Dawn To Dusk, Ernest Lane 1939
It would not be possible within the confines of these memoirs, to more than touch the fringe of the A.W.U. convention debates and decisions. I can only refer somewhat briefly to some of the more important events and clashes that occurred while I was a delegate. The outstanding feature of my experience was, however, a consistent determination on the part of the “old guard” to jealously protect the preserves of the A.W.U. from the inroads of more progressive organisations and to persecute and suppress all those, whoever or wherever they might be, who had the temerity to question the infallability of the A.W.U. or to challenge its supremacy as the greatest union in Australia. With an almost senile reverence for its past creditable history before it had degenerated into a fulsome appendage of the Australian Labour Party and the strongest prop of an iron-cast system of compulsory arbitration, the A.W.U. head officials virulently attacked and slandered unions and unionists who sought to bring into the Labour movement some of its lost vitality and class consciousness.
The acceptance by many unions of the policy of industrial organisation as opposed to craft unionism was regarded by the A.W.U. as a pernicious and immoral attempt to “steal their thunder” and pose as the only honest One Big Union in Australia. Brought into the ranks of Australian unionism by the detested I.W.W., full and unscrupulous advantage was taken of this fact by the A.W.U. officials to denounce as “industrial assassins,” “anarchists” and “disruptists,” all advocates of the O.B.U. Individual prejudices and antipathies against “Jock” Garden and other militant advocates of the O.B.U. were given full play and a campaign of vituperation was launched that had no parallel in Australian union history. It can at the same time be stated that some of the O.B.U. leaders were not exempt from these scurrilous methods. Thus the battle raged while the unfortunate workers, as usual, were crucified between the two opposing camps.
Unfortunately for the plans of the A.W.U. bureaucracy, the agitation and demand for the establishment of a class conscious industrial organisation, free from the corroding alliances with the Arbitration Courts and the Australian Labour Party, was not by any means confined to the ranks of other unions but found a wide response in the minds of thousands of A.W.U. members. As the A.W.U. executives and convention had failed to give serious consideration to this question other than to scathingly condemn it as a thinly disguised I.W.W. organisation, there was forwarded to the 1920 (January) annual A.W.U. convention many resolutions from various parts of Australia, demanding either that the A.W.U. join up with the “Workers Industrial Union of Australia,” as adopted at an All Australian Trade Union Congress, held in Melbourne in January, 1918, or to take a plebiscite vote of A.W.U. members on the question.
A motion to take such a ballot was moved. An exhaustive debate, covering several days ensued, in which Grayndler, Dunstan and Coy. frantically contended that the A.W.U. was the only genuine O.B.U. and viciously condemned the O.B.U. sponsors. Eventually an amendment was adopted to appoint a committee to draft a scheme and to confer with representatives of the Miners, Seamen, Waterside and other unions that might have adopted the O.B.U. scheme.
In support of this amendment I said that if the convention could adopt a satisfactory scheme it would be a quicker method than taking a plebiscite, but knowing the convention as it was I should be very pleasantly surprised if any results were achieved. In that case I said that I reserved the right to move a motion that the question be immediately submitted to, a ballot of members throughout Australia. The president, A. Blakely, assured me that I could, under those circumstances, move such a motion.
During his speech in opposition to the O.B.U. the president sneeringly referred to it as “This pipe dream of Trautman’s” (Trautman was the secretary of the I.W.W. in America.).
The committee appointed conferred with the Coal and Shale Miners (J. Baddley, A. Willis, J. O’Reilly), Seamen (T. Walsh, Manning), Railways (Buckley), and Gas Unions (Rawlings), for a period of over two weeks, while convention was sitting, and from time to time submitted progress reports. These reports were of an insidious character, to convey the impression that, while the A.W.U. delegates wanted an O.B.U., the representatives of the other unions were insincere and dodging the issue. As I was very friendly with Albert Willis, who however he has developed since, was at that time a staunch pioneer in the O.B.U. movement, I saw him and heard the actual truth of the conference.
I was not surprised, as this smart method of evading issues was a common practice of the A.W.U. officials in Queensland as elsewhere. At last the inevitable happened. The conference broke down, wrecked (according to the A.W.U. delegates) on a demand from Tom Walsh that coloured aliens should not be barred from membership of the O.B.U. This was the last straw to the overburdened camel’s back and was made to appear as a deliberate and diabolical attempt to break down the untouchable White Australia Policy.
Dunstan challenged me as “the strongest advocate of coloured labour on the convention,” to approve of such a principle. I replied that I sensed that this “White Australia” bogey was just a red herring brought to the convention to smash the conference. That I was not going to be trapped into a coloured labour controversy, but was prepared at any time, whatever the consequences, to state my position with regard to coloured aliens. A motion was moved for the adoption of the committee’s report, to which I moved the following amendment:
“In view of the unsatisfactory and fruitless nature of the A.W.U. One Big Union Committee’s report, and its failure to bring forward a scheme embodying the principles of real industrial organisation, a ballot of the members of the A.W.U. be immediately taken on the question of the A.W.U. adopting the O.B.U. scheme as embodied in the constitution of the Workers’ Industrial Union of Australia.”
To my intense surprise the president, A. Blakeley, after I had spoken to the amendment for a few minutes, ruled the amendment out of order. When I objected and recalled his assent previous to my intended action he retorted: “We have finished with the O.B.U., it has been debated here for three weeks, and you can move disagreement with my ruling if you want to.” I did so, but, of course, the machine majority did its work. During that convention the chairman’s ruling was challenged by the militants no less than 25 times – and his ruling, however tyrannous or unjust, upheld in every instance.
So ended the A.W.U. convention fight over the O.B.U. in which the militants suffered their usual reverse. But within the year the revolt of the rank and file of the organisation against the stubborn resistance of the official authority to even honestly consider the ever increasing demand for a more class conscious organisation, assumed a strength that threatened the complete disruption of the A.W.U. in all States. So with an unblushing change of front, the A.W.U. coterie accepted for the time being, the detested O.B.U. system of industrial organisation and agreed to co-operate with other unions on this question.
There are, however, methods more obscure than open hostility to outwit an enemy and after the new organisation had apparently been safely established on an impregnable basis, by one swift, audacious move, the A.W.U., or rather, its head officials, wrecked the whole structure, and to the present day the O.B.U. remains an unfulfilled dream in the realms of Australian unionism.
The principal and popular objection raised by the A.W.U. to the One Big Union, was its revolutionary preamble and frank condemnation of the whole system of capitalism. This was, of course, in noticeable contrast to the bourgeoise Arbitration Court mentality and Reformative Labour Parties to which the A.W.U. was so closely allied.
Herewith is the preamble and objects of the much maligned O.B.U. – and its working class basis is unassailable: –
“We, hold that there is a class struggle in society, and that the struggle is caused by the capitalist class owning the means of production, to which the working class must have access in order to live. The working class produce all value. The greater the share which the capitalist class appropriates, the less remains for the working class, therefore the interests of these two classes are in constant conflict.
“There can be no peace as long as want and hunger are found among millions of working people, and the few who constitute the employing class have all the good things of life.
“Between these two classes the struggle must continue until capitalism is abolished. Capitalism can only be abolished by the workers uniting in one class-conscious economic organisation to take the means of production by revolutionary industrial and political action. “Revolutionary action” means action to secure a complete change, namely, the abolition of capitalistic ownership of the means of production – whether privately or through the State – and the establishment in its place of social ownership by the whole community. Long experience has proved the hopeless futility of existing political and industrial methods, which aim at mending and rendering tolerable, and thereby perpetuating, capitalism – instead of ending it.
