20 Years of Organising Works

 poster organise

A symposium on the Organising Works program was held at Sydney Trades Hall on 20th November. This celebrated 20 years since the launch and featured past participants and academic study of the programs development. It looked to future developments as well. We scouted the poster collection for a display in the atrium




On the Vans and Buses

Clarion Vans to Rights@ Work Buses

The Clarion was a newspaper established British socialist Robert Blatchford in the 1890s.


The Clarion Movement was many things. There were Clarion Cafes, Cycling clubs and many speakers. One of their innovations was a van that traveled to out of town locations where speakers could address the crowds that gathered for socialist picnics and campaigns.

Early on the vans were horse and cart

Liverpool ClarionBut by 1908 we find more  modern transport

Van in Hackney



The Rights @ Work campaign in NSW made great use of this idea with a big orange bus on the road for much of 2005, 2006 and 2007, spending agreat deal of time in many NSW towns and suburbs ensuring the word was spread on workers' rights.


Many Clarion stories and great archival pictures can be found here

The connections run deeper however. Emil Voigt 2KY founder, was a member of the Manchester Clarion Club

The Tracks We Travel

The Trade Unions established a Mary Gilmore Award in 1956 to encourage literature "significant to the life and aspirations of the Australian People.

 gilmore may queen


Dame Mary Gilmore is the female face of the Australian $10 note. When she died, aged 97, Dame Mary was given a State funeral by both the Federal and New South Wales state governments.

We recently found second hand a copy of The Tracks We Travel: the second collection including the Mary Gilmore Award Stories. (edited by Jack Beasley and published by the Australasian Book Society in 1961 (first collection was published in 1953).  There are many Mary Gilmore awards, but this one is special to trade unions. The ACTU did sponsor Mary Gilmore Poetry Prize for awhile and there was as Mary Gilmore Award for the winner of the May Day Literary Competition. Contributors include Nancy Cato, Frank Hardy, Dorothy Hewett, Alan Marshall, Vera Deacon and John Morrison. Joan Hendry’s story End of a Holiday was the winner of the 1956 Mary Gilmore Award. In the foreword Mary writes that

“May Day has more than one aspect. It has reached out into the cultural field in Australia by establishing a literary competition… To this the May Day Committee has generously given my name. " gilmore tracks we travel

Mary was educated at a number of country state schools. Aged 16 she became a pupil-teacher at the Superior Public School for Girls in Wagga Wagga, and was transferred to the Infants' Department in 1884. She taught at Beaconsfield Provisional School in 1886, followed by Illabo Public School, and in October 1887 was appointed temporary assistant at Silverton Public School near Broken Hill, New South Wales. She returned to Sydney in 1890 and taught at Neutral Bay, though her name and the dates of her residency are still proudly displayed on the Silverton Public School sign.

During the 1890s Mary became interested in social reform and supported the maritime and shearers' strikes. So as not to break the rules of the Department of Public Instruction, through which she was employed as a teacher, Mary wrote under the pen names Em Jaycey, Sister Jaycey and Rudione Calvert. At about this time she met and became a life-long friend of Henry Lawson.

Mary became the first woman member of the Australian Workers Union, which she claimed she joined under her brother's name. She later became a member of the executive. By 1895 Mary had given up teaching to join William Lane's New Australia Movement. She sailed to his Cosme settlement in Paraguay, arriving January 1896 and there married shearer William Gilmore (1866-1945). From 1902-1912 the Gilmores lived at William's parents' farm in Casterton in Western Victoria. Here Mary was able to re-establish her writing and political links. In 1903 she was featured on the Bulletin's 'Red Page' and she helped with campaigning for the Labor Party in the 1906 and 1910 federal elections for the seat of Wannon. In 1908 Mary commenced editing the woman's page of the Australian Worker, a position she held until 1931. In 1910 her first collections of poems Marri'd, and other verses was published.

