Link to Takver's Initiatives Link to Radical Tradition Index
My Union Right or Wrong.
A history of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900-1932
By Issy Wyner


Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Chapter Four: Unemployment: Some of its Consequences

Divider: rope

(see Appendix 5, "Definitions" re some of the terms used.)

Unemployment was a constant factor in the lives and industry of painters and dockers. Even in periods when work might be regarded as plentiful, there were still many members tramping from yard to yard, or from one shipping company to another, seeking casual work. And those who held jobs always knew that they were short-term. Even the few who, in later years, were often referred to as "bosses' pets", "pink eyes", "bulls", "royals", etc., still knew uncertainty and difficulty in looking forward to any constancy in their employment. Thus, it was traditional for painters and dockers to always regard themselves as "casuals", working in a "casual industry", and, in fact, to wear this as a kind of badge of honour.

In the climate of uncertainty, of brief, short runs of work (often a few hours or days) with many weeks of non-employment between sporadic pick-ups, unionism suffered, and bad attitudes were fostered, particularly among the less radical. Where full employment always ensured a general atmosphere of tolerance, acceptance, understanding, its diametrical opposite, unemployment, always brought out the worst features of industrial relations. The worst effect, of course, from long-term unemployment, was scabbery. But, there were other demeaning, selfish, individualistic actions, leading to hostility and hatred towards those who breached the unwritten rules of unionism.

Concern over unemployment was a serious issue with the Labor Council, too, as it addressed unions with the statement

Unemployed Army in New South Wales numbers nearly 50,000 and in its unorganised state is a great menace to organised labour. (Minutes, 6/6/1922.)

In the following year, Jock Garden (Labor Council Secretary) and J. Howie (Labor Council President) were arrested at an unemployed rally outside Parliament House and appeared before a magistrate,

Evidence was given by Inspector Long that when police went to move on a crowd listening to Howie in Macquarie St blocking up the carriage way and the eastern footpath, Howie called out "Keep moving men and they can't interfere with you". The crowd continued to move round in circles, but traffic was still obstructed. (Evening News, 13/8/1923)

Howie and Garden were each fined 20 shillings and 8 shillings court costs, in default 14 days imprisonment.


Divider: rope

Unfinancial Members

Unemployment bred many bad features for the Union, among which failure to pay union dues figured largely and occupied much of the time at union meetings. On occasion, motions would be carried such as

that on account of the slackness of trade the time be extended for two weeks to allow unfinancial members to pay up. (Minutes,19/10/1903)

It will be noted that for many years, union contributions were payable weekly, the amount being threepence per week.

More often than extensions of time, however, the need for action against those who failed to pay regularly took up the time of meetings, such as endeavouring to shame unfinancials by the Secretary being required to read out at a meeting the names of unfinancial members (Minutes, 25/3/1901, 23/3/1903, 15/4/1904) At the meeting on 24th July, 1905, the Secretary reported having to take three recalcitrants, in regular employment, to court for failure to pay; and on another occasion, it was decided that the preference clause be put into operation against those on the list of names read out, which meant that they would be regarded as non-unionists. (Minutes, 8/7/1907.) In 1909, a group of non-payers was struck off the roll of membership. In 1919, unfinancial members were told that they were not entitled to any of the privileges of membership.

Other forms of action against those who failed to pay contributions when they were in employment, included

that this Union get distinguishing badges to be worn by the members in a conspicuous place when working or seeking work. (Minutes, 24/2/1902)

But the wearing of badges did not cure the problem, as further decisions were made from year to year on the wearing of badges (Minutes, 25/3/1904; 12/12/1904; 27/8/1912; 1923, 1924, 1925.)

[A side issue on the subject of badges arose at the meeting on 7th January, 1918, when a report was given about Loyalist Wharf Labourers wearing a medal with a crescent-shaped hook which looked similar to the one worn by Painters and Dockers. To avoid any inference that the Union was associated with what was branded a scab union in the 1917 strike, it was decided that members change their white medals for brass ones as soon as possible.]


Divider: rope

Subterfuges and Control of Picking up Labour.

Another repugnant aspect of unemployment among painters and dockers was the practice by a few members of subterfuges to obtain work ahead of their fellow members. The efforts to eliminate such practices were not often successful. These efforts included such decisions as the following, aimed at preventing the "royal" few moving from one job to another just before a pay-off occurred on the job they were leaving,

No member be allowed to leave one job before it is finished to start on another unless discharged by the Foreman in charge

... That no member shall be taken off work which is not completed and put on new work while members of this union are awaiting work.

(Minutes, 10/4/1901)

On another occasion the Secretary was instructed to "personally warn" 25 members who had waited for employment at the back of the Paint Shop . This referred to the position at Mort's Dock, where painters and dockers waited in the Paddock for the Foreman to come out and select men for a job. The smart clique, always in favour with the Foreman, did not line up with the rest of the men in the Paddock, but sneaked down to the Paint Shop, where they were given first call for jobs.

Mr. Green drew attention to the fact of members hanging up there bags in the Paint Shop & said it should be put a stop to as members made it a practice to go in for there bags when they thought the foreman was there so as they would get put on. (Minutes, 4/6/1901)

Another case of obtaining employment by underhanded methods was reported by the Secretary:

P.McCarthy having went in for work on Monday 3rd at 1.00 p.m. when he had not been picked out. Mr.Dulstone had picked out 20 men & he went in with them. (Minutes, 10/3/1902)

He was fined two shillings and sixpence (2/6d.), but the problem continued in various forms. On another occasion, the Management Committee reported

It coming to the ears of the Management Committee that some of our members have been writing to the Foreman at Mort’s Dock soliciting work & also seeing him privately for the same purpose they strongly urge the necessity of taking action in this matter & they also intend to read any of those letters that they can procure to the Union. (Minutes, 24/3/1902.)

But, while this report was received without comment, an attempt to overcome such problems was defeated when Talbot and McKew moved for all labour to be engaged through the secretary. (Minutes, 21/4/1902)

An infringement of rules concerning picking up men arose on another occasion, when it was reported

That a number of men went into the Paint Shop every morning having no work to go to & remained in front of the shop to the detriment of the men at the back. (Minutes, 5/3/1906.)

Complaints continued. In the following year, the Secretary was instructed to take up with the Foreman at Mort’s Dock the matter of men going into the Paint Shop of a morning, when they were not employed. (Minutes, 24/6/1907)

This problem still existed in 1926, when the Secretary reported on members seeking ways to avoid proper picking up methods. He advised a meeting

Re men waiting on Cockatoo Island till 10 and 11 o’clock every morning offering their services for work, and that in the past members had been ordered off the Island at 8 a.m. and that any men required after that had to be picked up at the Union Rooms.

Once more the decision was taken that all unemployed members leave the Island at 8 a.m. and that "all men picked up at the Union Rooms be balloted for". (Minutes, 23/2/1926) But some two months later, the Secretary reported three members to the Management Committee when, after a ballot had been carried out for jobs at Cockatoo Island

He had been very much incensed about a report ... that certain men who had been put off that morning were waiting behind to be picked up at 1.30 p.m. at the Island ..(Minutes 28/4/1926)

A fine of 5/- was imposed on the two men reported.


Divider: rope

Sydney Side "Rest Room".

By 1928, the Union was raising the issue of a "rest room" being provided for the members who sought work on the Sydney side, along the "Hungry Mile", rather than in Balmain. A ferry service ran from Darling Street Wharf in Balmain to Erskine Street in the City. A Union meeting considered a notice of motion by W.O’Keeffe

That a room be found on the Sydney side close to Erskine Street for members to rest in while waiting for work.

Swadling asked the Secretary whether he knew of any suitable place, to which McDonald replied that he knew of one place in Erskine Street, for which the rent was £1 per week but it was no bigger than the Union Office. It was then decided that the whole subject be referred to the Management Committee for investigation and a possible three months’ trial (Minutes, 23/1/1929.) With his usual alacrity in attending to decisions of meetings, McDonald was able to report to the Management Committee, at the end of January, that shop No.28 Erskine Street belonging to the Harbour Trust (forerunner of the Maritime Services Board, now destroyed by privatisation) Commissioners which was bigger than the Union office, was under negotiations with someone for lease and was practically decided on for 25/- per week. Another room was available for £2.12.6 per week. The Committee decided

That we appoint a committee of three to wait on the Government re accommodation for members on the Sydney side and report back to the Committee. (Minutes, 31/1/1928)

The quest for a room where members on the Sydney side could shelter from the elements and also await calls for labour, continued for a long time. The Management Committee’s recommendation for a delegation to meet the "Government" was adopted by the next Union meeting (Minutes, 6/2/1928) with the exception that Bob Mahony was replaced by Bill O’Keeffe to join Weston and McDonald. The reason for the change was given by Mahony who explained that the usual custom was for a Member of Parliament to introduce a delegation; if he, as a Member, introduced them, he could also be a fourth member to state the Union’s case.

The delegation reported to the Management Committee with Secretary McDonald, outlining the discussion with the Minister for Labour and Industry

Mr. Mahony stated that there were about 2000 members belonging to the organisation and in the event of them not being picked up in the morning pick up, they had to hang about the streets until 2 p.m. The men congregated in Erskine Street and the employers’ representative would come up there to pick up men if work should turn up. The police were shifting those men as the traffic was becoming congested, and the business people were complaining.

Mr. McDonald stated that he had a list showing where there were places belonging to the Harbour Trust that it would be possible to erect a waiting shed on between the Waterside Workers Institute and the new Hunter River Hotel. Also another place behind the Waterside Workers Bureau in Erskine Lane which could be renovated at a very low cost. He also stated that the men had to sit in the gutter to eat their food and they were getting covered in dust from the road. The shopkeepers had complained to him on several occasions about the men hanging about the premises. (Management Committee Minutes, 26/3/1928.)

In supplementing the report, O’Keeffe stated that he had raised another important aspect of the wait for jobs. This was the need for hot water at dinner time for men who carried a midday lunch with them. He had pointed out

If they were not working they were not allowed to take hot water at any of the wharves until the Waterside Workers and other employees had been supplied.

The Minister stated that he was in sympathy with the request and he would have enquiries made straight away by an energetic officer of the Department. He also enquired as to what would be the actual number of men that the room would be required for, as he did not want to obtain one that would only accommodate 50 if there were a greater number. He was informed by Mr. Mahony that there were about 200 men. He also stated that the Union would have to consider the question of putting in a caretaker to look after the room and keep the place in order.

The Committee was told that the Minister’s Secretary gave an assurance on behalf of the Department and the delegation had given an assurance that the Union would fulfill its part.

Less than a month later, "Yargo" Terry reported that men were being picked up at Mort’s Dock

When Mr. Woods had come out to get a number of men he had nearly been knocked over by the men anxious to get work. (Minutes, 16/4/1928.)

