel of the coat or cut into the front of a broad leather belt, which was a dress fashion of that period.
The reason for standing still during the course of the pick-up was obvious. The showing of the financial medal was to allow preference to financial members.
However, the 1917 strike badly disrupted our organisation. In July 1917, the NSW Railways Commissioner introduced an American-style time study card system at the Randwick Tramway Workshops. At a meeting of the workers it was decided that the card system be rejected by strike.
The strike quickly extended throughout the state when railwaymen, miners, seamen and waterside workers became entangled. It was estimated that altogether 100,000 workers were directly involved.
The NSW Fuller government issued a proclamation that alleged the strike had been caused by the enemies of Britain and her allies and the strikers were the dupes of the IWW.
The government claimed it was not against unionism, but said: “All unionists who volunteer for work would be accepted as unionists and would be enrolled as members of new unions to be registered under the Trade Unions Act.” The proclamation ended: “For Australia and the Allies”.
The extension of the strike was the culmination of general discontent over the continuance of the war and the unemployment and hardship suffered by the people.
When the wharfies became involved through solidarity action, the shipowners brought “loyalists” to break the strike.
The union leadership was confused and disunited. The Sydney branch after 10 weeks was defeated. When things settled down after the strike there was established three pick-up bureaux for the Port of Sydney.
The waterfront labour force was then divided as follows:
Group 1. Members of Sydney Wharf Labourers Union (Branch WWF).
Group 2. Members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union.
Group 3. Non-unionists.
Group 1 worked out of a bureau in Erskine Lane. It was a clock rotary engagement for Sydney branch members seeking interstate work.
The bureau was run by the employers. To gain entry or registration on the roster it was necessary to be recommended by two stevedoring companies.
A bureau number was then issued in the form of an employer’s metal disc.
The manager for the owners was the sole controller of the future of the disc and appeal against any penalty was only to that person.
The pick-up allocator stood on a rostrum and commencing each day from No 1 called the numbers in batches of 200 at a time in numerical order.
Men then went through races to meet the clerk of the company wanting their labour. They then went to the job to be placed for work. There were charges of corruption against the allocation.
The first 1000 numbers were those of the “early birds” (men who stood solid through the strike, but panicked and registered before the official registering time declared by the union). They got first call each day by way of reward.
The members continuously protested against this and eventually forced the numbers to be reorganised for fairer treatment for all.
Any overflow of work went to the WWF men who had no bureau disc and were engaged by the companies at the gate.
“Erskine Lane” was closed after about eight years of operation.
The Returned Soldiers’ Preference Act never operated on interstate work.
Group 2, the “Loyalists” were housed at Taronga Park, Circular Quay, 211 Kent Street (the Model Lodging House), No 1 Wharf, Walsh Bay and the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The first port workers’ amenities were built to accommodate them. They were conveyed under police protection to their job and worked under weekly pay conditions.
The “loyalists” were called “sixty pounders” because of the fact that the Fuller government gave £60 reward to each for their “loyal” service to break the strike for the shipowners.
When the strike was over and things got back to normal, “loyalists” were put into a bureau in Vinegar Lane, Millers Point.
This bureau was controlled by the shipowners and the men inside were constant hands on a weekly wage of £3/1/6d. (State Award, November 12, 1917).
They were then hired out to the overseas stevedoring companies (for a profit) at the higher casual hourly rate.
“Loyalists” formed an organisation named the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers” Union. It was registered on December 4, 1917 (federal registration was in July 1927).
Group 3 were returned soldiers who got their status from the NSW State Preference to Returned Soldiers and Sailors Act, which was brought into force to secure employment for returning servicemen. The government set them up in the Coal Lumpers’ Hall, Millers Point, a State Labour Bureau.
Admittance to this engagement bureau was for waterside workers or any others providing they could show their serviceman’s discharge.
They were issued with a disc that was blue and inscribed SLB for roster purposes.
The members of the WWF Sydney branch received no benefit from this roster since their numbers commenced at 5000, and this tactic eventually forced the WWF men out of the centres, because the roster rarely got to them. Like the Sussex Street Employers’ bureau it started from No 1 each day.
When they got going, the state bureau of the soldiers shared the deep-sea work to the extent of 50 per cent with the Vinegar Lane scab bureau.
In 1918, the soldiers formed themselves into the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Ship and Wharf Workers Union, NSW.
It was granted state registration in January 1919.
Its constitution covered all returned sailors and soldiers, including rejected volunteers and demobilised men employed or usually employed loading or discharging berthed or unberthed vessels, on or about wharves and in wharf sheds or stores.
Struggle for unity and work The non-disc WWF men depended on getting a job at the gate or on a job thrown over the fence of either of the three bureaux. Poor strike tactics and disunity had landed them in a nice pickle and the fightback for work preference was hard.
The Austral Stevedoring Company, Napiers and other small independent operations picked up WWF men at the gate.
The returned soldiers’ authorities challenged Austral in court for violation of the Returned Soldiers’ Preference Act, because Foreman R (Brother Dick) McCready employed WWF men at the gate instead of requisitioning for returned soldiers.
Mr George Carr, Austral Company manager, was taken to court and prosecuted for violation of the State Preference Act. The prosecution was defeated through failure to actually identify a non-returned soldier, for apparently those with servicemen’s discharges passed them from one to another when the check was being made. “Brother Dick” continued to engage waterside workers.
He was presented with a gold watch by Brisbane branch for his firm stand in employing only locked-out WWF men after the 1928 strike.
There were thousands of petty squabbles over preference and bureau discs.
Every time members of the branch assembled in union meetings there were strong demands to open up the strike again.
The shipowners had made a mess of their 1917 showdown policy and by 1925 were ready to acknowledge defeat. The Seamens Union and the South Australian Labour Council were also making things very uncomfortable for the shipowners and the Stanley Bruce government, through a black ban on certain ships.
The owners, fearing another general strike, agreed in Sydney in December 1924 to wind up the bureaux providing the black ban was lifted. WM Hughes, a member of the Bruce government, had also set out to negotiate and make peace with the WWF. He was behind the move to send Sydney branch official Barney Mullins to Melbourne in 1925 to approach the federal committee of management of the WWF.
Mullins succeeded and the bureaux were closed. The wind-up of the Returned Soldiers Union in 1925 was described by the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Most of the executive officers of the Returned Soldiers Waterside Workers Union with the majority of the members of that body joined the WWF during the week-end.
“This action means that the Returned Soldiers Bureau ceases to function as a potent maritime body and consequently restores peace on the waterfront.
“When their action for the prosecution of a stevedoring company (the Austral case) for breach of the Returned Soldiers Preference Act failed, the men considered the ‘game was up’ as one of them put it and resolved to link up with the federation.
“At the invitation of the committee of management a large body of returned men assembled at the federation’s rooms in Day Street early on Saturday morning.
“They filed into the meeting hall and submitted their names for admission before a large body of federation men who crowded the hall.
“With the exception of two or three men whose applications were set aside for further investigation, all those who presented themselves, totalling about 200, were admitted.
“‘We have made an honourable capitulation,’ said Mr W Duffy, returned soldiers’ leader, when admitted to the federation on Saturday.
“‘We have no hestitation in joining the federation because we now see that the union of the two bodies must be to the mutual benefit of both parties. The federation is extending to us its protection on conditions with which we are perfectly satisfied. “‘Our recent police court case (the Austral Case) has shown that we cannot expect preference by virtue of the fact that we are returned soldiers. We will no longer look for it, but are quite content to take our chance with the rest.’”
Abolition of the disc was a great relief to all. It was a constant irritant even to politicians called upon to use political influences in the struggle to get a disc.
The union waged over a period of seven years a fierce, unrelenting struggle before it succeeded in abolishing both disc and bureau systems. Shipowners were always uneasy because of the continuing moves for a further strike to end it.
During the whole of this period, an ugly and inflammable situation existed on the Sydney waterfront.
The relationship between the men was unfitted for Australian unionism and I hope it will never occur again.
To give some picture of this dark era, here is a tragic plea of a victimised member of the union. It is a letter I found on the union files.
Thursday, November 16, 1917
To the secretary, executive and members, Sydney Wharf Labourers’ Union
“I must place my position before you which compelled me to take the steps I have taken. I went through both bureaux on October 30. My Green Card was taken off me and statement given to Mr Woods on the action of the Bureau.
“Firstly, I am, as most of you know, an IWW, which debars me from getting on any wharf and getting a job in any government department, also from getting a job through the Government Labour Exchanges or Public Service, for the card signing would put me away by the address.
“They consider the applications and send for you when a position is vacant. Fellow members, I have tried numerous places in the hope of getting a day’s work but without success.
“Wheat agents and brokers, AWU stores along Sussex Street, I went so far as to try to get a disc through the scab union, but known up there I had to get out.
“I have been challenged by the police ‘are you working’ — the Vagrant Act. Then six months gaol for being an IWW. The only food in the house was a bit of bread when I left home this morning and an extension of gas bill which I enclose not paid.
“About 300 men stood at the Gas Works gate this morning and 32 were engaged after card system and third degree had been gone through. Name, address, where you worked last, how long. He walked us through the gas works to their wharf. Shovel coal, drive winches, work 8¾ hours per day, 48 hours per week, two shillings to three shillings wages — 10 shillings and threepence in the gas yard.
“We never got the chance of choice. I know I am working detrimental to the coal lumpers, but read this letter, which I swear every word of it is true.
“Have I not been driven to something? I knocked off work Wednesday, August 7. Had one coupon 15 shillings. First job November 16 — 14 weeks later.
“I have a wife and three youngsters that would have had no supper only for Jack Gavin (4557) sending his wife with a parcel of groceries and a few shillings. The men who are working the coal are all local trade unionists and foreigners and one returned soldier.
“In conclusion, fellow members, if you think I am not worthy to retain my medal (5816) then I know.
“This is the hardest blow that has ever fallen on me … mentally.
“Yours, George B
“PS — Please show my letter to all who come up to curse me.”
The road back to unity By 1925 the bureaux were all closed. The WWF had absorbed all licensed men excepting six who refused to come in. Another two men were rejected by the union members.
These eight men carried on the P&, which built to above 100 members, until it was absorbed by Sydney branch on October 12, 1950. After the closure of the bureaux, Waterside Workers, P&, and snipers offered for work at the wharf gates.
The WWF had preference of work, wharf by wharf.
The outsiders (snipers) would stand back at the gate until the WWF men were all used. If there was not sufficient labour at the gates, the foreman had no other alternative but to wait for men to come along from other wharves.
WWF, P& and snipers shared the work in the intra-state.
In 1923 our membership was 3628. In 1926 (after absorption of P& and returned soldiers) it was 5093. In the boom years immediately preceding the 1929 crisis, the union was not seriously bothered by snipers, but when the crisis did come, and the unemployed army began to grow, more men naturally came around the wharves and many complaints arose of award breaches by foremen giving work to non-federation friends. Because of this Judge Beeby in the Arbitration Court in 1932 threatened to grant preference if it continued.
This union went to the trouble to prove many cases, but the judge did not come to light with his promise or take any steps to protect the union men’s rights to the work.
The court failed to handle the position, so the members resorted to violence and set about to bash the non-unionists and drive them away from the wharves. Riots occurred in 1936 and were mainly based on Pyrmont wharves after more than 100 members met in Wentworth Park, Glebe, and carried a decision and plan of action to bash the snipers off the waterfront.
Many responsible members, including myself, opposed this type of action and advocated establishment of central pick-up places as a remedy for the situation.
However, the riots did occur and while it drove the outsiders from the waterfront for a day or two, they eventually shifted back in even greater numbers. We intensified the campaign for central pick-ups.
Gate pick-ups abolished In December 1937, men walked off a Japanese ship at No 19 Wharf, Pyrmont, after refusing to load tin clippings to Japan.
