Originally published in Marxist Left Review 13, Summer 2017
When the Australian ruling class embraced fascism
It is commonplace today to treat the far right and far left as mirror images of each other: both extreme, ideologically rigid, intolerant and similarly isolated from the sensible mainstream.
But history demonstrates that there is little truth to this characterisation. Behind a considerable veil of secrecy though it may be, the history of the Australian far right is one closely intertwined with that of the ruling apparatus: the political establishment, business circles, the military and police force. Continue reading
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times of 5 July 2022
Before the teals, the DLP rewrote politics
by Stephen Holt
The election of sixteen House of Representatives crossbench members, including six or so Teal independents, on 21 May 2022 signals a big shift in the underlying structure of Australian politics.
Slavery in Australia – Convicts, Emigrants, Aborigines
Kenneth McKenzie Dallas (1902- 1988) was a Tasmanian historian, teacher, writer and socialist. In September 1968, the Tasmanian Historical Research Association (THRA) published a collection of three articles by Dallas, each offering a different perspective on aspects of Australian history.
The third of the three: ‘Slavery in Australia – Convicts, Emigrants, Aborigines’ is perhaps the most controversial, some would say ahead of its time. He argues that the British colonial system was based on slavery. “That there are degrees of slavery does not alter the basic fact” (p 63). The article is republished here with the kind permission of the THRA.
Dallas – Slavery in Australia – Convicts, Emigrants, Aborigines
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
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.
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
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.
(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
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
Oily Sam Griffith’s moment of truth
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?
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 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
A 20 page brochure reprinted from Historical Studies Vol 7, No 25, November 1955.
Published by University of Melbourne.
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.
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
Speech by Humphrey McQueen at the Port Adelaide Workers Memorial
May Day 2011
One 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
First published in The Canberra Times’ Public Sector Informant December 2015
Troy Bramston and Paul Kelly’s new book, The dismissal: in the Queen’s name, refers to a private seminar arranged for then governor-general Sir John Kerr at the Australian National University in September 1975.
FIGHTING LABOR’S CUTS:
The NSW Social Security strike, May–June 1988
Eris Harrison and Dave Main, 1989
Since the mid-1970s, Australian workers have been on the defensive. There have been minor actions (for instance over wages in 1981), but they have been heavily outweighed by spectacular defeats, like the dismembering of the BLF and by the passivity and lack of confidence of workers in the face of major cuts to wages and conditions orchestrated by the Hawke government.
Dr Frank Cain
Paper presented at the conference ‘The Communist Party Dissolution Bill – 60 Years On’
Held at the Australian National University, Canberra 8 May 2010 Continue reading