Interview: Terror Australis
Unions: Graeme Beard's Second Dig
Industrial: The Hell of Troy
Organising: Miners Strike Gold
Economics: The Accepted Wisdom
History: Vicious Old Lady
International: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Review: War Unfogged
The Locker Room
Getting Away With Murder
Vicious Old Lady
The SMH continued a fine tradition on Monday 22nd March with its union bashing editorial. The rail unions and the teachers' unions destroying civilisation as we know it, that is as the propertied classes who the SMH and its obsessions with lifestyle, real estate values and coastal holiday retreats cater for know it. How often do their editorial writers use a thesaurus? Only that the line about the education system being constipated by the lack of flexibility and the way the union encourages mediocrity is getting pretty tired.
The Herald's commitment to decent education for all, as it seems to suggest it support with the editorial, was highlighted 98 years ago when it railed against the state government's plans to abolish school fees for primary school children:
"There has been no public demand for this change..." readers were informed.
"The argument would be of force if any such opening were required, if the field of knowledge were not already open to every child in the State. Nobody need pay who is destitute. An application 'in forma pauperis' secures remission of the fees, though doubtless many parents feel the stigma thus cast upon their children."
The stigma, basically an armband for the poor kids who went to school under the "pauper" label, was not an issue that the gents at the SMH thought worthy of comment. Equality clearly wasn't high on the agenda.
The old union problems surface at all levels, not least in their interference with the proper government of the state. How dare unions representing 700,000 workers plus their families dare to push their opinions to a state government. The laughable part is the Herald claim that unions have been encouraged to think they have a right to be involved. After all the phone calls that are not returned from the Office of Industrial relations, and many other departments, union officials would be surprised to know that they have been encouraged to think they have joint control of the state.
The historic record on unions has been strong for the Herald. In 1872 they made the proud claim that "for the last years the 'Herald' has sometimes been described as the great enemy of the working man."
The formation of a Labor Party, the organisation that unions today seem to think they should have a say in running, was also a matter of concern, in 1874, for the "vicious old lady":
"Under the auspices of the Trade Labour Council of NSW [sic], a movement has been set afoot to secure in Parliament a direct representation of Labour...
There seems to prevail among the wage-getting class, whether rightly or wrongly, an impression that their interests and views are not sufficiently understood by the governing classes."
When the Labor Party did form in 1891 the SMH made the astute observation that this was to be "gravely deplored" because "if once we have the class representation of labour in Parliament, we shall speedily have the class representation of capital..."
I wonder where the capitalists were before.
Despite the Herald's best efforts, labour representatives did take their place in Parliament. The lament of September 1891 could have been written this week:
"The special difficulties under which the Parliament labours, during the present Session, are largely due to the presence in the House of the Labour Party...The bringing forward of a number of measures which make no pretence to be other than measures of class legislation...In introducing these measures they make no attempt to justify them as beneficial to the colony in general. When it is stated that they are for the advantage of labour, it seems to be considered that enough is said to ensure their passage through Parliament.""
Representatives like that are what unions need 103 years later to bring some truth to the 21st century Herald's claim that unions jointly hold the reins.
As the Labor Council attempts get security of employment through the Industrial Relations Commission (the establishment of which the Herald dutifully opposed in 1893 and many times thereafter) against a phalanx of employers, the federal government and other interests, the attitude to the labour members attempts bring in an eight hour bill in October 1891 accurately sums up the attitude of the propertied classes today:
"The Labour Party and the so-called Democratic Party in several of the colonies is at present diligently employing itself in the work of killing the goose of enterprise which lays the golden eggs of general prosperity."
The Herald was affronted that a Labour member stated that "the employer was not necessary to the community, but that the employee was."
Such Bolshie nonsense, even before there were Bolsheviks!! Especially when the Labour members argued that the eight hours of work should include meal times. Happily for the Herald, by the time the Bill got through the Legislative Assembly, it had been watered down to total ineffectualness. This pleased Vicious Old Lady Herald, but she remained vexed that the principle of eight hours was still extant.
The great strikes and the depression of the early 1890s were a great defeat for the labour cause, and the old lady on 11 October 1892 was delighted:
"The socialistic fad, it would appear, has run its course. It is desired to substitute a system of co-operation between masters and men ...The former will have control of their own property and of the conditions under which they will offer employment These are really the only terms on which business can go on at all."
Sweatshops have been a target of campaigns by unions for many years and remain a big issue in the clothing industry today. In 1906 the Labour Council produced a report detailing the terrible conditions in tailoring shops, jam factories and many other workplaces. The report was dismissed by the Herald:
"We know of no satisfactory evidence to justify the assertion of the Committee that 'Sweating of a pronounced character obtains in this city, in factories, warehouses, fashionable millinery and drapery establishments, other shops, high-class luncheon and tearooms, hotels and restaurants, laundries, and even in large mercantile and banking institutions.'
The public is not prepared to regard employers as slave-drivers on the report of a body which is naturally biased."
No bias from the Herald of course, who views reflected that of the readership it aimed for then and now ie the propertied classes of a Sydney Town whose daily amusements were based around those same "high class" establishments.
Schools remained a source of concern for the Herald, and during the 1930s Depression opportunity and risk arose for the Herald and its propertied readership. In 1931 the state government decided to raise the school leaving age to help keep boys and girls of 14 and 15 away from the morass of unemployment. A dangerous move thought the Herald. If the leaving age was raised during the Depression, could we be sure that it would be lowered again when the Depression ended. Also how could factory owners find cheap labour. They might have to go to the additional expense of paying adults adult wage rates. Profits after the Depression would suffer.
The opportunity was the chance to impose fees again, after the 1906 removal. The wedge was inserted by a move to charge entrance fees for examinations such as the intermediate certificate and the leaving certificate.
"It was good for them to pay" those fees that had been on primary school students up to 1906 and on secondary students to 1911. "Taxpayers", said the SMH, "have been looking pretty closely into this matter of expenditure on education, and can perceive no reason why the user should not pay.
Men will be found to justify the most lavish outlay on schools, and indeed on many other objects, as if nothing else mattered save the mere desirability of the project."
In the argument about child endowment in 1929, following a Royal Commission on the subject, the Herald's views would have done the present federal government proud as it today attacks the social welfare system and preaches mutual obligation for the low paid or unemployed and personal responsibility for families (read "Mum stay at home and out of the workforce, except if you are a single parent when you will be hounded to retrain, go to work etc). The Herald said that the Royal Commission was correct in "advancing strong arguments against the adoption of this system [child endowment]. Is this an indulgence which Australia can afford?"
The report takes the view that were parents to be relieved of the obligation to support their children, parental responsibility would be impaired, the incentive to effort reduced, and the sense of unity between husband and wife diminished. Too much spoon-feeding weakens the fibre."
Except the fibre of the propertied classes who must be ensured that their wealth and privileges will be maintained. The Sydney Morning Herald's historical role has been to champion this point of view.
Kit Hesy's pamphlet of 1946 recording a small selection of the paper's attacks on working people, the unemployed and those not like the born to rules who the Herald saw itself as servicing is an entertaining example of the role media proprietors really play in our society. The Herald's current concerns with the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and how readers can attend the latest spots in the City to make themselves feel a part of this milieu is a continuation of a "proud" historical tradition.
Vicious Old Lady (Sydney Morning Herald): a century of property against the people. Record compiled by Kit Hesy. Published by Current Book Distributors, Sydney in 1946
More recently, Paul True has published in the same vein It Must Be True Its in the Papers
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