Many attempts were directed toward getting the ban lifted. However, the government did not succeed until May 25, 1938, when a stopwork meeting, after bitter debate, lifted the ban by majority decision. This decision was helped by threats of the Lyons government to impose the “Dog Collar Act” and a promise from WM Hughes, a minister of the government, that we would be rewarded with central pick-up places if we lifted the ban.
The campaign for central pick-ups met strong opposition within the membership. Genuine fears existed in the men’s minds that they might turn out to be bureaux with discs.
The death of a WWF member, killed by a lorry while facing a pick-up gate in Sussex Street, plus the tin clipping dispute, promises of the federal government and a push from the Police Traffic Department, which was out to remove the congestion wharf gate pick-ups caused, finally gave us enough weight to win the decision.
Another factor was the admittance of the 800 new members. The minds of these men were not scarred by the 1917-26 disc history, and they saw how foolish it was to chase about so many pick-ups in all sorts of weather in competition with the snipers.
Agreement with the owners was finally reached for four pick-up centres, and adopted by a stopwork meeting on August 31, 1938.
This altered the position of the snipers, who then congregated outside of our four pick-up centres for the overflow of work.
All work had to go through the centres, with waterside workers getting first preference and the snipers, caught up in the degrading system of second preference, got what was left over (if any).
The position and feelings of those men is very correctly described in Maritime Worker, April 1954.
Rattle The Pea, Remember? By J.S.
A recent issue of Maritime Worker, March 15, 1954, featured the 11th anniversary of the burial of the hideous, brutal bull system on the Sydney waterfront.
You old hands rattle the pea in the memory maker,” said the article.
Rattle the pea — remember?
May the pea rattle forever, may it never stop its tremulous quavers in the minds of the men who tramped the Hungry Mile (Sussex Street) in the bull gang days and searched for work but failed to get it.
May it go on rattling to remind them that the degrading cruel system is dead — buried — but not forgotten.
Rattle the pea — remember?
Yes, the pea in my memory, dormant, almost suffocated under the moss of steady wages, a few comforts and economic promises rattled.
Like an Aladdin’s Lamp in reverse, it rattled and lighted the past. A ghastly frightening past of men at times fighting and tearing each other’s clothes off in sweaty jungle-like scuffles for a starting docket to earn 23 shillings for a day’s work on the wharves.
That was the Bull System.
Rattle the pea and look back and see.
Hundreds of men, the lines of fear, pain and anguish etched in their tired faces, walking disappointed and dispiritedly up the street.
They had missed out on a ticket in the shipowners’ slave market style pick-up.
Drifting up the “street” their fingers clutching and toying with the few pence in their pockets.
’Garn — they only pick up the big blokes, but I’ve got a wife and kids. Gee what’s a man gunner do?”
The stretch along Sussex Street was called the Hungry Mile by the wharfies … a very apt title indeed, as expressed by the resentful wharfies in such poems as this:
The Hungry Mile
They tramp there in their legions on the morning dark and cold.
To beg the right to slave for bread from Sydney’s lords of gold;
They toil and sweat in slavery, ’twould make the devil smile,
To see the Sydney wharfies tramping down the Hungry Mile.
On ships from all the seas they toil, that others of their kind,
May never know the pinch of want nor feel the misery blind;
That makes the lives of men a hell in those conditions vile;
That are the hopeless lot of those who tramp the Hungry Mile.
The slaves of men who know no thought of anything but gain,
Who wring their brutal profits from the blood and sweat and pain
Of all the disinherited that slave and starve the while.
Upon the ships beside the wharves along the hungry mile.
But every stroke of that grim lash that sears the sods of men
With interest due from years gone by, shall be paid back again
To those who drive these wretched slaves to build the golden pile.
And blood shall blot the memory out — of Sydney’s Hungry Mile.
The day will come, aye, come it must, when these same slaves shall all rise,
And through the revolution’s smoke, ascending to the skies,
The master’s face shall show the fear he hides behind his smile,
Of these his slaves, who on that day shall storm the Hungry Mile.
And when the world grows wiser and all men at last are free,
When none shall feel the hunger nor tramp in misery
To beg the right to slave for bread, the children then may smile,
At those strange tales they tell of what was once the Hungry Mile.
Bull system defeated In April 1942, the Stevedoring Industry Commission was established. It commenced registration of all waterside workers by its local body, the Sydney Ports Committee, in June 1942.
The register for the Port of Sydney was completed and announced on August 5, 1942, to be:
WWF: 4201 All of whom were over 25 years of age.
P&: 331 It had suddenly increased from a membership of 100 because it gave exemption from manpower and army to members over 25 years of age.
Snipers: 937 Unselected reserves and not required by army or manpower.
Reserves: 647 Selected able-bodied snipers who were housed on the top floor of Sussex Street WWF pick-up and operated off a roster.
The manpower check in chapter three shows that quite a number of the protected men were not following the industry.
Manpower authorities got a bright idea. They manned the turnstiles of the pick-up centres. They had clerks with shirt sleeves rolled up waiting to register all admittances and note those who went out without accepting a job. The scheme was a clever one, but for the fact that no wharfie at all would go while they were there.
On the March 28, 1943, the Rotary Scheme was born it in the heat of fierce inner-union struggle. The day before, Sunday, a rank and file opposition meeting was held at Leichhardt Stadium. The fact that more than 3000 men attended this meeting in defiance of the union proved the high feelings that existed. The meeting led to a 16-day strike against the new system.
The battle to end the bull system is unsurpassed in the history of Australian unionism. It created a conflict of such heat that only those who participated in it will remember, and there was enough drama and activity for a dozen sensational Yankee films.
Foolishly, party political bias developed. The minds of the members were seriously disturbed by rumour of more speed-up, longer hours, of industrial conscription and the fear of being ordered away to other ports for the war effort, as was the case with other unionists for the Civil Construction Corps, under Commonwealth Manpower control.
Wild and dangerous rumours dominated commonsense discussions. It is little wonder that members got into such a state of apprehension at the suggestion of this great reform.
Paradoxically, the struggle was the foundation of a unity that we are vain enough to say is a model for other unions.
Of course, that outcome was not seen by most of the forces locked in that historic waterfront struggle. I retain vivid memories of the mass criticism of my attempt to get members to throw the bull system into the gutter where it belonged at one of the April 1943 Leichhardt Stadium hot meetings, by quoting Karl Marx’s wise viewpoint: “Capital is concentrated social power while the worker has only his individual labour power at his disposal. Therefore the agreement between capital and labour can never be just. The only social force possessed by the workers is their numerical strength. This force, however, is impaired by the absence of unity. The lack of unity among the workers is caused by the inevitable competition among themselves and is maintained by it.”
Members who did not on that day in April 1943 agree with that have realised since its profound sense. We worked frantically. The wharfies were flooded with leaflets. Gradually our support increased, and after the fifth meeting the voting got closer. There were near-riots at the sixth packed Leichhardt Stadium strike meeting when the chairman (me) declared a motion for return to work carried. It is still claimed by some critics to be the worst decision ever given in that stadium.
However, we were encouraged by the better vote and called on the WWF federal committee of management to test the position by a secret ballot. This was taken on April 11 and counted that night.
Crowds had assembled outside the union to hear the result at 9.30pm.
Then the rights started when the result turned out to be 110 in favour of work under the Rotary Scheme. Work was duly resumed on April 13, but the heat of the feelings cooled only slowly.
The new system brought organisation to the supply and control of labour during the critical stages of the anti-fascist war. It therefore served a cause primary to all.
Unfortunately for us leaders, time did not heal the sores quickly enough. We polled poorly at the July elections, and went back on the hook. At the declaration of that poll, my old friend and comrade, Stanley Moran informed the large audience present: “Say what they like about us, but no one can deny it, in a short while we have taken this waterfront and turned it upside down.”
Our opposition, true to their pre-election pledge, went to a stopwork meeting and moved to end the scheme. Our speeches of opposition won deafening cheers. We felt happy, for at last wharfies were with us in our struggle against the Bull System.
There is no doubt that the advent of the Gang Rotary Scheme in March 1943 brought an independence to the union and this naturally commenced an upsurge of militancy that allowed the members to freely voice their opinion on the job and the demand for better working conditions without the fear of victimisation.
Before the Gang Rotary Scheme, members were opponents for the job. But with rotary this competition was done away with. In its place a feeling of comradeship, friendliness and unity commenced to grow and is still progressing. Is it not now a fact that at every stopwork meeting in the last few years, the federation’s policy has been brought forward and adopted almost unanimously?
There is overwhelming unity for the main decisions and policy and only minor opposition on the smaller issues.
This democratic working out of policy at union meetings is resulting in improved conditions. Above all, democracy has been developed in our organisation beyond that experienced by other workers. Rank and file movements are encouraged and are coming into force and sharing the vast responsibility of the implementation of our active union policy.
In 1943, we went through the experience of a great struggle in which good policy triumphed. Many good leaders developed. Therein lies the value that struggle for good union policy brings to a working-class movement such as ours.
The proof of our policy was clear when on September 25, 1946, the Sydney branch admitted to membership the snipers. Thus another step was made towards unity.
In October 1950 the P& was absorbed into the Sydney branch and for the first time in the history of the Sydney waterfront all waterside workers were covered by a single union — the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia.
Waterfront Discipline Except during the years of the bureaux, 1917-25, when there was it licence control, the employers would exercise their discipline on the job, but once having sacked a man, that man was free to offer for work at other gates.
The company, of course, could keep the chap in mind for the future and they would even warn other stevedores about him. This method of discipline could only be effective in hard times and then only partially.
Even then “bulls” could get free from a “casual employer” to be on offer for their regular employer when required, by deliberately bringing about the sack.
So there was no sincerity in the industry discipline exercised by the owners.
The employers were often responsible for undermining of the union’s attempts to prevent wrongful movement of men from job to job by indulging in illegal trafficking of “bulls” to suit their own ends or meet the request of other companies for early release of “bulls” for new jobs starting.
To have a job unexpectedly taken from them at the critical moment by the sudden appearance at the pick-up of “bulls” who, everyone had calculated, were safely held by some other job, was a serious matter for men battling for enough to buy the necessities of life.
Company “bulls” were under some obligation to wait for the ships of their particular company, but some who could get fill-in work elsewhere got free of this work by organising their own dismissal.
This also applied to men wishing to get away from difficult and obnoxious or short jobs to obtain better work.
The owners were quite unwilling and incapable of controlling this position. In boom periods such as 1927-29 and again after 1937, the disciplinary power of the employer, which only amounted to the blacklist, reacted against the stevedoring companies and was a failure.
Drunkenness was not an offence in the eyes of the boss, provided the member worked like a slave and gave no cheek about the conditions.
Waterside workers when the labour position was in their favour also used to blacklist companies or particular employers in retaliation for some past ill treatment, and would rather go without than face up there.
Most every waterside worker had such a grouch and the boss was powerless to do anything about this situation. Such was the weakness of the “bull” discipline.
It was a disastrous handicap to the industry attempting to serve the war effort.
Employer discipline: blacklist and police court action Some 25 years back a gang of us refused an order of the Union Co to come back after the breakfast break for four hours, after doing a “dark-un” (24-hour shift). We got no work at all in the next few months. Only because of the scarcity of work could there be such a waterfront blacklist organised against us.
Later, when work was more plentiful the blacklist was ineffective, and in 1940 with some workmates we were fined £2 with eight shillings costs at the Central Police Court for refusing to work on after completing 18 hours.
Before the gang rotary system, in the protracted labour shortage, the employers had practically lost all control over the position.
The SIC, when it came, tried to take the initiative first with suspensions, by using power under the legislation to temporarily suspend the registration of a wharfie for a period and to hold him off work as penalty.
The wharfies resisted by stopping the pick-up and saying we will serve the suspensions with our mates.
Then monetary fines were tried. In August 1943, members were fined by the Port Committee) for refusing to truck seven cases of fruit at Huddart Packers. The branch sharply opposed this with protest strike action and a successful legal challenge.
