Tom Mann

The Industrial and Social Outlook in Australia

Part II

Source: The Social-Democrat, Vol. XIII., No. 9., September, 1909, pp.392-398, (2,141 words).
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

(continued from last issue)

Now, I wish to give the position of the Socialist Federation of Australia.

Prior to the formation of the Socialist Federation two years ago, there was a feeling amongst many Socialists in Australia, perhaps more particularly with the “unattached,” that the various Socialist parties, like those of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and elsewhere, ought to unite their forces, and this occasionally found expression in the columns of “Justice.” Those of us in the thick of the fight were conscious that the long distances between the capital cities made it more difficult to have an interchange of speakers, to unite upon one good paper for the movement, or to agree not only on principle but also upon methods of propaganda, than if these long distances were not a fact. Still the effort was made in 1907 in Melbourne, and the first conference was held bringing together the International Socialist Club of Sydney, the Victorian Socialist Party, and the Broken Hill Socialist Group, these three bodies have continued in the Federation and are members at the present time.

Delegates attended the first conference from the Socialist Labour Party of Sydney, but they decided not to become part of the Federation. The Brisbane Vanguard had proxy delegates, but they decided to continue to work with the Labour Party and did not join the Federation. New Zealand last year and again this year, at their Easter Conference, carried a resolution to federate with the S.F.A. Western Australia had proxy delegates from the Social-Democratic Association, but they too, like Queensland, preferred to work with the Labour Party.

We have had two years development, and it turns out that only those who joined the S.F.A. are doing any real Socialist propaganda (except the S.L.P. of Sydney). Victoria continues to head the list in membership and all-round propagandist activities.

When I left Melbourne in October last to organise in Broken Hill, comrade Bob Ross took up the editorship of the “Socialist” in Melbourne, and became Secretary of the Victorian Socialist Party. I should like here to direct the attention of comrades in the old country to the fact that we have in R. S. Ross a comrade: whom it would be impossible to speak too highly, he is exceptionally well read, keeps in touch with the movement internationally, is a good platform man, but superb as an editor. As soon as he can command time he will no doubt favour the readers of the “Social-Democrat” with an article.

In Harry Scott Bennett, the lecturer for the Sydney comrades, every week at indoor and outdoor gatherings, we have also an excellent propagandist. Scott Bennett is good with the pen, but stands right in the very front rank as a lecturer on scientific and Socialist subjects. Our comrade Harry Holland, who was the General Secretary of the S.F.A., as you will have learned, is now undergoing a sentence in Albany Gaol for alleged “sedition” when addressing a meeting outside the gaol at Broken Hill, in which a lady comrade was serving a month’s imprisonment in connection with the Broken Hill dispute. I find that comrade Ben Tillett has given an admirable pen-picture of Harry Holland in “Justice” of May 15. Ben’s description is correct in every particular. Comrade Holland is sentenced to two years, and it is pleasing to see that a subscription list is opened in “Justice” as further evidence of the international spirit of comradeship. Comrade Holland’s family consists of Mrs. Holland and seven children, the eldest a son of 19 years, the youngest a little fellow of two years.

Two years ago the Conference of S.F.A. endorsed the preamble of the “Industrial Workers of the World”; at the conference just held this was withdrawn, and the endorsement of Industrial Unionism was carried in its stead, and to make clear the Federation’s attitude in this regard the following appeared in a manifesto issued by the conference: “We declare that before there can be any real chance of grappling effectively with the capitalist system in Parliaments, the organisation of the workers economically, on a basis broader and firmer, and with a more virile spirit than has hitherto been the case, is vitally necessary. We hold that those Socialists of America and Europe are correct who declare that industrial organisation is at the present of greater importance than political action, as the workers have no hope of getting ownership and control of industry until they have the sense to demand it and organise in the industrial establishments to use it. When they are thus ready then they may utilise Parliament to give legal effect to the workers’ Acts in the shops, factories and mines, and then Parliaments, as we now have them, i.e., capitalist institutions, to enable them to govern the workers, will have completed their work, and Parliaments of industry will be formed by the workers, by which the industries necessary for a real co-operative commonwealth will be carried on.”

This does not mean that the Socialists here will slacken in their propagandist efforts, but it means that the utmost encouragement will be given to all to become members of the industrial organisations, to get the rules altered where necessary so that all unions shall be ready for common action, not in one department only but in all, and use their power as good sense shall decide. The nauseating drivel to which citizens are treated out here from Labour politicians is sufficient to sicken one of Parliament and all that it chloroforms, and it appears to be much the same with you in Britain.

Then again, we are great admirers of the German Social-Democratic Party, but it does seem to be terribly slow to move, and if a similar body, say, these same three millions and a quarter of men, were solidly organised industrially, and prepared to use their power now, such glorious activities must ensue as would completely change the conditions of Europe. Some of us who have admired the German Social-Democratic Party for 20 years on end would be grateful for additional reasons for further admiration; but merely to record votes, to issue millions of pamphlets and Socialist papers, the readers of which take absolutely no action, is too trying, and a few of us, at any rate, prefer to die in healthy activity, if need be, rather than hand on the glories and dangers of the fight to our children.