“The rapid accumulation of wealth and concentration of the ownership of industries into fewer and fewer hands, make the Trade Unions unable to cope with the ever-growing power of the employing class, because craft unionism fosters conditions which allow the employer to pit one set of workers against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby defeating each in turn.
“The conditions can be changed, and the interests of the working class advanced, only by an organisation so constituted that all its members in any. one industry, or in all industries, shall take concerted action when deemed necessary, thereby making an injury to one the concern of all.”
The close grip of the officials on the majority of delegates attending the annual A.W.U. conventions was constantly in evidence. I cannot recall any major question that came before the convention covering a period of eight years that Grayndler, Barnes, Blakeley, Dunstan, Lambert, Bailey and their henchmen did not score a victory.
All A.W.U. members had the right to appeal to the convention against any penalties or decisions imposed by branch executives. It soon became self evident to me that it was a case of appealing from Caesar to Caesar as invariably the majority of the convention, after hearing the “heads,” dismissed the appeal.
There was always a strong militant minority to advocate a more virile working class policy for the A.W.U. and to endeavour to break down the sectional hostility and bitterness of other unions which then, as now, seemed to be a bedrock principle of the organisation machine. But it was all in vain. We found that the citadel of bureaucratic control and dispensation of favours was too strong and unscrupulous.
An instance of the reactionary character of the convention was manifested in 1918, when, after a bitter debate a motion to agitate against the compulsory clauses of the Defence Act (really a dishonest system of conscription), was defeated. All the “old guards,” including Riordan, Dunstan, Lambert, Bailey, and Senator Barnes, rallied to the support of the militarists and did not hesitate to indulge in the usual vitriolic attack on the militants which was a marked feature of the conventions. It seems inconceivable that while purely political (A.L.P.) conferences in three or four of the States had at this time repudiated compulsory militarism, that a union that plumed itself on being the most advanced in the Commonwealth, should openly declare itself as antagonistic to this powerful weapon of imperial capitalism.
Resolutions that in any way sought to curtail the power and influence of officials and union members of Parliament were ruthlessly slaughtered and the unfortunate delegates who dared to defy the official juggernaut were derided as “limelighters” and denounced as sham democrats.
These efforts to restrict the governing clique were referred to as “hardy annuals,” as at every convention such resolutions came from the rank and file in all States.
I always objected to union officials who were elected to Parliament retaining their official positions in their union. Notwithstanding that the Labour movement comprises political and industrial wings, there is always a conflict of interests, more of less pronounced, between the two sections. The Labour politician, ever seeking the line of least resistance, and his vote catching propensities developed to an abnormal degree, obviously is opposed, openly or secretly, to any revolutionary or even militant demands of the workers through their unions. I told conventions that no one objected to a union Labour politician as such, but I resented an industrialist who wanted to be a politician retaining official position in a union for the purpose of enhancing his prestige and privileges.
The president of the A.W.U., Senator Barnes, never failed to castigate those who presumed to limit the right of politicians to hold office in a union, and indignantly repudiated any suspicion that the great A.W.U. would ever be made by him subordinate to Labour politics. Yet, within a few years, he became the classical example of the Labour politician serving two masters. When the Federal Government submitted three constitutional questions to a referendum, the Federal Labour Party – of which Senator Barnes was a member – resolved to support the three proposals. The A.W.U. declared its policy in opposition to one of the three questions. Here was a direct and vital conflict of interest and opinion between Labour-in-Politics and the largest union in Australia, of which Barnes was president.
What allegiance did Senator Barnes give to the A.W.U. of which he was president? He stayed in the camp of his political associates and ignored the policy of the A.W.U.!
This position was reviewed by the delegates at the next annual convention held at Katoomba. Barnes frankly admitted (he could not do otherwise) that he had been in a very unpleasant and worrying predicament, having to choose between two loyalties. He said he had decided to “loyally” support the A.L.P. as against the A.W.U.! One would think that if a union Labour man found himself in this position, that he would immediately resign from the presidency of the union whose will he had flouted. But this procedure does not appeal to the sense of A.W.U. officials or their code of morals and Barnes retained his presidential office. Stranger still, the A.W.U. convention and apparently the rank and file, did not turn him down but allowed him to retain his high office in the union!
With a persistence worthy of a better cause, the A.W.U. hierarchy pursued with vindictive malice those members who had incurred the enmity of the inner circle and openly criticised and fought the reactionary officials. Arthur Rae, one of the pioneers of the A.W.U., who had served gaol sentences in his lifelong devotion to the A.W.U. and the whole working class, was a particular object for venom by Grayndler, Bailey and Co. Rae, disgusted with the cowardice and treachery of Labour politicians in New South Wales, had, with other honest men and women, joined what was termed by the crooked A.L.P. machine, the Breakaway Party. This was an opportunity eagerly seized upon by those who desired to persecute and discredit Rae because of his militancy. He was summoned to “explain his action” to the 1918 Sydney A.W.U. convention, evidently on the grounds that as the A.W.U. was affiliated with the Australian Labour Party, he had committed an unpardonable crime by deserting a corrupt Labour Party. However, no charge could be sustained against Rae and he was leaving the convention without a stain on his character when Grayndler, the secretary, said: “Half a minute. Mr. Rae, have you signed this pledge?” The pledge referred to had, at the instigation of the Australian executive, been endorsed by the convention after a fruitless effort by the militant minority to save the organisation from the disgrace of adopting a method whereby to still further hamstring any unwanted rebels. The following is the pledge, which is still embodied in the constitution of the AW.U.:
“I hereby pledge myself to, at all times, loyally and conscientiously carry out the constitution and policy of the A.W.U., as laid down by the executive council and the annual convention from time to time; and, furthermore, I will not join any body or organisation which is opposed to the policy of the A.W.U., nor will I assist in the advocacy of any policy which is in contravention to that of the A.W.U.”
The real insidiousness of this “test of loyalty” is not fully indicated in its phraseology as it does not clearly define its meaning – or its purpose. If the pledge was restricted to the industrial constitution, and policy of the union it would at least come within the orbit of a trade union organisation, although it could and would be applied and interpreted in a tyrannous and arbitrary manner by a reactionary executive or convention to stifle all opposition or remove “undesirable” members.
But the policy of the A.W.U. as set forth in this precious pledge also embraces any political activities or organisation such as the then Socialist League or the present Communist Party, whose outlook and methods are in advance of the Australian Labour Party. It was not that there was any difference in the ultimate goal of the A.W.U., at least in theory, and the oft boasted declarations of its leaders, and more progressive organisations, but only a difference in tempo and methods. But according to the A.W.U. any working class divergence from the infantile and flabby A.L.P. had to be regarded and treated as gross disloyalty to an organisation that presumptuously posed as the great champion of industrial unionism – the O.B.U.
Thus the pledge was deliberately concocted to penalise Rae, who was a member of the Socialist Party, and all others who were dissatisfied with the bona fides of the A.L.P. as a genuine Labour Party. As Rae was not now working in any industry covered by the A.W.U., retaining his membership as an “agent” as provided for by the Federal Arbitration Court, his refusal to sign the pledge also automatically severed his life-long membership of the A.W.U.
Before the vote on the pledge was taken I asked the chairman, A. Blakeley, if it meant the prohibition of any official joining any Socialist or other working class political party other than the A.L.P. He replied very emphatically that was what it meant.
I said that I was under no delusions as to its outrageous meaning, but I wanted the delegates to fully realise the damnable thing they were asked to vote for. But the whip had been cracked and the pledge was adopted.