Only the union can properly govern waterfront discipline Since 1946, the union has taken the responsibility more and more. The union acts with great responsibility and effect because the form of discipline is self-imposed and has this great democratic principle to ensure its success.
Today the Sydney branch members are extremely well-conducted and in personal behaviour are a good example to all.
Thus for the first time in the history of the port, the fluctuations of boom or crisis have little bearing on the attitude of men to the job.
Yet in spite of this, the press and union opponents would make out that the waterside workers are lawless people.
The union members respect their own discipline committee and use it as a means of settling financial and other differences between each other. The committee, of working members of the executive, is traditionally referred to as the Deadly Seven.
They stand for election by secret ballot in which voting is compulsory. Because of the fact that these committeemen have to, and do, obtain above 3000 votes to gain election, proves in itself that the majority of members are men desiring strong union discipline.
Firm and fearless discipline brings the committeemen greater respect and increases their voting strength.
Invariably we find that after taking in a batch of new members, we have discipline trouble with some of them.
Many of them come to the waterfront believing the press propaganda that it is a happy hunting ground for lawlessness or irresponsibility.
An example was the Nyora case (James Patrick's) of April 1954, when a gang (all new members) behaved very badly, using violence. The press, anxious to defame the union, gave it real headlines and presented the brawl in such a way as to make it the responsibility of the WWF membership.
Nine of these men were promptly expelled by the union, which handled it quickly and efficiently. These men made a strong appeal to some 5000 men at a Leichhardt Stadium stopwork meeting in June 1954.
When it came to the vote, not 20 men present voted for the appeal of the Nyora men to be upheld.
There is now no place for bashing or stand over tactics on the Sydney Waterfront. The union will not tolerate. it. The position is perhaps best stated by a member who, in appreciation said: “Even a little skinny bloke like me can, at any time on the waterfront, frankly state his views with no fear in his mind of getting knocked down.”
On the other hand, shipowners protect bashers of waterside workers. For example, when a member civilly asked a foreman to tell the truth to a port inspector inquiring into an argument, the foreman punched him.
Managers of the company (North Coast S Co) were present and backed up the foreman in a defence alibi that the wharfie had made another remark — a more offensive one and therefore they asserted that the foreman was entitled to knock him down.
This was easily proved to be a frame-up.
Neither the company or the ASIB took any disciplinary action against the foreman.
The ASIB sent labour to the company on the succeeding days, but none of the waterside workers would work when the foreman appeared on the job.
Ultimately, the Foreman Stevedores’ Association acted to break the deadlock and withdrew the foreman from the job and fined him £10.
The shipowners concerned made every effort to get the foreman off scoot-free, even to the extent of having their ships held up for a few days.
In the Serina case, employers once again stood by their foreman after he had committed the most brutal and unprovoked attack on a waterside worker — the union delegate.
The men refused to continue work with the foreman. The job was held up when the Central Company took no action against the foreman.
An inquiry was held on Monday, March 14, 1949.
The employers’ representatives at the inquiry carried on like criminal lawyers.
Secretary of the Central Committee of the shipowners, Mr C Dillon had this to say: “I agree with Mr Nelson that a foreman should be above that sort of thing and he should not get into an argument, but he is only human. There were very heated words. He is a fool, but I admire a man who will stand up against abuse. I admire them for having it out man to man. In this case the delegate may have been cooler and the foreman may have been a bit hot … It was a fight between two men, they brought it on themselves.”
The union now effectively deals with bashers.
If the foreman is objectionable in his approach to members, the matter is handled on an industrial, not on a personal, basis.
Members are warned against taking any other action of a personal character, for such action will achieve little and probably get them into deeper trouble.
Correct tactics based on industrial action will end any fear of intimidation returning to the Sydney waterfront.
Shipowners’ discipline of poultry farmers In the 1957 freight increases announced by the shipowners there was hue and cry of protests from all quarters in Australia.
The leader of the poultry farmers’ organisation refused to sign the AOTA agreement granting a 14 per cent increase.
The shipowners exercised their autocratic discipline by promptly informing the leader of the poultry farmers’ organisation that their protests had been noted and in future they would pay a further 15 per cent increase, making a total increase of 24 per cent on their products for export on the overseas market.
Suspension of registrations There is no possibility of waterside workers ever accepting stevedoring board or authority suspensions, and whenever they are imposed feeling runs high on the waterfront, usually resulting in a mass clamour for retaliation by strike.
The imposition of suspensions is most foolish and the prime cause (excepting rain) of most lost hours in the port of Sydney.
It is a bureaucratic method that will not be tolerated by the federation, no more than the dairy farmers would have the milk board suspending the acceptance of their products.
The stated objective of the statutory authority is to behead the struggles of the wharfies, even though history shows that is was only by struggle they fought their way out of the brutal and inhuman conditions of the past.
No one can deny that each and every condition now enjoyed had to be obtained by struggle and the records show that there was never any chance of getting such an authority on side with any of the battles against injustice for which the union has won world acclaim.
What benefit would there be in it for Australia if the ASIA succeeded with its objective of disarming us before the international shipping combines that we write about in this booklet?
The official records show that for the 24 months from July 1953 to June 1955 in Sydney port, 32,038 hours were lost in job struggle in which the ASIB did not intrude.
Where it did intrude, it caused a loss of 365,905 man hours by suspensions.
The wharfies are an advanced, well-disciplined united working class force. It is obvious they are capable and prepared to administer discipline in the only practical way.
Yet the owners and the authority will continue the fight for as much control as they can get, to take away from the union its independence.
The Australian Overseas Transport Association (AOTA).
Prepared in co-operation with Rupert Lockwood, associate editor of the Maritime Worker.
Maritime trade and piracy in olden times went hand in hand. The modern shipowners have maintained the pirate traditions of their forebears.
The late WM Hughes in forthright speeches often declared that the shipowners never ceased being pirates.
Hughes was prime minister of Australia and apparently his views coincided with those of another, more noted, statesman, the prime minister of England, William Ewart Gladstone.
Dr W Maloney, in the federal parliament (then meeting in Melbourne) on September 28, 1916, quoted Gladstone:
“Loathing and hating the Prussians as I do, I say they are open enemies and vile as they are, the enemies within our gates are equally vile.” Lord Tollemache, in his chats with Gladstone, when discussing with that gentleman the chances of war with Germany, said Dr Maloney, “asked him whether he thought that if the shipping companies of the United Kingdom were asked by the Germans to land an enemy force in Great Britain they would do so”, and Mr Gladstone replied that he believed the shipping companies would for the sake of lucre, agree to land enemies in the Port of Heaven. They have justified Mr Gladstone’s view of them and it is time that the government seized their profits;” concluded Dr Maloney.
Shipping cartel. Wealth sucked out of Australia each year by overseas bondholders and investors is much less than the tribute exacted by the Shipping Conference, the cartel that embraces British, Continental, Japanese and other companies carrying cargoes to and from Australian ports.
Freights charged by the Shipping Conference on Australia’s imports increased to £103 million in the 1955-56 financial year, from £88 million in the 1954-55 financial year.
Other overseas interests that draw wealth from Australia — bondholders, investors, owners of subsidiary companies and collectors of royalty payments on patented manufactured products took £72 million in 1955-56.
The Shipping Conference impost on Australia’s imports trade is greater than all other foreign investors combined can draw from the labour, resources and commerce of the commonwealth.
Shipping Conference tribute does not, of course, end with imports. Export freights are borne directly by the overseas buyer but they represent an indirect impost — sometimes almost a crippling one on the Australian economy.
For instance, when buyers bid for wool in the Australian market they have to reduce the bid by the amount of freight they will be charged to ship the wool to overseas markets. Australian wheat is sold at the International Wheat Agreement price, and the return to Australian producers and handlers is less freight. While the wheat price is fixed, the freights are not. Against the Shipping Conference, which raised freights to exorbitant levels, can be charged some of the national loss represented by unsold and expensively stored wheat. In the same way, financial losses in other export trades, like dried, fresh and canned fruits, meat and butter, can be partly charged against the freight-inflating Shipping Conference, and much of the remainder against the suicidal policies of a government subservient to the maritime transport cartel.
Assault on workers Obviously, when one economic group exploits this country more ruthlessly than all other foreign exploiters combined, attention has to be paid to it — to its structure.
Exposure and defeat of the Shipping Conference is particularly necessary to the labour movement, because too often has the shipping cartel been the backer of governments sponsoring violent assaults on Australian trade unions.
Dog Collar Acts and stevedoring industry amendments, with all their denials of human rights, have been spawned by the cartel. The shipowners’ strike-breaking methods have usually outstripped in brutality those of other employers. They constantly turn the waterfront into a storm centre through their arrogance and greed. They keep wages and margins low and get away with filthy “amenities” that would bring Health Department prosecutions to any factory owners so neglecting elementary needs.
Rise of monopoly Shipping gave rise to cartels long before chemicals, steel, rubber, tin and other industries. A highly organised shipping industry had developed long before the Industrial Revolution; it provided the foundation for international commerce, colonial expansion and opening of new lands.
The Hanseatic League, a pre-Industrial Revolution association of North German merchants and shipowners, is regarded as one of the earliest shipping conferences. The Hanseatic League and similar early maritime combinations could not withstand free competition. Sailing ships required little capital to build and operate, and hosts of independent shipowners and owner-skippers sent their windjammers on the trade routes. The steamer, which could to a great extent beat the weather and maintain regular sailings, required bigger capital. In slack times of cut-throat competition, small owners of steamers were swallowed. The companies grew bigger and freed from the competition of a horde of small operators, could form cartels to fix fares, freight schedules, ports of call and cargo quotas. The modern conference has as its main object maximum profit through elimination of services and restriction of competition.
Australia in their grip British shipowners, first steamship operators, founded the type of conference that plagues Australia today and then admitted foreign lines to the cartel provided that they were prepared to accept a minimum share of the maximum profit. Australia, from its foundation nearly 170 years ago, has been hampered by shipping monopoly. The East India Co, with which the banking house of Baring Bros was then associated, included Australia in its royal charter monopoly. The EI Co so neglected the colony’s needs that early settlers had to break the law by trading with American merchant adventurers. Peninsular and Oriental Co took over from the declining and inefficient East India Co in eastern seas more than 100 years ago, extended from India to Australia and became the first major mail contractor. The Barings, shorn of much of their former power and protected from past ill repute by lordly titles like Northbrook, Revelstoke and Ashburton, have present-day association with Cunard.
Actual tie-ups Cunard and P& (Orient) are the two combines that lead the conference regulating trade. P&0, senior of the two, owns British India, Orient, Union, New Zealand Shipping, Australasian United (AUSN), McDonald Hamilton and others, and links up closely with Ellerman and Runciman shipping interests. Sir John Ellerman is one of P&’s largest shareholders; Lord Runciman, whose father was president of the Board of Trade and the notorious Chamberlain government emissary who blackmailed the 1938 Czechoslovak government into accepting Munich surrenders, is a P& director.
P& directors come from the top flights of the imperial ruling class. Lord Inchcape organised with Lord Kylsant, later jailed as a swindler, and Stanley Melbourne Bruce, then Australian prime minister, the betrayal of the old Commonwealth Line. Bruce got his reward for this and for his 1928 Dog Collar Act assault on watersiders, which included use of batons and bullets. As Lord Bruce he sits beside Lord Inchcape on P& and British India boards.
Inchcape is one of the world’s biggest tea magnates, directing a long list of Indian and Ceylon plantations and profiting from high freight as well as high prices.
