2001 ASSLH conference – Peak union industrial bodies in Rockhampton: Formation, function and fates

Barbara Webster
Central Queensland University, Rockhampton


This paper investigates the origins, roles and destinies of the Rockhampton Trades and Labour Council and its ephemeral predecessors over the past century. It illustrates the tenuous nature of regional peak union bodies, particularly in the early decades; it reveals their weakness in industrial purpose and power; and it explores their parallel ideologically-motivated and historically-contingent political function. The work offers an explanation, located in general structural and place-specific factors, for the industrial impotence of Rockhampton’s peak union bodies and their preoccupation, until recent years at least, with ideology and politics.


The Rockhampton trade union movement attained a certain notoriety among its counterparts throughout Australia in the mid-1950s. Unlike most other cities in the nation which possessed a trades and labour council, for some six months Rockhampton had not one functioning council but two: the “old” Rockhampton Trades and Labour Council (RTLC) and the “new” RTLC which had recently seceded from the former body in dramatic circumstances. The city was not always so over-endowed with inter-union industrial bodies however. During World War I and in the mid-1920s, there was the more usual quota of one council while at other times there was no such body in existence at all. Indeed, until the formation of the RTLC in 1938, peak industrial organisation in Rockhampton struggled for survival, with any success being ephemeral. Moreover, like its predecessors, the RTLC’s founders intended their new body to “direct and facilitate industrial business”yet none of these councils served any independent industrial purpose or possessed any significant industrial power. In examining the formation, functions and fates of a sequence of industrial bodies in Rockhampton throughout the twentieth century, this paper demonstrates that, despite their founders’ aims and intentions,

Rockhampton peak union bodies lacked industrial purpose and power. Rather, they were more ideologically motivated and served a primarily political function. The discussion argues that the greater focus on politics than workplace matters stemmed from general structural constraints and from others factors which were specific to Rockhampton. Secondly, the lack of a significant industrial role, the historically contingent and divisive nature of political activism, and notions of place underpinned the turbulent, tenuous and often ephemeral nature of peak industrial bodies in Rockhampton, particularly in the early decades of the century.

Warwick Eather’s investigation of the Wagga Wagga Trades and Labour Council provides a useful comparison for analysing Rockhampton’s efforts at peak unionism. Eather identifies a weak and struggling organisation which “was never able to achieve an effective level of activity, and therefore lacked authority, legitimacy and a sense of purpose”.As well as citing state and national factors, he suggests several place-specific causes of the Riverina body’s industrial ineffectiveness: the conservatism of both the townspeople and union movement, the small industrial base and union membership, the absence of full-time organisers and the lack of a permanent Trades Hall in the city.2 These factors undoubtedly contributed to the absence of industrial purpose and power for that body just as some of them applied in the case of Rockhampton. Additionally, the closely circumscribed contexts of federated union structures and the arbitration system would have reduced the number of industrial matters confronting a local inter-union council.

Having little industrial role to fulfil raises the question of why unionists established peak councils. As Bradon Ellem and John Shields observe in their work on Broken Hill, some historical accounts of peak unions assume that founding objectives indicate reasons for formation. Declared aims can give some insight into the intentions of the founders but they cannot accommodate, as Ellem and Shields aptly describe, the “false starts and temporary collapses” characteristic of small provincial councils in Australia. Moreover, in the case of those councils which did endure, aims do not necessarily explain the purpose actually served or how it evolved with historical change.3 A recent model devised by Ellem and Shields sees the primary purpose of peak union organisation as industrial and/or political mobilisation, with subordinate roles as agents of exchange and social regulation predicated upon success at that basic task. Secondly, moving beyond Ross Martin’s dual concept of “authority over” and “authority for”, they see peak union power as delegated by affiliates, negotiated with employers and/or the state and, in the case of social regulation, derived from an attachment to a particular place or “place consciousness”. Thirdly, power and purpose are dependent upon the tension between the dialectical forces of unity and fragmentation as they impinge upon the many relationships both within the peak body and the wider union movement. Lastly, peak union purpose and power vary with both time and place.

