BLF - AS TASMANIAN AS APPLE PIE: THE 1916 LOCKOUT OF BUILDERS' LABOURERS
Tasmanian as apple pie: the
1916 lockout of builders’ labourers
Historical Studies, 15, 2010, pp. 71-99.
1916, Tasmanian builders put themselves in the front line of the
campaign by their class to scuttle the Commonwealth Court of
Conciliation and Arbitration (CCCA). Several Hobart firms sacked their
labourers rather than pay the extra twopence-halfpenny an hour that the
Court awarded on 18 May. The Australian Builders’ Labourers’
Federation (ABLF) took up this challenge, sparing no resource to sustain
its members while invoking the penal provisions of the Act against the
masters. The dispute projected Tasmania’s personalised labour
relations onto issues of national import, revealing the role of the
state in the struggle between classes, against the particulars of
Tasmania’s strong regionalism against a weak federalism.
The lumpy rise of labour
roots of this malaise were in a lopsided development from which
Federation had promised redemption, especially to the south.
Initially, agricultural exports surged. Otherwise, a start towards a
continental-market-state weakened local manufactures while threatening
the revenue from Tatts.
After 1910, the State budget depended on special grants. Federation did
more to unsettle Tasmania’s political landscape and industrial
relations than it did those of other States because of the island’s
legacies, exemplified in its labour movement with its tardy, then rapid,
yet never secure growth.
Following the convict era, the rhythm of working-class activity was similar to that on the mainland, albeit in a lower register, as workers set up parochial societies, often around a dispute, with few lasting more than a year. Early in 1883, labourers in Hobart and Launceston each formed a Society, the latter contacting its Melbourne counterpart. The Hobart Bricklayers/Builders’ Laborers’ Protective/Accident and Benefit Society met intermittently from 1886 until 1893, and perhaps until 1899 as the Hobart Builders’ Labourers’ Union. The labourers were not at the Hobart Intercolonial Trades’ Union and Labor Congress in 1889, but they were represented at Ballarat by W. Smith in 1891. In 1898, the Tasmanian Workers’ Union recruited brickies’ labourers and a clergyman. With each trade too tiny to fund its own full-time officials, activists favoured One Medium Union.
1908, the spread of the industrial movement relied on organisers from
the mainland who initiated the Australian Workers Union, the Timber
Workers, the Carters and Drivers, and the Millers and Mill Employees.
In 1910, a Melbourne official from the Federated Engine Drivers and
Firemen’s Association signed up 200 members on Tasmania’s West
Coast, while also campaigning for Federal Labor.
builders’ labourers re-organised themselves during 1910 but welcomed
the chance to ally with their mainland brethren. Ernest John Cowley
became foundation secretary of the Tasmanian Builders’ Labourers’
Union from 16 July 1910, with twenty-four members, retaining that post
until 2 January 1912 when he moved to the Presidency. The Tasmanian BLU
sent an observer to the formation of the Australian Builders’
Labourers’ Federation in Melbourne in September 1910, voting to join
on 29 November 1910, and adopting the Federal Log in March 1911.
The granting of the Award in December 1913 doubled membership to around
100. During 1913, Charles Ernest Culley
(1877-1949) took over as secretary, serving as a paid agitator on behalf
of several callings in order to provide enough dues to meet his own
wages. Total ABLF Branch revenues for the four years to November 1915
were £169 12s 7d.
eager as Tasmania’s bourgeoisie were to erase the convict stain, they
had difficulty in emancipating themselves from the assumption that their
employees were bonded labour.
Any organisation by their Servants affronted this presumption. Before
the Intercolonial Trades’ and Labor Union Congress could assemble in
Hobart in 1889, the government had to grant dispensation from the
Conspiracy Act, a condescension which led to a legalising of trade
unions later in the year.
changes illustrate how the self-organisation of classes is shaped by
their relations with state apparatuses. Tasmanian employers had lost
some of the clout from the Masters and Servants Acts after 1884.
With the appearance of State and Federal Labor administrations after
1904, the bourgeoisie had to adjust to their executive committees’
being entrusted to strangers. The fissures in authority went ‘beyond
the spatial boundaries of organisational coherence’,
as was happening along the West Coast mining areas. By 1906, amendments
to the Electoral Law had almost completed adult franchise for the House
although the hefty property qualification for the Legislative Council
The preaching of Christian Socialism by Anglican Bishop Mercer was but
one of the challenges to ‘cast-iron conservatism’.
To counter the organisation of labour and to block government
interference with the rights of free labour, the island’s businessmen
and pastoralists regrouped during the spring of 1908 by forming an
A lot of lawyers’ language - Section 51 (xxxv)
time, Higgins succeeded with the support of the erstwhile premier, Henry
Dobson, who, like most of those in favour, saw the power as one of
conciliation. Braddon was dismayed at the endorsement by ‘extreme
conservatives, or I may say Tories’.
legal and industrial battles that flowed from the ABLF’s 1910
application for a Federal Award determined the scope of Section 51 (xxxv).
Building employers went from assuming that the Court’s jurisdiction
could not include them to realising that they had to block its reach.
They contended that Higgins lacked the constitutional power to hear the
ABLF claim on three grounds:
building was not an industry. The courts accepted that ‘building’
was a quasi-industry;
no dispute existed. Higgins used his power to ‘prevent’ disputes to
accept a Log even when no stoppage was in train, creating ‘paper’
above all, a ‘dispute’ in the building trade could not extend
‘beyond the limits of any one State’. The Secretary of the MBA in
Victoria, Charles R. Eldridge, argued:
‘The builder’s business is purely local in all its
If an inter-State dispute in the building trades seemed artificial
on the mainland, Bass Strait made the prospect appear ludicrous to the
island’s employers who had not voted ‘Yes’ to federation to have a
‘political judge’ drive up the price of labour. Thus, the Tasmanian
Master Builders were doubly anxious to detach their conditions from a
labourers held back from pressing their employers further until they
could build up strength locally, and inter-State. When Tasmanian
labourers called for a strike to improve their earnings, their officers
dissuaded them because direct action would disrupt the proceedings in
On 25 July 1911, the members endorsed a joint union in Southern
Tasmania, sending two delegates to discuss amalgamation. The new body
approached the Masters in September. A month later, the building unions
accepted 9s 4d a day, without classifications. The ABLF agreed to the
offer, despite dissatisfaction that 1s 2d per hour was not enough,
especially when its members rarely got a full week’s work across the
year. The MBA failed to pay the promised rate with the excuse that the
unions’ letter of acceptance had arrived late. At the next conference
with the Master Builders’, the labourers felt that the MBA’s
executive told them to go to the devil.
