2011 ASSLH conference – ‘A not unimportant role’: industry peak unions and inter-­union organising


‘A not unimportant role’: industry peak unions and inter-­union organising

Cathy Brigden


Since the mid 1990s, there has been a significant expansion in the literature analysing peak unions. However, most of the research has focused on national, state and regional peak unions, with little attention given industry-scale peak unions. Just as peak bodies have long been part of the union landscape in many towns and cities, so too industry peak bodies have similar deep historical roots, evidenced by discussion by the Webbs. From being forerunners of union amalgamation or inter-union alternatives to existing peak unions to forums for managing demarcation or fostering industry-based negotiations with employers, industry peak unions have played a variety of roles within union movements. Description has overshadowed analysis with these bodies often restricted to a mention in passing in a number of union histories and dispute analyses. With a revival of interest by some unions in organising inter-union alliances and federations at the industry scale in the past decade, as seen with the Maritime Union of Australia-Australian Workers Union Offshore Alliance, Transport Unions Federation and Aviation Unions Federation, it is timely to begin recovering the stories of these largely forgotten and overlooked peak unions. 

The paper begins with a review of the literature to ascertain the extent of scholarly knowledge and debate about industry peak unions. This is followed by exploration of the case of the Food Trades Federation (FTF). Established in Victoria in 1925 (after an earlier existence in the 1910s), and continuing until at least 1968, the FTF drew together a broad range of unions in food production and distribution (with 17 affiliates by 1935). Drawing on archival materials held in the Melbourne University Archives, the paper will consider the FTF’s genesis and articulated purpose to ascertain the significance for those unions of such industry scale inter-union organising, while also beginning to build a picture of the FTF’s collective biography. Amid the factional and organisational differences found among the affiliates was one key figure: the FTF’s long-standing secretary, George Hayes. An official with the Operative Bakers Union, for three decades Hayes provided stability and continuity in leading the organisation.  

Cathy Brigden is a senior lecturer in industrial relations in the School of Management at RMIT University, Victoria, Australia, and coordinator of the Women + Work research cluster in RMIT’s Centre for Sustainable Organisations and Work. Her research has explored women in trade unions and separate organising, analysing historical patterns of women’s representation in peak unions. Currently she is engaged in a study of the Female Confectioners Union (1916-1945). She is also involved in a research project research project (with Dr Sarah Kaine, University of Technology, Sydney) on contemporary union collaboration in Australia, exploring inter-union industry federations and alliances.


Fifteen years ago, in their review of the literature on peak unions, Ellem and Shields highlighted the limited research on peak unions at all scales. With not much known at that stage about many State or regional peak unions, they observed ‘[w]e know even less about industry-­level peak bodies’.1 Since that observation there has been a significant expansion in the peak union literature. However, most of the research has focused on national, State and regional peak unions, and so today we know little more about industry-­scale peak unions.2 Just as peak unions have long been part of the union landscape in many towns and cities, so too industry peak unions have similar deep historical roots, evidenced by discussion by the Webbs.3 As Ellem and Shields remind us, ‘Such bodies appear to have been important precursors of formal union amalgamation in several industries and in some instances have represented a significant inter-­ union alternative to existing peak organizations’.4 As an example of the former, they cited the NSW Printing Trades Council with the Sydney Building Trades Council an example of the latter in the nineteenth century.5 Coolican’s study of the Sydney Building Trades Council is one of the few analyses of an industry peak union. More common is a mention in passing in a number of union histories and dispute analyses. In a contemporary review of Australian trade unionism, Griffin and Svensen describe industry peak unions as having ‘played a not unimportant role in a limited number of industries’, giving the example of the Metal Trades Federation with the purpose of providing ‘a forum for unions in the industry to both resolve inter-­union problems, such as demarcation disputes, and to provide a mechanism for negotiations with employers at the industry level’.6

With a revival of interest by some unions in organising inter-­union alliances and federations at the industry scale in the past decade, as seen with the Maritime Union of Australia-­Australian Workers Union Offshore Alliance, Transport Unions Federation and Aviation Unions Federation, it is timely to begin recovering the stories of these largely forgotten and overlooked peak unions.7 The paper will begin with a review of the literature to ascertain the extent of scholarly knowledge and debate about industry peak unions. This will be followed by a case study of the Food Trades Federation (FTF) (1925-­1968) which, by 1935, had seventeen affiliates. Drawing on archival materials held in the Melbourne University Archives, the focus will be on its genesis and articulated purpose, its leadership and the scope of activities to ascertain the significance for those unions of such industry scale inter-­union organising. Attention will also be given to the individuals who sustained the FTF over many decades.

Historical accounts

Reinforcing the desire for different forms of inter-­union organisation exhibited by unions, whether this be colonial/State/provincial, regional, city or industry, are the accounts of these bodies in early writings on trade unionism. Unions organising along craft lines also organised inter-­craft peak unions. Erecting craft or trade barriers did not preclude these industry-­based alliances.

