The early 1920s were marked by an economic boom. Ted and Kate could easily have believed that their future was secure. They could maintain their mortgage and raise their kids in security. While the work was casual (with a "bull type" of picking labour) there was plenty of work around.
It was yet another period in Australian life where the illusion takes hold, especially among young people, that life isn't really so tough, that anyone can succeed if you have the will. In 1928, on the eve of the Great Depression, a leader of the then eight year old Australian Communist Party announced, to astonishment of Party members, that Henry Ford had proven Karl Marx was wrong. That the workers' condition wouldn't continually worsen and therefore the workers should give away the idea of revolutionary change but simply fight for reforms to capitalism. I want to dwell on the conditions of life of my father and how these conditions radically worsened in the Depression because without knowing my father's life it isn't possible to appreciate the devastation effected on our family or of how my world view was indelibly etched into my mind during those terrible days.
For those who don't know the "bull" system I must explain. A foreman stands on an elevated position and the labourers stand around each trying to look the keenest, most hungry but fit, to work the hardest to satisfy the bosses needs to every .bit of sweat that he can suck out of the poor labourer. Then the foreman leans forward to point to first one, then another, and another, until his need for labour is satisfied. It might well happen that all the labourers are picked and the workers' need of work, and therefore their sustenance, is met.
On the other hand, there may not be enough work and the workers have to wait until another labour pick. In bad times Ted would be without work for days; the days often extending into weeks. In many ports there were labour picks at different localities at different times so that workers frantically run from one pick to the next pick desperately hoping that they will get a job. (There was the notorious "The Hungry Mile" that has been immortalised in the literature of depression days in Sydney.)
At the height of the industrial boom in 1928 when the future looked so bright for Ted and Kate, as it did for so many Australian working people, the pretence that industrial arbitration was an instrument of social justice had been tacitly dropped and the conservative Government overtly took the employers' side in three of the largest scale industrial disputes in the country's history. These were waterside, coal-mining and timber-working industries. A concise but very readable account of the struggles of these times can be found in "A Short History of the Australian Labor Movement" by Brian Fitzpatrick. I'm confining my remarks to the waterside industry which is relevant to the life of my father, Ted Englart.
In 1926 Judge Beeby, an ex-Labor politician, was appointed to the Arbitration Court, made an award for waterside workers, to come into operation on September 10, 1928. It was only a couple of years since the Government introduced the Crimes Act, by which a state of emergency might be proclaimed in case of trouble on the waterfront. Now Judge Beeby's award required wharf labourers to attend two pick-ups a day, instead of the customary one. The Union pointed out that the new award "would spread the pick-up over eight hours, so that a man might wait a full working day on the employer's pleasure, and then walk home without a penny in wages to show for his time." (Fitzpatrick)
Not a waterside worker around Australia attended the first pick-up on September 10. The next day Prime Minister Bruce threatened the workers with the Crimes Act. A majority of the Union leadership advised their men to go back to work. But on Monday, September 17, the workers continued to refused to work under the Beeby award.
On September 22, the Government rushed through a Transport Workers Act which instituted a form of conscription of waterside labour, severe limitations on the right of association and heavy fines on the waterside union. The struggle was so intense that the police fired into a crowd of demonstrating waterside workers in Melbourne wounding four men.
Hardly had the waterside workers been disciplined when the Arbitration Court gave its .attention to the timber workers and coal miners, with the NSW coal owners locking out 10,000 miners. "more shootings and more prosecutions resulted, two more unions were broken".(Fitzpatrick). "The disputes all started at the height of an industrial boom, and in every case they took place by way of protest, on the part of organised workers, against attempts to reduce wages or worsen conditions."
Ted took an active part in the struggle against the Beeby award. He acquired a motor bike, the only motorised transport Ted ever owned. He produced and distributed leaflets concerning the dispute and it worried him greatly that the workers' struggle was compromised by scab labour. It was Ted's joining the Communist Party that was the next significant step in Ted's history.