The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia - Ian Bedford

Tom Glynn - agitator & editor of Aussie IWW paper 'Direct Action'

A short critical, but generally sympathetic, assessment of the Australian Wobblies.

From; Labour History no. 13, (Journal of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History), Nov. 1967.

Submitted by Red Marriott on September 16, 2007

The occasion for this article is the publication of a second book by Ian Turner dealing with the Industrial Workers of the World. Strictly speaking, Industrial Labour and Politics is about the labour movement in the first quarter of the twentieth century, while Sydney's Burning is about a cause celebre; neither Turner nor anyone else has attempted to study the I.W.W. in its own right, and the topic - the I.W.W. as social history - has not yet been carried to the point of the definition of terms. Scholars have been heard to complain that the I.W.W. is 'over-rated' - by this they mean that the role of the organisation in the development of the labour movement is not so important as to warrant the attention that Turner and others have paid to it. Perhaps a man is a little soft in the head to be forever worrying about the I.W.W. It may not be enough simply to reply that the I.W.W., as the local form of a movement whose ideological premises were tested in France, Spain and Italy as well as in the United States and Canada, will repay investigation for a long time yet, and that study along comparative lines will one day teach us something that we don't know about forces that have continued to shape temperament and society in Australia.

For want of detailed knowledge, I do not propose to review Turner's books; neither do I wish to adopt the tone of the good-natured amateur who has ambled along to make sure that somebody if not he has his nose to the grindstone. Owing to the requirements of treatment and subject-matter, a number of suggestive observations about the I.W.W. have been confined by Turner to a sentence or two in passing, or even to the footnotes of Industrial Labour and Politics. My intention in this article is to point to two or three aspects of the experience of the I.W.W. in Australia which are apparent on a longer view.

Industrial Unionism
The term 'industrial unionism' is used to refer both to the organisational procedure of the I.W.W. - methods of obtaining a uniform structure for the entire labour movement -and to the attitudes and philosophy of members. For the time being, it will be convenient to deal with the organisational question alone. As has often been remarked, the I.W.W. bears a family resemblance to the anarcho-syndicalist movements in Latin countries. Although there can be little doubt that the I.W.W. grew quite naturally out of local American conditions - and survived transplantation from the Chicago headquarters to Australia - the simultaneous development of forms and tendencies within the labour movements in countries remote from one another is much too striking a fact to have escaped commentary. W. D. [Big Bill] Haywood of the American I.W.W. visited France as a Socialist Party delegate to the Second International in 1910, and after his return, the I.W.W. newspapers initiated a prolonged discussion on the methods of French syndicalism, while such staple fare as the pamphlet 'Sabotage' by Emile Pouget-as well as Sorel's Reflections on Violence - was distributed among American wage-workers for the first time.[1] Tom Barker, deported from Australia for his activities with the LW.W., had no trouble in fitting in with the syndicalist Federation of Labour in Buenos Aires.[2]

The fundamental distinction between the anarcho-syndicalist movements and the I.W.W. lay in the attitude to the labour movement as a whole. The distinction can be pointed out by comparing France and America. The Confederation Generale du Travail was established in Paris in 1895 for the purpose of linking the trade unions (the subject of an earlier federation) in a national council along with the Bourses du Travail, regional associations founded by the anarchist Fernand Pelloutier, and regarded by him as the basic units for the collectivisation of society. This work was accomplished to a radical programme. Although by 1914 only a little more than a tenth of the working force was unionised, and of this proportion about one in two - 600,000 members - came under the GG.T.,[3] no rival institution was strong enough to challenge the C.G.T. on its own ground, and the syndicalists were active - and influential - in the most populous sector of the French labour movement. One factor in their supremacy was the reputation among workers of the Bourses do Travail, acquired over many years, and far greater than the reputation of the I.W.W. 'mixed locals' or of any other institution in America which encouraged united action among workers of various occupations in a given locality. A second factor was the composition of the French working class. Perhaps the most important factor of all was the relative absence of 'progressive' legislation, the hostility of the state and the employers to trade union activity even among moderates: compromise, the signing of quid pro quo agreements and the practices of 'selling out' so generously tolerated by workers in Anglo-Saxon countries were not prevalent among the representatives of the Confederation Generale du Travail, which is to say the French employers had not yet discovered a sophisticated method for fighting the working class.[4]