Sir William Currie, P& chairman, learned to handle waterfront labour as sheriff of Calcutta. A top pukka sahib in India, he is or was on the Suez Canal Co board; he directs Marine Insurance, Royal Bank of Scotland and several stevedoring companies, and held government shipping posts in wartime. The Andersons of the P&-Orient boards had an ancestor among the founding fathers of the P& group. Another director, the Hon John Simon is the son of Lord Simon, who was notorious for his support of Japanese aggression in Manchuria. Viscount Bledisloe, former governor general of New Zealand, directs P&, British India, Lloyds Bank, Union Shipping Co and New Zealand Shipping Co. He is on the London board of Australian Mutual Provident Society (AMP), Australia’s largest insurance firm. Sir John Hathorn Hall comes to P& from holding down colonial peoples in Africa and the Arab Middle East; Adam Denzil Marris represents P& on the English, Scottish and Australian Bank board; he is also with the powerful Barclays Bank and Commercial Union Assurance. AO Lang comes from the Hongkong Legislative Council; Lord Huntingfield was recruited to the P& group from Government House in Victoria.
The story of Cunard is the same as that of P&0. Cunard directors and shareholders represent the leading forces in British and imperial finance. Cunard owns Port Line and Brocklebank Ltd and is tied up with Furness, Withy and Co (owner of Shaw Sevin and others), Elder Dempster Royal Mail Price Line and many more. Cunard directors are on the boards of Australian and New Zealand banks, Martins and Midland banks, and insurance companies prominent in marine underwriting. One Cunard chief, the Hon David Bowes Lyon, is a brother of Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, better known as the Queen Mother (she travels by Cunard). The Hon David’s mother is a Cavendish Bentinck, a family powerful in imperial politics. The Hon David Bowes Lyon is on the board of the London Times, semi-official voice of British imperialism, and Dunlop Rubber Co, which Lord Baillieu of Collins House, Melbourne, also directs. The Bates and Bowring families, big Cunard shareholders, are out of the top county drawer. Sir John Brocklebank and Sir Percy Furness look after Brocklebank and Furness Withy sectors; JA Holt brings another well-known shipping name to Cunard.
There is hardly a major British insurance company operating in Australia that is not a Cunard shareholder.
Lord Inverclyde, descendant of a Cunard founder, Sir George Burns, is still on the Cunard share list. His friend, Lord Inverforth, head of the “Hungry Weirs” of Glasgow, runs the Bank Line, carrier to Australia of lamp black, a filthy cargo for which drum containers have been refused and which could have been produced at Glen Davis.
Maximum profits are made These are some of the men for whom Australians provide fantastic sums each year for freights, cargo and ship insurance and profit. So profitable is shipping that the Shipping Conference leaders build more formidable defences against competition than some of the more notorious cartelists, like Imperial Chemicals, IG Farben, du Pont and Standard Oil.
First, conference members fix freights at levels that ensure high profits. If cargo space is short, there is nothing to stop conference members charging more. They are bound only to charge the minimum.
The conference fixes routes on which members should sail, and often decides the number of sailings per year on particular routes and ports of call.
There are many types of pooling arrangements for cargo and passengers. For instance, P&-Orient has a virtual monopoly of England-Australia passenger traffic, with a few fares left to Shaw Savill, Scandinavians, French, Dutch and others. P&-Orient gets the cream of mail subsidies.
Deferred rebates are a major instrument of monopoly control. A shipper who uses conference lines exclusively gets a rebate at the end of a certain period, say six months, if he establishes that he has not shipped by any independent line. If not, he loses the rebate, a large sum. The rebate is usually not paid until three or six months after due date, so that any shipper using a non-conference carrier would lose rebates for both past and current periods.
A historian of the Commonwealth Line, Mr DJ Amos, wrote: “When the Victorian government booked a certain amount of space on the commonwealth ship Bulls, the conference refused to pay them the rebates due to them on goods shipped during the half year ended June 30, 1919, and the Commonwealth Fleet reimbursed the Victorian government for its losses.”
Competition squashed If there is so much profit in Australia-UK-Europe trade, why don’t enterprising capitalists move in with independent lines? The conference looks after that. When independents muscle in on conference rackets on various world routes the “fighting ships” are called out. Conference members combine to pay the cost of “fighting ships”, which run on the same routes around the same times as the cheeky independents. The “fighting ships” reduce freights to below those of the rate-cutting independents, and take away cargoes that would have gone to the independents. Thus, the independents are driven away with empty holds. Losses on the “fighting ships” are shared and are small compared with the profits the cartel is safeguarding against competition. Any independent company or group defying the conference might have trouble hiring stevedoring facilities, because even stevedoring firms not directly controlled by the conference depend on conference patronage.
Most devastating is the boycott. Independents can rarely provide regular services. Shippers who use independent adventurers will find, when their next shipment has to be moved and there is no independent around, that the conference carriers have boycotted them.
The arrogant conference chiefs even employed boycott against the Commonwealth government and its customers in the days of the Commonwealth Shipping Line. The pro-shipowner Imperial Shipping Committee, London, was forced to report in 1921 on a complaint of boycott officially lodged by the commonwealth government.
The Imperial Committee said:
“The evidence which was tendered to us on behalf of the Australian government was to the effect that firms or persons who shipped by the Commonwealth Government Line, besides incurring the loss of rebates, ran the risk of having cargo shut out by some of the conference lines from ships which were not full; and further, that this refusal of space for cargo was likely to be extended to other trades in which they were engaged. Certain definite instances were brought before us in evidence which tended to show that cargo had been refused by certain conference lines, although their ships were not full, on the ground that shippers had not confined their shipments to the Lines of the conference. It is clear such cases have occurred.”
Beat them with government line However, the Shipping Conference is not as tough as it looks. Victimisation of this kind forced the Hughes government to expand the Commonwealth fleet. The Bay liners were built and soon carried 25 per cent of England-Australia passengers. They pioneered oil fuel on the Australian run, cut the voyage from 33 to 29 days and with the big Dale and the Bay liners compelled the conference to improve both passenger and freight services.
The Commonwealth Line, despite the dirty deal it got from newspapers and politicians had the conference lines almost ready to strike their colours. It is more urgent than ever now to defeat the conference.
And, profiting by the experience and gross betrayals of the 1920s, Australia could establish a Commonwealth Line to liberate farmers, workers and business people from the cartel, to lower freights, increase exports and open new trade routes.
Monopoly rules Australian coast Australian coastal shipping is dominated by a closely integrated monopolist group, headed by Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd, the steel-coal-iron-ore combine.
The monopolist group on the coast comprises: Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd, Huddart Parker Ltd, Adelaide Steamship Co Ltd, Howard Smith Ltd and Melbourne Steamship Co Ltd.
Of the companies outside this group, James Patrick and Co claim to be independent, but have to bow to the group on vital issues; McIlwraith McEacharn Ltd had indirect associations with BHP’s interests; AUSN Co is a subsidiary of the P& SN Co of London; the Union Steamship Co, which is interested in Tasmanian shipping and Trans-Tasman services, is also a subsidiary of P&. Wm Holyman and Son is a family concern with links to Adelaide Steamship Co and other companies close to BHP.
Other private companies on the coast, like RW Miller & Co, and Colonial Sugar Refining Co, run their ships as auxiliaries to other more important business enterprises.
There are a few small shipping enterprises on the coast or trading to the islands that have little say, and must accept the dictates and policies of the leading monopoly group.
The Commonwealth Government Fleet is the largest on the coast, but two-thirds of its cargo carrying is in limestone, pig-iron and iron ore for BHP, so instead of being an independent government service cutting freights and giving better services, the Government Fleet has been put at the service of monopoly.
Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd BHP has the second biggest fleet on the coast, and BHP has the biggest Australian shipyards. But the BHP fleet, like the Colonial Sugar boats, are not at the service of Australian trading interests, but carry the raw materials and products of the steel combine.
The ruthless power of BHP will have to be broken by nationalisation of this steel-coal shipping monopoly, before there can be adequate development of the Australian economy.
BHP, through its steel monopoly, exploits the whole nation. It has the cheapest iron ore in the world, all kinds of government assistance and no competition, yet after more than 40 years in the steel business it still does not produce enough steel for Australia’s needs, and has consistently increased the price of steel over recent years, thus contributing to inflation of housing, transport and industrial costs.
BHP is closely linked with big trusts that stand over the man on the land.
Colin York Syme, chairman of BHP, is also chairman of Goldsborough Mort & Co, the leading Australian-owned wool and land trust. Sir Walter Duncan of BHP is also connected with Goldsborough Mort.
Two of the Darling family sit on the BHP and Australian Iron and Steel boards. They come from John Darling and Sons, the flour-milling, wheat-dealing and poultry feed monopoly.
The Darling flour and poultry feed kings own more than £1 million worth of BHP shares.
The Baillieus, another powerful, wealthy Australian family, whose influence was used to destroy the old Commonwealth Line in 1928, own more than £400,000 worth.
Burns Philp also has 28,000 shares in BHP, along with Huddart Parker and Howard Smith. Orient Line (P&), through Orion Investments, has 35,734.
While the BHP is Australian-controlled, there are important minority British shareholders. BHP is linked with English combines like Guest-Keen-Baldwins, the heavy industry trust that produced the Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin; with Imperial Chemical Industries, on whose board and share list was the prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, who sold out Britain and humanity at the Munich deal with Hitler in 1938; with Vickers Ltd, the merchant of death; Stewarts and Lloyds, Lancashire Steel Corporation, Richard Thomas, Baldwins (135,333 shares in BHP) and other great metal combines.
BHP’s partners in England are the worst of the Tory enemies of the British working-class; BHP has proved time and time again in Australia that it is the bitter enemy of the Australian working-class.
BHP’s influence in the propaganda and publicity fields is a factor to be reckoned with by wharfies and other unionists. BHP has close ties with the mightiest newspaper combine in Australia — the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd, Melbourne, which dominates the Adelaide Advertiser and Adelaide News; the News, Perth; The Barrier Miner, Broken Hill; the Brisbane Telegraph and Brisbane Courier Mail; and many other newspapers.
The Melbourne Herald group owns a radio network and television licences.
The Fairfaxes of the Sydney Morning Herald and Sydney Sun are shareholders in BHP. A Fairfax usually sits on the board of the AMP Society, largest financial institution in Australia, which is closely allied with BHP.
The BHP and the National Bank of Australasia have important common shareholders; and a Darling (BHP and AI&S boards) and a York Syme (Melbourne SS Co) sit on the board of the National Bank.
There are also some BHP associations with the Commercial Bank of Australia and the ANZ Bank, which has majority British capital but a substantial minority of Australian capital.
So when trade unionists confront the BHP colossus whether on wharves, ships, coalfields or in metal plants, they confront Australia’s largest and most vicious monopolist power group, embracing heavy industry, banking, wool, flour, poultry feed, land trusts, insurance, newspapers, radio, television and shipping.
BHP is also a political force, because it has its key politicians in federal and state cabinets.
Adelaide SS Co The leading Australian shipping company in general coastal trade is Adelaide SS Co.
This company is controlled by South Australian capital, but this South Australian capital in turn has many ties with BHP.
Sir Walter Duncan, a South Australian MLC, squatter and investor, is a director of both Adelaide SS Co and of BHP and its subsidiary, Australian Iron and Steel Co, Port Kembla; and of a pastoral company that is very close to BHP, Goldsborough Mort and Co.
Adelaide Steamship has substantial investments in many companies, including Australian National Airways, Macquarie Stevedoring Co, Waratah Tug and Salvage Co, Brett’s Wharf Co (Brisbane), Port Adelaide Steam Laundry, Newstead Wharves and Stevedoring Co (Brisbane), Adelaide Steam Tug Co and Coast Steamship Co of SA Gulfs; and controlling interest in J&A Brown and Abermain Seaham Collieries, the biggest coal combine in Australia.
Adelaide Steamship, while closely connected with BHP and working with it on policy matters, has some independent strength of its own, because it has such powerful Adelaide capitalists, like the Hawkers, Barr Smiths (of Elder Smith &) Co and Lloyds running its affairs.
Adelaide Steamship claims the right to speak for the coastal shipowners. At the Stevedoring Industry Inquiry it was Mr PW Haddy, general manager of Adelaide Steamship, who put forward the shipowners’ policy for a return to the bull days, recruiting labour from “the 96 highways and byways”, as he put it, and smashing the Waterside Workers Federation.