Across Australia, employers hoped to circumvent the CCCA by
establishing Wages Boards. Tasmania’s Legislative Council followed
this stratagem in March 1910.
The government set up a Board for the Building Trades from 12 March 1912
to stymie the ABLF’s Log.
witnesses before the CCCA reported daily wage rates of 6s in 1910 and
between 7s to 8s by 1913.
In fact, the daily income of Tasmanian builders’ labourers ranged from
nothing to 7s.
The nothing was frequent because of the casual nature of their
employment - ‘following the job’ - and through ‘lost time’ in
the wet, or waiting for materials. Pay also stopped if they were away
sick, and on public holidays.
Gaining a consideration for this ‘lost time’ was a prime objective
of the Log. Higgins awarded a 20 percent loading on 19 December 1913,
when he also established a 44-hour week.
The Masters appealed to the High Court, which, in May 1914, upheld the
employers waited on their appeal to the Privy Council,
they pondered other means of relief from the squeeze on their
profit-taking, which a drought, and then the war had intensified. After
an initial rush of projects to service the armed forces, the demands of
the Moloch for men, money and materials slashed construction projects.
Only one school was under contract in Hobart where thirty men lost their
jobs when the brickworks closed.
Military service on behalf of aggregate social capital deprived the
employers of the benefits from the expanding reserve army of labourers
that slumps usually delivered. Instead, workers who had not volunteered
turned militant if not absorbed on public works,
a discontent stoked by inflation of 30 percent between July 1914 to July
Secretary for the Tasmanian MBA, and manager of the Builders’ Supply
Co., Mr Charles Falkinder, proposed that an increase be avoided by
labourers lunching on apple pies instead of meat ones. That change in
diet, he counseled, would be good for their health: ‘it is a
well-known fact - that too much meat is consumed’.
Victorian ABLF Secretary Ben Mulvogue wanted ‘to see Mr Falkinder
running up a ladder or excavating’ on the labour power from an apple
also pointed out that builders’ labourers could get a higher income by
reverting to 48-hours. The additional half-day would lift their weekly
earnings by 5s 2d to £3 2s. The Masters resented the time they lost
under the 44-hour week since labourers had to erect scaffolds and mix
mortars for tradesmen still on 48 hours.
The Masters lost production time and hence surplus value.
They were doubly afflicted when paying overtime for those four hours.
The MBA further observed that when ABLF members laboured on construction
sites, rather than on buildings, they were outside the ABLF Award and so
got by on the lower daily rate of 8s under the Wages Board, and also put
in 48 hours.
the gap of 4s a day between the Federal Award and that of the Wages
Board, support for the latter from militants seems inexplicable until it
is realised that workers without a legal minimum were likely to be as
badly off as they had been at the time of the 1907 Report
into sweating. Some of the navvies in the United Labourers’ Union (ULU)
were in that situation. In mid-May 1916, ABLF organiser Champ escorted
three ULU representatives on a deputation to the Deputy-Chief Inspector
of Factories to seek a Wages Board for pick-and-shovel men, who were
getting as little as 5s a day, although their average was between 7s 6d
and 8s, with a few contractors offering 9s 4d. Champ observed that
‘[t]he average wage owing to loss of time and bad weather would not
work out at more than 35s a week’, or just under 6s a day. He
explained that ‘[a] man might be in a bad way financially, and be
inclined to start work at practically any rate an employer liked to give
him’. Navvies sometimes did not find out their rate until the end of
their first week. The Inspector compared local wages favourably with
those in Victoria and Queensland to conclude that the creation of a
Board for navvies remained ‘extremely doubtful’.
Within a month, the ULU had merged with the ABLF, which opened the way
to lifting the daily rate for navvies by a half.
Commonwealth Statist showed that, by early 1916, a labourer needed
thirty-five shillings to buy what thirty-one had got three years
Higgins reminded his critics that, although cost-of-living figures
appear ‘dry and uninteresting’, they ‘imply much suffering, and
perhaps permanent injury, to many families in a humble condition’. The
MBA deemed the cost-of-living statistics ‘unreliable’, and countered
that the war had reduced their incomes too.
Higgins rejected that plea as no
18 May 1916, he decided that, from Friday, 2 June, the hourly rate for
Tasmania be increased by 2½d to
an Award does not end a dispute. Victorian labourers had to battle
around the jobs to have the variation applied.
In Tasmania, employer resistance developed into a lockout. No sooner had
reports of the increase reached Hobart than some thirty Masters met.
Although they made ‘no binding decision,’ all agreed to pay only £3
2s for forty-eight hours, and not £3 6s for forty-four.
The Mercury endorsed the
offer: ‘It may not be a fancy wage for a man with a family in these
times of high prices; but it should be a living wage with moderate
economy. Even if it were less, many men would be glad to earn what they
could rather that work should stop’.
When is a lockout?
of lockouts are exceptional in comparison with strikes.
The imbalance of power in the labour process, based on control over the
means of production, with backing from the state, allows capital to make
labour appear to take the initiative when unions are only reacting to
decisions taken behind closed doors. Acknowledging that fact will make
it possible to recalibrate the fraction of strikes that have been de
the 1914 Commonwealth Act, employers who were parties to an award were
subject to two levels of restraint. Clause 4 forbade lockouts, defined
keeping their jobs open with non-ABLF workers, the Hobart employers
contended that they had not violated the law. However, clause 8
broadened the definition of lockout to cover any refusal to offer
‘employment upon the terms of the agreement’. By this criterion, the
masters were open to prosecution. Clause 6 prescribed a £1,000 fine for
a lockout, and clause 9 set £50 for denying a benefit.