Jack Cullinan was another of the intended victims of the pledge. But Martens, Kelly, and I had lunch with him and urged him not to walk into the trap set for him by Bailey, Lambert, Grayndler and others. He vowed he would never sign it. However, we succeeded in making him promise to sign the pledge by pointing out that he would be scabbing on the stalwarts who elected him to office and convention to wage uncompromising war on the official junta.
When the convention met in the afternoon, Cullinan, in reply to the chairman, said he would sign the pledge. Bailey could not conceal his bitter chagrin and disappointment and denounced Cullinan as a twister and backslider of the lowest type. But we only laughed and enjoyed the discomforture of Bailey and his associates.
But the mills of the A.W.U. bureaucracy, though sometimes they grind slowly, yet sooner or later crush their victims. Unable to defeat Cullinan at the annual ballots as secretary of the Western (Armidale) branch or to in any other way prevent him holding office, it was brilliantly conceived that his elimination could be effected by the abolition of the Western branch office. This was done without any qualms and plenty of hypocritical reasons why it was in the “best interests of the organisation,” and Cullinan, like Othello, found his occupation gone, much to the joy of his enemies.
While the A.W.U. was pursuing its vendetta against all and sundry who sought to galvanise the Australian Labour Movement and to put some life into the decaying bodies of its leaders, there was a very widespread and growing dissatisfaction in the ranks of unionism at the obsolete policy and objective of the Australian Labour Party. In the course of the war years and immediately afterwards the party had almost entirely abandoned its original purpose as an uncompromising political body to challenge and eventually supplant the capitalist system and establish the Socialist State. Indeed, in many respects there was little difference in outlook and method between the opposing forces of Capitalist and Labour in the parliamentary arena. In New South Wales this dissatisfaction had gone so far as to find expression in a breakaway party in open hostility to the A.L.P.
Recognising the serious danger this revolt of the workers was to the prosperity and well-being of Labour politicians, the members of the Federal executive of the A.L.P., in the early part of 1921, took a bold and unique action in convening an All Australian Trades Union congress to formulate a programme that would embody the desires and political aspirations of Australian trade unionism. The congress was to place its decisions before the A.L.P. executive for the consideration and acceptance or rejection of a later A.L.P. conference. This convening of such a trade union congress by a political Labour Party is the only case on record, and clearly indicates the sorry position of the Labour politicians and their desperate venture by this plan to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of the disgusted workers, who were, and are still, regarded by the majority of Labour politicians as useful and necessary voting machines whereby to secure power and prestige.
On first receiving the invitation from the A.L.P, some of the large and militant unions regarded the proposal with natural suspicion and not important enough to give it serious consideration. J. M. Baddley and A. C. Willis, president and secretary of the militant and powerful Coal and Shale Workers’ Union, took this view. I was particularly friendly with them, as with all those who were keen advocates of the O.B.U., and pointed out that if all the progressive unions abstained from attending the congress, the drafting of a policy would be in the hands of the craft and politically swayed unions. One could easily imagine what sort of a policy would emanate from such a congress, and how eagerly it would be adopted by the A.L.P. as the declared policy of Australian trade unionism.
I convinced Willis of the importance of the congress, which met in Melbourne in June, 1921, and was attended by delegates from the big majority of the important unions and represented 700,000 unionists.
I had the very good fortune to be present as one of the two representatives of the Queensland branch of the A.W.U., although I had not succeeded in being elected by the Queensland branch executive. W. J. Riordan, president, and W. J. Dunstan, secretary, were elected delegates, but, the day before leaving Brisbane for Melbourne, Dunstan was selected by the Q.C.E. as Labour candidate for the Maranoa Federal electorate, which had been rendered vacant by the death of Jim Page, M.H.R. The congress was presided over by the then president of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council, E. J. Holloway, now M.H.R., who was also president of the A.L.P. Executive. In his opening speech the president outlined the reasons for which the congress had been convened, and stated that there had been lightning changes all over the world, and the programme of the Australian Labour Party was considered by some members to be obsolete. The members of the Federal Executive, he said, knew that the mass of the workers was not satisfied with the programme and objective of the Australian Labour Movement. The A.L.P. Executive wanted to get from the trade union representatives an ultimatum as to what they really wanted. An A.L.P. conference would be held after the congress. There was a very exhaustive debate, extending over two days, on the question of the party’s objective and fighting platform at this historic congress, and ultimately the now famous socialisation of industry, production, distribution, and exchange, objective and fighting platform drafted by a special committee was adopted.
As the Australian Labour Party has ignominiously failed during the years that have elapsed since the socialisation plank was adopted at the A.L.P. Federal conference in Brisbane, in October, 1921, and has, in fact, deliberately evaded the issue and pursued an innocuous semi-capitalist non-working-class policy, the following major portions of the congress decision is invaluable:
1. That, for the purpose of achieving the objective, industrial and Parliamentary machinery shall be utilised.
2. That, in recognition of the fact that this is an era of social production, this conference declares that craft organisation, as a workingclass weapon, is obsolete, and pledges itself, and all its future representatives, to organisation of the workers along the lines of industry, as shall be ‘decided by the Organisation Committee of this Conference.
3. The nationalisation of banking and all principal industries, and the municipalisation of such services and supplies as can best be operated in limited areas; adult franchise and extended powers to be granted municipalities for this purpose.
4. The government of nationalised industries by boards, upon which the workers in the industry and the community shall have representation.
5. The establishment of an elective Supreme Economic Council by all nationalised industries.
6. The setting up of Labour Research and Information Bureaux and of Labour Educational Institutions, in which the workers in the industry and the community shall be trained in the management of nationalised industries.
7. That the foregoing be sent to the Australian and New Zealand Labour Parties as a recommendation that it be the fighting plank of the platform, believing that only by the abolition of the capitalist system can working-class emancipation be achieved.
8. That all Parliamentary representatives be required to function as active propagandists of the Objective and methods of the Movement.
Another no less important question was also dealt with by the congress – that of trade union organisations and methods. Many divergent opinions and conflicting elements found expression in this vital problem, but eventually a detailed scheme of industrial unionism, in reality the O.B.U., was hammered out by a committee, of which I was a member, and adopted by an overwhelming majority. Unfortunately for the welfare and the credit of Australian Unionism, the sequel to this brave and encouraging showing in 1921 has borne little fruit. As the politician has sabotaged the socialisation plank, so almost in similar ratio have the unions failed to establish the O.B.U. Made the fierce battle ground of bitterly contending forces submerged in a vicious internecine warfare of ambitious and egotistical individuals, viewed with strong disfavour by reactionary politicians and union leaders alike, the high hopes of a sane and all-powerful trade union movement which were born at this congress, like many others – shall one say dreams? – have never yet been realised.
During the discussion on industrial organisation, “Jack” Crampton, as a visitor, was sitting next to two I.W.W.-ites, in the public gallery. Their remarks on the utterances of craft union advocates and orthodox Labour-in-politics adherents were lurid and entertaining. When I managed to get the chairman’s eye, and had a longed – for opportunity to passionately urge the cause of revolutionary industrial unionism, Crampton told me subsequently, the two I.W.W. comrades pricked up their ears. It was very cold, and I wore an old overcoat and, with grey hair and bald pate, must have appeared very old to anyone in the gallery. “Did you hear that?” exclaimed one I.W.W. to the other. “What do you think of that!
Why, the old chap with one foot in the grave – he sees the light!”
That was 18 years ago, and I suppose I must almost have two feet in the grave now. But I still see the light – “the light that was never yet on land or sea,” but burns forever in the hearts of men and women of all time and ages who love their fellow-men, and are ever ready to strike a blow for human freedom.”
In consequence of this Congress came the Federal Conference of the Australian Labour Party, held at Brisbane in October, 1921. The principal purpose of the conference was to receive and consider the decisions relating to the political side of the movement, as adopted at the Melbourne Trade Union Congress.
