Category Archives: History

Abolish the penal powers: freedom’s fight of ’69

Abolish the penal powers: freedom’s fight of ’69
John Arrowsmith

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

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

SILICOSIS

Humphrey McQueen

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

The Harco ‘Stay-Put’: Workers’ Control In One Factory?

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.

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DISCOVERIES OF COOK

 

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.

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Clarrie O’Shea – 50th anniversary of the defeat of the penal powers

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

Clarrie O’Shea – The trade union leader who went to gaol

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.

The ‘Spanish’ Influenza Pandemic in Australia, 1912-19

 

Humphrey McQueen

 (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

Ghost of bankers past may come to haunt Shorten

Bob Crawshaw

(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

The Gluckman Affair 1960: A bystander’s view

The Gluckman Affair: An article by Geoffrey Bolton

In 1960 the Australian National University invited the eminent British anthropologist Professor Max Gluckman to visit Canberra to participate in their anthropology program and also to make a short visit to Papua New Guinea to meet with ANU anthropologists undertaking field work in the territory.  Prior to leaving Britain for the trip, Gluckman had applied for an entry permit for his three-week PNG trip.  But once in Australia, the Department of Territories refused to grant the permit.  Given Gluckman’s prominence and eminence as an anthropologist, the decision to refuse the application was met with incredulity and political uproar. Continue reading

Oily Sam Griffith’s moment of truth

 

Oily Sam Griffith’s moment of truth

Humphrey McQueen

Broadcast on Melbourne community radio 3CR   30 September 2017

Samuel Walker Griffith is known today from a NSW country town, an inner Canberra suburb and a Queensland university. The more politically aware might recall that he drafted the Commonwealth Constitution in 1891 and became the first Chief Justice in 1903, having served as Premier of Queensland and its Chief Justice from 1893. Continue reading

Malcolm Ellis: Labour Historian? Spy?

Malcolm Ellis: Labour Historian? Spy?

Andrew Moore
UWS, Macarthur

First published in Labour and Community – Proceedings of the Sixth National Labour History Conference, Wollongong, October 1999

When, on New Year’s Day 1952, Sir John Ferguson, the eminent bibliographer and Industrial Commission judge, wrote to his friend and colleague, M.H. Ellis, the anticommunist historian, he evinced sentiments with which many labour historians would agree. Continue reading

James Normington Rawling Collection

James Normington Rawling Centenary Seminar – 17 Apr 1998

This seminar was co-hosted by the ASSLH and the Noel Butlin Archives Centre (NBAC) to celebrate the centenary of the birth of James Normington Rawling (1898-1966) returned serviceman, pacificist, rationalist turned CPA functionary, expelled from the CPA in 1939, flirted with Trotskyism, became chief informer at the Victorian Royal Commission on the Communist Party in 1949, was subsequently connected with Catholic Action and the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Rawling was a literary historian, a pioneer labour historian and unrivalled collector of Australian radical manuscripts, pamphlets and ephemera. Continue reading

The forgotten fascists – Menzies’ chosen people

The forgotten fascists  – Menzies’ chosen people

Humphrey McQueen

For the 75th anniversary of the start of the Menzies radio addresses, Howard and his gang are in the business of promoting ’the greatest speech ever made in this country’. The fact that ‘The Forgotten People’ was not a speech but one of a series of wireless broadcasts is the least of their lies. Their Big Lie will be to conceal what their hero had dared to say. Continue reading

26 January – or thereabouts

by Humphrey McQueen

26 January – or thereabouts

Vox Pop illustrates that the most enthusiastic celebrants of Australia Day do not always know what happened on 26 January 1788 in Sydney Cove. Continue reading

CIA, Kerr, Barwick and 1975

 

by Humphrey McQueen

A revival of interest in the dismissal of the Whitlam government on 11 November 1975 is focusing on who advised the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. The role of the Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Garfield Barwick, has been known almost from the start. Knowledge of a second counselor has been there for many years, with the near certainty that he was also a member of the High Court, and later Chief Justice, Sir Anthony Mason. Continue reading

Dedication doesn’t pay the rent – The 1986 Victorian Nurses Strike

DEDICATION DOESN’T PAY THE RENT! THE STORY OF THE 1986 VICTORIAN NURSES STRIKE.

by Liz Ross

First published in Hecate as “Sisters are doing it for themselves…and us”, Vol 13, No 1 1987. Reprinted as a pamphlet by Socialist Action September 1987.

 

 

1986 Nurses Cover

Nurses are often seen as the archetypal ‘hand-maidens’ of men. But if there was any one event that threw off this image once and for all, it was the Victorian nurses’ strike of 1986. Not only was the nurses’ dispute important for nurses, it is a valuable lesson for all women workers and those who write about them. All too often, the focus is on women workers’ passivity, their super-exploitation and the problems they face in breaking through their conditioning.

While it is obviously important not to dismiss these difficulties and problems, this approach focusses too much on women’s weaknesses. What it fails to take account of it is that, when they become involved in struggle, women can quickly break out of this passivity. Continue reading

Port Adelaide Workers Memorial

Speech by Humphrey McQueen at the Port Adelaide Workers Memorial
May Day 2011

Pt Adelaide workers memorialOne does good, neither from fear of punishment nor promise of reward, but because good is good to do. They were the sentiments of the nineteenth-century American Rationalist, Colonel Robert Ingersoll, whose writings would have been popular with some the people whose names went on to the Workers’ memorial. Continue reading