In America, the I.W.W., although the greater part of its membership was recruited among foreign or itinerant workers with whom the American Federation of Labor (founded 1886) wanted nothing to do at all, laid itself open from the start to the charge of dual unionism. I.W.W. delegates set up 'locals' of their own in industries where craft unions affiliated with the A.F.L. were already established. At Lawrence, Massachusetts, where the LW.W. carried their most successful strike action in the woollen mills (1912), the United Textile Workers, affiliated with the A.F.L., had organised only two hundred out of a work force of 30,000 through a craft subsidiary, the Mule-spinners' Union;[5] the situation was no better in Paterson, New Jersey, and other textile centres where the I.W.W. took on itself the task of organising immigrant labour along 'industrial' lines. All the same, the A.F.L. was able to document cases of body-snatching and to publicise the complaint among unionists in the more settled industries. Candidates for membership were required to throw away their craft union cards on joining an I.W.W local: and of course the policy of exclusion worked both ways. William Z. Foster, who visited France in 1911 to study syndicalist methods at first hand, was advised by Louis Jouhaux, Secretary of the French C.G.T., to 'tell the I.W.W. when you return to America to get into the labour movement'.[6]

This system of competing unions was not simply the result of shortsightedness or grandiose ambition on the part of the I.W.W. organisers. It was an expression of the radically divided nature of the American working class. As ill-fortune would have it, the discovery by the A.F.L. of labour contracts and of the possibilities of job control (which in America means the competence of the union to retain jobs for its members) coincided with an unparalleled expansion of the immigrant working force checked, at the level of employment, by the financial crises of 1907-08 and 1913-15. Although the I.W.W. is celebrated for its activities among the unemployed, these crises were the tourniquet which inhibited the circulation of ideas and opportunities throughout the labour movement, and prepared the withering away of the I.W.W. The A.F.L. confined itself to that section of industry where contracts could be signed and kept. The Bakunins of the I.W.W. wasted themselves in exploits of heroic militancy which built no unions because the orchards, the lumber camps, the steel and textile mills were areas where strikes could be won, but gains were neutralised under the conditions imposed by a recurring surplus of labour.[7] This would not have mattered so much if the same conditions had prevailed all over the country, and the I.W.W. had been able to count on an identity of outlook among wage-workers; but solidarity with bums, Dagoes, Hunkies, Negroes (and Japanese, organised by the I.W.W. on the Pacific Coast) proved to fall under the terms of the contract negotiated by the A.F.L. unions towards their entrenchment in felt-hat making and other essential industries. From 1912 I.W.W. membership (nominally twenty-five thousand in that year) started to decline; the formation of an Agricultural Workers' Union on the eve of W.W.I. lifted the membership, but this was merely to repeat the pattern of first-up successes followed by disillusionment in any field of organisation. The I.W.W. was proscribed by way of a contribution of the State Governors to the war effort.

When we compare the I.W.W. in Australia and America, a difference in function is apparent; this difference may be considered first of all on the level of organisation. As in America, the I.W.W. over here aspired to reorganise the labour movement along the lines of industrial unionism, and was fully equipped with a diagram which explained, not how to do it, but what it would look like when it was done. This diagram was presumably confiscated when the police raided the I.W.W. headquarters in Sussex Street, Sydney, on 23 September 1916, along with 'correspondence, file and account books, an allegorical picture, "The Paris Commune", the charter of international affiliation for the Sydney local of the I.W.W., and the big red banner.'[8] It is very much to be doubted whether the police uncovered any secrets of organisation; for, whatever the currency of its ideas among workers, the I.W.W. had not succeeded in founding even a rudimentary structure of its own. At no time does the I.W.W. seem to have been in a position to set up more than one or two locals in an industry in a given area; and as a rule, these locals were formed inside an existing union. At Broken Hill, where, in Turner's words, the victorious strike of 1916 represented 'the most considerable impact made by the I.W.W. on Australian industrial life'," the I.W.W. appears to have come to an agreement with officials of the Amalgamated Miners' Association whereby the I.W.W. red card was regarded by the Association as the equivalent of a union ticket, and I.W.W. members worked alongside regular unionists in the mines. The Australian Workers' Union was less accommodating, but appears to have tolerated double-ticket holders on a number of occasions." Turner cites the example of William Teen, one of the I.W.W. members tried for conspiracy, whose union, the Amalgamated Railway and Tramway Servants' Association, tried to get him reinstatement after a sacking although probably aware of his allegiance to industrial unionism.[11] Since one can find no record of a disagreement with the American I.W.W. over this tactical issue, it is to be supposed that the renouncement of a dual structure in Australia reflects, not a greater ideological affinity with the French syndicalists, but two material facts: the relative solidarity of the Australian labour movement (a point emphasised by Gordon Childe)[12] and the relative structural weakness of the I.W.W. The former point can, of course, be easily deduced from reference to more general conditions: the racial and national homogeneity of the labour movement, the existence of trade unions to be joined in every branch of industry, and so on. But in America precisely the opposite state of affairs had brought about the formation of the I.W.W. in the first place.

