Dawn To Dusk, Ernest Lane 1939
In compliance with a resolution of the A.W.A. conference at Townsville, Messrs. Theodore and McCormack represented the A.W.A. at the amalgamation conference held in Sydney in June, 1912, at which the following bodies were represented: – Australian Workers’ Union, Rural Workers’ Union, Amalgamated Workers’ Association, Australian Carriers’ Union and Amalgamated Rabbit Trappers’ Union.
The conference agreed that each union should submit the question of amalgamation to a plebiscite vote of the members. The result of the voting was that the unions favoured amalgamation by large majorities, the A.W.A. being almost unanimous on the subject – only 24 votes being recorded against. The membership of the A.W.A. was over 11,000. At the conference in Sydney in June, it was decided that if the amalgamation scheme was carried, a further conference would be held in Sydney the first week in January, 1913, for the purpose of discussing the basis of amalgamation. Messrs. Theodore, McCormack and J. Mullan represented the A.W.A. That conference drafted and adopted a constitution both of the A.W.A. and A.W.U. The ensuing final conferences of the two organisations, held in January, 1913, did not have power to alter that constitution and could only draft by-laws for their own branch.
This merging of the A.W.A. and the A.W.U. into the one organisation, the present A.W.U., was anticipated by the militant members of the A.W.A. to bring about a distinct advance to the whole union movement throughout Australia. We fondly believed that the fighting working class outlook and basis of the A.W.A. would outweigh and submerge in a short time the moderate, even reactionary in some respects, policy of the A.W.U., which had adopted Arbitration Courts as the method whereby to protect and advance the interests of its members. How mistaken we were in our forecast of the development of the new organisation events since 1913 have shown only too well. Instead of being the spearhead of a progressive and fighting class conscious unionism, the A.W.U. to-day is the greatest obstacle in the Commonwealth of all genuine working class advancement. For years it has been the buttress and strongest support of effete and treacherous Labour parties and governments. It has vindictively attacked, slandered, and persecuted not only other unions and radical organisations, but has never hesitated to bludgeon and crucify its own members who have dared to challenge the infallibility of the A.W.U. bureaucratic machine. Much more can, and will be said, of the despicable rule of the “great” A.W.U. or, to be precise, the coterie of self-seeking reactionaries who have secured control of that union.
It was impossible for anyone to foresee in 1912-13 this tragic result of an amalgamation which should have been a tower of strength to the whole working class, neither could any opposition to the amalgamation have had the slightest effect in preventing its consummation.
The increasing success of the Labour Party at the elections, with an ever growing prospect of ultimately getting elected as a government was having its corroding effect on the place hunters, with a consequent subservient exaltation of the political as against the industrial side of the movement.
Coinciding with this swing to the right, the Queensland “Worker,” then edited by Charlie Seymour, devoted its space and propaganda to the political situation while the industrial was apparently regarded as of secondary importance.
This aroused my resentment and, being elected to the A.W.A. conference to be held at Rockhampton (January, 1913), with “Jock” Moir as delegates from the Southern district, I determined to raise the political policy of the “Worker” at the conference in order to protest and also to find how other delegates regarded the matter.
The conference dealt with the amalgamation conference, Theodore and McCormack submitting reports. It is of interest to note what the latter said regarding Arbitration Courts. He said (inter alia), “To be frank, he might tell the conference that there was no intention to apply to the Arbitration Court for an award on behalf of the miners because in North Queensland to-day that trade enjoyed better conditions than they could secure from any Arbitration Court and also because they could secure better conditions by the methods ordinarily employed. That really was the amalgamation’s policy in regard to the mining industry. He might tell them, too, that the amalgamation was not going to be governed by the Arbitration Court, not, as one delegate had remarked, ‘The time has gone past when the Arbitration Court should be considered at all.’”
McCormack also said that at one of the early amalgamation conferences it was stated that if Arbitration Courts were to be considered in preference to the consolidation of unionists, the A.W.A. could not see its way to go on with it.
His experience of the A.W.A. was that the general feeling was against Arbitration and he had never known a resolution passed favouring the principle of arbitration and conciliation.
The A.W.A. had never recognised the principle of Arbitration Courts, but had always fought its many fights – win or lose – on the solid foundation of the militant unionism of the members. Yet, within two or three years, this essential spirit of the union became absolutely submerged by the moderates of the amalgamation who worshipped at the political shrine and bowed to Arbitration Courts.
On the grounds of the danger of an “Asiatic invasion,” the following motion I moved was defeated: “That this conference condemns the Commonwealth compulsory military scheme as it regards this scheme and all forms of militarism as being inimical to the interests of the working class.”
After considerable discussion I had the question recommitted and moved the following resolution, which was carried: – “That this conference emphatically recommends to the Federal Government the immediate alteration of the Federal Defence Act, by an amending clause that will absolutely prohibit at any time the employment of the Federal military forces, arms or accoutrements, against the citizens of the Commonwealth during strikes or internal disturbances. Furthermore, that unless such amending clauses be herewith enacted, this organisation shall use its utmost endeavours to effect a repeal of the Federal Defence Act.”
The following resolution I moved was carried but never put into operation: – “That it be a recommendation from conference to all branches to voluntarily contribute to a general fund for the purpose of establishing a book-exchange department which will supply branches with books to form the basis of a library that will strengthen the association and educate its members.”
The president, E. G. Theodore, during the discussion on the literature report I submitted, indicated his veiled hostility to the question in inferring that the money voted by the conference to the literature committee was subject to the “state of the finances of the union.” F. Martyn regretted that “Australian Labour literature” had been ignored by the committee as he thought a selection from it would have done infinitely more good than “this imported Yankee stuff.”
However, the “foreign” literature had only just arrived in Brisbane and had not been circulated. When it was then – the storm broke.
When the “Worker” report came before the conference I moved: “That this conference considers that an immediate change is necessary in the policy of the “Worker” newspaper, insomuch that the present overwhelming prominence in the “Worker” on the political phases as against the industrial is causing serious dissatisfaction amongst A.W.A. members and is detrimental to the best interests of the workers.”
I stated that it was desired to know if the delegates, representing members throughout Queensland, were satisfied with the decided political swing in the “Worker” with a consequent grave neglect of the industrial and more important phase of the movement. The “Worker” had been established as an organ of revolutionary working class thought and was never intended to be used as a panderer to expedient politicians. George Martens seconded the motion.
Theodore, who had vacated the chair to have a free hand in the discussion, was furious. A special “Worker” had arrived that day with a full page cartoon of the One Big Union and page after page of industrial news. It was palpably a special issue to counter the criticism that it was known would take place at the conference. Theodore, waving the “Worker,” emphasised its strong industrial character. I interjected that if the “Worker” had been half as good during the year the motion of protest would not have been necessary.
I was surprised at the strong support the motion had from practically all the delegates – with the exception of the executive and secretaries, which included Jack Dash, F. Martyn, J. Mullan and, of course, Theodore and McCormack. It was the outstanding debate of the conference and the political apologists were hopelessly beaten. Seeing how the vote was going to result, McCormack warned the conference that if the motion was carried, it would mean the resignation of Albert Hinchcliffe, manager, Charlie Seymour, editor, and the whole of the “Worker” board.