And the cumbersome, stodgy trade union movement of Great Britain, how much vitalising and solidifying it requires. I wonder how many agreements there are just now stipulating that those workers covered by them must, on no account, take action until the expiry of the agreement. I do not know, but I reckon there are quite as many agreements as unions, i.e., 1,140. Some of the unions, like the Amalgamated Engineers, Boilermakers, and builders’ unions, have a dozen or more agreements between sections of their own members and the employers, terminable, of course, at different periods, so that what is called organisation absolutely prevents solidarity, and is a direct and positive cause of sectionalism, and therefore a most mischievous influence. All these agreements must go and no more of the kind be entered into, whether endorsed or ratified by Board of Trade or other legal machinery; they are utterly pernicious, whether legal or voluntary. This, in my opinion, is the lesson to be learned and acted upon without delay; and genuine district federations of all unions are urgently needed. Those unions that provide a variety of benefits other than the economic or industrial must alter their rules if need be and keep friendly society benefits entirely apart from the industrial. The next step is to realise that we must organise as an industry and not as separate trades with separate interests in each industry, and then link the industries together and prepare for action.

Here in Australasia, as with you in Britain, we have trades and labour councils, but what real good are they? Mere affiliation carries nothing with it; the votes of delegates very rarely commits the society or union represented. We want something more definite and workmanlike than a mere loose affiliated body, to receive appeals for sectional unions and discuss the pros and cons as to whether appeals shall be sent to the other sectional bodies to get money for them, when they deliberately refuse to help them in the only helpful fashion by showing solidarity by throwing down their tools. The fact is, the vast majority of the trade unionists have never given a serious thought to the formation of a real fighting force, to wrest from the capitalist class the position they have usurped. The two and a-half millions of unionists in Britain to-day could be doubled in a year if a real crusade were entered upon on scientific lines, but when one hears representative men speak contemptuously of industrial unionism, and place the hopes of the workers upon Parliamentary action exclusively, I could almost pray for the spirit of my more virile savage forefather, than meekly take a place among the mugwumps of constitutionalism.

As regards the outlook here in Australia, I am glad to say that there is now constant discussion taking place in the unions and on the councils as to the necessity for this broader relationship, and many of us are watching events in other countries, and we greatly admired the readiness and solidarity shewn by the postal workers of Paris. This can and will be improved upon a hundredfold, but it was encouraging to find somebody who dared to go in the teeth of wretched convention and smug artificiality.

The Socialist propagandists here, now that the southern mid-winter has gone, will begin out-door work with increased vigour, and you will be glad to know the number who now give careful attention to the international aspect of the movement is increasing rapidly. The conference last week decided to endeavour to establish business relations with the Socialist publishing houses of America and Europe. We get much helpful literature from Kerr and Co. of Chicago. It is easier to get a hearing for Socialism here in Australia now that America can be quoted as active in the field.

This year South Australia was represented at the Socialist Conference, one of the delegates so acting being Percy Laidler, of Melbourne, who has been for a long time connected with the Socialist Party of Victoria. Comrade Laidler has now been appointed by the Socialists of Broken Hill to act as organiser for them, and has begun his duties this week. The expense of travel makes it difficult to cover Australia by an organiser, but this is receiving attention too. Also, we are not unmindful of the fact that the next International Socialist Conference takes place next year at Copenhagen, and we are hopeful of sending someone to speak for Australian Socialism, and show that the old-time conceit of race superiority is giving way to intelligence. It has been a hard and long row to hoe, as nearly every paper claiming to be really Australian exhibits an insularity and a superficiality that has hitherto proved sufficient to satisfy; but the persistent propaganda work, the devotion of the advocates, the late industrial collapse in the United States, and the growth of the Socialist movement there, as well as in Europe, all have materially helped to secure listeners to the revolutionary gospel. Out here we feel in a serious sense shut off from the great stream of human life, for, after all, what are four millions of people scattered over three millions of square miles? Would that wireless messages could be at our service that we might more frequently and extensively share in the joys and trials, the anxieties and pleasures of the multitudinous activities of the world movement.

But no complaints, only encouragements. Go on comrades in your great and glorious work. We wish we could report a greater progress here, but, at least, we, can say we joyfully carry the blood-red banner, and we share with you the ennobling aspirations, the sturdy strivings, the inspiriting endeavours to help men and women who yearn for that better State, which we of the Socialist faith are confident will soon be ours and all men’s.

Pardon a personal reference, but the fight here and at Port Pirie was arduous and long drawn out, and then came the Albury trial with eight days in the dock and as many nights in the cell, and when, on acquittal, I received a bunch of telegrams and a cable from the Bristol Conference delegates of the S.D.P., I was exceedingly pleased at their kindly thought, and I ask permission to be allowed to thank those comrades through the columns of the “Social-Democrat.” — Yours for the Social Revolution,