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4-200 (Original)

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addressee author,male,Labour Defence Committee,un
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Clark, 1975
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Some people are sure to regard the concluding chapter of the Story of a defeated strike as a species of verbal trap-door for the more speedy and effectual exit of the Labour leaders. Those who see in the failure of the late strike nothing but a portentous disaster, will naturally view this report in that light. But the working, men of N.S.W. know better. Their faith in the completeness of their organisations has received a shock; but they have already found out that the very force of that shock has opened to the Labour Party vistas of usefulness through which it may march to ultimate victory. That end will be when it has indeed, to use a vague and unsatisfactory expression, "re-organised Society" restored the land of the people, put an end to the wasteful and vicious System of industrial competition, won for every man the right to work and for every man the full fruits of his work.
It is supposed by many that in some mysterious way the dismissal of a man from the steamship Corinna precipitated the general outbreak of hostilities. That is not true. It is a fact, however, that an old employee was dismissed from the Corinna, and that when the Union, of which he was the representative on board that ship, suspecting under highly suspicious circumstances, that he had been "victimized", demanded a reason for his dismissal, they were informed merely that the owners had reasons of their own which it was inconvenient to explain. The result was a conflict between the men of that particular Company and their employers; but so far from being the signal for a general scrimmage, the dismissal of Peter Mangan from the Corinna ended as it began - with the laying-up of the Tasmanian Steamship Company's fleet.
There were two questions upon which the Unions of Australia were prepared, if necessity arose, to court the fortunes of war. One involved the boycott of non-Union shorn wool, and the other a struggle for the right of the Marine Officers' Association to affiliate with the other Labour Organisations of the Colonies. The non-union wool business was the first to crop up. Less than twelve months previously the Queensland Unions had scored a victory on a similar point. But their fight was waged under conditions more favourable to the men, whose principal opponents were a single station holder and one large Steamship Company. In this Colony, at least ten per cent, of the sheds were shearing under non-Union rules and the pastoralists generally assuming an attitude of aggressive, hostility. Indeed, notwithstanding the oft-repeated assertion that the employers were in no sense responsible for the strike, the public have now the assurance of so eminent an authority as Mr. Edmund Smith, President of the Victorian Branch of the Employers' Union, that the definite aim of the Capitalists was to force the Unions into the struggle. [764] Labour's demand was simply this: that by uniformly accepting the principles of Trades-Unionism the squatters would give their shearers a reasonable guarantee against industrial oppression; and this they refused to do. As the Labour Party said at the time, and as facts have since amply proved, the employers (then completely organised themselves) were bent upon breaking the back of other Unions. Still there was no knowing what the result might be. The Labour Unions had been brought face to face with the problem of existence, and action was necessary.
So almost simultaneously with the arrival here of the first bales of the season's wool came the President of the Shearers' Union. A conference was arranged between the representatives of the maritime bodies and the Trades and Labour Council. The first meeting took place on the 12th August. The Shearers' President explained his plan of campaign. Persuasion was unnecessary, for already the wharf labourers, through whose hands of course the wool would have to pass into the ships' holds, had decided to load only brands known to be clipped by union shearers, and the result of the conference was that every maritime union in New South Wales pledged its support to a general boycott of non-Union wool. It was thus primarily with the object of maintaining the power of unionism in the back blocks that the affiliated societies entered upon the conflict.
Scarcely had the conference met when a fire that had been smouldering for some time broke out into flame in an altogether different direction, and what might have been merely a strike of wharf labourers, supported by ample funds from the other societies, suddenly assumed the aspect of a battle involving all classes of maritime labour throughout Australasia. In the hope of making their hard lives, if only a little, still a little more endurable, the marine officers had twelve months before hoisted their own little flag of reform. God knows there was need for reform. So they gathered within their industrial stockade and demanded concessions, the righteousness of every one of which has since been acknowledged by the shipowners. But who are they? A few hundred marine officers, out of whose souls it was said the spirit of independence had been long since drained. Their association alone was powerless. The owners were playing with them and they knew it. Possibly still worse. In the light of Mr. Edmund Smith's boast about the deliberate precipitation of the strike by the employers, it is more than possible that they were wilfully exasperating them. But gold braid and brass buttons are poor compensation for so many hours of weary responsibility. [765] Human nature enslaved on the bridge contracted a sympathy with human nature striving for freedom in the fo'castle. It brooded over the wrongs of that man strutting about in the pomp of brief authority at sea, whilst his wife and child shed out a pinched existence on shore. The great ship did his bidding, he was lord of the winds and the waves, but he was himself the most pitiful of slaves - an industrial slave - and now he is going to aim a blow for freedom.