Its failure to set up an industrial union organisation is not the most important respect in which Australian I.W.W. may be distinguished from its counterpart in America. Even during the first eighteen months of the war, the I.W.W. betrayed a comparative lack of interest in matters of central importance to the trade union movement. The Trades Hall and Labour Councils in the capital cities, rather than the I.W.W., expressed the concern of the organised body of workers over the ratio of unemployment and wage and price levels. I.W.W members did of course associate themselves with demands for wage increases and so on, but not as a rule outside the circumstances of a particular conflict. The bread-and-butter preoccupations of a majority of workers were not shared by the direct actionists. To an even greater extent than in America, the Australian I.W.W. was a voluntary association of free-floaters, the aims of which were not strictly material, and were often at variance with those of the labour movement -workers as well as representatives. In Australia, to join the I,W.W. was to follow either the line of least resistance, or a vocation.

From 1909, the Australian administration of the I.W.W. was affiliatedwith the 'Chicago' section which opposed political action on revolutionary principles as a waste of the energies of the workers. This attitude, though common to all anarcho-syndicalist movements, was not an essential factor in industrial unionism. The C.G.T. in France, the Confederacion Nacional de Trabajos in Barcelona on the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, each guided the destinies of several hundred thousand unionised workers; in
both countries, polling day was associated with the bitterest memories. Among the founding members of the I.W.W. in America were delegates from the Socialist Labour Party.

At the second (1906) convention of the I.W.W., the resolutions committee was persuaded by a section of members to refuse to recommend the adoption of sick and death benefit funds, on the grounds that such measures were liable to weaken class-consciousness and to confer a longer life on the capitalist system.[13] Two years later the organisation split in two. or many of the immigrant and Negro workers who joined the I.W.W. in the Western and Southern states, there was no alternative to 'industrial'
action: they were not even on the rolls. To follow the 'political' preamble in America was not much different from recommending the adoption of benefit funds: the socialist parties were of moderate importance in only a few states,[14] and if the trade unions could support particular items of legislation and instruct their members on how to vote, the task of building 'the industrial and political organisation of the workers' so strenuously undertaken by Daniel de Leon, lay a long way ahead of them (or more strictly, as time has shown, it did not lie ahead of them at all).

A programme of absention from political activity involved considerations of a very different kind in Australia. One of the dizziest processes in Australian history is the transformation of attitudes in the labour movement worked within a few years of the founding of the political party. By 1904, the arbitration of differences between trade unions and employers had been made compulsory by an Act of the Commonwealth Parliament, and in Western Australia and New South Wales. When the Labor Party came to power in N.S.W, in 1911, the Premier, J. S. T. McGowen, carried out some amendments to the Industrial Disputes Act, but did not get so far as to abolish the penalty clauses; for, as Turner points out, 'by now most Labor politicians had come to agree that arbitration was unworkable unless strikes were punished.'[15] The point was that 'the 1912 N.S.W. Trade Union Congress, by thirty-five votes to twenty-eight, agreed with them.'

It is not difficult to understand why Australian workers should have accommodated themselves so quickly to the demands imposed on their credulity by the operation of a Labor Party and compulsory courts of arbitration. The trade union movement had schooled workers in the principles of class solidarity; yet the successes that came their way through the second half of the nineteenth century had encouraged them to think of the movement in terms of the united pursuit of ever-increasing wages and an ever-diminishing working week, rather than as the prototype of an advanced order of society or as the embodiment in itself of an irreplaceable ideal. When strikes began to fail in the 1890s, trade unionists renounced neither their expectations of material advantage nor (for very long) their habit of winning: the goal was in sight, and it was simply a matter of looking around for another vehicle to carry them.

