Abstracts – Labour History No. 106

Labour and the Great War: The Australian Working Class and the Making of ANZAC

Edited by Frank Bongiorno, Raelene Frances and Bruce Scates

At the Birth of Anzac: Labor, Andrew Fisher and Australia’s Offer of an Expeditionary Force to Britain in 1914
Douglas Newton

On Monday 3 August 1914, the government of Joseph Cook authorised a cable to London offering an expeditionary force. The leaders of the Labor Party voiced no criticism. This article explores the background to Labor’s acquiescence. In the context of a looming federal election, a number of factors came into play. As the international crisis opened, Liberals alleged that Labor would jeopardise Australia’s security. Labor had been prominent in supporting Irish Home Rule in 1914, inviting charges of disloyalty. Andrew Fisher had been hurt politically by such charges in the recent past. The Labor leaders Fisher and Pearce were also aware that they had authorised planning for an expeditionary force when in office, 1910–13. Since the Boer War, Labor had retreated from suggestions that Australia might shun an imperial war. Instead, in fear of Asia, Labor preached absolute loyalty to Britain and the internationalist spirit remained weak in Labor’s ranks.

Stopping War and Stopping Conscription: Australian Labour’s Response to World War I in Comparative Perspective
Robin Archer

In the early twentieth century, the labour movement was the most important force seeking to prevent war and restrain militarism. Comparison of the Australian labour movement’s response to World War I has been rare, but it shows the Australian experience was distinctive in two ways. Elsewhere, socialist and labour leaders engaged in a frantic round of efforts to stop the war prior to its outbreak, although most soon abandoned their opposition once the conflict had begun. In Australia, similar efforts were virtually absent. Yet during a second wave of opposition in the English-speaking countries, the Australian labour movement was uniquely successful in stopping the introduction of conscription. How can we account for these two differences? Cross-country comparison of labour’s political strength suggests that this may help to account for both.

The Great Strike of 1917 in Victoria: Looking Fore and Aft, and from Below
Charles Fahey and John Lack

The strike of 1917 in Melbourne had its origins in the industrial changes that took place in the city in the first two decades of the twentieth century, and the industrial tensions of the decade before the war were exacerbated by the circumstances of war. Unemployment, seasonal and general, made men vulnerable to moral blackmail to enlist, true victims of “economic conscription.” And the fact that industrial confrontation persisted into 1919–21 shows that the causes of industrial unrest were deeper and more lasting than war-induced inflation and the consequent erosion of living standards. Historians do less than justice to the workers involved in 1917 if we do not look fore and aft, before 1917 to the conditions that were building class-consciousness among manual workers, and afterwards to the disputes and strikes that followed in 1918–20.

Job Skill, Manliness and Working Relationships in the Australian Imperial Force during World War I
Nathan Wise

Historical analyses of soldiers in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during World War I focused overwhelming on combat experiences, the environment of the trenches, and the sense of “mateship” that developed between soldiers. In recent years, labour and cultural historians have begun to approach this environment in new ways, and their work is uncovering a hitherto unseen side of the Australian experience of war. This article continues this recent trend by considering the army as a workplace, and exploring the link between job skill, perceptions of manliness, and workplace relationships in the AIF during World War I. In particular, it will explore two common beliefs that linked work and manliness together in different ways, and consider how those beliefs contributed towards tension and conflict between soldiers of the AIF during World War I.

Shaping the Legend: The Role of the Australian Red Cross and Anzac
Melanie Oppenheimer

Established to assist the sick and wounded in war in August 1914, the Australian Red Cross became one of Australia’s largest and most important voluntary organisations of the twentieth century. Both creations of World War I, the Anzac Legend and the Australian Red Cross appear at first glance to be the antithesis of each other. Yet the humanitarianism of the Australian Red Cross and the militarism of the Anzac Legend are inextricably linked and provide us with a unique perspective with which to evaluate the contested terrain of Anzac. Taking as its starting point the small booklet, Australia at the Dardanelles, 25 April 1915, sold as a fundraiser for the Australian Red Cross during Australia Day, 30 July 1915 this article examines the Australian Red Cross and its connections with the origins of the Anzac Legend during World War I.