Adelaide Steamship, although it has no connection with the Colonial Sugar Refining Co, has a monopoly of stevedoring and lighterage in all the Queensland sugar ports with the exception of Lucinda Point; it calls the tune from Cairns to Fremantle in many matters of shipping policy.
BHP may be the king of the coast, with final right of veto, but Adelaide Steamship is the Prime Minister, with the administrative power.
Melbourne Steamship Co Two important families in the Australian economy — the York Symes and the Reids — have been the leading force in Melbourne SS Co for many years.
Colin York Syme is chairman of directors of BHP and of Goldsborough Mort; David York Syme, chairman of Melbourne Steamship, is on the board of the National Bank of Australasia — a bank close to BHP. The Reids are of the same family that produced Sir George Reid, a reactionary Premier of NSW.
Huddart Parker Ltd has a big block of shares in Melbourne Steamship: 25,252 ordinary shares and 2303 preference shares.
One of the Reids is down for 12,616 ordinary and 100 preference shares.
David York Syme has 16,651 ordinary and 1127 preference.
Francis M Syme (no relation to York Syme), of the family that controls the Melbourne Age, has 14,093 ordinary shares and 500 preference shares.
Huddart Parker Ltd The Parker and Webb families have long been the dominant forces in Huddart Parker, which is interested in services to Tasmania and New Zealand, as well as on the coast.
Huddart Parker is one of the biggest shareholders in BHP and in BHP Collieries Ltd. It also has an interest, along with Adelaide Steamship, in Abermain Seaham Collieries; a big holding in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd, which controls ship-to-shore wireless services, and a half interest in Tasmanian Steamers Ltd (Union Steamship has the other half).
Three members of the Parker family hold about 26,000 ordinary shares; the Webbs control more than 100,000 ordinary and more than 100,000 preference shares. The control of Huddart Parker is in Melbourne.
Howard Smith Ltd The Howard Smith family holds the biggest block of shares in Howard Smith Ltd, but when Mr Austin Howard Smith, a director, wanted the right to work only two hours a week some time ago, he found that there were sufficient other interests in the company to raise howls of protest.
The domination of the Howard Smith family is being challenged. Probably only about one-fifth of the Howard Smith shares are now held by the Howard Smith family. The AMP Society, an insurance combine close to BHP, has more than 50,000 shares; Permanent Trustee Co of NSW, controlled by Sydney capitalists, has 30,143; Nancy Heath of Lilydale, Victoria, has 110,197; Laura R Osborne, Victoria, has 117,083.
Howard Smith Ltd interests include: Australian Steamships Pty. Ltd, Caledonian Collieries, Invincible Colliery and Australian Sugar Co.
The company has substantial shareholdings in BHP, South Portland Cement and A Goninan and Co.
Howard Smith is controlled by Melbourne Capital.
Sydney misses out Sydney capital is invested in shipping, but is vastly inferior to the Melbourne interest.
BHP and Adelaide Steamship, the main forces in coastal shipping, do not have one Sydney director on either of their boards.
The exclusion of Sydney capital from decisive shipping companies has already led to conflicts, and indicates that there is a fertile field among the Sydney business community for enlisting support against the shipping combine, both local and overseas.
Australian shipping in overseas trade One of the most glaring and disastrous contradictions in the Australian economy is the absence of any worthwhile merchant marine to carry Australian produce and imports on the world’s trade routes.
This puts Australian producers for export and importers — in fact the national economy — at the mercy of the ruthless overseas shipping combine.
Among the trading nations of the world Australia stands in a most remarkable position.
According to the Year Book of International Trade Statistics, published by the United Nations, Australia is the eighth exporting nation of the world.
USA, Britain, Canada and West European nations filled the first seven places.
Australia stands in sixth place in the world in value of trade per head of population.
Trade is measured in money, not in quantity, for these placing.
Australia’s export cargoes — wool, wheat, butter, meat, flour, fruit, preserves, etc, are much bulkier for their value than exports of leading industrial areas like North America, Britain and Western Europe, which export expensive textiles, machines, processed metals, chemicals, etc.
Australia has further to transport her exports than other countries, and all must go by sea.
West European countries, for instance, can send much of their inter-European trade by rail, road, canal or river: Canada’s main trade is with the USA and can go by similar transport. Sea routes for Scandinavian or West European countries trading with Britain are so short by comparison that this export trade involves little more than a ferry trip.
Leading Australian ports, on the other hand, are 12,000 miles away from their main market in Britain.
It can be seen that Australian trade is more dependent on long sea routes than the trade of any other nation.
Yet Australian capitalists, including the local shipowners, and governments, have left us without an overseas merchant marine.
Fairplay, the well-known British shipping organ, said in 1955:
“Australian vessels in overseas trading number 17, of which eight were Australian-owned and registered. The remainder were Australian-owned, but registered overseas. These 17 vessels had an approximate deadweight tonnage of 112,713 and a gross tonnage of 88,793.”
Take away the Huddart Parker Wanganella that runs to New Zealand, an HC Sleigh tanker and an Ampol tanker (the latter 18,000 tons) and the Colonial Sugar Refining Co ships that run to Fiji, and about all that are left are the Burns Philp ships from Australia to the Pacific Islands and East Asia and three WR Carpenter and Son Ltd ships trading to the islands.
So it can be said that this great trading nation, Australia, has no merchant marine for world trade.
Until Australia has a merchant marine that will carry the national flag on to world trade routes, she cannot be economically independent. Governments may legislate, but the Shipping Conference can nullify their laws and upset their plans by raising the shipping freights.
The government may decide to lower tariffs on essential raw materials; the Shipping Conference can wipe out this assistance to industry by raising the freights on those materials.
The government may decide to subsidise the export of flour to South-East Asia; the Shipping Conference can undermine the trade by raising freights, and has done so.
Attempts to export Holden cars to New Zealand and South-East Asia were sabotaged by the Shipping Conference, which increased freights on cars up to 40 per cent.
So nationally owned shipping is vital not only for lower freights and better services, but so that Australia can have control of its own economy.
The private Australian shipowners, led by BHP and Adelaide Steamship, have dismally failed to build our shipping fleets.
Only government action can solve this problem, because the local shipowners are unpatriotic and vast capital is required to build big fleets. The Shipping Conference is linked with banks and insurance companies that control much of the credit.
Even the powerful capitalists of America had to rely on government action to defeat the all-powerful British combine. President Hoover said at Boston in 1928:
“There is only one protection or our commerce from discrimination and combinations in rates which would impose onerous rates on us in the transportation of our goods to foreign markets — that is, a merchant marine under the control of our own citizens.
“No one can claim that government operation gives promise of either efficiency or permanence. But by it we have maintained our independence and our defence in the meantime.
=“By it we have been able to pioneer the trade routes and build up a substantial flow of goods.”
The US government became the largest shipbuilder in the world, until an American-owned fleet, able to challenge the British-led conference, was established.
If the billionaires of America had to have this government assistance, how can Australia establish a national mercantile marine, except by shipbuilding in government yards and government operation of the new merchant fleet? It was proved in World War I, when the Hughes government founded the Commonwealth Line to defeat conference racketeering, that government shipping could lower freights and run at a profit.
South Africa, faced with freight robbery by the Union Castle Line, established a government line. India has established its own government mercantile marine to break the grip of the P&0-Orient and British-India combine in the seas around India.
Argentina, a primary products exporter like Australia, now has as government fleet of more than 100 ships; Brazil has 126 government ships; the French government holds majority shares in Messageries Maritimes, the main French shipping line.
When waterside workers fight for a Commonwealth Shipping Line for overseas trade, to be built in Australia yards, they are fighting in the interests of the nation, particularly the farmers and the metal trades and other unions involved in shipbuilding.
With these anti-Shipping Conference forces, we have to build closer unity to ensure that the Australian flag appears on the seven seas, to extend Australian trade and keep in Australia the money now taken out in the form of excess freight and marine insurance by the overseas Shipping Conference.
Australian Companies Trading Abroad Australia has nothing to be proud of in the three Australian-registered companies trading outside Australian waters: Burns Philp and Co, WR Carpenter and Son and Colonial Sugar Refining Co.
Burns Philp and Co The Burns Philp families of Queensland are still strongly represented in Burns Philp, the Pacific Island and South-East Asia trading and shipping company. James Burns is a director; Mrs VE Burns holds 14,496 shares.
Miss Helen B Philp has 23,000 Burns Philp shares. (Judge Philp of the Petrov Commission comes from this family.)
Deacon RJ Nosworthy, of the Congregational Church, and EP Lee hold 64,839 shares.
Sir Earle Page, author of the notorious federal health scheme inflicted on the Australian people, is also a Burns Philp shareholder.
The Presbyterian Church NSW Property Trust, is one of the largest Burns Philp shareholders, with 37,512 shares.
ER Knox and FR Tindale of Colonial Sugar, hold 11,623.
The Union Insurance Society of Canton, associated with the old opium and piracy firm of Jardine Matheson and Co (Indo-China Steam Navigation Co) holds 14,000.
Loloma (Fiji) Gold Mines Ltd, an interest of the late John Wren, the late EG Theodore, former Federal treasurer, and of Frank Packer, boss of Consolidated Press Ltd, which prints the Daily Telegraph, Women’s Weekly and all the lies it can work out about wharfies, holds 14,000.
Thus Packer has a personal interest in Burns Philp, and so have the Theodore sons, who are now executives of the Daily Telegraph. Burns Forsyth & Co, of which James Burns is governing director, hold the largest parcel — 330,000 — in Burns Philp.
The Presbyterian Church of Australia holds 15,000 of the 200,000 issued shares of Burns Forsyth.
Burns Philp has a bad reputation in the Pacific for exploitation of islanders both through high freights for supplies and sweated labour on Burns Philp plantations. Any defeat inflicted on Burns Philp in Australia by trade unions helps these exploited Melanesian peoples who are victims of Burns Philp (the company’ initials, BP, are said to stand for Bloody Pirates).
WR Carpenter and Co Ltd WR Carpenter and Co is, like Burns Philp, an exploiter of the Pacific Islands peoples, through freight, plantation and trade piracy.
The firm is still led by the Carpenter family.
The original Carpenter was an American on Thursday Island. Sir Walter Carpenter, his son, acquired big timber and other interests in British Columbia and Canada, and had some American interests.
The present chairman of Carpenter is Randolph Bolton Carpenter, son of the late Sir Randolph Carpenter, of Vancouver, Canada.
Carpenter interests include Southern Pacific Insurance Co, Brown and Joske Ltd, Fiji, and Morris Hedstrom Ltd, Fiji.
Carpenter is also interested in airways. It has big interests in the Solomon Islands, Fiji and the New Guinea area.
Colonial Sugar Refining Co CSR is Australia’s second biggest public company, after BHP.
It owes much of its present power and wealth to the “blackbirding” of unfortunate natives from the South Sea Islands for slave labour on the sugar plantations in Queensland and Northern NSW.
CSR still ruthlessly exploits native labour in Fiji.
CSR, apart from its shipping and sugar interests, is heavily involved in building materials, chemicals, plastics and asbestos mining near Marble Bar, Western Australia.
CSR shares were at the beginning of 1957 worth nearly £44 each (£20 shares, much watered by free bonus issues).
Burns Philp Trust and CH Cropper hold 3506.
Two of the Fairfaxes, from the Sydney Morning Herald, hold 3826 between them.
The Faithfulls, a NSW squatting family, hold 2860; the Kater family, also wealthy squatters, 4855; the Macarthur-Onslow family, descended from the original rum racketeer of early Sydney, John Macarthur, hold 2071.
Sir Edward Knox, descendant of the founder of CSR, who grew wealthy by exploiting kidnapped labour, holds 17,945.
Two Maple-Browns, from the landed gentry, hold 17,130.