And discussion occurred on the so-called shelter shed at Mort’s Dock, which was no more than a humpy in the Paddock made from old steel plates taken from ships under repair. The holes in the plates, where rivets had been knocked out, allowed rain to pour through. It was decided to call on the company to make the shed less prone to the elements; and

A lengthy discussion took place as to the proper picking up place at Mort’s Dock behind the Paint Shop. It was decided that an imaginary line be drawn and any member stepping over that line should be dealt with as breaking the wish of the Union. The selection of the line to be left to the Secretary.

The same meeting also received a report that the Minister for Labour had been unable to find any premises suitable for accommodating men waiting for work on the Sydney side, and had ordered the Manager of the State Labour Exchanges, Bellemore, to convene a conference of employers and the Union to seek an agreement on a suitable place for the engagement of labour. The same delegation was authorised to represent the Union at the proposed conference.


Divider: rope

Transferring from Job to Job

Over the years, there were complaints concerning men being transferred from one unfinished job to another, or from a finished job to a new job starting and attempts were made to stamp out this practice in the interests of catering for the unemployed members.

There was the case reported on after McDonald had interviewed the Foreman at Mort’s Dock, Armstead, regarding taking men off a job to man a new job on a Union Company ship. Arising from the report it was decided

that no man transfer from one job to another at Mort’s Dock unless same is finished whilst there are men seeking employment that day. This decision to be confined to the Paint Shop. (Minutes, 6/2/1928.)

But there was continuing disregard of rules as the Management Committee found when it met some twelve months later and considered the case of men being shifted from an unfinished job to another at Cockatoo Island, with members unemployed and offering for work. The Committee decided to recommend

That the resolution standing on the books that no men be shifted off a job before completion of same at Mort’s Dock be made to apply to all other companies. (Minutes, 27/2/1929)

Changes in the Union’s position were shown in the decision on 4th March to adopt the Committee’s recommendation and a fortnight later, carrying a motion to declare the earlier decision "unconstitutional". When Alf Hindman submitted a notice of motion in the form of the Management Committee’s recommendation, the Chairman ruled that it could be dealt with when the revision of the Rules took place. However, the motion came on for consideration on 29th April, when it met with an amendment from Simon and Shephard for the principle contained in the motion to apply to all respondents to the Award; and Sylvester foreshadowed a further amendment which proposed to delete from the amendment the words "when men are available".

One speaker argued that if the motion was carried "there was a possibility of Naval Ratings doing the work originally done by us". Swadling opposed the motion because "it would give the shipowners an opportunity to take us to Court immediately". And Mahony advised the meeting that "no doubt the object was laudable but what had to be considered was, was the organisation in a position to enforce it".

The President, Weston, expressed support for the motion. Simon withdrew his amendment. Sylvester’s further amendment was then put to a vote and defeated, and the original motion was also defeated.

The issue did not die with this decision and some two years later, on 30th March, 1931, Swadling, who in the earlier debate had opposed the proposal, told the meeting of a practice at Cockatoo Island of taking men away from their job on the construction of a Lightship and sending them down the Harbour when any staging was required on some job. In approaching the Management, he had got an agreement that no more than one man was to be taken from the Lightship job and other men required could be found elsewhere. "It appeared to him that the Management was only keeping the Lightship job as a stand by", he said.

This was a constant form of complaint by Painters and Dockers and other trades, throughout the history of shipbuilding in the Port of Sydney and was always brushed aside by employers as an attempt to interfere with how their business was run. Nevertheless, it was apparent to workers that construction of ships was always treated as a "standby job", while awaiting the more lucrative ship repair work. The effect of the employers’ policy was that the constant hands covered the long-term construction work as well as the casual repair work, and unemployed workers, especially Painters and Dockers, remained unemployed.

In the event, Ted Dodds and Bill Bingham succeeded in moving "that the men rigging staging on the new ship be kept on that job and that other casual men be sent down the Harbour if required".

In September, 1971, a member was charged with having taken a job at Huddart Parker’s while still employed by the Union Steamship Company. He pleaded ignorance of the Rules, even though he had been a member for about eleven years, and was let off with a caution.


Divider: rope

Rostering for Work

Employers, of course, rejected any form of Union control over employment and insisted on Foremen control with all its pernicious overtones of selection on the basis of strength or skill, of favouritism (regardless of strength or skill), of buying favours with presents or free services, of nepotism, etc. The basis of the Union position was that employers should accept a cross-section of available labour, that all men were equal in their need to earn a living, support a family, etc., and the weak, the unskilled, the unfavoured, were human beings entitled to a fair crack of the whip. As well, there remained as a driving force among the membership, the need to use every facet of mateship in order to ensure that every member had opportunities for employment. The effort from time to time to establish a roster system for sharing work (and particularly a system operated by the Union), was probably one of the most radical solutions considered by the Union. Though it was never expressed in such terms, a union-operated roster system of employment was a serious form of job control and for that reason, more than any other, employers opposed it. The eventual achievement, in 1946, of a legal Roster System of employment, operated by the Union, was based on these important considerations.

The problem with the few members seeking ways to get work ahead of their fellow-members, contrary to the Union’s traditional egalitarian spirit which ensured equal rights to work and demanded the sharing of work, was one of the main reasons for seeking means to control the picking up of labour and led to early moves by the Union such as at the meeting on 8th July, 1901, in the midst of a strike by Ironworkers at Mort’s Dock which soon involved the Painters and Dockers. Members seeking work away from the Dock were covered by a decision

That when hands are required at Cockatoo the men who had not worked sixteen hours but who had some time in be sent over first & that afterwards the names be taken in rotation .

Some months later, this principle was expressed more definitively when it was

moved by Mr Jos Creighton & seconded by Mr Coles that members of this Union awaiting work at the Dock & who have not worked the previous day, shall have the first privilege to employment. any member breaking this resolution shall be fined the sum of five shillings. carried.....

and the Secretary was instructed to "acquaint the men at the Dock" of the decision "in reference to men awaiting work having a privilege over other men", and Mr. Creighton gave notice

That all labour be employed direct from the Union. (Minutes, 23/9/1901.)

These moves by Creighton, which could be regarded as quite militant in that early period of the Union’s existence, are indicative of how great was Creighton's volte face a few years later, when he sought to establish the right of members to take individual contracts with employers.

But, here, in those early days of the reformed union, was expression of the essential principle that the man longest out of work shall have first call for any job offering.

The early attempts at rostering work were not always successful, and sneaky methods for obtaining work continued, as in the 1902 case, when a charge was laid against a member of

Having went in for work. When he had not been picked out. Mr. Dulstone had picked out 20 men & he went in with them. (Minutes, 3/3/1902.)

But the subject continued to be raised. A foundation member, E.Liaubon, sought to bring the roster into effect, with the simple proposal "that men in future be taken on in rotation". But opposition appeared with an amendment seeking an almost totally ineffective method for overcoming the subterfuge problem

That a window be placed at the back of shop & the Foreman pick men out from there.

In the end, the debate, on this occasion, was "stood over" without any decision. (Minutes, 24/3/1902.)

Other attempts to control dishonest or anti-union practices were not always adopted when proposed mostly by the more forward-looking members, such as the proposal by members Talbot and McKew

that all labour required be engaged through the Secretary, on being put to the meeting was lost. (Minutes, 21/4/1902.)

But, in 1903,a meeting adopted a proposal

That the Secretary take the names of the men that are in the paddock every evening & have not worked that day, the said names to be taken into Mr. Armstead (Foremen) with the object of getting employment for the men on the following day. (Minutes, 23/3/1903.)

Of course, employer's representatives, such as Mort’s Dock’s Dockmaster Christie, found even such minimal proposals unacceptable, asserting to the Secretary

that he had to work his job at a profit and he would have to employ the best men. It was pointed out to him that if he desired a sufficient quantity of labour he should give the men encouragement to follow up the Dock.

Mr. Christie said he could not entertain the scheme suggested but would see Mr Armstead about the matter. Mr Armstead was then seen & he stated that he could not accept the list but he would agree to share the work out as far as possible. (Minutes, 11/4/1903)

The Foreman's notion of "sharing" certainly did not satisfy the Union's difficulties and, within a month, there was another member charged with endeavouring to get a job by a subterfuge. The charge was laid by the shop delegate against a member who, when a list of names of men to start work was read out, simply marched in with them as though he was on the list. He was fined two shillings and sixpence. (Minutes, 21/5/1903) And further complaints and charges arose of men going "into the Paint Shop every morning having no work to go to" (1906 and 1907)

During the war period, the issue of controlling the supply of labour continued. At a Special Meeting held in December, 1915, a decision was taken to move towards an Employment Roster

that the balloting system be done away with and all work coming through the office be taken on a rotation system.

This was still a limited approach, since it applied only to "work coming through the office". It did not debar members from waiting to be picked up outside various yards for jobs which were not called for through the Union. Yet, the principle of rostering jobs gained some recognition, although it was still an on-again, off-again issue for many years. On one occasion, a later stalwart of rostering, Bill Swadling, successfully moved that the rotation system at present in vogue be done away with, after which it was decided that members waiting at the Union Rooms be placed in a ballot for any jobs called for. (Minutes, 31/1/1916.) Even this limited form of control was preferable to the undignified scramble for jobs with the "bulls" still getting first pick at the available work.

Among cases dealt with during the war, was that of the member charged with having gone to work at Cockatoo Island without going through a ballot. He was fined 2/6d. (Minutes, 18/1/1917) And again, a decision to investigate how a member had obtained work at Cockatoo Island without going through a ballot (Minutes, 19/2/1917).

At a Special Stop Work Meeting, a move was made to extend the balloting system of employment to "all jobs within the range of the Union", since the rule on balloting only applied to the dockyards. The move was defeated by 106 votes for and 186 against. (Minutes, 2/4/1917.) However, a month later, it was decided that a motion to have all work balloted for, should be submitted to a stop work meeting at which voting would be by ballot paper with Yes and No on it.

At the Special Summons Meeting held in the Oddfellows Hall, Balmain, the mover of the motion, E.Wright, stated

He was glad to see the large number of members present. He considered that if the ballot system were passed tonight the Secretary would know all the unfinancial members and it would tend to consolidate the Union not break it up. If the ballot system were good enough for the Naval yards it was good enough for everywhere else. (Minutes, 28/5/1917.)

Speakers for and against entered the debate and eventually drew an amendment to the motion

That the ballot system be cut out altogether. Foreman from the Naval Dockyards to come to the Union room and pick up men.

Sloan, usually taking a militant stand, was amongst those opposing the motion, asserting that

balloting was all right for the Government yards because anyone having a political influence would have pull in Government establishments which would not be found in private firms.