I.W.W. ideas circulating in the labour movement after 1907 were the expression of two principal tendencies: of an inclination on the part of unskilled and semi-skilled workers towards the reorganisation of existing unions, partly along industrial union lines, and of the rejection of the political party and the courts of arbitration by a rearguard. Both these tendencies were clearly displayed in the affairs of the miners' union before the strike of 1909.[16] Following Childe and Turner, it should be unnecessary to point out that the former tendency prevailed and that the Australian Workers' Union, for example, became bigger and better than ever; this was one of the games played by destiny for the amusement of the historian - if he can manage to smile - and was in no sense a fulfilment of the wishes of the industrial unionists. The most one may add is that the second tendency, their relation to which properly distinguishes the I.W.W. from all other factions of the Australian labour movement, has never been entirely eliminated.

The Australian I.W.W. was probably the first revolutionary association in the world to be founded on the aspirations of trade unionists who saw their main enemy as state paternalism, democracy in its 'enlightened' aspects, and who opposed the measures of representation and social justice favoured by a strong and cohesive labour movement in the name of initiative and workers' control. The fact that the I.W.W. was not itself a trade union or any other kind of institution enabled this point of view to be expressed with a minimum of qualification: 'The I.W.W. holds that there is nothing to arbitrate about.' It seems probable that sentiments of this kind were shared by many thousands of individual workers who were not themselves members of the I.W.W.: but direct action on a sufficient scale was never undertaken in the twentieth century in Australia. To match an excess of government on the political level, initiative in the labour movement was resigned more and more into the hands of elected officials who are not simply delegates of the men but delegates of the courts as well, treasurers of union capital and hostages for the good behaviour of the rank and file. The familiar spectacle of workers watching a television programme in a bar, growing sceptical and even a little impatient, but unwilling to touch the knob, may stand as a convenient
image of the labour movement under a system of compulsory benefits, compulsory arbitration, where even voting is compulsory: this was the visionary republic founded by Labour between the defeat of the Maritime Strike and the first world war, and opposed by the I.W.W.

The Tradition
One of the best-known passages in Marx describes his impression of the Italian followers of Bakunin in the International: 'lawyers without clients, physicians without patients and without qualifications, students devoted to billiards, pedlars and shopkeepers and especially journalists of the small press, of more or less dubious fame ...'[17] This is by no means adequate for the I.W.W., but from the short biographies supplied by Turner in Sydney's Burning it would seem that leading activists, while members of the working class and not physicians or intellectuals, had led lives of a different sort from the majority of their fellow unionists, and that experience had helped determine their attitudes to such questions as security of job tenure, for example. The anarcho-syndicalist movements in France, Spain and Italy were to a large extent made up of first and second generation industrial workers whose point of view was derived from their acquaintance with other styles of work and with a community life at once more personal and more comprehensive than that provided by the factories. The France of the Bourses du Travail was a country of skilled workers in small shops and factories in the preliminary stages of industrialisation. Barcelona owed its reputation for trade union militancy partly to the continued immigration of displaced farm workers from the south of Spain. No census of I.W.W. card-carriers was taken, but it is possible that a very high proportion indeed had at some time in their lives carried the point of view of the bush worker into a job in one of the settled industries.

Although Tom Glynn and other members of the I.W.W. joined the Communist Party as soon as it was formed, the two organisations would appear to have little in common. The Communist Party of Australia works with existing institutions, and its influence in the labour movement has long depended on its success in winning elective posts in trade unions, rather than on a numerous following. It is doubtful if there is any sense in which the Communist Party can be regarded as a revolutionary organisation at all. The I.W.W., on the other hand, had no sense of strategy, and the dissatisfaction of its members with capitalist society was radical and intuitive, and not a question of the size of pay packets. The willingness of the I.W.W. activists to say what they had to say and go behind bars, that 'death by immolation' which Turner characterises as 'stupidity', was a function of the profound isolation of a band of volunteers and preachers who witnessed the beginning of the long hike of the organised labour movement down a blind alley. The descendants of the I.W.W. are to be found nowadays among the rank and file in some unions. The informal structure of maritime industry - the pick-up system on the wharves, the lunch-hour meetings, the lapse of the function of a particular job delegate when the job ends - has kept the spirit alive longer in the Waterside Workers' Federation than in most places. Now this situation too is being brought to an end, with the connivance of the union officials.[18] Yet it would be premature to suppose that the spirit of direct action will be thoroughly extinguished among Australian workers. The example of the I.W.W., who fought when they had no chance of winning, may one day be remembered with gratitude by those looking for a sign.

1. Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Vol. IV, 'The Industrial Workers of the World, 1906-19', New York, 1965, p. 159.
2. E. C. Fry (editor), Tom Barker and the IWW, A.S.S.L.H., Canberra, 1965, p. 35. See p. 34 for Barker's narrative of his encounter with the I. W.W. in Valparaiso, Chile.
3. Lorwin in Walter Galenson, Comparative Labour Movements.
4. The deliberate policy of the C.G.T. in limiting the size of the bureaucracy probably contributed to the general militancy of the Federation and the sense of participation among members.
5. Foner, pp. 313-14.
6. Foner, p. 418. Compare the apocryphal story of the advice of a Communist delegate to a youthful Communist joining the Watersiders' Federation in Sydney: 'You want to get out into the working class.'
7. This is what happened at McKees Rock (steel) and Lawrence (textiles), the two largest strikes successfully pioneered by the I.W.W. in the settled or 'Home Guard' industries: Foner, pp. 304-05, 348-49. The Steel Trust and the American Woollen Mills were the adversaries at McKees Rock and Lawrence; in lumber and agriculture, the problem was essentially that of organising itinerant labourers.
8. Direct Action (weekly journal of the Australian I.W.W.), Sydney, 30 September 1916.
9. Ian Turner, Industrial Labour and Politics, Melbourne, 1965, p. 88.
10. V. Gordon Childe, How Labour Governs, 1st edition, pp. 164-5.
11. Turner, p. 143.
12. Childe, pp. 149-50.
13. Foner, p. 77.
14. The first Socialist Party Congressman was elected for Milwaukee in 1910. The national convention earlier in that year had rejected a proposal to commit the party to the principles of national unionism as opposed to craft unionism.
15. Turner, p. 38.
16. For discussion , see Robin Gollan, The Coalminers of New South Wales, A.N.U./M.U.P., 1964, pp. 125-134.
17. Marx, 'The Social-Democratic Alliance and the IWMA,' Quoted in English in Daniel L. [? Surname missing in original.]
18. The watersiders in the port of Melbourne voted against the proposals for the overall reorganisation of wharf industry. The other ports voted in favour. In the opinion of some watersiders, these differences are a function, not of the attitudes of the men In the various points, but of the manner in which the issue was presented by the local branches of the union.



14 years 10 months ago

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Submitted by ajjohnstone on June 21, 2009

Wonder why labour historians are so selective about blanking out the contributions of members of certain political parties to the IWW ?

It is ironic that the writer of Bump me into Parliament this the most famous of the Australian Wobbly songs might not have actually ever been a member of the Industrial Workers of the World at any stage in his long and militant career. Still he was certainly close enough in the World War One days that a person not having access to the records might be forgiven the mistake. If not a member of the organisation was certainly a part of the radical proletarian cultural mix that the union created. He was active in the anti-conscription movement and for the imprisoned IWW twelve.