Permanent Trustee Co (15,950) and Perpetual Trustee Co (31,306), representing Sydney capital, are among the biggest shareholders.
AW Palfreyman, of IXL Jams, knows the importance of sugar in jam, and patronises CSR to the extent of 2013 shares.
Three members of the Poolman family hold 11,900 between them. With shares worth nearly £44 each, it can be seen that these CSR stockholders are extremely wealthy.
Not quite in the top flight of CSR shareholders, but holding on to a very comfortable nest-egg, is Senator JI Armstrong, a leading supporter of the Industrial Groups, and a member of a well-known Pyrmont publican’s family, Senator Armstrong was listed recently as the holder of 600 CSR shares.
CSR is one of the few great Australian monopolies controlled by Sydney capital.
Battle for national shipping The Australian nation has had monopoly as its deadly enemy from its very foundation, and even before foundation.
When Captain Arthur Phillip was about to leave England for Botany Bay with the First Fleet, he was handed royal instructions from George III laying it down that the East India Company was to have a monopoly of trade and shipping between the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan, embracing Australia, India, China, the west coast of Americas, the Pacific Islands, etc.
King George III’s commission to Captain Phillip stated:
“And whereas it is our Royal intention that every sort of intercourse between the intended settlement at Botany Bay, or other place which may be hereafter established on the coast of New South Wales and its dependencies, and the settlements of our East India Company, as well as on the coast of China, and the islands situated in that part of the world to which any intercourse has been established by any European nation, should be prevented by every possible means; It is our Royal will and pleasure that you do not, on any account, allow craft of any sort to be built for the use of private individuals which might enable them to effect such intercourse, and that you do not prevent any vessels which may at any time hereafter arrive at the said settlement from any of the ports before-mentioned from having any communication with any of the inhabitants residing within your government without first receiving special permission from you for that. purpose".
Early Australian settlers, unable to build a small boat, unable to trade with other countries, were left at the point of starvation by the East India Co monopoly and its imperial backers.
The monopoly and the law were defied; small ships were built; trade was carried on with China and the Islands; supplies were bought from visiting foreign ships.
Australian-owned brigs, schooners and barques began to carry on coastal trade between the early settlements around the mainland and in Van Diemen’s land (Tasmania).
When steam arrived, local shipowners did not have much capital, but Thomas Mort and other early Australian capitalists established steamer services for the Sydney-Newcastle-North Coast runs.
The Adelaide Steamship Co was founded in the 1860s but the P& put its “fighting ships” on the Adelaide-Melbourne run, and slashed the fares to drive Adelaide Steamship off the seas.
The Adelaide capitalists, backed by money made from Broken Hill silver-lead and Moonta-Wallaroo, Burra Burra and Kapunda copper, and from flour, wheat and wool, held out and won through.
Later, the local shipowners made their deals with the British shipowners, formed joint stevedoring companies, allowed P& a place on the coast (through AUSN and Union Steamship Co, P& subsidiaries) and betrayed the interests of the Australian people.
The local shipowners failed to challenge the overseas combine on the high seas, and thus help Australian trade.
This sell-out by the local shipowners, the abject failure of Australian capital to provide the nation with a mercantile marine, forced the Australian government to establish a Commonwealth Line.
This government line was recommended by the all-party Royal Commission on Ocean Shipping, 1906, and made a platform pledge of the Labor Party, led by Andrew Fisher, on the eve of World War I.
Shipowners caused many anti-shipowner revolts The excessive freight charged by the owners had always hurt. In 1905, there was a rebellion against them in the national parliament, which set up a Royal Commission, and from this a select committee from both sides of the House of Representatives recommended a commonwealth Line as the means of breaking the shipowners’ squeeze on the Australian economy.
However, this line was not operated until 1916, when WM Hughes without consulting his cabinet purchased Austral ships. This was in wartime. His bombshell action was obviously necessary when the shipowners had sharply raised freights from 47 shillings and sixpence to 105 shillings over the course of a few months.
In the commonwealth parliament, on August 25, 1965, Mr McEwan, minister for commerce in the Menzies government, referred to the state of affairs in the “twenties”, “when the overseas shipping interests were able to bleed this country white”.
The Melbourne Age pointed to vessels that had made profits equal to the total value of the vessels in a single trip. On a cargo of maize worth £18,826 the freight was £50,533, or 260 per cent more than the cargo's value. Wheat went from 25 shillings to 30 shillings a ton to as high as £15. Then as today there was no choice for Australia but to run its own government ships if the country was not to be ruined by the Shipping Conference.
The government’s Australia Line heavily reduced freights but still made thumping profits, for 1917 it was £327,335; for 1918 £576,164; for 1919 £1,160,055.
The Commonwealth Fleet carried wheat in 1918 at £17.10/- a ton when the conference was charging £11.10/- to £15/15/-, with some neutral ships charging £15.
Seamen on Commonwealth Bay Liners were paid £16 per month against £6 a month to British seamen on competing conference ships.
Mr C Reilly (Labour NSW) told federal parliament on November 27, 1927:
“In 1925, against the strenuous opposition of the Conference Lines, the Commonwealth Line took a full cargo of canned fruits at 50 shillings per ton. There was a big surplus of canned fruits to be exported and the prevailing rate at the time was 70 shillings per ton, but since then it has remained at 50 shillings per ton. As 25,000 tons of canned fruits are exported from Australia each year, the saving on that item alone is £925,000 a year.”
Mr JH Scullin (later Labor prime minister) said in opposing the sale of Commonwealth Bay Liners on November 9, 1927:
“It is undeniable that the Bay boats — commonwealth ships — were pioneer users of oil fuel in the Australian trade. They cut down the passage from England from 33 days to 29 days and shamed the private companies into adopting oil fuel two years later. The modern Bay and Dale liners impelled the other lines to improve their ships and made experiments in refrigerated space which rendered possible the successful marketing of Australian soft and citrus fruits overseas.”
Mr Scullin gave a telling comparison of freights in Australian exports in 1921 a year before the Commonwealth Line bought the Bay and Dale liners and in 1927 after the Bay and Dale liners had been competing for several years with the Conference Lines.
These figures show the importance of having a Commonwealth Line for overseas trade, because these reductions were achieved at a time when other prices tended to rise.
Annual savings to exporters from 1921-27 were: Beef, £1,064,000; Mutton £172,620; Lamb £236,500; Rabbits £89,700; Butter £162,547; Fruit £427,500; Wool £1,291,666; Sheepskins £392,115; Hides £41,700; Tallow £193,454.
Total savings per year on these export lines were £4,071,802.
If wheat, barley and oats, minerals and other exports had been added, the figure saved would have been much higher.
Even those facts revealed by Mr Scullin failed to prevent the Bruce Page government from selling the Commonwealth Shipping Line.
The Australs — D and E ships — of the Commonwealth Line were sold for a song, some of them to Japan. Then the Bruce Page government had the books juggled to suggest falsely that the Bay liners, pride of the Commonwealth Fleet, were a financial liability.
Five almost new Bay liners, which cost more than ɥ7 million and were worth at least £5 million, were sold to the Kylsant-Inchcape gang for £1,900,000. Lord Kylsant was later jailed as a swindler. Australia finished with neither ships nor money — the Bay liners, one of which was still visiting Australia for the shipowners early in 1957, were never paid for by the cheating monopolists.
The notorious Australian Overseas Transport Association is a combination of shipowners and shipping agents, with the shipowners of course dominating. Bruce, in an endeavour to placate the widespread national resentment against his action, convened a shipping conference in 1929.
Its supposed purpose was to protect the producers for export against excessive freights. These freights were to be set from time to time at the conference of owners and producers (AOTA) and the reward to the owners for submitting themselves to such a control was that they were to receive a monopoly of the goods to be carried.
It is not a statutory body. It acquires a certain authority under a commonwealth act, the Australian Industries Preservation Act of 1930. It “deals” with freight rates and is supposed to discuss regularly shipping programs, freezer space and generally synchronise the shipping program between the various exporting organisations. The AOTA is an instrument of the shipping cartel.
Some 21 companies are in the Conference Lines, as they are now called, in the Europe-Australia trade. There are 14 United Kingdom Lines. The other seven are Swedish, German, Danish, French, Dutch and Italian lines. Only selected cargoes such as wool, butter, meats, and fruit are subject to AOTA agreement.
Rough cargoes such as wheat, flour, sugar and metals are not. The Conference Lines have, therefore, a monopoly of the carrying of the first group.
This table shows the results of these contrasting arrangements for carrying Australian products to the United Kingdom. (Freight per ton in sterling).
Non-signatories to the AOTA agreement were charged 10 per cent above the normal rate for goods. Incidentally, general cargo was £7/5/3d in 1939 and £10/11/-) in 1954.
Shipowners boycott Australian industry The overseas and local shipowners have much in common, including their determination to boycott and sabotage the Australian shipbuilding industry.
The overseas shipowners, in nearly 170 years of Australian settlement, have taken billions out of Australia in freights and passenger fares. Today they take more than all other overseas interests combined.
Yet they never return one pound of their loot by ordering a ship from Australian shipyards.
They will order from ex-enemy yards in Germany and Japan, or from Scandinavian, Dutch or Italian yards.
The Australian shipowners almost invariably order their ships in foreign yards.
Thus both overseas and local shipowners affect our balance of payments problem by this policy.
Australia has to find the money to pay Japan, Germany, England, Denmark or other countries when ships are ordered for the Australian coast.
This money should be paid for Australian labour and materials and to develop the Australian shipbuilding industry.
Waterside Workers Federation members should give attention to the need in the national interest and in the interests of fellow unionists of supporting the campaign by the Metal Trades Federation, which embraces key metal unions, to have legislative and industrial action taken to prevent the shipowners putting overseas-built ships on the coast.
Other countries have laws to prevent overseas-built ships trading on their coasts.
The following figures, based on the position in 1954-55, show just how effectively the owners have boycotted Australian industry:
Colonial Sugar Refining Co: Three ships, all built in UK.
WR Carpenter & Co: Three ships, two built in UK, one in Canada.
Burns Philp & Co: Nine ships, five built in Scotland; one ex-Commonwealth Line (Mangola, ex- Eudunda) ; one built in Germany; two in Hong Kong.
AUSN (P& subsidiary): Five ships, four built in UK; one (from Australian Shipping Board) built at Whyalla.
Adelaide Steamship Co: Twenty-one ships, five built in Denmark, one at Whyalla (from ASB), one from Evans Deakin, Brisbane (from ASB), rest in UK.
Huddart Parker Ltd: Nine ships, all built overseas except Woomera (Evans Deakin, Brisbane, for ASB, and taken over).
Melbourne Steamship Co: Three ships built in UK.
John Burke Ltd: Five ships, one from Danzig, two from Scotland, two small ships (193 gross tons and 84 gross tons) built in Australia.
Broken Hill Pty Ltd: Of the 1954 BHP fleet of 12 Iron ships, two were built in Scotland, three were old Commonwealth Line E boats and rest were built at Whyalla. Replacement ships were recently bought overseas by BHP, which usually only builds for its own iron and limestone ore services.
It is clear that without the Australian Shipping Board (Commonwealth Line) orders, the Australian shipbuilding industry would be in total collapse.
About the only time the private shipowners run an Australian-built ship on the coast (apart from BHP) is when one is taken over from the ASB.
The ASB, according to the Shipping World Year Book, 1954-55, owned 34 vessels of 174,483 tons deadweight. Most of these were built in Australia.
The shipowners’ boycott of Australian yards has left Australia in a very minor place as a shipbuilder — a dangerous position for any trading nation.
There are only five relatively small Australian yards of any consequence: Cockatoo Docks and Mort’s Dock in Sydney; the State Dockyard, Newcastle; Walkers Ltd, Maryborough; Evans Deakin Ltd, Brisbane and BHP, Whyalla.
