The state Labor parties in Australia, 1880-1920
By Humphrey McQueen
[From Labor in Politics, the state labor parties in
Australia, 1880-1920, D.J. Murphy (Ed), University of Queensland
Press, St Lucia, 1975]
A “Labor party”[*]
in Victoria contested its first general election in 1892. Sixty years
were to elapse before any of its successors could claim an absolute
majority in the Legislative Assembly, although a minority Labor
government limped through oblivion from 9 to 22 December 1913. There
were four further minority ministries in 1924, 1928, 1929-32, and
1943-45. By the time Victorian Labor won its first majority in 1952,
Labor in the other states had already been in office for periods
ranging from ten to thirty-four years. Yet in the years after the gold
rush the Victorian Labor movement had occupied a position privileged in
the Australian colonies and indeed in the world. In 1856 the eight-hour
day was secured by stonemasons, one of whose number entered parliament
in 1859. The Trades Hall Council (THC) was a respected part of society
and its leaders occupied themselves with affairs of state, particularly
protection. So in 1889 when the past-president of the council, William
Arthur Trenwith, was elected to the Legislative Assembly and found four
sympathetic but unmarshalled supporters, the stage seemed set for the
appearance of a dominating Labor party. Failure to fulfil this promise
must be accounted for initially in light of the preceding development
of Victoria’s society.
Even if Victoria was not the richest country in the world in
forty years after 1850, its citizens certainly believed that it was and
that it would continue to be so. This wealth was by no means shared
evenly and there were the submerged poor within nineteenth-century
affluence just as there are today. Although things had been bad in the
1860s, by the 1880s even the unemployed had ritualised their
grievances. Eric Fry distinguished six features of Melbourne’s
unemployed at this time: they were small in number; their condition was
temporary and seasonal; they were unskilled; they would not leave the
city to work in the country; they demanded work from the government as
a right and immediately publicity and political agitation. “This in
turn reflected a background economic confidence, large scale public
works and political democracy.”
Trade unionism in Victoria had proved viable and its growth
extensive as in New South Wales, as can be seen from the lists of the
societies appended to the Inter-Colonial Trade Union Congress (ITUC)
reports. The 1884 report lists Melbourne’s THC with fifty societies
comprising 10,000 as against New South Wales TLC’s twenty-four
societies and 8000 members. More important was their relative
composition. In July 1890 the New South Wales TLC had twenty-one craft
and twenty-three unskilled unions as against Melbourne’s thirty craft
and thirteen unskilled.
The THC was a gathering of the trades, of responsible and respected
citizens. It would be wrong to see the Victorian unions as passive or
docile. They were in fact quite active on purely economic questions.
While they were always most anxious to conciliate, they were equally
insistent in negotiation that they should receive their share of the
benefits from the boom. This applied particularly to the newer unions,
which accompanied the upsurge of light secondary industry after 1880
and which were endeavouring to establish their position.
Factory discipline proved the seed-bed of solidarity needed
united action and there were important strikes by tailoresses in
1882-83 and bootmakers in 1884-85. Fry listed another thirteen trades
organised between June 1882 and June 1883. Their primary aim was the
eight-hour day which by 1890 was enjoyed by half of Melbourne’s
wage-earners. The eight-hour day had the additional advantage of
producing extra pay for hours worked in excess of the eight hours.
Wider aims, such as amendments to the Factory Act, were not subjects
for strike action but for legislative and social pressure. Union
tactics were thus restricted, although their aims were less so. When
the unions did engage in wider issues, which was most of the time, they
did not see themselves participating in a battle of classes having no
common interests, because their experience made it impossible to see
Victoria in these terms. This was made inevitable by protection, which
in its idealised form was a partnership of labour and capital under the
be guidance of the government, to provide jobs for the workers, profits
for the manufacturers, the benefits of a high wage economy and economic
growth for the colony. Protection remained to bedevil the Labor until
well after the adoption of “new protection” by the Commonwealth.
There was an intangible but very real import to Victoria’s
the years after the gold rushes. It was congruent with material
prosperity but had sources and a life of its own, which in turn
influenced the way that prosperity was encountered by wage-earners.
so difficult to betray since it was impossible to define with
precision, was nonetheless part of the achieved inheritance of
Victoria’s labouring classes. For them its most obvious expression was
the eight-hour day but this had been won — and continued to be debated
— in terms of intellectual and moral improvement.
For similar reasons plural voting was totally unacceptable to
labouring classes. It is impossible to appreciate the intensity of
feeling that this issue generated if its abolition is seen merely as a
means to the end of political power, which would in turn result in
improved economic conditions. Plural voting was a moral affront to the
labouring man since it classed him as less valuable than someone else’s
property. Perhaps if he had perceived himself as property he would not
have felt so outraged. Because he was so far from being a wage-slave in
his self-perceptions, he was indignant at what he considered to be a
political castration of his manhood.
In its material prosperity and confidence, in its notions of
colonial and racial superiority, in its political radicalism and social
reformism, in its imperialist schemes and protectionist policies,
Victoria in the 1880s was a vast companion piece to Joseph
Chamberlain’s Birmingham. Different in detail as geographic
considerations demanded, Victoria and Birmingham were the products of a
similar conjuncture of British imperialism. Victoria’s entire workforce
can be seen as an aristocracy of labour, within which the Melbourne THC
operated as a House of Lords.
The import of this brief sketch of the totality of Victoria’s
in the years before the appearance of a “Labor party” is essential if
its failure vis-a-vis the other colonies is to be understood. True, the
party’s practices compounded its initial difficulties. But the
inheritance of Victorian Liberalism, ideological and organisational,
meant that there was no Labor party in Victoria till after 1900 and
that when it did emerge it would be confounded in the struggle to
exorcise Liberalism’s spectre. In this struggle for an identity,
Victorian Labor often isolated itself from those groups whose support
could have given it greater parliamentary power. Yet these groups,
particularly the small farmers, had received their share of the
inheritance as well, and were not as susceptible as their counterparts
in other colonies.
Victoria’s unionists were by no means apolitical before the
strike of August 1890. The mining unions were well advanced in this
respect, if only because mining communities offered a viable electoral
base and a group of radicals was consistently returned from the mining
electorates. Those who survived into the 1890s maintained a decidedly
ambiguous relationship with the THC-dominated “Labor parties”. Some of
the Amalgamated Miners’ Association’s [AMA’s] unwillingness to be tied
to the “Labor parties” sprang from the miners’ attachments to their
existing representatives. Nor did the Melbourne-based unions ignore
politics. The eight-hour pioneer, Ben Douglas, unsuccessfully contested
Collingwood in 1871. More continuous were the activities of the THC’s
parliamentary committee, which had the responsibility of presenting the
unions’ point of view to politicians. The parliamentary committee
appointed by the ITUC in 1884 was instructed “to obtain for labour
direct representation in Parliament”. In its report to the 1885
congress the committee concentrated on the question of direct
representation, and was once again given widespread approval.
When it is remembered that the committee consisted entirely of
leading Victorian unionists, it is at first surprising to learn of the
opposition within the THC to a resolution to bring forward candidates
to contest the 1896 election. After a series of special meetings of the
council the motion was withdrawn.
This apparent defeat for “direct representation” must be understood in
the context of the developing struggle between the old and new
unionists: the old guard was headed by Ben Douglas, who was chairman of
the Trades Hall trustees, while the new men of power were led by
William Trenwith, who became THC president in March 1886. Trenwith’s
forces finally gained control but only after years of negotiations and
a sensational court case. Failure to obtain THC endorsement did not
prevent F.H. Bromley, W.A. Trenwith, and W.E. Murphy from contesting
seats at the 1886 election: what is significant about these three is
that they had been president, treasurer, and secretary of the
parliamentary committee appointed in 1884. Their belief in direct
representation had thus found an opportunity to develop an
organisational cohesiveness. While none was successful, none polled
disgracefully. Certainly there was reason to hope that the Labor vote
could be improved into a winning position.
As the 1889 election approached, the THC adopted a
platform and urged all workmen to vote only for those candidates who
supported its demands. No specific candidates were endorsed. Murphy and
Trenwith again contested seats, with the latter being successful in
Richmond. This victory brought an immediate change in the THC’s
position as it passed a resolution appreciating “the service of all
members who worked for Labor candidates”. The council’s response to
Trenwith’s success leaves no doubt that it would have endorsed him (and
others) at the next election. His
long battle had been won without the intervention of the 1890 strike.
Thus the THC’s decision in March 1891 to form local district
committees in the electorates was not a “turning point” so much as the
fulfilment of a long process; a change of emphasis, not of direction.
Almost immediately a vacancy occurred for one of the two Collingwood
seats and the parliamentary committee recommended endorsing a
candidate: John Hancock, secretary of the Typographical Society and
chairman of the Maritime Strike Committee, was selected and eventually
headed a poll of four.
This local success reminded the THC of the tremendous victory which
their New Zealand confreres had achieved in the previous January. In
addition, the Shearers’ Union announced its intention “to organise the
Labor vote in the country” and
the ITUC in Ballarat came out strongly in favour of “direct
The THC organised a political Labor convention for the last
weekend in May 1891. Thirteen representatives attended, two from each
of the Trades Councils in Melbourne, Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong; two
each from the Amalgamated Shearers’ Union (ASU) and the AMA, and one
from the Social Democratic Federation. They agreed to form the
Progressive Political League (PPL) of Victoria. The choice of name with
its intention of appealing to a wider constituency than labour, shows
that the consensual underpinnings of Victorian Liberalism had survived
intact. The political platform which they announced called for the
abolition of plural voting; the repeal of Conspiracy Acts; a legally
enforced eight-hour day; and the “Federation of the Colonies on a
Democratic basis”; as well as sixteen other items, which showed no
appeal to rural interests. Seventeen rules were adopted including an
to secure for all classes such legislation as will advance their
(a) the enrolment of all persons desirous of promoting progressive
(b) the return of Candidates to Parliament pledged to support the
Platform of the League.
This moderation was reinforced in the preamble, which asked
nothing more than that all the great interests receive a “fair
proportion” of the parliamentary places so that the legislature could
function satisfactorily. Rule 15 gave “Each Branch ... absolute freedom
in selecting Candidates. This lack of central control cut across the
concept of a pledge and was to create grave tension when attempts were
made to alter it.
The PPL’s platform provoked immediate adverse comment from the
rigidly Protestant executive council of the AMA, which demanded the
addition of a plank calling for the “Maintenance of the Education Act”
before it would affiliate. At the AMA No. 1 Colonial District
conference at Bendigo fresh approaches were made by Trenwith, who
attended specifically for this purpose. The most the AMA would agree to
was to support individual PPL branches, which accepted the AMA’s
secular education policy. Spence moved for complete support but was
The rift between the miners and political Labor in Victoria persisted
for another seventeen years and was one of the important factors
inhibiting Labor’s electoral success and organisational growth outside
the metropolitan area.
Absence of finance was part of the overall economic collapse
the colony. Some indication of the extent of the depression can be
gauged from incidents such as the decision in 1892 to make Melbourne’s
trams run at 12 mph instead of 9 mph so that fewer cars could make the
same number of trips; by 1894 the Melbourne Metropolitan Gas Company
had repossessed 6233 gas stoves — about half of those on loan in l890.
Many unions had spent heavily on strike funds in the preceding eighteen
months: the Melbourne Typographical Society had given £1400 in
months to May 1891. With rising unemployment there was a fall in income
with an increased demand for benefit payments: “In one year from
October 1892, the Australian branches of the Amalgamated Society of
Engineers paid out the massive sum of £7137 in donation benefit”
Poor union response to PPL requests cannot be seen as lack of political
interest; it was more generally the lack of money to give.
The third meeting of the PPL central council on 30 January
sought an alliance with the unemployed, an understanding with the
farmers and unity with the AMA. Failure to achieve any of these in its
first half-year of existence accurately foreshadowed the league’s
Choosing candidates for the 1892 elections presented some real
difficulties, particularly in Fitzroy where the “anarchists” S.A. Rosa
and W.F. Fleming sought endorsement. Rosa headed the pre-selection poll
but was replaced at the insistence of Trenwith. A similar situation
occurred in Carlton South, where W.D. Flinn, a foundation member of the
PPL as the representative of the Social Democratic Federation, was
replaced as the endorsed candidate. The free-thinking Josh Symes was
given even shorter shrift in Collingwood. Far
more typical was F.H. Bromley, who told his cheering audience that “he
had no prejudices against any class”. So
the party’s nature was determined as much by its candidates as by its
As the obvious, though unelected, leader of the PPL, Trenwith
deserves further attention. His dilemma was how to live up to and live
down the revolutionary reputation that he had had thrust upon him by
the Argus for his role in the maritime strike. He chose simply
to explain that he had never “counselled strikes … [but had] … hundreds
of times prevented them … [always urging] … that strikes are barbarous
and cruel methods of attempting to settle labour disputes”.
Reporting to his constituents at the Richmond Town Hall on 25 February
1892, Trenwith showed his support of protection to be as much a
“roads-and-bridges” issue as a matter of national policy, as he listed
the nail factories and leather shops he had helped, thereby increasing
local employment. He had other claims to fame, since the Mallee lands
had been opened up at his initiative: the importance of rural escape
routes for Richmond’s factory workers was a question of continuing
concern to their astute representative.
Here is that persistent but often overlooked combination of land hunger
and state action, which constituted so much of what passed as socialism
in late nineteenth-century Australia.
As if poor organisation, lack of funds and a diminishing
electoral base were insufficient problems for the fragile PPL, it was
faced with some of the argument over free trade and protection, which
was concurrently racking the New South Wales Labor Party. Moreover,
neither of the issues most in the public mind in April 1892 could be
turned to the league’s specific advantage. Allegations against the
railway commissioners were the preserve of The Age and any
benefit to be gained went to its immediate political coterie. But by
far the most exciting thing in the papers during the election campaign
was the Deeming murder sensation.