Conspiracy - ‘a common practice’
law associated conspiracies with almost every offence, its class bias
conveyed by ‘we rule: they conspire’, as happened to the Tolpuddle
Scholars distinguish over-arching fantasies about the Knights Templar
from common practices of organising, when ‘conspiracy’ is close to
its etymological roots of ‘breathing together’,
which is what the employers did on 18 May. Hobart employers agreed among
themselves not to pay, and did so in ways that concealed their decision.
They also backed a scab union of bricklayers. Such tactics are everyday
procedures in business. The MBAs were taking a step further if they were
preparing to use those actions to break up the ABLF.
smoking gun is the meeting on 18 May. The circumstantial evidence is
their resistance to any Award and their collusive practices. The years
during which the employers had made no secret of their opposition to
being subject to the Commonwealth Court increased the likelihood of
their covert organising.
They spent £6,506 11s 5d in arguing to the Privy Council that their
members could not be involved in disputes ‘beyond the limits of any
The 1917 restoration of the 48-hour week to Tasmania and New South Wales
demonstrated that they were never reconciled to a national standard.
the employers had grounds for feeling that the 1916 increase had been
awarded unfairly. First, the ABLF had promised to abide by the 1913
Award for five years, but was getting a variation half-way through.
Secondly, Higgins had refused to allow the Masters to introduce evidence
about average earnings, causing MBA officers, including Tasmania’s
Falkinder, to withdraw.
willingness to conspire was standard operating procedure for all sectors
of business, with price-fixing the norm throughout the economy. Trade
associations existed for that purpose, as Adam Smith made notorious.
The Builders’ and Contractors’ Association of Tasmania had been
formed March 1891 to fend off price-cutting on contracts.
In 1911, the NSW MBA justified its members’ involvement in illegal
commissions by saying that they ‘should be openly recognised’
because they were ‘universal and worldwide’.
In 1915, the MBA in Victoria proposed a secret compact with the ABLF to
pay the higher rate in exchange for the union’s granting MBA members
preference in obtaining labourers.
Even while the lockout proceeded, the Victorian Masters were proffering
inducements to the ABLF to deny labourers to any builder not observing
officials believed that Hobart employers were sending scabs onto sites
to provoke a walk-off of members who then went onto strike pay. Asked if
the employers feared a general stoppage, MBA President Stabb replied:
‘I would be very glad to hear that it was so. I hope it will come, and
if it does I know very well which side will cave in first. From our
point of view it could not come at a better time’.
Mulvogue pictured the masters’ provoking a general strike to bankrupt
all the building unions on the island.
Hobart contractors backed a remnant of the Bricklayers Society in the
Australasian Bricklayers’ Society, to which the Hobart TLC refused
promotion of a scab union repeated one of the tactics which capital had
adopted to block the spread of unions under the aegis of Commonwealth
Arbitration. Employers underwrote the appointment of organisers in the
five mainland States for the Australian Independent Workers’
Federation, which enrolled 3,000 members. A fighting fund to appoint
organisers in Tasmania during 1912 seems not to have got beyond ‘a
deal of correspondence’.
The employers linked their backing for the Independent to their support
for Wages Board, with the labourers’ representative on the Board in
South Australia coming from the Independent.
The Independent was active in the building trades, with 100 Victorian
labourers, but did not set up a specialist branch for them.
had been careful to fund the Independent as individuals, and not through
their organisations. Similarly, the Tasmanian Masters ran their lockout
through the kind of association you have when you are liable to £1,000
fines. The MBA did not conduct the meeting of 18 May, its Secretary
staying away from his own office, in which the employers gathered. No
minutes were kept.
After the MBA’s regular meeting on 19 June, its officials told the
Press that the ‘troubles’ had not been discussed.
The MBA’s eschewing a paper trail is significant because the
Inter-State Commission had just excoriated the Master Printers for
running a cartel.
The MBA’s legal representative in the 1916 wages claim was H J Starke
who had warned the Victorian Master Printers against suing for
defamation because such action would further expose their price-fixing.
officials recognised that they had to defeat the lockout if labourers
were to continue as a Federation. Its Executive sent down its big guns
to show that it intended, in Champ’s phrase, ‘a fight to the
Federal Secretary Percy Smith and the Tasmanian-born Federal President
Jack Millard addressed street-corner meetings.
Smith toured sites for the next fortnight, urging men to refuse work at
the 1913 rate,
he found himself in a labour movement remote from any he had known.
Champ had told the Inter-State Trade Union conference that met in Hobart
during May that the city’s unions were ‘at present really “a
In addition, regional suspicions were stronger than those between
tradesmen and labourers, with the West Coast, the North-West, Launceston
and Hobart more like fiefdoms than locals of the one union.At
least, Launceston labourers had voted to join the ABLF shortly before
the lockout, though no report has been found of their participation.
Was this lack of solidarity why Millard gave the Masters one last chance
to pay up on 17 June?
custom complicated Smith’s organising. On hearing rumours that some
carpenters were blacklegs, he asked the Amalgamated Carpenters’ and
Joiners’ Society not to work with non-union labourers. Its Secretary
denied that his members had scabbed by doing labourers’ work because
‘carpenters’ labourers have never been in vogue in Hobart, it is a
very fine line of demarcation’. The ABLF accepted his explanation,
which was a measure of the scale of the building game around Hobart.
lockout tightened the links between the labourers and tradesmen, diverse
trades agreeing, on Sunday, 11 June, to amalgamate; even the
electricians gave Champ a good hearing when he addressed them about
The disputes committee
of the Hobart T&LC revived plans for One Medium
Union for the industry.
The United Labourers Union (ULU) voted to merge with the ABLF, which one
ULU leader called ‘the best little show in Tasmania’. After the
ULU’s farewell gathering on 19 June, 140 of its members marched to the
ABLF’s meeting to more than double the Branch membership.
Life around the jobs on lockout pay
even labourers who swore that they would not work below the Award,
wavered in their commitment. When unionists had offered to go on working
at the old rate, their employers declined because doing so would be an
offence. William Ling suggested that he and his mate stay on – under
protest – at £3 2s for 48 hours, but their boss refused. Ling
testified that he had made the offer because he had a wife and family to
keep; he also hoped that the new rate might be made retrospective for
those who kept working.