I said I did not desire to force that position, and if the object of the motion was attained through the discussion then I would withdraw the motion. This was done and the following resolution was moved by H. Ryan, and carried: – “That it be an instruction to our delegates on the A.L.F. that this conference desires that greater prominence be given in future in the ‘Worker’ to the industrial side of the Labour movement.”
The conclusion of this final conference of the A.W.A. if we had known, ended a period of militant unionism, which, with the amalgamation of the A.W.A. and A.W.U., was to suffer an eclipse from which it has never emerged. Instead of the new organisation blazing the track of a wider and more progressive industrial movement, it became a plastic adherent to the compulsory Arbitration system and the jackal of a reactionary and treacherous Labour Party. Those in control of the amalgamated A.W.U., ever seeking the line of least resistance, built up a powerful organisation, which effectively, to this day, has succeeded by devious methods in crushing or suppressing all efforts of the rank and file members to vitalise its policy and break the chains of arbitration and political expediency that has killed the A.W.U. as a fighting force of Australian Labour.
On my journey back to Brisbane from the Rockhampton conference, I said to Theodore: “The conference is over and the delegates are now scattered all over the State; but I have to return to Brisbane and come into constant contact with men, who, because I have the honesty to attack subservient policies, will regard me as a bitter enemy.” Theodore laughed, saying: “Oh, you don’t want to worry over little things like that.”
Every day I used to go to the Trades Hall in the lunch hour. The following day, Seymour, editor of the “Worker,” which was then situated at the Trades Hall, asked me what the conference had done with regard to the “Worker’s” policy. I told him, and he remarked that the conference had done the right thing. I do not know what lies he was told in the meantime – or by whom – but the next day he waylaid me in the vestibule of the hall and most viciously accused me of being a coward, “the dirty tool of unscrupulous men,” for attacking him “behind his back.” I heard him in amazement, but had the good sense not to argue, and simply pointed out that I had not even mentioned him, whatever other delegates might have done and that Theodore had put up the best possible defence of the “Worker’s” political policy.
Albert Hinchcliffe stated that, rather than publish in the “Worker” a report of the conference discussion on the “Worker” he would resign!
Arising from the publication of the A.W.A. conference report, I had my first experience of the unscrupulous censorship that is unhesitatingly exercised by the A.W.U. bureaucrats and Australian Labour Party “press” committees of conventions on all militant delegates who have the audacity to expose festering sores and attempt the apparently impossible task of keeping the official Labour movement clean and honest.
The “Worker” report of the Rockhampton conference, published in weekly instalments, completely exorcised all reference to the criticism of the “Worker’s” political policy, but emphasised the conference motion appreciating the sound financial position of the paper. Before the official report was bound and issued, I secured a copy and saw that the same inexorable censorship had been applied. I immediately wired to McCormack at Townsville, where he was acting secretary for the A.W.A., asked who was responsible for this gross censorship and demanded that he immediately instruct Hinchcliffe to withhold the publication of the report until it was remedied and a full report inserted.
That wire cost me 7/6, as, foolishly, I did not make it a collect wire. It was three weeks before McCormack replied to my protest and demand. In the meantime, of course, the censored report was issued and only those at the conference ever knew the truth. McCormack said that he “understood” that the general secretary, J. Mullan, was responsible for the deletion in the report.
Since then, I, in common with many other militant delegates, have suffered continuous censorship and suppression in A.W.U. convention reports. Always in a minority, we vainly protested and instead of getting any redress, were invariably sneered at and insulted as “limelighters playing to the gallery.” Needless to say that Grayndler, Blakeley, Barnes, Dunstan, Riordan, and every other moderate or reactionary, always received the fullest publicity in the official reports.
Not having attended many A.L.P. conventions, I have not had the same experience except that at the 1921 Federal A.L.P. convention I was the victim of the severest censorship, almost to the point of complete obliteration, in my attack on and criticism of Theodore and my desperate endeavour to get the Socialisation plank made the first plank of the fighting platform.
With regard to my articles in the “Daily Standard,” this applies more particularly to the later years of my connection with the paper, under the tragic editorship of Alick Robertson, vindictive censorship was exercised, ending with total suppression.
The Labour Party, with its comrade in arms, the A.W.U., “tear a passion to tatters” when the Lyons Government or any other Tory organisation applies censorship – though only to their political or industrial enemies. But these righteous critics of Tory censorship still more ruthlessly employ censorship methods not to their political enemies but to the workers who in many instances have materially helped to build up the Australian Labour Movement.
It was in 1912 that I first met “Pat” Hickey, one of the outstanding personalities of the New Zealand Labour movement. The historical Waihe miners strike was in full conflict, in which the whole power of the State was placed at the disposal of the mining companies and organised lawlessness, even up to the point of the killing of a striker, backed by the police authorities, held undisputed sway. Hickey was sent to Australia for the purpose of raising funds to assist in the struggle. He visited every State, including Westralia, and spent about seven months in Australia, travelled many thousands of miles, and addressed hundreds of meetings, sometimes as many as six in the one day.
Nearly £19,000 was collected in Australia, the unions generously responding to the appeal for help. When Hickey arrived in Brisbane with an enthusiastic letter of introduction, to me from our dear, mutual comrade “Bob” Ross, then editing the “Maoriland Worker,” I was at first surprisingly disappointed at this seemingly quiet, casual individual, who remarked that “the mosquitoes were a nasty pest.” Hickey stayed at “Cosme,” and we soon discovered that Pat did not belie his fine reputation as an inspiring worker and leader of a revolutionary working class movement. It was Hickey who, during the revolt of the militant Maoriland unionists against the Arbitration Court, in summing up the issue, said: “Loyalty to your class or loyalty to the enemies of your class. Whenever that position arises every unionist should stand prepared to toss every argument (or award) to Hell!” This was translated by the N.Z. capitalist press into the phrase, “To Hell with Arbitration.”
Hickey was innately permeated with the wanderlust and in his younger days had sought adventure in Alaska and later worked – and struck – in the Colorado mines, and was an intimate of Big Bill Haywood and Eugene Debs. His labour record even in 1912 was one of which many a man might be proud. One of the founders of that uncompromising union workers’ organisation, The New Zealand Federation of Labour, generally known (feared or loved) as the “Red Fed.,” Hickey had been the first secretary of the N.Z. Miners’ federation and formerly general secretary of the United Federation of Labour.
Sometime sub-editor and acting editor of the “Maoriland Worker,” secretary of various important conferences, with widespread activities in all directions, Hickey represented the best type of Labour leader.
Naturally, we became the closest of comrades, closer to me than anyone else, with the exception of Bob Ross, and this deep friendship remained unbroken until the day of his death in Melbourne a few years ago.
There was a close bond and similarity of outlook between the old fighting A.W.A. and the “Red Fed.” in their militant policies and detestation of the Arbitration Courts, which served to still further increase our mutual regard, both having a common objective and ideals in respect to the real mission of unionism. A magnetic speaker, persistent organiser and writer of ability, Hickey left his mark wherever he went. Later he returned to Australia and was engaged as organiser by the Victorian branch of the Australian Railways Union afterwards transferring to the Queensland branch. It was at that intermediate period that Frank M. Hyett, A.R.U. general secretary, died suddenly, and Hickey was approached to take up the vacant position. But he declined, and came on to Queensland. I asked him why. With his whimsical smile he replied: “Oh, you know, I don’t like stepping into dead men’s shoes.”