Undeterred, the PPL’s paper, Commonweal (16 April),
issued a pre-election “Manifesto of Progressive Democrats” indicating
that the old Liberalism was out in force. The manifesto declared
against class rule and for “peaceful and constitutional” reforms to
“elevate the general conditions of all classes”. An editorial appealed
to “farmers, shopkeepers, artisans, labourers, producers and
distributors of all kinds” to vote for the league and against “the
encroachments of the idle few”.
Victorian Liberalism was not only ideologically well-prepared
to absorb a Labor challenge, it also had state-wide organisational
linkages, which could be turned to purely political ends. Contacts
established through the Australian Natives’ Association and the
Protectionist Associations could be employed for the liberals, while
young imperial federationists established the Victorian Patriotic
League in March 1892 to support the Conservatives.
Considerable relief was expressed in the Argus the day
after the election since the PPL had increased its membership merely
from six to thirteen in a house of ninety-five. Hancock had lost his
seat and three of the PPL members had won by majorities of only 107,
97, and 25. The Age (22 April) was content to affirm its
consensual principles by pointing to the impossibility of a “purely
sectional institution” gaining political strength.
Of the thirteen PPL members who were elected, one immediately
defected; another joined the ministerialists within a year; and two of
the remainder expired before their terms and their seats were lost in
the subsequent by-elections. A Victorian Labor party had been
stillborn. A month after the elections Commonweal expressed a
strategy that fully recognised the extent of Labor’s failure:
it is clearly understood that our Party is to avoid the
serious mistakes made by the Labour Party in New South Wales, notably
that primary error which placed the party in a position of hostility to
all other sections of the Parliament. The Victorian Labour Party
constitutes itself a wing of the Liberal Party, and is prepared support
a Liberal Government so long as that Government promotes genuine
democratic legislation in the interests of all classes, workers
included. New Zealand should furnish us a model.
Financial trouble hit Commonweal and in September 1892
launched an appeal fund. By the end of May 1893 it had been reduced
from eight to four pages and it ceased publication entirely on 1 July
that year. In the preceding February the THC had replaced its permanent
secretariat paying £4 a week with an honorary one at £1 a
week. If the
incidence Commonweal reports is any criterion, there was a
sharp decline in branch activity after the elections. The central
council continued to meet monthly but reported little organisational
work. The fate of the Ballarat West branch was perhaps representative.
After much discussion as to whether it could afford to support a
candidate it nominated one, only to find after the election that its
liabilities exceeded its assets by more than £57. The July
lapsed for want of a quorum and the minute book contains no further
entry. In the enthusiastic expectation provoked by New Zealand and New
South Wales successes, the PPL had overreached itself with fatal
Seven years of Conservative-liberal coalition government in
Victoria had ended in November 1890. Budget deficits brought down three
governments in the next four years since failure to balance the budget
was taken as proof that a government had failed to cure the depression.
These depression deficits raised other problems: how to make up the
difference? Should expenditures be cut? Or revenues increased? And if
so, how? All this questioning eventually produced doubts concerning
protection. Legislative form was given to these doubts by the
Conservative ministry of James Patterson in his 1894 budget. For the
first time in over twenty years, Victoria’s protectionist policy was
faced with real opposition from a government.
Confronted with this direct conservative thrust, the THC was fortified
in its resolve to broaden the base of its political organisation.
Invitations to a conference “to devise some method of
action” were extended to all societies affiliated with the THC and with
the TLCs in Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong, and Horsham; to the AMA, the
ASU, the Eight-Hours Movement; and to the Democratic Club, the Womcn’s
Suffrage Society, the Protectionist, Liberal and Federation League, and
to all extant PPL branches. The conference met late in June and drew up
a platform for a United Labour and liberal party (ULLP), which was
slightly more radical than the PPL’s had been;
the budget crisis which occurred in August meant that the new party
would be even less radical in practice than its predecessor. Even the
“socialist”, G.M. Prendergast, declared himself to be a Liberal.
Patterson’s government was defeated on 29 August 1894 and an
election was called for 20 September. Because of the clear-cut nature
of the issue — Protection or Free Trade — the campaign was vigorously
contested. Sectional groups such as Temperance and Scripture leagues
were absent, thereby helping to sharpen the basic conflict. Candidates
did have to compete with the football grand finals for the voters’
interest. Since it is uncertain how many ULLP candidates were endorsed
it is impossible to decide how many were elected but it was somewhere
between sixteen and eighteen.
What is beyond doubt is that Patterson was soundly defeated and that
George Turner’s liberal supporters won over two-thirds of the seats.
Equally apparent was Labor’s enthusiasm for the new premier, despite
some annoyance at being excluded from the ministry.
Liberalism had re-established its hegemony via protection. The
difference between Liberals and Conservatives after 1894 was
sufficiently great on this issue, so vital to the THC, that there was
no opportunity for Labor to trade support for concessions. The PPL’s
earlier failure to break through was compounded, and until 1902 the
Trades Hall party could do no more than act out the role prescribed for
it by The Age — that of advance guard for liberalism. In this
environment it is little wonder that the Ballance and Seddon
Governments in New Zealand were taken as ideal models for Liberalism in
Victoria to follow. Every new reform across the Tasman provided another
opportunity to remind Turner that, as a Liberal, he should do likewise.
As the 1890s progressed, and Turner did not, New Zealand’s
“lib-lab-socialist” governments became a yardstick against which to
measure the failings of Victorian liberalism. Criticisms derived from
these comparisons eventually assisted in creating organisational
autonomy for political Labor in Victoria. Yet this was achieved under a
debt to liberalism, albeit a liberalism twelve hundred miles away.
In 1896 liberalism scored two victories, which reinforced its
hold over the allegiance of the Victorian electorate. One of these was
of general appeal: a balanced budget. The other was aimed directly at
the working classes: wages boards,
which were subsequently extended to many categories of workmen. The
boards established minimum wages and thus attempted to spread the
benefits of protection to the employees: the unity of class interests
being given a further practical demonstration.
The attempt at a ULLP had never really passed beyond the
of the Labor side, so yet another organisation was launched in May 1896
when the THC adopted the constitution of the United Labor Party (ULP)
of Victoria. The policy of the “new” party was barely distinguishable
from that of the ULLP. Organisationally the changes appeared more
substantial since a pledge was to be obtained from all aspiring
candidates to support the platform. This was still a long way from the
“caucus pledge” since the Victorian pledge was to be given through the
nominating organisation, which could be any “trades and labour union
[or] democratic bodies” affiliated with the ULP. The
THC maintained a proprietary interest in the new party.
Internal dissension was the most important fact facing the ULP
as it contested the 1897 election. Some discontent with Trenwith’s
passive support for the Turner ministry, and with Liberalism in
general, had been present for some time but it was not until 1897 that
it came to the fore. The radicals were centred round Tocsin, a
paper they launched on 2 October 1897 with a platform of seventy-four
points, which showed that there was little specifically socialist about
even the radicals. Or as the first editorial put it: “The functions of
a Labour Paper in a new community like Australia are necessarily
greater, and less sectional and factional, than they are in older
countries. There such an organ voices the claims and the despair of the
hunted and cornered, and the aspirations of those of them who have been
left long enough unmolested to have time to aspire; here it voices, or
should, and must voice, the claims and realisable hopes of the whole
community.” The area in dispute was that of organisational autonomy
from Turner and David Syme’s Age.
Before the election of 14 October 1897 there was little open
criticism of Trenwith by his fellow ULP members, who concentrated their
fire on Turner and The Age. This led to Turner attacking the
ULP in his policy speech for not giving him all the support it could
have in the previous parliament, a suggestion denounced at the THC and
denied by Trenwith, who was nonetheless critical of some of his
colleagues. It was The Age which presented the matter most
succinctly: the difficulty arose because some members of this party …
are no longer content to consider themselves as owning any allegiance
to Liberal homogeneity. They declare for a policy of separation and
Accepting this challenge The Age
went all out to defeat its perpetrators, who had been encouraged by the
presence of the British dock strike leader, Ben Tillett.
Once more it is difficult to be certain how many ULP
were returned, but the most likely figure is thirteen, which meant that
Labor’s numerical strength was unchanged but the confidence of its
radical wing had taken a beating, especially with the defeat of
Prendergast. The Age summed it up thus: “The net result of this
part of the contest has been exactly what the Government asked for. The
Labor party has suffered a check, but not sufficient to discourage it
altogether. The effect should be to make it Liberal without going into
impractical extremes … there is no standing room in Victoria for the
people who look to Mr Tillett as the long-expected Messiah of a
The radicals’ attempt to establish the ULP as the official
opposition had failed, and by the time the next elections occurred in
1900 the homogeneity of Liberalism had been re-established. The
intervening years were marked by the disintegration of the ULP; the
proliferation of other “Labor” organisations; and the regrowth of the
trade unions. Each of these will now be examined briefly.
The collapse of the ULP proceeded both inside and outside the
Parliament. Shortly after the 1897 election Tocsin
hit upon one of the complaints against Trenwith when it asked if “the
duties of the leader begin and end with his Parliamentary work, or
whether he should also exert a guiding and active influence in the work
of outside organisation”.
Failure to break out of Melbourne certainly was the heart of the
difficulty, but Trenwith’s reluctance to take part in organising
country seats was part of the general attitude of the movement and was
by no means a mere personal fault, although his failing sight must have
affected his attitude. Discontent came to a head in June 1898, when
Hancock unsuccessfully challenged Trenwith for the leadership.
Four months later Trenwith gave a very revealing interview to Tocsin
in which he listed the three important measures which the “Labor party”
had secured: firstly, the ending of the alienation of land in the
Mallee; secondly, the limiting of the area of land to be held by an
individual; and thirdly, the securing of the minimum wage and
eight-hour principle. Significantly “land” occupied the leading
positions. The rest of the interview should explain by itself the state
of the ULP:
Q. Do you think it is advisable to admit membership of
the Labour Party who never speak at Labour meetings, or who never
identify themselves directly with the Labour Party unless at election
A. I do, certainly; why should a man continually parade his politics or
the politics of his party any more than his religion.
Q. I hear it is the intention to exact a written pledge from all Labour
candidates in future, and —
A. Ah, well that is one way to get rid of me …
It was this set of conditions which led Tocsin into
bitterest attack. In an editorial for 10 November 1898 it denounced
“The policy of dillydally, drift and disaster” which marked the
“Plan of campaign it has none, democratic work it does none. It never
meets as a party to decide on measures to be introduced … It is
leaderless, functionless, out-classed: its existence is as a
constitutional abortion, with neither the cohesion of a Party, nor the
daring and initiative of a guerilla band or a company of free lances …”
If the ULP was to continue, increased THC intervention was
inevitable and early in 1899 it decided to rewrite — yet again — the
rules and platform. The new proposals were finally adopted on 20
October. Commenting on the new program The Age pointed out that
“there is not one of its fourteen items which has not received the
sanction of many staid and sober thinkers and writers”. After examining
each plank the editorial concluded that “so far from the aspirations of
this political organisation being violent or mischievous, they are but
a few short forward steps in advance of the main body of Liberalism”.
With the defeat of the Turner government two months later Liberalism’s
ideological dominance was to be given organisational linkages far
stronger than had previously existed.
Late in 1899 it appeared that the reorganisation of the ULP
might have come too late. Defeats and divisions associated with three
by-elections certainly lent weight to this view. Tocsin’s fury
at these defeats knew no bounds and in an editorial, “Labour’s Bunglers
and Log-Rollers”, it attacked Trenwith’s treachery and bewailed the
lack of organisation. Editorially The Age expressed its genuine
concern at the “acrimonious denunciations” and “aimless vituperation”,
which were put forward in place of penetrating evaluation of ULP’s
parlous position. It was desirable that the party should recover so
that it could spur Liberalism “into renewed activity by the admonitions
of men who can speak for the sections of the community where the
impulse towards democratic reform must always find its source”.
Unfortunately the ULP did not have the confidence of the labouning
classes and if it was to come into its own politically it would need to
accept this truth. This gloomy but accurate picture augured
inauspiciously for the future of the refurbished ULP as it faced a new
In the absence of a vigorous Labor party it was hardly
surprising that the partial vacuum would be filled by grouplets and
even by organisations attempting to supplant the ULP. Such groupings
had long existed and it would be unwise to ignore the implicit warning
of their weakness in Bernard O’Dowd’s verse:
And all who wear clothes good or neat,
Their life’s blood we will scatter;
We’ll make red rain drip on the street,
With Anarchistic patter.
Yes, ye shall hear our warning drum
Ere many more Decembers,
And Shriek, "The Melbourne Anarch’s come"
With half-a-dozen members!”
Tocsin, which O’Dowd edited, never developed into the
of organised opposition that its editorials suggested and its press
provided for. Rather it saw itself as a clearing-house for ideas and as
an organising journal for all groups.
The Workers’ Political League (WPL) was the likeliest
for the ULP’s right to represent Victoria’s labouring classes. Its
platform contained little to distinguish it from the ULP but its
organisation appeared to have resolved the dilemma which had impeded
the growth of political Labor in Victoria for almost a decade. The
League’s headquarters were in Creswick and its officers included two
members of the Legislative Assembly, two past presidents of the THC,
the secretary of the Ballarat TLC, the secretary of the AWU, and the
ex-president of the AMA. Whatever prospects it had were cut short by
the THC’s reorganisation of the ULLP during 1899. Also active, from
1898 onwards, was the Rochdale-style co-operative Victorian Labour
Federation (VLF), of which Frank Anstey was president. As well as
selling tea to raise funds, the VLF organised a bookshop, a quadrille
club and relief for the unemployed. By the end of 1900 it was in severe
financial difficulties and Anstey stood down as president. A Victorian
Socialists’ League was formed in 1898 and existed till 1902 when it
emerged into the Social Democratic Party, but its own influence was
slight. The Knights of Labour held picnics, sang the “Marseillaise”,
and marched behind a red flag; and Hegemony Club contemplated a war for
position on the ideological front but went cycling; and the Marxian
Club held social evenings, where very pleasant times were had by all.
