|Issue No. 137
|24 May 2002
An Aussie Icon
Interview: Just Done It?
Tribute: Lest We Forget
History: Solidarity Forever
Technology: Unblocking the Superhighway
International: Gloves Off
Unions: Out Of Work
Review: Strange Business
Poetry: The Lawyer's Lament
Satire: Government Mourns Loss Of Last Anzac
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Your Tools Page is Down
Big Dave Foster
Give Us a Click!
Will the Real Mark Latham Please Stand Up?
The Last Survivor
Not Hate Mail
Soldiers need to be mates and exhibit solidarity for their very survival. Unionists, whilst not being in the extreme physical danger that soldiers must face in war, have through their history shown the same qualities in acting collectively to right wrongs against workers. Unions have also been at the forefront of actions to prevent the wars that soldiers have to face.
The last ANZAC, Alec Campbell was a unionist who spent many years working for a more socially just Australia. John Howard wants us to honour him as a great soldier and symbol of the ANZAC legend, the black armband view of Australia's past that he finds acceptable. As working people we should celebrate Campbell's proud history of working class activism, and also honour unions and soldiers who acted together to defend Australia.
Campbell was a strong opponent of conscription, and so were the unions in World War I, much to the disgust of the Labor Rat Billy Hughes. Unions also waged a campaign against conscription in 1939 when the UAP government was trying to send Australian soldiers to Europe. For example, the Broken Hill Labor Defence and Anti-Conscription League ran a strong "Defend Democracy Defend Australia No Troops for Overseas" campaign. The ACTU and the Labor Council of NSW also ran strong campaigns against Menzies and the NSW government.
The theme in 1939 was the attack on civil liberties. As the Labor Council pamphlet put it
"Freedom of the press, free speech and free assemblage, are objects of savage attacks by the State and Federal Governments.
Cabinet Ministers have urged gaol and disenfranchisement for labor leaders. They have assailed clergymen for expressing sentiments favouring peace, and threats are issued daily to those who consider the preservation of democrative rights and decent living standards as essential for Australians."
Shortly after, Menzies introduced the Supply and Development Bill, the National Registration Bill and the Defence Amendment Act. The Emergency Committee of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions had a pamphlet prepared by a Committee of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties consisting of Maurice Blackburn, J.V. Barry and Brian Fitzpatrick.
They pointed out that the compulsion the government had in mind meant for military and industrial purposes. The act could force workers to make the choice between submitting to tyrannical bosses at their workplace and enduring all sorts of degrading conditions, or being sent thousands of miles away on war service. It could emasculate trade unionism until the unions become nothing better than company unions.
This pamphlet was issued on 26 June 1939. Later on after the Japanese entered the war and the threat to Australia was more immediate, the unions did support the war effort, with the communist influences perhaps he most active and determined to actually undermine some conditions on behalf of the national (and international ie Soviet Union) good. The non-communist unions were much more concerned to not let the war effort be an excuse to undermine workers rights.
The Labor Council showed that it was keeping a close watch on the issues with a pamphlet called "Workers' Wages-Soldiers' Pay-Profits" written by research officer Jack Lindsay.
They were concerned at how business interests were attacking the federal Labor Government's attempts to limit profits to 4% during the war (which they backed down on). Business used the same old excuses and the mainstream press played its usual role in backing them up. As the Daily Mirror put it, "effort has still to be stimulated by reward."
As Lindsay put it, "if the shareholders were not satisfied with receiving the liberal percentage profit allowed to them as non-producers, then, of course, they could have supplemented their incomes by going to work in a munition factory, where there is a great need for workers.
It may be noted that while wages were pegged long ago no taxation would have been collected under the government's profits tax scheme until the middle of 1943."
Lindsay spelled out that "the soldiers and the Trade Union Movement have the same interests because the great majority of soldiers came from the ranks of the working class."
Also, Lindsay went on to point out that "the Australian soldiers during the last war [1914-18] were members of the highest paid army in the world, because the unions had achieved a higher level of wages in the country than in others, and because they fought successfully to maintain the principle of voluntary enlistments."
"If the working people in all ranks of life, including the middle classes, are thoroughly united behind a progressive war policy, we will be able to play our part in Australia towards defeating the fascist hordes."
The press tried to bring out class divisions, arguing that the soldiers were poorly paid, whilst the civilian workers were highly paid. They did not look at business profits. The unions demanded that the Menzies government increase the soldiers basic wage (which he didn't) and ensured that the Curtin government did, very soon after coming to office.
