The Official Organ of LaborNET
click here to view the latest edition of Workers Online
The Official Organ of LaborNET
Free home delivery
November 2002   

Interview: Life After Keating
Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd looks at the world and wonders what might have been ...

Industrial: That Friday Feeling
Anthony Stavropoulos has been working six days a week for the last eight years and now he wants his weekends back. �Remember that Friday feeling?� he asks. �You just don�t get that anymore.�

Bad Boss: Begging to Work
They may put themselves about as the Saints of the Fourth Estate, but bosses at the Big Issue Magazine have been nominated by their own vendors for this month�s Tony award.

Organising: Project Pilbara
Sydney University�s Bradon Ellem reports on how unions are bouncing back in Rio territory

Unions: Off the Rails
The Federal Government is attempting to turn NSW Railways into a political football with a proposal that threatens the safety of freight and passenger trains in NSW and life in our rail Towns, writes Phil Doyle.

International: Brazil Turns Left
Union stalwarts throughout the American hemisphere are cheering the election of Lula � the peanut seller and shoeshine boy, turned union leader - who has been elected as the first working-class President of Brazil.

Environment: Brown Wash
Stuart Rosewarn argues the Johannesburg Sunmmit was a gripping showcase of Australia�s lack of a strategic vision.

History Special: Learning from the Past
Ray Markey looks at union membership growth in the 1880s & 1900s to argue that today�s unions must engage to grow.

Corporate: Will the Bullying Backfire?
Job insecurity, unemployment, a growing gap between rich and poor, massive global poverty and environmental danger are the big issues for the protests at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Sydney.

Technology: Danger Lurks For The Passive
If unions fail to exploit opportunities on the web to gain members, other organisations are likely to fill the void and provide services to workers on the internet.

History: In Labour�s Image
Neale Towart looks at a long-overdue initiative to around NSW through the eyes of the workers.

Politics: Without Power Or Glory
South Coast contributor Rowan Cahill gives his take on the Cunningham by-election result.

History Special: A 'Cosy Relationship'
Barbara Webster looks at Rockhampton between 1916 � 1957 to debunk the �dependence� theory of trade union growth.

Culture: Blood Stains the Wattle
Former Queensland Treasurer Keith De Lacey has turned up in print with a rollicking tale of life during the famous Mt Isa strike of the 60s.

Satire: Iraq Pre-empts Pre-emptive Strike
Saddam Hussein has launched a pre-emptive strike on the United States to prevent it from pre-emptively striking Iraq first.

Poetry: The Executive Pay Cut
Executives accepting pay freezes, or even pay cuts? This outrageous proposal has been put on the table by some capitalists themselves, and taken up by our bard.

Review: Time Out
When a family man invents a new life after losing his steady job, Tara de Boehmler watches his charade escalate until there is no turning back.


Month In Review
War and Pieces of Work
The Bali Tragedy dominated the news this month, leaving many questioning the motive and wondering if this is fallout from Australia�s unquestioning support of George Dubya�s �War On Terror�.

The Soapbox
Beware of Greeks Bearing Historical Allusions
Roland Stephens argues that the current popular line that the USA is a modern day version of the Roman Empire is flawed.

The Locker Room
Over The Fence Is Out
Phil Doyle warms up for another season of hard hitting and fast bowling in the park, making the rules up as he goes along.

The Sea of Hands
Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation are five years old. Spokeswoman Dameeli Coates addressed labor Council to mark the event.

Tokyo Youth Call
Tokyo unions are relying on young organisers to infiltrate workplaces as part of a major organising campaign, which focuses on non-unionised companies, reports Mary Yaager.

Still Crazy After All These Years
With new research suggests CEO carry similar personality traits to psycho-paths, the AGM season is proving that there�s little room for logic in our nation�s board rooms.


Why The User Should Pay
Unions have often been the victims of the user-pays ethos � the pointy end of the assault on the State by the Top End of Town that has left our public sector looking like the poor relation to the corporates.