None of the above groups seriously challenged the THC’s control of the
political movement and if they had it is unlikely that they would have
been any more successful in overcoming the besetting problems. The
effort that went into them meant that the ULP was deprived of this
energy and enthusiasm, a loss it could ill-afford, but a consequence
that was inevitable in light of its own failing prospects.
After the collapse of unionism in Victoria in the face of the
depression there was a period of quietism with few if any unions
reforming. An attempt to reorganise the trade societies was undertaken
at the THC early in 1900 with excellent results, and, by the end of
July, eight unions had been formed in Melbourne and four in Geelong.
Within a year, over twenty-five new unions had been formed,
half-a-dozen amalgamations arranged, and eight unions resuscitated.
This revival of unionism did not automatically mean a revival of the
ULP since the organising work was directed towards industrial rather
than political ends. Nor did all the unions affiliate with the ULP. But
the success held out hope for the IJLP. Ultimately the increase in
membership of the THC, and of the union business it needed to conduct,
forced it to sever its controlling interest in the ULP. This could have
proved disastrous had it not freed the party at a time when it could
benefit from other forces at work — the Commonwealth, the arrival of
Tom Mann, and the break-up of the old liberalism. Before they were
reached the ULP suffered from two more upheavals: the Boer War and
In the early stages of the Boer War the Victorian Labor
movement split down the middle. Trenwith supported the war, for which Tocsin
described him as “a compromiser, a lickspittle to Liberalism and a
When the THC president reported that he had attended a banquet to mark
the departure of the Victorian troops to the Transvaal he encountered
strong opposition but his action was endorsed by a narrow majority. Tocsin
remained hostile to the war throughout and lent its support to the
Peace and Humanity Society, of which Dr Maloney, a state member of
parliament, was treasurer. Tocsin’s primary objection was that
the war was engineered by Jew capitalists to
replace white labourers with blacks and Chinese.
It was forced on 21 June 1900 to admit that the “… Victorian Labor
Party, with one or two notable exceptions, are intensely Jingoistic,
because the majority of the people favour the war”. Although the Labor
movement as a whole supported the war, the opposition of a minority not
only deepened divisions within the ULP but made the whole ULP suspect
The ULP was no less at odds with itself and the electorate
federation. Demands for a democratic federation had been part of
Labor’s political program from the start but this created little
interest until the preparations for the 1897 convention were under way.
By 1898 Tocsin was completely opposed to the draft constitution
which it scarified as “Fat Oration”. The vote against adoption of the
constitution in Victoria was less than half that which any of the
“Labor parties” had achieved at any election since 1892.
The split in the Liberal Party, by which Allan McLean had
premier late in 1899, gave fresh life to the unity of ULP and Liberal
interests. Addressing an election meeting the ULP candidate for Carlton
South and THC secretary, J.G. Barrett, announced that “as a member of
the Labor Party, the advance wing of the Liberal Party, he would, if
returned, sit in opposition, if Sir George Turner was in opposition …
He, for one, had every confidence in Sir George Turner, who, he
considered, would be the only person who could reunite the Liberal
Trenwith was on the platform when Turner gave his policy speech and the
liberal caucus around Turner endorsed all the metropolitan ULP
candidates. At least sixteen ULP candidates stood, of whom possibly
twelve were successful, which meant no numerical change. One important
change was that ULP members held the balance of power in the Assembly.
There was no attempt to bargain for concessions and all ULP members
attended a caucus called by Turner a week after the elections. Trenwith
was appointed commissioner of public works and minister of railways on
17 November and resigned his leadership of the ULP six days later;
there was no suggestion that he did not have the approval of his
colleagues. Bromley was elected the new leader on 3 December.
There were signs of increased activity by the ULP after the
1900 elections: parliamentarians agreed to donate towards an organising
fund; a few new branches were launched. Important alterations were made
to the ULP, renamed the Political Labour Council (PLC), at a meeting on
23 February 1901. A federal platform was adopted calling for “one
adult, one vote”; constitutional amendments to provide for initiative
and referendum; a White Australia; old age pensions; and protection.
The state platform remained unaffected.
Partly as a consequence of this reorganisation, the preparations for
the federal elections due at the end of March were painfully slow. Only
four of the twenty-four federal seats were contested by the PLC of
which two were won, as was one Senate place.
A conference was called by the PLC for Thursday 26 June 1902
“to devise the best method of organising the Labour vote in Victoria”. Tocsin’s
excitedly jubilant headlines were quite justified as this was the first
truly representative political Labor conference held in Victoria. As an
indication of the PLC’s electoral weakness only eight branches were
represented compared with forty-seven unions. The most important
decision was “that a contribution of sixpence per annum per member be
paid by the unions and branches towards the organising fund of the
PLC”. The AWU was empowered to organise the country electorates and the
PLC agreed to endorse its candidates.
Although this — the fourth political “Labor Party” launched in Victoria
in little over a decade — managed to survive and grow, it was not free
from serious initial problems, not the least of which was the refusal
of some unions to affiliate. As the PLC began to exert its influence,
it ran into the accumulated difficulties of the preceding decade,
particularly the unregulated existence of suburban branches. Having
persisted for so long without central direction, many branches and some
members of parliament were reluctant to be brought into line.
Ted Findley’s victory in the Melbourne seat was the only
surprise in the ULP’s 1900 state election results and the conservatives
were most put out that their financial centre was represented by a
Labor man. Largely in response to a hue-and-cry initiated by the Argus,
Findley was expelled from the Assembly on 25 June 1901 on the charge
that he was responsible for an issue of Tocsin
which had reprinted “libellous” extracts from an attack on Edward VII
in the Irish People. In fact Findley was a mere figurehead; he
apologised for the article and dissociated himself from it. Spence
claimed that Findley’s expulsion was crucial in altering the PLC’s
attitude towards the city Liberals, but this is unlikely, as evidenced
by the statement of the parliamentary leader, Bromley, in the Argus
of 21 November: “I do not think that would turn one vote from our
members against the Government. Mr Irvine was more bitter on that
question than Mr Peacock.” The Findley episode did point towards the
shape of things to come.
A.J. Peacock’s Liberal ministry was defeated on the floor of
the house on 3 June 1902 on the grounds that it had not pushed ahead
vigorously enough with retrenchments and economies. The new government
was led by William Irvine, who made his attitude clear with his claim
that “the regeneration of politics in Victoria may be taken to date
from the time when I brought forward my want-of-confidence motion”,
because up to that time the government had been controlled by the
This exaggerated view of Labor’s importance was the basis of Irvine’s
intention to put Labor back in its place, which was out of politics
Two major legislative measures were before the parliament in
August 1902: reduction in public service salaries and the re-enactment
of the Factories and Shops Act. As part of its general economy drive,
the Reform ministry introduced the Members’ and Public Service
Retrenchment Bill, which was designed to cut all salaries over
When the government was defeated on an amendment, it chose to go to the
people. This had two important consequences: it forged an alliance
between the PLC and the public service; and it meant that the wages
boards and their rulings no longer had legal force. Wages boards had
been introduced in 1896 for a trial period of three years; in 1899 they
were renewed for two years, after which they were to remain in force
until the end of the next session of parliament, which was unexpectedly
cut short while the reenactment legislation was before the Council.
Some thirty-six trades were covered by its provisions and its future
was of vital concern to all unions. Its abeyance during the 1902
election was a considerable spur to union support for the PLC. Labor
made the wages boards and public service salaries the centrepieces of
its campaign. It was this second aspect which was novel since it
brought into direct union with the PLC, workers who had hitherto been
hostile or at best apathetic. Internally the PLC was in almost as great
a state of disorder as ever. An attempt to enforce a fairly loose
pledge succeeded, much to everyone’s surprise. There was a sizeable
improvement in the vote cast for Labor, even allowing for the increase
in the number of candidates. Tocsin claimed eleven “pledged”
members, all from metropolitan seats. However the overwhelming return
of Irvine supporters was the dominant feature of the results. This
presaged a new era in Victorian politics.
The advent of the Commonwealth had four consequences for the
Firstly, because Melbourne was the seat of the national government till
1927, there were a fair number of interstate Labor politicians who
could be used as speakers to carry Labor’s message into new areas.
Secondly, because the Senate was a statewide poll, it became necessary
to extend Labor’s electoral machinery into hitherto unexplored rural
districts. Thirdly, the electoral success of the federal Labor party
within the first decade of the twentieth century provided a source of
confidence to the Victorian branch, which it could never have obtained
by itself. Voters who swung to Labor at the federal level often stayed
to vote Labor in state elections. But the most important result of
federation seemed to offer anything but promise to the future of the
PLC. The consensus of Victorian Liberalism broke under the impact of a
largely one-sided class struggle in the early years of this century.
This is not to say that most of the causes had not been present for
some time. Rather it is to direct attention to the most important
change in Victorian politics, namely, the removal of the protection
issue from the state arena by the creation of the Commonwealth.
Protection had been the basis of the virtual one-party rule in Victoria
from 1883 onwards. Moreover, it had allowed the Deakin-style liberals
to set the stage. When federation removed most of the leading liberals
and their raison dêtre from the state sphere, it became possible
the conservatives to fulfil their long-felt desire for a “cheap
government” campaign. Since the conservative Free Traders could no
longer endanger protection, it simultaneously became possible for the
electorate to support such a campaign to the extent that Victoria had
its most conservative government since self-government.
Initially the conservative upsurge centred on the Kyabram
which expressed rural demands for reform; that is, cheaper and more
efficient government. The mood of austerity was heightened by the
drought, which reached its climax in 1902 when the wheat yield was 1.3
bushels per acre, about a quarter of an average harvest. In these
circumstances rural discontent could be easily mobilised against the
As a result of the 1902 state elections The Age
suggested separate representation for public servants so as to break
their alliance with the PLC. The Constitution Act of 1902 provided for
this, the object being to teach the Labor movement a lesson — perhaps
to the point of its destruction. Thus the rail strike of May 1903 must
be seen as a link in a long causal chain extending back to Kyabram.
Wage cuts and retrenchments had created grave discontent in the
service. In April 1903 Irvine precipitated a confrontation by issuing a
decree that all railway unions must withdraw their affiliation from the
THC or have their executive officers dismissed. Most of the unions
refused and the threat was carried out. The engine drivers struck
immediately. Irvine hurriedly introduced a Coercion Act under which all
strikers were dismissed, losing all pension and retirement rights. The
commissioners had power to re-employ on such terms as they felt
warranted. Three days before the act was passed by the Assembly, the
strikers agreed to return unconditionally. The act proceeded and its
provisions were carried out in full. It was this strike, rather that
the 1890 maritime dispute, which established the organisational
autonomy of Labor in Victoria. It was “Iceberg” Irvine, rather than
“Firelow” Price, who loosened the bonds that had limited Labor’s
independence to an inchoate Liberalism.
Commonwealth political concerns became central in the twelve
months after the rail strike. Tocsin
decided that “the Federal Parliament is the Victorian workers’
political hope” because adult franchise would operate as from the 1903
federal elections. In June 1903 the federal platform and pledge which
had been drawn up at the Commonwealth Labor conference in the preceding
December were adopted “with provision for ensuring the Victorian
members being pledged to the New Protection policy”.
In 1903 four PLC candidates stood for the four Senate vacancies and Ted
Findley was returned. Three of the eleven House of Representatives
seats contested by the PLC were (eventually) won for Labor. Overall
Labor had almost doubled its strength, so that the House of
Representatives was divided evenly into thirds. Late in April 1904
Deakin resigned after his Conciliation and Arbitration Bill had been
amended, and Watson formed a minority ministry from 27 April to 17
August when it too was defeated on a proposal to extend arbitration to
public servants. It was highly significant for the fate of the proposed
Labor-Liberal alliance that Deakin’s supporters should defeat Watson on
an issue so intimately related to the rail strike of recent memory.
Watson’s government stayed in power with the tacit support of a section
of the Liberals for whom the federal Labor party requested electoral
immunity. This presented special difficulties in Victoria, and not
simply because most of the radical Liberals came from there. Partly
because the PLC was anxious to retain its newly acquired independence,
and partly because it was still smarting from the hammer blows of
reaction, which in the main had been supported by the Liberals, there
was strenuous opposition to granting the requested immunity.
If the lib-lab alliance was dead at the state level there was
still life in it at the federal, and elements on both sides set about
reinvigorating it. Within Victoria most of this initiative came from
the Liberal side, since the 1905 PLC conference had unanimously
supported an addition to the state pledge which bound politicians not
to join any alliance or coalition, or other combination, without the
sanction of the organisation to be determined “by a general or special
conference”. The year 1906 saw renewed pressure from the federal Labor
caucus for electoral immunity for the radical Liberals such as Isaacs,
Higgins, Mauger, Hume, Cook and Crouch. With great reluctance the PLC
executive left the final decision to individual branches. The alliance
lingered on until the elevation of Higgins and Isaacs to the bench in
Throughout this dispute the PLC never denied that it had
considered itself part of the old Liberalism but it blamed the
so-called radical Liberals for its break-up. In reply to an attack by The
declared on 26 October 1905 that “with a Seddon at the head of a
progressive Government, it is unlikely that the Labour Party as we now
know it would have come into existence, for the simple reason that it
would not have been required.” Indeed the preface to the 1906 PLC
constitution insists that “the Political Labour Council came into being
about 1902, as a result of the disappearance of genuine Liberalism from
In the middle of these disputes a state election was held in
Victoria. Labor fielded its largest team so far — thirty-nine for the
Assembly, which had recently been reduced from ninety-five to
sixty-eight members. When the new parliament met, Labor held seventeen
seats, which was absolutely and proportionately the best result yet. It
had not only survived the “Reform” onslaught but had emerged
strengthened and secure with a recently tightened pledge. Yet it was
still only halfway to gaining a majority within an electoral system
that was weighted heavily towards rural interests, which did not
provide for adult franchise, but which still retained a form of the
property vote. And if all these could be overcome there remained the
powerful Legislative Council, to which Labor returned its first two
members in 1904. Nor was there any prospect of “giving support for
concessions”; alliances were now out of the question. The realisation
of Labor’s impossible situation in state politics provided the field in
which two otherwise unconnected but important developments occurred —
the rise of John Wren, and the relative success of Tom Mann and the
Victorian Socialist Party (VSP).
