The lesson of black Friday: a note on trade union structure (1921)

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  3. Graham Stevenson

Conference in had recommended a certain procedure in regard to these nominations, but the Cabinet ignored this. After the nominee Upper Chamber had mutilated a large number of Labour Bills, the Government at last in recommended ten gentlemen for appointment to the Council. Of these ten only four had signed the pledge approved by Conference. Some of the others were really members of the Party, but others again were not, and two consistently voted against the Government.

In making these appointments Cabinet had acted entirely on its own initiative, and they came in for very scathing criticism from Caucus and Conference.

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Accordingly, in the next Parliament, Caucus carried a resolution on the motion of R. Meagher, that no further appointments to the Council should be made unless the names of the proposed appointees had been approved by Caucus. Holman, the Premier, was absent from the meeting which made this decision, but when he heard of it, he announced his intention of defying it in a Press statement. As if to enforce the latter dictum, he shortly afterwards assigned the portfolio of Public Health to G. Black, who had been elected to the Ministry on the distinct understanding that he should be only an honorary Minister.

Had Holman's dictum stood it would have meant a very serious limitation of the supervisory power of Caucus, since administration is, from the Labour standpoint, often quite as important as legislation. Nor is the distinction between executive and legislative acts logical. A Government is called upon to give an account in the House of its administration, and therefore the Party must take responsibility for acts which they may have to defend in the Assembly. However, the Holman position was finally rejected by the Party at the Conference.

In Queensland, the only other State that has a nominee Second Chamber, the Ryan-Theodore Governments have always left the choice of Councillors to Caucus, while the names have also been submitted to the Executive for endorsement as in the case of Labour candidates for the Lower House. It must not be thought, however, that the Labour Governments in Queensland have been much more submissive to Caucus domination. Hunter was holding no less than three portfolios in a temporary capacity although Caucus had more than once laid it down that this gentleman was to be only an honorary Minister.

It is also understood that Caucus passed a resolution forbidding further expenditure on the purchase of State cattle stations. A little later the purchase of a still larger estate for this purpose was announced. Yet, although unable to control the actions of Ministers, the Labour Member is discouraged from criticising them in public. In November, , Gardiner M. Parliament , made a scathing attack on the Government's handling of the Labour situation during the war in his speech on the Budget. Member makes another speech like the one he made to-day in this House, I will have him expelled from the Party, or I will leave it myself.

He has already been warned privately, and now I tell him so publicly. Page Vide speech reported in Argus , June 21st, The limitations of Caucus control have become so notorious that some curious proposals were put before the Federal Conference of igig for revolutionary modifications in the system of Cabinet Government.

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One motion proposed to associate with the Minister in the administration of each department a committee of five members elected by Caucus. The mover wanted the work of administration to be carried out by practically the whole Party, and not to be the work of ten or twelve men. Another delegate thought a committee would help to fix responsibility, and go a long way towards purifying public life. Premiers, actual like Theodore, or expectant like Tudor and Storey, agreed in branding the proposition as unworkable.

If responsibility was divided it could not be fixed. As it was, Cabinet had to account to the Party for any errors. The motion was lost by 11 votes to In conclusion, we may remark that the Caucus system seems to discourage brilliance and originality. The exceptional man is always suspect. When a man of marked ability does succeed in gaining the lead, like Holman or Theodore, he tends to become autocratic. A man of outstanding ability and dominating personality naturally resents dictation from those less gifted and well informed than himself -- men who are not in so good a position as he is to judge of the complexities of a political situation, and whom he is apt to despise as intellectual inferiors.

The democratic discipline of the Labour Party has in several instances turned such men into apostates. That was the fate of Holman, Kidston and Hughes. Such men may honestly believe that they are indispensable to the Party and that they, and they alone, know what is best for it and the masses it represents; and therefore persist in a policy, in the teeth of popular opposition, to the breaking point, where a lesser man would seek by servile compliance with the caprices of his followers to maintain himself in his position at the cost of his principles.

The truly great Labour leader who can steer a middle course between both these extremes is rare. Ryan was the most splendid example. In general Caucus likes an able man as leader, but in filling other posts inclines to pay more attention to personal qualities of good fellowship than to fitness for Ministerial responsibility. A versatile and original thinker like Anstey is too dangerous to receive preferment from Caucus. Safe moderate men are generally preferred. To fulfil these two objects an elaborate extra-Parliamentary organisation of the Party was inevitable.

The unit of this organisation is the league in each electorate. These leagues are more than ad hoc committees such as every political party establishes for election purposes. They have not only the power of selecting the candidate to bear Labour's banner in the electorate; they also appoint delegates to the State Conference of the Party, and have the right to send along to that Assembly proposals for the amendment of the platform and other recommendations respecting the Party's policy and direction.

Every voter resident in the electorate who pays a small subscription, and pledges himself not to vote against the selected Labour candidate, is eligible for membership. He thus can obtain a share in determining the Party's policy; for the league meets periodically and any member may initiate proposals to be sent on to the Conference. Conference meets annually in the Southern States and triennially in Queensland.