With the exception of Queensland, perhaps one other State also, the various States had held conferences and instructed their delegate how to vote on the socialisation objective. The six Queensland delegates included E. G. Theodore, W. M. McCormack, L. McDonald, W. J. Riordan, D. Weir and W. Demaine. I was anxious to be one of the delegates, but, of course, could not get elected by the Q.C.E. The Victorian delegates included J. Scullin and Maurice Blackburn. The Tasmanian branch sent only three delegates on the score of expense, but, in reality, because the executive was opposed to the socialisation proposal, while the Tasmanian A.L.P. conference had instructed its delegates to vote for it. J. McDonald, one of the delegates who was an A.W.U. delegate at the Sydney convention, and had been a hard-hitting and consistent militant, asked me if I would act as a proxy delegate for Tasmania if he could get the authority of the Tasmanian executive. I readily agreed, but it was not before the third day of the conference that the authority to appoint me was granted.
I had been an interested listener to the conference proceedings from the commencement, and heard with resentment and indignation Theodore’s plausible attack on the socialisation proposal, and his stubborn defence of the old platform. It was my old comrade, R. S. Ross, who was a proxy delegate for Westralia, who courageously took up the gauntlet so sneeringly thrown down by Theodore, as the champion of reactionary Labour policies. In denouncing the decision of the Melbourne congress, Theodore said that if it was adopted the Labour Party might as well change its name to the Communist Party, as that was really what was the true meaning of the socialist programme. However, it was carried by 22 votes to 10, Theodore and McCormack voting with the minority. A motion to place the socialisation plank in the forefront of the fighting platform was rejected in favour of an amendment to refer the matter to a committee.
Some time previous to the conference, Theodore had addressed a meeting of A.W.U. members on industrial organisation, in which he had without any equivocation declared that syndicalism was the one and only certain system of society that would enable the workers to destroy capitalism and inaugurate the proletarian state. His exposition of syndicalism was the most concise and convincing that I had ever heard, and made one wonder if Theodore was actually a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of politics. At that same meeting this political weathercock extolled the literature that I, through the A.W.U. literature committee, had been instrumental in circulating throughout Queensland in the face of the bitterest opposition of Theodore, as president of the A.W.U. He stated that such working-class literature was the first essential in the education of members of the union in the truth and necessity of revolutionary methods, such as syndicalism, also that it was the intention of the A.W.U. to still further avail itself of propaganda by means of working-class literature.
With a vivid remembrance of this revolutionary declaration of Theodore, in amazing contrast with his intense antagonism to the socialisation plank, I took my seat at the A.L.P. conference. There were only two vacant chairs at the conference table, one next to Theodore, and the other next to Mrs. Kate Dwyer, of New South Wales, one of the strongest orthodox supporters of “sane” Labour politics. Of two evils I chose the lesser, and became the neighbour – but not the colleague – of Mrs. Dwyer. Within a short time I got an opportunity to speak, and craving the delegates to allow me some latitude owing to not being on the conference from the commencement, I scathingly criticised Theodore on his role as high priest of reaction. All the indignation with which I had listened to his diatribes in denouncement of any progressive change in political Labour found angry expression in my attack. I related the incident of his syndicalist address in the same building, emphasising the fact that syndicalism was a much more revolutionary policy than socialisation, and scornfully designated him as an outstanding example of a reactionary Labour politician. Theodore, to his credit, did not interject or attempt to contravert my statements, though one or two of his associates appealed to the chairman, “Billy” Demaine, to rule me out of order. Demaine, however, let me proceed probably he, like many others, considered that Theodore deserved some castigation. Later, as I was sitting away from the conference table, Dave Weir, M.L.A., one of the Queensland delegates who had sat silent for two days without protesting against Theodore’s attitude, came to me and said: ‘I am glad you attacked Theodore, he richly deserved it and it may do him good.” I remarked that I now doubted whether it was actually worth while or of any use to take Theodore too seriously.
On the last morning of the conference, Bob Ross, who was on the committee appointed with Theodore and two others to arrange the form in which the conference decisions should be placed in the A.L.P. platform, informed me that despite his strong dissent, the committee was recommending that the socialisation plank and the methods to secure same be an objective and not on the fighting platform. Ross agreed with me that this would render the whole question negative and absolutely ineffective. When a motion for the adoption of the report was moved, Maurice Blackburn forestalled me in moving an amendment to the effect that the first plank of the fighting platform be socialisation of industry with the methods agreed to wherewith to bring it into operation. He pointed out that the conference had simply wasted its time in discussing socialisation if it was to be relegated to the obscurity of a pious objective.
It was idle to pass resolutions unless they were to be the fighting platform at the subsequent elections. What the Trade Union congress wanted and what the conference had actually done was to revolutionise the Labour Party, and the objective adopted was immediate Socialistic proposals.
In seconding the amendment I said that the report absolutely nullified what the conference had been discussing all the week. The Trade Union Congress had laid down a definite political fighting platform with socialisation as its basis and for the conference to shirk the issue by relegating this vital principle of a genuine working class programme was not only cowardly, but dishonest. I said that experience had clearly shown that Labour Party objectives were not regarded seriously by Labour politicians when seeking for votes at election campaigns. If the socialisation plank was to be made an objective it would undoubtedly have the same fate as other objectives. It would be pigeon-holed, apologised for or flagrantly ignored by delegates sitting at this conference who were either Labour members or aspiring Labour politicians. I stated an extreme case as to what would happen in the future if socialisation was not adopted as the fighting platform. The case I presented was unanswerable, it was not answered by any succeeding speaker and I optimistically thought that reason and honesty would prevail against political expediency. But I was sadly mistaken. The amendment to make Socialisation the fighting plank was defeated on a division by 20 votes to 11. All the Queensland and New South Wales delegates voted against the amendment.
The history of the socialisation objective of the A.L.P. since the 1921 conference needs little comment. It is a discreditable one and every forecast I made at the conference has been justified. Socialisation, instead of being an inspiring slogan of a genuine Labour Party, has become a byword amongst Labour’s enemies, a cheap plaything for the politicians to tickle the ears of the groundlings, even while they are subserviently making obeisance to the capitalist state.
It needs no investigation to reveal for all to see how far the Australian Labour Party has drifted from its Socialist objective to become a servile catspaw of capitalist finance and vested interests. All my dire prognostications of the fate of the Socialisation objective at the hands of vote snaring Labour politicians have come to pass. Even such a non-revolutionary union as the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen, in its official journal of the Queensland branch, in a leader (July, 1938), thus frankly reviews the A.L.P. relation to the Socialist objective: “Fifty years ago the slogan of the Labour movement was ‘Socialism in our time.’ To-day political Labour relegates Socialism to the background. The word socialism is never mentioned by Labour candidates at political campaigns. At the recent Mackay Labour-in-Politics convention, a motion to give greater prominence to this as the objective of the Party was defeated. The implications to be drawn from present day trends is that Political Labour is not Socialist.” After pointing out how the A.L.P. has utterly failed to even introduce any real social reforms in the interests of the masses, the article states: “This clearly indicates that the Political Labour Party is pandering to the supporters of capitalism, and is not much concerned with the socialisation of production, distribution, and exchange.”
In the following June (1922), the All Australian Trades Union Congress again assembled in Melbourne to review the decisions of the A.L.P. Brisbane conference and the response of the unions to the programme adopted at the 1921 Trade Union Congress. The report of the president, E. J. Holloway, revealed that the high hopes of a united Australian Labour Movement and an honest acceptance of the progressive policy laid down had to a very large degree not been fulfilled.
