||Issue No. 150||30 August 2002|
Shut It Down!
Interview: Australian Worker
Unions: Morning Ambush
Cole-Watch: Grumpy Old Men
International: Arrested (Sustainable) Development
History: Illegal Alien
Economics: The Trouble With PPPs
Poetry: Is This 'My Country'?
Review: Garage Days
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Compiled by Neale Towart
He was the journalist who broke the story of story of Colonel Redl the man who was highly regarded employee of the Austro-Hungarians, double agent for the Russians, French and Serbians, a story recreated in the 1980s film. Kischs' fame in Australia resulted from his being banned from entering the country. He was invited to speak at the Congress Against War and Fascism.
The conservative government wasn't too keen on this opposition to the sound policies of herr Hitler. He was required to sit a language test in Scots Gaelic (one of the few European languages he didn't know). He made a dramatic leap from the Strathaird onto the Melbourne docks and was hidden in various places around Australia by supporters (mostly CPA members). During this time he wrote many of his perceptions of Australia. His style is jovial, almost whimsical, as the dust jacket of the 1969 Australasian Book Society says, but this masks some of the disquieting things he has to say.
His chapters on the treatment of Aboriginal people and the working conditions of miners are particularly striking. The following is bit more upbeat but still gives the flavour of his style. One section was called "The Continent of Trade Unions." Trade unionists were of course, under attack in the Germany he was from, and trade unionists were involved in sheltering him. Trades Hall in Sydney and Melbourne seem to have been his accommodation. He gives some great walking tours of the buildings.
The trade unions of Melbourne possess a gabled palace, with pillars and a flight of stairs and a sloping terrace, comparable to the houses of parliament in the capitals of Europe. In Australia the kangaroo and emu are included among the heraldic animals, and they are not forgotten in the bas-reliefs around the Melbourne Trades Hall.
The "House of the Trade Unions," just as it stands, suits the imagination of those who have heard Australia described as the "workers' wonderland." For Australia has borne many such names - it was the "future state in reality," the "continent with the highest wage scale," the "socialist paradise." Generations of reformists pointed with outstretched forefingers to this continent: Workers, look at Australia! See what can be done without revolution...
Do they not feel the thrilling pride of ownership, those workers who climb the staircase of the Melbourne palazzo, coming to ask for work, and finding none?
The Trades Hall of Sydney is far less imposing. Situated in Goulburn St, quite near the docks and industrial suburbs, it traces its origin back to the days of long ago, but even when it was built the trade-union leaders had a reputation among the authorities, and in society, and were proud of it.
How do we know? As we entered Sydney's Trades Hall for the first time, we paused to recover our breath at the gate, because our shoulders were aching from the pressure of the crutches. Seizing the opportunity, we read on a marble tablet that the foundation-stone was laid in January, 1888, in the presence of His Excellency the Governor, the Right Honourable Earl Carrington, P.C., G.C.M.G. ...
The memorial plaques along the staircase are not made of cardboard either; they praise not only those trade unionists who were killed in the War, but all who have fought - and fought heroically, as we shall learn.
With all convenient haste, away from these milestones on the road of trade-union development, we mount the stairs.
This Trades Hall is the organizational center for one hundred and thirty thousand workers of Sydney and its environs. The highest body is the Trades and Labour Council, consisting of more than one hundred members. The offices of the twenty-eight members of its Executive Committee are in the building. The departments include one for functionaries who appear as advocates for the unions before the Arbitration Court; also the accident insurance department, and the Enquiry Office, which latter deals with questions of factory hygiene, accident prevention, statistics, and the filing of overseas newspapers.. The management of the broadcasting station 2KY is also located here. Twelve hours a day this station broadcasts to 500,000 workers - reports about cricket, horse races, football, a little tennis, swimming, orchestral and jazz music, news, humorous and serious pieces, advertisements, with occasionally a political review.
The individual unions have their offices in the Trades Hall, the building workers, printers, food-industry workers, textile workers, metal-trades workers, timber workers, municipal employees, transport workers of sea and shore, "miscellaneous," and the pastoral workers.
The last-named, like the powerfully-organised miners, inclne towards the Left. But the "pastoral Workers Industrial Union" embraces only a small minority pof the mass of agricultural workers; most of the "sowers and mowers, the shepherds and shearers" are organized in the A.W.U.
A.W.U. stands for "Australian workers Union," but some, not excluding A.W.U. members, hasten to assert that the three letters mean: "Australia's Worst Union." It refrained from affiliating to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, as it regards itself as a federation of trade unions, a trade-union center. The A.W.U. owns buildings in many towns, it is more Right Wing than the other unions, it is one of the oldest workers' associations, and from its ranks came many of the pioneer Labour politicians. Even to-day it has a decisive influence in the Labour Party.
We remember the Australian trade unions with gratitude. They supported the mass movement against the prosecution of the anti-war delegates by the authorities, and repeatedly put up bail. In the Trades halls, of which there is one in nearly every industrial town, we had given lectures for the officials about General Schleicher's plan to form a coalition government supported by the trade unions and the Reichswehr, and about the illusions held by the German trade-union leaders even in the Hitler Government - until May 1st, 1933. The questions and discussions disclosed an anti-fascist tendency in all of them. Nevertheless, they have always proved to be as "peaceful and liberal" as Lenin designated Australian trade-union officials back in 1913. Partly from private sources, and partly from Who's Who in Labour, wherein they publish their biographies each year, we became acquainted with their hobbies - watching football matches, collecting stamps, betting on the races, listening to the wireless, fishing, or gardening.
"If Labour had been in power in the Federal parliament," they said again and again, "all this would never have happened to you."
And if it would have happened even then?
"Then the Government would have had its reasons."
Egon Kisch. Australian Landfall. With a forward by Sandy Yarwood. Translated by John Fisher and Irene and Kevin Fitzgerald. Sydney: Australasian Book Society, 1969. First published by Secker and Warburg, 1937
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