 Bargaining Fees In the Dock

 Deadly �Slave Labour� Racket Exposed

 Zoo Workers Buck Indecent Proposal

 Cabinet Takes Stick To Abbott's Carrot

 Cyber Action Behind Hilton Win

 Aussies Back On Board

 City Workers To Help Country Cousins

 Sour Taste for Wine Workers

 Government Grounds Ansett Levy

 TAB Workers Winners as Cup Strike Averted

 Aussie Post Gets Mail On Sick Leave

 Council Backs Community Radio Venture

 First Steps to Compo Clean-Up

 Workers Out! Conference Opens In Sydney

 Aussie Union Rep Power, Yes Please: TUC

 New Burma Shame File

 Activists Notebook

 Trashing the Siren Theory
 More Bali Feed Back
 Clean Election Laws Now!
 And Now, Some Fan Mail!
 Policy Vacuum
 Tom's Postscript
About Workers Online
Latest Issue
Print Latest Issue
Previous Issues
Advanced Search

other LaborNET sites

Labor Council of NSW
Vic Trades Hall Council
IT Workers Alliance
Unions on LaborNET
Evatt Foundation

Labor for Refugees


History Special

Learning from the Past

Ray Markey looks at union membership growth in the 1880s & 1900s to argue that today�s unions must engage to grow.

In these difficult times for unions it is worth remembering that Australia enjoyed one of the highest levels of unionism in the world in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1927 total union membership reached 51 per cent after a quarter of a century of rapid growth. This was probably the highest degree of unionisation in the world at that time. In fact, that could already have been said of NSW and Victoria as early as 1890, when the level of unionisation reached about 22 per cent. It is worth looking at what made Australian workers so prone to becoming union members.

The earliest unions in the Australian colonies date from the 1840s and 1850s. They were mainly urban craft unions, concentrated in the building and metal trades, often branches of British unions. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers, a major component of today's AMWU, is a good example. During the 1870s Hunter River coalminers, seamen and wharf labourers also organised. However, during the 1880s there occurred a tremendous upsurge in union membership. Existing unions increased membership and a number of key new unions were formed. The Amalgamated Shearers', which became the AWU in 1894, was one of the more famous. Others included railway workers, transport workers, metalliferous miners in Victoria and at Broken Hill, gas stokers, clothing trades workers, and brewery employees. In 1891 a general Female Employees' Union appeared in Sydney.

Until 1890 the Australian colonies enjoyed an economic boom. Although this by no means meant prosperity was shared evenly, it did create a labour shortage which often favoured workers' organisation. Expansion of manufacturing and the scale of industry brought greater numbers of workers together, and produced substantial working class communities in the inner-city and mining towns, where collective habits of association saw the overlapping of work and social experience in friendly societies, sporting clubs and cooperatives, as well as unions. Craft workers' sense of 'calling', and the mysteries of their trade, bound them together even if they were geographically dispersed. Even shearers developed a strong group ethos as they travelled in larger groups between sheds and stayed together for longer periods.

These aspects of working class community have declined as a result of suburbanisation, new technologies, declining class consciousness and rising consumer affluence, although there may be new manifestations in youth culture today. The older working class communities were also largely masculinist, and excluded important groups on a racial or ethnic basis. For these reasons we can not really expect the same type of working class community to provide a strong basis for unionism any longer.

Nevertheless, we can take three important lessons from this period. Firstly, state and regional labour councils played a central organising role, devoting considerable resources to this. Secondly, unions developed strong political alliances with non-union progressive groups, even in the early days of the Labor Party. It is notable that these have been key US strategies recently for revival of unions.

Finally, unions by the 1880s were an accepted part of the body politic, in a way which is not the case today. In the nineteenth century unions laboured under a number of legal impediments, which sometimes even led to gaoling of striking unionists. However, state sanctions of this kind were not consistently applied, and in important ways the state and many employers recognised the role of unions in civic society. Symbolically, Sir Henry Parkes laid the foundation stone for Sydney Trades Hall in 1888. The acceptance of unions was withdrawn in the great depression and strikes of the 1890s, which led to union decimation as the state combined with employers to confront unions head-on. However, with the formation of the ALP and a strong middle class aversion to industrial strife, unions were accommodated again in the body politic in the early 1900s. The arbitration system was a major manifestation of this, although in itself the arbitration system was not very supportive in the recovery and expansion of Australian unionism.

The critical factor for the revival of unionism today is not necessarily a return to the old arbitration system, but the creation of an environment in which unions are an integral part of civic society. This would be somewhat akin to Europe, where industrial relations policy is developed according to the principles of 'Social Partnership'. The state, and within its apparatus, the ALP, still have critical roles to play in reaching this objective.

Ray Markey is Associate Professor in Industrial Relations at the University of Wollongong


email workers to a friend printer-friendly version latest breaking news from labornet

Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue

© 1999-2002 Workers Online
Workers Online is a resource for the Labour movement
provided by the Labor Council of NSW
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005

Powered by APT Solutions
Labor Council of NSW Workers Online