In their History of Trade Unionism, the Webbs identified the impact of competition between unions in the mid to late nineteenth century.

The powerful Shipping Trades Council of Liverpool, for instance, which played an important part in Samuel Plimsoll’s agitation for a new Merchant Shipping Act, was broken up in 1880 by the quarrel between the separate societies of Ship-­ Wrights, Ship-­Joiners and House Carpenters over ship-­work.8

Internal rivalry, ‘cleavages of interest and opinion’ and ‘extreme and complicated sectionalism’ undermined other efforts to form federations.9  From 1890 to 1920, however, the picture changed. Partly due to the influence of industrial unionism, federation of trades had

undergone a subtle change of character. Instead of loose alliances for mutual support in disputes, or for the adjustment of mutual differences as to “demarcation” and transfer of members, the federation of all the craft or sectional Unions engaged in particular industries … have become increasingly, themselves, negotiating bodies, recognised by the equally organised employers, and concerting with these what are, in effect, national regulations governing their industries throughout the whole kingdom.10

Two articles in The Economic Journal in the 1890s examined aspects of industry peak unionism. Clem Edwards identified employer organisation as the impetus for labour federations as a ‘means of defence’ rather than preced[ing] it as a means of aggression’.11 As secretary of the ‘Federation of Trades and Labour Unions connected with the Shipping and Carrying Industries’ (formed in 1891), Edwards concurs with the argument of Mr Knight from the Federation of Engineering and Shipbuilding Trades of the United Kingdom that forming an industry peak union was needed to counter the organisation of employer combinations.12 Aves’ consideration of labour disputes in the London building trades in the mid-­1890s, included reference to the initial unity of most of the trades ‘and the position of the Building Trades Federation strong, in spite of the continued refusal of the masons to join’.13 The fragility of this unity was then evident as ‘disintegrating influences began to operate’ in 1895, with the failure of a strike and blacklisting, before independent action by the carpenters and joiners

greatly irritated the other members of the Federation. [Soon] the various branches of the trade seem to have acted independently of each other, as though no Federation had been in existence. And the result is seen in the differences, in some cases of considerable importance, in the various codes of working rules now in force.14

Miller’s account of the power exercised by the Chicago Building Trades Council in the 1890s highlighted the potential strength of industry peak unions. It admitted only one union in each trade (to avoid competitive unionism), and the business agents of each union comprised the executive (the Board of business agents or walking delegates). It was estimated ‘at the height of its power [it] had a membership of about three hundred and met weekly, Friday’.15 The sale of working cards was a primary source of income, with all workers required to hold a card denoting membership of a union affiliated with the Council to secure and maintain work. Strike action was coordinated and demarcation disputes managed. The ensuing ‘monopoly’ over employment and control over employers led Miller to describe this as ‘coercive’ unionism. Nevertheless, when the employers themselves organised collectively, the power of the Council was undone as employers targeted non-­affiliated unions before affiliates themselves broke ranks.

Glocker, writing in the American Economic Review in 1915, referred to an ‘evolution’ leading to the ‘disappearance’ of the craft unions. Among the 133 national unions, Glocker numbers only twenty-­eight as craft unions, with about half ‘cooperating through loose alliances with other related trades in the same industry’.16 Competition marked the early relationship between the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the International Building Trades Council. After initial opposition, however, these inter-­craft peak unions were incorporated into the organisational structure of the AFL as trade departments (and subsequently when the AFL merged with the Congress of Industrial Organisations). Beginning in 1903 with the Metal Trades Federation (which included machinists, smiths, pattern-­makers, and iron-­moulders), other departments for building trades and mining then followed (see Palladino’s 2005 history of the Building Trades Department).17 These federations also organised at different scales, with local federations preceding the formation of those at a national or in the North American context, international scale. Glocker pointed to the presence of local building trades federations in cities such as New York, Chicago, Baltimore and Cincinnati in 1882 or 1883 prior to the international federation in 1897, with some trades councils then combining with unions to create a national federation.18

In Cobble’s contribution to a Labor History symposium on Palladino’s book, she points to the importance of regional and local inter-­craft solidarity before the 1930s. Cobble emphasises that this ‘spirit of unity stemmed from economic necessity’ due to the localised nature of collective bargaining. ‘In short, inter-­craft solidarity was achieved and individual crafts gave up their autonomy at the local level, because without such a web of support they were doomed’.19 The lack of national bargaining inhibited national inter-­craft organising. These ‘industrial-­ type structures’ addressed the constraints of craft unionism. Similar patterns were found among the garment and hospitality unions where ‘craft-­based locals continued to affirm trade identities while inter-­craft councils gave institutional expression to larger industrial identities’: a ‘multi-­identity, “craft-­industrial” formation’.20  Indeed this ‘craft-­industrialism’, as Schneirov points out in the symposium, was a strategy adopted by craft-­union activists in the early twentieth century, who ‘worked with growing success to amalgamate the disparate crafts into federations or craft councils, both within and across industries’.21 The principle of craft-­industrialism was adopted by the AFL and given form with the establishment of the trade departments.