After the war he found his spiritual home in the Socialist Party of Australia and was a prominent activist in the Seaman’s Union.
Bill Casey, who hailed from Manchester, arrived in Australia some years before World War I. Almost immediately he became involved in industrial activities and participated in some of the most historical disputes recorded in this country. Ever on the move, he spent much of his time in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. During the First War he played a leading part in Queensland industrial affairs and was active in the strikes on the Cane fields and the Meat Industry. On more than one occasion he had to run the gauntlet of Labor Party Police, who spurred on by Labor Governments, dealt ruthlessly with those who championed the workers cause. Job conscious Union officials and Big Businessmen on one occasion urged his deportation from the local township because of his union activities. When war-time Labor Prime Minister, Wm, Morris Hughes, tried to enforce conscription in 1916, anyone who opposed the move was branded "traitor", "Seditionist" or "I.W.W." But the anti-conscription campaign grew and the Labor Party split on the issue. The chief opponents were the "Wobblies" (I.W.W.) and their supporters. Casey, who had experienced the persecution of the I.W.W. in America, threw himself into the fight and became one of the most active and enthusiastic members of the Anti-Conscription Army. When we point out that the anti-conscription campaign left an indelible mark on the history of Australia, it will be easier to understand the significance of our reference to in this obituary. In those days, much of the I.W.W. propaganda took the form of parodying of popular songs. To the tunes I.W.W. rhymsters would fit words ridiculing and satirising their opponents. Most meetings opened up with "Doxology"
"Praise Boss when morning work-bells chime, Praise him for bits of over-time, Praise him whose wars we love to fight, Praise Him. Fat Leech and Parasite, Oh Hell".
Meetings would be held up awaiting some subtle satire from Casey on the topic of the day. Couriers would run from the press, with literally red-hot jingles copies of which were passed round the audiences who lustily chorused the latest ditty, much to the discomfiture of "Law and Order". So popular did they become that friend and foe alike eagerly awaited the latest lampoon. Politicians shrunk from his satire but ever many of them, years afterwards, openly boasted acquaintanceship with "Bill Casey." Back To Sea Returning to sea, Casey played a big part in the Seaman’s strike of 1919.

He was delegate to represent the Seamen at an International T. U. Conference in Moscow. This, being one of the earliest "Missions to Moscow" was beset with difficulties all the way. Passports were forged; passages were "stowing away," Dutch, German, Polish and Russian frontiers had to be "hopped." Guides were often un-reliable; "go-betweens" were often in the pay of both sides; sometimes both had to be discarded until bona-fides were definitely established, a delicate job under the conditions then prevailing on the continent. The ultimate arrival in Moscow, after much suffering, danger and perseverance, was hailed as a masterpiece of undercover work. Once at the gates of the Kremlin, most delegates became insufferable Bolshevik "Yes-men" whereas Casey and his co-delegate, Barney Kelly (another adherent of the S.P.G.B.) soberly tried to obtain a truthful estimate of the position. A few days sojourn in Moscow drew the following observations from Casey: "Production was in a straight-jacket, lethargy and indifference permeated the whole economy; the people were entirely lacking in a sense of time. Without the normal industrial development of production and some measure of buying and selling (war-communism was the order of the day) drift and indifference would gradually strangle the economy of the Soviet". These observations were greeted with disgust and dismay by the other delegates. However, before they left Moscow, Lenin introduced his "New Economic Policy" which, in essence, provided for the very things which Casey opined was needed to stabilize the Russian economy. In contrast to their hostile reception of Casey’s prognostications, the "yes-men" cheered and echoed Lenin’s belated pronouncements. Back in Australia, he submitted his report to Tom Walsh (then a leading Communist and foundation member of the Australian Communist Party), General President of the Australian Seamen’s Union. Walsh rejected the report and refused to publish it on the ground that it criticized the Bolsheviks and the Russian system. After spending some time in Melbourne, Casey proceeded to Sydney where he again crossed swords with Walsh who, carrying out the policy of the C.P. was endeavouring to get the Seamen to affiliate with the A.L.P. (Australian Labor Party) from which body the Seamen had seceded because of the anti-working class role of Labor Governments and politicians during the Seamen’s strike of 1917 and 1919. With Jacob Johnson (Assist. Sec’y. Sydney Branch of the Seamen’s Union) and a handful of supporters, Casey pursued the fight against affiliation with the Labor Party. This fight continued up to 1925 when an un-expected walk-out of British Seamen, who left their ships tied up on the Australian coast, over-shadowed the affiliation dispute. Incidental to the British Seamen’s strike, both Walsh and Johnson were arrested, brought before a tribunal set up under special legislation, and sentenced to deportation from Australia. We knew, at the time, that Walsh wanted to be deported and was to be given a job in England with Havelock Wilson. Casey worked unceasingly to prevent the deportation. Those who were associated with Casey believe that his activities on behalf of Johnson were the most brilliant of his career. An appeal was made to the High Court of Australia. He marshalled facts, ferreted information, countered the sabotage of Government henchmen, suggested successful points of law, and finally his subtle optimism triumphed. Dr. Evatt, one of Johnson’s counsel, (now Attorney General and ex-president of U.N.O.) unstintedly praised Casey’s remarkable accomplishments. Many barristers have openly acknowledged him to be "the cleverest lay-man they ever met." The High Court held the Tribunal’s decision to deport to be ‘ultra vires’: Walsh and Johnson were released from the Naval prison on Garden Island where they had been held while awaiting deportation. Following the release and the settlement of the British Seamen’s strike, the fight around affiliation with the Labor Party again assumed an important place in the Seamen’s Union. Finally Walsh’s move was defeated and he was deposed from his position as G. P. Later a high officer of the N.S.F.U. visited Australia and reported that Havelock Wilson had sent over £3,000 to help Walsh in the fight against Johnson and Casey. In justice to this official, let it be said that on hearing the facts of the case, he urged that no more money be sent from the English Seamen’s Union for this purpose. During these periods, Casey consistently carried on Socialist propaganda. He debated almost every "leader" in the Communist Party. He represented the S.P. of A. in debates with the Henry George League, the Labor Party, the Communist Party, Currency Experts, and host of others. He trounced Individualist A.D. Kay who after losing his seat in Parliament and on the Meat Board, went to England to be given later, a job by Churchill during the last war. Casey conducted Speakers’ Classes, Economic classes, open air and indoor meetings for the S.P.A. Prior to the formation of the S.P.A., he, together with Moses Baritz struck terror into the hearts of the professional "revolutionaries" of the C. P. The anecdotes about them would fill a book; Moses, bombastic, merciless, ruthlessly capable in expounding the Socialist position; Casey, puckish, simple, unsurpassed as a teacher of young fellows, flashing with satire and armed with a power of mental penetration that pierced the armor of the most hide-bound opponent of Socialism. For many years he held official positions in the Seamen’s Union. He was Secretary of the Brisbane Branch when he died. For many years he found it difficult to get jobs on ships. Victimised, he battled around on scanty food, a few beers and a bit of tobacco. Long speels of unemployment meant more time for Socialist activities. He never went short while his friends had a few bob. His knowledge of philosophy, economics, political and industrial history was amazing and his uncanny ability to interpret industrial awards, surmount legal difficulties with regard to the Merchant Shipping Act, The Australian Navigation Act and the various Compensation Acts, redounded to the benefit of his ship-mates. He was known as the Seaman Philosopher.