POST WAR RECONSTRUCTION
Lindsay also brought out a theme that was repeated and developed by the ALP and the labour movement over the next few years: the shape of Australian society after the war.
"We will also be in a better position to eliminate the large monopolist exploiters in the post-war period", he wrote.
One such pamphlet was "Union Policy For Our Fighting Cobbers" a policy adopted at a conference held in Sydney on 16 May 1943, with representatives from 6 labor councils, 56 trade unions, 32 shop committees. these were represented by 316 delegates, and the returned soldiers' organisations sent 29 official observers.
"The Conference was held because --- Australia's fighting forces, which have fought with outstanding valour on battlefields all over the world, have all claims to the best possible conditions during their period of service, and their future well-being must be the first consideration of the Australian people." The conference adopted policies of improving conditions for service people, and strengthening links between men and women and industry and service people. This would lay the basis for united action to solve the problems of the post-war period in the interests of worker and soldier.
Business and anti-Labor forces were seen as waging a strong propaganda campaign against this unity, by exaggerating the impact of stoppages and suppressing news about the war effort of unions.
On ensuring good union relations with workers the conference resolved that"
1. Trade Unions should maintain contact with members in the Forces-per medium of letters, sending of journals, provision of comforts
2. Unionists should retain full membership rights while serving in the Forces.
3. Unions should organise social activities for service members in all centres.
4. Factories and Unions should adopt Units of Forces for the purpose of supplying comforts, etc
5. Union support should be maintained for Red Cross and Prisoners of War Fund
6. More fully to inform servicemen and workers of respective activities, speakers from the Forces should be invited to attend Union meetings, and workers from factories and Union leaders should speak at military camps.
7. Country centres (particularly those with Trades and Labor Councils) should attempt to establish hospitality huts, organise socials, etc., for troops camped in the vicinity.
The conference emphasised extending the role of welfare committees in the services, promotion of those in service based on ability, and extension of army education services to all services. Also they pushed for improvements in the pay of women in the services based on the work they did. So men and women doing the same job should be paid the same.
The big issue of repatriation was also addressed. They pointed to the terrible way diggers of 1914-18 were treated after that terrible conflict, which lead to a great deal of poverty and social unrest.
1. Demobilisation must be carried out in a scientific manner, efficiently and speedily. Where difficulties of finding employment are encountered adequate maintenance must be provided.
2. The Government should make a survey of fields of employment likely to be available after the war and further extend the present educational system within the Army. In the light of the survey a scheme of vocational training for discharged men and women should be put into operation.
Pensions were a big issue as the conference saw that Australia as a nation had an overwhelming obligation to those returning who were suffering mentally or physically.
Also free medical treatment should be provided, adequate housing conditions ensured, and a comprehensive land settlement scheme put in place, with agricultural training and co-operative arrangements between new farmers. National infrastructure schemes of water and solid conservation were also urged.
All these issues were ones vigorously argued for by Alec Campbell, as Rowan Cahill points out in his article in this weeks Workers Online.
"Alec was active in the Workers Educational Association. The conservative press regarded him as 'a Red'. In the Launceston local council elections of 1941 he campaigned with union endorsement for slum clearance, low rental public housing, anti-pollution measures, and anti-monopoly measures."
These themes were all echoed in the ALP government's actual plans. Eddie Ward outlined his views at the annual meeting of the East Sydney Federal Electorate Labor Council on 9th March 1945 and published as "The Rehabilitation of Ex-Servicemen". Also a Labor Digest of March 1945 on "the strategic role of the Australian army" laid out an impressive policy covering airline, slum clearance, industrial development in the steel industry, forest policies, labour education an the future of arbitration. Ben Chifley, as Minister for Post-War Reconstruction produced a pamphlet of three articles on Full Employment, International Co-operation, and Social Security before the end of the conflict. It was produced by the Dept of Post-War Reconstruction and titled Planning For Peace.
These themes were all part of the post-war welfare state that gave strong emphasis to employment, rights of ordinary Australians and welfare. All these themes have been under attack since the time the present Prime Minister entered federal parliament. This is the man who makes lots of noise about the ANZAC spirit, a spirit which he seems to feel embodies sacrifice by the ordinary soldier and citizen, who are to fall back on their own resources and who are also expected to fulfil obligations to the nation, whilst the government and corporate elites keep the profits of their efforts rolling in one direction only.
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