“Natural Enemies”? Anzac and the Left to 1919
Mark Cryle

In the wake of the Gallipoli landing in April 1915, there emerged a new, distinctively Australian discursive formation. The Anzac legend was a unique blend of nationalism and militarism increasingly advocated and enshrined at commemorative events. Some pre-war labour writing creates the expectation of contestation around the inherent militarism of that mythology. Rather, Anzac typically produced a shift in the labour movement’s rhetoric around war and nationalism. In the period to 1919, the labour movement frequently constituted itself discursively in such a way as to seek inclusion in the mythology rather than to oppose it.

Labor and the Anzac Legend, 1915–45
Nick Dyrenfurth

This article reconsiders the Australian Labor Party’s relationship with the so-called “Anzac Legend.” Examining the period between the first anniversary of the Gallipoli landings and World War II’s conclusion, it argues that ALP and mainstream union attitudes towards Anzac are more nuanced than historians have typically allowed. According to received historiographical wisdom, the conservative “hijack” of Australian nationalism during the latter stages of the Great War, in addition to the vicious Labor schism over conscription, meant that Labor found itself alienated from the “imperialist” legend for most of the inter-war period. Not until John Curtin heroically led the country through World War II, so the story goes, could Laborites identify with Anzac-style patriotism. Through a close reading of the speeches and writings of Labor politicians and publicists, I will stress Labor’s more complex relationship with Anzac, in turn problematising the simplistic “hijack” thesis.

Class Factors in the Radicalisation of Archbishop Daniel Mannix, 1913–17
Val Noone

Revisiting the legendary opposition to conscription for World War I by Daniel Mannix, the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, this article offers new evidence to support the hypothesis that working-class strongholds of Melbourne and their political leaders influenced the radicalisation of Mannix. In particular, West Melbourne where Mannix was living between 1913 and 1917, is discussed; and an analysis is offered of the context and timing of Mannix’s public statements at Clifton Hill, Preston and Brunswick in relation to the first referendum of 28 October 1916. Drawing on fresh analysis of newspaper reports and the relevant secondary literature, the article concludes that Mannix won leadership in a rare alliance between labour militants and an archbishop by supporting and helping articulate the already developing demands of a mass movement.

Labor, Loyalty and Peace: Two Anzac Controversies of the 1920s
Phillip Deery and Frank Bongiorno

Between the two world wars, the conservative parties dominated federal politics but Labor governments often ruled in the states. Since most key issues concerning Anzac commemoration occurred at state level, the result was that the Australian Labor Party (ALP) had little choice but to grapple with the emergent culture of Anzac commemoration. This article explores two case studies in the 1920s, one from Victoria and the other from Western Australia. In particular, decisions by state Labor governments to regulate teaching about the Great War in primary schools, which need to be seen as part of a wider effort by the labour movement in the 1920s to counter “jingoism,” led to howls of protest and, in the Victorian case, contributed to the fall of the government. This article examines these controversies as instances of the labour movement’s interwar engagement with the Anzac tradition. While the Labor Party contested militaristic nationalism, it also invested in Anzac commemoration and incurred significant political costs through its effort to substitute an alternative understanding of Anzac that would promote international peace and arbitration.

“I Intend to Get Justice”: The Moral Economy of Soldier Settlement
Bruce Scates and Melanie Oppenheimer

Soldier settlement was a key scheme in a suite of repatriation policies enacted in the aftermath of World War I. Across Australia thousands of returned men, including over 9,000 in New South Wales, took up the challenge and tried their luck on the land. Thousands failed. Through the voices of individual soldier settlers and using extensive and only recently released Department of Lands loan files, this article focuses on one aspect of the soldier settlement experience: their sense of moral economy. It argues that many soldier settlers drew on the labour movement’s expectations of their rights and entitlements in an effort to deal with government bureaucracy within a context of failing markets, poor land and rising costs.