In the Australian literature, as noted, one of the few accounts of an industry peak union is Coolican’s historical analysis of the Sydney Building Trades Council. Set against a background of ‘economic downturn and heightened employer resistance’ and following an earlier unsuccessful attempt, the building trades’ union formed the Building Trades Council (BTC) in 1886.22 One motivation for forming a peak union was dissatisfaction with another, the NSW Trades and Labor Council (TLC). Contrary views between the building unions and the TLC made this a less rewarding relationship. Building unions left, and more attention was focused on creating stronger industry alliances. Industry-­ based groups were also being promoted by the inter-­colonial congresses at this time, with maritime unions setting up a council in 1885.23 Affiliate control over policy was treated differently to that over disputes. While equal representation was provided for each affiliate at general meetings, proportional voting over strike pay gave the larger unions greater influence. Coolican argues ‘management of disputes’ was the BTC’s ‘most important activity’.24 Initial success did not however last. Building unions returned to the TLC with the two peak unions becoming alternative avenues rather than complementary peak unions operating at different scales. In part this arose from the TLC’s approach to the BTC. Initially seeking to get the unions to rejoin, when this was not successful, the TLC tried to interest the BTC in an amalgamation. An inability to agree on control over disputes stopped this strategy.

In 1891, a number of BTC affiliates withdrew and re-­joined the TLC, which increased its support for issues of concern. With a larger number of building-­ union affiliates, the TLC set up an industry group, the Building Trades Kindred Committee. Although this was not successful, neither was the BTC, left with only two affiliates. Even when the Stonemasons subsequently left the TLC, it did not return to the BTC, due to differences over industrial strategy. The voice of building unions was irretrievably fragmented and the BTC folded in 1895. Although external economic factors had an effect, Coolican argues it was internal factors that accounted for the BTC’s demise: preservation of individual union autonomy undermined cohesion? trade cleavages promoted separatism, and inter-­peak union relations created complicated inter-­union relationships. In sharp contrast to its intent, the BTC ‘was ultimately a divisive organisation’.25

More common in the literature is a mention in passing, as found in a number of union histories and dispute analyses. Both Buckley and Niland refer to iron trades’ unions combining to push their demands for shorter hours: Buckley to a ‘combined iron trades committee’ comprising the Australasian Society of Engineers (ASE), boilermakers and iron moulders, and Niland to the formation of the Eight Hour Conference in the Iron Trades in 1872, prompted by the newly formed Sydney Trades and Labour Council’s eight hour day campaign.26 A successor to such organisation of iron trades’ unions, the Metal Trades Federation (MTF), was formed in 1943. The MTF briefly appears in Tom Sheridan’s history of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) and suggestions of the relationship dynamics between the MTF and its member unions are scattered through. The AEU played an important role in the MTF as one of the founding unions, with a senior AEU official elected chairman of the MTF, who then ‘devoted much of his energy towards ensuring closer cooperation between the seven constituent members’. Nonetheless, Sheridan argues that the AEU ‘never allowed its membership of the MTF to prevent it from pursuing its own independent policies’.27 The MTF took on responsibility for one of the disputes discussed by Gollan with an indication of the difficulties peak unions face when one union’s members refused to endorse recommendations that had been supported by delegates.28 It survived numerous waves of amalgamation, such as when the AEU sought ‘closer links with other metal unions than the MTF provided’ and the formation of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union in the 1990s.29 It continues to this day.

The Combined Mining Unions’ Committee (CMUC) was formed by 1929, by five unions with representation that meant the ‘northern miners were … checkmated, should a vote fall along craft versus miner lines’.30 Inter-­union tension meant, according to Dixson that it was ‘a formal rather than an effective body’.31 Indeed, in the 1929 lockout, inter-­union conflict undermined the CMUC and the unions’ resistance.32 Ross’ history of the Miners’ Federation identifies both the external threat from an increasing employer offensive and a semblance of internal unity brought about by attempts to address demarcation disputes, leading to an ‘‘uneasy truce’’. The unions ‘pledged themselves to fight as one body’ until the engine drivers’ union broke ranks.33

The CMUC story becomes one with a pattern of reformation and collapse. Following the leadership change in the Miners’ Federation in the 1930s, the Communist leadership sought to revive the CMUC as part of the re-­ establishment of relations with the other mining unions. In 1945 the CMUC was again revived, once more as a result of a desire for closer unionism and discussions about possible amalgamations or affiliations, before it fell victim to the schisms of the 1949 strike. A leadership transition in the mid-­1950s again provided the basis for the reformation of the CMUC (and once more in line with Communist Party policy).34 Nevertheless, while the CMUC and its district equivalents ‘successfully minimised’ demarcation disputes resulting from operational changes in the industry, they apparently did not provide a basis for amalgamation: ‘no way had been found to eradicate craft barriers by amalgamation’.35