How many more labourers would have done the same had their union not
altered the balance of class forces by providing lockout pay?
poured in from the mainland to sustain the families of those who were
locked out. Victorian labourers had backed the establishment of a
Federation in 1910 in order to improve wages and conditions in the
States where their fellows were not so well organised, Tasmania becoming
the prime beneficiary. As nomads, all labourers gained from this
approach when they followed the job inter-State. Moreover, lower rates
in one jurisdiction put a downward pressure on the others.
Victorians again spared no expense to enforce the benefits from
Arbitration, a system which some officials opposed.
For the moment, however, they cleaved to the CCCA to preserve their
Federation. On learning of the lockout, the Victorians sent ₤100,
until a mass meeting struck a levy of 2s 6d a week to pay the Tasmanians
₤2 a week each, more than most could expect to take home during
winter when their trade declined.
In July, the Victorians dispatched a further ₤100. With 150 in
attendance, a meeting on 17 July rejected a motion to discontinue the
levy. Most paid ‘cheerfully’, though one man did so only ‘after
using some dog Latin’.
A vote on 31 July supplied another ₤150. The NSW Branch was slow
to set up a levy.
Before breaking the lockout, the Federation had sent ₤750,
including ₤100 from the Federal Council.
from tradesmen’s unions on the mainland were sparse.
The Progressive Carpenters in the ACT contributed what their Secretary
admitted was the ‘widow’s mite’ each fortnight.
The dispute exposed a rift in the Victorian Building Trades Federation
when the Plumbers and Gasfitters, the Masons and the Progressive
Carpenters sent only ₤25 between them, and the Plasterers refuse
unions, such as the Clerks and the Textile Workers, contributed from the
The labourers benefited from an Arbitration Defence Fund, run by the Daily
Post, which, by 17 June, had garnered only ₤9 11s to feed the
Supporters sent a further ₤90 over the following month, then
almost ₤1,000 during July, with guineas from unions in Zeehan and
Late in August, Smith reported that, although many members had been
placed at Award rates, fifty were still locked out and in need of
₤100 a week.
Not until the end of September were all getting the new Award.
police magistrate W O Wise began the hearings against seventeen
employers on Friday, 15 September. The test case concerned James
McKenzie and his foreman labourer, Fred Eaton, who had joined the ABLF
in 1911 and had worked for McKenzie for over fifteen years, rating him
‘one of the best of employers’. Indeed, McKenzie had accompanied
Champ to the Chief Secretary to urge the appointment of a builders’
labourer to the Wages Board.
quantity and quality of courtroom evidence allow us to trace elements in
the making of classes that can be lost from sight in the retelling of
clashes as extensive as the 1917 General Strike. Here, we glimpse
workers making themselves into part of a class in reaction to their
experience at being treated as a thing, to wit, the commodity of labour
Personal relationships could not elude this force of the market even in
Hobart which was like a string of villages where that thunderer against
capitalism, Samuel Champ, addressed master builders in the street by
their given names.
Such connections between capital and labour illumine the ‘human sensuous activity, practice’ through which each class moves
from being connected ‘much like potatoes in a sack’
towards establishing an awareness of its collective ‘rights,
privileges, opportunities as well as their possibilities’.
More material in this instance is available from the labourers’ side
because the masters had placed themselves under a rule of silence. Press
reports of discussions on the job were not ‘first-hand’, yet,
collectively, the newspapers supply the textures and tone of class
relations at the point of construction.
the Monday before the Award took effect, McKenzie had asked Eaton what
he was going to do about the increase, to which he replied: ‘I can’t
work under the award rate’. On the Thursday, McKenzie reminded Eaton
that the Master Builders had decided not to pay the extra. Eaton
reiterated his refusal to work for less.
admitted in Court that ‘the only reason for dismissing the men was the
increase of wages …It was a matter of principle’.
was also a question of principal. McKenzie had made himself a victim of
the times when he grasped at a chance to stay in business by
underbidding £1,200 on the £14,000 contract for Hobart High School,
Park Street, out of which he was unlikely to make much money, even by
scrimping on materials and sweating his workers. He testified that, when
his bid had been accepted in April, he had not contemplated an increase
in labour costs, despite being summoned. McKenzie’s poor judgement
became more apparent on 8 June when he asked Smith if he could go on
paying the old rate. In response to Smith’s dismissive ‘is that all
you can suggest?’, McKenzie replied,
‘I thought you would have met me with that’. He feared that if the
labourers got a rise, his tradesmen would insist on an increase. He had
paid £200 deposit and stood to lose £1,500 if higher rates became
universal. His tradesmen saved him by agreeing to the existing rates on
the High School job.
The State government lifted the contract price by ₤150 in
mid-July, which allowed him to meet the variation, and to reemploy
Eaton, whom he acknowledged to be ‘an excellent worker’.
Secretary Charles Falkinder testified that McKenzie had quit the MBA in
December 1915, which, given his 1913 presidency of its predecessor, is
remarkable, though explicable if McKenzie had dropped out to underbid
for the High School contract. Falkinder acknowledged that McKenzie had
attended the informal gathering on the Award variation.
fined McKenzie ₤25, with ₤43 in costs, for dismissing Eaton.
The Act allowed a percentage of the fine to be paid to the locked-out
worker. Wise did not so direct, although Eaton had been out for six
appeared again on Wednesday, 20 September, in regard to Thomas Lidster
and Felix Lopez on a Warnford Street job. On 1 June, the foreman had
told the pair that McKenzie was not going to meet the new rate. They
returned the following morning but did not start, waiting for McKenzie
to confirm that they were no longer employed. When McKenzie repeated his
determination not to pay, the men filled out their timesheets, an
hour’s notice being customary. McKenzie offered them work at the old
rate but both said they could not accept those terms. Unable to find
proof that the men had been sacked, Wise concluded that they had
discharged themselves, and he dismissed the charges.
also acquitted Arthur Davie for his treatment of Charles Cullen who had
worked for him for six years when ‘their relations had always been of
the best’. During smoko on June 2, Davie had raised the question of
continued till 5 pm but did not return, taking the exchange as final.
