United States. War Labor Policies Board.

Report on labor situation of Australia online

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I. General Description of Industrial Development 3

II. Administrative Machinery for Dealing with Labor Problems . 4

III. Brief Summary of the History of the Labor Party 5

IV. Present Trade Union Tendencies. . 7





I. General Description of Industrial Development

The industrial history of Australia shows certain developments
peculiar to itself. Since 1890, when the trade union movement first
turned to political activity, the growth of this aspect of the movement
has been its most conspicuous feature. A large proportion of trade
union activity is therefore political rather than industrial.

Economic and social conditions arising from the manner in which
the country was settled largely explain the course of industrial develop-
ment. Not the least of these conditions was the coincidence of the
development of industrial problems with the struggle for such political
reforms as free public schools, equal suffrage, immigration restriction,
and liberal land 1'aws. The result of this coincidence was to link the
political and industrial struggles together and to give to the labor move-
ment a distinctly political character.

The result of the infiltration of the labor movement into politics
has been on the one hand to bring the government into the solution of
industrial problems to an unusual degree, and on the other, to make
the Labor Party extremely important in the government.

The first of these results is illustrated by the establishment of State
Courts of Conciliation and Arbitration in addition to a Federal Court
for the same purpose; in Wages Boards to determine minimum wage
standards for the various industries; in the control by State govern-
ments of public utilities such as railways, docks and wharves, tele-
phone and telegraph; and in legislation providing for a minimum
wage, workmen's compensation; and the regulation of such questions
as the length of the working day, child labor, etc., etc.

In theory and impulse, the Labor Party tends to be Socialistic and,
while not definitely committed to a platform of state socialism, be-
lieves firmly in the regulation of industry by the state.

In general, the tendency of labor organization in Australia is towards
industrial as opposed to trade unions, because of the preponderance of
unskilled labor and the failure of trades unions to encourage skill in a
particular craft. Latterly a "One-Big-Union movement" has de-



veloped in the Commonwealth with a platform similar to the revolu-
tionary syndicalists but lacking their revolutionary methods.

The census of the year 1916 showed 705 trades unions with a total
membership exceeding 500,000. Of the male members of these
unions, 75% were organized in federations that covered the Common-
wealth. The Australian Workers' Union, consisting of workers in
sheep-raising, farming and rural occupations, is the oldest and strong-
est union in Australia. Since 1911 the predominance of the pastoral
industry has given way to the rapid growth of manufacturing interests.

Industrial disputes are common. In 1913, 208 disputes occurred,
in 1916, 508. -Of these 508, 223 resulted in the workers enforcing their
demands, 178 resulted in the employer's favor, 84 were compromised,
and 23 were indefinite in result. In 319 of the 508 cases, settlement
was reached by direct negotiation between employers and employees
or their representatives. Strikes and lockouts, particularly when
confined to single states and thus not subject to Federal authority,
although penalized by the Arbitration Courts and discouraged by
labor leaders, occur not infrequently, and illustrate the restless char-
acter of the industrial classes.

II. Administrative Machinery for Dealing with Labor Problems

Legislation dealing with labor difficulties began shortly after the
strike period from 1886-1891. The Wages Board system (confined
to the several states) was at that time inaugurated. At the present
time wages boards are established in Victoria, Tasmania, New South
Wales, Queensland, and South Australia. The chief aim of the
wages board is to determine hours, wages and conditions of employ-
ment for a given industry or group of industries on application from
the latter. In most states penalties are attached for strikes or lock-
outs which occur over a matter in which the wages board has made
a determination. Victoria has no provision for penalizing strikes, but
has a Court of Industrial Appeals, to which appeal may be made
against the Board's decisions.

Under the system of industrial arbitration courts which exists in
three of the states in addition to wages boards, an industry does not
come under review of the court until a dispute arises. Most of the
courts have power to summon compulsory conferences.