This approach may have suited those who did not want any method other than selection of labour by the boss, and Sloan must have been aware of this. Over the years, every attempt to regulate the picking up of men was opposed by those in the Union who were always confident of getting a job in a free selection system. These were the few who were generally referred to as the "bulls", the "boss’ pets", etc. There were occasions when some of them were accused of "taking a couple of chooks" or other inducement around to the boss on the night before a pick up for labour.

In the event, the amendment was defeated and the motion, by every member present being handed a ballot paper to mark Yes or No, was overwhelmingly defeated: Yes – 85; No – 238.

This was followed by another move, this time by the foreman at Cockatoo Island, to avoid balloting for men. The Secretary reported to a meeting that about 50 men who had completed a job were told to apply for leave of absence for a few days until the next job arrived. The Secretary stated that

he thought that this was against the best interests of the union and told the men not to return to work without going through the ballot. Rang Martin who refused to listen. Rang Ellery who knew nothing of it and said it should not occur again.

The foreman, Blane, admitted that he had advised the men of his own initiative to ask for leave of absence and two of the men, Joselyn and Wheeler, thought it was alright to ask for leave. The matter was deferred for further information.

An interesting sidelight at the time of this incident was the decision that "no motion on the subject of balloting be taken until the Union Room was lengthened by 30 feet", probably to cater for larger attendances at meetings.

By 1918, the matter had reached the position where Mahony had conferred with the General Manager at Cockatoo Island (King Salter) and other members of the Management at the Government Dockyard and reported on an agreement arrived at

1. That a list of men required shall be sent to the Union rooms.

2. That a representative of the Dockyard may also be sent to the Union rooms to engage men.

3. That returned soldier members of the Union shall have preference of employment.

Mr. Sloan stated that he was not satisfied with the result of the conference. Martin could go to the Sackville (a hotel in Darling Street, Balmain) and write out the list and tell the men to turn up at the rooms the next morning. The best way, would be for a man to come to the Union Rooms and pick out the men.

To this, Mahony advised

the whole trouble was that our members were not getting picked up, men were picked up whether they were members or not. Under the scheme suggested we would at least have a guarantee that whoever were sent would be members.

And with this the meeting agreed by adopting the report, but also decided to carry Stokes' motion, seconded by Scrimshaw, that

any member knowing of anyone being employed at the Sackville Hotel shall be dealt with.

Arguments and a variety of proposals for controlling employment and removing trickery in gaining jobs, continued from year to year, with suggestions for balloting, rostering and "open slather" put before meetings.

A meeting instructed the Secretary to investigate a complaint about picking up labour for Mort’s Dock where it was reported that men were "going into Paint Shop instead of taking their place with other men on the line". (Minutes, 28/1/1924.)

In 1926, the Management Committee met and heard evidence on a charge laid against two members of offering for work at Cockatoo Island without going through a ballot, when a list of names of men balloted had been sent to the Island and their names were not included. A fine of 5/- each was imposed on the culprits. And on 22nd July, 1926, the Committee dealt with a charge laid against a member of working against the best interests of the Union. It concerned another case of a member circumventing the rules on balloting

11 members called at the Union Rooms to take part in a ballot for work. 8 men were required at Chapman’s Slip and, on being told this, 3 of the members refused to take part in the ballot which left the requisite number of men. The men on arriving at the Slip were informed by Mr.Pashley that he was just going to ring Mr. McDonald and cancel the order, but now that the men had arrived, he knew that he would have to give them employment or pay them 3 hours. He was in a bit of a hole and if any man wanted to go away and offer for work at Mort’s Dock it would assist him. Mr.French then left for Mort’s Dock. (Minutes, 28/4/1926 and 22/7/1926.)

French admitted to the charge but claimed that, as a new member, he was not aware of all the Rules, and now that he did know, it would not occur again. The Committee decided to recommend that he be reprimanded.

In August, 1926, a case with the firm of Morrison and Sinclair at Birchgrove, was dealt with by the Committee, concerning men being picked up in Birchgrove Park and recommended that there should only be "a nominal fine, but that in future more drastic action would be taken against any member working against the best interests of the Organisation".

Avoidance of the ballot occurred at the AUSN Co., where a member worked while still also employed on the ship of another company, and it was recommended by the Management Committee that he be fined £1. And in February, 1927, a further case of two members who left a job on one ship to work on another; it was recommended that they be censured. Further cases of avoiding balloting for jobs appeared in 1929 and the Management Committee recommended fines of £2 and £3. The meeting on the 10th June, 1929, adopted the Committee’s recommendations and later in the evening also decided that the Secretary be instructed to approach Mort’s Dock "to consider a scheme for more equitable distribution of work".

On 1th June, 1928, the Standing Orders were suspended to allow the Secretary to report on the strike by the Marine Cooks and resolutions carried by a special meeting of the Labor Council’s Marine Transport Group, which was attended by him. The report included the decision for the Cooks to resume work on terms which included application of their roster. The Sun, reporting on the strike, published motions carried by the Group and stated

..The question of extra men for the Ulmara had faded into insignificance long ago. A far bigger issue had arisen --- the roster system. The shipowners were determined that the system must go. It was ridiculous to think for a moment that the Cooks, after holding up trade for months, could, with a mere wave of the hand, return to work with all their old privileges simply by withdrawing their claim for an increased staff on the Ulimara...(Minutes, 11/6/1928.)

This report would probably have fuelled Bill O’Keeffe’s determination to see a roster system introduced for Painters and Dockers. At the next meeting, he raised the matter of unemployed members rostering for work and moved for the introduction of a roster for one yard only, Mort’s Dock.

That a ballot of members be taken for the purpose of bringing into force the Rotary System of Employment at Mort’s Dock.

In support of his motion, O’Keeffe submitted that

Owing to the unfair methods adopted in the selection of men a number were getting a great amount of work and that others were getting practically nothing at all, also that the membership of the Organisation was getting greater and the work was becoming less, and he thought that the Rotary System would be the fairest way of distributing the work.

(Minutes, 6/8/1928.)

There were those who were generally assured of being picked up, who opposed such a proposal, such as Jim Shaw, who argued that it would be a breach of the Award and would "bring trouble on the members and on the Union in general". But, Jack Sylvester, sought to expand on O’Keeffe’s motion by moving an amendment which changed the words "Mort’s Dock" to "the whole of the Balmain side". There were those who opposed both proposals with arguments about the Crimes Act and the huge fines which could be imposed. The Secretary, McDonald, argued that it would be impossible to apply in sections only and that the Union’s Log of Claims sought to establish two picking up places, one on the Sydney side and one at Balmain; if achieved, that would be the time to raise the "Rotary System".

Another McDonald, (P.), supported the motion. Feilberg asked whether there was more than one rotary system to which O’Keeffe responded by outlining his ideas thus

that a list of men offering for work at Mort’s Dock could be taken, say to the extent of 400, and that if any other men came along their names could be added to the list.

The President submitted that it would not be practicable. However, this and concerns about Court action were ignored and, on being put to a vote, the amendment was carried. This then led to great argumentation on how to proceed with the ballot. After various motions and amendments were defeated, the meeting adopted a motion from Murphy and Sylvester, which provided for a Returning Officer to attend the Union Rooms for one week, during which the ballot would remain open. Murphy was then elected as Returning Officer and instructed that the ballot would open on Monday 20th August.

On 3rd September, 1928, the Returning Officer reported the result of the ballot:

For the Rotary system 76
Against 218
Informal 4

Some two years later, another attempt was made to have a Roster System introduced, when, at the meeting on 15th September, 1930, A.Pooley submitted a notice of motion that

We ask all employers for a conference to arrange a Roster system for employment.

This was not dealt with for some two months, and when, on moving it, it was seconded by P.Mitchell, and Bob Mahony then intervened in the debate and

explained at great length the different systems that had been brought in and tried during his period as Secretary for twenty five years. All had been tried and were unsatisfactory to the members. Messrs. J.Davis and A.Stephens spoke against the resolution on the grounds that it would be useless to ask the Boss to give a Rotary System

When put to a vote it was lost "only one in favour". (Minutes, 10/11/1928.)

In 1931, it was reported to a meeting that the Labour Bureau was using a roster system for sending men to jobs. On 22nd June in that year, the Secretary read to the meeting a letter from C.Bellemore, of the Department of Labour and Industry which advised of

Enquiries made on behalf of the unemployed members of the Union for work through the Exchange, stating that by direction of the Minister all applicants must be given consideration in the order of their registration and that any departure from this will leave the officers liable to action being taken by the Minister. In the case of the Timberworkers, special consideration was given them by the Minister because of the fact that they were deemed registered during the last Timberworkers dispute and those men who could not register were placed on the same basis as those who have since been given employment in the ordinary way through the Exchange but that special treatment does not apply to any other union.

The meeting’s response was to call on the Branch and Federal Secretaries to approach Bellemore "and ask for a more equal consideration of employment to the members of this Branch". As a result of these representations, Mahony was able to report to a Special Meeting that the Minister had stated that he had already given orders that the preference for Timberworkers should cease and "every person had to take their chance in rotation".The attitude of the Minister strengthened the resolve of O’Keeffe who once more gave notice of a motion for a ballot to be taken "To determine the attitude towards the Rotary System through the Union office". (Minutes, 3/8/1931.)

O’Keeffe’s motion was debated at the meeting on 26th October, when he argued that new members admitted to the Union were getting preference over

Some of the older members and pioneers of the Organisation. Some of those who were getting in were tradesmen and who when opportunity presents itself in their trade hung their books up and went back to their previous occupation. Immediately that work was finished they would come and take out their books again.

Opposition to O’Keeffe’s motion came from a number of speakers, including Bill Swadling. Support was given by Jack Trainor, A.Pooley, Ted Hill and others. The Secretary, McDonald, intervened in the debate with an explanation

As to how it would be possible to limit the membership and also explained that if it were possible to introduce the Rotary System the chronic unfinancial members would not be able to take part in any more than one ballot if they did not pay any contributions after taking part in the first.

When put to a vote, O’Keeffe’s motion was defeated on a show of hands, by 67 votes to 54. A division was demanded and the result was that the motion was carried by 86 votes to 67. O’Keeffe immediately moved that a ballot be taken over a period of one week in November, votes being taken on two days at the Union office and three days on the Sydney side. As well, members at Garden Island were given a postal vote.

The Returning Officer, Bill Bingham reported the result of the ballot to the meeting on 9th November

For the Rotary system 166
Against 359
Informal 3

Bingham added that only 528 members had voted, although 2090 ballot papers had been printed. And one of the Scrutineers, Bill O’Keeffe, added to the report

expressing concern at the

Apathy of unfinancial members in not taking the opportunity of recording their votes and he was of the opinion that there were a number of men masquerading as members with badges in their coats as they stood outside the booth on the Sydney side and would not go in and vote.