The magistrate accepted Davie’s defence that Cullen ‘had himself put
an end to his employment by refusing to work for less than the award
with the acquittal of McKenzie over Lidster and Lopez, Wise had drawn a
line between an employer’s saying ‘I won’t pay the legal rate and
therefore won’t employ you’, and his telling a labourer that ‘I
won’t pay the legal rate’ but then leaving it up to the labourer to
deduce that this refusal did not amount to dismissal.
To the men, this was a distinction without a difference. A
logic-chopping barrister could extract Wise’s interpretation from the
exchanges, but those conversations carried a contrary significance on
sites where the power to hire and fire decided the terms of debate.
comparable power over speech applied in the courtrooms. When the lawyer
for the Gilham brothers cross-examined labourer Albert Price about how
his clients had known of his union membership, he replied that this had
come out because he had had some back-time owing. When the barrister
accused Price of having been coached ‘to give that answer’, Wise
magistrate did not apply his perception of Price’s mental status to
how labourers interpreted discussions on site.
McKenzie’s was the headline case, Alderman James Dunn had been the
MBA’s protagonist. After dismissing the ABLF Branch President, E J
Cowley, with ‘Ernie, you’d best go angling tomorrow’,
he refused to let his sub-contracting plasterer employ Cowley at the
Dunn’s sons took over the labouring on the cheap. The case came up
before Wise on Monday,18 September, only to be postponed
until 28th, after Dunn’s counsel referred to Wise’s
questioning of Falkinder about Dunn’s actions as chairman of the
builders’ informal gathering in May. His lawyer asked whether His
Honour could now ‘forget’ that evidence and - if not - should he not
step aside. Wise, as they say, waxed indignant at this ‘wicked and
iniquitous reflection’. He refused to proceed with Dunn but went on
with the others.
A magistrate came down from Launceston ten days later to convict Dunn
calmed down enough to cope with a second challenge to proceedings.
Reports that McKenzie was appealing against his conviction led the
magistrate to suggest that he should suspend the other cases until the
Supreme Court had ruled on his judgement, fearing a waste of time and
money if his decisions were overturned. He agreed to continue after the
counsel for the ABLF assured him that the union would accept defeat if
McKenzie won his appeal.
Launceston magistrate let Dunn off another charge on the grounds that he
had planned to dismiss that man anyway.
Wise fined two more employers ₤10 each, but discharged other
Because Chas. Gilham had told Price that he was to be dismissed at 5 pm,
Wise had to find the Gillham brothers guilty.
ABLF lawyers withdrew charges against H Crow and James H Hancock.
defendants argued that they had not committed an offence because they
had sacked their labourers before the new rate took effect on Friday, 2
June. The courts rejected this argument, accepting that timing was less
important than an intention to evade the Award: ‘Even if he was
dismissed for only 24 hours, there would be a breach of the award’,
the middle of these proceedings, unsatisfactory but unspecified news led
the Federal ABLF Executive to confer by wire before sending Smith back
to Hobart on Friday, 22 September, with instructions to ‘adopt certain
methods that would place matters as the Federation required’. On
arrival, he found that all was well and departed the same day.
Had the alarm concerned the withdrawal of prosecutions, or the appeals?
Chief Justice, Sir Richard Nicholls, son of H R Nicholls, late editor of
referred the appeals to the Full Bench, which, in November, decided
unanimously that McKenzie and Dunn had broken the law.
to the abuse of unions from Empire loyalists, Victorian ABLF organiser
Dick Loughnan had asked, in June,
Loughnan been wrong to expect judicial bias? Insofar as the courts could
find no way past the wording of the Act, they convicted. The magistrates
acquitted if the defendant could claim that a sacking was not connected
to the new rate. Wise exposed
his prejudices: ‘I wish I could think that we are living in a free
country, but the Act seems plain.’
Wherever possible, the
magistrates conjured grounds to acquit, before judges suggested openings
through which employers might elude the enforcement provisions of the
Act. Nicholls CJ commented that ‘this law, if construed according to
the plain and usual meanings of its words, will produce consequences
sometimes absurd and sometimes oppressive’. Crisp J thought that
‘there is a material distinction between the case of the employer who
says, “I cannot pay”, and that of him who says, “I will not
pay”.’ He proposed that an employer was not locking out his workers
if his discontinuing their employment preserved him from bankruptcy.
ABLF funded the cases before the Supreme Court but did not challenge the
acquittals even though they rendered the penal provisions against
lockouts nugatory. Perhaps they were reserving funds for the case before
the Privy Council in defence of ‘beyond the limits of any one
State’, on which the Award, indeed, the Federation itself, depended,
and which it won, with costs, in June 1917.
before the conscription fight erupted in September, the Labor Party had
been splitting over industrial issues. At its NSW Conference during
Easter 1916, ABLF Federal President Millard led the attack against
Premier Holman and Prime Minister Hughes for
their sackings of casual workers on the eve of holidays.
After two years of a minority Labor administration in Tasmania, which
had ‘played the game’, many a unionist welcomed the defection of
ex-Premier John Earle to the pro-conscription camp.
ideas, with touches of Marxism, informed the militancy around the
lockout. In April, the first Labor member of the Legislative Council,
James McDonald, denounced the wages system as ‘slavery in its worst
The Industrial Workers of the World attracted the least formally
skilled, with a dozen members in the Linda Valley, outside Queenstown.
Champ trumpeted a Wobbly tune by declaring that British liberties had
not been won
the Inter-State Trade Union Congress in May 1916, Champ had seconded a
resolution to confiscate rents, interest and profits over £300.
Notwithstanding this rhetoric, Tasmania was one of the two States to vote ‘Yes’
at both conscription plebiscites.
the ABLF’s courtroom victories, the Federation could not maintain its
1913 Award. In October 1917, it accepted a reversion to a 48-hour week
for New South Wales and Tasmania, ‘very unwillingly’, according to
Higgins, and only
to be ‘relieved of the burden of making application to the High
Court under section 21AA, and of disputes as to jurisdiction’.