Thus it happens that among the minutes of the conference we find, in the proceedings of the second day, a resolution carried with one dissentient vote; inviting the Secretary of the Marine Officers. Association to take part in its deliberations. From that moment the basis of the impending strike was indefinitely extended, and its original pretext to some extent forgotten in the face of such a novel development, for although none of the labour unions were as yet pledged to stand by the officers, it was generally understood that if the latter proved their good faith they might rely on the support of all organised labour. The officers of the Adelaide were the first to leave their ship. On Friday, the 15th August, they lodged their notices. On Saturday, the 16th, they cleared out, and the vessel sailed for Melbourne that afternoon, a few hours behind time, with strange faces on the bridge. Other officers left their ships as they came into port. The Seamen's Union, satisfied with the backbone of the new association, called upon their members to stand by it. The wharf labourers refused to load ships manned by non-union crews, and the strike, in all its vastness and complexity, began.
Just then a strange scene presented itself any hour of the day and far into the night to anyone visiting the Temperance Hall. The conference convened for the discussion of a possible strike had merged into the now famous Labour Defence Committee. Aptly was it said by one in authority that the labour unions had set up a rival government, and that the colony itself was in a state of civil war.
But how was victory to come? Already the strike had lasted many weeks. Still there were funds in hand, and so far all that our members suffered was the depression natural to men called away from lives of physical activity to play their part in a waiting game. The employers were losing heavily. How much longer were they prepared to carry on at a loss? On the other hand, their strength as a body was increasing with the united action into which a common danger had forced them. From the very first week, of the strike, when one side was as confident of success as the other, the men had publicly expressed their eagerness for an unconditional conference. The employers would only consent to meet them upon the understanding that they first conceded the points in dispute. Now, flushed with the victory of Circular Quay, intoxicated by the almost unanimous approval of the "classes", and certain of the support of the authorities, they rallied with greater force than ever to their original intention of breaking the back of trades unionism. [766] "Prolong the strike to its bitter end - starve the men into submission, and re-engage them upon terms making future strikes possible only by breach of law." Those were the tactics of the employers; and with bitter determination they proceeded to carry them into effect.
A counter-move was absolutely necessary. What should it be? Some counselled a strike throughout every branch of industry. "Block the railways, lay up the ferry boats, turn out the gas in the cities, ship no more wool in the country, set no more type for the newspapers, call out the butchers and the bakers, and bring society itself to book." Well, undoubtedly society was at fault, but how far the recoil of the spring would have injured Trades-Unionism it was impossible to foresee. This was "too large an order", and all that came of it was a good deal of agitation on the part of peaceful citizens, with well-lined stomachs, and a command for shearers to stand by their gear. Three days afterwards they were called from the sheds, and the last shot of the Defence Committee was fired - that is, the last shot that the Committee felt itself justified in firing; and even that proved unavailing. The law is of the capitalists' making, and the law imposed pains and penalties, in many cases threatening with the loss of small homesteads the men who left their work. From this out the result of the strike was apparent. When the shearers were sent back to their sheds, the unequal conflict was practically over, and all that remained for the Defence Committee was to bring its operations to an end.
Of the attempts at mediation, the less said the better. In a struggle partaking to an indefinite extent of class warfare, it is almost impossible to find men in whom each side can repose absolute confidence. [767] No one can doubt the genuineness of many of the efforts to bring the combatants together. The Labour Party cannot discredit any of the well-intentioned suggestions in favour of an appeal from force to reason. But at the same time it must be borne in mind that with one or two exceptions it was from the Capitalist ranks that the mediators were nominated and that in some instances the proposed mediators themselves had, during early stages of the Struggle, carried arms against the Unions. Sir Alfred Stephen had prepared a Bill for declaring strikes under almost any circumstances illegal, and threatening with summary imprisonment at the hands of police magistrates those whose earnestness in the work of reform led them into that species of industrial warfare. Mr. Salamons speaking in the Legislative Council had expressed his approval of a measure by which a strike in certain branches of industry would be a crime; Mr. Burdekin, even when assuming the character of a mediator, was indebted to the better judgment of a newspaper editor for the suppression in a manifesto for publication of sentiments expressing too clearly the Capitalistic bias of his mind; whilst over the head of Mr. Champion hung an action for libelling one of the leaders of the Labour Party in England, and endless charges of treachery to the Labour cause there. Was it any wonder then, refusing as they did to hear of arbitration when expounded by gentlemen eminently friendly to their interests, that the employers should render it simply impossible for the Labour Defence Committees to do otherwise than fight the battle out? And can anyone in fairness say that, forced as they were to continue the conflict, they would not have been justified in applying the principle of the boycott to its fullest extent?