Other industry peak unions created inter-­craft alliances that became the basis for amalgamation. The case of the Printing Trades Federation Council shows the complexity of relations between an industry peak union and its affiliates. From the 1890s to the 1920s, inter-­craft alliances were formed among the printing trades. From 1891 to 1896, three attempts were made to bring together the ‘kindred trades’ (the first, the Printing and Kindred Trades Committee in 1891 brought together typographers, bookbinders, lithographers and paper rulers). The revived but short-­lived committee in 1893 drew up a constitution with the first objective:

to organise every worker in the printing trades with a solid compact body, to abolish sectional jealousies and differences among the workers, and to endeavour to bring about a Federation of the whole of the workers in the [kindred] trades.36

When the Printing Trades Federation Council (PTFC) was formed in 1896, through the efforts of the New South Wales Typographical Association (NSWTA) and the bookbinders, it had both industrial and political aims (organising, factory legislation reform). Divisions among the members soon coloured the relationships between the affiliates. Part of this was due to the increasingly divergent actions and views of the NSWTA and the other affiliates, compounded by the dominance of the PTFC by the NSWTA. Conflict between the affiliates focused on the role of strike in an arbitration system. Further tension arose when the NSWTA began to absorb smaller unions. In response, the PTFC broadened its coverage to include any union with members working in the printing trade. In 1913, NSWTA’s members ‘scabbed’ during a letterpress machinists’ dispute, leading to ‘castigation’ by the PTFC, which led to disaffiliation by the NSWTA.37 Hagan’s assessment of the NSWTA was that it ‘found that alliances with other printing trades unions threatened its awards, it severed its formal connections’.38 From then, the NSWTA and the PTFC were in competition. Faced with the creation of a Printing Industry Employees Union in 1915 with the NSWTA becoming its NSW branch, and ongoing inter-­ organisational conflict over the use of industrial action, the PTFC also adopted amalgamation as a strategy. In 1920, the PTFC affiliates reconstructed their relationship as they formed the Amalgamated Printing Trades Employees Union.

The Food Trades Federation

The Food Trades Federation’s records, held in the University of Melbourne Archives, comprise accounts, assorted correspondence (inwards and outwards, 1925-­1968) and minutes from 1951 to 1968. The Food Trades Federation’s history dates back to 1912 when a food trades group, the Victorian Food Producing and Distributing Trades Council, was formed with M. Strachan (Male Hotel and Caterers Union) as provisional president and H. Maynard (Breadcarters) as provisional secretary.39 One of its aims was reported as the ‘avowed object of the organisation is “the overthrow of the capitalist system”’.40 The nine unions were involved in food production, preparation, handling and distribution. Just over a year later, there were said to be fifteen unions ‘connected with’ the trades council, with the Carters and Drivers’ Union to be approached to join. By this stage, amalgamation was on the trades council’s agenda with its committee meeting to prepare a scheme.41 As no mergers of this scale occurred, it appears that this was a reflection of the One Big Union movement and the Victorian Trades Hall Council’s encouragement of ‘closer organisation’ among its affiliates, especially through amalgamation of craft unions. In 1915, Miss Sara Lewis (Female Hotel and Caterers Union) was elected president with vice-­president Maynard (Breadcarters), secretary W. Cook (Cold Storage) and treasurer P. J. Brandt (Pastrycooks).42

After 1916, there are no further accounts of its activity in the press and so it is unclear what happened to the trades council. A decade later, there was a push to revive an industry federation. A meeting of food trades’ unions in May 1925 elected a committee to progress the formation of a food trades council. Over two days, representatives from six unions (the Meatworkers, Female Confectioners, Manufacturing Grocers, Pastrycooks, Operative Bakers and Cold Storage unions) then met and drew up the rules for what was to be called the Food Trades Federation (FTF). The primary objective was to ‘ensure united action’ of federation affiliates, with management of demarcations the second of the seven objectives. More effective organising and preference to unionists were the key industrial objectives, followed by assistance in dispute settlement with employers. Assistance and support for each other, together with raising funds to achieve these objectives, rounded out the objects. A council comprising two delegates from each affiliate would elect an executive annually. Positions would include president, vice-­president, secretary-­treasurer and committeemen, plus two auditors, with the caveat that each affiliate could only have one executive member. Monthly executive meetings would be held at the Trades Hall. Admission to the federation would be by application (from THC-­affiliated unions connected with the trade) and by majority vote, while affiliates wishing to withdraw could only do so with six months’ notice and after a three-­quarters majority vote by that union. Refusal to ‘abide by decisions’ could lead to expulsion. Membership fees were set at 40 shillings a year.43 In July, it was reported that there were nine affiliates: Meatworkers, Male and Female Confectioners, Manufacturing Grocers, Food Preserving Employees, Liquor Trades, Operative Bakers, Hawkers and Dealers, Storemen and Packers, while the Pastrycooks, Shop Assistants, Flour Millers and Cold Storage Union had participated in an earlier conference.44 The first president was Mr H. Casserly, a Meatworkers Union organiser, and George Hayes (Operative Bakers) was elected as secretary-­treasurer. Hayes would hold this position until he resigned on the grounds of ill-­health in 1954. There was some continuity between the two bodies with the original letterhead being used (and amended by hand) before new stationery was printed.45