When Hickey was returning to Australia, there was a vacancy on the Queensland “Worker” literary staff, which would have suited Pat, who was looking for a job. I was a member of the “Worker” board and did my utmost to get Hickey the job. J. Hanlon, the editor, and A. Hinchcliffe, manager, both knew Hickey well – and that, of course, was the cause of their determination not to have a rebel like Hickey at any price. So they schemed and wangled until the “danger” had passed.
A few years previously, when C. Seymour resigned from the editorship, the position was advertised throughout Australasia. Hickey applied in characteristically brief and unassuming manner. Theodore was chairman of the “Worker” board and controlled the situation. Crampton and I, when we heard that Hickey had applied, tried hard to get him the appointment, but obviously Theodore determined to prevent such a menace to “sane” labourism, from entering the sacred premises of the “Worker,” and the present editor, highly recommended by every Labour politician in West Australia, was appointed. He has held the position ever since and has consistently justified his selection as a loyal and unquestioning servant of the reactionary A.W.U. official coterie and the Labour politicians.
Hickey, after occupying the position of A.R.U. organiser for some time, left Queensland to take on the impossible task of raising sufficient money in New Zealand to establish a Labour daily. The project failed, and Hickey commenced a printing business in Auckland. He made a success of this venture, but ultimately abandoned it and settled in Melbourne, where he subsequently died, a comparatively young man.
The arrival of the pamphlets from Kerrs, U.S.A., in two huge cases in January, 1913, was the beginning of a continuous stream of Socialist and militant working class propaganda which was poured forth to A.W.A. (U.) members throughout the State. Knowing the fate that would await such literature from indifferent or hostile officials if sent in bulk to the various district offices, I obtained a full list of all mining camps, sugar mills, shearing sheds, railway gangs in Queensland and dispatched parcels of the precious literature to each one. It was a big task, but it was indeed a labour of love, and enthusiastically assisted by two or three comrades who likewise realised the urgency and value of this work, the A.W.U. in Queensland was flooded with this literature.
Included in the literature obtained then and later were the writings of Marx, Engels, Morris, Spargo, Bax, Haywood, Jack London, Kautskey, Kropotkin, Lafargue, Jim Connolly, Mary Marcy, Trautman, Simons, Professor Heron, and many other, of the recognised leading writers and propagandists of the world Labour movement.
Later I managed to literally drag a further amount of money from the executive and remember purchasing 200 copies of “The Truth about the Waihi Strike” and £10’s worth of the “International Socialist Review,” Kerrs’ magnificent monthly magazine. Theodore particu larly was hostile to the literature project and did not hesitate to put every possible obstacle in the way of the literature committee getting the money allocated by the A.W.A. conference.
At the Townsville conference I met “Jim” Munro, who was a delegate and an active worker in the A.W.A. though also a member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Jim later came to Brisbane and as a member of the literature committee rendered invaluable service in the circulation of the literature. Always an active worker in the Labour movement, Jim has occupied responsible positions in the A.E.U. and was chairman of the Brisbane Labour Day Committee in 1938.
A brother, Jack, now in Westralia, was also an engineer, and a live member of the old A.W.A., closely associated with Theodore and McCormack. After the 1912 general strike Jack at a meeting, made certain recommendations as to how unionists should deal with scabs when forced to work with them. He was arrested, committed for trial and sentenced to six months hard labour in Boggo Road gaol, which he served. A little while ago Mrs. Lane and I had a long letter from him in which he lovingly recalled the old days of virility and enthusiasm, with a special word for the beauty of “Cosme,” where he met his future wife.
As there was evidently no intention of the A.W.A. executive to establish a book department as recommended by the conference, I resolved to endeavour to do something in this matter, though as an individual it must obviously be in a very restricted manner. I issued an appeal which, as it is of some historic value, is inserted as an addendum at the end of the book.
It is hard for the present generation to realise or even understand the paucity of Socialist and working class books in Queensland particularly, and Australia generally, 25 years ago. There was not a bookseller’s shop in Brisbane that stocked, sold, or even knew anything of such books. The dearth or drought was absolute and nobody seemed to care a darn. Practically all such books I had to obtain from America, England, New Zealand, and a few from Andrade, Melbourne.
Despite the many difficulties, happily some fine results accrued from this scheme. The response I received was encouraging and until after the outbreak of the war in 1914 placed the military in the saddle of power, thus automatically banning and gagging all freedom of a working class nature, very many books were purchased and distributed. In some instances I received from small mining or railway camps, £5 orders and from many distant and isolated parts of the State thirsty souls wrote to me with appreciation of this effort to spread the light.
Those far off days of book shortage and difficulties are to-day but a dim memory, unknown even to most workers. To-day Communist, revolutionary, radical books and literature of all descriptions are to be found in every quarter – even often finding pride of place in the windows of Methodist and other religious bookshops, while the Anvil Book Shop staggers one with its wealth of working class publications.
Compared with this welter of books easily and immediately obtainable, my efforts in the direction of book circulation amongst the toilers of Queensland were poor indeed. But I cherish the thought, even belief, that this seed thus sown has borne good fruit, that the labour was not wasted, and that at least some of the Communist thought and activities in Queensland to-day can be traced in some degree to the books and literature I and a few other comrades succeeded in distributing a quarter of a century ago.
Of all the literature sent out by the literature committee, Paul Lafargue’s “Right to be Lazy” perhaps created the liveliest interest. It was an entirely new doctrine, a startlingly fresh outlook on life to the workers in this State who had been taught nothing except the “dignity” of labour, of the right to work and toil from the cradle to the grave. This devil’s gospel had never been challenged but unthinkingly accepted as the basis of the workers’ lives. Lafargue’s brilliant exposition of the new dispensation, of the workers’ supreme right to be lazy, for a place in the sun, to discard the old shibboleths regarding eternal toll, came like a burst of sunlight through a black and murky sky. It literally captured the imagination of the A.W.U. members and became a continual topic of debate and acclamation round camp fires, at meetings and conferences alike.
“The Right To Be Lazy"! What a soul comforting thought in this era of degrading and mostly useless or, unnecessary toil. And how few workers realise their God-given inherent right to be lazy, to enjoy and revel in life, instead of being the soulless machines of an inhuman system of society.
An amusing incident with regard to the right to be lazy occurred at a conference between the mine owners and their employees at a mining centre in North Queensland. Con Ryan, who, at it later period, for a short time was a Labour member of Parliament, as an A.W.A. organiser, represented the men and pointed out that the men were deserving of increased wages because they were such good, hard toilers. “Why!” interjected a mine manager, “I heard you at a street meeting the other night strongly stressing the claim of the doctrine of the right to be lazy!” Ryan was non-plussed for a few seconds, then with ready Irish wit retorted “But that was only propaganda!”