"I wish nothing better to anybody than good health, except a better system in which to enjoy it".


10 years 5 months ago

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Submitted by Lugius on November 3, 2013

because of his union activities. When war-time Labor Prime Minister, Wm, Morris Hughes, tried to enforce conscription in 1916, anyone who opposed the move was branded "traitor", "Seditionist" or "I.W.W." But the anti-conscription campaign grew and the Labor Party split on the issue. The chief opponents were the "Wobblies" (I.W.W.) and their supporters. Casey, who had experienced the persecution of the I.W.W. in America, threw himself into the fight and became one of the most active and enthusiastic members of the Anti-Conscription Army. When we point out that the anti-conscription campaign left an indelible mark on the history of Australia, it will be easier to understand the significance of our reference to in this obituary. In those days, much of the

Talk about sanitising history!

There is an oft-repeated myth created by the IWW that it was their anti-conscription campaign that defeated conscription in Australia at the time of 'The Great War'.

The power to conscript had previously resided with the States (the Australian soldiers that fought in the Boer War were sent by Victoria and New South Wales, The Commonwealth of Australia was founded on 1 January 1901). Although the Federal government had the power to conscript, PM Billy Hughes wanted to put the question to a plebiscite, as a opposed to a referendum, in 1916.

Recruitment had dried up after initial enthusiasm especially after the withdrawal from Gallipoli in December 1915, but more so after the Somme campaign in July 1916 that absolutely devastated the Australian army. (28,000 out of a total of 60,000 for the entire war)

The first plebiscite was scheduled for October 1916 and no one in the press imagined it would fail, but in September Hughes, in anticipation of a yes vote legislated to force all eligible males to report for military duty which required fingerprinting. Fingerprinting evoked the shame of 'the convict stain' and it was this that caused a great swing towards the no vote. The plebiscite was narrowly defeated much to Hughes' shock and surprise.

