Parties to the Award
Table of Contents
Parties to the Award
Federal industrial relations legislation
Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904
Industrial Relations Act 1988
Federation of trade unions
One Big Union
The push to 'super unions'
Research using archives
One Big UnionThe 1917 General Strike defeat underlined the need for authoritative central control of unions. The Labor Council of New South Wales debated a scheme to group unions into industrial federations, preserving craft distinctions whilst creating a central authority to handle industrial disputes. With a militant majority on the Labor Council, it was decided instead to take a more revolutionary path and reorganise unions into one big union.
A congress of 79 unions was held in Sydney in 1918 and the Labor Council's proposal for 'One Big Union', based on the proposals of the Industrial Workers of the World, was endorsed. This was despite open opposition from some craft unions and covert hostility from the leaders of the Australian Workers' Union (who saw themself as Australia's rightful 'One Big Union').
The proposed 'One Big Union' was to be known as the Workers' Industrial Union of Australia. Its eventual aim was to abolish capitalism through industrial unionism and replace it with social ownership and worker control. Following many amalgamations, the intended structure of the Workers' Industrial Union of Australia was to divide the Australian economy into six Industrial Departments: Lands, Fisheries and Water Products; Mining; Transportation and Communication; Manufacture and General Production; Building and Construction; and Civil Service and Public Conveniences. These six Industrial Departments were to be further sub-divided in thirty Sub-Departments corresponding to particular industries. This massive organisation of industry along 'scientific' lines was designed ultimately to enable the Union to take control of production itself. At this point in 1918, support for a 'One Big Union' seemed overwhelming.
Yet, as a result of dissent by the Australian Workers' Union (which continued to see itself as the aspiring 'One Big Union') and dwindling enthusiasm by many other unions, only one Department of the Workers' Industrial Union of Australia was ever officially launched. This was the Mining Department in 1920, comprising the Australasian Coal and Shale Employees' Federation and the Barrier Branch of the Amalgamated Miners' Association of Broken Hill.
An All-Australian Trades Union Congress, at which unions were directly represented, was convened in Melbourne in 1921 and appointed an executive Council of Action. Amongst its other unifying goals, it sought establishment of a new version of the 'One Big Union'. The Australian Workers' Union, the 'Mining Department of the Workers' Industrial Union of Australia', the Waterside Workers' Federation and the Australian Railways Union met in 1922 to discuss the establishment of this new version: the Australasian Workers' Union. Eventually it too came to nothing, with an application for registration refused by the Commonwealth Industrial Registrar in 1924.
Earlier in 1923, a conference of 32 federally registered unions established the Commonwealth Council of Federated Unions. In contrast to earlier 'One Big Union' proponents, its affiliates (mainly craft unions) supported compulsory arbitration and held no revolutionary plans to overthrow government or capitalism. Over the next four years, the Council was successful in attracting and maintaining the loyalties of a significant number of Australian trade unions.
In 1926 the Commonwealth Council of Federated Unions supported the conservative federal Government's legislation for increased Commonwealth industrial powers. This move proved unpopular with unions and furthered the Council of Action's calls for the 1927 All-Australian Trade Union Congress 'to consider the oft expressed desire for a more complete form of organization of the Trade Union Movement of Australia'. Delegates to the Congress represented 108 unions and branches. Noticeably, Australia's largest union, the Australian Workers' Union sent no delegates. It was at this Congress that the Australasian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) was established.
Organisations in Australian Trade Union Archives: Australasian Council of Trade Unions | Australian Railways Union
© 1994 Print Edition pages - 9, 2002 Online Edition
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