Rockhampton and early industrial councils

Situated on the Fitzroy River, Rockhampton was Queensland’s second city until the 1950s. With an overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic population of 18,326 in 1901 and 43,149 in 1954, the city grew steadily but much more slowly than other major cities in the state.5 The city’s economic foundations during those decades were the railway workshops, a large export meatworks and port facilities handling the mining and pastoral wealth of Central Queensland. These activities created a comparatively skilled workforce and one which was free of large-scale seasonal labour migrations. In 1909, the major unions established an Eight-Hour Day Celebration Committee (EHDCC, later Labour Day Celebration Committee) and, in 1913, set up a separate Trades Hall Board of Management (THBM) to administer the newly purchased Trades Hall premises.6 Both committees reflected the influence of Brisbane on the organisational forms adopted in Rockhampton and a desire on the part of local activists to emulate the attainments of the metropolitan union movement. The strong union base and substantial Catholic population gave the Australian Labor Party (ALP) a firm grip on political power locally and helped Labor hold office in Queensland almost continually from 1915 to 1957. Overwhelmingly, Rockhampton’s Labor politics was of the non-militant, reformist tradition. Nevertheless, there was always a small number of industrial militants who favoured direct action and revolutionary political and social change. From them came most of the initiative to form peak industrial bodies.7

The first attempt at inter-union industrial organisation in Rockhampton was in 1916, two years after the formation of the Brisbane Industrial Council. The industry-based structure adopted by Brisbane unionists reflected the influence of radical One-Big-Unionism (OBU-ism) espoused by the militant Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Soon after the affiliation of the Queensland Branch of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees’ Union (AMIEU) with the Brisbane Industrial Council in 1915,8 Rockhampton AMIEU members sympathetic to IWW ideas expressed the desire to form a similar council locally. After obtaining advice and rules from the Brisbane body, the AMIEU secretary circularised other unions and the Rockhampton Industrial Council (RIC) met for the first time in early 1916.9 Union minutes and newspaper reports contain no trace of any industrial role played by the RIC but it pursued an active political agenda.

The RIC participated vocally in the anti-conscription campaign and organised a series of Sunday evening lectures on the issue.10 The last recorded mention of an active organisation was in mid-1917 when it called for delegates for the forthcoming year.11 A year later the AMIEU minutes mentioned “again forming the Industrial Council” but nothing transpired.12 With little obvious industrial function, it appears that the council broke up when its political cause dissolved with the successfully defeated conscription referenda.

The second attempt at inter-union industrial organisation occurred in 1925 although the idea was raised eighteen months earlier without success.13 The new body, again called the Rockhampton Industrial Council (RIC), had its origins in the victorious state-wide railway strike of that year. The Australian Railways Union (ARU) and other railway unions had established a disputes committee to coordinate local strike action and, after the strike, the ARU decided to continue the united front and to open it to “outside” unions.14 Militant unionists again took the first steps in establishing the second RIC and the organising committee invited a representative of the new Brisbane-based Queensland Trades and Labour Council (QTLC) to address their planning meeting in late 1925. Early in 1926, the second RIC began meeting.15 The new council pursued issues such as the basic wage, growing unemployment and the new anti-union federal Crimes Act but it engaged in far more political activities than industrial.16 Not only were the ARU delegates still embittered towards the state Labor government over the 1925 strike— despite their victory—they also vehemently criticised it for the punitive transfer of Workers’ Educational Association tutor and ARU mentor, Gordon Crane, because of his persuasive oratory at strike meetings.17 Their anger escalated further when, later in 1926, the party expelled the ARU for refusing to sign the mandatory pledge at the Labour-in-Politics Convention earlier in the year.18