Divider: rope

Picking Up Places

By 1908, concerns over where men were picked up for jobs were spelled out in a new set of Working Rules. While it had not been spelled out as a specific requirement for roster purposes, it was quite apparent that, for a roster system of employment to be practicable and successful, there would need to be a central place where unemployed members could congregate and register. Undoubtedly, rostering could not be satisfactorily applied where men were scattered around the waterfront at various employers’ premises.

At a Special Meeting in 1908, it was decided to include in a new set of` rules (which included, inter alia, rates of pay, overtime rates and preference to members of the Union), a provision to overcome the need for men to tramp around the waterfront from place to place seeking employment, thus,

All labour to be engaged at some definite place or places to be determined from time to time by the employers and the Secretary of the Union provided that in the event of unusual circumstances men may be engaged elsewhere.(Minutes, 17/2/1908)

It was decided that employers be told that the proposed improved conditions of employment would apply when the existing two-year Agreement expired on 14th May, 1908. However, in May, the Union meeting was advised that, among other claims rejected by the shipping, docking and repair companies, was the matter of defining picking up places. Nothing more was done at the time on that matter.

Two years later, it was decided to amend the Rule covering engagement of labour by providing

All labour for Mort’s Dock shall be engaged at the back of the Paint Shop and that the words "provided that in the event of an exceptional circumstance men may be engaged elsewhere" be deleted from printed rule. (Minutes, 16th May, 1910)

But a week later, Bob Mahony gave a report on the claims for a new Agreement and suggested

That further consideration be given to Rule 7. he stated the way it read as amended localised the Rule. He suggested to get over the difficulty that a schedule be drawn up containing the places of engagement of labour. Then the starting place for each company would be contained therein. At the present time only one Company was named which was not the correct way of dealing with the matter

And this approach was adopted by the meeting. The claim was not reported on again until the following year when Mahony reported on discussions with the Ship Painters and Dockers Wages Board, where employers announced that

A schedule containing the recognised places of engagement had been drafted which made the principal wharf or workshop the place of engagement. If the meeting agreed this schedule would be put in (a new Agreement). It defined the starting place for Mort's Company as behind the paint shop at Mort's Dock and for the Shipping Cos at their principal wharves. (Minutes, 13/3/1910)

In 1919, picking-up places still remained an issue, chiefly with the shipping companies which insisted on freedom to pick up men wherever they chose or wherever a ship was lying. By this freedom, the company could refuse any claim for travelling time and pick up and pay off anywhere that its ship may have been moored. The Newcastle and Hunter S.S. Company was the subject of discussion on 21st July, when it was reported that the Manager of this company "considered the place of engagement was where he picked up the men" and the Union could take the matter to a Board of reference if it wanted any other arrangement. It was left to the Federal Secretary to deal with it.

One of the most recalcitrant employers on this issue was Burns Philp. The problem was reported to a meeting over men picked up for the s.s. Makambo and

This firm not having a definite place of engagement it was moved and seconded That Mr. McDonald interview the Superintendent Engineer in reference to a definite place of engagement. (Minutes, 27/8/1923)

At the next meeting, McDonald reported having met Snelgrove, of Burns Philp, on the matter of a recognised picking up place, and offered two places: Circular Quay and Federal Wharf, but Snelgrove wanted "about five places". The matter was deferred for consideration at a Special Meeting which debated various spots and finally endorsed what McDonald had offered. (Minutes, 17/9/1923). The matter was finally resolved when Burns Philp notified the Union of acceptance of Federal Wharf and Nos. 4 and 5 wharves at Circular Quay. This was adopted by the meeting together with an agreement from Patrick S.S.Company to establish No.10 Wharf at Walsh Bay as its picking up place. (Minutes, 22/10/1923)

The issue of picking up places came up for general consideration in 1925, when the half-yearly meeting decided to advise the General Secretary

That we the members of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union ask the shipowners to accept a starting place for the whole of the waterfront on the Sydney side; the hours of picking up of men from 7.30 a.m. to 10 a.m., then from 12.45 p.m. to 1.30 p.m., if a starting place is asked for we will suggest Huddart Parker’s wharf. (Minutes, 12/1/1925)

Some months later, Burns Philp sought to extend the number of picking up places but the Union rejected this, deciding "to stand by the 1925 Award". Later in the meeting, Mahony reported on the final decision on the new Award in which, among other things, Judge Quick had made provision for the principal place of engagement for Cockatoo Island to be on the Island and for other employers it would be their principal workshop, yard or wharf. In effect, it meant that to be picked up for Cockatoo Island, members had to get across the water to the Island, where work started at 7.30 a.m. and, if there was no work, they then had to find their way back to the mainland on whatever company launch might be available and at whatever time it might be running. In other words, men were more or less stranded and unable to seek work elsewhere when Cockatoo had no jobs. (Minutes, 13/6/1925)

In June, 1928, McDonald reported on the meeting with the shipowners, together with Mahony, Weston and O’Keeffe, chaired by C.Bellemore. He reported that the shipowners’ attitude was that it would be a breach of the Award to have such a shelter as there were certain picking up places laid down in the Award, and it was suggested that the Union should state in writing that it wanted a central picking up place and this would be referred to the Court. Mahony put to the Union meeting that the matter should rest until the Court dealt with the new Log of Claims, and this was accepted.

In March, 1929, McDonald and Mahony once more met the shipowners on the issue and found that the representative of the Coastal S.S.Owners "wanted a picking up place everywhere that any of his ships were lying". This conference was chaired by the Deputy Industrial Registrar who decided to refer the matter to Sir John Quick in the Arbitration Court. Four months later, the Union was served with a summons from the New South Wales Coastal Steamship Owners, in which a claim was made to alter the Award to allow freedom to pick up labour wherever the employer desired.

At a Special Stop Work Meeting in August, Mahony reported on the summons and explained that, if granted by the Court, all companies would have at least two picking up places as against the Union’s proposal for one on the Balmain side and one on the Sydney side. He advised that, if the companies were successful, it would be essential to ensure that the picking up place on the Balmain side should be as near as possible to the Union Rooms. In his view

If this case went to Court, after the way the Judge spoke in the previous application for interpretation, it would look like granting the company’s request. For that reason, negotiations are taking place with the company and probably a settlement may be brought about wherein they will accept one picking up place suitable to them. (Minutes, 5/8/1929.)

The meeting decided to instruct the officials to arrive at an agreement which would provide for a picking up place as near to the Union office as possible. On 19th August Mahony reported on agreement reached with the employers for a picking up place at Mort’s Dock only, and this was accepted.


Divider: rope

Picking up Times

As well as the problems with picking up places, a parallel issue was that of picking up times. The companies’ insistence on men hanging around the gates in the hope of getting some work, was accompanied by an insistence that the waiting should continue throughout the day. This was challenged on a number of occasions, before some semblance of recognition of the unemployed men’s condition was forced on employers. In 1911, Tom Sloan submitted to a meeting

That we shall not remain in the paddock seeking work after 3 p.m. each day.

He said he had spoken to some of his fellow workers about his motion. Some did not like it and others considered 3 p.m. too late. Men who lived any distance found that when they came to look for work in the mornings they very often found that a vessel had been started about 4 p.m. the previous day. These men left the paddock sometime between the hours of 2 and 3 and no word was given that there would be any more work that day. George Walsh seconded the motion .Jos Hopkins opposed .men very often got work through remaining in the paddock. (Minutes, 5/6/1911)

A lengthy debate followed, with issues being raised such as exempting pay days from any rule because "men could not go home and come back again for their money". Opponents raised arguments such as "Mr. Franki (General Manager) might advertise for men". H. Ostler took the motion further with a radical amendment

That the figure 2 be inserted in place of 3 in the motion .he considered that was quite long enough for any one to remain . Men should not hang around corners waiting for someone to come out looking for men .the Secretary should not send men to work after 2 p.m. but any orders he may have should be considered next morning by his going down to the paddock for men.

When put to a vote, Ostler’s amendment was carried by 41 votes to 5, following which he then proposed a number of supplementary motions all of which were carried:

that the resolution be added to Rule 33 and to be called 33B

that the rule take effect from next Monday notifying all employers that when telephone messages are received after 2 p.m. applying for labour the Secretary shall not engage any men until starting time next day.

The rule appeared to continue for some time without complaint. Until Mr.King Salter, General Manager, Cockatoo Island, wrote to the Union, after war was declared in 1914, to ask

Where he could communicate with the Secretary at any time for the purpose of getting men during the present crisis.

The Union meeting carried the motion moved by the Cockatoo Island delegate, John Martin, and seconded by Ted Hill, and without giving any reasons for so doing,

That the two o’clock rule remain in abeyance as far as the Government is concerned during the war. (Minutes, 19/8/1914)

Soon after the war ended, the picking up times once more was an issue, obliging the Management Committee to meet and, after considering the matter, handed down recommendations for the next Union meeting:

That the two o’clock rule be rescinded

That a notice of motion shall not be accepted from any person unless he has attended a meeting of the Union

That men present themselves for employment at the usual starting time in the morning and remain one hour. They shall not present themselves again until the usual starting time after dinner when they may remain for one hour.

That men may be engaged to start work at any hour, provided they have been told within the hour stated in the recommendation. (Minutes, 8/3/1920)

The recommendation concerning notices of motion was apparently related to the issue of pick-ups being raised by some member who rarely, if ever, attended meetings. All the recommendations were adopted by the meeting on 15th March, 1920, after defeating an amendment seeking to defer the whole issue until consideration of the Award when it came up for renewal in September. However, a notice of motion to rescind these decisions was debated at the June meeting. The rescission motion was moved by M.Smythe who argued

It was making things very hard for the casual men to get a job as when a job turned up outside the time of engagement men were shifted from one job to another until the time of engagement arrived when labour was then taken on.

Mr. Murphy stated that it operate against the men in the paddock

Mr.Bailey opposed the motion stating that we should not go back on our previous decision .

Mr. Pooley thought the thing ought to have six months’ trial

Mr. Swadling stated we should endeavour to make things as easy as possible for men to get employment. We should not place obstacles in the way of men getting work. (Minutes, 22/6/1920)

The whole issue of picking up times and places arose again in 1925, when Thomas and Swadling submitted to a meeting, to be forwarded to the Federal Secretary

That we the members of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union ask the shipowners to accept a starting place for the whole of the waterfront on the Sydney side; the hours of` picking up of men from 7.30 a.m., to 10 a.m., then from 12.45 p.m. to 1.30 p.m., if a starting place is asked for we will suggest Huddart Parker’s wharf. (Minutes, 12/1/1925)

The motion was put and carried, after which Swadling moved successfully that the picking up place for all other employers be the Union Rooms.