Lack of uniformity between the various states in regard to the work-
ing of wages boards and arbitration courts has latterly given rise to a
movem3nt for uniform methods.

An important amendment to the industrial arbitration act of New
South Wales was passed in March, 1918. By the terms of the amend-


ment the system of wages boards was replaced by a new body, known
as the Board of Trade, which is to determine annually the standard
living wage within the state or any part of it. Wages thus determined
are binding. The Board also has control of technical, trade, and
continuation schools. Further provisions relating to education for
employment, social insurance, and general welfare measures are

The act also provides for the organization of labor exchanges under
State management, and establishes a system of unemployment in-
surance. In addition it contains a number of provisions relating to
trades unions, the most important being the repeal of the law making
strikes illegal.

In 19C4 a Federal Court of Conciliation and Arbitration was con-
stituted to deal with disputes which pass beyond the confines of a
single state. The President of the Federal Court has power to call a
compulsory conference of disputants, and may thus prevent the
spread of strikes to other localities. The system of arbitration courts
gives direct encouragement to labor organization inasmuch as dis-
putes before the courts must be submitted by organizations of em-
ployers and employees.

III. Brief Summary of the History of the Labor Party

The Labor Movement began its political career in 1890 following
the great strikes of shearers and seamen. In 1891, at the general
election in New South Wales, the Labor Party won 36 seats out of 120.
When the first Commonwealth Parliament met in 1901, it contained
24 members in both Houses, out of a total membership of 111. In
1910 the Party secured a majority in both Houses. A Labor Ministry
held office for a few months in 1904 and again in 1908-1909. In 1910
the Labor Party attained office for three years, and again from 1914
to 1916. In the meantime the Party had been successful in the Legis-
latures of the saveral states. By 1913 there had been a Labor ad-
ministration in every state.

A significant feature of the Labor Party organization is the power
given to the caucus. Its decisions, whether carried unanimously or
by the barest majority, control the vote of every member of the Party.
The leader of the Party, who is elected by the caucus, and who be-
comes Premier in case of a Parliamentary majority, is therefore
responsible to the caucus and not directly to the people for his policies
and administration.

The history of the Labor Party during the war begins with the
general election in September, 1914, when the Party ousted the Liberal


Party by a generous majority. Originally strongly anti-militaristic,
it adopted under present circumstances and the efforts of several of
t he Party leaders, including Mr. W. M. Hughes, a strong defense policy
involving the equipment of a large expeditionary force.

In the latter part of 1915, conscription for foreign service became
an important political issue. There was a wide spread feeling among
all classes, including labor, that the volunteer system had failed.
Early in 1916, Mr. Hughes, then Prime Minister, instituted a new
recruiting system designed to raise 50,000 in a few months. The ex
prdient temporarily quieted the agitation for universal service, but in
September the Prime Minister informed the House of Representatives
that it would be necessary to take a referendum on the question of
sending abroad the troops authorized by the Defense Act to be raised
for home defense. The Senate was known to oppose this step and
the Cabinet supported it only by a minority. Labor generally was
also opposed.

In October the Commonwealth, by a jnajority of over 70,000, voted
"No" on the conscription issue. .The Parliamentary Labor caucus
voted a lack of confidence in Prime Minister Hughes, which caused
his resignation from the Party and the premiership, and the formation
of a National Labor Party by Mr. Hughes and a handful of his fol-

In the subsequent readjustment of parties and issues, Mr. Hughes
had the support of the Liberalists and the House of Representatives of
which the latter were a majority, but he was bitterly opposed and
distrusted by the Senate which the Labor Party dominated and by
organized labor generally.

The general election in 1917 resulted in a coalition government with
Mr. Hughes still Prime Minister. The Labor Party suffered the
heaviest defeat sustained by any political party in the history of the
Commonwealth. Party leadership, since Mr. Hughes' resignation,
had been weak; the Parliamentary caucus and the Party itself were
torn by dissensions. The industrialists, as opposed to the parlia-
mentarians, were becoming more aggressive and more inclined to
oppose organized "class-conscious" methods to political activity.

