Women and Unions and T Shirts

Celebrating women and work from many unions around the world this IWD

What to do with your old union T shirts

Trades Hall had been wondering about this a couple of years ago as we had accumulated many trade union and campaign t shirts over the years as part of our collection development on trade union history. A t shirt made for a campaign has been very common over the past 30 years.  We sorted them into issues and unions a realised we had a great number of women and unions, equal pay, parental leave women and skilled work ones so though “there must be a good way to present all these.

Step forward trade union banner maker extraordinaire <a href=”www.birgittehansen.com”>Birgitte Hansen</a>. We asked her to maybe make a quilt or join them together somehow”.

Being vastly more creative and thoughtful than us she came up with this for International Women’s Day 2013

women and unions banner

The T shirts kept coming so by International Women’s Day 2014 the banner had grown:

women and unions banner expanded

See more union banners here



Eggs and Agitators


 The authoritarian impulse lurks close to the surface of many who claim to be leaders. George Houston Reid was mocked as Yes-No Reid because of wavering on the merits of federation. He was willing to speak to anyone in public debate in formal and informal meetings. This contrasts sharply with many politicians who use strong opposition as an excuse to seek draconian laws.

 We can compare Reid’s approach to that of Billy Hughes, Robert Menzies and Tony Abbott.

 In July1898 Reid was campaigning for the NSW election. The subject on many people’s minds was Federation. Reid was campaigning for Federation but against the form of Federation put forward by people like Edmund Barton (later the first PM).

 According to a contemporary report in The Capricornian (a Rockhampton paper (reported by electric telegraph) the meeting was outside a hotel in Woolloomooloo and the speakers stepped up to a window to address the crowd.

As Reid appeared in the window an egg was hurled.


 As the paper put it “the aim was not quite accurate but the egg struck the windowsill on a level with his waistcoat, and, consequently his ample frontage [see the image above for the truth of this comment!] was largely bespattered. A roar of delight went up from one section of the crowd. As Mr. Reid plunged into his speech, interruptions in the shape of cat-calls came from almost every direction. Mr. Reid struggled valiantly and good-temperedly to make his voice heard; but he had not proceeded far when whish came another egg. This also missed, and, falling in with the spirit of the affair, he jocularly remarked, ' Ah, that was a bad shot. I do not altogether mind your gentle attention, because a rotten egg will become fresh before it reaches me.' Such good humour seemed to appeal to the bombarding party and it let Mr. Reid alone so far as eggs were concerned for the rest of his speech

 We move forward to a federated Australia and war jingoism. The ALP and the other parties competed with each other in the nationalist war rhetoric to fight a war 20,000 km away for a nation we had supposedly become independent of. The election campaign was underway in 1914 when war began. Andrew Fisher, a former working miner from Scotland declared Australia was in the war to “our last man and last shilling. “

 Those opposed to the war and generally those opposed to the right of capital to make profits were the subject of constant attack.

 Broken Hill miners fought hard for a 44 hour week during the war, in the interests of their health and their right to a decent life. BHP, the Prime Minister Hughes and others used the war effort as a means of attack, claiming German sympathisers were behind the strike. Hughes used a tactic that may seem familiar today in expressing “concern” about lives being endangered by armed security men at the mine but his real motives were made clear by a comment later
 “I hope that the counsels of reason and patriotism will prevail and that the advice of the German sympathisers who are insidiously active in fomenting disturbances will be disregarded. I ask the men to return to work at once.”

 Hughes didn’t speak up for wise counsel and reason earlier when, following the “outbreak of hostilities” on Australian soil near Broken Hill when two men under a Turkish flag attacked a train near the Broken Hill cemetery and were killed by the locals. The Broken Hill jingoistic crowd, fuelled by their success in the earlier shootout, attacked and burnt down the German Club and then attempted to attack the camel camp. Happily the local police prevented too much violence in the latter case.

