History of Trades Hall

History of Trades HallThe Sydney Trades Hall building is a physical reminder of the history and tradition of the Trade Union movement in New South Wales, as well as a chronicler of the social and socio-economic history of the city. Construction began in 1888, just 100 years after the arrival of the first European settlers, with the laying of the foundation stone by Lord Carrington. However, another 28 years were to pass before the building was completed and stage five of the construction process officially signed off. 

The building, which today is often referred to as the birthplace of the Trade Union Movement in New South Wales, still evokes strong and passionate feelings from those who once worked within its walls. “The Hall” was all things to all people – from being a meeting place for various associations and unions early in its life, to its subsequent role as provider of office space for unions, artists and professionals in the 1990s, and now, once again, the corporate headquarters for Unions NSW.

       History of Trades Hall Part 1        History of Trades Hall Part 2       History of Trades Hall Part 3

Your Labour, Their Labour Power: the right to useful work

 book coverLucas Aerospace has done well out of the many wars and other “conflicts” that the British government and others have been involved with. As one of Britain's largest arms manufacturers, with weapons production in the UK and globally, they were no doubt pleased to see the British government deplete their inventories so that they could develop some new products. Through the 1970s the workers at most of Lucas Aerospace's British plants were agitating, proposing and planning for some socially useful new products to replace the Weapons of Mass Destruction the company relies upon still for its profits.

The Right To Useful Work has been a cry for workers since the 1600s. Peter Linebaugh shows how weavers led the opposition to management introduction of new technologies in Britain in the late 1600s, and one of their number, John Mason "looked to a time when men would not 'labour and toyl day and night...to maintain others that live...in idleness'. Karl Marx, of course, expressed it passionately: 'Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.

William Morris, Socialist, designer, agitator, writer and much more, put the case most famously in a paper delivered in 1884, and later published by the Socialist League. "Useful Work versus Useless Toil" sums up what many workers feel about the products they work on or are made redundant by. As Morris put it, "there is some labour which is so far from being a blessing that it is a curse; that it would be better for the community and for the worker if the latter were to fold his hands and refuse to work". That is what some at Lucas were feeling, but it is very hard in our society to do that as your very life depends on toiling on. The actions by the Combined Committees of Lucas Aerospace were prompted by the threat of mass redundancies as Lucas sought to move offshore.

Lithgow State Mine Banner exhibit

Banners return to Lithgow

Lithgow State Mine Bathhouse

Over the past 5 years Sydney Trades Hall has developed an excellent relationship with the Lithgow State Mine Museum, particularly through the work of Ray Christison from Lithgow, a heritage expert and keen secretary of the Mine Museum. The museum itself has an excellent display in the old Mine Managers office, as well as much mine equipment from various eras, and a new pithead funded by the Mineworkers Trust (CFMEU Mining a keen supporter). The old bathhouse is a magnificent "shed" and its interior is an excellent spot to display the banners in all their glory. The museum has a website here: http://www.statemine.org.au/

The exhibit is up until at least October 2014

banners lithgow

Sweden: community and unionism

Sweden can be an inspiration to labour movements the world over, as it has had community unionism for over 100 years, creating a vibrant caring society, rather than a "productive" lean economy.

Sweden in the second part of the 19th century: a country of mass poverty, a country of mass emigration, still on the threshold of industrialisation. The enormous migration into the cities has just started. The natural resources are still underdeveloped.

 1899 Swedish May Day celebration

The first socialist forerunners had made themselves heard, the flow of ideas from the continent had reached our border

Less than one hundred years later: a modern industrial state, one of the richest in the world. A modern welfare state with a far reaching social security system, schools for everyone, exceptionally low unemployment despite fluctuations in the world economy, a people owning more cars, more telephones, more colour television sets than most, a people who travel more than perhaps any other people.

Two pictures. Two worlds. But the leap from one to the other is short.

Object of the Week: Samuel Rawlins and the Gasworks

Samuel Rawlins and the Gasworks

rawlins certificate


 Samuel Rawlins was the founder of the Gas Employees Union, and remained involved with the union from the 1880s when it was founded at Mortlake (the first gasworks in Sydney) for 60 years


His family donated to the Trades Hall this certificate, as well as a large collection of photographs of the union executive and early union members on site. Trades Hall holds these banners. There are also many letters from the union executive and union members thanking him for his assistance in lots of situations over the years. He was a big part of federating the union as well.


The Ones Who Know (that doesn’t include you peasant)

“In actual fact the work ethic has become obsolete. It is no longer true that producing more means working more, or that producing more will lead to a better way of life." 
Andre Gorz

The late great Alexander CockburnThe late great Alexander Cockburn wrote an article many years ago about the way we absorb insanity without realising it. His short piece “Balancing Acts” (republished in Corruptions of Empire, Verso, 1987, page 379) for The Nation in 1984 says it all. ” Are you more likely to tolerate drivel than you were 4 years ago? I think the answer is yes. 4 years of Reagan has deadened the senses against an uninterrupted barrage of nonsense.