Most of the unionists who established the second RIC were sympathetic to OBU-ism and its aim of reorganising the union movement on industry lines. In place of the three separate peak union bodies then in existence at Trades Hall— the RIC, the Labour Day Celebration Committee (LDCC) and the THBM, the radical element wanted to create one-big- peak-union serving all three functions, with representation on an “industrial group” basis and not the existing trade and sectional basis.19 In addition to OBU ideas driving the amalgamation plans, the move was again encouraged by metropolitan example. In 1922, Brisbane Trades Hall Council (formerly the Brisbane Industrial Council), Labour Day Celebrations Committee and Brisbane Trades Hall Board had combined to form the Queensland Trades and Labour Council (QTLC) which subsequently carried out all three functions successfully.20 In order to force the amalgamation of the three local entities, militant ARU and Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners (ASC&J) delegates manoeuvred themselves into most executive positions on each committee. Other unions on the THBM objected to these plans because the ARU had contributed nothing financial to Trades Hall over the years. They were therefore not prepared to share their assets with and effectively cede control of them to the ARU.21 The second RIC collapsed sometime after mid-1927. One ARU delegate to both the defunct body and the THBM claimed that the council was “killed by the apathy of unionists and their officials”.22 No doubt the growing Depression unemployment facilitated its demise but a more likely reason is that internal tensions rent the council: the ARU’s domination of the council, its plans to reconstruct local union organisation and its blatant anti-Labor line. ALP-loyalist unions progressively disaffiliated and, with only the so-called “Red Raggers” participating, the council became unconstitutional and folded.23

Rockhampton Trades and Labour Council

The longest surviving peak industrial body, the Rockhampton Trades and Labour Council (RTLC), emerged in the wake of the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU) 40-hour week campaign in 1937. After that action failed and the Queensland Labor government refused to introduce its own legislation on the issue, the local 40-Hour Week Campaign Committee believed there was an “urgent need” for a permanent inter-union body in Rockhampton to continue organised industrial agitation. The ARU, which again took the initiative, pointed out that similar bodies existed in all other Queensland cities and that it was “imperative Rockhampton should fall into line” by establishing a council to “direct and facilitate industrial business” locally.24 When the Queensland Industrial Court rejected a separate 40-hour week claim by railway unions in September 1937,25 railway unionists circulated rules for a proposed council and, early in 1938, the RTLC commenced regular meetings.26

Left-wing delegates from the ARU and ASC&J again took a leading role in the RTLC and immediately provoked union discord so that after less that two years in existence the council seemed likely to meet the same fate as its predecessors. According to the ARU, the council could not obtain a quorum at meetings because of “the sabotage practiced by certain unions” in not sending delegates.27 According to other unions, the RTLC was “fast coming under Communist influence”.28 In particular, the militants’ continued obsession with OBU-ism and their Russian sympathies offended the conservative Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) and Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) so that both unions and other smaller ones disaffiliated.29 Only after QTLC pressure on state executives did they rejoin the RTLC. After the Soviet Union joined the Allies in 1941, and ideological differences were temporarily suspended for a united war effort, the council’s viability looked more assured with 10 unions attending meetings.30

Rank-and-file support for hard-working communist activists during the war years fostered the selection of left-wing delegates to the RTLC.31 Rather than advocating a militant, confrontational industrial line as they did in the early 1930s while members of the communist-front, the Militant Minority Movement, these delegates pursued a conciliatory “class alliance” line32 with the goal of maximising the war effort against fascist Germany. Thus, their aim was to increase output and not to disrupt production by industrial action. Like earlier councils, the RTLC played a coordinating role rather than directing, for example by facilitating inter-union discussions in a metal trades dispute and organising locally the renewed drive for the 40-hour week in 1945.33 On the other hand, reflecting the socialistic outlook of many of its members and current “popular front” strategy of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA),34 the RTLC undertook initiatives to ameliorate aspects of working-class life made more difficult by wartime conditions. It set up a local anti- profiteering committee, conducted an anti-venereal disease drive, opposed meat-rationing and arranged the resumption of home bread deliveries.35