By 1929, problems with picking up times still persisted. Sylvester was responsible for a motion

That the domestic rule stating that no man shall present himself for work after 2 p.m. shall be rescinded as far as it refers to Mort’s Dock.

The confusing manner in which separate rules were made for separate yards was never explained and, in this case, without any reasons being noted, Sylvester’s motion was carried by 27 to 11. (Minutes, 27/5/1929)

Two days after this decision was made, the Management Committee met to consider a claim by Mort’s Dock that the Union was in breach of the Award when men adjourned to the Union Rooms after 9 a.m. It was decided that the matter be referred to a Union meeting without any recommendation. A Special Meeting on 6th June, opened with the Chairman, Bill Swadling, stating that

The actions of certain members in refusing to accept the decision of the last meeting was regrettable and that it would demonstrate to the Employers that there was a split in our ranks which should be avoided.

If members disagreed with the motion, he said, they had their redress by submitting a notice of motion to rescind it. Charlie Weston, Acting Secretary in the absence of the Secretary who was off ill, endorsed Swadling’s remarks and also stated that

On Tuesday morning he had endeavoured to induce the men to leave the paddock but it was not successful.

Weston also read a letter from Mort’s Dock company declaring that if the resolutions of the Union

Were ratified they intend to proceed to the Federal Arbitration Court for an injunction.

The Acting Secretary stated that two days after our meeting Mr.Cox Timekeeper at Mort’s Dock handed him the above correspondence which would prove that the Employers were cognisant of everything that took place at the Union Meetings. He had a trunk call from Mr. A.M. Stewart, Industrial Registrar in Melbourne, stating that he had received a letter from Mr. Schwilk, Secretary of the Employers Federation pointing out that certain resolutions had been carried at the Branch meeting of the Union which may possibly lead to trouble ...Mr. Stewart stated that he was prepared to hear the case in Sydney on Monday 17th June and also the Hunter River Company’s case. (Minutes, 6/6/1929)

Following this report, O’Keeffe moved for the reaffirmation of the resolution at the last meeting, "that no man present himself for employment at Mort’s Dock after 9 a.m." When put to a vote, his motion was defeated by 34 votes to 62 against. But when a division was called, a much closer vote was recorded: for, 46, against, 59.

Two years later, the Management Committee met to deal with a problem at Morrison and Sinclair’s over the firm picking up men after the deadline of 2 p.m. Six members appeared before the Committee and each denied that he was picked up after the deadline. After hearing the denials, the Committee decided to advise the Union meeting that it

Does not agree with the statements given by the six men owing to Mr. Sinclair informing the Secretary that it was later on Wednesday afternoon when he went aboard the ship "Surrey" just after she arrived and after looking around to see what was necessary he rang up his Chargehand to get six men to start at 6 p.m. and we recommend that they be fined 5/- each. (Minutes, 27/7/1931)

The Union meeting on 3rd August adopted the recommendation after defeating an attempt to suspend the culprits for six months.


Divider: rope


As remarked earlier, scabs, blacklegs, "loyalists", like subterfuges to get a job, were essentially, but not always, the effect of long-term unemployment, with its lack of assurance for making a regular, self-satisfying living. Certainly, there is always that element in society which hates any arrangement which impinges on its selfishness and phony "rugged individualism", and which hates regulation and unionism; such an element lies dormant and seizes any opportunity to assist in breaking a strike. But, such elements in society rarely appear during long periods of full employment. In fact, in such periods, the miniscule anti-unionist element shrinks into near-oblivion. But, when society creates a vast industrial scrap heap, when workers find they are unable to support themselves and their families in even the "frugal comfort and provision for evil days" established in 1907 by Mr. Justice Higgins, then the weaker elements in the one-time workforce adopt any means to satisfy their immediate needs.

The fact that, by scabbing, so-called "loyalists" destroy not only established wages and working conditions, but also the essence of unionism, its tradition of mateship and standing together to foster, protect and improve their position, is totally lost on such types: what they achieve in the short run for themselves and their families, can, and has, set back the achievements of past generations, the successes gained through the sacrifices which accompany all major efforts to compel employers to regard workers as human beings entitled to live and work with some dignity.

Of course, in the strikes of the 1890s and in such issues as the 1917 general strike (which, inter alia, produced the scab wharfies’ union), the first groups of scabs were, in the main, non-unionists. But, once a strike began to lose momentum, some unionists turned their backs on their mates and their unions.

Painters and Dockers maintained a principled position and attitude in strikes and only lost one member through scabbing in the period under review. Occasional cases have arisen in which a scab from an other industry appeared on the waterfront and action was taken against him. But, the Union and its members held a view akin to that of Jack London's scathing description of the scab

...... When the scab comes down the street honest men turn their backs, the angels weep and the Devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out.

.....There is no word in the English language that carries so much hatred, scorn, loathing and contempt as the term "scab". Once branded, a man is marked for life. There is no escape.....

It goes with a man everywhere, it shadows his every footstep. It never dies; and no wonder, for it is a synonym for all that is mean, contemptible, unmanly. It designates the loss of dignity, honour, principle and manhood.

....He has tried to undermine men who are battling for the bread and butter of the wives and little ones. He has sought to defeat his fellows and rivet the chains of oppression around them.....

The criminal from the penitentiary may, in some degree, rehabilitate his character, but the "scab" is an external fixture, a living monument of self-inflicted shame, a reproach to honest men, a something that bears the outward semblance of a man, but from whom dignity of manhood has departed forever..... [See Appendix 6(g) and Appendix 8(1)]

One case of a Painter and Docker having taken a job "working coal" at Cockatoo Island arose in February, 1910. The Union had decided to support the Wharfies who refused to coal the s.s. Strathallen in support of striking miners. The member was brought before the Management Committee which heard the case and decided to recommend that he be struck off the Roll of Members; the recommendation was adopted by the meeting on 28th February.

At the same meeting, E.Talbot gave notice that he proposed to move that the Union take no further part in the Eight Hour procession as he objected to walk with scab unions. This proved to be somewhat of a cause celebre when it brought on lengthy debate at a meeting in 1910, where Talbot moved

That Rule 26 be rescinded and that Union take no further part in Eight Hour Demonstration. he (Talbot) stated that he did not believe in the penal clause of the rule whereby a member would be fined for not walking in the procession. the demonstration was simply an advertisement for the Employers and not for the workmen. he also strongly objected to walk with scab unions.

Mr. Thos Sloan supported the motion ...he could not walk with the Trolley and Draymen who were deliberate scabs.

The motion was then put to the meeting and lost the voting being 7 for and 27 against. (Minutes, 14/3/1910.)

There were many occasions when the Union supported seagoing unions when taking action against scabs, such as the 1919 case of the Joan Craig and the 1928 case of Marien Sleigh.

Of course, scabbing by military personnel was always available to employers, but was not necessarily a voluntary act by individual members of the forces who were under strict military control at all times. On one occasion, the Union felt obliged to declare

That we condemn the action of the so-called labor leader Mr. Fisher for his statement that he would send the military to Broken Hill if asked to do so. (Minutes 18/1/1909)

With regard to this intervention in the Broken Hill lockout and strike, no mention is made by labor historians of this anti-union statement by Andrew Fisher, later to become notorious for his super-patriotic declaration at the outset of World War One that Australia would stand by Britain "to the last man and the last shilling".

On another occasion, the Union gave consideration to correspondence from the Seamen's Union on that Union's dispute with the Naval Department. Though the issue was eventually settled, it was decided

that this matter should not be allowed to pass unnoticed and that this Union desires to place on record its condemnation of the action of Mr. Jensen, in scabbing on the Seamen's Union by placing a naval reserve aboard a transport to take the place of the crew who were on strike for a principle and calls upon all other unions of the Commonwealth to enter their protest. (Minutes, 11/7/1916)

In a fortnightly journal, entitled "The Pan-Pacific Worker", the Secretary of the Labor Council, J.S. ("Jock") Garden, wrote under the title "Australian Blacklegs’ Charter", on amendments to the Arbitration Act by the anti-Labor Bruce Federal Government, in 1928,

Protection of Scabs

Clause 86B---

If any organisation or if a committee or branch of an organisation or the committee of a branch of an organisation, imposes or declares that it imposes, or that it intends to impose, a penalty forfeiture or disability of any kind upon a member of the organisation by reason of the fact that the member had worked, is working or intends to work in accordance with the terms of an Award or order of the Court, the organisation shall be guilty of an offence.

Penalty: Five hundred pounds.

This clause protects anyone who is a "scab" during a strike, who may be expelled from the union or from any fine, penalty or disadvantage, no matter what the rules of the union may say.

In short it means that in future that "scabs" will not only have the usual protection of the police outside of the union when he is scabbing, but will also have the protection of the Court within the union.


Divider: rope


Non-unionism was a constant cause for concern with the Union. In the main, unemployed workers took work wherever they could find it and wherever an employer was willing to put them on, regardless of union membership. Employers were forever seizing opportunities to take on non-union labour in the expectation that such labour would be more manageable, less likely to make demands for higher wages or better working conditions and would have no union combining the strength of the members, to defend them or the conditions under which they worked. However, more often than not, non-members, when approached, agreed to join the Union. It is an interesting facet of the efforts to establish a roster system of employment that, if properly implemented, it would ensure that non-unionists did not get jobs unless all members of the Union were first employed.

Towards the end of the first year of operation of the reformed union, it was confronted with the problem when

The Secretary reported having with the President interviewed Mr Armstead about employing 2 non-union members & stated that the members of our union could not work with them Mr Armstead said that he would knock the two men off but that he would see further into the matter. & sent for Mr Christie & Mr McIntosh who he stated that on this occasion he had employed all hands in the paddock before he put these men on. Mr McIntosh explained the position he was in when he wanted to get a ship out of Dock and could not get Union men. the work had to be done & he had to get somebody to do it, but if the Union would assist he would guarantee that he would not put on non-union men while there was a Union man in the paddock. he asked the Delegate to lay the matter before the Union at there next meeting.

But the matter would not go away, and in December, a Special Meeting in the "union rooms" was convened to deal with the employment of non-union men at Mort's Dock,

A Deputation consisting of Mr Montgomery Mr Dulstone & Mr Watters stated that they had waited on Mr McIntosh & Mr Christie this morning and asked him to knock off these non-union men as the Union had made an agreement with Mr McIntosh that he must not employ non-union men while there are union men available. Mr Christie stated that he would not knock these men off & the Union could do as they liked in the matter. The Delegates had no other course but to call the men out.

Moved by Mr Creighton & seconded by Mr Mott That all present agree with the course taken by Delegates (that is to call all hands out.) carried.

Mr McIntosh here sent in word that he wished to see the Deputation that waited on him this morning. Moved and seconded that deputation wait on Mr McIntosh as asked by him. carried. the Deputation then withdrew but they then found out that it was to wait on Mr Franki so they came back for permission to wait on Mr Franki which was granted.