The union had faced an informal lockout with employers preferring
members of other unions because of their longer hours and lower wages.
Were the MBAs behind this black-balling? To avoid a preference clause,
the employers undertook not to ‘discriminate against members or
officers of the organisation in giving or continuing employment’.
a flurry in September 1919, the Tasmanian Branch did not flourish,
rarely meeting its sustentation fees to the Federation and often in
receipt of loans to keep afloat, while proposing a merger with Victoria.
In 1922, membership was down to 108 and, by 1926, to eighty, twenty-five
fewer than before the lockout and the merger with the ULU.
explanations for the Branch’s failings were also its options for
growth. First, the opportunity to rely on mainland support shrank as the
ABLF itself ceased to function as a national body from the early 1920s,
with the larger Branches limping along while ‘sticking apart’.
Secondly, the smallness of the island’s workforce led to a version of
the enthusiasm for One Big Union, combining local amalgamations with
links to mainland unions; for the BLs, that route was likely to see them
swallowed by the AWU, as happened to navvies in other States.
Finally, a want of organisers willing to initiate action to attract
members played its part in the Branch’s stagnation. Champ remained
active but not as a paid official.
Once Secretary Culley became Trades and Labor Secretary in 1917, a
member of State parliament in 1922, and secretary for the confectionary
workers, he had even less time to agitate around building sites.
The significance of external support remained a constant, though variable in its effects. Communists, backed by Victorian comrades, revived the Branch in the 1940s, only to be purged by the NSW gangsters allied with the Industrial Groupers in 1951. The Tasmanian ABLF then passed through thirty years of lassitude under ‘Speed’ Morgan, who kept in sweet with the employers and whichever faction controlled the Federation. The Branch regained its militancy in the 1980s, again with backing from Melbourne.
Alan Atkinson, ‘Tasmania and the multiplicity of nations’, Tasmanian
Historical Research Association, Papers
and Proceedings, (THRA, PP),
52, (4), December 2005, pp. 189-200.
The Federation drought ended four years earlier than on the
mainland, Tasmanian Year Book,
1970, Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics: Hobart,
1970, pp. 70-71; Roe, State of
Tasmania, pp. 161-2 and 174; for the Tatts contretempts, pp.
Mercury, 18 May 1916, p.
M D McRae, ‘The Tasmanian Labour Party and Trade Unions,
1903-1923’, THRA, PP, 5
(1), April 1956, pp. 4-13; Quinlan, THRA,
PP, 2005, pp. 100-1.
Richard Davis, ‘Charles Ernest Culley’, Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB), vol. 9, MUP: Carlton, 1981, p. 169.
R P Davis, ‘Tasmania’, D J Murphy (ed.), Labor in Politics, the state labor parties in Australia 1880-1920,
University of Queensland Press: St Lucia, 1975, p. 391.
Warden, ‘Tasmania’, Centenary
companion, pp. 194 and 214-5.
Robson, History of Tasmania, II, p. 233; David Plowman, ‘Industrial
Legislation and the Rise of Employer Associations, 1890-1906’, Journal
of Industrial Relations (JIR),
27 (3), September 1985, pp. 283-309, and ‘Employers and Compulsory
Arbitration: The Higgins Era 1907-1920’, JIR,
28 (4), December 1986, pp. 588-609.
Official Report of the
Australasian Federal Convention Debates, Government Printer,
Melbourne, 1898, pp. 192, 203-5 and 214-5; four of the five
Tasmanian members of the House of Representatives opposed the 1904
Argus, 3 February 1911, p.
8. When Higgins summoned the MBAs in three States in February 1911,
their representatives attended, against their will, and to avoid
a ₤500 fine, while disparaging the attempt at compulsory
conciliation as a ‘farce’. They feared ‘industrial chaos’, Argus,
3 February 1911, p. 8, and 23 February 1911, p. 5. While Higgins
decided the ABLF claim, the
President of the Steamship Owners’ Federation, W T Appleton,
opined that Higgins’s interpretation of ‘beyond the limits of
any one State’ appeared to be ‘a matter of taste’, Mercury,
18 May 1916, p. 3; Higgins’s response, Argus,
18 May 1916, p. 8, and 31 May 1916, p. 8.
Robson, History of Tasmania,
II, pp. 232-3.
Davis, ‘Tasmania’, Labor
in Politics, p. 417; Alison Alexander (ed.), The Companion to Tasmanian
History, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies: Hobart, 2005,
offers four different years for their creation, pp. 233 (1910), 366
(1909), 377 and 422 (1911) and 422 (late nineteenth century).
1913 Transcript, pp. 1060,
1071, 1091 and 1094.
18 CLR (1914) 224; in
1917, the High Court upheld a fine imposed on a striking worker who
had appealed on the grounds that the dispute had not been ‘beyond
the limits of one State’, 23 CLR
(1917) 226. O de R Foenander remarked that ‘[i]t took the High
Court many years to decide, with something approaching finality and
only after a tremendous volume of tedious and bewildering
litigation, the frontiers of this jurisdiction and the extent of the
Court’s powers’, Studies
in Australian Law and Relations, MUP: Carlton, 1952, pp. 53-58,
where he refers to the ABLF case, p. 53; other employers appealed in
the hope of blocking cover, 22 CLR
(1916) 261 and 23 CLR
(1917) 22; David Plowman and Graham F. Smith, ‘Moulding Federal
Arbitration: The Employers and the High Court, 1903-1935’, Australian
Journal of Management, 11 (2), December 1986, pp. 203-29.
Argus, 1 June 1916, p. 7;
15 February 1917, p. 7.
NAA A106 G1921/2019; 9 CAR
(1915) 197, and 9 CAR
(1915) 327; Argus, 9 July
1915, p. 4, 15 July 1915, p. 9, 16 July 1915, p. 9, 28 July 1915, p.
11, 7 August 1915, p. 15; 8 February 1916, p. 6, and 12 February
1916, p. 7. The Mercury
condemned the propensity of Labor governments to meet wage demands,
thereby inscribing a ‘vicious circle’ which confined private
contracts to cottage work, 1 February 1916, p. 4.