Yet Australian tradesmen have proved that they can build ships just as good and just as economically as tradesmen of other lands. Mr DJ Amos, FAIS, in The Story of the Commonwealth Fleet, described what happened after the Hughes government established the Commonwealth Line in 1916:
“Australia, in addition to owning ships, now began to build them. Experts were imported from England to supervise the work of construction, and at Williamstown in Victoria, at Walsh and Cockatoo Islands in NSW, at Maryborough in Queensland and at Port Adelaide in South Australia, more and more keels were laid down; and from 1919 onwards, one by one the D and B vessels received their baptism of champagne, glided down the slips into the water, and rushed to join their sisters in the fleet.
“Shipbuilding experts have agreed that no better ships were built anywhere than those turned out by Australian yards, whether run by the government or by private firms, and it is also a fact that Australian costs of construction (about £20 per ton) compared favourably with those ruling elsewhere during the war (about £36 per ton).”
Many wharfies have worked on those Australian-built D and E boats, and know that they outlasted many ships built overseas.
United action for Australian national shipping Now there is such wide agreement among graziers, poultrymen, orchardists, grain farmers, manufacturers, importers, trade unionists, the Labor Party and the Communist Party that Australia must have her own ships for overseas trade, there are excellent opportunities for a united trade union movement to form alliances with the farming and business communities to insist the commonwealth government immediately place orders for deep-sea ships in local yards.
The metal trades unionists are already in action, with deputations to the government and discussions under ACTU leadership.
We will also have to campaign to see that the existing commonwealth government ships are used for the people’s service rather than monopoly service.
The Curtin government, during the war against the Axis, found that a Commonwealth Line was urgently needed, and began building merchant ships.
Many of these vessels were handed over on charter to the shipowners. They trade only in a restricted way on the coast, principally carrying iron ore, limestone and pig-iron for BHP.
The Menzies government, to remove any threat these ships might represent to the Shipping Conference, tried to sell these ships, but was afraid of public outcry.
Instead, the Menzies government hamstrung the fleet through the Coastal Shipping Acts introduced in 1956, which gave the private shipowners more say in the control and use of government ships, and additions to the government fleet have been limited.
However, Australia’s shipping needs have become so desperate, particularly since the aggression against Egypt gave the shipowners another excuse to lift rates sky-high, that even the Menzies government has been forced to put two government River ships on the run to India carrying bulk wheat.
Instead of the government ships being used to cut freight prices, they are charging the same as the conference for the run to India. However, at least a start has been made with government shipping on overseas routes.
Maximum profit drive The drive for maximum profits completely obsesses the shipowners. They cannot under any circumstances be content with a good profit, nor a high profit nor a record profit.
It must be the maximum profit. This is the fundamental law that governs all their behaviour. Driven on blindly by that dynamic law, they are prepared to deal ruthlessly with anything or anybody standing in the way of their maximum profits.
The P& Group, leader of the conference or cartel in the Australian trade, showed contempt for the intelligence and welfare of the Australian people when it claimed that return on capital was not much over 1 per cent.
With the agreement of the shipowners’ puppet, the AOTA, the shipowners established the right to charge a “cost-plus” freight, bringing their return, so they said, to 12 per cent on capital.
The truth is that only a small portion of P& capital has been contributed by shareholders — the combine has turned its enormous profits into capital, and demands profit on profits, as well as profit on capital.
For instance, P& ordinary capital in 1950 was only £6.74 million. In the 4½ years to May 1955, only £5.92 million of the P& group’s profits were distributed to shareholders as dividends.
That looks enough, more than the return of all capital, in the form of dividends to shareholders, in 4½ years!
But in the same period P& also distributed to shareholders no less than £28.7 million in tax-free bonus shares.
As a £1P& share at this stage sold for nearly £4 on the stock exchange, the real cash value of the tax-free bonuses would be £114.8 million!
Reserves in the same period — money put away in the kitty — increased in those 4½ years by £22.36 million!
Thus, so great are the profits in the Australian trade that in 4½ years P& could distribute from its ill-gotten gains:
Dividends to shareholders: £5.92 million
Tax-free bonus shares: £28.7 million (worth £114.8 million)
Put into reserves £22.36 million
And all this was done on a 1950 capital of only £5.74 million!
P& having cooked the books and lined shareholders’ pockets in this way, now claims 12 per cent. “Cost-plus” not on the capital of £5.74 million, but on capital that was multiplied nearly six times out of inflated profits!
One would think that P& and other shipping monopolists would occasionally pay some small tribute to the maritime workers who, by their sweat and broken flesh, continually fill their coffers with treasure.
But the shipping magnates have only hatred and contempt for those who must perform back-breaking toil to create profits on such a fabulous scale.
The shipowners are completely unable to temporise or govern their lust for maximum profit. Any and all of the basic conditions of maritime workers have to be torn from their greedy hands. Look at the toilets of the Huddart Parker wharf!
Wharfies have actually had stoppages to get just a paltry few pounds of these profits spent on these toilets, but so far the company has hung on and defeated the attempts of the wharfies to cut into profits by such an expenditure.
In the Mitchell Library of Sydney can be seen a half-century old photo of the Howard Smith’s King Street wharf, and as can be clearly seen after comparing it with the building of today, the only improvements that have been made to it are the nails the wharfies have driven into the old shed walls to hang their coats on during working hours.
Howard Smiths have never ever been able to afford a lunch room there for the weary toilers whose labour power they have ruthlessly misappropriated over the past half-century.
In 1947, I remember attending a dramatic conference of shipping and importing interests. With my union comrades, we were playing the main parts, for we had the waterfront tied up and we were being threatened and then pleaded with by the others present to be reasonable and direct the wharfies to continue working carbon black without any washing time or washing facilities.
We stood our ground and not a winch turned until hot and cold showers were hastily constructed (in two days) at No 2 Wharf, Wooloomooloo (the first on the Sydney waterfront).
The profit of the Conference Lines is enormous. In fact they are creating new records almost every year, but are they content with that situation? No, not at all, for it still falls short of the maximum profit, so what did they wish to do to obtain that?
Treacherous attack on the WWF They set out in November 1954 to smash the Waterside Workers Federation, the main obstacle standing in their way of progress to maximum profits.
Often the owners slander us in the press as “unreasonable men, loafers and communists, who are always demanding and never satisfied”.
What we wharfies went through and suffered under the brutal work conditions imposed by the owners and their Arbitration Court is best described by Macquarie Street specialist Dr Roland McQueen. The doctor examined a large number of our men in 1943 for the Stevedoring Industry Commission and he reported as follows:
“I was under the impression when commencing this survey that its object was the detection of malingerers. Having encountered only one of these crafty undesirables among the first 130 cases I examined, I realised that I was dealing with quite a unique collection of genuine and serious disabilities. I was forced into a real and surprised admiration for a body of men earning a more or less arduous living handicapped by gross and serious physical abnormalities.
“Most of the individuals examined were over the age of 40 and under 60. I can only surmise with the most profound gloom the condition of those over 60 years of age. My chief impression of these men was that all of them were prematurely aged. It was rare to find any man who did not look at least 10 years older than his stated age. Their outward appearance was more than confirmed by physical examination. The majority of them showed the usual stigma of abnormally early and rapidly progressive senility. High blood pressure, thickened and calcified arteries and degenerative disease of the heart muscles.
“There was little clinical evidence that the process had been hastened by alcohol. The obesity characteristic of many enthusiastic beer drinkers was, however, frequently seen.
“A detailed list of the disabilities discovered in each case has been given to the committee. Throughout this report, I would like to emphasise the cautious standard I have maintained before labeling a case with a specific diagnosis.”
High blood pressure “A healthy average blood pressure among the general population of comparative age would be equal to 140 millimeters of mercury or less,” Dr McQueen continued.
“The army rejects all cases with a pressure of 160 or over irrespective of age. No case in this series was nominated as one of high blood pressure unless the estimation reached 170. Furthermore, if the pressure was under 200 a diagnosis of abnormal tension was not recorded unless the diastolic measurement reached 110 and there was evidence of heart damage and disorder of the blood vessels.
“Many cases were over 200 and one man’s pulse was still pumping perceptibly at 260, which is as high as my machine will record. A large proportion of these men produced medical evidence of having been treated for attacks of angina, apoplexy and other common complications of their afflictions.
“Others had records of the exact nature of their cardiac lesions, measured by precision instruments. It is a medical axiom that a man is as old as his arteries. The prevalence of abnormally thickened and hardened vessels even with absence of increased pressure was a further indication of premature old age.
“Lacking a history of serious disease in early life, it was obvious that these men had endured prolonged periods of hardship and exposure.”
Occupational injuries and those acquired in warfare “These are the commonest disabilities encountered. In many instances such as deformities from severe compound fractures of the limbs and crippling wounds, the physical handicap could be very easily estimated. Confirmation was available in most cases from the document issued by the Workers’ Compensation and the Repatriation Commission.
“Spinal and head injuries, multiple fractures of various bones and finger amputations abounded. Lung injuries from gas in the last war were frequently found in returned soldiers. Where physical signs were not outstanding an exercise test sufficed to estimate the amount of disability.
“No notice was taken of a history of spinal or head injuries unless a depressed fracture of the skull existed or there were clear evidences of severe concussion with hospitalisation. Confirmation was also found in X-ray reports and unmistakable signs of severe and permanent injuries.”
Abnormalities of the joints “Disease of the spinal joints known as spondylitis was the most prevalent condition. It may be caused either by injury or disease. It is not mentioned in the list unless confirmed by X-ray reports. The majority of these reports in all conditions were from Sydney, St Vincents and Royal Prince Alfred hospitals.
“Rheumatoid arthritis affecting many joints was very often found. The knee joints suffered most severely and it is here that the disease is most easily detected.”
Disease of the lungs “In conformity with the general picture of a class of men suffering from the cumulative effects of years of unnatural living, respiratory diseases were abundant. Here also it was possible to confirm clinical observations with documentary evidence. Prolonged treatment at Waterfall TB Hospital, Lodge Prescriptions and the receipt of military pensions combined to give the melancholy corroboration considered necessary. Two men refused work at Mt Isa and Broken Hill on account of TB being seen.”
Duodenal ulcer “An indication that there is some gross fault in the diet of the waterside workers was the abnormal percentage of proved peptic ulcers. No diagnosis was made without X-ray proof and without evidence that the disease was active and the patient under some form of treatment.
“The incidence of perforation was appalling. This is usually about 2 per cent. Among these people it was not less than 25 per cent. Two men been opened twice on account of this complication.
“Severe haemorrhage had frequently occurred and several had had short circuit operations performed in the hope of cure. The gall bladder also had been removed in far many more men than in any similar section of the community.
Hernia “Many large and inoperable hernias were found. Because of age, obesity, large hernial opening and poorness of the surrounding muscles, an operation would be followed by inevitable recurrence.
“The prevalence of hernia is probably normal for an occupation involving heavy lifting, but it is very great. Operation in about a quarter of the cases had been followed by recurrence. In two cases this has occurred twice. Rupture on both sides were common and some could not be controlled by a truss.
“About half the victims were wearing suitable supports. Advice was given to suitable cases to have surgical treatment or they were informed where satisfactory trusses could be bought.
“No life insurance company will accept a proposal from anyone afflicted with hernia unless cured by operation or wearing a well-fitted truss.”
Malingering “To one who has had an extensive recent experience in the examination of conscripts, the attitude of these men was very gratifying. In almost all instances, I had the fullest co-operation and there was a striking absence of any tendency to exaggerate symptoms. I found six outright malingerers and they were amongst the younger men. I fear that in giving one man the benefit of the doubt I was more generous. A few men were persuaded that they were capable of more extensive activities. On the other hand, there were many men with such gross dangerous disabilities that I thought in common humanity should be doing lighter work.
“Large numbers whose disability cards excused them from climbing only were also so physically dilapidated that I was amazed that they were capable of doing any manual work at all.
“An appreciable number of these latter men, if they had been used to sedentary occupations, would be candidates for the industrial scrap heap.