In 1918, after the failure of a second referendum on conscription, a
new recruiting scheme was launched following a conference between
the government' and employers and trade unionists. At this confer-
ence labor's reasons for refusing to participate more heartily in re-
cruiting were presented to the government. The conference reached
no satisfactory conclusion, but in spite of this fact, recruiting figures
grew rapidly during the succeeding months.

In June the Labor Party, called since the split the Australian Labor


Party, met in conference at Perth. The main discussion of the con-
ference centered on the formulation of the Party's attitude towards
recruiting. A resolution was there taken stating that further par-
ticipation in recruiting would be subject to two conditions: (1) a state-
ment on behalf of the Allies asserting their readiness to enter into peace
negotiations upon a basis of no annexations and no indemnities, and
(2) that Australia's requirements in man-power be met with respect
to home defense and industrial requirements.

It was voted by the conference to submit this resolution to the
organization membership for approval. Immediately vigorous dis-
sension arose between factions of the conference holding opposing
views on the resolution. The New South Wales labor members
issued a manifesto calling on their constituency to vote against the
resolution. South Australia and Tasmania subsequently defied the
conference by refusing to vote on the referendum. Sections of labor
in other states also refused to vote. Labor leaders themselves were
in open disagreement on the issue. Nothing since the conscription
referendum has so agitated the ranks of the labor organization.
Many of the Labor Party feel disgraced by what is regarded as a
painful exhibition of disloyalty and cowardice, which they explain by
the rising influence of the insurgent labor elements. This faction
also feels that the Perth conference makes the Labor Party's return to
power almost a forlorn hope.

The National Labor Party, on the other hand, stood solidly behind
a vigorous prosecution of the war. Its mouthpiece and main strength
is Mr. Hughes, whom the Australian Labor Party and the labor press
have vigorously repudiated.

IV. Present Trade Union Tendencies

Tendencies in labor organization may be briefly described by the
growth in power of the more radical elements. The One-Big-Union
movement has finally achieved success in New South Wales and
Victoria where the majority of the most powerful labor bodies are
said to be lending it their support. Other states are expected to
follow, which seems to assure the success of the organization. While
it is denied that the One-Big-Union movement is an attempt on the
part of the I.W.W. to capture Australian industrial organization, it
does represent a triumph of their principles. The scheme of organiza-
tion and the preamble of the I.W.W. have been adopted without
change by the new organization. The aims of the I.W.W. have
long been held by many of the rank and file of the unions and have
been openly advocated by militant sections of almost every state


federation. The I.W.W. itself, on the other hand, has always been a
small though aggressive organization.

The success of the One-Big-Union movement is laid to the increase
of industrial unrest since the war. Strikes and labor disputes have
been frequent. Increased cost of living has caused repeated applica-
tions for new awards to be made to wages boards by the same industry.
Delays in awards have added to irritation and caused dissatisfaction
with the system.

The success of the Labor Party, while in power, has also tended to
increase unrest by increasing the assertiveness of the industrial
classes. Moreover the important issues of the war have served to
accentuate the difference between radical and conservative labor
elements, and have given the former an opportunity to win to them-
selves an increasing number of adherents. The vote against con-
scription and the Perth conference are two illustrations in point.
The defeat of the Federal Labor Party in 1917 served to strengthen
the industrial unionist wing of the labor movement.

Recent press reports from Australia indicate that the government is
being heckled to release political prisoners and repeal the War Pre-
cautions Act which has been a bone of contention to the labor groups
for many months. At last reports, the government is opposing the
repeal of the measure.

8 NOV 2 1 1952



from which K was borrowed.






Manufactured by


Syracuse, N.Y.

Stockton, Calif.



Online LibraryUnited States. War Labor Policies BoardReport on labor situation of Australia → online text (page 1 of 1)