As Tasmanian as apple pie: the 1916 lockout of builders’ labourers

Tasmanian Historical Studies, 15, 2010, pp. 71-99. 

During 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.[1]

1. The lumpy rise of labour
After visiting Tasmania early in 1908, the deputy leader of the Federal Labor Party, William Morris Hughes, observed:

Here, then, is the Anti-Socialist paradise. There is no Labor domination, no industrial legislation, no powerful Unions. Here we have ideal conditions, where the fittest survive. To this ideal spot we ought to find people flocking, trade should be brisk, saving banks full, capital rushing in like water down a mill race. But … the reverse is the case. The people leave the country in a steady stream, the savings banks are half empty; and worse than all, capital is leaving the country. This is the unkindest cut of all …[2]

The roots of this malaise were in a lopsided development from which Federation had promised redemption, especially to the south.[3] Initially, agricultural exports surged. Otherwise, a start towards a continental-market-state weakened local manufactures while threatening the revenue from Tatts.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

From 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.[9] 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.[10]

The 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.[11] The granting of the Award in December 1913 doubled membership to around 100. During 1913, Charles Ernest Culley[12] (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.[13]

As 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.[14] 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.[15]

Those 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.[16] 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’,[17] as was happening along the West Coast mining areas. By 1906, amendments to the Electoral Law had almost completed adult franchise for the House of Assembly,[18] although the hefty property qualification for the Legislative Council blocked reform.[19] The preaching of Christian Socialism by Anglican Bishop Mercer was but one of the challenges to ‘cast-iron conservatism’.[20] 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 Employers’ Federation.[21]

2. A lot of lawyers’ language - Section 51 (xxxv)
Tasmanian reactions against H. B. Higgins as President of the CCCA are now associated with the editor of the Hobart Mercury, H. R. Nicholls, who, in April 1911, characterised him as a ‘political judge’.[22] The objections from Tasmanian employers to the Commonwealth’s power on industrial relations were typical of their class. At the 1897 Federal Conventions, the ten Tasmanian delegates supplied eight of the twenty-two ‘Noes’ against Higgins’s proposal to add ‘Industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State’. The only Tasmanian to speak, Sir Edward Braddon, feared that a national power would stimulate disputatiousness.[23] When the Convention resumed in January 1898, the Tasmanians voted seven to three against Higgins’ reworded amendment to Section 51:

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:-

(xxxv) Conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State;

This 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’.[24] 

The legal and industrial battles that flowed from the ABLF’s 1910 application for a Federal Award determined the scope of Section 51 (xxxv).[25] Building employers went from assuming that the Court’s jurisdiction could not include them to realising that they had to block its reach.[26] They contended that Higgins lacked the constitutional power to hear the ABLF claim on three grounds:

(i) building was not an industry. The courts accepted that ‘building’ was a quasi-industry;

(ii) no dispute existed. Higgins used his power to ‘prevent’ disputes to accept a Log even when no stoppage was in train, creating ‘paper’ disputes;

(iii) 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 surroundings’.[27] 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 national award.

3. Wages
Hegemony had been shaken during 1906 after a seventeen-year-old shop girl, Olive Coulston, committed suicide after being charged with stealing from her employer. On hearing that she had been paid 7s 6d a week, a coronial jury found that her employer had, in effect, embezzled her money, and called for a Royal Commission into sweating.[28] Its report included examples from the strata of men who followed the job on building and construction sites.[29] For instance, Hobart Corporation labourers usually received around 5s 6d a day, or 33s a week, which the Commissioners considered too little to ‘decently house and maintain a family’, and was 9s below the Harvester standard set a few months later.[30] With employers already on the moral defensive, Justice Higgins visited the island early in 1908 to see whether his Harvester Award should apply there. Finding that meat prices and rents were higher than on the mainland, he endorsed its application of 42s for adult males.[31]

Hobart 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 the CCCA.[32] 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.[33] Across Australia, employers hoped to circumvent the CCCA by establishing Wages Boards. Tasmania’s Legislative Council followed this stratagem in March 1910.[34] The government set up a Board for the Building Trades from 12 March 1912 to stymie the ABLF’s Log.[35]

Tasmanian witnesses before the CCCA reported daily wage rates of 6s in 1910 and between 7s to 8s by 1913.[36] In fact, the daily income of Tasmanian builders’ labourers ranged from nothing to 7s.[37] 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.[38] 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.[39] The Masters appealed to the High Court, which, in May 1914, upheld the CCCA’s jurisdiction.[40]

As employers waited on their appeal to the Privy Council,[41] 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.[42] 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,[43] a discontent stoked by inflation of 30 percent between July 1914 to July 1916.[44]