The “foreign” literature which the committee had now circulated aroused the most bitter opposition of Theodore, H. Coyne, R. Bow, F. Martyn, and other reactionary members of the executive of the now amalgamated A.W.A. and A.W.U., of which W. J. Dunstan, an imported reactionary from South Australia, was general secretary. At a meeting of the Queensland executive, I and the literature were denounced as enemies and disruptors of the “Labour movement” in general and the great A.W.U. in particular. A deplorable picture was depicted as to how the literature was “undermining” and corrupting the union. Poor Dave Bowman, who was my personal friend, was so worked upon by this tale of horror that he shook his fist and exclaimed: “Who has done this damnable thing!” The executive then made short work of the literature committee and me.
Although I was elected by the recognised highest authority of the union – the annual convention, the executive dissolved the literature committee and branded me as an A.W.U. disloyalist. J. Moir and J. Dash, both members of the executive, came and, told me what had happened. I said that personally I did not worry about the action of the executive, but that I strongly resented the insulting of the writers of the literature who were the greatest in the whole Labour movement, and whose boots Theodore was not fit to brush. I said if this literature was undermining the A.W.U., then it was about time it was undermined, but it was not the A.W.U. but the officials and their reactionary policy that the literature was undermining. The executive, I said, was a Star Chamber, who had the brazenness to dictate to the rank and file what they should or should not read. But instead of the members resenting the “corrupting” literature I had received many letters from all parts of Queensland stating that the literature scheme was the finest thing the A.W.U. had ever done and deeply appreciating the “foreign” literature supplied.
I said to McCormack when I next saw him: “I am alone here in Brisbane, and you have apparently crushed me and the literature. But you are too late, Mac! The literature is now throughout the State and will do its work despite the executive.”
There was a change in the tone of Theodore and his cronies with regard to the literature after they had come in contact with the rank and file of the members. They found, of course, that the members gladly welcomed the literature and wanted more of it. But though the open hostility of the executive was dropped, the determination to prevent me from operating the literature never wavered and the outbreak of war upset any concrete effort to again force this matter to the front.
McCormack was always more frank than Theodore in discussions or, talks with me. After he had been out-back, he said to me: “You know, Ernie, there is nothing wrong with that literature, but you have made thousands of I.W.W.-ites,” and he laughed. “They all want to put the theories into immediate practice. I was at a meeting in a northern mining centre,” he continued, “where a miner, whom I had worked with years ago gave a very fine speech on industrial unionism. When he had finished I said to him, “Why, what has happened to you; I never heard you speak before in your life.” Taking a number of the “foreign” A.W.A. pamphlets from his pocket he replied, “This is what happened to me; I always had these ideas dimly in my mind, but never heard them expressed until we got this literature.”
So, despite the intense official opposition, the good work was going on and the literature was fulfilling its hoped-for mission.
The line of demarcation between the two schools of thought that existed even in the old fighting A.W.A. became clearer and intensified with the amalgamation and the entry of the Arbitrationist A.W.U. and its reactionary leaders. Contrary to the expectations of the militant. section, the majority of the leading old A.W.A. officials with Theodore in the lead, threw their weight in with the reactionary section.
I was defeated in the 1913 ballot for position as delegate to the annual delegate meeting and Australian Convention. The Queensland president and two vice-presidents were in that year. elected by the delegate meeting. Theodore was, elected president, while the first ballot for vice- president resulted in the election of J. Wilson, a decent, popular northern member of the A.W.A. The other candidates included Albert Hinchcliffe, Dave Bowman, Harry Coyne, M.L.A., “Bill” McCormack, and myself. In the second ballot, all except Bowman and I were eliminated, McCormack only receiving three votes, the others less. In the final ballot, to the amazement and consternation of the reactionaries, Bowman and I tied, and it was left to the president, Theodore, to give his casting vote. “I declare Bowman elected,” he said. W. J. Riordan who (ye gods!) was one of the militant delegates, interjected, “Of course you would.” Within a month, Wilson, owing to his appointment as Federal Electoral Officer of the Darling Downs, had to resign from the vice-presidency. The executive without any hesitation or qualms of conscience, appointed McCormack vice-president. In the following year (1914), a number of the militants urged me to nominate against Theodore for the position of president. Of course, we knew that no one could beat Theodore, but it was desired that an opportunity should be given to record a vote of protest. I readily agreed as I have never worried about getting defeated in a ballot or a fight. I have been in that position all my life. Theodore was elected, but I received a big minority vote, which represented the fighters of the organisation.
McCormack and Coyne continuously nominated for the position of vice-president, the former being elected. In 1915, they were both nominated and at the last hour of nominations I nominated, as the militants considered that on a split reactionary vote between McCormack and Coyne, a solid militant vote would elect me. When the nominations were published, however, it was seen that Coyne’s name had been withdrawn!
Theodore, in January, 1915, after being re-elected president for that year, resigned from that position, thus leaving it to the annual delegate meeting at Brisbane in January, to elect a president. There was a militant majority of one at that meeting, so their nominee would be elected. I had failed to get elected to the delegate meeting. The militant delegates approached me, urging me to accept nomination. With the greatest reluctance I agreed, feeling that, as there was no one else in sight, it was my duty to do so. I dreaded the crucifixion I should suffer as president at the hands of a reactionary secretary and executive. When I told Jack Crampton he said: “You are a damn fool to take it on,” and tried to persuade me not. to. On the Monday morning the election was to take place, Jack Moir, a delegate, and secretary of the Far Northern District of the A.W.U., was waiting at the “Daily Standard” office to see me. He said that I had quite enough worry as an industrial writer in the “Standard” without adding to it the misery of A.W.U. presidency. “They will murder you,” he said, “and Jim Riordan has agreed to accept nomination. We want some one who will kick Dunstan down the stairs – out of the office – and Riordan is the man to do it.”
I assured Moir that I was only too pleased to give him pride of place in this matter of Riordan or anyone else. Some of the militant delegates resented the intrigue that had apparently taken place in connection with Riordan’s nomination and wanted me to go to the ballot, but I persuaded them to let me withdraw. McCormack was the nominee of the reactionaries, but did not nominate as it was known that the militants’ nominee would be elected it was rumoured that it was the intention of the delegate meeting to make the position of president a fully paid one.
Moir was asked if this was true. He indignantly denied it point blank. As soon as Riordan as declared elected unopposed, as president, Moir jumped up and moved that the president be paid a salary of £300 per annum. This resolution was carried but was rejected by the Australian A.W.U. convention in Sydney a few days later. However, this hurdle was easily surmounted because the Queensland president of the A.W.U. was paid a “special organiser’s” salary, and that tricky method of paying a president operates to this day.
It is hardly necessary for me to note how faithfully (?) Riordan carried out his mission to fight Dunstan and the reactionaries as president of the A.W.U. Like many other time servers, Riordan forswore his militancy once he had obtained office through its agency. He became the boon companion and well-beloved comrade of Dunstan and commenced his reactionary career.
These sidelights on the earlier A.W.U. ballots serve to illustrate the true inwardness of the reactionary bunch who have so continuously held sway in the A.W.U. and largely managed to repulse every attempt to clean it up.