From 1945, left-wing dominance waned rapidly with the mobilisation of strong anti-communist forces by the Catholic Social Studies Movement (the Movement) and later by ALP Industrial Groups of which Movement members secretly constituted “the brains and backbone”.36 Rockhampton proved to be a hotbed of Movement activities in Queensland37 so that by the end of the war the RTLC contained Grouper delegates from even the largest blue-collar unions. At the same time, two white-collar unions with substantial Catholic membership, the Queensland State Service Union (QSSU) and the Federated Clerks’ Union (FCU), affiliated with the council. As the post-war anti-communist hysteria escalated, Movement-backed Groupers secured executive positions on the RTLC. Rather than defending the interests of local workers, they quickly turned the council into a rubber stamp for the increasingly reactionary policies of the state Labor government. In the 1946 meat strike, for instance, the RTLC tried to prevent affiliates supporting the AMIEU’s campaign against scab labour on the pretext of upholding the government’s policy of “peace in industry”. As a result, the AMIEU, ARU and Waterside Workers’ Federation (WWF) all temporarily withdrew from the council.38 During the 1948 railway strike, the RTLC offered no support to unionists at all and later congratulated the government for not giving in to union demands.39 After that second betrayal, all railway unions other than the ARU disaffiliated, the latter only remaining after QTLC pleaded for their delegates to remain as a balancing force.40

The right-wing-dominated RTLC attempted to rid the city of all communist influence by banning communist floats from Labour Day processions,41 trying to exclude from the RTLC any delegate with the remotest of communist sympathies and supporting compulsory court-controlled union voting.42 In 1949, the RTLC ignored a combined union protest about the bashing of several CPA members at an election street rally and the subsequent sacking of their office.43

It also avoided any involvement in the successful “No” campaign organised by local unions in the 1951 referendum to ban the CPA.44 These actions set the RTLC at odds with the left-wing QTLC of which the local body was then a provincial subsidiary.45 Rockhampton’s delegate to the 1948 QTLC congress was one of only two representatives who supported the introduction of ALP Industrial Groups and was the lone voice against a motion congratulating unionists imprisoned during the railway strike.46 The refractory nature of the provincial council caused the QTLC to complain of the RTLC’s “lack of effective leadership” and its executive’s “anti-working-class motives”.47 By the early 1950s, several major unions including the AEU and TWU had again disaffiliated.48 Only 12 unions remained on the council and, with two of the three ARU delegates, one WWF and at least one from the AMIEU being Groupers, the body was almost completely saturated with right-wing sympathies. The obstructive executive engineered meetings not to progress beyond debating the minutes, filled agendas with parochial issues like water supply or discussed aid to South-East Asian countries to fight communism.49

The beginning of the end for the right-wing RTLC came in late 1954 with the revelation of the Movement’s integral role in ALP Industrial Groups.50 Following the disbanding of the controversial system, blue-collar unions dumped their Grouper delegates and anyone suspected of Movement connections. However, the RTLC executive remained in the hands of right-wing QSSU and Electrical Trades Union (ETU) delegates until the shearers’ strike of 1956 erupted.51

When the executive again betrayed unionists by advocating a return to court, 22 left-wing and moderate delegates at the October meeting claimed they had “had enough of this dictatorship” which was actually trying to wreck Labor and not protect it. They thereupon took over proceedings from the stunned president, declared themselves the legitimate RTLC and continued the meeting among the shouting.52

The “new” RTLC, as the local paper referred to the rebels, was comprised of delegates from 15 unions, including most of the major blue-collar unions and even the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) which until then had kept itself apart from most inter-union affairs.53 It therefore contained a broad-spectrum of ideological viewpoints, but unified in opposition to the reactionary Gair Labor Government. The QTLC also recognised the new council as the legitimate peak union body in Rockhampton. The “old” RTLC, on the other hand, retained only right-wing QSSU, ETU, FCU, Federated Ironworkers’ Association and Bricklayers’ Union affiliation.54 With such meagre union support and the Catholic episcopal split bringing the demise of the Movement,55 the right-wing council lacked authority and purpose from either the union movement or the Church. The old council was defunct by March 1957; its coup de grace was Queensland’s 1957 Labor split which rendered pointless its supposed role as the defender of ALP interests.56 The dominant Gair faction of the party which the right-wingers supported, and which included two of the three local Labor politicians, ceded from the ALP to form the Queensland Labor Party (QLP, later Democratic Labor Party). The ALP rump which formed the new Opposition was then the enemy.57