4. Variation
To catch up with rising prices, the ABLF sought variations in the hourly rate.[45] From mid-1915, officials interviewed Labor Ministers to get the Commonwealth to grant an increase, thereby pressuring non-government employers to pay more.[46]

The 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’.[47] Victorian ABLF Secretary Ben Mulvogue wanted ‘to see Mr Falkinder running up a ladder or excavating’ on the labour power from an apple pie.[48]

Falkinder 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.[49] The Masters lost production time and hence surplus value.[50] They were doubly afflicted when paying overtime for those four hours.[51] 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.[52]

Given 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’.[53] Within a month, the ULU had merged with the ABLF, which opened the way to lifting the daily rate for navvies by a half.[54]

The Commonwealth Statist showed that, by early 1916, a labourer needed thirty-five shillings to buy what thirty-one had got three years earlier.[55] 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.[56] Higgins rejected that plea as no

grounds for whittling down the wage necessary for the frugal subsistence of families – an Award which makes no allowance for alcohol or luxuries. These men are supposed to get as a minimum a living family wage and no more, and that wage must … be kept sacrosanct.[57]

On 18 May 1916, he decided that, from Friday, 2 June, the hourly rate for Tasmania be increased by 2½d to 1s 6d.[58]

Gazetting an Award does not end a dispute. Victorian labourers had to battle around the jobs to have the variation applied.[59] 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.[60] 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’.[61]

5. When is a lockout?
The effects of the variation were felt before its starting date as several Hobart Masters gave notice to their labourers. Champ expected 100 of his members to be thrown out of work, with even more tradesmen. The unions looked on these moves as a lock-out, but stopped using the term for fear of libel.[62] Employers spoke about a ‘so-called lockout’, contending that the men had put themselves out of their places by refusing to work at the old rate.[63]

Reports of lockouts are exceptional in comparison with strikes.[64] 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 facto lockouts.

Under the 1914 Commonwealth Act, employers who were parties to an award were subject to two levels of restraint. Clause 4 forbade lockouts, defined as

the closing of a place or part of a place of employment, or the total or partial suspension of work by an employer, with a view to compel his employees, to accept any term of condition of employment.

By 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.[65]

6. Conspiracy - ‘a common practice’
The ABLF sensed that more was at stake than the rage of assorted bosses over five half-pennies. Its officials sniffed a plot to break up the Federation, regaining around the jobs what the employers had lost before the CCCA.[66] The union feared that the Masters planned to split Tasmania from the Federation before moving against Queensland and South Australia.[67] To evaluate these allegations we need, first, to recognise conspiracy as another term for management and organisation,[68] and, then, to delineate the conspiracies in this instance.

Bourgeois law associated conspiracies with almost every offence, its class bias conveyed by ‘we rule: they conspire’, as happened to the Tolpuddle Martyrs.[69] 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’,[70] 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.

The 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.[71] 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 one State’.[72] The 1917 restoration of the 48-hour week to Tasmania and New South Wales demonstrated that they were never reconciled to a national standard.[73]

Moreover, 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.[74]

A 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.[75] The Builders’ and Contractors’ Association of Tasmania had been formed March 1891 to fend off price-cutting on contracts.[76] 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’.[77] 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.[78] Even while the lockout proceeded, the Victorian Masters were proffering inducements to the ABLF to deny labourers to any builder not observing ‘trade discounts’.[79]

Union 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’.[80] Mulvogue pictured the masters’ provoking a general strike to bankrupt all the building unions on the island.[81] Hobart contractors backed a remnant of the Bricklayers Society in the Australasian Bricklayers’ Society, to which the Hobart TLC refused affiliation.[82]

This 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’.[83] 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.[84] The Independent was active in the building trades, with 100 Victorian labourers, but did not set up a specialist branch for them.[85]

Employers 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.[86] After the MBA’s regular meeting on 19 June, its officials told the Press that the ‘troubles’ had not been discussed.[87] The MBA’s eschewing a paper trail is significant because the Inter-State Commission had just excoriated the Master Printers for running a cartel.[88] 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.[89]

7. Federation fightback
The unions, by contrast, boasted of their response. Immediately after the sackings, the Hobart Branch held an informal gathering to prepare for mass meetings, which set up a picketing committee to prevent non-unionists accepting work below the new minimum.[90] Champ continued his oratory in the Domain, reciting radical verses.[91]

Federal 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 finish’.[92] Federal Secretary Percy Smith and the Tasmanian-born Federal President Jack Millard addressed street-corner meetings.[93]