The FTF’s first act was reported to be distribution of a ‘white list’ of bakers employing union labour, to encourage consumer patronage and a boycott of non-­ union bakers.46 With an absence of records until the early 1930s, it is difficult to know what other activities the FTF initially engaged in following its formation. However, union organising emerged as an important role in the early 1930s, with coordinated campaigns aimed at organising Moran and Cato’s Butter Factory to assist the Cold Storage Union and, following this success, at Hoadley’s (known for its anti-­unionism in the confectionery industry) for the Female Confectioners Union.47

A letter, sent to affiliates in arrears in 1936, outlined the activities of the FTF, reminding unions that ‘our movement can only make progress by continued loyalty and we ask for the full measure of support in the coming year’.48 Examples of the ‘active engagement’ in ‘assisting trades’ included improvements to working facilities of Cold Storage Union members in fish markets? increasing quality of meat inspection? organising milk carters for the Carters and Drivers Union, and increasing regulation of trades (through increased powers for the Milk Board and achievement of a Bread Tribunal, with Trade Tribunals being described as an initiative of the FTF subsequently enacted by the State government).

Various affiliates confirmed the supportive role played by the FTF. Unanimous congratulations were passed at the Road Transport Union’s 1938 general meeting, with the FTF’s ‘good work’ again praised the following year.49  In 1941, the Liquor Trades’ secretary’s report used the example of the FTF to illustrate how ‘the necessary cooperation to improve the conditions of the workers lies in the united strength of all workers’ organisations’ when 

Unions affiliated with the Federation stood four-­square behind the Liquor Trades Union in its just demands in regards to the yeast and vinegar industry and later our victory over the [Hotel] Alexander dispute.50

The Food Trades Federation leadership and leaders

The 1925 rules had provided for at least seven executive members. The available minutes show that, by 1951, the executive comprised the president, two vice-­ presidents, secretary-­treasurer, assistant secretary and two auditors. After 1955, the leadership group was reduced to five with a single vice-­president and discontinuation of the assistant secretary’s position (see Table 1). The monthly meeting schedule also changed at this time, with the FTF reverting to meeting about four times a year. Although it is unclear, given the absence of minutes before 1951, the shift coincides with the leadership change that occurred in 1954, following George Hayes’ resignation as secretary-­treasurer.

For thirty years, the voice of the FTF was that of its secretary-­treasurer, George Hayes. Elected in 1925, he was only prevented from continuing in the role by the ‘continued illness’ that led to his death, at the age of 71, in 1954. George Hayes’ lengthy service to the FTF began when he was an organiser with the Operative Bakers’ Union. An official of that union for thirty-­five years, he was elected assistant secretary and organiser in 1926, a position he held until he became joint secretary (with R. G. Large) in 1939 and then secretary in 1945.51 As with other FTF executive members, Hayes was a prominent figure in the Victorian labour movement. In 1928, he was the THC vice-­president and president the following year. He was also active in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and, in 1946, was elected president of the Victorian branch. In 1952, he was one of five men pictured in the Argus under the headline, ‘They shaped ALP policy’ [at the State ALP conference].52

Despite the initial limitation of executive members to one per affiliate, this was not strictly observed. The FTF drew quite heavily on the offices of the Operative Bakers Union. Norman Gordon was assistant secretary for a number of years. Later on, he was vice-­president in 1956, together with E. Maconachy as president. From 1958 until his death in 1962, Gordon was one of the auditors, after which he was replaced by another Bakers’ official, Morton, from 1962 to 1968. The Breadcarters also played an important role with E. McGowan both as an auditor (along with Maynard) for much of the 1950s and as president three times. Succeeding Hayes as secretary was Percy Tivendale (Pastrycooks), who provided the same type of leadership stability, continuing in that role from 1954 until 1968.

