Journal Abstracts No. 94

Tribute to Eric Fry and Bob Gollan

Edited by Peter Love

Eric Fry and Bob Gollan died in October 2007 within two weeks of each other. With their passing, the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History lost two of its most significant founding members. Funerals and a memorial service were held in Canberra and records of those occasions were deposited in the National Library of Australia. The ASSLH convened a symposium at the University of Sydney on 8 February 2008 to offer tribute to their work in transforming labour history from a political enthusiasm to a serious scholarly endeavour. The Society, this journal and a substantial body of research and writing were built on the foundations they laid. The personal tributes were presented as papers at the symposium and the two obituaries were separately commissioned. Although it mourns the loss of Eric and Bob, the labour history community rejoices in their legacy.

Other Articles

Containing Discontent: Anti-Chinese Racism in the Reinvention of Angus Cameron

Phil Griffiths

Angus Cameron is usually remembered as one of the pioneers of labour representation, a carpenter elected to the New South Wales parliament in 1874 who became a leading advocate for legislation to stop Chinese immigration. Historians have seen this link as evidence that racism was pushed from below by the working class. This article shows that Cameron turned to anti-Chinese agitation at the very point he broke with the labour movement, and argues that he most likely did so in the hope of saving his political career. In particular it looks at Cameron’s infamous Select Committee Report into Common Lodging-houses, and the crisis in Cameron’s parliamentary career that preceded the establishment of the select committee. It also suggests that key members of the Sydney ruling class had an interest in deflecting attention from the appalling condition of rental housing in Sydney, and that Cameron’s report relieved some of the pressure on them.

‘A Terrible Monster’: From ‘Employers to Capitalists’ in the 1885-86 Melbourne Wharf Labourers’ Strike

Nick Dyrenfurth

During the 1880s the beginnings of an important shift occurred within the language of Australian labour. The relatively benign ’employer’ of Australian colonial folklore began his metamorphosis into the exploitative and villainous ‘capitalist’. The little analysed 1885-86 Melbourne Wharf Labourers’ strike was an important example and practical catalyst for such discourses. This article primarily seeks to redress the neglect of this important strike and the related shift in terminology. A close reading of this strike also explores the gendered, populist nature of labour politics and its Victorian specificities. Above all, the article seeks to historically ‘rescue’ the ‘villains’ – in particular the leading employer Bruce Smith – of early labour discourse. As the strike in question reveals, the pre 1890s shift from ’employers to capitalists’ was problematic, uneven, and at times contradictory, yet of unquestionable long-term significance.

Respect not Relief: Feminism, Guild Socialism and the Guild Hall Commune in Melbourne, 1917

Judith Smart

The Women’s Political Association and Peace Army responded to the Wharf Labourers’ strike in Melbourne in 1917 by setting up a commune to assist the men and their families. Critical of the demoralising effects of relief – even when provided from within the labour movement – these feminists evolved a new model of support for those left destitute as a result of industrial action, in the interests of economic and social justice. Preferring to characterise their actions as facilitating self-help and self-respect, they renamed their headquarters the Guild Hall Commune. The article focuses on how the organisers saw their actions as different from the other relief committees supporting strikers and their dependants at this time; it argues that the ideas of guild socialism were of particular significance, and had special resonance for feminists. While the commune’s work was soon overtaken by the second conscription referendum campaign, it is an episode that deserves analysis as an alternative construction of traditional female relief and auxiliary work.

Port Politics: Indian Seamen, Australian Unions and Indonesian Independence, 1945-47

Heather Goodall

In September 1945 a boycott of Dutch shipping in Australian waters was called in support of the Indonesian declaration of independence at the end of World War II. Inspired by the Atlantic Charter, a new decolonised world seemed possible. It was working people of Australia, Indonesia and India who co-operated in the boycott and attempt to win freedom not only in Indonesia but also in India. This article compares the Australian accounts of the boycott with Indian perspectives, found in the records of the Indian Seamen’s Union in Australia and in oral histories of Australian activists who supported the Indians in this boycott. This comparison demonstrates that the Indian seamen played a substantial role in the practical implementation of the boycott, as it was they, not Indonesians or Australians, who were the main body of seamen obstructing the departures of the black-banned ships. The article asks why the Indian story has been absent in the Australian accounts to date and locates the sources of that marginalisation in the assumptions and stereotypes developed over a century of hierarchical and competitive colonial labour practices. The boycott which seemed to be about the end of colonialism was nevertheless shaped by and remembered within the constraints of that colonialism.

Pragmatic Procrastination: Governments, Unions and Equal Pay, 1949-68

Tom Sheridan and Pat Stretton

The twentieth century contours of Australia’s halting progress towards equal pay for women are fairly well delineated. Understandably, earlier scholars have tended to concentrate on public turning points such as the benchmark arbitration cases and legislative amendments. This paper seeks to focus between the apparent post-World War II peaks and to examine the powerful social and economic forces delaying implementation of even minimal wage equality for so long. Firstly, the Menzies federal government, closely monitored by its policy advisers, adopted delaying tactics every step of the way – even after some Liberal parliamentarians and party structures became restive with its inertia. Labor state governments, despite their eventual legislative smoke and mirrors, remained equally concerned to restrain female labour costs. Labor’s detachment was matched by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the great bulk of the union movement which, while going through elaborate motions, concentrated on wages and job security for males. Finally, while majority public opinion continually seemed to support the principle of equal pay, the decline of 1940’s idealism, rifts between older, ‘first wave’ feminists and continued national prosperity meant that the women’s wages cause in the 1950s and much of the 1960s lacked the urgency and impetus which ‘second wave’ leadership was to bring in the 1970s.