In his opening address, the president stated: “that the old tooth and claw policy in more than one State, is still the order of the day, and, of course, with the inevitable result, to the disgrace and downfall of the workers’ movement.”
Despite the efforts of Riordan and Dunstan to prevent me getting selected as one of the A.W.U. delegates to the conference, I was elected, owing to a cross vote, at a full meeting of the Queensland branch executive.
Although the congress adopted the objective and methods adopted by the Federal Convention at Brisbane, there was evinced a very strong resentment by the militant section of the congress at the Brisbane convention’s attitude and an amendment was moved repudiating the reactionary revision of the All Australian Trade Union Congress policy by the Brisbane A.L.P. conference.
As could be anticipated, the A.W.U. delegation, with its representation from all parts of the Commonwealth, was in bitter opposition to the detested “reds” and as usual I found myself as the sole A.W.U. delegate in the camp of the “enemy.”
One of the most vital questions dealt with by the congress related to a long standing, bitter dispute that existed between Dwyer Gray and the A.W.U. executive in connection with the position of the Hobart “World,” the property of the A.W.U. and from the editorship of which Dwyer Gray had been dismissed. The dispute had extended far beyond the confines of Tasmania and was seriously disrupting the whole trade union movement. The congress debate brought into startling perspective the unrestrained hostility existing between the A.W.U. and the militant unions and delegates. The A.W.U. delegates, Grayndler, Barnes, Blakeley, Riordan and Co., expressed uncompromising antagonism to the congress daring to interfere with A.W.U. affairs. But the fight went on. A motion to reinstate Dwyer Gray as editor of the Hobart “World” was lost by 76 votes to 70.
A motion was moved to appoint a committee of seven to include in its duties “to enquire into the question of the dismissal of Dwyer Gray from the Hobart “World” newspaper, with the object of finding a satisfactory solution of the differences between the parties.”
The A.W.U. delegates were furious. I said to Riordan: “If you and the A.W.U. delegates continue to act and speak like this you will break up the congress.” ”That’s what we want to do,” he retorted. When the vote was being taken after a tense and heated debate, Jack Hanlon, editor of the Queensland “Worker,” who, being present in Melbourne, was appointed as an extra Queensland delegate to which the branch was entitled, said: “I must vote for this” and started to walk across the floor of the council chamber with me to record our votes. Riordan called out to Hanlon: “Where the hell are you going? Come back here!” and Hanlon “came back” like a lamb!
After the vote had been taken and the motion carried, I was having a quiet smoke outside in the corridor and met J. Howie, the militant president of the Sydney Trades and Labour Council. He said: “You are having a rough time with the A.W.U.; it must be very hard.” I agreed, remarking that I had been in the same position and fight for about ten years.
At the conclusion of that conference I felt that I never again wanted to attend a Labour conference. The vindictiveness and bitterness voiced by conflicting delegates had been appalling and made one wonder if it was possible to subdue the warring elements so that the interests of the workers as a whole would be the sole consideration instead of the triumph of cliques and the gratified egotism of blatant individuals.
During my visits to Melbourne and Sydney, I came in contact with very many of the officials and leaders of the Trade Union movement as well as Labour members. My degree of friendship with them was naturally measured by a similarity of ideas and mutual advocacy of well defined working class principles. Included in the close friends I made was the colourful Frank Anstey. We had much in common and when he passed through Brisbane at various times, he always was a welcome visitor to “Cosme.” Anstey was quite with me about the corruption existing in the ranks of Labour politicians and politics generally. He did not spare himself in his vivid and picturesque fulminations regarding political scheming and dishonesty and approached the question in an undoubted pessimistic and cynical point of view.
Our home in Brisbane seemed to be the centre of call of delegates and visitors to Queensland who came within the category of rebels. “Cosme” was an open house to these kindred spirits, though unhappily few are left to-day who have scorned the fleshpots of Egypt and retained their one-time faith. Jack Beasley, Judge Foster, F. Riley Monk, J. Smith, F. Hyatt, T. Walsh, P. Lamb, George Dale, Wallace, are a few of those I remember as welcome southern visitors and some of the memories are redolent of pleasant and happy times.
“Bob” Ross, however, was never displaced in the warmest corner of the home and heart of Mrs. Lane and myself. Very few, even of his intimate friends, know the amazing work for the Labour movement that “Bob” Ross carried on throughout his life. Never blessed with robust health, he attacked and accomplished many seemingly impossible tasks. Of an extremely loveable character, Bob never failed a friend – or a stranger for that matter – in their hour of need – and could be relied upon to help any lame dog over a stile. With unceasing energy he gave of his best to the working class and his lifelong devotion and untiring work for the cause he loved so well is writ large on the imperishable history of the Australian Labour movement.
His wife was a real helpmate and in absolute accord with Bob’s work. It is fitting indeed that the two sons, Lloyd and Edgar, should take up the torch so selflessly carried by their father for the many years and give their undoubted literary and other gifts to the cause of the workers.
Bob and I were continually planning – and dreaming – in earlier days when there was need and hope of dreams coming true. One of our cherished ambitions was to establish a Socialist book depot and publishing house. We often talked of it, but, like many other dreams it never blossomed into a glorious reality, due only to lack of money and adverse circumstances in other directions.
In later years I sometimes disagreed with Ross’s philosophy and attitude, but always recognised his absolute honesty and that his love for his fellow humans was unfaltering. He has an exalted opinion of me – and of my abilities and was anxious to get many of my “Jack Cade” articles published in book form. It was through his persistency and great help that I, or rather Ross, published as a book a number of articles I had written at various times on industrial unionism, under the title of “One Big Union.” It was published while the military had censorship power. The articles were ruthlessly censored. Bob had a trying experience and vowed he would not handle another book while the military censorship remained.
So the “One Big Union” was published and had a good circulation among the unions. But the O.B.U. is still a figment of the imagination; craft unionism is still supreme in Australia and it almost seems that all the O.B.U. propaganda was cast to the winds, wasted and futile.
Bob was keen on re-publishing in book form “Men and Events,” articles I had written on working class leaders, poets, and epochal events. But this desired book has never emerged from the realms of desire and there now seems no probability that it will.
Another, but very different close associate for many years, Tom Walsh, I saw much of since returning from Paraguay. In the old Vanguard days, Walsh had been an active member and as a seaman on the Queensland coast had acted as an enthusiastic distributor of Socialist literature. On our journey to South America, Mrs. Lane and I spent much of our last days in Sydney with Walsh.
During the war years and for some years afterwards Tom Walsh, as revolutionary agitator and general president of the powerful Seamen’s Union, was the stormy petrel of Australian unionism. As a very old friend, with a similar outlook, we often discussed the possibilities of the unions adopting a more militant attitude and declaring for the bigger unionism.
In searing contrast with his ultimate abandonment of all decent unionism or militant activities it is interesting to recall his statement of policy at the 1921 A.W.U. conventions. Walsh attended on invitation to state his and the Seamen’s Union’s views regarding difficulties in the way of a proposed amalgamation with the A.W.U.
Walsh said that he had not seen any attempt on the part of the A.W.U. to amend its constitution so as to meet the revolutionary phase of the movement which the Seamen’s Union represented. The Seamen’s Union was a revolutionary body, and an organisation that was going to absorb it would have to be as revolutionary as they were. The attitude of the seamen began and ended with the declaration of uncompromising revolutionaryism. Again, the A.W.U. allowed politicians to hold office in their union. The Seamen were against that.
Also the A.W.U. had adopted the principle of arbitration. The Seamen would not have arbitration, maintaining that there was nothing to arbitrate about. In addition to politicians, no man who had been associated with the naval or military forces or the police could hold office in this organisation.
