It’s still right to rebel
Only struggle availeth.
‘What’s the good news from Canberra?’ Jack Mundey always wanted to know when we visited him and Judy in their two-up and two-down brick unit in Croyden Park. We welcomed Jack’s unintended reprimand as a reminder to look further than the headlines, to see through the parliamentary circus. We could report how retired unionists combined in Vintage Reds to picket worksites and courthouses; and how the AEU’s latest EBA required school principals negotiate teaching loads with the Union sub-branches. Jack did not need us to be reminded of the crimes he had spent his life opposing.
Abolish the penal powers: freedom’s fight of ’69
John Arrowsmith (1913-1997) was a legend of the Melbourne Branch of the ASSLH, a self-educated working class historian, former Branch President, union activist and communist campaigner. In 1969, he was approached by a number of prominent Victorian union officials to write a history of the momentous penal powers campaign which included the gaoling of Tramways union official Clarrie O’Shea by the notorious Sir John Kerr. The result was this pamphlet Abolish the penal powers: freedom’s fight of ’69 which we are proud to include in our collection of historic material. John later summed up the Clarrie’s achievements:
- he did not ‘purge’ his contempt
- he did not produce the books of the union or answer one question in court
- he did not pay one cent of the personal fines imposed on him
- the Tramways Union did not pay one cent of the fines owing on the day he went to gaol
- the penal powers have not been used against any union since the great upsurge.
Abolish the penal powers 1969
The case for bank nationalisation
This website seeks to bring to life some interesting and noteworthy publications from the past. This booklet is no exception. It dates from 1947 and was the first publication issued by the NSW Fabian Society. The author was the Hon Clarence Edward Martin, NSW Attorney-General from 1941 to 1953 and the first President of the NSW Fabian Society. In this booklet he argues the case for bank nationalisation which the Chifley Labor Government attempted to legislate but was eventually blocked by the courts.
bank nationalisation booklet
by Stephen Holt
(A review of Liam Byrne’s new book Becoming John Curtin and James Scullin: The making of the modern Labor Party. The article was published in The Canberra Times of 7 July 2020 and is posted here with the permission of the author.)
On 14 December 1918 an election took place in the federal seat of Corangamite. It was held to choose a successor to the previous member J. C Manifold who had fallen victim to the influenza pandemic that was then sweeping the world. Continue reading
Unions and anti-Chinese agitation on the Victorian goldfields
The Clunes riot of 1873
by Jerome Small
Small, Jerome – Clunes riot 1873
This paper (access via the above link) was presented at the seventh national Labour History Conference held in Canberra in April 2001. It never appeared in the published proceedings. At a time of heightened anti-Chinese racism in Australia, its publication now in 2020 is a timely reminder of how little has changed. The paper was condensed from the author’s 1997 Honours thesis which can be found in full at the following website: https://sa.org.au/interventions/interventions.htm
Killing is not murder when done for profit.
The Commonwealth government expects 4,000 deaths this year from asbestos-related conditions, a figure to continue for some years. www.asbestossafety.gov.au
Silicosis is likely to match that total each year and to extend well beyond the era of when most of the sufferers from asbestos will have died. Continue reading
Drew Cottle and Angela Keys
Factory occupations are rare in Australian labour history. While ‘work-ins’ and other forms of workers’ control have occurred in coalmines, power stations, on building sites and on the waterfront, they are almost unknown in factories. Their importance has always been a crucial part of the Left’s political programme and strategy to establish socialism. This paper will examine the Harco ‘stay-put’ as an example of workers’ control in one factory. It is a study of democracy from below where rank-and-file workers attempted to run things at a small metal-shop on Sydney’s urban fringe.
by Humphrey McQueen
And in a charge of bubbles we go about,
Veering in towards drama and Cape Howe;
Eyried in mist we feel the brush of doubt
As stars congeal, the air thickens. There are warnings now.
Francis Webb, Disaster Bay (c.1970).
Whoever it was who reached what we now call Australia some 50,000 or so years ago they were not ‘discovering’ this continent in the sense employed with the re-expansion of Europe when the word gains several of its current connotations. More is involved in deciding whether it is appropriate to speak of ‘discovery’ than a gap of 50,000 years. Incompatible ways of living fall between a primary communalism and an emerging capitalism, one local in its satisfactions, as Lt James Cook assumed, the other global in the appetites he served.
by Drew Cottle
The Brisbane Line was a hotly contested idea during World War 2 which envisioned that the northern half of Australia might be abandoned in the event of an invasion by the Japanese.
Historian Drew Cottle takes a fresh look behind the controversy in this interesting article, originally published in the Journal of Australian Studies, January 2001.
It is reposted here with the kind permission of the author.
Cottle, Drew – The Brisbane line _ An episode in capital history
Author Michael Williss has put together an excellent tribute to the legendary union leader Clarrie O’Shea and the historic industrial struggle he led in 1969.
Clarrie was the Victorian Secretary of the Tramways union who was gaoled for an indefinite period by the notorious Sir John Kerr for refusing to hand over the union’s financial records. This sparked a massive strike wave which effectively neutralised the punitive ‘penal powers’ which had been used to suppress union activity.
