From the Archives: Labor’s Army, 1931

This is the fourth instalment of From the Archives, a weekly re-print of something different or obscure I’ve found in the past weeks research.

This week I have a couple of pieces for your perusal.

Last week I published an article from issue 6 of Red and Black, Russia 1917: Why not Anarchism. Unfortunately the first page of that article was missing. Thanks to Dimitri, I now have a copy of page 1, and it’s been typed up and added to last weeks post.

The following couple of pieces are from the National Library of Australia’s trove collection. I stumbled across these articles whilst looking for information about the Australian Labor Army.

I first read mention of the Australian Labor Army in Wendy Lowenstein’s excellent Weevils in the Flour.

The first article is a lovely SMH beatup following an ALA meeting in Newcastle. The second piece is more interesting politically, which I stumbled across whilst following up on one of the far left rivals to the ALA, the Workers’ Defence Corps.

From the Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 1931, page 9:

MINERS’ PRESIDENT
Speaks of the King Insultingly.
RELIGION ATTACKED.
WILD LABOUR ARMY SPEECHES
Newcastle, Sunday.
The miners’ northern president (Mr T. Hoare), in the course of an address at a meeting held in Islington Park this afternoon, to form a Newcastle division of the Australian Labour Army, spoke in insulting terms of his Majesty the King.

Mr. Hoare declared that he always remained seated when “God Save the King” was played at picture shows. Some people, he said, looked at him as if he were ignorant. The position was the reverse.

After thus defining his attitude towards the British Crown, Mr. Hoare went on to make some remarks about religion. He said there were those who offer to people in return for lives well lived a promise of a harp and a pair of wings hereafter. That return would be better made on earth. Rather than be in heaven with some hypocrites he knew, who were certain they were going there, he wanted to be in hell with investigators and scientists, who had been ridiculed down the corridors of time by those who were leading other men along the straight and narrow path to salvation.

Mr. Hoare gave the Labour Army the blessing of the Northern branches of the Miners’ Federation, and spoke bitterly of propaganda against the army by people who claimed to be revolutionaries, but were simply resolutionaires. He said that if the workers could get together there could only be one issue – a fight between them and the other section of the community, which made up only 20 precent of the total population of Australia.

“This system cannot be mended,” Mr. Hoare declared. “It must be ended, but with the least possible flow of blood.”

“The Australian Labour army will become what the Red army became in Russia,” said Mr. James Kidd. Mr. Kidd further declared that the Labour army was being formed for the definite purpose of combatting the All For Australia League. Irrespective of what other speakers might say, the army was formed to fight.

“The Australian Labour army is necessarily a revolutionary movement,” Mr Kidd continued. “The working-class must realise that if they are going to fight, it will not be by the medium of ballot boxes, but of machine-guns. I believe the crisis will become more and more violent until there is a revolution brought about by the working-class rising against economic conditions.

Mr. F. C. Hutt, secretary of the Labour army, told the meeting that if Labour was ever to have a mobile force which could be thrown into action, it would have to be organised on military lines. The proposal was that each Federal electorate should constitute a division of the Labour army to which everybody on the side of the workers could belong, and that then there should be organisation into brigades, and, if numbers permitted, into battalions. A grand council would control the operations of the army from Sydney.

Mr. Donald Grant said that it was his chief desire to persuade the members of the All For Australia League present to turn over and join the Australian Labour army. It was the business of the Australian Labour army to defend Mr. Lang against the attacks of his enemies. But if the army had to fight it would also fight for the overthrow of the capitalist system.

A resolution was passed affirming the Newcastle district’s sympathy with the objects of the Australian Labour army. An unsuccessful attempt was made to hold a meeting in support of the militant “Workers’ Defence Corps” alongside the Labour army meeting.

from The Mercury, 25 December 1930, p9:

COMMUNIST PLANS
MOBILISING THE UNEMPLOYED.
“WORKERS’ DEFENCE CORPS.”
ATTACKS ON POLICE FAMILIES.

Plans for mobilising the unemployed were made at a conference at the Temperance Hall, in Melbourne, when many revolutionary proposals were adopted. The conference was (says the “Argus”) organised by the Unemployed Workers Movement, which is a creation of the Communist party, and State branches in Melbourne and Sydney have now been established. Although the conference was discountenanced by the Trades Hall Council, a number of trade unions, particularly the waterside organisations, timber workers, carpenters, and others, as well as branches of the Labour party, were represented. More than 100 delegates attended, including representatives from most of the suburban unemployed groups. The proceedings lasted throughout Saturday, and it was significant that leading communists were the most conspicuous in the discussion, while delegates who were opposed to the plan of operation outlined were frequently heckled. Mr J. Aide presided.