As Smith toured sites for the next fortnight, urging men to refuse work at the 1913 rate,[94] 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 disorganised rabble”.’[95] 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.[96]At least, Launceston labourers had voted to join the ABLF shortly before the lockout, though no report has been found of their participation.[97] Was this lack of solidarity why Millard gave the Masters one last chance to pay up on 17 June?[98]

Local 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.[99]

The 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 rejoining forces.[100]  The disputes committee of the Hobart T&LC revived plans for One Medium Union for the industry.[101] 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.[102]

8. Life around the jobs on lockout pay
Tasmania’s labour movement had its strengths as well as its weaknesses. On the positive side, when a foreman offered a labourer his job back at the new rate, the man refused because the proposal did not include a workmate, despite his sixteen years of service.[103] Champ confronted an employer on a Sandy Bay house: ‘Why do you ask these men to stain their hands by doing work like this? … They are not going to undercut us; they’re leaving the job’; work was at a ‘standstill’ three months later.[104] At North-West Bay, he signed up a score of BLs on preliminary works for a hydro project undertaken by a Melbourne contractor paying the new rate.[105] The recurring comment by labourers that they ‘can’t work for less’ than the Award voiced the moral force of union principle as much as an economic fact. The dispute acted as a school for some labourers. For instance, a non-unionist, whom tradesmen ‘shot out of his job’ in June, had, by September, joined the ABLF.[106]

Nonetheless, 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.[107] How many more labourers would have done the same had their union not altered the balance of class forces by providing lockout pay?

Funds 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.

The Victorians again spared no expense to enforce the benefits from Arbitration, a system which some officials opposed.[108] 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.[109] 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’.[110] A vote on 31 July supplied another ₤150. The NSW Branch was slow to set up a levy.[111] Before breaking the lockout, the Federation had sent ₤750, including ₤100 from the Federal Council.[112]

Donations from tradesmen’s unions on the mainland were sparse.[113] The Progressive Carpenters in the ACT contributed what their Secretary admitted was the ‘widow’s mite’ each fortnight.[114] 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 to donate.[115]

Local unions, such as the Clerks and the Textile Workers, contributed from the start.[116] 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 starving babes.[117] Supporters sent a further ₤90 over the following month, then almost ₤1,000 during July, with guineas from unions in Zeehan and Launceston.[118] 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.[119] Not until the end of September were all getting the new Award.[120]

9. Prosecutions
From the outset, Smith had called for the employers to be fined the maximum of £1,000. To move against them, the union needed the approval of the CCAC. The masters were charged with failing to supply a benefit, not with a lockout, and still less with conspiring to refuse to pay. The ABLF could not initiate proceedings until its officials had been through the ‘slow process’ of gathering the evidence needed to convict.[121] Its collection had been complicated by the High Court’s 1910 ruling in the Whybrow case against a ‘common rule’ to make Awards cover all employers.[122] As a consequence, judgements applied only those named as respondents.[123] Out of 168 builders in the State, only twelve Hobart ones had been cited in 1913. Hence, the majority were not required to pay either the old rate or the increase.[124] In addition, the Award applied only to union members, as the MBA President Stabb explained: ‘If I employ a member of the union I must pay him 12s a day: but if I employ a non-unionist I need only pay him 8s. a day, the amount fixed by the award of the State Wages Board’.[125]

Hobart 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.[126]

The 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 power.[127] 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.[128] 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’[129] towards establishing an awareness of its collective ‘rights, privileges, opportunities as well as their possibilities’.[130] 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.[131] 

On 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.

McKenzie: ‘Then you will have to knock off, as the master builders have decided not to pay it’.

Eaton: ‘What about the other men?’

McKenzie: ‘You had better tell them’.

McKenzie admitted in Court that ‘the only reason for dismissing the men was the increase of wages …It was a matter of principle’.[132]

It 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.[133] 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’.[134]

MBA 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.[135]

Wise 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 weeks.[136]

McKenzie 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.[137]

Wise 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 the variation.

Cullen: ‘Yes, what are you going to do about it?’

Davie: ‘I’m not going to pay’.

Cullen: ‘I expect we’ll have to part, then?’

Davie: ‘You are very foolish’.

Cullen: ‘It can’t be helped. I can’t work for less than the award’.

Cullen 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 rate’.[138]

As 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.[139] 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.

A 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 intervened:

During the whole time you have been in the box you have been a most simple witness. You have been most dull in the whole of your evidence, yet that answer came out pat. You must have been warned in some way.[140]

The magistrate did not apply his perception of Price’s mental status to how labourers interpreted discussions on site.

