Early Workshops

Greg Patmore
Associate Professor, School of Work, Organisation and Society, University of Sydney

The first example of trade unions is really the craft unions, the skilled trademen's unions in the workshops. And I'm thinking specifically here of groups like the boilermakers, fitters and turners and those sorts of people. And really, unionism as we understand it, didn't really come about to the other grades, until about the 1880s. And the earliest group to organise were the train drivers. Of course the train drivers had a very elaborate promotion heirachy, with cleaners, firemen and drivers at the top. And they tended to be a fairly elite group, because they had high opinion in the community. They didn't have very high wages, so they tended to be very elite aristocrats of the railways. And they really didn't get founded until 1883, which is the date the present union was formed. So they're the oldest of the true railway unions. And only three years after the formation of the AFULE, the engine drivers union, we get the formation of the ARU, but it was known then as the Amalgamated Railway & Tramways Service Association.

Poem: The Workman's Square Deal Anon (1924)
"Railway Union Gazette", Published by the Australian Railways Union.
Recited by Denis Kevans

What does the workman want?
He wants fair play and equal rights and equal chance for all
And privilege for none to steal or slay or force his weaker brother to the wall ...
Narration: Denis Kevans

In 1888, the government brought out a gentleman from England, called Eddy. His main task was to reduce the deficit. Eddy was strongly anti-union and assisted by the introduction of an Act in 1888, which disallowed assistance to the workers by politicians, and the 1890s depression, he set about destroying the unions. He died in 1897.

Greg Patmore

As the unions collapsed, a lot of railway workers set up shop committees to try and put forward their demands, 'cause the unions were so concerned with declining membership and unemployment of their own members during the 1890s depression, that they basically didn't have time to take up railway workers' grievances. So there was rank and file activity in that period, even though the unions had collapsed, and perhaps its interesting to note that the railway workshop committees that were set up in about 1894 are perhaps the oldest known example of shop committees in Australia. And that's probably not surprising given the large scale of railway workshops.

The Workman's Square Deal (cont.)

The common welfare is the workman's goal,
The common use of all the commonwealth,
The common rights of every common soul.

Narration: Denis Kevans

Due to the passing of the Arbitration Acts in 1901, the period from 1901 to 1914 showed a strong recovery of the trade union movement.

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