One of the results of the amalgamation of the A.W.A. and the A.W.U. was the withdrawal of many of the unions from the Australian Labour Federation on account of a misunderstanding, arising from a letter from Hinchcliffe, that all affiliated unions had to pay the “Worker” a subsidy. This left only the A.W.U. and A.M.I.E.U. subsidising that paper. Consequently the A.L.F. disappeared as an organisation that had originally promised to be a solid and permanent basis of Australian unionism.
With the eclipse of the A.L.F. the Brisbane District Council automatically dissolved and for a considerable time there was no central organisation of the Brisbane unions. This impossible position was rectified by the establishment of the Brisbane Industrial Council, on the usual basis of union representation common to other Trades and Labour Councils. Alex. Skirving, later an M.L.A., and alderman of the Brisbane City Council, was the first president, and George Gavin (Painters’ Union) secretary.
At the commencement the Industrial Council was dominated by the moderate unions, but after the outbreak of the war in 1914 – there was a decided swing to the left, until eventually the militants were in the majority. This was most objectionable to the reactionary minority, who vainly endeavoured to stem the rising tide and viewed with dismay the revolutionary policy of the Council.
One of the stock phrases of the Labour Party, with their close allies, the moderate and reactionary unions, is that “majorities must rule, and minorities must submit to majority decisions and be disciplined.” But this basic principle of democracy has been invariably ignored, side-tracked or sabotaged by the blatant moderates when they happen to be a minority. The history of the Brisbane Industrial Council vividly illustrates this dishonest and cowardly method of retarding all progressive movements. Unable to impose their will upon the Council, detesting the courageous anti-war policy of the Council, nearly all the reactionary unions withdrew their affiliations. These unions, included the Carters (now Road Transport Workers), Engine Drivers and Firemen, Clothing Trade, Hairdressers and other smaller unions. These unions found a refuge and comfortable home in the Eight-Hour Committee, which naturally became treated by members and ministers of the Labour Government as the supreme control union organisation in Queensland and was deliberately used by the politicians to discredit and oppose the militant industrial council.
When, years later, a scheme of amalgamation of the Eight-Hour Committee, Industrial Council, and Trades Hall Board, was practically consummated, a meeting of this amalgamation was convened to inaugurate the now Trades and Labour Council, at which every union in Brisbane, with the exception of the A.W.U., was represented, the election of officers resulted in the election of nominees of the old industrial delegates, to every position with the exception of George Lawson, M.H.R., who just got elected on one of the committees. This triumph of the militants was unbearable to the moderates, and within two months the usual withdrawals from affiliation took place, resulting in the early collapse of the amalgamation.
When the amalgamation was again consummated, there was a change in the attitude of the unions. The moderates secured a decisive victory, the present Trades and Labour Council replaced the Industrial Council – and there was no sabotaging tactics indulged in by the delegates who strictly adhere to majority rule – when it suits them.
The A.W.U. is perhaps the most glaring example of this dishonest method of avoiding the unpleasant duty of majority domination. That organisation has consistently, on many occasions, refused to join or co-operate in any movement where the A.W.U. and its hopelessly reactionary policies are not acceptable. Its persistent refusal to recognise or affiliate with the A.C.T.U. is one of the best known instances of this trait of A.W.U. policy.
In June, 1915, a general meeting of metropolitan members of the A.W.U. was held in the Trades Hall for the purpose of forming a local committee in accordance with the new constitution. I was elected secretary and it was decided to hold monthly meetings. A keen desire was expressed to affiliate with the Brisbane Industrial Council and appoint delegates. W. J. Dunstan, general secretary of the Queensland branch, stated that the matter would be dealt with by the State executive and he was sure that an unanimous vote in favour of such affiliation would be cast by the executive.
It is interesting to recall that the following resolution. was carried unanimously at the next meeting: – “That this meeting of the A.W.U. members express their profound indignation at the suggested introduction by a Labour Minister of a miniature Conscription Act and pledge ourselves to join forces with all other trade unionist’s to resist this most reactionary proposal.”
This resolution was forwarded to Andy Fisher, Prime Minister, W. Watkins, secretary of the Federal Labour Party, and W. J. Finlayson, M.H.R. for Brisbane. The Act referred to was in connection with compulsory registration for military purposes. Finlayson, in his reply stated that he was in complete agreement with our protest and that we could rely on his “consistent antagonism.”
The following resolution was also carried and forwarded to Messrs. Frank Anstey and C. McGrath, Ms.H.R.: “That this general meeting of A.W.U. members emphatically endorses the attitude taken up by Messrs. Frank Anstey and C. McGrath in their attacks on the Federal Labour Government, with regard to its abandonment of working class principles and its advocacy of military dominance as opposed to civilian rights.”
Those resolutions give some indication of the anti-working class tendencies of the Federal Labour Government 23 years ago, which, unfortunately, have since become even more pronounced.
Advice was received at the next meeting from A.W.U. executive that the request for affiliation with the Industrial Council could not be endorsed. Very hostile speeches were made that the affiliation be proceeded with immediately. But Dunstan, Riordan, and Coy. had had quite enough of the metropolitan members and their revolutionary attitude. With the usual A.W.U. bureaucratic effrontery they decided to effectually sabotage this possible menace to A.W.U. ideas and policy so they cut the Gordian knot by not having any more meetings of the Brisbane local committee.
As the union funds were controlled by the executive, the necessary supplies were cut off and another victory was secured by the authoritative executive.
During the general strike in 1912 the urgent necessity of a daily Labour paper, owned and controlled by the workers, was realised as never before. A daily strike bulletin was issued and with this foundation, a few months later, the “Daily Standard” was inaugurated in the face of almost insuperable obstacles. Although the paper was made possible by private shareholders, the majority of the shares were taken up by the unions. J. V. McDonald (later elected to the Federal Senate) was editor, Mat. McCabe (Waterside Workers) manager, and “Jack” Crampton a director and industrial editor.
It is difficult for those who only knew the “Standard” in the later years of its existence, when it first came under the baleful editorship and subsequent managership of “Alick” Robertson, to visualise the fine work carried on by that paper in its unswerving advocacy of the Labour cause. It is also interesting to note that the A.W.U. was indifferent in its support of the “Standard,” and it was only very begrudgingly and practically under duress that a modest number of shares were taken up. It was the usual A.W.U. policy of declining to be a minor partner in any working class movement where other unions had a predominating control. Many years later the A.W.U. obtained a majority of the shares and thus completely dominated the “Standard” and its policy, resulting in its ultimate extinction.