Although 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’,[141] he refused to let his sub-contracting plasterer employ Cowley at the higher scale.[142] 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.[143] A magistrate came down from Launceston ten days later to convict Dunn over Cowley.[144]

Wise 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.[145]

The Launceston magistrate let Dunn off another charge on the grounds that he had planned to dismiss that man anyway.[146] Wise fined two more employers ₤10 each, but discharged other defendants.[147] Because Chas. Gilham had told Price that he was to be dismissed at 5 pm, Wise had to find the Gillham brothers guilty.[148] ABLF lawyers withdrew charges against H Crow and James H Hancock.[149] 

Some 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’, Wise observed.[150]

In 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.[151] Had the alarm concerned the withdrawal of prosecutions, or the appeals?

The Chief Justice, Sir Richard Nicholls, son of H R Nicholls, late editor of the Mercury,[152] referred the appeals to the Full Bench, which, in November, decided unanimously that McKenzie and Dunn had broken the law.[153]

Reacting to the abuse of unions from Empire loyalists, Victorian ABLF organiser Dick Loughnan had asked, in June,

is there a court in Tassy that would consider the Master Builders’ action a lock-out? No fear. How could a body of God-fearing, prayer-pumping, church-going flagflappers be guilty of such a disloyal action? Perish the thought![154]

Had 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.’[155] 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.[156]

The 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.[157]

10. Glancing forward
If the lockout was a late throw by the Masters against the Commonwealth Court, it was also a harbinger of the strife that roared through every sector for the next fourteen years.[158] Founding ABLF official, Henry Hannah, recognised in July 1916:

Organised capital is straining every nerve to down the workers, advocating strike legislation and introducing piece work … Imagine the master builders, as we know them, sharing their profits with us after the way they have fought to prevent us securing a living wage![159]

Well 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.[160] 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.[161]

Socialist 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 form’.[162] The Industrial Workers of the World attracted the least formally skilled, with a dozen members in the Linda Valley, outside Queenstown.[163] Champ trumpeted a Wobbly tune by declaring that British liberties had not been won

by mining magnates or stock-exchange jobbers, but by genuine men of the working-class movement who had died on the gallows and rotted in dungeons and were buried in nameless graves. These were the men to whom we owed the liberties we enjoyed today. Eight hours and other privileges in Australia had been won by men who suffered gaol and persecution.[164]

At the Inter-State Trade Union Congress in May 1916, Champ had seconded a resolution to confiscate rents, interest and profits over £300.[165] Notwithstanding this rhetoric, Tasmania was one of the two States to vote ‘Yes’ at both conscription plebiscites.[166]

Despite 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’.[167] 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’.[168]

After 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.[169]

Three 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.[170] 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.[171] 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.[172]

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.[173] 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.[174] The Branch regained its militancy in the 1980s, again with backing from Melbourne.

The 1916 dispute shows how the creation of a continental-market-state altered the balance of class forces within States as well as across their borders. Ten years earlier, the Masters around Hobart would have set the labourers’ wages with little fear of a strike, and none of being fined for underpayment. To say that wage rates are averaged around the ‘socially necessary costs of reproducing labour power’ is true only if ‘socially necessary’ extends beyond the price of food and shelter to include the institutional, ideological and political strengths of the contenders.[175] The building employers organised to deny the application of Commonwealth jurisdiction and schemed to frustrate its implementation. Local magistrates and judges applied the letter of the law while subverting its spirit. Without backing from their union on the mainland, the labourers would have been lucky to afford apple pies. Contrary to recent free-trade propaganda about a ‘settlement’ between the classes around New Protection, the 1916 lockout confirms their ‘uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight’.[176]

[1] Alan Atkinson, ‘Tasmania and the multiplicity of nations’, Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Papers and Proceedings, (THRA, PP), 52, (4), December 2005, pp. 189-200.
[2] W M Hughes, The Case for Labor, Sydney University Press: Sydney, 1970 reprint, pp. 118-19.
[3] James Warden, ‘Tasmania’, Helen Irving (ed.), Centenary companion to Australian federation, Cambridge University Press: Oakleigh (Vic.), 1999, pp. 197-8; John Craig, ‘Tasmania and the federal movement’, THRA PP, 22 (1), March 1975, pp. 7-48; Michael Roe, State of Tasmania: identity at Federation time, Tasmanian Historical Research Association: Hobart, 2001, pp. 22-26.

[4] 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. 104-5.
[5] Michael Quinlan, ‘Tasmanian Trades Unions in the Nineteenth Century’, THRA, PP, 52 (3), September 2005, pp. 152, 168 and 170-71.
[5] Mercury, 16 May 1916, p. 4.