The new RTLC survived as Rockhampton’s peak union body with its industrial function being largely a supportive one of endorsing individual union actions, offering moral and financial support, issuing press statements and coordinating locally any campaigns organised by the QTLC.58 After the AWU’s retreat to its traditional isolationism following the 1957 Labor split, the RTLC rapidly moved to the ideological left under the influence of delegates with Socialist Party of Australia (SPA) and CPA links. The council donated funds to both these parties in addition to the ALP and took up a range of topical community and political issues reflecting left-wing views. With almost continuous conservative power in municipal, state and federal government over the ensuing three decades, and in the belief that the ALP was an ineffectual parliamentary opposition and that local Labor politicians lacked sufficient left-wing conviction, the RTLC assumed the role of a de facto opposition: the moral conscience of workers, the voice of political protest and the vanguard of social change for the working class.59

From the late 1980s, the RTLC’s political role again altered with changed historical circumstances. In particular, the return of Labor from the wilderness of Queensland Opposition in 1989 meant the target of most of the council’s political criticism since 1957—the state National-Liberal Coalition government—no longer existed. So too, the demise of communism and the CPA which had inspired several of the most vocal delegates contributed to its lowered political profile. On the other hand, the radical reduction in the unionised workforce further weakened its already scant industrial power and purpose. The RTLC also lost its long-standing individual identity when it became the Rockhampton Branch of the Queensland Council of Unions in the early 1990s. The main functions of the present council are to organise Labour Day celebrations and manage the new Trade Union Centre which opened in 1987 after the sale of the aging Trades Hall.60 Neither of these functions was part of the RTLC’s original aims in 1938 and there is some irony in the fact that these very issues were fundamental to the second RIC’s failed amalgamation bid in 1927 and that by pursuing those ends the older council precipitated its own destruction. But then, the ideological polarities which energised that era have all but disappeared today and it appears that the binding forces are largely utilitarian. Politics, like industrial issues, is a lower priority now.61 Consequently, the council, having been through such turbulent times in the past, has an insignificant and virtually inconspicuous presence in contemporary Rockhampton.

Purpose and power: analysing peak industrial bodies in Rockhampton

These accounts of three sequential peak industrial bodies in Rockhampton clearly demonstrate that while their founders intended these organisations to fulfil a meaningful industrial role, they also saw their creations as vehicles for ideological activity and political protest. Indeed, it was that alternative function of peak union bodies which created and sustained Rockhampton councils, whether in the short-term like the early RICs or as with the more enduring RTLC. With the exception of the reactionary RTLC executive during the anti-communist ascendancy between 1945 and 1955, industrial weakness was not for the want of initiative or effort on unionists’ part. It arose more from a lack of opportunities presented, occasioned by both general structural factors and those which were spatially specific to Rockhampton.

Firstly, the federated nature of unionism effectively removed most industrial issues from the province of a local inter- union council because affiliates deferred to their own union hierarchy when problems arose. This was particularly so after the introduction of the state arbitration system in 1916. In Rockhampton, disputes were generally industry-specific and involved award infringements or demarcation issues. Problems which could not readily be dealt with by the local secretary and industrial inspector were referred to state or federal union officials for legal action through the Industrial Court. When the RIC began in 1916, most local unions had entered national or state-wide federations and by 1921 they were all subject to either the state or federal arbitration systems. Similarly, incorporation of the RTLC into the QTLC structure in 1947 meant that it too was not an autonomous body and became officially subject to the dictates of the state council, even if the local body ignored its directives until the advent of the new RTLC in 1956.

Secondly, incorporation of local unions into federated structures also deprived local peak union bodies of potential power. Having ceded much autonomy to state or federal councils, individual unions retained little power to delegate to a local inter-union body. At the same time, the tripartite arbitral system of unions, employers and the state withheld from councils any role, and hence any power, as an agent of economic exchange with the state. This lack of both function and authority also extended to relations with employers. Judging by the absence of any mention of either the RICs or the RTLC by the Rockhampton Chamber of Commerce or the Employers’ Association of Central Queensland, councils were quite irrelevant to industrial negotiations.62 Thus, because councils had minimal power for their affiliates with either the state or employers, they also lacked power over them. On the other hand, affiliates of the early RICs and the RTLC seemed unwilling to confer any independent power on peak bodies so that councils could make no major decisions without prior approval of the various general memberships. This reluctance to give the peak body any autonomy reflected the competition between unions in the workplace, particularly the ARU and the AEU and other railway unions, as well as distrust fed by ideological differences within the local union movement.