Elected as one of the eight delegates to the June, 1916, A.W.U. annual convention, Sydney, Theodore, at the Queensland delegate meeting, intimated that he would be unable to attend and asked me if I, as the next in a ballot of over 40 nominees, would be prepared to go. I replied in the affirmative. Some questions were asked at the delegate meeting (I was not a delegate) regarding what had happened to the literature scheme and a book (?) department that had been started at the “Worker” office and been closed as a financial failure. W. J. Dunstan, general secretary, with an utter disregard for the truth, which has always been a characteristic feature of A.W.U. officials whenever they get the opportunity to attack the “reds,” gave a most shamefully misleading report on the whole literature distribution question. When I saw the report in the “Daily Standard” the next day I decided to reply as secretary of the A.W.U. literature committee, and exposed the tactics of the Dunstan, Theodore gang. I wrote a letter giving a truthful resume of the matter, but did not mention the underhand trickery used by Theodore and Co. to kill the literature scheme. I took it to Crampton for publication in the “Daily Standard.” He said: “Have you sent a similar letter to the “Worker?” I pointed out that the “Worker” would not publish my exposure of A.W.U. crookedness. Crampton advised me to send the letter, otherwise I would be charged with using the anti-A.W.U. press. So I did. Seymour, editor of the “Worker” rang me and asked if I had submitted the letter to the delegate meeting! I laughed, remarking that I knew what sort of justice I would receive from that body. Seymour said he wouldn’t publish it until the delegate meeting had dealt with the letter. I retorted: “You can do what you like, but the letter will be in the ‘Daily Standard.’”
Dunstan was enraged, rushed down to the “Daily Standard” office and stormed at Crampton and the editor at “daring to publish a lying, slanderous attack on the A.W.U.” McDonald, (who did not even know me then), said the A.W.U. had better send a censor to the “Daily Standard” office to decide what should be published. The letter to him (McDonald) seemed a fair presentation of the case, and argued the A.W.U. had its remedy as the columns of the “Standard” were open for them to expose the lies and slanders of Lane. Of course, Dunstan rejected this with scorn. “The A.W.U. did not discuss its business in the daily press.” (But the official report was always published in the “Standard.”) The sequel was that I never heard any more about taking Theodore’s place at the Sydney convention. The position as offered to J. Dash and J. Moir, but it was too barefaced, and they declined, and McLean, Charleville, who had not been in the ballot, was appointed.
There was a virile militant minority of delegates at the first Queensland delegate meeting in 1914 since the amalgamation, who were opposed to the Arbitration system, strenuous advocates of industrial unionism on a definite working class basis who viewed with misgivings the growing dominance of the politicians. W. J. Riordan was one of the militant delegates and in direct conflict with Theodore, McCormack and their allies, the reactionary officials of the old A.W.U.
For the purpose of talking over the position prevailing in the A.W.U., Riordan, “Jim” Munro, and I, one evening went to the Botanical gardens. Although we were not conspirators, in any sense, so strong was the antagonism of the officials that if we had been seen together, we would have been charged with conspiracy.
One evening during the week that the delegate meeting was sitting, Riordan, Theodore, Munro and I were walking up Queen Street to North Quay. Riordan and Theodore stopped behind and talked very earnestly together at the corner of Queen and George Streets, while Munro and I waited for Riordan at the tram stop. We were puzzled to know what was the subject of their conversation. Tired of waiting, we got our tram, Munro remarking that Riordan would tell us the next day. Neither of us saw him again before he returned to the North, though he had arranged two appointments with us. Some weeks later it was announced in the press that Riordan was the Labour candidate for Bowen.
No one has any objections to workers as Labour candidates except when they are workers who insistently express their belief in the pre-eminence of the unions and who refuse to become more politicians attached to an effete Labour Party.
The growing power of the militant section of the A.W.U. was a constant subject of argument amongst us. In Queen Street one evening, Jack Munro and I and a prominent official of the A.W.U. were together. Munro said to him: “Ah well, you have the whip hand to-day, but in a very short time we, the militants, will have control of the organisation.” “No, you won’t,” was the reply. “When you become too dangerous, we have a method to stop you. We buy you.” Munro indignantly repudiated this assumption that the militants could be bought. “Every man has his price,” Munro, was told by the other. “I admit,” he said, “that there are some men you can’t buy, but they are so few that they don’t count.”
What a philosophy of corruption to be voiced by a Labour man. Unhappily he spoke truly, and my experience since that day, 25 years ago, bears out this cynical prophecy. With a very, very few honourable exceptions, officials and delegates of the A.W. U., who invariably were elected and trusted by the rank and file, because of their militancy, and strong opposition to the policy of the dominant officials, have “sold out”; heavily bribed and rewarded with positions of varying value. It is a long, tragic list, and it is entirely due to this criminal desertion of the rank and file to become the miserable tools of a corrupt oligarchy, that the A.W.U. to-day, instead of being a blazing beacon of light has become a byword and reproach to all progressive unionists. There is no question that if the militant officials had not become soulless cogs in the official machine, the history of unionism in Australian would be very different to what it is. The officials could never have obtained such power, but would have been well restrained, or swept out of office.
I have known very many of the A.W.U. officials in Queensland, have been in close association with many, and covering a long period of years only one paid official, to my knowledge, has retained his ideals and never flinched when his principles and courage were tested. That official is Jack Durkin, organiser and later secretary of the Longreach branch of the A.W.U. Durkin, of course, paid the inevitable price of standing alone against the official regime and was dismissed from office. For years Durkin was hated and persecuted by the A.W.U. executive, until when he rightly scornfully refused to circulate a scurrilous pamphlet issued by the Queensland executive slandering and attacking the workers opposed to the reactionary A.W.U. policy, Durkin was sacked. He made only one big mistake, and that was when he was foolish enough to try and get redress through the law courts against his treatment.
The story of A.W.U. officials betrayals is a sorry one indeed. Of course, some of the officials never abandoned their principles as there was no necessity to do so as whatever their beliefs were, they always coincided with their reactionary chiefs.
Shortly after I had been “passed” out of the A.W.U., as far as official positions were concerned, I was present at a delegate meeting waiting to get a report for the “Daily Standard.” I knew most of the delegates, some of whom had been with me in hard fought fights against the powers that be. In the old days the delegate meeting was a strenuous battle ground wherein was fought to the end the ceaseless conflict between the militants and moderates – and we quite often won.
To-day the delegate meeting is a howling farce as there is no militant section and nothing whatever to discuss, all are in the machine.
While I was sitting musing of past glories and present debacle, one of the organisers and delegates whom I had known in the A.W.A. days came to me and said: “What do you think of us, Ernie?” “You know what I think of you,” I replied. “Yes,” he replied, “you are right. We are all in the machine. You have to toe the mark or its ‘outsky.’ It is a matter of bread and butter, and if I opened my mouth – that would be the end of me.” I said sadly: “There is no room for anyone like me amongst you now!” “You!” the delegate exclaimed, “why, they would murder you in a minute!”
The advent of Arbitration Courts into the Commonwealth marked a new and disquieting phase of unionism. Discouraged by the failure in great measure of the strike methods of securing redress for their countless grievances, the appeal on behalf of the compulsory arbitration system found a ready response. Without fully grasping the real significance of Arbitration, its implications, and worst of all, its emasculating effect upon union militant independence, the workers foolishly accepted it as a heavenly dispensation to solve all their troubles.
How compulsory arbitration has led the Australian workers into a fever stricken jungle of deadly diseases that remorselessly sapped the strength of the unions until they became but a shadow of their former manhood, the history of the past quarter of a century only too tragically records.
The Socialist, the industrialist, who clearly foresaw the inevitable result of arbitration, put up a stubborn resistance to this latest and most insidious weapon of capitalist exploiters to nullify the unions’ power and bind the workers with chains of legal bondage. But it was not until after many years of bitter experience of the operations of arbitration, that the workers realised its true purpose and futility.