The patchy records mean that leadership patterns cannot be determined for the first twenty-­five years of the FTF.53 From 1951 until 1964, however, there was a mix of moderate and militant union officials on the executive and taking on the presidency. For example, the communist secretary of the Meatworkers Union, George Seelaf, was president in 1957 and 1961, with the moderate secretary of the Breadcarters Union, E. McGowan, in 1952, 1958 and 1962. The standing of the FTF as an important body was underscored by the involvement of senior Victorian union officials, who were often also active in other peak unions like the Melbourne Trades Hall Council. On occasion, the election of one of the FTF’s executive members was highlighted: J. Halliday and Norman Gordon as THC president and vice-­president respectively in 1953, George Seelaf to the ACTU executive in 1957.54

Although men dominated the FTF leadership, following in the footsteps of Sara Lewis at least two women participated in the FTF. Margaret Wearne, the long-­serving secretary of the Female Confectioners Union (1927-­1945), was president in 1939.55 Upon her retirement, her contribution was celebrated: ‘she had rendered great service to this Federation and had held the position as president with great dignity to herself’.56 In 1959, Kath Williams became one of the Liquor Trades delegates and an active participant in meetings.57

For all its mix of officials across the ideological spectrum, there was little overt conflict evident in the FTF records. Discussion of the 1951 Communist Party Dissolution Referendum Bill was one of very few occasions where a vote was held and, in this case, the moderate line prevailed whereby the FTF’s position would be determined after the ALP’s but with the intention of supporting the party’s ‘propaganda’.58 A contested election in 1952 saw a tussle between McGowan (Breadcarters) and Tivendale (Pastrycooks) over the presidency, with Tivendale accepting the vice-­presidency rather than going to a vote.59

Nevertheless, internal conflict did emerge in 1944 but not on a scale to destabilise the federation. Indeed it was limited to conflict between the FTF and the Pastrycooks Union, specifically over the FTF’s concern expressed in a letter to George Perugia, the State secretary, that ‘your union is not playing its part in the work of the Federation that its position in the Trade Union movement warrants. We feel that such a position should not be allowed to continue’.60 Following a lengthy rebuke about the lack of assistance from the FTF (on whom they had depended ‘like fools’), Perugia then sent a letter of resignation ‘as we find it most difficult to make ends meet and in our cheese paring, your Federation comes under the axe’.61 Six years later, rapprochement came with a request for a resumption of affiliation, and two years after that, Tivendale was elected vice-­ president, before becoming president and then secretary-­treasurer in 1954.

It is unclear whether the cessation of the minutes in 1968 represented the fading of the federation amidst factional conflict (the final minutes of 28 November 1968 being unsigned and unconfirmed as was previous practice). More broadly in the Victorian union movement, what was occurring was the growing divisive effect of the 1967-­73 ‘split’ in the THC, in which the Meatworkers, Liquor Trades and the Food Preservers were among the suspended unions.62 Without the minutes, however, the impact on the FTF is unknown. It does appear that there was a possible power shift with the factional power sharing of the 1950s and early 1960s changing from 1964 (as was also seen in the THC), with moderate members assuming both presidential positions.

Formal organisation by a group of right-­wing unions and THC officers in 1965, leading to the formation of the Victorian Trade Union Protection Council (VTUPC) in 1965, reflected power realignment in the THC. FTF affiliates included in the VTUPC were the Manufacturing Grocers, Flour Millers, Bread Carters and Pastrycooks. Maconachy (Bakers) was present at the first meeting and D. Halfpenny (Confectioners) joined the committee in 1966. Less active FTF affiliates such as the Sugar Workers and the Transport Workers Union were also involved.63 Jim Taylor (Storemen and Packers) -­ FTF vice-­president, 1963, 1966 and president 1964 -­ was identified as someone to be brought back into the VTUPC fold.64 In 1964, there was no lack of interest in accepting a leadership role with McGowan, Hamilton and Gibbs all sending letters expressing willingness to accept nomination -­ with none actually being nominated.65


The presence of industry peak unions has received limited scholarly attention even though, as is the case with other inter-­union organising, examples date back to earlier trade unionism. Research interest has focused on the role and contribution of peak unions at other scales, leaving the industry peak unions largely unexamined. This paper has both reviewed some of the extant literature and provided a new case study. Themes in the literature included industrial and political strategic contestation, challenges to the power of other peak unions, provision of a basis for amalgamation and an avenue for demarcation. None of these really featured in the case of the FTF. Only one amalgamation took place and this was not facilitated by the FTF. There was minimal evidence, at least in the 1950s and mid 1960s, of ideological conflict although it is possible this finally accounted for the demise of the FTF in the late 1960s. Its activity certainly diminished over time so in some respects conflicts were played out in more significant peak-­union forums where struggles over power had more impact. Over time, though, there was an ongoing commitment to the FTF even as levels of activism ebbed and flowed. The overall impression that lingers is the commitment by union officials across the ideological spectrum to inter-­union collaborations, whether in the form of an industry federation like the FTF, a State body such as the THC, or a national organisation like the ACTU.