“I have had many years’ experience of workers in the shearing and timber industries. In hazard and toil, I think these would at least equal the hazards on the waterfront.
“I can say without hesitation that neither of these industries can produce any comparable number of physical derelicts as I have encountered amongst the waterside workers of Sydney.
“Before commencing this series of examinations my knowledge of wharf lumping was negligible. It was that of the bored passenger impatiently awaiting the delayed departure of his ship. I therefore visited several ships and gained a general idea of the nature of the work.
“I also observed the worker at his meal time and the nature of his diet and the conditions under which his food was eaten. In addition I gathered as much information as I could on the past history of the waterfront.
“I saw an admirable canteen which provides food for a very small section of these workers.
“The balance either queue up for their meals at unsavoury restaurants or eat cut lunches. These latter, probably in the majority, ate their food on wharves or in sheds whose floors were impregnated with the accumulated dust of innumerable cargoes, efficiently mixed by the prevailing wind with the small leavings of horse dung that still appear.
“At least so far as the contamination of his food is concerned, the mechanisation of transport has been a boon to the waterside worker.
“The result of my inquiries and the investigations and of my medical survey fitted together like the fragments of a jigsaw puzzle. I had examined men who in the main had been ruined physically by the intolerable anxieties of the depression years.
“The endless search for the infrequent job which would keep them and their families from the precarious borderline of malnutrition had taken its devastating toll. The feverish high-tension work performed when the job is secured in order to ensure its repetition had been paid for at the shocking price of premature old age and physical calamity.”
That was a good description of our physical condition. The original slaves of Judge Roger Therry’s time could not have been in worse shape.
But our members were alert and the way we united and fought them back shook the owners to their foundations, even though they had the government behind them.
November victory over Conference Lines The assault to smash and wipe out the legitimate union organisation of these “unreasonable” men appears to have been planned in January 1954, when overseas shipping heads visited here for an AOTA meeting.
As a propaganda base for the attack they decided to publish a report for wide circulation to responsible people in Australia. This document was duly produced in August 1954.
It was a very official looking, a most expensive and artistic production of a mass of lies, misrepresentation and vile slander of men who had been starved and mutilated under brutal conditions, as factually shown by Dr McQueen’s report. It aimed to inflame public opinion, to achieve isolation of the wharfies as the essential condition for the November attack.
The conspiracy of course is doubly exposed in letters that came into possession of the union, one of them, which we publish, was written by Mr A Van Bookove, general manager of the Australian and New Zealand Royal Interocean Lines Shipping Company, to his head office on August 17, 1954 (three months before the battle).
1) If agreement by all parties concerned is reached that a strong stand must be taken by shipowners against the breaking down tactics of the Waterside Workers Federation, then a test of strength with the Waterside Workers Federation will be made.
2) Meantime, the principals in the UK and on the Continent (Holland-Australia Lines included) have confirmed that the lines’ representatives in Australia should indeed go ahead provided of course the federal government supports the action. Talks are now going on with responsible government officials hereon and should we obtain the backing from the federal government the test of strength will actually be made.
3) It is essential that the government’s backing should be firm. Such a firm attitude on the part of the government can only be prevailing if the government knows beforehand that they in their turn have again the backing of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Australian Workers Union. We feel sure that without guarantees of support from these powerful labour groups, the federal government will not give the OK to shipowners’ representatives in Australia.
4) As to paragraph five of our letter Number 286, the formula mentioned was not referring to the policy of the case, but to the method which will be applied by the shipowners. If the government and shipowners stand firm in a dispute then the results will be favourable.
5) As you have already rightly indicated it is therefore not purely a matter of shipowners versus the waterside workers, but the federal government and shipowners against the Waterside Workers Federation. The Waterside Workers, being one of the extreme Communist-dominated unions, will always try to hit at the Government, which they can do only through the shipowners.
6) It is indeed an unpleasant situation for us as RIL when any stoppage would occur. We have far more tonnage engaged upon the Australian berth than the Holland-Australia lines. On the other hand, we have no alternative but to fall in with the decision of all lines and it is our opinion that once the Waterside Workers Federation knows that we have the firm backing of the government and the ACTU and AWU they would give in quickly.
A. Van Bookove
During the November struggle we mobilised 2000 activists. We set up research organisation from the strikers as well. We learned a lot, for instance, more about our opponents than ever wharfies knew before. With this knowledge we were able to answer back and refute such common shipowners’ lies as these
Stevedoring companies contract for the handling of cargo of the ships. In many cases these stevedoring companies are subsidiaries of the shipping companies.
Unused part of the four-hour minimum time. They operate on contracts — payment for tons of cargo handled. In working a ship there is much time in which cargo is not available for working such as rigging of gear, removing of beams and hatches, mails, baggage, stores, etc. This time is separated from the cargo moving time and charged against the ship. They name it (quite wrongly) “unproductive time”. In Sydney it amounts to approximately 30 per cent. This is then without any fair explanation handed out to the public, through the press and politicians, to prove that wharfies are a lot of loafers. That wharfies loaf a third of the time is the impression they attempt to build. The wharfies did not realise that when they were picked up for a ship which did not arrive and were given four hours and sent home, they duly created 100 per cent “unproductive time”. This so-called unproductive time goes into the general figures and then is unscrupulously used against wharfies by AOTA, the shipowners and Liberal politicians to mislead innocent people who take the bare statements of 30 per cent unproductive time to mean loafing. We have now got on to this and will prevent its future effects. Unused part of the four-hour minimum time.
The shipowners and the government accused us of not admitting into our organisation as many men as demanded to fill the quota by the authority.
This attack was launched in November 1954 by the shipowners and the government when provocative legislation was passed in federal parliament to take from the Union its traditional right to recruit its members. The whole Australian waterfront tied up from November 2 to November 16 and during the 14 days of the strike, gave a record-making demonstration of unity in action. The Communist Party, the Labour Party and the ACTU, the Maritime Council and other sections of the community gave good support and the shipowners and Menzies government were forced to retreat. On February 23 an agreement was made giving back to the WWF rights taken away by the November 1954 Stevedoring Industry Act. Unused part of the four-hour minimum time.
In the course of the struggle, the Overseas Shipping Combine and the Menzies government relied greatly on the red bogey, both in their cunning plan (paragraph six of the letter) and the barrage of red-baiting by press and political spokesmen. The wharfies answered this and kept the press on its toes by mass demonstrations and deputations to the critics when they overstepped the mark.
The majority of these deputations were for the purpose of setting the facts straight, and because it involved the work of thousands of men it fell mainly on the rank and file. In this way, new understandings and friendships were made.
All unfair attacks against the union were answered in this way and it was only when a hearing was refused that the deputations became demonstrations, such as to the offices of the Daily Telegraph, had inferred that wharfies were “loafers” and “drunkards”. A responsible deputation, wishing to take this matter up with the management, was refused a hearing. When they reported this back to the union rooms, 2000 men and womenfolk marched to the Telegraph, and filled every floor of the building. While the demonstration was of such a large character, it was not intended to be offensive.
It broke up into many hundreds of deputations to each floor, which approached everyone from the director, Mr Packer, to the newest office boy. As the discussions with the personnel in the Telegraph building developed, the machines stopped running and the personnel gave a most sympathetic hearing to the wharfies’ spokesmen. As the wharfies’ case was made clearer to them, many joined forces with the deputation, holding joint meetings and declaring they would not again print such unscrupulous vilifications of working people. Some of these meetings were of a dramatic character with a wharfie and a printer mounted on an idle machine jointly thrashing out the issues involved.
We sent many groups to the countryside and their appeal for support met with warm response because the greed of the shipowners bears most heavily on farmers, who complained of it in one of their important papers, The Wimmera Mail. The Mail dated January 31, 1956 (date of our big marginal strike):
“Victorian Wheat and Wool growers Association Horsham branch president, Mr EJ Bolwell suggested that there be an immediate conference between shipping companies, watersiders and primary producers.
“Mr Bolwell said the first thing that had to be taken into account in dealing with the strike from the growers’ angle was the recent exorbitant shipping freight rises imposed on primary producers by the shipping combines.
“The unreasonable freight rises in themselves were disastrous to the industry and farmers were forced to pay between five shillings and sixpence and five shillings and ninepence a bushel or 190 shillings a ton minimum charge to have their wheat shipped abroad at a time when there were huge world surpluses.
“Added to that there was approximately one shilling and sixpence a bushel freight from Wimmera to the seaboard.
“That meant by the time wheat was landed in England the freight a bushel had risen to seven shillings and threepence, which had to be borne by the growers. Growers found it difficult to understand the need for the steep freight rise when the emphasis by economists was for them to cut their production costs.
“An example of the profits made by shipowners was to be seen by taking the average cargo vessel of 9000 tons, or capable of carrying 324,000 bushels.
“Freight on wheat carried in such a ship returned £92,000 to the shipping companies.
“Unionists aware of that situation, which was reflected throughout other goods carried, had reacted naturally in an endeavour to obtain what they considered economic justice for themselves.
“Growers are being told by economists to cut prices, but the same economists should also apply the rule to the shipping companies and waterside workers in a demand that they too should make contributions to the national welfare, Mr Bolwell said.
“It must be remembered that it was on the stability of Australia’s primary industries depended the whole country’s welfare, he added.”
The November victory was a tonic to the Australian trade union movement. It created a greater respect in the minds of the Australian workers for the national trade union organisation (ACTU) for its progressive role and proved the need for, and the value of, unity in action.
The widespread support the public gave to the wharfies was an expression of respect for the union rather than interest in the merits of the particular matters that had been selected by the owners and government to kick the fight off.
The union’s great struggle over the years, for peace and democratic liberties and its continuous and generous charity work, as was clearly shown in November 1954, is noted in the minds of the people.
The November solidarity was a real inspiration to the federation to further develop its activities in unity with the people’s interests to free our country from the throttle-hold of the overseas shipowners.
Finally a few comments on the red bogey — most serious splitting tactic against working class organisation — the ready weapon of reactionaries.
Using the red bogey means abandoning all facts and reason. Thus, Sir Eric Harrison, senior government minister, spent an entire speech on November 10 (1954 struggle) in the debate on the Waterfront Bill, flogging the red bogey. He hit mostly at the ALP and its leader, Dr Evatt, who gave us good support.
You will note that the foreign shipowners’ (Van Bookove) letter, which revealed the whole pre-arranged plot to attack the WWF, also used the red bogey.
It talked of the “Communist-dominated union” on the waterfront as an excuse for the vile plot against Australia.
The red bogey is a weapon to split the labour movement and to brand and isolate those who fight for democracy and trade union rights.
The tragedy of it is that Dr Evatt himself in the past helped to give influence to this last argument by the Menzies government. Dr Evatt was not the first to help make such a whip for his own back.
The red bogey is anti-working class. In the best interests of all there must be no concession to it. As the shipowners used Holt and Menzies in an attempt to split and undermine the Australian trade union movement, Italian and German monopolists used Mussolini and Hitler. The disastrous results are now history.
World War II began not in 1939, but with book-burning, desecration of synagogues and churches, smashing of trade unions and the jailing of trade union leaders. It began with the red bogey.
Hitler got some of his strength from the reluctance of certain groups to appear on a common platform with people of differing beliefs, or to be within the same area as Jews and people of other races or to tolerate religious views such as Catholicism.
Hitler carried the red bogey right into the German labour movement. Because many German labour leaders refused to resist such attempts — on the contrary, acquiesced in them — the German trade unions lost their independence and fell under state control. They became, in fact, employer-controlled unions.
That was the harvest of the red bogey.
Hitler caused these prejudices to spread and carried them to their logical conclusion at Belsen and its gas ovens.
Many terrible crimes of history were committed through dangerous and anti-democratic prejudices, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism.
The working-class cannot afford concessions, however minor, to such unprincipled prejudices. They must be stamped out and repudiated in whatever forms they show.
That was an important lesson made more clear to the men in the slave pens by the sea, in the great November unity.