Cheap meat had been one of the benefits promised by Federation,
Robson, Tasmania, II, p. 201, instead
 BLN, 12 May 1916, p. 1. The High Court judge assisting Higgins, Chas. Powers, took a similar line by urging clerical workers to substitute cheaper lines since he could not grant higher wages, 10 CAR (1916) 16 at 42-53, ‘Editorial’, Argus, 4 April 1916. ABLF officers replied that fish and rabbits had become as costly as the more expensive fare, with the price of rabbits – ‘an article of food largely used by workers’ - having quadrupled from sixpence to 2s a pair, BLN, 4 February 1916, pp. 4-5, 31 March 1916, p. 2.
1913 Transcript, p. 1104.
SMH, 27 April 1916, p. 10;
10 CAR (1916) 131 at 133.
 Greg Patmore, Australian Labour History, Longman Cheshire: Melbourne, 1991, mentions no lockout between the depressions of the 1890s and the 1930s. Portus discusses three NSW lockouts and one from Western Australia between 1902 and 1922 in a chapter on ‘Penal Strike Legislation’, The Development of Australian Trade Union Law, pp. 212-4. Chris Briggs notes the rarity of both lockouts and of comments on those few, but provides a guide to such literature as there is, ‘Lockout Law in Australia: The Case for Reform’, Journal of Industrial Relations (JIR), April 2007, 49 (1), pp. 167-85. Neither Patmore, nor Portus nor Briggs mentions the 1916 Tasmanian lockout; Foenander refers to it, Studies in Australian Law and Industrial Relations, p. 58.
a later lockout, J Dargavel, ‘ “Not easy work to starve their
employees”: 1921-22 Tasmanian Timber Dispute’, Labour
History, 84, May 2003, pp. 47-67. Building unions claimed that
lockouts became the order of the day during the 1920s when their
members granted themselves a shorter week, see Herald
(Melb.), 27 April 1920, p. 8, and my ‘Lessons from defeat: The
1927 Claim for a 40-hour Week by Queensland Building Industry
Unions’, Queensland Journal
of Labour History, 3, September 2006, pp. 17-46. Comparable
issues were raised in the first lockout case before the ACCC, 1 CAR (1907) 107, and again when Powers J rejected the allegation by
Ballarat miners that the contract system was, in effect, a lockout, Argus,
1 April 1916, p. 7. The 1904 Act, s. 6 (1), had forbidden employers
to ‘do anything in the nature of a lockout’.
Commonwealth Acts, XIII,
1914-15, pp. 208-10; Portus, The
Development of Trade Union Law, pp. 212-214.
Robert Spicer, Law, Class and
Society, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1981.
 see my ‘None dare call it conspiracy’, Gallipoli to Petrov, Arguing with Australian History, George Allen & Unwin: Sydney, 1984, pp. 246-52; Bryan Burrough, Vendetta, American Express and the Smearing of Edmund Safra (HarperCollins: New York, 1992) should silence those who dismiss the rubbing together of any two footnotes as ‘conspiracy theory’.
Argus, 3 February 1911, p.
8; counsel for the MBA at the 1916 hearings sought an adjournment
until the judgement of London, Mercury,
27 April 1916, p. 3.
 Mercury, 28 April 1916, p. 3; 10 CAR (1916) 131 at 134-5; Mercury, 3 June 1916, p. 3. The MBAs withdrew from the proceedings after Higgins ruled that he could not hear their submission because they had not made the ‘substantive application’ required under section 39 of the Act.
 Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Volume One, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1976, Chapter 10, Part 2; Fortune, April and May 1961, pp. 132ff. and 161ff; see my The Essence of Capitalism, Sceptre: Sydney, 2001, chapters 6-8; for local instances see H L Wilkinson, The Trust Movement in Australia, Critchley Parker: Melbourne, 1914, and my ‘Struggle over Settlement: tariffs, arbitration and price-fixing’, www.alphalink.com.au/~loge27Aust Hist
In 1913, the Tasmanian Builders’ and Contractors’ Association
became the Master Builders’ Association, Dianne Snowden, Foundations
of a Tasmanian history: a history of the Master Builders’
Association, 1891-2005, MBA Tasmania: Hobart, 2005,
 ‘Report of the Royal Commission of inquiry into certain matters relating to the Department of Public Works’, NSW Parliamentary Papers, 1911, volume 1, pp. 681-926; NSW MBA Annual Report, 1911, no pagination. For price-fixing by suppliers, see Architecture, June 1921, p. 181.
In 1994, Leighton’s CEO Wal King excused his firm’s use of false invoices to conceal price-fixing as ‘the culture … and custom that had been long-standing in the industry that had been handed on for years’, NSW Casino Control Authority, Report of Public Inquiry, 1994, p. 32; for Leighton’s collusive tendering, Royal Commission into Productivity in the Building Industry, Report, NSW Parliamentary Papers, 1992, v. XXII, Paper 273, pp. 99 and 130.
NAA A106 G1921/2019.
Mercury, 2 June 1916, p.
6; for the attempt to bring in brickies, DP,
13 August 1916, p. 6.
Argus, 9 July 1912, p. 8.
Mercury, 16 September
1916, p. 9. In keeping with this silence, no mention of the dispute
appears in Snowden’s official history.
H E Starke to Printing and Allied Trades Employers’ Federation, 24
February 1915, University of Melbourne Archives, MUA 101/55/3.
DP, 18 May 1916, p. 3.
DP, 20 June 1916, p. 3; Mercury,
20 June 1916, p. 3.
Report dated 6 July in BLN,
21 July 1916, p. 2; Examiner,
14 June 1916, p. 6.
Mercury, 20 September
1916, p. 3.
Mercury, 20 September
1916, p. 3.
A fake “Wanted’ advertisement offered £2 week for life in
return for a 5s joining fee, DP,
29 June 1916, p. 2, repudiated, 30 June 1916, p. 3.
BLN, 13 October 1916, p.