And elaborating on these lines, Walsh declared himself an uncompromising revolutionist. During one of his frequent visits to Brisbane on union business he stayed with us at “Cosme” for a couple of weeks. Every night in true seaman fashion, he walked up and down the long living room, foreshadowing how the workers’ revolution would be brought about and how it could be carried on and the dictatorship of the proletariat established.
When later the A.W.U. had, forced by circumstances, taken initial steps in the direction of inauguration of a genuine O.B.U., I vainly endeavoured at Walsh’s home, at Willoughby, Sydney, to induce him and his union to join the new organisation. He stubbornly refused to consider any O.B.U. that was affiliated with the Australian Labour Party. I said that I had the same deep rooted objection to the A.L.P. as he had, but, after all, affiliation with the A.L.P. was a small matter compared to the bigger issue and with the advent of the Seamen and other militant unions into the O.B.U., would be soon rejected. I urged that there was a great opportunity at that particular time to form the O.B.U. which, if not taken advantage of, would postpone the O.B.U. for 20 or 30 years.
Mrs. Adela Walsh said: “I think Mr. Lane is right, Tom.” But it was all in vain. Within a short time the same Tom Walsh was, in the Seamen’s “Journal,” the perfervid advocate in a heated controversy for the Seamen’s Union to affiliate with the A.L.P..
One more spotlight on the staunch working class representative Walsh was before his notorious betrayal of his life-long principles and activities. I have a letter from Walsh dated September, 1925. The British Seamen’s strike was in full swing in which the Australian Seamen’s Union was involved. It was intended by the Federal Government to deport Walsh and Johnson on account of their activities in connection with the strike.
Walsh wrote to me with regard to getting all books, documents, copies of letters, or anything in the Seamen’s Union office in Brisbane that might be of use to the authorities in their search for necessary evidence to deport. Continuing, Walsh said that his deportation should not be allowed to affect any efforts to win the strike for the British Seamen. The deportation stunt should not be allowed to supersede the greater issue – to win the strike. “Deportation or no deportation,” he wrote, “there must be no compromise on this question of a reduction of the wages of our fellow seamen.” After expressing some thoughts on the general working class position, Walsh concluded:
“All efforts must be concentrated on winning the strike for the British Seamen, because the deportations arise out of the strike. It is essential to win the strike even if a thousand of us had to suffer deportation. If the strike is won Bruce will be defeated, and we will all be invited to return one day. But in the meantime, win the strike. Win the strike must be our slogan, and nothing must be permitted to intrude itself on this great issue.”
Yours for Freedom,
To-day Tom Walsh and his wife Adela are the pets of the workers’ enemies, on the payroll of the very people and institutions that Walsh regarded and fought as instruments of the devil to torture and exploit the workers!
Many of the men I once knew as good rebels, class conscious working class advocates, have sold out to the enemy or recanted their former beliefs. But just as Walsh was one of my closest comrades, so is he also tragically the outstanding example I know of working class apostasy.
On returning from the Melbourne congress, I encountered in the corridor of the Melbourne-Sydney train yet another of my old comrades-in-arms, Jim Dooley, the Labour Premier of New South Wales. He had been an active member of the old Queensland Social Democratic Vanguard and prior to, and on my return from South America, I had visited him. But although I was in Sydney frequently, once Dooley had developed into the traditional Labour leader with their conscienceless betrayal of the Labour Movement, as I saw it, I carefully avoided meeting him. I have always acted similarly towards all my one time close associates whenever they crossed the border of expediency into the realms of darkness, of worldly honours and preferment. For what is the use of consorting with men who have not hesitated to choose the easy pathways of life even though they lose their own souls in the process? They would merely attempt to justify their actions and salve their own conscience with sophistry and self-deception. Besides, I have scornful contempt for all these seducers and recreants of the Labour Movement.
Dooley was delighted to meet me again, and in a moment of frankness caused by past disturbing memories said: “It is no use, Ernie; you had great hopes of me in the old Vanguard days, but it is too late. I have gone the way of all flesh. I have got fatter in more ways than one.” So we parted.
Another Dooley, J. B., who, as organiser of the N.S.W. Railway branch of the A.W.U., had attended the annual conventions, and as a fiery rebel against the bureaucracy, had earned his martyr’s crown, also went the “way of all flesh.” He became one of the New South Wales Labour Senators in the Federal House. After a lapse of some years, I met him in Brisbane at the Labour Day smoke function, which I was reporting for the “Daily Standard,” at which he was one of the “distinguished guests.”
When I greeted him, I remarked, referring to his physique, that he had changed. Thinking I meant mentally, he said: “Yes, I’ve changed alright. I got in out of the wet. You’ve got to do it, Ernie, if you ever want to get anywhere. I with my old revolutionary ideas, or you, while you retain them will, for all time be persecuted and crushed by the machine. I realised that – and here I am.”
Yet another tragic and even more extreme example of this rakes’ progress of erstwhile working class fighters, “Tom” Mutch, who I first knew as sub-editor of the “Sydney Worker.” Mutch was gifted in many ways and I was greatly attracted to this young, enthusiastic Labourite. His descent into the maelstrom of politics was rapid and devastating. Labour member, Labour Minister, renegade Labour member and finally selected and elected as Tory member for one of the “gift” seats of the Nationalist party in New South Wales.
I could continue recording similar instances of which these are some outstanding examples.
But I get tired – and oh! so heartsick in recalling the recreancy of one-time Labour stalwarts – the most insidious curse of the working class movement.
In January, 1922, the inaugural convention of the One Big Union was held in Sydney. The A.W.U., Coal and Shale Federation (Miners) and the Waterside Workers’ Federation, were the three organisations represented, being the only unions that had adopted the Workers’ Industrial Union programme and system of organisation.
Despite the opposition of the A.W.U. heads to the new and more revolutionary unionism, the insistent demand of its members had broken through the hitherto impregnable ring of the “old guard” and under this duress a ballot had been taken on the O.B.U. scheme, the result being, for, 18,649; against, 3,889; a majority in favour of 14,760. The ballot submitted had contained as the preamble and objects of the proposed O.B.U. the one made famous by the I.W.W., which the A.W.U. officials had so scornfully rejected. It was a nauseous pill to swallow, but it had to be swallowed.
At this convention, differences existing between the two sections were exhaustively discussed and agreement reached, the constitution adopted and the new organisation actually established. During the convention, Senator Barnes said that the three organisations represented 153,000 unionists, but them only. No organisation could challenge the registration on that basis. “Let them act on that principle by first linking themselves up definitely,” he said. “Such a course would not then antagonise other unions, but rather would induce them to come in. To do otherwise would mean throwing down the gauntlet to hundreds of thousands of other unionists who should really be met with the hand of friendship. They should bring their own organisation solidly together first. If they did not it looked like playing for a defeat.”
This question of registration in the Federal Arbitration Court under the name of the Australian Workers’ Union, was discussed and it was definitely resolved that the registration should be sought to include only the three organisations as outlined by Senator Barnes.
The election of secretary resulted in the election of Barnes and the defeat of A. Willis, notwithstanding that for years the latter had been insistently propagating the O.B.U. scheme, while Barnes had just as consistently opposed it.
In a “Jack Cade” article I wrote on returning to Brisbane on the “One Big Union,” I stressed the vital significance of this convention and unsuspectingly hailed it as the solid foundation of the O.B.U., which had been agitating the minds of Australian unionists for nearly a decade. I wrote in conclusion: “Therefore the foundation of all permanent working class achievements must spring from the workers’ industrial organisation. The O.B.U. is the unanswerable and unassailable basis of any sane and scientific system of unionism and as such demands the enthusiastic support of all workers.
