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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(10 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 77, 10 October 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

An inspiration for the American union movement is the struggle that the progressives in the Australian labor movement recently put up against national registration of manpower as a prelude to conscription.

“At the beginning of this year the Australian federal government began active preparations for taking a national register of manpower for war purposes, compulsory, but otherwise similar to that recently taken in Great Britain, which was a forerunner to conscription in that country.

“The National Register Act was one of the four measures passed during the last session of the federal parliament for the purposes of codifying the steps necessary to enable Australia to be used as an arsenal and reservoir for manpower for British imperialism in the southern Pacific.

Boycott Slogan

“Progressive unionists immediately coined the slogan, Boycott the National Register! The whole tradition and experience of the union movement pointed to such a slogan as being most suitable. Back in 1916 a similar register, called the War Census Act, was boycotted by 200,000 despite heavy penalties. There was also a similar experience fairly recently with the National Insurance swindle, which was boycotted by hundreds of thousands, and consequently had to be shelved by the federal government.

“The slogan of boycott was taken up very widely, and it became clear that if the campaign remained solid, over 1,000,000 would refuse to register. However, the cowardly labor and trade union reformist leaders became terrified at the response of the rank and file.

“Forgan Smith, labor premier of Queensland, said that mass law breaking would lead to fascism! Under the pressure of the bureaucrats the Australian Council of Trades Unions finally lifted the boycott which they had voted to support.

“But the powerful Melbourne Labor Council refused to accept their advice. The rank and file,of course, was thrown into confusion by the shifting position of the union leaders of the Council of Trades Unions.

Stalinist Stand

“The Stalinists then came out with a statement that in order to avoid ‘isolation’ and to preserve ‘unity’ (i. e. unity with the reformist fakers) there must be no ‘individual opposition’ to the boycott.

“The labor militants, however, stood firmly. Besides issuing thousands of leaflets advocating a continuance of the boycott, they publicly burnt a heap of forms in the Domain. (Burning forms to show hostility is a traditional form of protest in Australia, dating back to the Eureka Stockade struggle, in 1854.)

“For the first time the rank and file of the Communist Party seemed to be at variance with the leadership.

“While even labor leaders have admitted that the boycott was supported by between 75,000 to 100,000, we consider the figure to be nearer 200,000.”

This information comes from a very reliable correspondent from Sydney, Australia, in a letter dated in August.

“Labor militants have pledged themselves to fight this issue to the end. While there is any considerable body among the working class prepared to take a militant stand against war, despite the threat of three months in gaol and a fifty pound fine, the progressives feel they must stand at the head of them,” our correspondent adds.

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Last updated: 17 February 2018