With a few others I continuously condemned the arbitration system, exposed its fallacy and urged the workers to repudiate it and retain that independence and fighting spirit that was the greatest glory of unionism. At every available opportunity, at conventions and trade union meetings, in the press, I did my utmost to arouse the unions to the very real dangers of the policy they had chosen. But it was all in vain. Union officials with few exceptions, and the whole of the politicians formed a solid phalanx in defence of a system that made it impossible for the basic principles of the working class movement ever to be anything but hypocritical platitudes. I was bitterly attacked from many quarters for my “disruptive and disloyal” utterances and attitude on this question particularly. Indignant letters signed by union secretaries were published in the “Daily Standard,” seriously questioning my rights to attack arbitration, even my bona-fides as a responsible member of the working class movement.
Time, however, brought its compensations, and those who had scoffed at the anti-arbitrationists to-day sadly admit that they, and unions generally had “bought a pup” and been largely responsible for the decline of real unionism and its subservience to capitalist law. Chris. Dawson, secretary of the Brisbane Waterside Workers’ Union, who had openly attacked me in the “Daily Standard” for my criticism of arbitration, some years later said to me quite unexpectedly: “You were right, Ernie, and I was wrong. Arbitration has killed real unionism. Before arbitration, unionists wore unionists from conviction, and suffered victimisation and every hardship for their principles. Today every wharf labourer is a “unionist” but whenever a real working class stand should be taken these arbitration unionists, who are in the majority, always roll up and defeat any militant move. One hundred of the old unionists were worth more than 1,000 of our compulsory unionists.”
And this indisputable fact in itself condemns compulsory arbitration as the workers most powerful enemy.
On the outbreak of the world war in 1914, with few exceptions, the workers in Australia, as elsewhere, enthusiastically supported the war policy of their various Governments. Labour parties and Governments rivalled the most reactionary Governments in their determination to use the full power of the State to crush the “Huns.” Andy Fisher, Prime Minister, spoke vaingloriously of pledging “the last man and the last shilling,” in the holy crusade against the powers of darkness as represented by the central powers. The Federal Labour Government without hesitation imposed a War Precautions Act and established a censorship which won the admiration of the most ardent imperialist.
Thus abandoned by their leaders, the workers accepted without question the war propaganda that was poured out. “A war to end war,” “To save democracy and civilisation,” and “to destroy militarism,” were some of the many slogans shouted from pulpits, press and parliaments.
Caught up in this whirlwind of jingoistic fury, the mass of the people fell easy victims to the prevailing war hysteria. Those of us who refused to be fooled by the militarist jargon and platitudes of ignorant or cowardly politicians were regarded as traitors to the holy cause of freedom, I.W.W.-ites, whose proper place was against a wall at sunrise or behind prison bars. As the years of slaughter rolled by, the truth of this war crime against humanity gradually became exposed in all its naked hideousness with a consequent revulsion of popular opinion and a strategic retreat of the Labour politicians, who, instead of being leaders in the van of progress, consistently follow the mob. While this latter method of leadership may not be very creditable, it is certainly much easier and generally leads the politicians to place and power not – into the wilderness.
The appointment of “Jack” Crampton in August, 1915, to the position of Director of Labour in the new department created by the Queensland Government, brought about a change in my life and gave me an unexpected opportunity to expound the gospel of working class revolt. Entirely through the strong advocacy by Crampton of my fitness to succeed him as industrial editor of the “Daily Standard” I was appointed to that position by J. V. McDonald, the editor. I had not met McDonald until then so it was not a personal matter. “Joe” Collings tried to get the appointment, but was passed over. I can thank McDonald for enabling me to reach an audience in all parts of the State as my “revolutionary proclivities” had, and always would, effectively debarred me from getting employed on the “Worker” or any other Labour paper. In selecting a nom-de-plume for my articles in the “Daily Standard” I first decided on “John Ball,” immortalised by William Morris in “The Dream of John Ball.” But I could visualise it being corrupted and mis-spelt to “John Bull” – which was a horror too awful – though humorous to contemplate. So I, with humble appreciation, adopted the nom-de-plume of another good rebel of the same period, “Jack Cade.”
Until twelve years later, when Alick Robertson, that genius who was going to show a gaping world how to edit a Labour paper, refused to publish any “Jack Cade” articles, I wrote many hundreds of articles. I always – could not possibly do otherwise – approached every subject from a socialist and working class view-point. This, with a natural gift for writing – plus an ever-burning revolutionary fervour that found expression in all my activities throughout my life, gave the “Jack Cade” articles a wide appeal and appreciation by all honest working class people. They were a feature of the “Daily Standard,” and were welcomed as a revigorating refresher amidst a super-abundance of uninspiring Labour-in-politics propaganda.
It was heartening to me to see very many “Jack Cade” articles republished in the Australian Labour papers and even in New Zealand. I felt and still feel that the articles were fulfilling a long-desired want, were comforting to those unswerving fighters in the Labour movement who, with sore hearts saw the rapid decline that was overclouding the one-time militancy of the movement and making it merely a soulless machine whereby to achieve power.
On the other hand the politicians and the craft unionists, the war-mongering Labourites and all who either consciously or unthinkingly considered that a mild “Lib-Lab.” Labourism was the greatest boon, fiercely voiced objections and intensely disliked “Jack Cade” and my other militant activities.
It seemed to be a queer trick of fate that I should be destined, after a lapse of 20 years; to vainly endeavour to force or induce the Queensland Labour movement to return to its early faith, which had been so gloriously preached and established by my brother Will. Yet this was the actual position. At all times, unceasingly, on A.W.U. or A.L.P. conventions, at union meetings, in the “Daily Standard,” I preached, stormed, and fought for the retention or rather the return to basic principles as against arbitration and all the other enervating policies that had, since the early nineties, gradually gained an evil ascendency in the workers’ political and industrial organisation.
There was, however, a tragic difference between the situation in the 80’s and 90’s of the last century, to what prevailed when I returned from Paraguay. My brother Will had a fallow field of rich soil, waiting for the sower and seed. How amazingly he sowed that seed and how the despairing workers responded is one of the most inspiring pages of Australian Labour history.
After his departure from Queensland, his over powering example and influence removed, the drift towards expediency in contradistinction to a stern adherence to principle commenced. The politician and political aspirant attained a power previously unknown. Vested interests became a part of the movement, both in Parliament and in the unions, and a machine was fashioned that served to still further entrench the chosen few from any ill organised assaults from the rank and file. Instead of a receptive, uncorrupted movement as existed thirty or forty years ago, there was now a well organised and powerful machine which was far removed from the early intense working class movement that promised to bring into being a reorganised society.
This was the position I and others were faced with who embarked on the hopeless task of purging the movement of its impurities. I am not drawing any analogy whatever between my brother Will and myself, apart from the facts of the case. Will was a genius, a magnetic pioneer of Communism, who stands alone in his towering strength. None other in Australia ever approached him in the amazing work he put into his all too short life in Australia, or his inspiring writings. Whatever talent I have, does not place me within the same class as Will. But our faith was the same. Communism is to me, as it has been throughout my life, the imperishable, ever blazing beacon lighting the way to a new society. It was this ideal, for which Will sacrificed all to preach and practice, that has ever inspired me to step into the fight, to frustrate the ambitions of indifferent or corrupt leaders, to make the Labour movement worthy of its highest ideals.