“The O.B.U. scheme drafted at the Sydney conference is not confined to those organisations which actually participated. It is open to every union to join in, take advantage of its provisions, and help to build up still more rapidly and effectively a One Big Union of workers which will be enabled to translate into reality the splendid and humanitarian objective of the Labour Party.”
But despite all my years of experience of A.W.U. official methods whereby to sidetrack or obstruct any militant policies to which they might be antagonistic, I did not in the slightest degree visualise how the newly-born O.B.U. was going to be strangled at birth.
The amazing sequel to this launching of a virile O.B.U. was that the instructions of the convention to register the new organisation immediately, to cover the three unions only, was never carried out. Some months afterwards, Barnes, as secretary, applied to the Industrial Registrar, Mr. Stewart, for registration to include practically every trade in Australia, carpenters, engineers, railway workers, and so on!
Obviously there was only one result to this audacious and defeatist application. The unions who were already registered as the organisations legally covering the various callings, rightly objected to such a registration of the O.B.U. The registration was, of course, refused by the Court – and that was the end of the O.B.U.
At the following A.W.U. convention, I asked Barnes by what right or by whose authority he made such an application. He submitted a long printed rigmarole wrapped up in legal phrases, asserting apparently that as the A.W.U. had members working in various callings, it was legally advised that to protect their interest these callings would have to be in the O.B.U. registration!
There are many ways of circumventing schemes and betraying policies other than that of at least honest, open hostility. The A.W.U. bad vainly sought to kill or deflect the O.B.U. by this method. They adopted the detested scheme and destroyed it through the Federal Arbitration Court registration. Yet, even to this day, A.W.U. officials with supreme audacity, will publicly declare that the A.W.U. was and is the only bona fide O.B.U. in the Commonwealth, for when they applied for its registration “all the loud mouthed militants and hypocritical O.B.U.-ites with the craft unions, rushed to the Federal Court to protest against the registration of the O.B.U.”
It was during this period of stirring events, of desperate battle between the two opposing forces in the Labour Movement, that, as industrial writer on the “Daily Standard,” I was writing “Jack Cade” articles that embodied much of the revolutionary thought of the Australian and World Workers. While these articles were a source of encouragement to the left wing, the politicians and “moderate” trade unionists did not view them with any favour.
The “Daily Standard” industrial page, published daily, was an outstanding feature of the paper and was eagerly read not only by workers but by many outside the ranks of Labour who, with radical tendencies, welcomed the international news and outlook which was one of the industrial page’s greatest attractions.
I know of no other Labour daily newspaper that gave such regular prominence to industrial affairs as affecting the workers and while the industrial page remained, the “Daily Standard” supplied a great need, justified its existence and commanded the attention – and the respect – of more than the workers.
With a never-failing determination to drive home the real lessons to be learnt from passing events, I averaged about four “Jack Cade” articles weekly and felt that I was helping to light the path that alone would lead the workers out of the maze in which they were apparently lost.
The then editor of the “Daily Standard,” J. V. MacDonald, who later was elected as one of the Queensland Labour Senators, always freely recognised the right of the unions, who created and owned the paper, to have an industrial page, also a special member of the literary staff to voice their point of view. He often strongly objected to the militant tone of my articles, but rarely to me personally, and he almost invariably allowed them to be published, sometimes much to his resentment.
On one of the few occasions in which MacDonald “interviewed” me over one of my articles, he exclaimed: “I am not going to allow you to make a Bolshevik paper out of the “Standard,” The policy of this paper is the policy laid down by the Labour-in-Politics Convention. You know Communism is a failure. It is a failure in Russia. You know it is a failure, you’ve been to Paraguay; anyway, you can’t preach Communism in the “Daily Standard.”
I mildly disclaimed any intention of making the “Standard” a Bolshevik paper. But I used to get the propaganda in just the same.
Another time MacDonald, objected to my articles. I argued that the unionists had rights and that I justly voiced the aspirations of that section of the movement. Also that my articles were not the policy of the paper, as that was contained in the leading articles. MacDonald admitted that was true, but, he added, “unfortunately a lot of people take your articles as the policy of the paper.”
On another occasion, following a State election in which the Labour Party was again elected as the Government, I wrote a critical article pointing out that as there were now no votes to be gained or lost, it was time for a little plain speaking. I wrote (inter alia): “The tendency of Labour Ministers is to adopt an exclusive attitude and to indignantly resist so-called interference with the exalted powers and prestige so long attached to Parliamentary governments. As far as the workers are concerned, they are demanding a very definite recognition of their rights as the most important section of the community, which includes a direct voice in the framing of industrial legislation enacted by any Government whose existence is only rendered possible by the solid support of the organised workers. Any Labour Government which ignores the reasoned requests of unionists in this direction, which adopts a policy of exclusiveness in these matters, will not assist in consolidating the working class movement, but is seriously menacing the much desired united front.
“Labour governments should be anxious and glad to break down the age-rusted barriers which have hitherto made politics and parliaments a stilted phase of social life far removed from the toiling masses. There is no more divinity to hedge parliaments than kings when either these methods of government or the institutions themselves conflict with the workers’ demand for progress. The dignity and power of parliaments, as of all else in these days of revolutionary change, are conditioned and governed by the rate of progress and the desires of the workers.”
Alick Robertson, the sub-editor, informed me that MacDonald refused to publish this article as a “Jack Cade” article, but that he would allow it only to be published as an ordinary letter signed E. H. Lane.
As I was very anxious to have it inserted I agreed. I wrote an article on somewhat similar lines the following day, which met a like fate. At the Trades Hall I was asked if I had left the “Standard” seeing the signed letters. The next day I wrote another uncompromising militant article and sent a message to MacDonald that unless he published it as a “Jack Cade” article, uncensored, to return it to me and I would place the article – and the position – before the unions. The article was published as a “Jack Cade” article and I never had any further trouble in this direction while MacDonald was editor.
The managing director of the “Standard,” Mat McCabe, one time secretary of the Brisbane, branch of the Waterside Workers’ Federation, resigned from that position in 1917. It was absolutely essential that the new manager should be a man who had not only ability but also the complete confidence of the unions. The “Standard” was facing a financial crisis and it was necessary to appeal to the unions for a levy or substantial financial assistance. I decided that the only person to do this work was Jack Crampton, Director of Labour. I placed the position before him. Unwillingly he agreed that it was his duty for the sake of the paper and the Labour movement to apply for the managership. He promised me he would do so. He kept his promise and sacrificed a highly placed and permanent Government position to do so. I know of no other prominent official in the Queensland Labour movement who would have acted similarly.
Theodore, who was very friendly with Crampton – and was also afraid of him as an able militant industrialist, endeavoured to dissuade him from throwing up his position as Director of Labour, but Crampton declined to follow the easier path.
Within two weeks of taking over the managership of the “Daily Standard,” Crampton found that the financial position was more serious than anyone had imagined. News paper, owing to the war, had soared from £11 to £90 per ton. If I had known the real position, I don’t think I would have tried to persuade my worst enemy to take the job. But Crampton never upbraided me for being the cause of his leaving a comfortable, sheltered position for a task that was overflowing with intense worry and responsibility. However, Crampton’s appeal to the unions was very successful and many thousands of pounds were raised by levies. Two or three years later, while the “Standard” was not yet on an even keel, Crampton was offered a managerial position on a long established newspaper in Sydney at a salary of £1,000 annually. He was receiving £500 on the “Standard.” I did not hear this rumoured. I saw the letter which definitely asked Crampton to take the position. He refused, saying that he could not, or would not, leave the “Standard” until he had finished the job and its position was assured.
