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How The Labor Movement Was Born In Queensland
(By Harold Boland, President of the Queensland Central Executive and Branch Secretary of the A.W.U.)
Every now and then it is important to revive the birth of the Labor Move ment in Queensland in the minds of people because there are always newcomers into the ranks of the trade unions and A.L.P. branches whose knowledge of events are sadly lacking, through no fault of their own.
It is for that reason that the following facts have been put together, and I hope that they will rekindle some enthusiasm for the 'old timers' and plant in the growing generation a desire to do more for Labor than they have done in the past.
The Labor Movement in Queensland as we know it to-day — incidentally the keystone, as it were, of the general Labor edifice as regards major legis lation, to say the least, was born in the pastoral areas of this vast State.
In 1886, at Wellshot station, which was then one of the biggest in the nation, though to-day subdivided into several properties, industrial trouble arose at shearing time because shearers would not accept the agreement proposed by the employers. The slave-like conditions of work proposed (shear ing was done at 17/6 per hundred) became so be yond endurance that the men went on strike, and the news of their action went like a bushfire throughout the outback
There were no wire less or telephones then, only 'bush telegraph', yet the message was passed from place to place by horseback, by personal contact, by every known method of communication. There was a simul taneous uprising in all shearing districts, and when no settlement was reached at Wellshot the men began to march on Blackall, the centre of Queensland. (Continued on page 4)
How Laliur Was Bom (Continued from page 1) *_JF*om Wellsbot they *eiit to Portland Downs, another large station, where they . gathered 'moss' in the shape of a la r g e contingent of shearers and shed em ployees. From Portland Downs they went on to Ifiis Downs, where more 'moss' was gathered in the form of added numbers. Onward they went to Thornleig'h, and by the time they reached Blackall they were more than 600 strong, led on the march by the late H. Dunne, who died about three years ago. At Blackall they decided to form the Shearers' Union.
There had been some attempts to form a Shearers' Union in West ern Quensland early in 1886, but these fell through, so it was left to Ballarat, Victoria, to ac tually become the birth place of the A.W.U., when the late W. G. Spence, who became the first general president, was chairman at the first meeting held at Fein's Hotel on June 12, 1886. Bourke (N.S.W.) and Blackall formed their Shearers' Union in Octo ber, 1886, and from then on branches were estab lished in Victoria, South Australia, N.S.W. and Queensland, all joining
logemer unaer tne name of The Australian Workers' Union in 1893. It is said that the first shed to shear under the Queensland Shearers' and Central Queensland Labourers' Union rules was at Beaconsfield station, near Longreach, in January, 1889, when shed hands were paid 30/ a week instead of 25/-. Nevertheless, members of the Pastoralists' Union were strong and relent less, and their attitude ultimately forced shear ing industry employees in 1891 to make their his toric stand in the face of gatling guns, armed sol diers and hostile em ployers. Let me quote this from W. G. Spence's 'Aus- tralia's Awakening': 'In Queensland, and like wise in fll.S.W., the railways
were at the disposal oj pas toralists for carrying the scum of the big cities which had been faked up to work in place of Unionists. Pro fessional criminals, well known to the police were taken to fill the places of honest workmen. Blacklegs were armed while unionists, many of whom made a living by shooting kan garoos, had their rifles taken from them. To the outside world the Government made a pretence of simply main taining law and order, but the evidence oj their actions in JS91 and again in 1894, proves them to have been as already asserted, m agent for the owners of the stations in attempting to carry out their big scheme for the sub jugation of the unionists and the procuring of cheap labour of any kind, colour, or character.'' To be a trade unionist, especially in the pastoral areas, was enough. Take for example a Court case at St. George. His Worship said to a constable in Court: 'Did you search the prisoner?' 'I did, your Worship.' 'What did you find on him?' 'I found a union ticket, your Worship, which I produce in Court.'
So it can be seen how unionists were regarded. In that 1891 upsurge of Labor in the pastoral areas men were arrested and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment simply because they joined in the strike against tyranny of the employers, backed and encouraged by Govern ments which would have stunted the growth of our Australia into deformity, had not the Labor Move ment grown rapidly out of thai industrial strife. (Continued on page 7)
Hdw Labor Was Born (Continued from page 4) It was out of the deter mination of the strikers to have parliamentary representation that the Labor Party came into being, and, strange to re late, the first Labor man elected in Queensland was a blacksmith named T. J. Ryan, from Tambo. It is historic that the first mass electoral Labor victory in Queensland came in 1915, when an other T. J. Ryan, a Vic torian by birth, led the way to victory and became Premier of the first Labor Government in this State. The second T. J. Ryan led magnificently in the battle for anti conscription, and his Government introduced industrial laws which hav-e their fabrics webbed through and through most of our legislation to-day.
The second T. J. Ryan was head of Labor's first real Queensland Govern ment, a type of Govern ment which has continued on ever since, except for the years 1929-32. We treat that world record a bit too familiarly at times, taking things for granted. But we should never forget it and never lose sight oi the fact that a Labor Govern ment reigns for the bene fit of all, with a marked leaning towards the work ing man and woman. In Australian political history the following are outstanding: Ryan, Theo dore, Gillies, McCormack, Forgan Smith, Cooper and Hanlon. All were Labor Premiers, and their successor is the present Labor Premier, Mr. V. C. Gair, M.L.A. In 22 years (since Labor was re-elected in 1932, after the depres sion) there have only been four Premiers, a record which may not be matched in the archives. It all was made possible because of the uprisings in the pastoral industries when the coastal regions were in the grip of land lords who employed coloured slaves. Many of the whites were slaves, too, relatively, but not the kind of slaves to ac cept their lowly condi
tions for evermore. The high standard of living and of wording conditions enjoyed /to-day reflect what the^ did for us, and we should give a thought to their actions every now and then in order to keep ourselves on an even keel.