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In the former it is composed of delegates from the leagues together with representatives of the affiliated unions. In the north the latter have only secured separate representation since In the interval between Conferences its authority is exercised by an Executive. The management of the Party funds, details of organising work, and the endorsement of candidates are in the hands of the latter body.

For the management of the Federal Party an Inter-State Conference, consisting of six delegates, each selected by the State Conferences, meets at least once every three years. It draws up the Federal platform, and generally deals with subjects that come within the scope of the Commonwealth Parliament, considering, as a rule, only propositions emanating from one of the State Conferences. An Inter-State Executive has been established only since It is composed of two delegates chosen by each of the State Conferences, but, chiefly owing to the enormous distances separating the several State capitals, it scarcely functions.

Moreover, it has no separate funds under its control, the conduct of the Federal elections being still reserved to the State Executives, which also retain the exclusive right of endorsing the candidates for the Federal Parliament who run in their respective States. We have already seen how the organisation of the Party outside Parliament was in N. The exercise of the rights thus vindicated for Conference and the Executive has often been found necessary since then. The Parliamentary representative of the workers tends to set himself up as a leader and to claim the right to neglect the recommendations of Conference, and even the sacred platform itself in accordance with his interpretation of the interests of the Party which is frequently determined by considerations of personal safety and mere political expediency.

This is plainly contrary to the Labour theory of self-government, and has to be checked by the exercise of the authority of the governing organs of the Party. The fact is that, possessed of a substantial salary, a gold pass on the railways and other privileges, and surrounded with the middle-class atmosphere of Parliament, the workers' representative is liable to get out of touch with the rank and file that put him in the Legislature, and to think more of keeping his seat and scoring political points than of carrying out the ideals he was sent in to give effect to.

Thus conflicts between the politicians and the organised Labour Movement have been fairly frequent. In cases of downright defiance the Executive can resort to the expedient of refusing endorsement to the recalcitrant at the next election, thus preventing him from running as a Labour candidate. This was the method by which Joseph Cook and his followers were got rid of in Revolts of the politicians ending in their expulsion or desertion from the Party have been fairly common in most States.

Queensland had such an experience in Conference therefore determined that compliance with this plank should be a condition of further support for the Coalition by the Labour Party. At the same meeting a new Socialist objective was adopted. The Labour Treasurer was not prepared to enforce Plank XL, which was unpopular, while the sale of Crown Lands brought in a substantial revenue. Therefore he left the Party, putting forward as his pretext the new objective. The Party still gave regular support to the Government, of which Kidston soon became the head; for Labour could hardly support the extreme Tory opposition, the only alternative.


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But in Conference reaffirmed its decision in regard to the enforcement of Plank XL in opposition to the wishes of George Kerr, the new Parliamentary Leader. He, too, thereupon deserted the Party along with eighteen other members, twelve of whom were rewarded for their treachery by losing their seats at the next election. Some sentences from the Presidential Address of Mat Reid at the Conference are worth quoting as a commentary on these events.


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Once you allow the politician to boss the show, he will give away everything to save himself, because he believes himself indispensable to the show, and in fact ends by becoming the show himself, and making a holy show of the rest of us. The supposed strong point made by the defaulters is their practical achievement of something in our time. But no party worthy of the name of Labour will follow public opinion; it will make and mould it. For instance, it alone stood united on the Conscription issue, suffering only one desertion.

The Movement tolerated, albeit not without impatient protest, the obvious determination of the Parliamentary leaders to set the rank and file at defiance. This was probably attributable to the unwillingness of the Party to sacrifice the services of such brilliant men as W.

Graham Stevenson

They tried instead to make him and his colleagues subservient to the general will of the Party, and a long record of bitter disputes and wrangles testifies to the vanity of the attempt. The question of alliances may serve as an illustration of the tendencies of this struggle.

Black Friday: When Brisbane Police Beat and Suppressed Demonstrators

When, however, Federation removed the fiscal question beyond the realm of State politics, the only real issue that kept apart the two old parties had disappeared, and Labour could no longer hold the balance of power and extort concessions thereby. To achieve their aims they must hope to reach the Treasury Benches. Labour, therefore, took on it the functions of direct opposition in , but a sort of alliance was maintained with the remnants of the See-Lyne party.

But Coalition Governments were no longer the ambition of the Party. The example of Kidston was a warning against that, while Labourites reasonably expected soon to attain a direct Labour Government which they supposed would give effect to a large portion of Labour's ideals. Therefore H. Lamond said that if it was necessary to depart from the principle thus laid down the decision should rest with the leagues and not with the Labour Members, who were personally interested in the matter.

Page 26 n1. Worker , February 8th, The decision of Conference was not accepted quietly by the politicians. They found a way of subverting it by their influence on the Executive. In the State elections of Mr. Cameron, who had been selected to contest the Annandale seat in the Labour interest, was asked to stand down at the last moment at the instigation of Holman.

In defence of this action at the Conference, the latter explained, that by granting immunity to the See-Lyne candidate for that seat, Labour got a clear run for five other seats in Sydney and his explanation was accepted.