Such an act of abnegation on the part of a Labourite is surely unique, praiseworthy and deserves to be recorded.
Week in, week out, I penned the “Jack Cade” articles, deeply thankful that I was enabled to preach the fundamental truths of the Labour Movement, its international basis and the need of unceasing vigilance against the betrayals and treachery of miscalled Labour leaders.
After a State election when the Labour Government’s majority was reduced to four, Crampton interviewed Theodore, then Premier, with the object of obtaining more financial assistance for the “Standard” by increased Government advertisements. Crampton came to me and stated that Theodore had strongly objected to the “Jack Cade” articles. He said that throughout the election campaign in the north and west he had to answer the arguments and propaganda propounded in these articles. “You can’t expect me,” said Theodore to Crampton, “to, what practically amounts to subsidise the “Standard” while Lane is allowed to write such articles. If the Government had a bigger majority, it wouldn’t matter much, but we can’t afford to have the industrialists criticising and fighting us.” So Crampton said to me it would be better to “tone down” the “Jack Cade” articles for a few months until the “Standard” was in a better financial position. Otherwise in two months the paper would be closed up. He asked me to agree, but I said that if the editor or directors declined to publish my articles that was the end of the matter, as I had no power to compel them to do so.
On several occasions I had written scathing articles on the anti-working class utterances and sermons of various clergy of the Protestant churches in Queensland without any restriction or comment by MacDonald or others in authority.
A vicious and slanderous attack on the workers was later voiced by a prominent Roman Catholic prelate, Archbishop Duhig, and I, of course, wrote an article in rebuttal. It was not published. Robertson, sub-editor, said that it was useless to write criticisms or attacks on the Catholics. If one appeared, the “Daily Standard” building would be stormed and burnt!
“If that is the position,” I said, “then I will never again criticise the utterances of Protestant clergy, however outrageous they may be. I object to giving any one sect or party exception from rightful criticism, and will not in that way penalise Protestant reactionaries.”
Quite unexpectedly on my return from the 1922 Melbourne conference, I was offered the position of leader writer on the “Daily Standard,” rendered vacant by the transfer of Max Ramsay to the sub-editorship of the Queensland “Worker.” Alick Robertson came into my office and said: “Prepare for a shock, MacDonald is determined to put you in the job of leader writer!” I replied: “Before I will take that position I will leave and tramp the country for a job.” “Is that an ultimatum?” asked Robertson. “Yes; I have never yet written a line against my convictions or attempted to lead the workers up blind alleys and I certainly am not going to do it now.”
Robertson argued in an endeavour to get me to take the job and it was then for the first time I saw, as in a glass, darkly, the real Robertson. I said: “I am astonished at you trying to persuade me to do something which you know is utterly wrong for anyone of my opinions to contemplate.”
MacDonald saw me and for two hours endeavoured to shake my determination not to accept the leader writer’s position. He pointed out that it was a higher salary, no night work and that I could still conduct the industrial page. I said I was not a journalist, but he replied that I was primarily a writer and that it would be a good thing for me and the paper. He declined to accept my immediate refusal and asked me to consider it for a few days.
When I saw him again I told him it was impossible for me to accept the position. He assured me I would not be interfered with. Then I told him plainly why I declined, stating that he would tell me to write an article on some subject on certain lines. If I disagreed with the line to be adopted as would inevitably happen, well, then, I could not conform and it would be useless for me to accept such a position. I said that as industrial writer, if I could not write what I wanted to or the “Standard” would not publish the article, I could leave it alone and not be forced to play the hypocrite.
MacDonald expressed regret at my attitude but was very friendly over the matter. He then offered the job to Jim Comrie, the Government roundsman, who, with no qualms of conscience, accepted it without hesitation.
One would have thought that the same reasons that actuated me in refusing to become the mouthpiece of a degenerated political Labour Party and of “moderate” unionism, would have made Comrie adopt the same attitude. For Comrie seemingly was as confirmed a Communist and rebel as I and could not without abandoning his principles, write the kind of article that would be acceptable to the governing body of the “Standard.” But Comrie, like many others, was a very high principled individual, a zealous left wing advocate – until his personal advancement conflicted with his beliefs. Then they were swept aside without any heartburnings. But he has reaped the ultimate reward of his time-serving proclivities and subservience. He is now “liaison officer” for that great working class leader – the ineffable W. Forgan Smith!
But, although I rightly earned the enmity and dislike of the successful and triumphant heads of the official Labour Movement, I, in inverse ratio, had the unswerving esteem and support of the militant section of the bottom dogs.
The Industrial Council, as the most militant body of organised unionists in the Commonwealth, had been in continual conflict with the reactionary elements of the movement both political and industrial.
It is interesting to note that as far back as February, 1917, there was an agitation for the 40 hour week. A motion on this question, forwarded from the Melbourne Trades Hall Council, was endorsed with an addendum that with the reduction of hours there be no deduction in the amount of remuneration for work in a 40 hours instead of a 44 hours week.
The president of the Industrial Council, for two years, was “Bob” Mulvey, who was also secretary of that semi-moribund body, the Eight Hour Committee. Although not entirely at home with the militant council, Mulvey carried out his instructions until at last he broke down under the mental strain and reverted to his first love. The council had refused a request by H. Coyne, Minister for Lands, to allow him to address the council on a reactionary returned soldiers’ assistance scheme. In the face of this, Mulvey arranged a meeting of union representatives to hear Coyne on the following Sunday. Mulvey wrote to the “Standard” stating that my report of the matter was quite untrue. At the following meeting of the Council the charge was brought forward and thus reported in the “Daily Standard”:
“At the last meeting of the Brisbane Industrial Council, Mr. McCosker brought forward the matter of a letter written by the president (Mr. R. J. Mulvey), which appeared in the “Daily Standard” regarding the report of the Council’s action in dealing with Mr. H. Coyne’s proposal relative to the returned soldiers’ assistance scheme. Mr. McCosker desired to know in what particular “The Daily Standard” report of the proceedings of the Council was incorrect. Mr. Mulvey offered no statement, and a long and somewhat heated discussion followed. Eventually the following resolution, moved by Mr. English, was carried by a large majority:—
“‘that the action of the president in writing to the press, and the contempt with which he has treated the decision of the Council with reference to the proposed meeting with Mr. Coyne, be condemned by a vote of no-confidence in him.’
“Arising out of this matter was the correctness or otherwise of the report published in the ‘Daily Standard’ relating to this question.
“Mr. Brazier (Progressive Carpenters’), said that the reports of the council’s meetings, as reported by Mr. E. H. Lane, the industrial writer of “The Daily Standard,” were invariably of an absolutely correct character, and very faithfully and clearly conveyed the views of the delegates on all questions, and this statement applied to the particular report under review, He referred eulogistically to Mr. Lane’s reports of the Council’s proceedings and his work on “The Daily Standard” generally, and moved the following resolution, which was carried unanimously:
“‘That this council expresses its sincere appreciation of the reports of its proceedings which appear in “The Daily Standard,” both as regards accuracy, and the ability with which they are written.’
“The secretary was instructed to forward a copy of the foregoing resolution to the management of ‘The Daily Standard.’”
This was Mulvey’s valedictory appearance at the Industrial Council. He found a more congenial home in the sanctity of the Eight Hour Committee, with its craft union outlook and servile worship of Labour Ministers. As secretary of that body, when the amalgamation of the Industrial Council, Trades Hall Board, and Eight Hour Committee was eventually consummated, Mulvey, as the nominee of the “moderates,” who had a big majority on the new Trades and Labour Council, was elected secretary, holding that office for many years, despite all efforts of the militants to remove him.