Table 1: FTF leadership, 1951-­1968

  President Vice president Secretary Assistant secretary Trustees
1951 Gibbs (Manufacturing Grocers) McGowan (Breadcarters) Wells (Liquor Trades) Hayes Norman Gordon (Operative Bakers) Maynard (Breadcarters) McGowan (Breadcarters
1952 McGowan
Wells (Liquor Trades) Tivendale (Pastrycooks) Hayes Gordon Maynard (Breadcarters) McGowan (Breadcarters
1953 [no election recorded]   Hayes Gordon  
1954 Tivendale
Wells (Liquor Trades)
Margetts (Manufacturing Grocers)
Hayes/Tivendale Gordon Maynard (Breadcarters) McGowan (Breadcarters
1955 Wells
Tivendale   Maynard (Breadcarters) McGowan (Breadcarters
1956 Maconachy (Operative Bakers) Gordon (Operative Bakers) Tivendale    Maynard (Breadcarters) McGowan (Breadcarters
1957 Seelaf
Tivendale   [election held over]
1958 McGowan
Tivendale   Gordon (Bakers)
1959 Gwillam (Storemen and Packers) Curran
Tivendale   Gordon (Bakers)
1960 Gwillam (Storemen and Packers) Halliday
Tivendale   Gordon (Bakers)






1961 Seelaf
Tivendale   Gordon (Bakers) Gwillam (Storemen and Packers)
1962 McGowan
Tivendale   Gordon (Bakers) Gwillam (Storemen and Packers)
1963 Hamilton
J. Taylor (Storemen and Packers) Tivendale   Kemp
(Flour Millers) Morton
1964 Taylor
(Storemen and Packers)
Tivendale   Kemp
(Flour Millers) Morton
1965 Fogarty
Jordan (Manufacturing Grocers) Tivendale   Kemp
(Flour Millers) Morton
1966 Jordan (Manufacturing Grocers) Taylor
(Storemen and Packers)
Tivendale    Kemp
(Flour Millers) Morton
1967 [no election recorded]   Tivendale    
1968 Kemp
D. Halfpenny
Tivendale   Morton
(Bakers) McGowan (Breadcarters)