Happy indeed would be the historian who could define precisely
the range of John Wren’s influence in Australian politics. Opinion
ranges from those who see him as a dominant figure in three states to
those who dismiss him as being unable to control even the Collingwood
branch of the party. For Victoria before 1920 there are inconclusive
clues that should not be ignored. One Labor member, Robert Solly, told
the Assembly that he knew “Mr Wren to be a man with force of character,
and people admire a man with force of character, although when that
force is used in a certain direction it cannot be admired. Napoleon was
a man with force of character — a man who was determined as far as he
could with his great intellect and ability to have his way in
controlling the world ... I think the same thing applies to John Wren.”
Perhaps the most intriguing item is the £100 which Wren sent in
the PLC to establish a fund for the widow of his “boyhood friend” and
PLC president, Laurie Cohen, who had, although a reputed teetotaller,
fallen to his death from a hotel window in Adelaide only six months
after the fatal robbery at the Trades Hall, of which Cohen was
And why is there such voluble but empty resistance to a call to
nationalise the totalisator at the 1915 PLC conference? No answers have
been found to these questions: only more questions. They are reproduced
so that readers will not neglect the possibility that — if the PLC was
controlled from Tattersalls Club rather than from the Trades Hall —
this account will be entirely irrelevant. No further detailed reference
will be made to Wren, but this silence should not be interpreted as
Indeed, one might reflect on his influence in any discussion of control
of the liquor traffic.
Temperance and prohibition persisted as minor themes
the history of the Labor Party in Victoria well into the 1930s. If
there was general agreement that alcohol was not the cause of poverty,
there was nonetheless widespread support for the view, expressed by Dr
Maloney in the 1899 report of the board on habitual drunkards, that
“when a working man becomes a drunkard he very often, on that account,
loses his employment, and as a drunkard does not save money, he will
either at once, or very soon become destitute”.
This led to an acceptance of temperance as an ideal although total
abstinence found supporters in the THC as a 1905 debate revealed. At
the political level this was expressed as a policy of nationalisation
of the drink traffic by which means the commercial drive to create
drunkards would be removed, and a motion to this effect was carried at
the 1905 PLC conference.
In the following year legislation was introduced to the state
parliament to reduce the number of hotels and to impose a time limit on
compensation payable to hotelkeepers. F.W. Eggleston commented that
“the Labor Party, although a great number of them were total
abstainers, were far more enthusiastic for compensation to hotelkeepers
than for compensation for compulsory purchase under the Closer
Settlement Act; indeed with one or two exceptions, such as Mr Lemmon,
the Labour Party voted with the trade”.
This opposition undoubtedly arose from the fact that most of the hotels
to be closed were in working-class areas and since they were little
more than family affairs the loss of compensation would be a real
hardship both to the families and to the election funds they supported.
A motion at the 1915 PLC conference calling for prohibition was amended
to “the Socialisation of the liquor traffic with a view to
prohibition”. From correspondence to Labor papers and from union and
branch resolutions it is clear that liquor reform was of genuine
concern to the labouring classes. To their parliamentary
representatives it presented an embarrassment but one which could
occasionally be turned to tactical or debating advantage when
prohibition without compensation could be attacked as less moral than
Two days before the 1902 election, Tom Mann, the famous
union leader, arrived in Melbourne. Before the end of the year he had
been appointed organiser for the THC-PLC with a fund of £600,
which was to be his salary.
Throughout 1903 Mann formed branches in country areas where Labor’s
case had never been heard before. His style was superbly captured by a
Labor politician, George Elmslie:
He seems to say to the audience, “You’ve got hearts and
brains; I’m going to reach them”. And reach them he does. What a time
we have … No mincing or smoodging; no toning down; straight out; the
real thing, clear, pointed, and explicit. What! … Surely this is not
socialism? … Authorities are supplied, cheers for the Labor Party and
Tom Mann are heartily given, and those who are favourable to the
formation of a branch are asked to stay behind.
Tom does not sit down — before you know where you are he is
middle of the room explaining the rules of the PLC, and taking names
down … they don’t want you to enrol them. They want to give their names
to Tom. Brother X, sing a Labor song; right; anything; stand on your
head or try to fly, it’s all the same. Let it go: “The March of the
Workers”, “Coming of the Light”. This is another success; another
branch formed, secretary appointed, and night of meeting fixed.
The long-term effectiveness of his organising is open to
Elmslie hinted at this in the conclusion of his report by pointing out
that “if more system be not displayed, the splendid effort of Tom Mann
will end in a fiasco”.
This is a criticism of the PLC’s inability to follow up Mann’s
breakthroughs, rather than a criticism of Mann’s style. While the PLC’s
organisation was extended significantly under Mann’s guidance, several
factors undermined even greater success. Firstly, there was the lack of
follow-up from head office and the refusal of some politicians to join
in the work. Secondly, there was Mann’s own ambivalent attitude to the
task: for about half the time he was under the shadow of his own
resignation. In addition there were his interstate speaking tours and
from 1904 he spent more and more time with the Social Democratic Party.
But Mann’s principal contribution was to that vital but immeasurable
dimension of ideology.
Various socialist political sects existed in Australia before
1920 but none was as important numerically or ideologically as the VSP.
In 1905 Mann organised a social questions committee (SQC) to
investigate unemployment in Melbourne and by October it was so
successful that the metropolitan district council of the PLC expressed
its fear that the SQC might undermine the esprit de corps necessary for
electoral success. At its first half-yearly meeting in March 1906, the
SQC had 758 members and it agreed to change its name to the VSP and to
publish The Socialist, with Mann as editor. The VSP was not
conceived as an electoral opposition to the PLC but as a ginger group
In June 1907 at its peak membership of 1500 the VSP
in moves for the federation of the disparate socialist groups
throughout Australia. The VSP wanted the new organisation to continue
working within the Labor parties but this move was defeated. As this
controversy raged within the VSP its membership declined. Two VSP
candidates were endorsed for the 1908 state elections, polling 167
votes between them. By 1909 membership had fallen to 430 and
acquiescence to the hard line against the PLC was losing support even
amongst the remaining membership. Because most of its membership
remained active in the wider stream of the labour movement it was able
to exert an ideological influence on the Labor Party.
Mann preached a two-pronged message — socialism and
internationalism — and for each his achievement is ambiguous, although
socialism found a readier audience. At the 1905 federal Labor
conference the Victorian delegation urged a thoroughgoing socialist
objective, and one delegate, Harry Scott Bennett, a state Labor member
and associate of Mann’s, opposed the racial purity clause on strictly
internationalist grounds. Mann concentrated his internationalist
propaganda to breaking down xenophobia towards other Europeans. On
altering attitudes towards non-Europeans there was little success, and
the PLC’s attitude was perfectly expressed in a Tocsin
editorial, 4 October 1906: “We do not object to a man because his
complexion or the cast of his eyes differs from our own, but because
his complexion and the cast of his eyes are inseparably connected in
our experience with certain qualities of mind to which we do most
emphatically object.” An article, “The Slant-Eyed Idolator”, in Labor
21 July 1910, argued that “if the Chinaman is going to be suppressed
and repressed in the Commonwealth, he must be registered and numbered,
even if he has to carry a brass plate or collar. To walk in some
streets of Melbourne now would make one fancy he was in Canton so
plentiful is the Chinaman, and the rising mongrel between him and the
white woman.” Racism was to reveal its significance more fully in the
conscription debates of the First World War.
Once established the PLC settled down to a decade of
uninterrupted dullness, which achieved its finest moment in 1913 with
the formation of a pre-Christmas Labor ministry. Thus the
organisational aspects became dominant, as they will in this account.
Comment will be made on the central organisation, the branches,
relations with unions, Labor papers, and women’s organisations. While
none of these are totally new developments in themselves, their
combination around a pledged parliamentary party meant that they were
very often qualitatively different from their antecedents.
A full-time secretary was not appointed until the middle of
1907, when P.J. Heagney received £156 annually, which was far
satisfactory; Heagney subsidised his income by contributing anonymous
Labor news to the Argus. When this was discovered in August
1909, the executive passed what amounted to a motion of censure and in
December Chas Gray took over as acting secretary, while Heagney
tendered his resignation on grounds of “illness”. By implication a
report to the 1910 conference was extremely critical of Heagney’s
entire stewardship, for it considered “it absolutely necessary that in
future, copies of all outward correspondence should be kept; all
correspondence received should be properly filed for the information of
the Central Executive and future reference”.
These failings were partly the result of Heagney having to do all the
office work himself until the second half of 1909 when he gained some
part-time assistance. Having been re-elected at the 1910 conference,
Heagney shortly afterwards again resigned and was finally replaced by
Arch Stewart from the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) in Ballarat.
The ordinary conference in 1910 had instructed the executive
revise the party’s constitution before its next publication by omitting
redundant matters and by a more convenient arrangement of the items. At
the same time it was agreed that the executive should “draw up a scheme
to give all leagues and unions affiliated, fair representation at
Conferences, such scheme to be submitted to all unions and leagues for
consideration before next Conference”.
Despite and because of the variety of suggestions and interests
involved a similar motion was carried at the 1912 conference, which did
manage to adopt a new plan for organisation. It was not until 1915 that
the upper limit on four delegates from any one organisation was lifted,
so that henceforth every thousand members in excess of the first
thousand entitled a branch or union to an additional representative.
The AWU was the prime beneficiary under this scheme, its conference
delegation in 1916 increasing to ten.
After the resignation of Tom Mann as organiser late in 1904,
the PLC’s country work suffered a severe decline, which the continuous
rearrangement of party structures did nothing to reverse. Financially
matters were also precarious and “Labour Tea” was sold for 1d a pound
royalty. Sporadic meetings were held in country centres, but by May
1905 the PLC executive was forced to admit that its organising attempts
were neither widespread nor effective. Some of this was due to
intimidation by rural employers and the Property Owners’ Association.
One stalwart advised the executive that he had “received the parcel of
Labor leaflets on Thursday. I was discharged on Friday, and, therefore
have plenty of time to distribute them.”
In its report to the 1907 conference the PLC executive noted that
“generally speaking, the Labor forces during the past year have been
and still are, in a state of disorganisation”.
In the final quarter of the year the organisation sub-committee
reported a desperate situation with no money to employ an organiser and
little or no interest in election meetings anywhere. This malaise was
partly due to the growing independence of Mann’s Socialist Party.
From this languishing state the AWU, whose Victorian segment
had only recently been restored to life, delivered them when it
affiliated in 1905. The way forward was cleared in 1907 when facsimile
voting slips in The Worker were accepted by the PLC for state
and federal preselection ballots. Having thus secured its influence
over future candidates, the AWU extended its interests to the branches
and in April 1908 generously appointed J.H. Scullin as its political
organiser to work with the PLC. Scullin’s efforts were concentrated in
the country electorates such as Corangamite, which he successfully
contested in 1910. Within a year of his appointment twelve country
branches had been revived and thirty-nine new ones formed, compared
with four in the metropolitan area. The PLC directory published in Labor
registered an increase from ninety-eight branches on 23 April 1908 to
186 on 9 June 1910. In less than three years the AWU had secured
control of the two full-time positions of organiser and secretary, had
been instrumental in forming almost half of the PLC branches, and could
influence the selection of candidates for public office and party
conferences through the facsimile voting procedure.
Relations with other unions were not always so close. In June
1907 the PLC executive reported that of twenty-five unions recently
approached for affiliation only two had agreed. But in 1908 and 1909
there was an absolute increase of almost 4000 affiliated unionists each
year. Despite this general improvement there were still thirty-seven
unions unaffiliated at the end of 1910. Disputes arose between
competing unions, and the THC persisted with its demand that only
unions affiliated with it be granted affiliation with the PLC.
By the 1911 conference at least one long-standing gap was overcome with
the affiliation of a significant section of the miners. The public
service and railway unions, although sympathetic, were prevented by law
Increased union affiliation was certainly helpful to the
of the PLC, but of even greater importance was the nature of unionism
after 1905. Instead of being dependent on a small coterie of
Melbourne-based trades, it now had access to and derived benefit from
the organisation of unskilled and non-metropolitan workers.
Unionisation also assisted in creating the climate of opinion in which
rural workers were prepared to vote Labor.
Labor papers in Victoria in the 1890s came and went with even
greater ease than did Labor parties. Commonweal was the
official PPL weekly from 1891 to 1893, while the Shearers and
General Labourers’ Record and later The Worker were
Shearers’ Union papers that gave some support. In addition there were
Henry Hyde Champion’s Champion from 1895 to 1897, and Boomerang
for a few weeks in 1894.
It was not until the appearance of Tocsin on 2 October
1897 that Victoria saw the beginnings of a continuous Labor paper. Tocsin
did not commence as an official publication but as the brainchild of
three public servants, especially the poet Bernard O’Dowd; the
technical side was handled by the political aspirants, George
Prendergast and Ted Findley. From the start there were some very
doubtful financial dealings and the paper was never very successful,
requiring constant subsidies from J.P. Jones, a sympathetic tailor. In
a letter dated 12 May 1899 the lawyer, Marshall Lyle, advised Jones to
sever all connections with the Tocsin company, which he alleged
was “open to grave charges of mismanagement” and “sweating”.