Thirdly, Rockhampton’s comparatively quiescent industrial relations minimised the number of serious issues requiring attention, whether by a local industrial council or an alternative body. Acknowledged by both past union leaders and employers, the city’s low level of overt conflict stemmed partly from entrenched conservative union leaders, some of whom over the years developed a good working relationship with local employers.63 At a deeper level, it reflected the city’s stability: its broad-based economy, high degree of permanent skilled work, ethnic homogeneity, sedentary and family-based population, and its small but even demographic growth.64 As well, mirroring the strong labourist tradition of Rockhampton and its workers, most unionists had a distinct preference for arbitration over direct action when workplace problems did arise.65 The fact that most unions were party to awards of the state arbitration system which, under prolonged Labor government generally handed down decisions more favourable to unions than employers,66 would have influenced this preference.

In the absence of industrial purpose, it was ideology and politics which created, sustained, disempowered or destroyed peak union bodies in Rockhampton as their political role waxed and waned in accordance with unfolding historical issues and events. Until Labor’s defeat in 1957, the target of Rockhampton councils was Labor governments and, with the exception of the first RIC, it was the Queensland government in particular. Each council emerged at a time of heightened worker dissatisfaction with Labor-in-office so that the new body provided an official platform from which to launch criticism of the parliamentary wing from outside the party structure. It is also of consequence that the necessary unity for formation was predicated upon solidarity generated in a combined union event immediately beforehand—an election, industrial campaign or strike—irrespective of its success or failure.

Opposing this unity were internal ideological differences which assumed great importance initially because of the traditionally strong ALP following and the fact that, while unionists might have been disenchanted with particular politicians and their actions at certain junctures, the majority maintained faith in Labor principles and policies. Certainly in the case of the second RIC, the tension between the militants and mainstream unions proved the stronger force and destroyed the council. The same pressures probably affected the first RIC and would have permanently fragmented the RTLC in 1940 had not the war presented a timely common cause for reunification of communist sympathisers and Labor supporters. With the resurgence of ideological divisions in the post-war era, these internal tensions afflicted the council to even a greater degree than previously because of the size and strength of the Catholic forces mobilised in the anti-communist cause. Unlike earlier councils, however, these tensions actually maintained the RTLC’s existence rather than destroying it because both the Grouper/Movement element and their opponents saw the council as a valuable podium for political propaganda and both were determined to win control of it. After the dramatic split of the RTLC in 1956 and the defection of right-wing elements from the ALP from 1957, it was a common centre-left to leftist ideology of individual delegates rather than their unions which maintained the RTLC. In recent times, a more equitable political climate in Queensland has removed much of the RTLC’s fuel for criticism and hence has contributed to its decline as a voice of political protest. It is largely because an alternative utilitarian function has arisen that the council remains in existence.

While the lack of an industrial role together with fluctuations in and divisiveness of political activity underlay the ephemeral nature of early peak bodies, notions of place also contributed to the creation and demise of these organisations. Specifically, local unionists had a marked tendency to follow the example of their Brisbane counterparts. In both the 1916 and 1925 councils, Rockhampton activists sought advice from their Brisbane counterparts and modelled their organisations on newly established metropolitan forms. Admittedly, closer unity was both a state and national trend in the union movement at the time,67 but the frequent emulation of Brisbane achievements, including inter-union bodies to manage Trades Hall and coordinate Labour Day, sprang from deeper motives. This tendency reflected Rockhampton citizens’ perceptions of their city’s size and importance and its relative standing in Queensland.