 11 CLR (1910) 1; MBA President Stabb alleged that Higgins had applied the Award only to union members to enforce preference by stealth (Mercury, 2 June 1916, p. 6) whereas it had been appeals by other employers which had limited the scope of Awards. Higgins opposed preference on principle, though he allowed for it to prevent discrimination against unionists, Rickard, Higgins, pp. 179-80; Richard Mitchell, ‘The Preference Power and the Practice of the Federal Industrial Tribunal, 1904-1970’, JIR, 29 (1), March 1987, pp. 3-16; 11 CAR (1917) 738 at 740.
7 CAR (1913) 210 at 253.
E P Thompson never understood that classes are historical
experiences because they are also things, The Making of the English working class, Vintage: New York, 1967,
pp. 9-11; his ignorance of Marx’s critique of political economy is
demonstrated by his failure to see that wages-slaves embody ‘labour-time’,
‘Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism’, Past
and Present, 38, December 1967, pp. 56-97; proletarian
consciousness is forged in the experience of being treated as a
thing, a commodity, Marx-Engels, Collected
Works, v. 4, 1975, pp. 35-37.
Mercury, 16 September
1916, p. 9; he told a Domain crowd that some of the Master Builders
were ‘good citizens and humane men’, Mercury,
5 June 1916, p. 2.
 Smith considered that both Hobart papers had given his members a fair hearing, which would not have happened in Melbourne. The Daily Post was pro-labour while the Mercury confirmed its Tory credentials by maintaining a wall between its reporting and its editorials, Mercury, 19 September 1916, p. 4.
 Mercury, 16 September 1916, p. 9; 12 Tasmanian Law Reports (TLR), 94 at 95.
Mercury, 16 September
1916, p. 9.
Mercury, 29 September
1916, p. 2.
 Nicholls fils had been a liberal independent in parliament but a conservative on the bench, hence his sobriquet of ‘Shifty Nick’, David L Mulcahy, ‘Richard Nicholls’, ADB, vol. 11, 1988, pp. 22-23.
12 TLR (1916) 94 at 96-97,
to which employers have resorted ever since, as under WorkChoices
– for ‘operational reasons’;
BLN, 13 October 1916, p. 3.
BLN, 7 July 1916, p. 4;
for the anti-strike laws, Mercury, 2 June 1916, p. 6; BLN,
21 July 1916, p. 5; the Launceston Examiner
published a feature on the proposal (10 June 1916, p. 3) and an
‘Editorial’ in praise (12 June 1916, p. 4) calling for wage-cuts
but with no mention of any lockout in the north.
 He described them as being ‘never more than a week removed from starvation and charity’, SMH, 25 April 1916, p. 10; H V Evatt, Australian Labour leader: the story of W A Holman and the labour movement, Angus and Robertson: Sydney, 1940, chapter 53.
 Earle supported the labourers against the lock-out, DP, 29 July 1916, p. 5; Michael Denholm, ‘Playing the Game: Some notes on the second Earle Government, 1914-1916’, THRA, PP, 23 (4), December 1976, pp. 149-51; Earle had rebuffed an appeal to improve working conditions on the grounds that his administration was ‘not spoils to the victors’, DP, 8 April 1915, np, quoted McRae, THRA, PP, 1956, p. 8. Matters did not improve much, Richard Davis, ‘Tasmanian Labor and the Trade Union Movement 1920-1960’, THRA, PP, 28 (2), June 1981, pp. 85-104, and Neil Batt, ‘Tasmanian Labor Party Conferences 1930-35’, THRA, PP, 26 (1), March 1979, pp. 15-29.
Mercury, 3 June 1916, p.
Mercury, 18 May 1916, p.
6; for Champ’s conflicted views of class conflict and racial wars,
DP, 5 June 1916, p. 7.
 11 CAR (1917) 738 at 740; 11 CAR (1917) 752 at 756-7; in March, Higgins had endorsed a 48-hour week for builders’ labourers with BHP at Port Waratah, 11 CAR (1917) 37; cf 16 Industrial Reports (NSW) (1917) 273.
 ABLF Federal Conference, 12 November 1923, p. 37; 14 December 1926, p. 123, N130/ 1; Federal Management Committee, 12 February 1940, N130/2, and 19 September 1940, N130/40, Noel Butlin Archives Centre (NBAC), Australian National University; 17 CAR (1922) 19 at 24.
 Argus, 2 September 1916, p. 3; Mark Hearn and Harry Knowles, One Big Union, A History of the Australian Workers Union, 1886-1994, OUP: Melbourne, 1996, p. 126.
 Champ was one of four militants expelled from the Workers’ Political League in June 1922, McRae, THRA, PP, 1956, p. 12. ABLF delegate to the Hobart Trades and Labor Council, George Mahoney, stood against a Labor candidate in 1926, Davis, THRA, PP, 1981, p. 88, and Batt, THRA, PP, 1979, p. 16.
 ABLF, Federal Management Committee, 12 February 1940, p. 2; Federal Council, 11 March 1940, p. 3, N130/2/3; 17 September 1940, p. 2, NBAC, N130/40; Davis, ‘Culley’, ADB, v. 8, p. 169.
ABLF Victorian Branch Minutes, 8 August 1951, pp. 1-2, 28 November
1951, p. 2, NBAC, Z398/29.
 Builders’ Laborers’ Journal (NSW), May 1952, p. 4; Journal of the Building Transport and Timber Workers’ Trades, December 1959, p. 1; Dare to Struggle, November 1980, p. 7, and May 1981, p. 7. When the right-wing Federal President went to Tasmania in 1960, he encountered ‘non-unionism and no unity on the jobs … Never in his experience had he found Trade Unionism at such a low ebb’, ABLF Federal Council, November 1960, NBAC, N130/5; FMC 130/49. The painters experienced comparable ups and downs, John Spierings, A brush with history: the Painters Union and the Australian labour movement, Hyland House: South Melbourne, 1994, pp. 17, 22 and 114-5.
 Suzanne de Brunhoff, The State, Capital and Economic Policy, Pluto: London, 1978, chapter 1.
 Paul Kelly, The end of certainty, The story of the 1980s, Allen & Unwin: St Leonards, 1992, pp. 1-16; see my ‘Struggle over Settlement’, www.alphalink.com.au/~loge27/AustHist. Tariffs had almost no direct impact on building or construction; Marx-Engels, Collected Works, v. 6, 1976, p. 482.