Jones, however, maintained his support and Tocsin
lived from crisis to crisis until it was adopted as the official organ
of the PLC on 4 July 1904. On 9 June 1905 the THC dismissed a series of
allegations concerning the paper’s management, but this was a mere
prelude to the stormy scenes at the two annual general meetings in the
following October when the attendance of the police was requested.
If these internal ructions were insufficient to undermine the
paper’s strength, it was being challenged by other contenders. As well
as the VSP’s Socialist, there were three schemes under way to
launch a Labor daily, which meant very little if any new capital was
available for Tocsin. Tocsin
itself had initiated the demand for a Labor daily in an editorial (11
June 1903) immediately after the rail strike. This general proposition
gained support and by October there were plans for a Daily People,
a National Independent supported by Trenwith, and Progress
as the proposed organ of the THC-PLC. An amalgamation was arranged into
National Progress, whose directors included Senator Trenwith as
chairman, Robert Solly, a state member, and representatives from the
PLC and the THC. Despite this backing, it proved almost impossible to
sell shares in the company. More than 2000 people attended a rally in
support of the new paper but only eighty shares were sold; by the end
of June 1905 a mere £650 worth of shares had been sold and
resigned from the board. Worse still, it was costing as much to run the
board as was being collected in shares, and so on 3 July a new policy
of “rigid economy” and “increased activity” was adopted. By February
1906 the board was left with almost £800 and decided to negotiate
the purchase of Tocsin, which was eventually achieved, so that Labor
commenced on 2 November 1906. Although the new paper was more soundly
conducted, the PLC was as far from publishing a daily as it had been
three years earlier, despite a tremendous expenditure of effort and
This failure did not end hopes of starting a Labor daily. Once
again it was the AWU whose resources offered a solution to a
long-standing organisational problem. After hearing an address from
W.G. Spence, the 1910 PLC conference pledged its support for a paper to
which the AWU promised £70,000 if the rest of the Victorian Labor
movement could raise £30,000. By April 1911 the THC had agreed to
contribute £25,000. Spence reported progress to the 1912 PLC
conference: an eight-storey building was under construction in Sydney
and it was expected to have the New South Wales edition out before the
1913 federal elections; once this was well established it would expand
into other states. War interrupted these plans, but the demand for a
Labor daily naturally intensified during the conscription campaigns.
After a THC sub-committee investigated the question for almost a year,
it was decided that nothing could be done while wartime shortages and
To some extent the plans for a metropolitan daily were
justified in Ballarat, where a weekly Labor Vanguard
had appeared in connection with the 1910 federal elections. In 1912 AWU
officials were engaged in a “hurry-up scheme” to obtain an extra 10,000
subscriptions in three months for the Evening Echo, which came
under their control and then under the editorship of Scullin in 1913.
played an important role in the conscription campaign when special
editions were brought to Melbourne, where they sold very well. By May
1918, however, Scullin was appealing to the THC for financial
assistance. Labor Call may not have been the best paper in
Australia but it did appear every week for almost half a century, which
gave it certain advantages over the illusory Victorian Labor daily.
The growing radicalism of the twentieth century spawned a
range of sectional journals including Ross’s Monthly, Industrial
Solidarity, Labour Light, Proletarian, OBU,
and the One Big Union Herald.
While they inevitably added to the store of socialist ideas, none
appears to have had an identifiably individual influence in the Labor
movement at large.
From 1903 women were permitted to vote in federal elections,
but they were not enfranchised for Victorian elections until 1909. The
first Labor platform in 1891 called merely for “manhood suffrage”, but
from 1894 all subsequent Labor parties advocated “adult suffrage”, and Tocsin,
under O’Dowd’s influence, was particularly sympathetic to the cause
while Dr Maloney persisted with the fight in the Assembly. However in
1903 the PLC came into conflict with the major movement for women’s
rights — the Women’s (Federal) Political Association led by Vida
who unsuccessfully contested the 1903 Senate elections as a feminist
independent. Goldstein was a social reformer and agreed with the Labor
Party on all issues but refused to sign its pledge, which she pointed
out was honoured more in the breach than in the observance. Non-Labor
women organised the Australian Women’s National League, which quickly
constituted the backbone of the conservative political machine in the
Melbourne area. A women’s committee of the PLC was formed in August
1903 to organise the vote for the forthcoming federal elections, after
which the committee declined severely. Attempts were made to reform it
every year thereafter, but it had a fitful and largely social life
until June 1909 when a Labor women’s political convention met with
thirty-three delegates from electorates and thirteen from unions. Up
till this convention the PLC women’s committee had consisted of a
majority of men who organised women into fundraising activities at
which they were very successful: nearly £350 was raised at a fair
March 1909, thereby doubling the PLC’s income for the year.
After the resignation of Tom Mann as organiser, Miss Lillian
Locke was employed on a temporary basis in 1905, and in the following
year Miss Powell was taken on as a recruiting agent. Demands for a
full-time “lady organiser” were fulfilled in April 1909 when the THC
agreed to employ one at £156 a year; this was half the salary
been paid to Mann six years earlier and £50 less than the amount
originally proposed by the PLC. Lower wages seemed to have been at the
heart of the PLC’s desire for “lady organisers”. It was in this frame
of mind that the 1906 PLC conference unsuccessfully invited the
Countess of Warwick to campaign in the 1906 Federal elections in order
to attract the women’s vote on the grounds that a titled “lady
organiser” would make a great impression.
While women could join their local PLC and there exercise the
same formal rights as men, they were also able to form separate women’s
committees, which were used to convene a PLC front, known as the
women’s convention, every two years. The local electorate committees
were very much organisational bodies, while the conventions were
sounding boards for Labor policies and discontents and lacked any
genuine power to alter the party ideologically. Moves to remedy this
were made at the 1912 women’s convention and came before the next PLC
conference in 1914 in the form of a motion to “provide for the creation
of a permanent Council of Women, consisting of delegates to be elected
annually by the electorate women’s organising committee …” Speakers in
support concentrated on the electoral advantages to be gained while
those in opposition stressed the unity of Labor’s struggle and
deprecated any division on sex lines. After a debate extending over two
days the proposal was defeated by sixty-eight votes to sixty-seven; at
the 1915 conference the vote against was eighty-eight to forty-nine. By
the 1917 conference this had changed into a ninety-six to fifty-three
majority in favour of a “Central Council of Women, composed of PLC
members and affiliated unionists … whose function shall be to propagate
the principles of the Labor Party’s platform and organisation, and to
assist in the better education of women, socially, industrially and
politically”. At least one woman spoke against on the grounds that it
was implicit discrimination.
This change in attitude was due in part to the decidedly
political role undertaken by women in the antiwar and anti-conscription
campaigns. As early as September 1915 the women’s convention entered
“an emphatic protest against the present methods of enforced recruiting
— namely by starvation. Further, that all the delegates pledge
themselves to work, speak and write against conscription in any form,
and desire a definite statement from the Prime Minister as to his
attitude on the matter.”
Women such as Adela Pankhurst, Mrs Baines, and Miss Suter were
arrested, and the first of these gaoled, in the anti-conscription
battles that followed and there was a widespread belief in the Labor
movement that conscription had been defeated by women to whom
propaganda such as the “Blood Vote” verses had made direct appeal.
Certainly the conscription fights presented Labor women as political
beings and not mere brewers of tea and carters of cakes, since “the
history of working-class women only begins in revolutionary periods.
For it is only in times of great social upheaval that the proletarian
woman, the lowest of the low, is buoyed up on the radical upsurge to
become visible to the historian.”
Unfortunately this liberation was not fulfilled or complete, and women
were never entirely freed from their fundraising “social” activities:
in 1918-19 the women’s central organising committee raised more than
£1000, which it dutifully handed over to the central executive.
As a parliamentary party the PLC’s entire efforts at
organisation and its policy arguments were all intended to improve its
electoral achievements. Comment upon these will now be made at the
federal, municipal and state level. Partly because the federal
parliament was in Melbourne, but largely because of the impossible
electoral and constitutional system in Victoria, the PLC’s attention
was directed towards federal elections. While its share of the Senate
vote climbed steadily from 13 per cent in 1901 to 33 per cent in 1906,
its seats in the House of Representatives rose from two to four. This
was not due to lack of preparation as some electorates had organised
their campaign committees as much as eighteen months before the polls
on 12 December 1906. Nor was foresight lacking at the centre, since
Senate preselection results were announced at the end of March 1906.
Some electorates were either less prepared or the selection process
produced severe disruptions as in Batman and in Melbourne Ports, where
the sitting member, Rev J.B. Ronald, was defeated five to one in a
preselection ballot. The nomination of two farmers and a stock agent
for the Wannon preselection indicated in Tocsin’s words “that
the men on the land are taking an active and leading part in the Labour
Movement”. There was, if anything, an embarrassment of contenders;
“some of them decline to join the organisation or sign the pledge” and
were thus rejected outright. A decade earlier they would have been
welcomed with open arms. Money was still scarce, and the PLC conducted
a self-denial fund of 5s squares at 3d a section. However it was
necessary for the redoubtable J.P. Jones to advance £75 for the
deposits of three candidates.
The improved condition of the PLC’s organisation was evident
the 1910 federal campaign, when a majority of the candidates were
selected at least ten months before polling day, 13 April, and the PLC
showed itself to be a vote-getting machine of hitherto undreamed-of
proportions. Three PLC senators were elected, and the Senate vote,
which is the best indicator of the party’s overall standing, increased
by a half to reach 48 per cent; it improved slightly in 1913, but
reached an all-time peak in 1914, when it rose to 53 per cent. In the
House of Representatives PLC candidates won eleven of the twenty-two
seats in 1910; nine of twenty-one seats in 1913; and twelve out of
twenty-one in 1914. These performances show that Victorians are not
Long before 1890 labouring men stood for municipal elections
with occasional success but they were independents in every sense; it
was not until the 1890s that Labor candidates stood as teams, and it
was not until 1901 that the first Victorian Labor mayor was elected. If
caucus alignments were insecure in the Legislative Assembly, they were
often non-existent in council meetings, and there was some difficulty
enforcing the pledge after 1902. PLC interest in municipal affairs
intensified because control of a council meant an opportunity to
enforce minimum wages and other ameliorative portions of the party’s
platform, which were important because the immediate condition of the
labouring classes was determined by the administration of local affairs
as much as by the decisions of parliament. Control of a council also
meant the prospect of relief works for the unemployed, and, less
wholesomely, it led to jobs for the boys. Municipal politics attracted
what a Labor parliamentarian later described as “the diversified type
of Labourer adventurers … the conduct and the motives of whom are to
say the least very questionable”.
Having survived so well the Tory onslaught of 1904, the state
parliamentary Labor Party remained a compact and stolid faction of the
Assembly for the next twenty years. Something of its tone can be gauged
from George Elmslie’s advice to the Glenelg electors in 1906 to vote
for the PLC candidate “if they could, but in any case to be sure and
record a vote”.
When Prendergast led the party to the polls in April 1907, there was a
net loss of two seats under what the executive’s report to the next
conference described as “unusually adverse” circumstances: “Thousands
of Labor voters were disfranchised by the sudden act of the Government
in rushing the elections. Candidates had not sufficient time to place
their views before the electors, or to organise their supporters.”
The editorial of the Australian Typographical Journal
for January 1907 had a different explanation of the PLC’s malaise and
listed sectarianism, Wren, brewers, and cliques as the root causes.
Certainly the new gaming and liquor laws had inflamed sectarian
passions once more, but three non-metropolitan seats were lost because
the government and opposition parties had arranged electoral immunity
for each other so that Labor could not benefit from three-way contests.
After a ministerial crisis had brought down the Bent
government, elections were held on 29 December 1908 under what were
indeed “unusual” circumstances. Labor’s vote remained steady at 35 per
cent, but to their great amazement their share of the seats increased
by a third, to twenty-one. Some of these wins resulted from the
reappearance of three-way contests. A.R. Outtrim, who had been a member
of the Assembly since 1884, adhered to Labor for the first time;
Scullin’s organising was also beginning to show results and the western
district seat of Port Fairy was won; deposits for improvident
candidates were provided as usua1 by J.P. Jones. Labor’s unexpected
success at such short notice, combined with the far better results in
the federal elections in 1910, to make the loss of one seat at the 1911
state poll a bitter blow.
Within two years, however, the party was to have office
somewhat casually dropped upon it. During a debate on a bill to
redistribute electorates the government of W.A. Watt was defeated by
the defection of a conservative faction of its supporters. Watt
resigned, and on 7 December 1913 George Alexander Elmslie was
commissioned to form a ministry, which he did after a ballot of his
supporters. It was then that what could have been a melodrama was
turned into a low farce. Newly elevated salaried ministers were still
obliged to resign their seats in Victoria and face the will of their
electorates. Thus six of the Legislative Assembly members of the Labor
cabinet were not on the floor of the Assembly when parliament
reassembled on 9 December; their government, however, faced a
want-of-confidence motion. With a third of his supporters and all the
best debaters temporarily relegated to the gallery, the unfortunate
Elinslie saw his government defeated on 16 December without as much as
being able to say a word in its defence. The lieutenant governor
refused Elmslie a dissolution, and Watt was recommissioned on 22
December 1913. Elmslie had been nominal premier for less than two
weeks. This period in office left an indelible stamp on the minds of
all members of caucus, as their parliamentary tactics throughout the
next sixteen years were designed to recreate the events of 3-4 December
1913. They never realised who had done what, with which, and to whom.
When compared with the near chaos that marked Victorian labor
politics in the 1890s, the key achievements of the PLC were stability
and order, so that by 1914 no one doubted that a Labor Party was a
viable and independent part of the state’s political make-up.
Organisationally the PLC was free from total dependence on the unions
for survival, although its expansion was contingent on AWU patronage.