From earliest days, there was much local resentment towards “the Brisbane Octopus” for its achievements at the expense of the second city of the state, Rockhampton. This competitive feeling fuelled a series of separation movements between the 1870s and 1970s.68 Alternatively, and as raised in support of forming the 1938 council, local unionists were acutely sensitive to perceptions of lagging behind unionists in other Queensland cities some of which, by that time, were threatening Rockhampton’s status as the leading provincial centre.

Regrettably, inflated notions of place prevented rational consideration of actual needs and whether the city could sustain a particular organisation or facility in the long-term. Up to 1930, the local union movement optimistically embarked on several other ventures which flourished in Brisbane—a cooperative store, Workers’ Educational Association classes, workers’ club, labour newspaper, theatre for cultural and social activities—with little success and much disappointment. The theatre struggled on but all the other initiatives failed because of insufficient population, funding, interest or need in a much smaller city.69 Moreover, from the outset the 1916 and 1925 councils were probably doomed to collapse when their political value passed, quite apart from their destructive internal dynamics.


Peak industrial organisation in Rockhampton has been driven more by political and ideological imperatives than by industrial purpose, despite founding aims to direct and facilitate industrial business. This emphasis on political activity derived from structural aspects of federated union organisation and the arbitration system as well as from Rockhampton’s overall industrial quiescence and inter-union discord. The historically contingent and divisive nature of political activism disposed Rockhampton peak unionism to controversy, turbulence and internal friction on occasions but, in the absence of a fundamental industrial role, also rendered its existence tenuous, often transitory and struggling for significance. Moreover, notions of the city’s size and status encouraged the creation of industrial councils but simultaneously clouded judgements about viability and sustainability. Thus, reflecting patterns of provincial peak industrial unionism elsewhere in Australia, Rockhampton organisation experienced “false starts and temporary collapses” and a struggle for industrial relevance but it did, when required, provide a potent voice of political protest.