The meeting then went into harmony until the return of the Deputation.

The deputation that waited on Mr Franki reported that he had stated if these non-union men were willing to join the union we should accept them & go to work.

Moved by Mr Hindes & seconded by Mr McKew That we accept Mr Franki's proposal on being put to the meeting it was lost by an almost unanimous vote there being only two votes for Mr Hindes motion.

Moved & seconded that a Committee be formed to carry out strike. carried..... (Minutes, 11/12/1900)

The strike continued and deputations "waited on" the Minister for Works, Mr. O'Sullivan (see Appendix 8 (20) and Mr Franki. A report on the talks was then given to a meeting three days later:

Deputation reported having waited on the Minister for Works today at one o'clock to explain our side of the case as Mr Franki had explained his side to him this morning & the Minister would not give an opinion until he heard our side. after he had heard the case explained to him he stated that we were quite right in the action we had taken but that if we could see our way clear to come to a settlement we should try & do so as soon as possible & not let these two non-union men stand in the way of keeping over 200 men out of work. report received. Deputation that waited on Mr Franki reported that he had made certain proposals in the form of an agreement. Moved & seconded that we do not accept Mr Franki's agreement. carried.

Proposed by Mr O'Toole & seconded by Mr Creighton That this Union is willing to return to work & will pay two non-union men that knocked off & pledge themselves that for the amicable working of both parties they will discuss the necessity of altering Initiation Rule at an early date & for the future working if there are not sufficient Union men available the Company are to have the right to put on whom they please on the hurried jobs. carried.

The meeting then adjourned & the deputation again waited on the Dock authorities Mr Christie & Mr McIntosh, Mr Franki having left for the country. Mr Christie stated that he could not see any difference in it & Mr Franki agreement & that he would accept it with the approval of Mr Franki on his return so on these grounds the strike ended & the men return to work on Saturday morning Dec 15th 1900 having been out three days & a half. (Minutes, 14/12/1900)

As an aftermath of the strike, among a number of matters to be considered at a Summons Meeting , was an application for membership,

Mr J Renton & Mr W Grimson were nominated and on being put to the meeting were rejected by an almost unanimous vote as they were the two men that the strike was about. (Minutes, 17/12/1900)

At numerous meetings over a number of years, disputes arose with employers over the use of non-union labour. Cockatoo Island, Mort's Dock and the Adelaide Steamship Company were the worst offenders.

A meeting in 1910, considered the issue once more when George Welsh declared

that when there was a rush on, outside labour always got the benefit of it. he considered that something should be done in the matter and he would therefore move that these new hands be requested to join the Union within one week. he said these non-members were imposing on the Union and should be made to join.

A lengthy debate followed, during which Welsh withdrew his motion and replaced it with

That non-members shall not be employed unless the Union men can be guaranteed a days work. carried. (Minutes, 10/10/1910.)

But, in 1912, Mort's Dock was obliged to replace non-members with members, and a further problem arose at Cockatoo Island. In 1913, on the s.s. Riverina, the matter was taken up by the Secretary, who reported to a meeting

....he found 5 non-members who gave their names in to join. he had no doubt that more men were employed but they kept out of the way. if all hands came ashore he would be able to check them. (Minutes 2/6/1913)

From this report, it was decided that all hands be called ashore at the dinner hour for the purpose of checking membership and on 16th June, Mahony reported that

he went right through the ship. he found 188 men employed. 23 were non-members. 9 of whom were Stewards. Mr. Oxford agreed to shift the Stewards and 10 of the others joined the Union.

Mahony reported to a meeting in 1915, during the war, on his trip to Newcastle where an employer was using United Laborers on Painters and Dockers work. The manager had refused to discuss the matter, but demanded that the Secretary put his claim in writing which would then be submitted to the employer's solicitor. Furthermore, the Manager had stated

that he had instructions from the Minister to give preference to unionists and as long as a man belonged to any union he was at liberty to employ him.

Following this, Mahony advised that he had written to the Minster who had agreed that in future all men should be engaged through the Union. (Minutes, 19/4/1915.)

The problem, of course, was not confined to Painters and Dockers. Many requests were received by the Union, either directly from other unions or via the Labor Council for support in the struggle against the employment of non-union men. In one case, the Labor Council had issued

an ultimatum to Fullers with regard to the employment of non-union musicians asking what course they intended to pursue. if an unfavourable reply be received to boycott Halls under the Fuller management. (Minutes, 25/1/1915)

And a month later, the Labor Council advised of those places of amusement which work under union conditions and asking members to assist the Musicians Union by only patronising these places. (Minutes, 27/2/1915)

In 1916, the Union gave financial assistance to the wives and children of Ironworkers "who are out of work owing to a dispute with their employers at Hill End against the employment of non-unionists". (Minutes, 1/5/1916.) And the Union decided to obtain from the Shop Assistants’ Union a list of shops refusing to employ unionists, so that action could be taken against shops which employed non-unionists. (Minutes, 30/10/1916.)

The moves by employers before and during the War to side-step the unions, were continued after war’s end. In 1922, the Labor Council advised and the Union endorsed that

it was also agreed that each union be asked to notify their members to refrain from purchasing goods at Murdoch's in Park Street who are the prime movers for the reduction in wages in the retail trade. This firm also employs non-union labour in their clothing factory. (Minutes, 14/8/1922)

In 1925, the employment of non-unionists was still a problem, for which the Management Committee of the Union decided to recommend that

no non-union men shall be employed while there are Union men available. members shall not work with them. (Minutes, 6/7/1925)

In 1928, the Branch Secretary, Jack McDonald reported to a meeting that he had spoken to Murrell Brothers, owners of the fishing trawler, "David Blake", about employing men on Painters and Dockers work and only paying them £4.17.6. The Company claimed that it was not a respondent to the Ship Painters and Dockers Award. McDonald had then advised the company that if that was their attitude "we would take whatever action we deemed necessary when any future job of theirs was being done, to enforce Award rates". (Minutes, 6/2/1928.)

However, McDonald was obliged to report to the Management Committee shortly after that a similar case had arisen on the s.s. "Kurrawa", where the Captain (Dunn) had agreed to pay off the non-union men. He had also notified the Shipwrights Union that some of the work being done on that ship was covered by the Shipwrights’ Award. (Minutes, 14/2/1928.) But Captain Dunn had failed to keep his word and McDonald reported that he and the Boilermakers Society Secretary had interviewed the Captain who had then claimed

That they were not doing any of our work but Mr. McDonald pointed to a job being done covered by the Award. He then instructed that the men be taken off and Mr. Doolan, contractor, to put his men on.

The Secretary reported that the Captain had declared that he himself would do what little rigging work had to be done and "we could not take any objection to that". Also, Dunn intended keeping two men who, he asserted were not doing Painters and Dockers work. ( Minutes, 20/2/1928.)

1928 saw other cases of non-union men being employed: by the Union Steamship Company (Minutes, 17/9/1928) and R.W.Miller (Minutes, 12/11/1928)

In 1929, the Union meeting suspended Standing Orders to allow consideration of the s.s. "Palmerston" case. Secretary McDonald reported that he had visited the ship on a number of occasions concerning men doing Painters and Dockers work on the ship and

he had interviewed the Butler Bros, the principals, who had assured him that if they were doing any work they would employ our members as they wanted no friction. He had also been in touch with the Operative Painters Union about boys burning off varnish in the Chart Room of the vessel. He had interviewed the Painter aboard the ship who was a member of the Operative Painters Union. He was doing the work under contract. White Bros. were doing the joining work and Carmichael Bros were doing the boiler work. He had that day interviewed Captain Dunn and after a heated discussion Dunn said that he would beach the ship at Jervis Bay and have her painted there. He also spoke to the Seamens' Union about ordinary seamen doing our work.

All the problems involved with the various small employers wanting to get their jobs done at the cheapest cost, including by the use of young boys on the work, and empty promises to correct their poor actions, simply echoed past experiences with other "cockroach" capitalists, as well as with the bigger employers, and thus led to the motion at a Special Meeting of the Union,

That the Palmerston be declared black until such times as the present hands are dismissed.

This attracted an amendment

That the secretary warn Captain Dunn that if he does not dismiss the men at present employed on the Palmerston action will be taken to prevent the boat being painted.

When put to a vote, however, both propositions were defeated and the matter was left in the Secretary’s hands to deal with. (Minutes, 4/2/1929.)

Some two weeks later, McDonald reported having held discussions with the people involved with the Palmerston issue and with Mr. C.Bellemore, of the Labour and Industry Department who had advised that, as a State Government official, he had no authority in Federal matters. Bellemore also claimed no control over the use of boys unless approached by the Professional Painters Union and McDonald had notified that union of the position.

Butler, the principal owner of the ship, had called at the Union office, and after lengthy discussions, had agreed that shifting the vessel from Carmichaels to the Dock and back again would be done by Painters and Dockers and that the contractor, Doolan, would do all the painting of the ship’s topsides with members of the Union. Butler claimed that he was unaware of the friction between Dunn and the Union. Bearing in mind the value of previous promises by employers, the meeting decided that unless members of the Union shifted the ship, it would not be painted. (Minutes, 18/2/1929.)

Once more, broken promises were the subject of consideration by the Management Committee when McDonald called a special meeting of it at 9.30 in the morning and reported that the owner had not "fulfilled the promise made re employing our men to shift ship". But eventually, Butler had met Mahony and McDonald at the Union Office and advised that he would sign an agreement. The Committee had then decided "That we will carry on work on the Palmerston providing all persons interested sign an agreement to abide by the Award". This was followed by another decision

That the President, Secretary and Federal Secretary meet the owners of the Palmerston and sign an agreement and also ask that the expenses of the Committee Meeting be paid by the Owners.


That if successful in getting the expenses the money shall go to the list now being taken up for Mr. Baulsom excepting lost time by J.Shaw and W. Swadling. And that £10 be the amount claimed for the Committee meeting. (Minutes, 20/2/1929)

[NOTE: W.Baulsom was one of the oldest members of the Union and was permanently confined to his bed with a paralytic stroke. McDonald reported having visited Baulsom and found him and his wife in destitute circumstances. A meeting had decided to run a list for him. Shaw and Swadling were members of the Management Committee who had been called off their jobs for the morning meeting. It was typical of the Union that there was no thought of self-aggrandisement in their claims, but simply of being able to render some additional assistance to an unfortunate member.]

At a meeting in December, a question was asked concerning a number of non-members employed at Cockatoo Island who had presented letters to the foreman

The Secretary stated that he had been to Cockatoo Island and interviewed the men and had also spoken to the Management. Mr. Payne the Manager informed the Secretary that he had received instructions from the Minister to find work for these men. He had forwarded letters to them informing them they would be engaged for six days only and that they must be bona fide members of Trade Unions .. employed on H.M.A.S. Sydney which was being broken up. Had they not been sent by the Minister there would have been no one put on the work.