In state politics it offered little and received less; in the federal
sphere it had been initially the recipient but repaid the federal
party’s investment with compound interest. While there were areas of
dispute around John Wren, sectarianism, and the Socialist Party, the
future appeared to hold nothing but further success.
As the 1914 state elections approached, the question of
education was placed increasingly before the PLC, which had added
“secular” to its education plank in 1908. The Catholic challenge took
organisational form in the Australian Catholic Federation, which first
approached the government and then the Labor Party without success;
next it decided to run candidates of its own, but with even less
result. The PLC moved decisively and declared the federation to be a
proscribed organisation under rule 38(g). In the face of its failure to
succeed independently the federation set about capturing control of the
PLC from within. However, this policy had no time to succeed by the
1915 PLC conference, where rule 38(g) was strengthened by a vote of 98
to 48. A proposal to define “secular” as meaning “secular instruction
given in state or registered schools” was crushed by 137 votes to 18.
Bishops Carr and Mannix warned that they would organise a
Catholic Labor party, but on 1 September a Catholic Workers’
Association was inaugurated by Catholic members of the PLC and
industrial unions. Its declared policy was to secure state aid for
Catholic education and to work “through the PLC to improve the social
and industrial conditions of the workers”.
This meant that it was outside the provision of rule 38(g) although
group action by PLC members was quickly but ineffectively proscribed by
the central executive. In the early months of 1916 Labor Call
was full of arguments and news items about secular education and
Catholic penetration of PLC branches. When the conference met on 21
April 1916, rule 38(g) was rendered inoperative by a vote of 124 to 30,
and the extension of all benefits enjoyed by state school children to
children attending registered schools was supported. As Victoria’s
Catholics exerted their influence at the PLC conference, the Easter
rebellion raged in Dublin. The significance of the Catholic penetration
can be fully appreciated only by asking “what would have been the fate
of conscription in the Labor movement if Mannix had carried out his
threat to establish a separate Catholic labour party?”
Opposition to the growth of militarism in the Australian Labor
movement in the pre-war years was most pronounced in Victoria, largely
as a result of the influence of Tom Mann’s VSP, but there remained
general support for a citizen volunteer army. The adoption of
compulsory military training by the 1908 interstate Labor conference
unleashed such great opposition that it was decided to hold a special
conference to disavow this policy. Shortly afterwards the THC voted
against conscription while the AWU expressed its support. Less than a
fortnight before the special conference was due to meet, Andrew Fisher
formed his first government and there was reluctance to rock the boat.
When the conference assembled, the president’s ruling that it had power
to alter the federal platform was disagreed with by forty-three votes
Anti-militarist attacks persisted and were often directed against the
Fisher government, especially at Senator George Pearce, who was
described by Labor Call as “A Military Czar of Tom Thumb
dimensions”. Well before 1914 the Victorian Labor movement possessed a
significant and vocal anti-militarist minority, which was to become the
core of the anti-conscriptionist movement in Ausiralia.
The division of Labor opinion was apparent in August 1914. Two
days after war was declared, Labor Call
warned that it was all a capitalist plot to defeat Labor at the
elections, and the Sandringham PLC passed a general strike resolution
to end the war. Late in August the THC affiliated with the Victorian
Peace Alliance. However, these moves were marginal to the true temper
of the time, which can be judged from the cancellation of many union
meetings because members were engaged in “patriotic outbursts”, and
from the jingoistic programs of the People’s Concerts conducted at the
Temperance Hall in conjunction with the THC. Pro-war attitudes among
Victorian Laborites persisted well into 1916, including enthusiasm for
the “heroic deeds” performed at the Dardenelles.
In the second half of 1915 there were indications that
of the Victorian Labor movement were less happy with the continuance of
the war: the THC passed a resolution calling for a statement of the
terms for a negotiated settlement, while the PLC suggested an
international conference of workers to settle disputes by arbitration.
Opposition to a conservative call for conscription was far more
Growing disenchantment with the war did not proceed in
isolation but was tied to opposition to the Labor government’s general
policy. Senator Pearce, defence minister, was the first to be attacked
for his failure, and later for his apparent refusal, to enforce
preference for unionists in Defence Department work. No less severe
were the attacks on Hughes, who later in 1915 was described as a
“bosses” representative when pre-conscription criticism of the Labor
government reached its peak with the dropping of the powers referendum
in November 1915;
this was taken as final proof that Hughes had no intention of curbing
prices and profits, or of ending unemployment. It was a particularly
bitter blow to the Railway Union and to its secretary, Frank Hyett, who
had been banking on the extension of Commonwealth powers to escape from
the continuing consequences of the 1903 strike. Right from the very
start of the war the Victorian Labor movement was deeply involved in
the fight against censorship; when in June 1915 Frank Anstey resigned
from the federal parliamentary Labor Party over the War Precautions
Act, his stand was supported by the THC. A Labor split had begun.
Hughes certainly did nothing to bind up the wounds. Early in
1916 he referred to his Labor opponents as “devils in swine” which led
at least one PLC branch to declare unanimously that he was no longer a
Labor man. Shortly afterwards the PLC executive called on the cabinet
to resign and for caucus to elect a new ministry. A motion to support
this resolution was defeated at the THC by fifty-one votes to thirty.
However, attitudes hardened after the military raided the THC on 29
July and seized anti-conscription pamphlets. Even without conscription
it was highly unlikely that the Labor Party could have remained
formally united for very much longer. Certainly the dissatisfaction up
to August 1916 would not by itself have caused the split — nor would it
have caused Hughes to be the loser. But the continuance of the war
would have inexorably exacerbated the causes of discontent to the point
of open division. To this extent conscription was contingent to a Labor
If Melbourne was the ideological heart of the
movement, so too was it the organisational centre simply because the
federal parliament was located there: the Australian Political Labor
Executive at its first meeting in June 1915 appointed as its secretary
Arch Stewart, who was also secretary of the PLC; in 1916 the secretary
of the all-Australian trade union conference (E.J. Holloway) and of its
anti-conscription committee (John Curtin) were also Melbourne-based.
Concern at the possible introduction of conscription started
earnest around the middle of 1915: an Anti-Militarist and
Anti-Conscription League was formed in Melbourne in July, while the No
Conscription Fellowship held its first meeting on 4 October. Many THC
delegates were reluctant to act as long as conscription remained no
more than a possibility. However, as discontent with the government
over economic matters intensified and as Hughes prepared to go
overseas, the anticonscriptionists in Victoria became more active.
Robert Ross organised a United Peace and Free Speech Committee in
January 1916 and the Militant Propagandists began work in PLC branches
Progress was made at the THC meeting on 2 March when Frank
Hyett, Railways Union secretary, initiated moves for a congress of all
affiliated unions in Australia to discuss conscription for overseas
service. A further breakthrough came four weeks later when Hyett moved
for the appointment of “a propaganda committee to bring the matter of
conscription and the forthcoming congress before the Australian Trades
Unions”. The congress, which met in Melbourne on 11 and 12 May 1916
recorded “its uncompromising hostility to conscription of life and
labour” by a card vote of 258,018 to 753; on 6 July the THC agreed to
its secretary, Holloway, taking on the job of secretary of the
no-conscription campaign, but pressure of work demanded his almost
immediate replacement by John Curtin. Rank-and-file opposition to the
war as such remained ambivalent to say the least; when a meeting of
Melbourne’s printers voted narrowly against conscription in April 1916,
“the defeated group began singing the National Anthem, which was then
taken up as heartily by the other side”. In October a ballot of
printers voted 570 to 439 in favour of donating £50 to the PLC
anti-conscription campaign; almost a third of those eligible failed to
express an opinion.
When Hughes announced his support for conscription at the end of
August, the THC stepped up its activities and resolved that unions
should make as many of their officials as possible free for the
campaign. The national executive of the trades union conference called
a 24-hour stop-work for 4 October against Hughes’s proclamation calling
up single men for service within Australia. In November THC approval
was given to establish machinery that could proceed to a general strike
if the proclamation was not withdrawn.
Voting in Victoria favoured conscription by a margin of 25,000
but it was defeated overall. The executive of the trade union
anti-conscription congress handed its responsibility to a committee of
six, to be appointed from the THC and the PLC, with a reminder from
Hyett that conscription was still possible and that to disband
completely would be premature, if not disastrous. Much of the drive and
most of the finance for the anti campaign in Victoria had come from the
THC, with Hyett playing a conspicuous part. Hyett had been
assistant-secretary of Mann’s VSP and had something of Mann’s charisma
among other unionists: he was young, effective, personable and a
Sheffield Shield cricketer. No doubt the THC would have opposed
conscription if he had not been there; but whether its opposition would
have been as much, as soon, or as effective is less certain. Hyett’s
influence on the anti-conscription campaign was but part of the residue
of the internationalism that Mann had sponsored in the Victorian labour
Defeat for conscription should not be seen as the triumph of a
popular internationalism. Indeed xenophobic responses to Asia were at
the centre of most anti-conscription arguments; the largest banner at
the women’s anti-conscription rally in Melbourne on 21 October 1916
read “Vote NO and Keep Australia WHITE and FREE”. The Japanese assumed
the position of dominant threat after the war against Russia, when Tocsin
on 18 February 1904 claimed that “no white Australian can legitimately
back up a semi-nigger against a European race”. Once the Great War
began in 1914, fear of Japan intensified: “Japan has joined in the
general slaughter … Before many years this same power will dominate the
Pacific, and then good-bye to White Australia”;
or, as Frank Anstey would have it; “Between the Jap and the Jew —
shoddy and shentage — Australia and the Australian worker in particular
is going to have a hot hell of a time.”
With an immediate threat of conscription Japan loomed even larger.
Anstey published an open letter to John Earle (ex-premier of Tasmania)
in reply to Hughes’s denial that he (Hughes) had negotiated with the
Japanese ambassador in London. Anstey threatened to make public the
content of Hughes’s report to caucus — a report which, according to a
New South Wales Labor member, would make every man and woman in
Australia vote no. Throughout 1916-17 Labor Call regularly ran
articles with titles such as “The Mighty Japanese”, “The Rising Sun”,
and “The Japanese Empire Bids for a New Continent”, which coloured a
grotesque charade on 21 June 1917 when representatives of the THC, the
PLC, the Australian Catholic Federation, and the Rubber Workers’ Union
urged the Victorian premier to prohibit the manufacture and sale of
contraceptives on the grounds that Australia had to populate or perish.
Neither the state parliamentary leader, Elmslie, nor
leading federal Labor politician, Tudor, was a militant
anti-conscriptionist. In September 1916 Elmslie resigned as leader
because of a “nervous breakdown” but was granted “leave of absence”
instead. Tudor had grown firmer in his opposition by the time the
referendum was announced and he played an active part whenever he could
get away from the recruiting platform. Senator E.I. Russell was the
only one of Victoria’s seventeen federal Labor members to go with
Hughes. Of the twenty-two state Labor members only three were expelled
— the first on 26 September, that is, over a month before the
referendum. PLC eagerness to deal with the conscriptionists is well
expressed in Labor Call’s comment early in October that only “a
split can save the Labor Party”. While the THC fought Hughes on the
hustings, the PLC worked against him within the party machinery, and on
4 November 1916 its central executive called for a special interstate
Labor conference to expel the conscriptionists. At this special
conference in Melbourne on 4 December the expulsion resolution was
moved by two Victorians, Scullin and Stewart.
Preparations against conscription persisted throughout the
first half of 1917, so that on 7 June the THC set aside its meeting
night for a discussion with representatives of the Trades Councils of
Ballarat, Bendigo, and Geelong, the Railways Union, and the Mining
Employees’ Association, from which a call was made for an interstate
conference of state Trades and Labour Councils (TLCs) with power to act
in the manner deemed most effective against the introduction of
industrial conscription: a general strike was never far from the minds
of Victoria’s industrial militants at this time.
The effect of the split on the organisation of the PLC can be
seen from Table 1: The decline between October 1914 and October 1915
can be attributed to the inevitable dropping away after the major
election drives of 1913 and 1914; the increase between December 1916
and April 1917 is to be explained by the renewed activity in
preparation for the federal election of 5 May 1917.
Table 1. Number of Branches Listed in Labor Call
| Federal electorate
|| October 8, 1914
|| October 7, 1915
|| December 14, 1916
|| April 26, 1917
The 1917 federal and state elections were far from disastrous
the PLC. It lost five of its twelve House of Representatives seats but
this still enabled it to constitute one-third of the federal caucus. At
the state level the three seats of expelled conscriptionists were lost
but the party managed to win eighteen others. PLC supporters were even
more cheered late in December 1917 when Victoria swung against
conscription at the second referendum. For a party unaccustomed to
success this was no mere consolation prize.
Total war ruptured Australian society and resulted in the
expansion and deepening of its proletarian segment. This was not simply
a matter of imported ideas or statements by leaders but can be
discerned at the branch level: Yarraville PLC early in 1916 agreed to
co-operate with the Footscray Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)
club; at its December 1918 meeting the Brighton Australian Labor party
(ALP) unanimously protested at the prohibition of the red flag and at
the imprisonment of those who had flown it; in 1919 the North Fitzroy
carried resolutions supporting the flying of the red flag at the THC,
the One Big Union (OBU), and calling for the release of political
prisoners. W.A. Holman exaggerated somewhat when in late 1916 he
described the Victorian Labor party as being “in a most unfortunate
position, having apparently, succumbed almost unanimously to the
pressure brought to bear by the workers”, but he had rightly sensed the
nature of the future developments. Examination of the scheme to fly a
red flag over the THC building; of attitudes towards the war; of the
response to the Russian Revolution; of the adoption of a socialist
objective; of the establishment of the Labor College and of the attack
upon racism will demonstrate the contours of this leftward trend.