Michael’s article was first published on the website of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist –Leninist) and is republished with the kind permission of the author.
Click below to link to the article.
Williss, Michael – Clarrie O’Shea
Tetchy relations between business and the Liberal Party are far from new
by Norman Abjorensen
A non-Labor government in Canberra might ordinarily expect solid support from business — even if only because it is self-interestedly preferable to the alternative, with its presumed tilt towards the unions. But it’s not quite as simple as that. History tells us that the Liberals’ relationship with the big end of town can be far from cosy.
referendum – 20 years on
republic’ by Humphrey McQueen
November 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the
unsuccessful referendum on whether Australia should become a republic. Strange
that such an important issue should have lain dormant for so long.
To mark the occasion we present Humphrey McQueen’s article ‘A
socialist’s republic’ which originally appeared in ‘Republics of Ideas’ a
collection of essays edited by Brad Buckley and John Conomos in 2001. The
article is republished here with their kind permission.
The republic referendum was soundly defeated with the ACT
the only jurisdiction voting in favour. Yet at the time, public opinion polls
showed a majority of Australians supported a republic. So why did the
referendum fail? Many would argue that the Yes campaign, headed by Malcolm
Turnbull, foolishly split the Yes vote by insisting that Australia’s head of
state should be chosen by Parliament rather than by direct election. This was a
very divisive issue with memories of the Whitlam dismissal still fresh in the
minds of many voters.
In his article Humphrey McQueen suggests that republicans would continue to vote No as long as the elected president retained the power to dismiss an elected government – which is precisely what the Turnbull-led Yes campaign wanted.
Link to the article here.
by John Merritt
This month (May 2019) marks the 50th anniversary
of the gaoling of Victorian Tramways Union leader Clarrie O’Shea (1905-1988).
O’ Shea was gaoled in 1969 by the notorious Sir John Kerr
for refusing to hand over the union’s financial records.
His imprisonment sparked a massive strike wave across the
country and effectively neutralised the punitive ‘penal powers’ which were then
used to suppress union militancy.
This article, first published in Sept 2007 by the Canberra
Historical Journal, draws on the author’s personal interviews with Clarrie in
1981. It mainly deals with Clarrie’s life rather than the political
circumstances surrounding his imprisonment.
The events of 1969 are still relevant for today’s workers
whose unions are similarly hamstrung by a raft of anti-union laws.
Click here to read the article. It is reproduced with the kind permission of John Merritt and the Canberra & District Historical Society. John Merritt is a former ASSLH Branch President.
We gratefully acknowledge permission from the Australian
Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society at UNSW to publish this excellent
collection of seminar papers on Australia’s involvement in World War 1.
Click here to access the papers.
ACSACS Occasional Paper Series No. 8
Why did Australia go to the great war?
Proceedings of a Symposium held at the University of New South Wales, Canberra 8 May 2018
Edited by Peter Stanley
the nation: the imperial romance and its persistence in Australian Great War
national-imperial tensions in the development of the Australian Military
war, and choosing war aims: British and Australian decision-making, 1914-1918
Little Welshman’s dream: the war aims of William Morris Hughes
truth and polemic: comprehending imperial Germany’s war-aims 1914-18
Australia Went to the Great War’ – Commentary
Published by the Australian
Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society, March 2019
Australian Prime Ministers get to have a federal electorate named after them after they die.
There are 22 deceased Australian Prime Ministers and after the latest redistribution there are, seemingly in line with this practice, 22 federal seats bearing the name of a deceased Prime Minister.
There is an anomaly though and it bears directly on our very latest Prime Minister. Continue reading
(Originally published in Social Policy in Australia – Some Perspectives 1901-1975. Edited by Jill Roe. Cassell Australia 1976)
SIX MONTHS BEFORE the Armistice ended the Great War a new and more deadly scourge was unleashed upon the world. Popularly known as ‘Spanish’ flu it killed twenty million people within twelve months. Continue reading
(First published in The Canberra Times 21 April 2016)
You can almost hear the ghost of prime minister Ben Chifley applauding Bill Shorten’s calls for a royal commission into Australian banking. Yet while Chifley might approve of Shorten’s efforts, he would probably think they do not go far enough. Continue reading
V. Gordon Childe (1892-1957) made himself the most influential Australian scholar in the humanities and social sciences. Forty years after his death, his ideas stimulate thinkers well beyond his own field of Prehistoric archaeology. Humphrey McQueen has returned to Childe’s writings to reflect on current disputes about facts, theorising and politics in the piecing together of our past. Continue reading
Originally published in Workers Online 2003: http://workers.labor.net.au/features/200313/c_historicalfeature_moore.html
Who were Australia’s fascists in the 1930s and was John Howard’s father in the New Guard? Labour historian, Andrew Moore, uncovers some surprising information about Australia’s fascist past. Continue reading
Our ‘right’ to strike has never been handed down from on high. Never will it be. Our right to strike is a precious gift which we win and hold for each other by putting it into practice. Continue reading