[6] Mercury, 18 May 1916, p. 4.
[7] Official Report of the Intercolonial Trades’ and Labor Union Congress, Adelaide, 1886, p. vii; Official Report of the Intercolonial Trades’ and Labor Union Congress, Hobart, 1889, p. xv; Official Report of the Intercolonial Trades’ and Labor Union Congress, Ballarat, 1891, p. x; C W Jarrett was its secretary. Was this the same W Smith who had been the SA Labourers’ delegate to Hobart?
[8] Quinlan, THRA, PP, 2005, pp. 153, 172 and 174.

[9] 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.
[10] Argus, 25 April 1910, p. 7.
[11] Transcript of 1913 Award Hearings in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Australian Builders’ Labourers’ Federation v A W Archer, National Archives of Australia, B1958 (B1958/1) 9/1912 (hereafter 1913 Transcript), pp. 17-18, 23 and 1059-62.

[12] Richard Davis, ‘Charles Ernest Culley’, Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB), vol. 9, MUP: Carlton, 1981, p. 169.
[13] Builders Laborer’s News (BLN), 28 April 1916, p. 4.
[14] Shayne Breen, Contested places: Tasmania’s northern districts from ancient times to 1900, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies: Hobart, 2001, pp. 108-13.

A prominent builder, Ald. Dunn, charged a labourer, George Cope, with insulting words likely to cause a breach of the peace. Cope followed Dunn down Argyle Street calling out that the City Father ‘ought to be at the front, and get shot’, as should his sons. Dunn did not want Cope fined, just taught to be civil – as if he were a ticket-of-leave man, Mercury, 5 October 1916, p. 2.

[15] 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.
[16] Douglas Hay and Paul Craven (eds), Masters and servants and Magistrates in Britain and the Empire, 1562-1955, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2004, pp. 225-6, 230, 237 and 248; Breen, Contested Places, pp. 107-8.
[17] D Massey, Spatial Divisions of Labour: social structures and the geography of production, Macmillan, Houndsmill, 1995 ed., p. 56.

[18] Warden, ‘Tasmania’, Centenary companion, pp. 194 and 214-5.
[19] Its majority appreciated Royal Tennis but could not be dissolved by vice-regal decree, L L Robson, History of Tasmania, Volume II, Colony and state from 1856 to 1980s, OUP: Melbourne, 1991, pp. 231-4 and 238-9.
[20] Richard Davis, ‘Bishop Mercer in England and Tasmania’, THRA, PP, 30 (2), June 1983. pp. 42-53; Richard Davis, ‘Christian Socialism in Tasmania, 1890-1920’ Journal of Religious History, 7 (1), June 1972, pp. 51-68; quoted Roe, The State of Tasmania, p. 60.

[21] 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.
[22] John Rickard, H B Higgins, The Rebel as Judge, George Allen & Unwin: Sydney, 1984, pp. 186-7; 12 Commonwealth Law Report (CLR) (1911) 280.
[23] Official Report of the National Australasian Convention Debates, South Australia Government Printer: Adelaide, 1897, pp. 787 and 791-2.

[24] 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 Act.
[25] Plowman, JIR, 1986, p. 596; Geoffrey Sawer included the High Court’s decision, 18 CLR (1914) 224, in his Cases on the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, Law Book Company: Sydney, 1964, pp. 518-24. Giving judgement in Sugar Producers v the AWU, Griffith CJ observed that the appellants had relied on a less than accurate report of the Builders’ Labourers’ Case to initiate their action, 23 CLR (1917) 58 at 62.
[26] Melbourne firms fulfilled contracts on the island, their employees moving back and forth, Mercury, 4 July 1916, p. 6; see my ‘Improvising Nomads’, Journal of Australian Colonial History, 10, 2008, pp. 223-50.

[27] 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.

[28] Robson, History of Tasmania, II, pp. 232-3.
[29] Journals and printed papers of the Parliament of Tasmania, 1907, vol. 57, Paper no. 1; examples in Hughes, The Case for Labor, pp. 117-8.
[30] 1907 Report, pp. 5, 7, 11, 14, 18-19 and 22; rates in the south were lower than in the north.

[31] Robson, History of Tasmania, II, p. 239.
[32] 1913 Transcript, pp. 18, 1060 and 1070.
[33] 1913 Transcript, pp. 1063-7.

[34] 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).
[35] 1913 Transcript, pp. 1068-70, 1087 and 1097-8. The Tasmanian Board operated from March 1912. For Victoria, Parliamentary Debates, v. 130, 25 July 1912, pp. 403-9, and 7 August, pp. 619-20.

[36] 1913 Transcript, pp. 1060, 1071, 1091 and 1094.
[37] BLN, 14 April 1916, p. 4.
[38] 1907 Report, p. 11.
[39] 1913 Transcript, pp.160, 355, 1072 and 1085-86; 7 Commonwealth Arbitration Reports (CAR) (1913) 210.