The methods to be adopted in giving effect to the proposed demands led to a long debate. It was suggested that mass demonstrations be held in all districts to compel the granting of the demands, to resist the eviction of workers from their homes and the seizer of furnitures for rent, or attempts to shut off supplies of gas or electricity. One clause proposed the “mobilisation of the children and other members of working class families against the families and members of the police force on account of their participation in attacks upon the working class.” Both the Preston and Footscray delegates strongly opposed the adoption of this clause, declaring that the unemployed had received great assistance from the police in those districts. “It is absolutely ridiculous, and the persons who compiled it could not have been responsible for their actions,” declared Mr. R. Lyons (Seamen’s Union). He said that they might as well include the Army, Navy, and Air Forces, as they all had relatives in some of those institutions.

Mr. Molloy: The capitalist classes wages war on our children, who are dying in the slums. I would be sorry if the children suffered, but we will not stop at killing anyone in the interest of the working class. If those scoundrels who baton the workers knew that their children could not attend school they would hesitate before they used the baton on the workers.

Mr. Lyons: Ninety per cent of the unemployed will not accept it. It will take a lot of explaining.

A proposal that the clause be deleted was negatived by 38 votes to 21.

STRIKES TO REPLACE ARBRITATION

When a clause for the abolition of the Arbitration Courts was being discussed several delegates asked what was to take the place of the courts. Mr. Molloy declared that “palliatives were thrown to the workers to prevent them from going on strike.” Direct action should be substituted. “If we cannot get what we want we should take it” he added.

Mr. T. Le Huray (Bricklayers’ Union) said that the alternative for the courts was “direct action” under rank and file leadership.

Mr. C. Monson said that they could only gain their objective by fighting. The right to vote was won only through rivers of blood. “We will have to train the workers to fight. That is the only way.”

The clause was adopted.

Another proposal was that a “Workiers’ Defence Corps” be established. Much secrecy, however, was observed respecting the methods to be followed in forming this corps. It was ascertained that it was to be on the lines of a leaflet issued recently by the Communist party. When the clause was submitted for consideration Mr G. W. Bodsworth (Timber Workers’ Union) moved that the question be referred to the incoming executive to deal with. This was agreed to, and the details were therefore not disclosed to the conference. Resolutions were also passed containing demands on behalf of unemployed women, and also to “organise the youth along class lines.” Mr. C Monson was elected president of the new organisation, and Mr J. Aide secretary.

Among the “demands” adopted by the conference were the following:-
Work or Wages – That the Government guarantee every worker,vidmate irrespective of race, creed, colour, or sex, a job at a living wage, or, if unemployed, insurance compensation equal to full wages. Workers partially unemployed shall receive from the unemployed insurance sufficient to bring their wages up to the full amount. This fund to be a charge on industry and to be non-contributory by the workers. This unemployed insurance shall not be administered by Government bureaucrats or charity fakirs, but by committees elected directly by the workers in the shops, and the unemployed through the unemployed workers’ movement.
Emergency Unemployment Relief – Until the unemployment insurance is operative the Government shall make an emergency appropriation for emergency relief work, equal to insurance or full wages.
Housing – All evictions of unemployed, and seizures of furniture to pay rend must be prohibited. In every city public buildings must be made available, rent free, for shelter of homeless unemployed. A special fund for the building of workers’ homes must be set aside by every municipality and construction begun at once. Preference to be given to homeless unemployed in the use of such houses, rent free.
Seven-hour Day and Five-day Week – The seven-hour day and five-day week must be established in every industry without reduction in wages, and those places suffering a reduction in wages the higher rate must be restored. In the mining industry and other hazardous occupations the six-hour day and five-day week must prevail.
Free employment agencies, established under the control of worker’ committees and unemployed councils. Abolition of private employment agencies, and employers compelled to apply only to workers’ committees for workers.
Free lunches for all school children in schools, and Government maintenance on the higher rate for all children.
The right to strike and picket.
Abolition of the use of police against strikes, unemployed, and working class demonstrations, and no arrests of unemployed and other workers for vagrancy.
Social insurance against sickness, invalidity, accidence and old age.
Resistance to attempts to transport troops, munitions, and provisions to British forces in Egypt, or elsewhere, and also against other imperialist forces in all parts of the world.
Immediate release of all working-class prisoners in gaol for their working-class activities .
Abolition of the system of working for rations, and full rates to paid for all work performed.

I would normally prefer to present something that wasn’t already availible online, but other committments kept me away from libraries this weekend.

Next week I am heading to the State Library to follow up on some leads, stay tuned.

No Comments, Be The First!

Join the discussion