The failure of the conscription plebiscite caused a split in the Labour Party and Hughes walked out along with some other Labour MPs to form the National Labour Party (the first appearance of so-called 'Labour Rats')

The NLP merged with the Commonwealth Liberal Party to form the Nationalist Party retaining Hughes as PM. A second plebiscite was scheduled for December 1917 which also failed by a slightly wider margin than the October 1916 plebiscite.

The conscription campaign was the most divisive and violent in Australian history. The centre of opposition to conscription was in Melbourne whereas the IWW had its strongest influence in Sydney.

Certainly, the IWW was a vociferous opponent of conscription and famously, 12 members were arrested under the provisions of the Unlawful Associations Act. But they weren't the only ones. Also arrested was a young member of the Victorian Socialist Party, John Curtin (google him) among others.

Most unions in Australia were opposed to conscription and it could be argued that this opposition along with that of the IWW pushed the 'no' vote over the line. But that would be to ignore the opposition to conscription by the Catholic Church (in those days known self-referentially as 'The Irish Church in Australia') led by the most well-known Irish nationalist in Australia, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix.

The conscription campaign in Australia has to be seen within the context of the sectarian conflict in Australia with had been going on since 1788 and was not to dissipate until the 1970s.


10 years 5 months ago

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Submitted by Ablokeimet on November 4, 2013


Most unions in Australia were opposed to conscription and it could be argued that this opposition along with that of the IWW pushed the 'no' vote over the line.

Lugius is quite correct that opposition to conscription extended much further than the IWW. As he notes, the Catholic Church and most unions opposed it. Conscription was also opposed by very many farmers, who had given most sons to the War effort but held one back at home to inherit the farm.

What needs to be realised, however, is the role that the Wobblies played in creating the room for others to oppose conscription. The Wobblies thundered fire and brimstone against the War from the day the Australian Government declared for it. By refusing to fall into line with the "sacred union" of the nation, the Wobblies ensured that there was debate and discussion. With the Wobblies staking out the principled revolutionary position, opponents of conscription on lesser grounds could appear relatively moderate. The vehement campaign of the Wobblies against the War ensured that the more moderate opponents of conscription only could escape Red-baiting far more easily.

Rather than describing the Wobblies as the organisation which got the referendum "over the line", therefore, I would prefer to describe them as the organisation which made opposition to conscription possible.


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Submitted by Lugius on November 4, 2013

Fair enough. But my narrow point was that there those in the IWW in Australia (and America) who would have you believe otherwise. My broader point was about the cherry picking history.

Sanitising history does no-one any favours but to be fair, it wasn't the IWW that was responsible but Marxist historians, most notably Ian Turner.

You mention opposition by farmers but not suffragettes, most notably Goldstein. I wanted to focus on the attitude to conscription from the point of view of the Australian working-class.

Most trade unions in Australia opposed conscription because it was thought that the bosses would import foreign labour while they were away fighting in Europe.

Before the mass immigration following World War 2, 'Catholic' was interchangable with 'Irish' and vice versa. Archbishop Mannix openly opposed the war from the beginning and was denounced in the press as a traitor.

If you read the papers of the time (you can read all the Melbourne papers on microfiche at the State Library) it is easy to see that the issue of conscription was viewed through a class/sectarian prism i.e. calls for 'conscription of wealth'.

There was heavy pressure put on the VFL by the government of Victoria to completely abandon the footy for the duration of the war. The unions called for the abandonment of horse-racing in response. The VFL did a deal where they allowed army recruiters to spriuk to the crowd at half-time but this practice was discontinued because of the overwhelmingly hostile reaction.

Many clubs voluntarily withdrew, particularly those with strong Protestant followings. By 1916, only Carlton, Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond, the clubs with large working-class, Irish Catholic support competed. The irony being that though Fitzroy finished bottom of the ladder, but because only four clubs competed that year, they made the final four, came good and won the Premiership.


10 years 5 months ago

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Submitted by Ablokeimet on November 6, 2013


Fair enough. But my narrow point was that there those in the IWW in Australia (and America) who would have you believe otherwise. My broader point was about the cherry picking history.

On that we are agreed completely. I have seen too much cherry picking masquerading as history for my liking.