Later Mary Gilmore was associated with the Communist newspaper Tribune. Her column 'Arrows' appeared regularly until mid-1962, commenting on contemporary Australian and world affairs. In 1954, as she approached her ninetieth year, she published her final volume of poetry, Fourteen Men. The Australasian Book Society commissioned William Dobell to paint her portrait for her 92nd birthday in 1957. She strongly defended the controversial portrait because she felt it captured something of her ancestry; she donated it to the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Her last years were made memorable by ever-increasing signs of public esteem. Her birthdays were celebrated publicly by Sydney literati and ordinary folk alike; streets, roads, schools, old people's homes were named after her; literary awards and scholarships were given in her name; visitors from Australia's literary and political world, and overseas admirers, made regular pilgrimages to her; her pronouncements were highlighted by the media; she made television and radio appearances; she led May Day processions as the May Queen. She died on 3 December 1962 (Eureka Day).

To the Daring Belongs the Future

To the Daring Belongs the Future – Emma Goldman

new forms cover

A new book from PM Press (Oakland, CL) 2014 New Forms of Worker Organization: the syndicalist and autonomist restoration of class struggle unionism (edited by Immanuel Ness) gives some great examples of rank and file , bottom up actions around the world which  challenge the mainstream trade union leadership approach (particularly in the rapidly deindustrialising “western world” that seeks deals with supposedly “friendly political parties in exchange for trade union acquiescence to the neo-liberal agenda.


The contributors provide detailed discussion on movements and action in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, USA and the United Kingdom. A pretty good attempt at a world-wide approach that highlights the importance of local conditions and internationalism.


The “new forms” of work organisation are actually based ideas and actions associated with the Industrial Workers of the World. Actions that perhaps kicked off around 1895 in Europe and expanded around the world as workers moved and organised. Emma Goldman defined “syndicalism” as a revolutionary philosophy of labour conceived and born in the struggle and experience of workers.”   The forms of action are determined by the workers themselves not by union officials outside the workplace. Independence from any political party is central to the approach to organising.

 Emma Goldman

To follow a boring beginning to end path through the collection, this short piece  introduces to the Italian autonomista groups, known as Operaismo. They had their origins in the 1960s when the worldwide upheavals were challenging political parties of the left and right. In Italy the Christian Democrats had dominated since the end of World War II, but the national trade union bodies such as the CGIL  were pushed into activism by a groundswell. The Christian Democrats sought to include the socialists in government as a way of holding down dissent. The communist party, a strong alternative force, was a part of the reformist way that seems to have been the “euro-communist” way.

The left of the PCI was not convinced and they, along with others were the basis of operaismo, now COBAs (Confederarazione dei Comitati di Base). These workerist movements were autonomous unaffiliated with any of the political parties. The early version of the movements were blasted by the state attacks that saw, for example the red brigades, lotta continua repressed.  Anarchist formations were in particular the object of state repression, as documented savagely by Dario Fo and Franca Rame (see the dramas Can’t Pay, We Won’t Pay; and Accidental Death of an Anarchist). A new movement, the COBAS developed from the late 1980s. The COBAs have been to the forefront of the protest against the austerity path, adopting the Brecht line It is more criminal to found a bank than to rob it.” Sectoral COBAs have been developed in defence of public education, public transport. The main union movement looks to compromise, COBAs do not.

COBAs structures aim to maintain maximum democratic practice, not the practice of parliamentary democracy, Paid directors are not permitted to vote. Funding is always an issue but they seek contributions from members of 0.5% of monthly salaries. They have been able to establish an international relief body Azimut. They have monthly meetings and no overarching bosses. Committees “rule”, always via mass meetings. Decisions require 75%agreement. If agreement is not reached it will be discussed again.  The author this chapter Steven Manicastri asks if the model be sustainable? We don’t know, but it remains a fierce rejection of the bureaucratic unionism we see elsewhere.


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

Union Badge Collection on ABC Collector Program

Watch the video as Bill Pirie discusses  his trade union badge collectionFor generartions, Bill Pirie’s family has been involved with trade unions.  Born in Dundee, Scotland, not only were his parents union members but his grandparents too. Here, Bill discusses his badge collection featured on the ABC TV's Collectors program.  He explained a time when in Great Britain unions came to an agreement with shops that they wouldn't sell goods unless they carried a stamp guaranteeing their union origin. Manufacturers then wouldn't be able to sell goods to outlets unless they carried the stamp.  Badges were produced to mark specific stoppages.  Watch the video.

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