Sydney Branch’s Conference on Anti-Labour Legislation 1996

On Saturday, 7 December, last year the Sydney Branch held a daylong conference at the Women’s College, University of Sydney, on the theme of anti-labour legislation in Australia. Part of the logic behind the conference was to contextualise the Howard government’s recently introduced Workplace Relations Act by examining earlier experience with regard to anti-union legislation in Australian industrial relations history.

NSW Attorney-General, Jeff Shaw, delivered the opening address, whilst the speakers who followed canvassed a range of important and illuminating themes. Professor Michael Quinlan spoke on the experience prior to 1890, with particular reference to the operation of Master and Servant Acts; Associate Professor Ray Markey considered the implications of early compulsory arbitration law; Dr. Andrew Moore covered anti-labour legislative initiatives of the inter-war years; Associate Professor Tom Sheridan focused on the Chifley and IMenzies years; Mr. Jim Baird spoke on the margins and anti-penal powers campaigns by metal workers in the late 1960s; Ms. Suzanne Jamieson, from Sydney University gave a splendid overview of recent developments; whilst Mr. Allan Anderson (Australian Services Union) land Ms. Vicky Telfer (Community and Public Sector Union) spoke, I respectively, about the Mudginberri-secondary boycotts dispute and recent developments in the public sector.

The following two articles are edited versions of the addresses given at the conference by Jim Baird and Allan Anderson. Whilst Allan’s talk deals with one of the labour movement’s most serious defeats at the hands of conservative forces armed with anti-union legal provisions, Jim’s talk serves to remind us that circumstances and strategy can combine to deliver victory over even the seemingly most punitive of laws.