Arising from this report, a motion to write to the Minister and protest at his action, was over-ridden by an amendment

That the Secretary get in touch with the Hon. J.Beasley protesting against the action of the Ministers in sending men to Cockatoo Island in preference to unemployed members of the Union who generally follow the industry and further that he suggest to the Ministers that if they have money to spend they might employ 50 members of the Union.

McDonald was also instructed to take up with Management at Cockatoo Island the matter of using junior labour to do Painters and Dockers work. (Minutes, 18/12/1929.)

In April of the following year, McDonald reported on his interview with John Wilson, the Works Manager at Cockatoo Island about non-union men being employed by letter and

Mr.Wilson stated that he had always informed the people who brought letters that they had to be members of the union in the calling in which they were seeking employment. The Secretary explained to Mr. Wilson as to what had been suggested at the Conference which had taken place with the Garden Island authorities and representatives of the unions employed there, with the Assistant Minister for Labour and Industry (the Hon. J. Beasley) in the Chair. The Minister had stated definitely that the Government stood for preference to unionists especially financial members. The Ironworkers representatives produced their OK card so that Garden Island officials would know how their members stood. He, Mr. McDonald showed them a sample of the Union’s badge .. Mr.Wilson stated that he would give instructions to the Foreman that no one should be picked up unless they were wearing a badge. The Secretary then left him a sample of the previous quarter’s badge. (Minutes, 28/4/1930.)

At another meeting, McDonald was able to report that Morrison and Sinclair had issued instructions to their chargehand to employ only Painters and Dockers and no man to be picked up unless he had a badge in his coat. Also, at Garden Island,

instructions had been given to dismiss all non-unionists by the end of the month and that there were a number of men now anxious to join so as to retain their jobs. He had refused to accept them. (Minutes, 10/6/1930.)


Divider: rope


In the matter of employing non-union labour, as well as the problems with unfinancial members, the issue of preference in employment was vital, especially in periods of great unemployment. From its reformation at the beginning of 1900, the Union had enjoyed preference in employment, but not without challenge from employers from time to time. As early as 1902, when the Union could still be regarded as fledgling, the Adelaide Steamship Company was declaring that it would employ the "most competent men" and the following year, when discussing a new industrial agreement reached with employers, Mahony had to explain to a meeting that inclusion of a preference clause with the condition "all things being equal", meant

that if two men presented themselves for employment the one a unionist and the other a non-unionist providing the men were both capable men the unionist would get the preference. (Minutes, 20/4/1903)

The general strike in 1917, over time-and-motion checking for the railway workers, brought a Hughes' Government edict that the War Precautions Act had been invoked in order to eliminate preference clauses from all awards covering striking workers. Mahony reported this to a meeting on 15th October, 1917. He also reported that he had attended a conference convened by Hughes who had put forward a scheme for building ships by the Federal Government and wanted all unions to sign an agreement covering working conditions and wages. Mahony's report included

The Engineers, Boilermakers, Moulders and ourselves in Sydney were against the scheme. We were called here tonight to reconsider our former decision. Further the Professional Painters, Ironworkers and General Labourers had also agreed to accept. there was therefore a probability of the Union being cut out altogether.

From this report, the meeting decided "that the Prime Minister's shipbuilding scheme be accepted providing our preference clause is restored".

While a result of this acceptance was that the Victorian Branch of the Union was able to report that 60 non-members had been replaced by members for the building of two ships at Williamstown, Mahony had to report also that Hughes had brushed him aside when he sought to see him about the preference clause issue. (Minutes, 4/3/1918.)

In conferences aimed at achieving a new award, Mahony was still confronted by employer intransigence on the issue of preference to members of the Union. He reported to a Special Meeting of the Union on 15th April, 1918, that in a conference chaired by Mr. Justice Higgins, the question of preference was still opposed by the employers and Higgins announced that there would be no new award, without guarantees of "no further strikes" and "assurances against sympathetic strikes". The guarantees and assurances could not be given, and the Union's claims were stalled. In earlier awards, Higgins had included a ""Preference of Employment" clause which read

As between members of the claimant Union and other persons offering labour at the same time, such members shall, other things being equal, be employed in preference to such other persons, except as provided in the clause above.

The exception referred to the rights to perform certain work by ships' crews. But this form of preference continued for many years and in the printed book was accompanied by a statement

Preference Clause in Award

For the purpose of smooth working of the Preference Clause. each Member of the Union carries a financial Member's Card; if the Employer is in doubt as to membership, please ask to see the financial Card. (see Wages Board Award issued by H.R.Curlewis, 1911, in booklet issued by the Union.)

Following the use of the War Precautions Act to eliminate preference clauses in awards, the Award issued by Mr. Justice Higgins on 13th November, 1918, only contained the following preference

Men who have been employed scrubbing a vessel shall have preference of employment painting such vessel until completion of job, and including clearing away of all gear when painting is commenced immediately after docking down.

Also removed from the Award was the Curlewis special provision concerning Seamen

Members of the Federated Seamen's Union of Australasia shall have equal opportunities with but no preference over members of the Ship Painters' and Dockers' Union for work in engine-room or stoke-hold of vessels.

Some months later, Mahony was able to report that a meeting of the Shipbuilding Tribunal, dealing with wages and conditions for Painters and Dockers at Cockatoo and Garden Islands, had declared that the form of preference "as in existence in July 1917" would apply in those yards. This decision was an important one for the Union, for the Arbitration Court had recently granted registration to what was regarded as a bogus union of Naval employees and the decision on preference meant that this outfit had no preference over Painters and Dockers. (Minutes, 19/8/1918.)

Difficulty in establishing preference in the Award, continued for many years. The best that could be achieved was the clause in the 1921 Award, issued by Mr. Justice Powers


The Employers undertake not to discriminate in the selection of employees against members of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers' Union of Australia on the ground of such membership.

This remained in various awards made until 1941, when it was removed. But by that time, wartime regulations were applying and Mahony was able to include at the end of the printed copy of the Award issued 6th February, 1941

Under decisions of the Man-power authorities all labour for the Sydney side is engaged at the picking-up place, See Lane, Sydney, and for the Balmain side, including Cockatoo Dock yard, at the Union Rooms, Mort Street, Balmain.

In 1923, Mahony was once more reporting that in discussions with the shipowners associations, preference was still a sticking point. The meeting on 14th May, 1923, instructed him to continue to press for shipowners' agreement. Mahony and McDonald met the Commonwealth shipowners to press the issue, and reported a fortnight later.

At the Special Meeting in 1923, the Branch Secretary, Jack McDonald reported on the discussions with the shipowners on the preference clause.

Mr. McDonald gave a very clear report of the discussions also congratulated the General Secretary Mr Mahony on the able manner in which he handled the case.

Moved Mr. Swadling, seconded Mr Lannen That Mr Mahony and Mr McDonald be complimented on the able manner in which they fought for the Preference Clause. (Minutes, 28/5/1923.)


Divider: rope


Among the many issues confronting unions, none was so self-defeating and demoralising as claiming the right to perform work against other unions' similar claims for the same work. Over the years, many demarcation issues had led to strike action from which arose hostilities and hatreds between otherwise friendly unionists, often leading to use of the horrible epithet, scab! Of course, there were always those elements who had little time for strikes, but could be relied on to wax militant over a demarcation dispute, prepared to take it to strike action.

In times of "prosperity", demarcation arguments generally lay fallow. Painters and Dockers worked with Shipwrights as a gang in which each did jobs which, according to award or custom and practice, was the province of the other union. For example, Painters and Dockers might be seen to use the Shipwrights' maul to drive in wedges, even though the large hammer was part of the Shipwright's tools of trade. And Shipwrights in the joint gang might be caught splicing a piece of rope for a sling, even though splicing was regarded as the work of the Painter and Docker rigger.

There were similar cases involving Ironworkers, Professional Painters and others, where a blind eye was turned to some class of work normally that of Painters and Dockers, and vice versa, during a period of relative prosperity when no unionists were out of work.

Employers were content to stand back and watch unions viciously attacking each other over some often petty issue. But, when the issue led to strike action, holding up completion of work, the employer took the next step and referred the matter to the Arbitration Court. In many instances, there was evidence that the Court appeared to take delight in making decisions which left no one content with the outcome and simply laid the basis for future outbreaks of the fight. The employer, more often than not, had his way, through decisions which ensured that the job at issue proceeded in a manner suited to his needs regardless of award entitlements or long-time custom and practice.

There were occasions when efforts were made to overcome the problem of demarcation, such as the request from the Ironworkers

to receive a deputation on a question of amalgamation as their federation had agreed to a scheme of amalgamation. (Minutes, 15/5/1916)

On that occasion, the matter was referred to the Federal Council from which nothing more was heard. But, the matter was again raised in a letter from the Ironworkers, dealt with on 16th October, 1916, and again referred to the Federal Council together with another letter of support from the Balmain Branch of the Ironworkers. Nothing eventuated from these efforts by the Ironworkers to, seemingly, restore the position prior to 1900, when the one union covered the work now roughly divided between the two unions. The nearest they ever came to unity on the subject was in the arrangement for dual membership for riggers who handled slinging of "tail end" parts (rudders, propellers, shafts, etc.) This small group of very skilled men in this class of work, were permitted to hold membership in both unions in order to overcome the conflicting rights: of ironworkers to assist Engineers in the repair of propellers, rudders, etc., and of painters and dockers to sling all parts of vessels from ship to shore and shore to ship.

(NOTE:In 1938, the possibility of some arrangement between the Ironworkers and Painters and Dockers was still being considered. A conference between representatives of the two unions was held on 17th May, 1938: Mahony, Swadling and Joe Carlin (President), for the Painters and Dockers; Joe Brown (Secretary) and Bill Oliver (President) of the Balmain Ironworkers. The result of the conference was reported to a meeting of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union:

Mr. Mahony presented documents outlining different schemes for organisation extending over many years.

He pointed out that the idea was for the waterside section of the Ironworkers and the Ship Painters and Dockers to amalgamate for the protection of their interests and quoted reasons why.

He stated that the amalgamation should be on a Commonwealth basis.

The Conference agreed that an amalgamation should be brought about on a Commonwealth Basis, with the Federal right for the waterside section to decide their own working conditions without any interference.

It was decided that further consideration should be given to the system of linking up the Federated section of the Ship Painters and Dockers and Ironworkers with the Federal Council of the Ironworkers Association and that a suggested scheme should be drawn up and submitted to the General Secretary of the Ironworkers.)