[40] 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.

[41] Argus, 1 June 1916, p. 7; 15 February 1917, p. 7.
[42] BLN, 21 July 1916, p. 3.
[43] Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), 28 April 1916, p. 6.
[44] D B Copland, ‘Currency Inflation and Price Movements in Australia’, Economic Journal, XXX (120), December 1920, pp. 486-9 and 507.
[45] ‘Will They Forget?’, BLN, 4 February 1916, p. 2.

[46] 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.

[47] Cheap meat had been one of the benefits promised by Federation, Robson, Tasmania, II, p. 201, instead
drought, Imperial requisition and cartels drove up its price by 83% during 1915 until it became, with bread, one of the flashpoints in economic discontent, Mercury, 22 April 1916, p. 3.

[48] 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.

[49] 1913 Transcript, p. 1104.
[50] Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1976, Parts Five and Six; Volume 2, 1978, chapters 12, 13 and 16.
[51] BLN, 29 September 1916, p. 4; 1913 Transcript, p. 1104.

[52] Mercury, 19 February 1916, p. 6.
[53] Mercury, 15 May 1916, p. 4.
[54] Daily Post (DP), 14 June 1916, p. 7; BLN, 21 July 1916, p. 2; Mercury, 20 June 1916, p. 3.

[55] SMH, 27 April 1916, p. 10; 10 CAR (1916) 131 at 133.
[56] Mercury, 28 April 1916, p. 3.
[57] 10 CAR (1916) 131. Voicing the positive eugenics of social welfarists, Higgins feared that a lesser sum risked leaving children ‘undernourished, which would mean a loss to the Commonwealth’, Argus, 27 April 1916, p. 3; Michael Roe, Nine Australian Progressives, University of Queensland Press: St Lucia, 1984.

[58] Mercury, 19 May 1916, p. 6; 10 CAR (1910) 131 at 134.
[59] BLN, 9 June 1916, p. 1, 7 July 1916, p. 4, and 1 September 1916, p. 3.
[60] Mercury, 29 September 1916, p. 2.

[61] Mercury, 3 June 1916, p. 6.
[62] Mercury, 2 June 1916, p. 6; DP, 12 June 1916, p. 3.
[63] Editorial, Mercury, 14 June 1916, p. 4.

[64] 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.

For 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’.

[65] Commonwealth Acts, XIII, 1914-15, pp. 208-10; Portus, The Development of Trade Union Law, pp. 212-214.
[66] Editorial, DP, 12 June 1916, p. 4.
[67] Mercury, 2 June 1916, p. 6; BLN, 9 June 1916, p. 1, and 15 September 1916, p. 1.
[68] Alfred D Chandler, The Visible Hand, The Managerial Revolution in American Business, Belknap Press: Harvard, 1977.

[69] Robert Spicer, Law, Class and Society, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1981.
The definition of conspiracy under Section 86 (1) (b) of  the 1914 Crimes Act  was ‘to prevent or defeat the execution or enforcement of a law of the Commonwealth’, Commonwealth Acts, XIII, 1914-15, p. 39. No ‘effectuation’ was necessary for an offence, an agreement to so act being sufficient. The doings of the Hobart builders on 18 May seem a prima facie case. Peter Gillies, The law of criminal conspiracy, Federation Press: Annandale, 1990, p. 151. The bias of the law appeared again when three leading unionists were arrested on charges of ‘conspiracy to incite industrial unrest’ during the 1917 general strike in NSW, SMH, 20 August 1917, p. 7; their prosecutor insisted on hefty bail ‘in view of the enormity of the offence’, 21 August 1917, p. 8.

[70] 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’.

[71] 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.
[72] WRH Keast, Building Victoria: A History of the Master Builders Association of Victoria, MBAV: Melbourne, 1994, p. 38.
[73] 11 CAR (1917) 738.

[74] 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.

[75] 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’, Hist

[76] 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, p. 12.

[77] ‘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.

[78] NAA A106 G1921/2019.
[79] BLN, 4 August 1916, p. 4, 18 August 1916, p. 5.
[80] Mercury, 10 June 1916, p. 3. Stabb’s withdrawal, 12 June 1916, p. 3; ‘Editorial’, DP, 14 June 1916, p. 6, and 17 June 1916, p. 4.

[81] Mercury, 2 June 1916, p. 6; for the attempt to bring in brickies, DP, 13 August 1916, p. 6.
[82] BLN, 4 August 1916, p. 3, 15 September 1916, p. 1; for details of the relations between bricklayers and their off-siders, 1913 Transcript, pp. 1090-1 and 1096; the Hobart T&LC told bricklayers to sign up with the ABLF, DP, 19 June 1916, p. 3; BLN, 18 August 1916, p. 2, and 15 September 1916, p. 2.