* I wish to thank Dr Steve Mullins, CQU, and the anonymous ASSLH referees for their constructive comments on this article.
1 W. Eather, “‘Exterminate the Traitors’: the Wagga Wagga and District Trades and Labor Council, Trade Unionism and the Wagga Wagga Community, 1943-60”, Labour History, no. 72, May 1997, p. 103.
2 Ibid.; W. Eather, “A City to Struggle In: Wagga Wagga and Labour, 1940-75”, Labour History, no. 78, May 2000, p. 149.
3 B. Ellem and J. Shields, “Why do Unions form Peak Bodies: The Case of the Barrier Industrial Council”, Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 38, no. 3, September 1996, pp. 383 and 384.
4 B. Ellem and J. Shields, “Placing Peak Union Purpose and Power: the Origins, Dominance and Decline of the Barrier Industrial Council”, Economic and Labour Relations Review, forthcoming.
5 Census of Queensland, 1901, Part I, Brisbane, 1902, p. 8; Queensland Year Book, no. 17, Brisbane, 1956, p. 50.
6 EHDCC Minutes, 30 January 1909 and 1 February 1913. CCQC D9/260.
7 B. Webster, “‘Fighting in the Grand Cause’: A History of the Trade Union Movement in Rockhampton, 1907-1957”, PhD thesis, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, 1999, ch. 5.
8 John Armstrong, “Closer Unity in the Queensland Trades Union Movement, 1900–1922”, MA thesis, UQ, 1975, pp. 198, 207 and 212.
9 AMIEU Central District Council Minutes, 30 September 1915. CCQC J19/940; FCDIU Minutes, 3 April 1916. CCQC P16/1952
10 MB, 19 August 1916; FCDIU Minutes, 4 September 1916.
11 AMIEU Minutes, 26 June 1917.
12 Ibid., 20 August 1918.
13 AMIEU Minutes, 15 and 29 July 1924; FCDIU Minutes, 14 July and 11 August 1924.
14 Evening News, 7 September 1925; AMIEU Minutes, 2 December 1925.
15 FCDIU Minutes 14 December 1925; AMIEU Minutes, 2 December 1925.
16 AMIEU Minutes, 22 March 1926 and 30 May 1927; MB, 6 October 1926.
17 MB, 3 November 1926.
18 R. Fitzgerald and H. Thornton, Labor in Queensland: From the 1880s to 1988, UQP, St Lucia, pp. 39 and 40.
19 THBM Minutes, 16 December 1926, CCQC P16/1955
20 Armstrong, Closer Unity, p. 252.
21 THBM Rough Minutes, 23 October 1927.
22 THBM Minutes, 17 November 1927.
23 TWU Minutes, 11 October 1926; AMIEU Minutes 26 September 1927; THBM Rough Minutes, 17 November 1927.
24 MB, 2 September 1937, p. 1; 6 September 1937, p. 6 and 11 September 1937, p. 9.
25 Ibid., 25 September 1937.
26 TWU Minutes, 14 February 1938.
27 ARU State Council Minutes, 24 May 1940. PTU Brisbane.
28 TWU Minutes, 11 December 1939.
29 AEU Minutes, 15 November 1939. NBAC E162/33/1; TWU Minutes, 11 December 1939.
30 ARU State Council Minutes, 25 April 1940, 8 November 1940 and 23 May 1941; TWU Minutes, 21 April 1941.
31 THBM Minutes, 15 February 1944.
32 B. Penrose, “The Communist Party and Trade Union Work in Queensland in the Third Period: 1928-1935”, PhD thesis, University of Queensland, 1993, p. 307.
 33 MB, 12 February 1945 and 12 November 1945; TWU Minutes, 9 April 1945.
34 D. Menghetti, The Red North: The Popular Front in North Queensland, Townsville, 1981, p. 109.
35 TWU Minutes, 22 March and 16 April, 1942, 13 March 1944, 10 March 1945.
36 H.V. Evatt, quoted in Sydney Morning Herald, 6 October 1954.
37 R. Murray, The Split: Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1970, p. 51; D. Blackmur, “ALP Industrial Groups in Queensland”, Labour History, no. 46, May 1984, p. 88.
38 MB, 19–29 May and 5 July 1947; QTLC Minutes, 30 April 1947. UQFL 118/A12/ 6.
39 Ibid., 7 April 1948.
40 MB, 7 February 1948.
41 Ibid., 7 May 1946.
42 Ibid., 5 May 1948.
43 QTLC Minutes, 30 March 1949.
44 MB, 19 September 1951.
45 QTLC Minutes, 29 October 1947. The QTLC reconstituted itself from a Brisbane body to a state
body in 1947.
46 Ibid., 13 November 1948.
47 Ibid., 30 April, 1947; MB, 7 February 1948.
48 Ibid., 12 February 1955.
49 Ibid., 31 March 1955; E. Schwarten, interviewed 10 May 1996.
50 Sydney Morning Herald, 6 October 1954; MB, 29 January 1955.
51 Schwarten interview.
52 MB, 3 October 1956.
53 Ibid., 10 and 20 November 1956.
54 Ibid., 1 and 20 November 1956; QTLC Minutes, 31 October 1956.
55 P. Ormonde, Santamaria: The Politics of Fear, Spectrum Publications, Melbourne, 2000, p. 177.
56 MB, 18 May 1957.
57 Ibid., 1 May and 7 May 1957.
58 J. Jones, former secretary RTLC, interviewed 23 November 2000.
59 Ibid.
60 Ibid.
61 Ibid.
62 Employers’ Association of Central Queensland Annual Report, 1911-1942. CCQC K18/966; Report of the Committee of the Rockhampton Chamber of Commerce, CCQC F18/716-717.
63 Webster, “Fighting in the Grand Cause”, pp. 322-324.
64 Ibid., p. 325.
65 Ibid., pp. 163-164.
66 Report of the Director of Labour and Chief Inspector of Factories and Shops for the Year 1938-39, QPP, 1939, vol. 2, p. 11.
67 Armstrong, Closer Unity, p. i; D. Hunt, A History of the Labour Movement in North Queensland: Trade Unionism, Politics and Industrial Conflict, 1900-1920, PhD Thesis, JCU, 1979, p. 144/
68 L. McDonald, Rockhampton: A History of City and District, UQ Press, St Lucia, 1981, p. 564.
69 Webster, “Fighting in the Grand Cause”, ch. 9.