Book Reviews

Mona Brand and others: 50 New Years, 1932-1982, Sydney New Theatre, 2nd Revised Edition, August 1983. 24 pp. $1.00.

This brief but highly informative booklet was originally produced as a souvenir issue for the 50 New Years exhibition held at the Sydney Opera House back in 1982. Most of the material it contains is based on articles on the New Theatre Movement written by Mona Brand and first published in 1978, but this has been supplemented by additional material from original research by Paul Herlinger.

The incidents highlighted in the booklet make it very clear that radical theatre in Australia occupies an important place in both our cultural and political history. The historical perspective offered by this fine little publication will surely serve’ to strengthen the resolve of those who are working to ensure that radical theatre occupies an even greater position in Australia’s future.

Copies of the booklet can be obtained from the New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown, 2042.

Ralph Gibson: The People Stand Up, Red Rooster Press, 1983. pp. 415. rrp. $22.00.

In 1966 Ralph Gibson’s My Years in the Communist Party was published. It dealt in a somewhat fragmentary way with Gibson’s experiences as a very active Communist to that year. The People Stand Up covers the ground of the 1930’s more coherently and in more detail than its forerunner. But its main strength also lies in the insights it gives into the life of the CPA and the way it went about implementing its, especially during the 1930’s, dramatically changing policies. Large chunks of the text are taken up with providing background on the most dramatic international events of the times collectivisation in Russia, the rise of Hitler, the Spanish Civil War etc. These tend towards apologetics for Russian foreign policy in a period when it, often through the medium of the Comintern, made contributions to a series of spectacular setbacks for the working class: the destruction of the German labour movement, the defeat of the Spanish revolution and the collapse of the French workers’ upsurge of the mid-1930’s. There are no ‘new analytical insights into world events or even the history of the CPA in the book, but it gives a valuable feel for the experience of left working class politics and the international issues involved, during the 1930’s.

J.R. Pola: The Greatest Servant: A Social Historv of the Electrical Trades Union (N.S.W. Branch) 1902-1982. Sydney: E.T.U., 1983. pp. 112.

The author has certainly set himself a difficult task in attempting to write a social history of the Electrical Trades Union in New South Wales, and while the resulting work falls short of this standard it is none the less a useful, if brief, general history of both the union and the development of electrification in this State. Some of the issues canvassed include the events leading up to the formation of the Union on the 28th october 1902 (and the “false start” in 1900), the establishment of a Union Monthly Journal in August 1911, and the slow but steady movement towards Federation of the Union. The changing organisational structure of the Union and the various electricity authorities is described and a number of useful tables containing details of wage rates, occupation classifications and membership levels are provided.

The book concludes with a look at some of the Union’s famous sons, including Laurie Brereton, Barrie Unsworth and John McBean. Finally, in keeping with the book’s origins as a union sponsored history, the retiring State Secretary outlines the Union’s philosophy and policies for the 1980’s.

Jack Hutson: Penal Colony to Penal Power, revised edition. Amalgamated Metals, Foundry and Shipwright’s Union, Surry Hills, 1963. $7.50.

A welcome revision of. this valuable book, which provides insights into changes in the arbitration system in Australia in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Part I of the first edition, which relates to the historical background of compulsory arbitration, remains unaltered. However, Parts II and IV have been substantially altered to provide for wage indexation from 1975 to 1981, the role of shop committees and shop stewards and the adverse changes to the federal arbitration system by the Fraser Government. Overall this book remains a useful addition to the libraries of labour historians.