[83] Argus, 9 July 1912, p. 8.
[84] Higgins felt that this method of representation ‘did not tend to sweeten the determination of the builders’ labourers generally’. 7 CAR (1913) 210 at 217.
[85] Argus, 25 October 1913, p. 21. Casual work left labourers vulnerable to builders who gave preference to men from the Independent.

[86] Mercury, 16 September 1916, p. 9. In keeping with this silence, no mention of the dispute appears in Snowden’s official history.
[87] Mercury, 22 June 1916, p. 4.
[88] Report of the Inter-State Commission, Commonwealth of Australia, Parliamentary Papers, 1914, volume 2, pp. 249-57.

[89] H E Starke to Printing and Allied Trades Employers’ Federation, 24 February 1915, University of Melbourne Archives, MUA 101/55/3.
[90] Mercury, 2 June 1916, p. 6, and 3 June 1916, p. 5.
[91] Mercury, 5 June 1916, p. 2; DP, 5 June 1916, p. 7; DP, 29 July 1916. p. 9, 5 August 1916, p. 10.

[92] Mercury, 16 September 1916, p. 9; DP, 3 June 1916, p. 11.
[93] DP, 14 June 1916, p. 7; 17 June 1916, p. 8; Mercury, 17 June 1916, p. 8.
[94] Mercury, 4 July 1916, p. 6.

[95] DP, 18 May 1916, p. 3.
[96] BLN, 9 June 1916, p. 2; 7 July 1916, p. 1; for a similar assessment in 1889 by a Launceston official see Davis, ‘Tasmania’, Labor in Politics, p. 391.
[97] BLN, 12 May 1916, p. 3.

[98] DP, 20 June 1916, p. 3; Mercury, 20 June 1916, p. 3.
[99] BLN, 7 July 1916, p. 2, letter 21 July 1916, p. 5, and 4 August 1916, p. 3.
[100] Mercury, 16 June 1916, p. 4, and 21 June 1916, p. 8. DP, 21 June 1916, p. 5.

[101] Report dated 6 July in BLN, 21 July 1916, p. 2; Examiner, 14 June 1916, p. 6.
[102] DP, 14 June 1916, p. 7; BLN, 9 June 1916, p. 3, 21 June 1916, p. 2, and 1 September 1916, p. 3; Mercury, 20 June 1916, p. 3.
[103] Mercury, 21 September 1916, p. 3.

[104] Mercury, 20 September 1916, p. 3.
[105] Mercury, 12 June 1916, p. 3. All his employees were unionists, since he was anxious to keep his jobs going on the mainland, Mercury, 4 July 1916, p. 6.
[106] Mercury, 21 September 1916, p. 3.

[107] Mercury, 20 September 1916, p. 3.
[108] BLN, 7 January 1916, p. 2, and 14 April 1916, p. 4.
In sending £150 in February to sustain the women and children of the Broken Hill strikers, the Victorian Branch saw that its members ‘may need [it] themselves soon’, BLN, 3 March 1916, p. 5.

[109] 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.
[110] BLN, 9 June 1916, p. 1, 23 June 1916, p. 4, and 4 August 1916, p. 5.
[111] BLN, 7 July 1916, p. 3.

[112] BLN, 13 October 1916, p. 6.
[113] ABLF officials saw its case before the Privy Council as a battle waged on behalf of all workers to defend their definition of ‘beyond the limits of any one State’, BLN, 24 December 1915, p. 2; by the end of 1915, kindred unions had donated £812 17s 6d, BLN, 29 April 1916, p. 4; for earlier reports, Argus, 29 January 1915, p. 7, and 23 February 1915, p. 8.

[114] BLN, 4 August 1916, p. 1.
[115] BLN, 4 August 1916, p. 1; cf. 12 May 1916, p. 4.
[116] Mercury, 9 June 1916, p. 7.

[117] DP, 12 June 1916, p. 4, 17 June 1916, p. 6.
[118] DP, 1 July 1916, p. 6; 1 August 1916, p. 6; BLN, 7 July 1916, p. 1, and 4 August 1916, p. 2.
[119] BLN, 1 September 1916, p. 4.

[120] BLN, 13 October 1916, p. 6.
[121] Mercury, 4 July 1916, p. 6.

[122] 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.