1   Bradon Ellem and John Shields, ‘Why do Unions form Peak Bodies? The Case of the Barrier Industrial Council’, Journal of Industrial Relations, 1996, vol. 38, no. 3, 378.
2   Bradon Ellem, Raymond Markey and John Shields (eds) Labour Councils in Australia: Origins, Purpose, Power, Agency (Sydney: Federation Press, 2004); Cathy Brigden, ‘Analysing internal power dynamics in peak unions: a conceptual framework’, Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 49, no. 4 (2007), 483-­96; Cathy Brigden, ‘Reassessing the Victorian Trades Hall ‘Split’ of 1967-­73’, Labour History, no. 96 (May 2009), 135-­54? Amy Dean and David Reynolds, A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009).
3    Sidney and Beatrice Webb, The History of Trade Unionism. Revised edition, extended to 1920 (London: Longmans, Green and Co.).
4   Ellem and Shields, ‘Why do Unions form Peak Bodies?’, 378.
5   James Hagan, A History of the Australian Printing Unions 1850-­1950 (Canberra: ANU Press, 1966); Alice Coolican, ‘Solidarity and Sectionalism in the Sydney Building Trades: The Role of the Building Trades Council’, Labour History, no. 54, (May 1988), 16-­29.
6   Gerard Griffin and Stuart Svensen, ‘Unions in Australia: Struggling to Survive’ in Peter Fairbrother and Gerard Griffin (eds), Changing Prospects for Trade Unionism: Comparisons between Six Countries (London: Continuum, 2002), 38.
7   Cathy Brigden and Sarah Kaine, ‘Rethinking factional alliances and union renewal: inter-­union collaborations in Australia in the 21st century’, paper presented at the 2011 Association of Industrial Relations Academics of Australia and New Zealand (AIRAANZ) conference, 2-­4 February 2011.
8   Webbs, History of Trade Unionism, 354-­5.
9   Ibid., 357, 359.
10   Ibid., 553.
11   Clem Edwards, ‘Labour Federations’, The Economic Journal, vol. 3, no. 10 (1893), 207.
12   Ibid., 208.
13   Ernest Aves, ‘Some Recent Labour Disputes’, The Economic Journal, vol. 7, no. 25 (1897), 124-­31.
14   Ibid., 126, 127.
15   James A. Miller, ‘Coercive Trade -­Unionism as Illustrated by The Chicago Building Trades Council’, Journal of Political Economy, vol. 9, no. 3 (1901), 322.
16   Theodore W. Glocker, ‘Amalgamation of Related Trades in Unions’, American Economic Review, vol. 5, no. 3, 1915, 554.
17   Grace Palladino, Skilled Hands, Strong Spirits: A Century of Building Trades History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005).
18   Glocker, ‘Amalgamation of Related Trades in Unions’, 565-­6.
19   Dorothy Sue Cobble, ‘Unite to Win?’ Labor History symposium, Labor History, vol. 46, no. 4 (November, 2005), 518.
20   Ibid.
21   Richard Schneirov, ‘The Failures of Success: Class and Craft Relations in the Construction Industry in the Twentieth Century’ Labor History symposium, Labor History, vol. 46, no. 4 (November 2005), 521.
22   Coolican, ‘Solidarity and Sectionalism’, 22, 23.
23   Ibid., 23.
24   Ibid., 24.
25   Ibid., 29.
26   Ken Buckley, ‘The Role of Labour: The Amalgamated Society of Engineers’, Labour History, vol. 4, 1963, 8? John Niland, ‘In Search of Shorter Hours: The 1861 and 1874 Iron Trades Disputes’, Labour History, vol. 12, (May 1967), 7-­8.
27   Tom Sheridan, Mindful Militants: The Amalgamated Engineering Union in Australia 1920-­72 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 149, see also 173, 174.
28   Daphne Gollan, ‘The Balmain Ironworkers’ Strike of 1945 -­  Part 2: The strike against the union’, Labour History, vol. 23 (November, 1972), 63.
29   Sheridan, Mindful Militants, 293.
30   Miriam Dixson, ‘Stubborn Resistance: The Northern New South Wales Miners’ Lockout of 1929-­1930’, Labour History, vol. 24, (May 1973), 130.
31   Ibid.
32   Ibid.,136.
33   Edgar Ross, A History of the Miners’ Federation of Australia (Sydney: Australasian Coal and Shale Employees’ Federation, 1970), 336.
34   Ibid., 397, 456.
35   Ibid., 496
36   Hagan, A History of the Australian Printing Unions, 119.
37   Ibid., 296, 165.
38   Ibid., 165.
39   Argus, 16 July 1912, 8.
40   Sydney Morning Herald, 17 January 1913, 10.
41   Adelaide Advertiser, 20 May 1914, 18.
42   Argus, 24 February 1915, 6.
43   Report of committee, May 1925, FTF records.
44   Mercury, 3 July 1925, 2;? 17 June 1925, 3.
45   This meant the letterhead initially listed the earlier affiliates, leading to the rather confusing situation whereby the letter sent to the Carters and Drivers in response to their decision to not affiliate with the FTF had them listed as an affiliate. In 1926, the letterhead was amended (initially by hand) to the Food Trades Federation, with the affiliate list amended to remove the Male and Female Hotel and Caterers unions (which were now the Liquor Trades Union) and to add the Carters and Drivers which, along with the Shop Assistants, were accepted as affiliates in March 1926. Argus, 5 March 1926, 8.
46   Argus, 26 June 1925, 8.
47   Correspondence re Moran and Cato, 27 October 1927, 4 April 1933? Female Confectioners Union , General Meeting minutes, 12 June 1933, Female Confectioners Union records, University of Melbourne Archives.
48   FTF letter to affiliates in arrears, 22 February 1936. By 1936 affiliates now numbered 17: Operative Bakers, Breadcarters, Pastrycooks, Flour Millers, Meat Workers, Cold Storage, Liquor Trades, Food Preservers, Storemen and Packers, Male Confectioners, Female Confectioners, Manufacturing Grocers, Shop Assistants, Hawkers and Dealers, Sugar Workers, Road Transport Workers, Carters and Drivers.
49   Correspondence from Road Transport Union, 17 February 1938, 23 February 1939.
50   Liquor Trades Union, Annual report of Committee of Management, 1941.
51      FTF letter to Large, Operative Bakers’ Union, 1945, following his resignation as secretary after 41 years in office.
52   Argus, 15 April 1952, 4.
53   Press reports reveal that the 1935 president was Pearce (Cold Storage) and vice-­president was R. R. Dodd (Flour Millers). In 1944, Maynard (Breadcarters) was president while in 1945, J. Halliday (Food Preservers) and P. J. Lucas (Confectioners) were president and vice president respectively.
54   FTF minutes, 17 June 1953, 12 December 1957.
55   It is also possible that Miranda Hill, assistant secretary of the Female Confectioners Union, would have attended FTF meetings, either with Margaret Wearne or in her place.
56   FTF minutes, 8 July 1952.
57   FTF minutes, 18 July 1959. By this stage, Williams was the secretary of the THC Equal Pay Committee (on which she was also the only woman).
58   FTF minutes, 31 July 1951.
59   FTF minutes, 5 February, 18 March 1952. This was the only contested election between 1951 and 1968.
60   FTF, letter to George Perugia, Pastrycooks Union secretary, 2 February 1944.
61   Letter from Perugia Pastrycooks Union secretary to Hayes, FTF secretary, 29 February 1944.
62   Brigden, ‘Reassessing the Victorian Trades Hall “Split’’’.
63   Catherine Brigden, `A vehicle for solidarity: power and purpose in the Victorian Trades Hall Council, 1948-­81’ (PhD thesis, University of Sydney, 2003) 136, f. 26? 137, f. 28.
64   Ibid., 138.
65   FTF minutes, 19 May 1964.