Flying the red flag over the Melbourne Trades Hall was no
quixotic gesture but a political act in the finest traditions of
propaganda by deed. The debate commenced in May 1916 when it was moved
that “as the Labor Movement is (and must be) international, some
non-national emblem ought to be recognised and exhibited as a symbol of
that spirit”. The debate intensified, as did the wrath of the
bourgeoisie, until a special THC meeting on 12 September 1918 decided
that “the red flag be declared to be the flag and the colour the colour
of the Labor Movement, and that the flag be flown upon days to honour
any Labor event, and every other day determined upon by the Executive
of the THC”. Throughout these months a continuous debate ensued in the
Labor press, at union and at branch meetings where the issue was argued
out in terms of socialism, the war and internationalism including
support for Soviet Russia. The demand for their own flag indicated a
growing awareness by a section of the workers that they were a class
and that the Australian flag was the symbol of their oppressors.
Opposition to the war remained the central political issue as
opinion hardened after the conscription split. On 18 January 1917 the
THC resolved to “begin a peace campaign by holding public meetings, at
which the people might be shown how their interests will be better
served and their aspirations more thoroughly attained by a settlement
of this war through negotiation … and that the Executive of the PLC be
invited to co-operate”. On 26 July the THC called upon the PLC
executive to request all Labor politicians “to refuse to assist in
recruiting” and both wings of the Victorian Labor movement recommended
a “yes” vote in the federal ALP ballot to determine whether the party
should discontinue supporting voluntary recruiting. Nor was the
parliamentary section silent, and on 6 August 1918 Prendergast, who had
regained the leadership on Elmslie’s death three months previously,
moved an amendment, calling for “immediate negotiations” to arrange
“equitable terms of peace”, to the premier’s resolution which demanded
“inflexible determination to continue” the war “to a victorious end”.
Prendergast ended a forceful speech by declaring that “this is not a
time to have any braggadocio in connection with the war, but a time to
try to get conditions of peace for the future, so that Democracies may
grow up irrespective of juntas and jingoes on one side, and profiteers
and price-raisers on the other.” The war made it impossible to speak of
an industrial wing in the old sense, as political strikes and actions
had become regular parts of the THC’s program; in line with this trend
was the THC’s decision on 21 June 1918 to appoint a committee to
present “an agenda of postwar problems” which would be discussed at
subsequent council meetings. One of the problems encountered was the
demand by some returned soldiers for employment preference over
eligibles who had not enlisted. Despite the establishment of
Labor-oriented returned men’s organisations and the holding of special
conferences at the THC, at least one section of the soldiers declared
their intention to organise industrial unions to fight “Official
Victorian Labor sympathy for a revolution in Russia dated back
to the 1905 uprising and persisted throughout 1917 to 1920, largely
irrespective of the changing composition of the revolutionary
government. Lenin was quoted favourably in Labor Call as early
as 18 October 1917 and the following issue reprinted H.N. Brailsford’s
defence of the Bolshevik leader. Favourable reports of the Soviet
government appeared regularly in Labor Call throughout 1918 and
on 18 July that year there was a front-page article by Peter Simonoff,
the Soviet “consul” in Melbourne. The 1919 Victorian Labor conference
protested at allied intervention in Russia; expressed sympathy for
Simonoff, who had been gaoled by the Australian authorities; and hoped
for the success of Bolshevism because it sought “the common ownership
and workers’ management of the means of production”. Labor Call
occasionally carried materials critical of the Bolsheviks from Russians
resident in Australia, but its editor, Maurice Blackburn, expressed the
more usual position in an article celebrating the third anniversary of
the Bolshevik coup: “With the Russian Revolution go the hearts and the
hopes of men and women in the Labor movement all over the world; we are
rebuffed in its reverses. We succeed in its successes after three years
of the mightiest struggles with the foe without and the foe within,
with the problems of economic reconstruction and of military defence,
there endures and flourishes amid the rejoicing of its friends and the
confusion of its enemies, the world’s first Socialist Commonwealth.”
Bolshevik methods, however, were not to be imitated in Australia no
matter how necessary they might have been in Russia.
Although the Russian Revolution was seen as necessary for
Russia, the prescriptive demands of Marxism did not penetrate very
deeply into the Victorian Labor movement.
In April 1919 the Victorian Labor Party conference rejected the OBU
revolutionary objective in favour of Maurice Blackburn’s amendment,
which called for “the peaceful overthrow of the capitalist system” and
the institution of “democratic control of industry”. This previsaged
the situation that emerged at the 1921 federal conference when a newly
adopted socialisation objective was once more given a Blackburn
interpretation. Blackburn had published a number of articles in Labor
in 1919-20 outlining a scheme of national guilds along the lines
proposed by G.D.H. Cole in Britain. In addition he objected to the
abandonment of political struggle, which he saw as the consequence of
ironically he was even then further to the left than many of those who
were supporting Bolshevik methods.
Another instance of this leftward movement occurred with the
establishment of the Labor College in July 1917. Only two years earlier
the THC had participated in the launching of a Workers’ Education
Association in Victoria, but this was now repudiated by the left
because “its teachers are University professors” whose “teachings are
an intellectual justification” of the middle classes. In
contradistinction, “the Victorian Labor College offers the workers a
revolutionary culture. It pins its faith to trade unionism as the hope
of the economic world … Its teachings will be conditioned by the
exigencies of the class struggle, the fundamental fact of our economic
The college taught an amalgam of guild socialism, as personified in
Reverend F. Sinclaire and Maurice Blackburn, and Marxism from Guido
Barrachi. Frank Hyett and the Victorian Railways Union were equally
active, and the college had its headquarters in the union’s Unity Hall.
Indicative of the strength of the leftward shift was the
appearance of anti-racist material in Labor Call,
which early in February 1917 quoted Debs on the colourless nature of
the class struggle. Reports of strikes and other union activity in
Japan were given favourable treatment, although the tone was often that
expressed by the regular contributor, W. Wallis: “We believe in a White
Australia, but we welcome the native of his own hearth, who strikes a
blow against the devouring capitalist.” Sympathetic reports of coloured
workers increased once Maurice Blackburn became editor in 1918 since he
believed that the Australian Labor movement had ‘‘no hope of success
except as part of the international movement”. Most
of the attacks on racism came in the publications that were more
directly inspired by the Russian Revolution, the One Big Union
demonstrating its proletarian internationalism with headlines such as
“Wake-up White Australians; Turn Red and follow the Example of Your
Despised Yellow Brothers”. The long haul against racism had begun.
While the most exciting political events in the Victorian
movement from 1916-21 were definitely occurring outside the
parliamentary arena, the PLC was above all a parliamentary party and no
matter how thrilled or disgusted, encouraged or frightened, individual
parliamentarians might have been by the mass stirrings in society,
electoral demands had to be met. After weathering the federal election
in May 1917, the PLC had to prepare for a November state election that
saw the entry into politics of the Victorian Farmers’ Union candidates,
who won four seats. It had been in an attempt to ward off such a
challenge that the state parliamentary Labor Party had split over a
want-of-confidence motion in Sir Alexander Peacock’s government in July
1917. John Bowser, soon to be premier, moved an amendment to the
address-in-reply censuring the government for not making “necessary
savings in State expenditure” and for imposing “increased fares and
freights on railway transport without the consent of Parliament”.
All five non-Melbourne Labor members voted for the amendment, leaving
their colleagues to provide the premier with a bare majority of two in
a vote of sixty. If country members were forced to vote for freight
concessions, metropolitan members could hardly support retrenchment,
which would have brought increased unemployment; nor had Irvine’s
1902-4 economy drive been forgotten.
The Labor Party’s country network was reactivated after July
1918 by the appointment as organiser of yet another AWU man, ex-Senator
McKissock. State elections in October 1920 resulted in the defeat of
one Labor member by the Farmers’ Union, which increased its membership
to thirteen, gaining the balance of power.
A referendum on prohibition, conducted in conjunction with this
election, revived the debate on “Nationalisation with a view to
prohibition” within Labor’s ranks. In Collingwood the sitting member,
Martin Hannah, was defeated at a preselection ballot because of his
support for liquor reform; he eventually won the seat as an independent
Labor candidate; Hannah’s opponent was backed by the bookmaker, Robert
Roberts, a close associate of John Wren. The
old patterns would force their way through more clearly as the leftward
shift lost impetus after 1921.
Three phases of political Labor in Victoria have been
1891-1902 was a period of confusion, dependence, and defeat; 1902-14
were years of organisational coherence and of limited success; 1915-21
saw the end of steady growth and the emergence of a significant
leftward shift. This periodisation cannot conceal the uneven
development and lags which occurred, and by 1921 many of the
organisational problems of the 1890s had returned — Labor Call,
for instance, was in severe financial difficulties. The leftward shift
affected all sections of the post-1916 party, but to such varying
degrees that it created divisions no less important than those that had
split the party at the time of conscription. The early postwar years
witnessed the passing of many of those who had been part of the
Victorian Labor Party almost since its inception. These deaths were the
occasion for summing up the achievements of the Labor Party at a time
when the need for its existence was being questioned by left-wing
critics, who were merely articulating the deep-felt doubts that the
war, Ireland, and the Russian Revolution had implanted in the minds of
men as sober and as patient as James Scullin.
In its report to the 1919 conference the central executive
presented a sombre but proud account of how the ALP had “saved the
liberties of Australia” by waging principled and united struggles. By
continuing in this manner it hoped to turn “temporary defeat into a
lasting victory”. Robert Ross was less sanguine, and in the September
1920 issue of Ross’s Monthly he traced three causes of
Victorian Labor’s long-standing electoral malaise. He pointed to the
combination of unequal electoral districts and the highly concentrated
nature of Victorian industry, which prevented a wider geographic
distribution of workers and thus kept the party’s support centred on
Melbourne and the country centres of Geelong, Bendigo, and Ballarat; in
addition, Melbourne had fewer dailies, so that none felt the need to
chase Labor supporters in order to boost its circulation. Whether one
agrees with the adequacy of Ross’s diagnosis or not, he is certainly
correct to look for reasons other than the conscription split when
accounting for Labor’s chronic weakness in Victorian politics. But he
should have mentioned the political inheritance of Victoria’s
Liberalism as an equally important consideration inhibiting the
emergence, and then constricting the growth, of the party, especially
in state politics.
Whether the Labor Party in Victoria was a success or a failure depends
upon what one considered its aim to be: for the minority who always
expected the socialist commonwealth there was nothing but
disappointment; for those who wanted a state Labor government there was
the mere farce of December 1913; for those who sought through
Parliamentary place to assist their fellows at a personal level there
were ample rewards. It is appropriate that the last word on the
Victorian Labor Party before 1921 should concern that typical Labor
man, Frank Tudor, whose death drew the following obituary from the OBU
His electorate (Yarra) comprised Protestants and
Catholics, Sinn Feiners and Orangemen, Loyalists and Pacifists,
Socialists and Conservatives. How to represent this jumble of interests
would present a difficult problem to the ordinary man, but Mr Tudor
tactfully solved it by doing nothing — that is, unless his accepting
and retaining the Presidency of the Richmond Football Club can be
regarded as a definite political achievement … and no matter how loudly
Labor in Conference might declare for the social revolution it did not
affect Mr Tudor inside the House or out of it. The only time the
Capitalist parties feared him was when he spoke on the tariff.
The figures for the Victorian “Labor parties” in the first
edition of Hughes and Graham’s Handbook of Australian Government
are not so much wrong as disputable. Because the pre-1902 “Labor
parties” in Victoria were often little more than factions of the
Liberal Party, it would be exceedingly difficult to apply any
universally acceptable criteria to determine their parliamentary
membership. Table 2 provides variant readings and is followed by some
explanatory comments where the conventions followed are those employed
in the Handbook.
Table 2. Number of "Labor" MLAs by Source
A. Hughes & B. D. Graham, A Handbook of Australian Government
and Politics (Canberra, 1968), pp. 467-74.
Spence, Australia’s Awakening (Sydney, 1909), pp. 202-3 and
210-11. Spence’s lists agree with ones published by G.M. Prendergast, Labor
Call, 23 April 1908, and these are probably Spence’s source.
23 April 1892; Worker (Melbourne) 22 September 1894; Tocsin,
8 November 1900 and 16 October 1902. The absence of an official Labor
paper in Victoria for much of the 1890’s adds to the confusion.
Emerald Hill; Port Melbourne; and Richmond (Bennett). Includes Stawell;
Includes Albert Park; and Borung which was won by I.H. Dyer, who
renounced his “Labor” endorsement the day after the polling.
is almost certainly wrong, since it omits Dr. Maloney.
Omits Dandenong and Berwick; Essendon and Flemington; Fitzroy (2);
Grenville (Kerr); Prahran; and Richmond (Bennett). Includes
Collingwood (2); East Bourke Boroughs; Warrnambool; Emerald Hill;
Stawell; and Melbourne West.
Largely agrees with Hughes asid Graham but is very difficult to follow
as it attempts to distinguish between “Labor” members, of whom it lists
ten, and “good-as-Labor” members, of whom it lists another eight. It
makes no mention of Maloney.
Includes Collingwood (Wilkins); Stawell; Warrnambool; Emerald Hill; and
Includes Collingwood (2); Emerald Hill; and Stawell.
Includes Collingwood (2); and Emerald Hill.
In an interview in Tocsin, 28 October 1898, the “Labor
leader, W.A. Trenwith, claimed to be the leader of a party of at least
sixty. But the researcher’s best advice comes from John Murray, MLA for
Warrnambool, in reply to a questioner at an election meeting: “I leave
it to his superior intelligence to form his own conclusion as to
whether or not I belong to the Labor Party.” (Warrnambool Standard,
2 October 1897)
ANSTEY, Frank. b. London, 1865; d. Melbourne, 1940. Arrived
Australia, 1874. Seaman. MLA (East Bourke Boroughs), 1902-4. MLA
(Brunswick), 1904-10. MHR (Bourke), 1910-34. Deputy-leader, federal
PLP, 1922-27. Minister for health, 1929-31. Published The Kingdom
of Shylock (1915).