[123] 7 CAR (1913) 210 at 253.
[124] 1913 Transcript, p. 1087; Mercury, 16 September 1916, p. 9.
[125] Mercury, 2 June 1916, p. 6; Portus, The Development of Australian Trade Union Law, pp. 106-7, 110-1, and 136; for the Federal situation, pp. 125-9.
[126] 1913 Transcript, p. 1170; a pottery labourer from Launceston represented the builders labourers, p. 1068.

[127] 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. 

[128] 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.
[129] Karl Marx, ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, in K Marx and F Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 5, Lawrence & Wishart: London, 1976, p. 6, italics in original; and Vol. 11, 1979, pp. 187-8.
[130] In the words of the Victorian ABLF Secretary, BLN, 24 December 1915, p. 3.

[131] 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.

[132] Mercury, 16 September 1916, p. 9; 12 Tasmanian Law Reports (TLR), 94 at 95.

[133] Mercury, 16 September 1916, p. 9.
In July, a deputation of Labor politicians had pressed the State Treasurer, Sir Elliot Lewis, to build the North Hobart High school with day labour, and not on contract. Day labour was not a way around the difficulty of employers’ being unable to fulfill contracts unless the government lifted the pay rates. BLN, 21 July 1916, p. 3. Gilhams had sacked two ABLF members on day labour, Mercury, 20 September 1916, p. 3.

[134] DP, 16 September 1916, p. 7.
[135] Mercury, 16 September 1916, p. 9.
[136] Mercury, 18 September 1916, p. 2; DP, 16 September 1916, p. 7, and 18 September 1916, p. 2.

[137] Mercury, 21 September 1916, p. 3.
[138] Mercury, 21 September 1916, p. 3.
[139] Mercury, 21 September 1916, p. 3.

[140] Mercury, 20 September 1916, p. 3.
[141] DP, 29 September 1916, p. 2.
[142] Mercury, 15 November 1916, p. 4.

[143] Mercury, 19 September 1916, p. 2.
[144] Mercury, 29 September 1916. p. 2.
[145] Mercury, 20 September 1916, p. 3.

[146] Mercury, 29 September 1916, p. 2.
[147] DP, 16 September 1916, p.7, and 17 September 1916, p. 2.
[148] Mercury, 20 September 1916, p. 3; BLN, 29 September 1916, p. 4; DP, 19 September 1916, p. 3.

[149] Mercury, 20 September 1916, p. 3.
[150] Mercury, 21 September 1916, p. 3.
[151] BLN, 29 September 1916, p. 1.

[152] 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.

[153] Mercury, 3 October 1916, p. 2; 12 Tasmania Law Reports (TLR) (1916) 94.
[154] BLN, 9 June 1916, p. 2.
[155] BLN, 29 September 1916, p. 4.

[156] 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.
[157] Argus Law Reports, XXIII, 1917, pp. 387-8; Argus, 7 May 1917, p. 10, 10 May 1917, p. 7, and 12 May 1917, p. 18. Did the other employers kick in for McKenzie and Dunn?
[158] Marilyn Lake, A Divided Society, Tasmania During World War I, MUP: Carlton, 1975, pp. 60-63; Dargavel, ‘1921-22 Tasmanian Timber Dispute’, Labour History, 84, pp. 47-67.

[159] 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.

[160] 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.

[161] 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.

[162] Mercury, 3 June 1916, p. 6.
[163] Verity Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: the Industrial Workers of the World in Australia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, 1995, p. 67.
[164] DP, Saturday, 24 June 1916, p. 11; he entertained delegates with his recitations, Mercury, 26 May 1916, p. 2.

[165] Mercury, 18 May 1916, p. 6; for Champ’s conflicted views of class conflict and racial wars, DP, 5 June 1916, p. 7.
[166] J M Main, Conscription, The Australian Debate, 1901-1970, Cassell: Melbourne, 1970, pp. 73 and 105.
[167] 11 CAR (1917) 752.

[168] 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. 

[169] 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.

[170] 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.

[171] 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.

[172] 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.

[173] ABLF Victorian Branch Minutes, 8 August 1951, pp. 1-2, 28 November 1951, p. 2, NBAC, Z398/29.
For the 1930s revival of the Left see Dorothy Johnstone, Fly a Rebel Flag, Bill Morrow 1888-1980, Penguin: Ringwood, 1986, Part Two.

[174] 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.

[175] Suzanne de Brunhoff, The State, Capital and Economic Policy, Pluto: London, 1978, chapter 1.

[176] Paul Kelly, The end of certainty, The story of the 1980s, Allen & Unwin: St Leonards, 1992, pp. 1-16; see my ‘Struggle over Settlement’, Tariffs had almost no direct impact on building or construction; Marx-Engels, Collected Works, v. 6, 1976, p. 482.