A proposal was raised by the Union's Federal Council which considered that Professional Painters employed in dockyards and on ships should be absorbed into the Painters and Dockers Union and decided to seek discussions to this end. (Minutes, 2/4/1917). Nothing eventuated from this decision, but on 27th October, 1919, the Union decided to seek a conference with the Professional Painters to discuss wages and conditions affecting both unions. No report was received on this, but on 1st March, 1920, the Pro Painters wrote to advise the time was not opportune for an amalgamation of the two unions.

However, at a meeting on 30th August, 1920, Bill Swadling succeeded in moving that a conference be sought with the Professional Painters to discuss the Union taking over the Pro Painters' waterfront section. A committee of five members was elected in advance of the proposal going to the Pro Painters. This conference was held and Mahony reported that the

Painters would go back and report to their Union when they would try and get a meeting of their shipping members to consider the scheme. (Minutes, 11/10/1920)

There was no further reporting on the matter until the meeting on 29th August, 1921, when advice came per medium of the Labor Council that the Painters Union was to hold a ballot on 6th September on the question of the waterside section joining the Ship Painters and Dockers Union. The Labor Council's intervention was more apparent when it advised that it proposed to convene a meeting of representatives from the two unions to consider the proposal. (Minutes, 26/9/1921.)

From this stage, nothing more was recorded on what appeared to be a genuine, worthwhile attempt to overcome the issues which divided the two unions. Many years later, in 1947, one of the most vicious, destructive strikes in the Union's history was to occur, lasting for weeks, and leaving a sourness in relationships between the two unions for many years after. The Galvin Code determined by Commissioner Galvin in 1948, did not heal the wounds from that strike.

Another area of constant disruption, but on a much lesser scale than that from the Professional Painters' issues, concerned the Seamen's Union, essentially around the question of a ship's crew working by when the vessel was laid up for repairs, maintenance, etc. While, throughout their existence, the two unions had maintained a firm friendly relationship, particularly among the rank and file of both unions, the arguments over working by in port continued to rankle.

Traditionally, painters and dockers had regarded themselves as "shore seamen", believing that when a ship entered port, the crew should be given full shore leave, to rest up from the sea, and their work on ships should then be given to painters and dockers for the time the vessel remained in port. This important condition of employment was not always appreciated by seamen or the shipping company. There were often cases when a member, or a number of members, of the crew did not want shore leave (preferring to save it for when they were in their home port or for other personal reasons). There were cases, too, where some of the crew had used up all their shore leave in other ports, or for other reasons, the master of the ship demanded that they remain on board.

Over the years, certain classes of work, normally performed by seamen at sea, came to be regarded as painters and dockers' work when done in port. Thus arguments developed over "our work" between the two unions.

Mr Talbot raised one of the thorny problems constantly concerning the Union when he asked

as a matter of privilege to bring forward a matter of importance....the fact that seamen were doing our work on several ships on the Sydney side which was against our interests. ships crews were paid off & worked by the ship. others stated that they were going away on the ship but when the ship sailed they did not do so. he desired an interpretation on clause dealing with ships crews in Agreement.... The Secretary stated the understanding was that the crew of the ship whilst off articles but working by the ship should be considered as the ships crews.

The matter was left in the Secretary's hands to take up with the Seamen's Union.

[NOTE: It will be appreciated that this remained a bone of contention throughout the Union's history. Mostly, the problem appeared to have been overcome by an arrangement whereby the ship's crew, once they were taken off articles, could work by on agreed-upon specified classes of work, provided they paid to the Union the same weekly union contributions as members of the Ship Painters and Dockers. This, however, did often get out of hand, particularly when seamen were found doing work for shore tradesmen, such as boilermakers and shipwrights. Painters and Dockers insisted that they were the shore seamen, able and willing to carry out all the duties of articled seamen, including taking a ship to sea for trials after major repairs. They argued that seamen had earned the right to rest ashore after long sea voyages and Painters and Dockers were there to ensure that vessels were maintained to a satisfactory standard for the seamen when they returned to their ships.

Insisting on seamen working by could be regarded as a penalty on seamen who would prefer a more relaxed condition ashore until the vessel was ready for sailing. The seamen argued, on the other hand, that the ship was "theirs" and they were entitled to perform any duties considered necessary by the Master of the ship. As well, many seamen arriving in Sydney, did not regard it as their home port, because their families were in other ports and they could not visit them so preferred to remain aboard and work as and when required.]

In 1913, a dispute arose over seamen working in boilers and stokeholds and Mahony reported on a conference he had had with Seamen's Union officials

They stated that we were acting unfairly to their members as we had a clause in our Award that gave the equal preference for work in stokeholds of vessels yet we were blocking them when they got on the job. It was explained to them that we had no power to stop them while the clause was in the Award. They then suggested that a conference between both societies as to an exchange of members. They were told the matter would be reported to the Union and they would be acquainted of the result. (Minutes, 11/8/1913)

Three years later, the squabbling still persisted and, arising from another conference between the two unions, Mahony reported on a proposed agreement, which the meeting adopted and which provided that

1. Ship's crew arriving in home port with the ship, to be entitled to work by

2. Members of crew leaving while working by the ship be replaced by Ship Painters and Dockers.

3. Joint letter to s.s. owners advising of agreement "and that it was both unions' intention to see that rates of pay and working conditions be observed". (Minutes, 19/3/1917.)

This agreement ran parallel with the provision in the Ship Painters and Dockers Award at the time which read

Bona fide members of ships' crews, whether on articles or not, shall not be debarred from carrying out any duties in connection with cleaning, painting, chipping or scraping of vessels above the light float line, or any work inside the vessel that they have hitherto been accustomed to perform. (see Award determined on 8th February, 1917.)

In May 1923, Mahony was once more obliged to report to a meeting on his discussions with Seamen's Union officials on the matter of bona fide members of a ship's crew paying a quarter's contributions to the Painters and Dockers Union while working by their ship in port. This was an indication of a further aggravation of the problem by shipowners picking up replacements for a ship's crew and then requiring them to work aboard the laid-up ship while it was undergoing repairs, maintenance, etc. This practice had called up the need to define the "bona fide members" of a crew. Later in the year, on 17th September, the Assistant Secretary (McDonald) reported on a further conference with the Seamen's Union officials from which it was proposed

that all members of the Seamen's Union who work by their ship in this Port, off articles, who were originally members of the crew or who are to sign on the ship within three weeks shall pay 6d. (sixpence) per week to the Painters and Dockers Union. The Secretary of the latter Union shall have power to appoint a delegate from among them to collect same. All other men who work by ships for a longer period than three weeks must join the Dockers Union.

C.Weston and C.Thomas, who had accompanied McDonald to the discussions, supplemented the report and Swadling, seconded by Hindman, moved

That we accept the first portion of the suggestion and allow bona fide members of the crew to pay 6d. per week whilst they are working by the ship.

This, however, was met by an amendment from J.Lannen and J.Parr

That any member who works by his ship off articles shall pay this organisation the sum of 4/6d. if working one week or more and 2/6d. if less than one week.

To these propositions, Murphy proposed and Halliday seconded

That a seaman who works two weeks by his ship shall pay 4/6d. and after two weeks he shall be made to join the Union.

Lannen's amendment was put and carried and Murphy's further amendment was then put and defeated. (Minutes, 17/9/1923)

Demarcation raged between the Union and Shipwright's Union over a variety of jobs which the shipwrights asserted that they were entitled to perform as part of their trade. The shipwrights were forever insistent that the whole of a job was theirs by right of their tradesmen position and that any work that may have been done by painters and dockers was only given when the shipwrights were too busy to do the work themselves. This attitude often inflamed a dispute. And further aggravation was introduced when the shipwrights argued that their "blue book" gave them the rights to the work in dispute.

The "blue book" was a code of demarcation established between the shipwrights and the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and the Federated Society of Boilermakers and Iron and Steel Shipbuilders). It was an agreement reached without any consultation with a non-tradesmen, unskilled and semi-skilled union such as the painters and dockers. The agreement, arrived at by a conference chaired by E.J. ("Jack") Kavanagh, M.L.C., was printed in a blue coloured book carrying the note:

The Conference commenced its sittings on July 23rd, 1914, at the Trades Hall, Sydney, New South Wales, and concluded on August 31st, 1914. Seven hundred and forty-two claims and counter claims were considered and an amicable agreement respecting them was reached, which was subsequently approved of by the Unions represented.

In addition to fixing a line of demarcation of work the Conference included in the report the recommendations that follow and which were also approved of by the Unions.

Then followed the whole layout of how work was to be apportioned between the tradesmen unions, obviously to the exclusion of any unions not involved in the discussions. One of the biggest bugbears for painters and dockers was in the field of rigging and slinging, which shipwrights claimed was part of their occupation. Even more menial tasks, such as greasing the wheels on the slipways preparatory to slipping or unslipping a vessel did not escape the demarcation net and, though a Shipbuilding Tribunal determined the work as appropriate for painters and dockers, the shipwrights from time to time, still did the work. These and other issues were never satisfactorily resolved and there were occasions when work was done by shipwrights during a strike by painters and dockers, and raised a lot of name-calling and hostility.

The whole stultifying issue of demarcation ebbed and flowed with a number of other unions and was never satisfactorily resolved.


Divider: rope


Among measures adopted by the Union in its urge to ensure employment opportunities for all members was the limits imposed on the working of overtime. In 1903, a meeting adopted a recommendation from the Management Committee to the effect that no overtime be worked where members were out of work, unless such job is of a special nature. (Minutes, 20/4/1903)

The Trade Union Congress in 1908, adopted a motion aimed at the abolition of overtime where practicable, and Mahony and his co-delegate, Talbot, reported that they had supported this motion. (Minutes, 27/4/1908)

In 1908, the Union decided, when considering a log of claims for a new award to continue with the limitation on working overtime. In this case, the decision was to apply to casuals and permanents where, previously, permanent hands had been exempted from the overtime ban. Insistence on this rule for members, led to inclusion in Wages Board decisions of a provision stating

Overtime limited. --- Employees (except dockers and gangers) who have worked a full day shall not work overtime on any other job, unless such job is of a special nature, while there are members seeking employment. (Wages Board decisions, 19/4/1911 and 8/2/1917)

While not reaching as far as the Union desired, it was an important provision giving expression, in part at least, to the principle of catering for the unemployed members. However, when removing the preference clause from the Award in 1918, under the War Precautions Act, Judge Higgins also removed this overtime limitation clause. (Award, No. 19 of 1918, 13/11/1918)


Divider: rope



Divider: rope
Contact Takver with questions or comments about this web site.

This Page is
© Issy Wyner. All Rights reserved except for nonprofit, union or educational use, please credit source.
Last modified: January 19, 2003

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page
[ Top of Page ] [ Takver's Initiatives ] [ Radical Tradition Contents ]