The centre of militant unionism of a class-conscious working movement at this period, 1915 onwards, was the Brisbane Industrial Council. With a courage and intelligence sadly lacking in any other of the Labour councils in the Commonwealth, also in very few of the unions, the council adopted a militant attitude on all questions, and in no uncertain manner declared its hostility to the war, denouncing it as a desperate conflict between opposing nations for sordid economic interests. The council was also a candid critic, of the Queensland Labour Government with its supineness and trickery, common to most Labour Governments, in evading their responsibilities to the workers. This earned the hostility of the government and of the unions and unionists who, in their support of the war, were prepared to abrogate many of their union principles. As reporter of the council meetings I was in the position to give prominence to its discussions and emphasise the fine work the council was doing.
The A.W.U. officials as usual remained aloof from a militant organisation which could not be dominated by the A.W.U., and I was personally bitterly criticised by some of the reactionary officials for “booming” the Industrial council. As the first in the field to denounce the war, the council attained fame and respect throughout Australia. Scorning all attempts of the Labour ministers, Theodore, McCormack, Coyne, Fihelly and Co., to influence or address the council the ministers took refuge in the welcome haven, of the reactionary Eight Hour Committee, and endeavoured to get public recognition of that body as the real central organisation of Queensland unionism instead of the Industrial Council. So far did this antagonism of the politicians to the Council extend that when appointments of unionists to the Legislative Council were made with the ultimate view of dissolving the Legislative Council, the Industrial Council was ignored, and three prominent members of the Eight Hour Committee, R. J. Mulvey, Alick Skirving, and G. Lawson, were appointed. This was such a flagrant flouting of the premier working class organisation of the State, rousing public indignation that when the next appointments were to be made, the Government requested the council to nominate three nominees. The council by ballot elected J. S. Collings, Hildreth and W. J. Wallace.
It seems inconceivable in view of the servile services that “Joe” Collings has since rendered to the Labour party for many years, that the Government refused point blank to appoint Collings, because of his virulent criticism of the Government and its non-Labour policy. The council rightly refused to submit any other name. No Industrial Council nominees were ever appointed, but within a few months the “rebel” Joe was appointed to the Legislative Council, and shortly afterwards was appointed organiser for the Queensland Central Executive of the Australian Labour Party, a position he satisfactorily held (in accordance with the traditions of the Q.C.E.) until he was elected to the Federal Senate.
I never heard how Collings had thus become a trusty colleague of the politicians and in the ordinary course of political preferment received his reward.
The acceptance by the workers of the arbitration system and the subsequent growing sectionalism of the unions was countered by a rapidly increasing propaganda of industrial as against craft unionism. The Industrial Workers of the World was in the forefront of this struggle between the old and the new unionism. The success of that organisation in the U.S.A., where hitherto scores of thousands of unorganised, unskilled workers flocked into the ranks of the I.W.W., found its repercussion in Australia. As a revolutionary industrial union, with scant respect for Labour politicians, it aroused much bitter hostility in the ranks of orthodox unions and Labour politicians. I.W.W.-ism became the bogey used pretty effectively to prejudice the more timid workers and the term I.W.W. was a term of opprobrium and denouncement applied to all militants in exactly the same manner as “Bolshevik” and “Communism” is used by the reactionary parties to-day.
But industrial unionism secured the support of a very large number of unionists and the One Big Union soon became the most prominent question in the whole field of unionism. The A.W.U., although on the surface a basis for the O.B.U., was in reality just a mass organisation under the control of a central authority and in close alliance with the Australian Labour Party. With its usual opposition to any movement that threatened the dominance of the A.W.U. that organisation bitterly fought “The Reds,” as all militants were termed, and denounced as disruptives all those inside or outside the union who urged the claim of the O.B.U.
It was not until 1917 that I succeeded in getting elected as a delegate to the A.W.U. annual convention in Sydney, which was the supreme authority of the organisation. I was elected, however, to the Queensland branch annual delegate meeting and the Queensland Central Executive of the A.L.P. in 1915 and my vote was increasing yearly. In 1916 I was elected vice-president with J. Stopford, who obtained fewer votes. On several ballots I was elected councillor of the Queensland branch, defeating the general secretary, W. J. Dunstan. This position carried with it membership of the Australian Executive, where I found that with representatives from all States I was the only unpaid official.
The Queensland delegate meetings were, in those days, generally controlled by the militants, much to the disgust and dislike of the president, W. J. Riordan and his reactionary mate, “Bill” Dunstan. Unfortunately, being a Commonwealth organisation, the Queensland branch delegate meeting’s powers were very restricted and any far-reaching reform or advance had to be endorsed by the Australian Convention which always had an overwhelming majority of reactionaries. At all Queensland delegate meetings militant resolutions were invariably guillotined by the annual convention, where the big majority of delegates were paid officials largely under the influence of the general secretary, E. Grayndler, Senator Barnes, A. Blakely, F. Lundie, W. J. Riordan and other “diehards.”
The vote I received in A.W.U. ballots could be taken as an endorsement of my revolutionary ideals, anti-arbitration, O.B.U. and anti-war activities. This vote was a true barometer of the trend of thought in the A.W.U., registering the reactions of the rank and file to the various situations that arose. When, during the war period and immediately afterwards, there was a marked militant swing in the Labour movement, my vote registered that semi-revolutionary motion by the positions I was elected to, obtaining more votes than any other successful candidate, vice-president, councillor, delegate to delegate meeting and conventions and Q.C.E. and representative on the “Worker” board.
When the reaction took place, my vote registered it in the opposite direction, even as Riordan, Fallon, Lamont and their reactionary partners soared in the ballot. So, as the organisation became more machine like, with its crushing of any attempt to restore its lost vigour, I was, after about ten years, relegated to outer darkness, while “Mossy” Hynes and “Jack” Dash were exalted to the position of vice-presidents.
Some dim glimpse of the incongruity of cabinet ministers of a reactionary Labour Government retaining high executive positions in an industrial organisation can be seen in connection with the strikes that have taken place in the North since these two A.W.U. vice-presidents attained industrial and political power. In the sugar and railway strikes, A.W.U. members were directly involved, yet the government, which included Dash and Hynes, did not hesitate to enact anti-strike legislation projects, and without any qualms, still retain their positions on the A.W.U. Executive. This is a most anomalous position. And yet the A.W.U. delegate meeting, even the rank and file, have not seen fit to turn these two cabinet ministers out of their executive positions. With regard to the vote I received from the A.W.U. members, Dunstan, at one of the Sydney conventions, speaking after I had moved a resolution, said that one should not take any notice of anything I said because I was “living up in the clouds.” I replied that although that might be so it was because of my revolutionary utterances and ideals which I had always honestly endeavoured to carry out that made it possible for me to be at the convention. With few exceptions, it was a militant, revolutionary vote that elected me to all my positions in the A.W.U. When that vote failed me, as I said, it possibly might do, then I should not be “up in the clouds” at the A.W.U. convention.