BLACKBURN, Maurice McCrae. b. Inglewood, 1880; d. Melbourne,
1944. Graduated in Arts, 1906, and Law, 1909. MLA (Essendon), 1914-17;
(Fitzroy), 1921-27; (Clifton Hill), 1927-34. Speaker, Legislative
Assembly, 1933-34. MHR (Bourke), 1934-43. Expelled from ALP, 1935 and
BROMLEY, Frederick Hadkinson. b. Wolverhampton, 1854; d.
Melbourne, 1908. Arrived Australia, 1879. Decorative artist. Foundation
secretary, Japanners and Tin Workers’ Union, 1883. President, THC,
1885-86. MLA (Carlton), 1892-1908. First secretary, state PLP. Leader
state PLP, 1900-4.
CHAMPION, Henry Hyde. b. Poona (India), 1859; d. Melbourne,
1928. Journalist. Senior office bearer, VSP. Unsuccessfully contested
various elections. Published “The crushing defeat of trade unionism in
Australia”, Nineteenth Century (Feb. 1891); The Root of the
Matter (1895). Editor, The Champion, 1895-97.
ELMSLIE, George Albert. b. Lethbridge, 1863; d. Melbourne,
Stonemason. MLA (Albert Park), 1902-18. Leader, state PLP, 1913-18.
Premier, treasurer, 1913.
HYETT, Francis William. b. Melbourne, 1882; d. Melbourne,
1919. Secretary, Victorian Railway Union, 1911-19.
JONES, John Percy. b. Hobart, 1872; d. Melbourne, 1955. Tailor
and company director. MLC, 1910-40. Minister without portfolio, 1913.
Commissioner for public works inter alia, 1924, 1927-28, 1929-32,
1932-35. Resigned ALP in support of Premiers’ Plan.
MALONEY, William Robert Nuttall. b. Melbourne, 1854; d.
Melbourne, 1940. Doctor of medicine. MLA (Melbourne West), 1889-1903.
MHR (Melbourne), 1904-40. Published Flashlights on Japan
MANN, Tom. b. Foles Hill (England), 1856; d. Grassington
(England), 1941. Socialist lecturer and organiser. Arrived Australia,
1902; departed, 1910. Founder-secretary, VSP, 1905-9. Organiser,
Combined Unions Committee, Broken Hill, 1908-9. Published The
Labour Movement in Both Hemispheres (1903); Socialism
(1905); The Way to Win (1909). Editor, Socialist,
MURPHY, William Emmett. b. Dublin, 1841; d. Dalesford, 1921.
Arrived Melbourne, 1867. Soldier and cabinetmaker. Secretary, THC,
1883-87. Unsuccessfully contested elections, 1886 and 1889. Published History
of Eight-hour Day (1896).
O’DOWD, Bernard. b. Beaufort, 1866; d. Melbourne, 1953.
Graduated Bachelor of Arts, 1889; Master of Arts, 1891. Public servant,
1866-1935. Published Collected Poems (1941).
PRENDERGAST, George Michael. b. Adelaide, 1854; d. Melbourne,
1937. Printer. President, THC, 1893-94. MLA (North Melbourne),
1900-26; (Footscray), 1927-37. Leader, state PLP, 1904-13, 1918-26.
Chief secretary, 1913. Premier, treasurer, 1924. Chief secretary,
1927-28. Published Labor in Politics: Its influence on Legislation
SCULLIN, James Henry. b. Trawalla, 1876; d. Melbourne, 1953.
Political and union organiser, and storekeeper. MHR (Corangamite),
1910-13; (Yarra), 1922-49. Leader federal PLP, 1928-35. Prime minister,
1929-32. Editor, Ballarat Echo, 1913-19.
TRENWITH, William Arthur. b. Launceston, 1847; d. Melbourne,
1925. Bootmaker. Secretary, Operative Bootmakers’ Union, 1883.
President, THC, 1886-87. MLA (Richmond), 1889-1903. Senator, 1904-1910.
Delegate, Federation Convention, 1898. Leader, state PLP, 1892-1900.
Commissioner public works inter alia,1900-1902.
TUDOR, Frank Gwynne. b. Williamstown, 1866; d. Richmond, 1922.
Felt hatter. President, THC, 1899. MHR (Yarra), 1901-22. Minister
customs, 1908-9, 1910-13, 1914-16.
WREN, John. b. Collingwood, 1871; d. Melbourne, 1953.
Bootclicker, sportsman, and financier. Teetotaller and non-smoker.
Although there was a “Labor party” in the Victorian Legislative
Assembly from at least 1892, there was no official Labor party in
Victoria for another ten years. In this chapter 1 have used “Labor
party” to refer to a parliamentary faction and have reserved Labor
party for the Political Labor Council (PLC) after 1902, since it alone
sustained a parliamentary caucus pledged to an outside mass
E.C. Fry, “The Conditions of Urban Wage Earners in Australia in 1880s”
(Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1954), pp. 348-49.
J.M. Philip, “Trade Union Organisation in NSW and Victoria 1870-1890”,
Appendix, pp. 37A-38A.
See minutes of Special 1911 Conference to deal with Martin Hannah MLA
for joining a Protectionist League, pp. 8-29 (MS 131, vol. 1,
Australian National Library).
S.M. Ingham, “Some Aspects of Victorian Liberalism 1880-1900”. The
first prize in the Eight-Hour Art Union in the 1890s was often a
1000-oz. piece of gold in the shape of a figure 8.
See, for instance, speech by W. A. Trenwith, VPD 67 (30 September - 1
October 1891): 1673-78 and 1685-87.
Aspects of Victoria’s society can be obtained from G. Bartlett,
“Political Organisation and Society in Victoria”; Asa Briggs,
“Melbourne”, in Victorian Cities (London, 1963); Michael
Cannon, The Landboomers;
Graeme Davison, “The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne, 1880-1895”
(Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1969). Jill Roe, “A
Decade of Assessment: Intellectual Life of Melbourne 1876-1886” (M.A.
thesis, Australian National University, 1965); G. Serle, The Rush
to Be Rich (Melbourne, 1971).
THC minutes, 16 October-8 December 1885.
ibid., 29 March-31 May 1889.
ibid., 26 March, 3,17 April 1891, The Age 8,17,18 April 1891.
Shearers’ Record, January 1891. Reprint of a circular
dated 13 November 1890.
Shearers and General Labourers’ Record, 15 August 1891.
24, 25 February 1892. Spence was less than popular with the AMA because
of his involvement with the ASU. On this and on all points connected
with Ballarat, I am indebted to conversations with Weston Bate.
Davison, “Public Utilities and the Expansion of Melbourne in the
1880s”, p. 189.
J. Hagan, Printers and politics, p. 105; K.D. Buckley, The
Amalgamated Engineers in Australia, 1852-1920, p. 125.
Argus 8,9, 12, 14, and 25 March and 2, 8, and 21 April
ibid., 2 April 1892.
VPD 65 (17 December 1890): 2685.
The Age 26 March 1892; Humphrey McQueen, A New
Britannia, chap. 13. The land “myth” persisted well into the
twentieth century, as can be seen from this interview with Andrew
Q. “Then, if the Labor party should return to power will graduated land
taxation take precedence of everything?”
A. “I wish it to take precedence of everything except formal measures,
and legislation already current.”
Q. “That isn’t socialism, you know — the creation of a large number of
A. “It’s my kind of socialism.”
(Labor Vanguard (Ballarat), 22 April 1910.)
Commonweal, 14 May 1892.
Australian National University Archives, E 97/41.
M.G. Finlayson, “Groups in Victorian Politics 1889-1894”.
The Worker (Melbourne), 30 June and 14 July 1894.
11 September 1894. Not everyone was content, and Warren Lep snarled
that “the new political party is a sign of the time. It demonstrates
beyond a doubt how rapidly we are moving backwards. . . The most
reactionary population of the whites who people this globe, is this
same Victoria.” Worker (Melbourne), 28 July 1894.
Colin A. Hughes and B. D. Graham, A Handbook of Australian
Government and Politics, has been used extensively, but for the
pre-1902 period it is at variance with W.G. Spence, Australia’s
Awakening, pp. 202-3. Both often disagree with the contemporary
Labor press, especially over who is a “Labor” member. See Appendix I.
The Age, 21 September 1894;THC minutes, 23 November 1894.
F.H. Cutler, “A History of the Anti-Sweating Movement in Victoria
A text of the platform appears in J.T. Sutcliffe, A History of
Trade Unionism in Australia, pp. 138-39.
The Age, 7 October 1897.
ibid., 15 October 1897.
Tocsin, 11 November 1897.
T.A. Coghlan, Labour and Industry in Australia, 4: 2230.
Trenwith was suffering from a severe eye defect which required surgery
in England in 1896.
Tocsin, 20 October 1898.
The Age, 10 October 1899.
Tocsin, editorial, 29 September 1898.
P.G. Macarthy, “Victorian Trade Union Statistics, 1889-1914”.
Tocsin, 18 May, 19 and 26 October 1899.
ibid., 2 November 1899; 18 January and 8 February 1900; 12 March 1903;
23 November 1905.
Ibid., 26 October 1899; 8 February, 30 May, 19 December 1901; 2 January
H.L. Hall, Victoria’s Part in the Australian Federation Movement.
Hausnake's extravagant and absurd claims for the importance of
Trenwith’s support as the single most important factor in carrying the
“Yes” vote in Victoria.
The Age, 18 October 1900.
Tocsin, 28 February 1901.
ibid., 3 July 1902.
Argus, 7 July 1902, cited in C.P. Kiernan, “Political
Parties in the Victorian Legislative Assembly 1901-1904”.
H.L. Nielsen, Voice of the People
(Melbourne, 1902), provides a first-hand detailed account. The
direction of the Kyabram movement was quickly taken over by paid
conservative agitators who derived their strength from the donations of
Melbourne’s free-trading importers. See G.D. Meudell, The Pleasant
Career of a Spendthrift.
Tocsin, 18 June 1903.
VPD 114 (27 September 1906): 1751.
Labor Call, 24 February 1916; Daily Herald
(Adelaide) 14 February 1916; letters from Sgt. Mullens and Constable
McCabe to City Coroner, 12 February 1916. I am indebted to John Lonie
who undertook the research in Adelaide.
Further suggestions concerning Wren’s influence can be found in C.
Crowe, The Inquiry Agent, and Frank Hardy, Power without
Glory (Leipzig, 1956).
Cited in A.M. Mitchell, “Temperance and the Liquor Question in Later
Nineteenth Century Victoria”, p. 100.
E.H. Sugden and F.W. Eggleston George Swinburne, p. 186.
23 October and 20 November 1902. I am greatly indebted to Graeme
Osborne for his special knowledge of Mann and for his assistance
generally in the preparation of this chapter. See also D. Tort, “Tom
Mann in Australasia 1902-9”.
Tocsin, 13 August 1903.
I.A.H. Turner, “Socialist Political Tactics, 1900-1920”.
Labor Call, 9 June 1910; pp. 25-27 and 243-44, MS 131,
vol. 1, Australian National Library.
ibid., 16 June 1910.
Tocsin, 6 September 1906.
Labor Call, 4 April 1907.
Pp. 213-20, MS 131, vol. 1, and pp. 280-84, MS 131, vol. 2, Australian
From copy in possession of Graeme Osborne.
Norman Mackenzie, “Vida Goldstein, the Australian Suffragette”.
Labor Call, 30 April 1914 and 23 August 1917.
Ibid., 30 September 1915.
Meredith Tax reviewing Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics, Ramparts
(November 1970), p. 58.
Cf. D.W. Rawson, "Victoria, 1910-1966"; Joan Rydon, “Victoria
VPD 199 (22 September 1936): 1600.
Tocsin, 10 May 1906.
Labor Call, 4 April 1907.
R. T. Fitzgerald, Printers of Melbourne (Melbourne, 1967), p.
Celia Hamilton, “Catholic interests and the Labor Party”.
Labor Call, 26 November 1908.
ibid., 11 November 1915.
Fitzgerald, Printers of Melbourne, p. 127.
Labor Call, 27 August 1914.
ibid., 23 September 1915.
At the 1912 PLC conference the Bedstead Makers’ Union had
unsuccessfully proposed “that graduated teaching in Sex Physiology form
part of the curriculum in Primary and Secondary Schools”.
MS 936, Mitchell Library.
Labor Call, 11 November 1920.
P.J. O’Farrell, “The Russian Revolution and the Labour Movements of
Australia and New Zealand, 1917-22”, International Review of Social
History 8, No. 2 (1963).
See report of debate in Socialist throughout May 1920.
Ian Bedford, “The One Big Union, 19 18-1923”; Constance Larmour, “The Y
Club and the One Big Union”, pp. 37-54; I.A.H. Turner, Industrial
Labour and Politics.
The OBU’s plan for the restructuring of society looked like a cross
between Saint-Simon’s “Council of Newton” and a Fourierist Phalanstery;
it is a testimony to the depth of the leftward trend that such a
complicated geometric construct could be taken seriously for so long by
so many people.
Labor Call, 5 July 1917.
Labor Call, 11 July 1918 and 9 December 1920.
VPD 146 (10 July-24 July 1917): 201-515.
B.D. Graham, The Formation of the Australian Country Parties
(Canberra, 1966). After the 1921 election Prendergast announced that in
“half-a-dozen constituencies we deliberately drove Labor electors over
to vote for Farmers’ Union candidates” (p. 163). For the next thirty
years governments were often formed following negotiations between the
Labor and Country parties.
The Age, 16 October 1920.
L. J. Louis, Trade Unions and the Depression in Victoria
(Canberra, 1967); D. W. Rawson, “The Organisation of the Australian
Labor Party, 1916-1941”; A.A. Calwell, Be Just and Fear Not
OBU Herald, 1 February 1922.