 The ALP had passed a federal War Precautions Act in 1914 that greatly expanded the rights of the federal government to make laws about anything to do with the war effort very broadly defined. There were 3,442 prosecutions under the Act, almost all of which were successful. Penalties ranged from cautionary fines to imprisonment for up to six months.

 Hughes had ensured the act was passed. He was a member (and founder of the Waterside Workers Federation (1903) but one of the first uses of the new laws was a restriction on his own union in a dispute and a limit of their right of preference at wharves in Australia. The union eventually expelled him in 1916 because of his pro conscription stance.

 Hughes appetite for control and power was well illustrated by his use of the act against anti-conscriptionists and in particular the Industrial Workers of the World and their supporters. The act enabled censorship, internment and deportation. Percy Brookfield the Member in the NSW Parliament for Sturt (Broken Hill) was one of Hughes bête noirs throughout the war and Brookfield accumulated many court appearances and convictions because of his fearless advocacy for the antiwar  movement and the IWW 12hughes wartime


Hughes ran a pro conscription campaign with lots of racist rhetoric and attacks on trade unionists who strongly opposed his stance. The arrest of the IWW 12 occurred just before the plebiscite, as part of the overall aim of stirring patriotic sentiment and fear of “foreign agitators”.

 The vote was for no, despite Hughes efforts, but he searched for more dirty tricks.

 The Australian Federal Police had their origins in Hughes dictatorial impulses and imperialist rhetoric. The current AFP celebrate all this in a publication The Warwick Incident Anniversary by Jason Byrnes (Platypus Magazine, edition 96, September 2007)

 Hughes was on the stump speaking at Warwick, Qld during the second conscription plebiscite campaign in November 1917. Hughes was on a train and stopped to address a large crowd. Some locals hurled eggs one of which found its mark. Reid had good humouredly replied in 1898 but Hughes response was markedly different. He firstly attempted to attack the egg thrower, and was dragged away by the police (the thrower was attacked by others). One opponent returned to the fray to abuse Hughes who once again had to be restrained from a fight. The opponent was arrested and Hughes demanded he be charged with a Commonwealth offence. The sergeant in charge said a state charge was preferable. Hughes response was to set up the Commonwealth Police Force, using the War Precautions Act to make a regulation, thus not requiring a parliamentary debate.  He merrily accused the Qld Police force of being dominated by Sinn Feiners (Archbishop Daniel Mannix was a leading anti-conscriptionist and the feelings of the Irish towards the British were at a lower ebb than ever following the 1916 Easter Rising and the execution of James Connolly. The Commonwealth Police Force was disbanded (whilst Hughes was in France after the war) and replaced with a Commonwealth Investigations Bureau egg and hughes


hughes federal police













We can spring forward 40 years to the Menzies government in 1957 who used cold war scare campaigns to merge the Commonwealth Investigation Service with the Peace Officer Guard to create a “principal investigational and law enforcement authority” capable of fostering cooperation with other police agencies“ so as to bring about a more efficient economical working in the conduct of investigations of offences against Commonwealth law”. 


The Peace Officer Guard itself had been created in 1925 as an attack on trade unions once again, justifying the force by saying there was a the national security threat posed by striking merchant sailorsand that the NSW Government was refusing to use its police to enforce special Commonwealth legislation enabling the deportation of foreign born (Australian resident) strike organisers. The Commonwealth Government hastily introduced legislation authorising the establishment of the Peace Officer Guard.

 The ALP in opposition attacked this and criticized COMPOL’s potentially “unlimited” scope for expansionand claimed the Bill (and the new force) could prepare the way for a “vile dictatorship”. This legislation followed another failed referendum and scare campaign that Menzies had run against the Communist Party and the massive beat up that was the Petrov Affair. Bravely ALP leader Evatt had run a vote no campaign against the banning of the CPA. Starting from a position that saw only 12 % of people supporting the CPA the result was a no vote (just). Imagine the spin doctors now reporting on focus group findings of 12% support. No principle would be too sacred to throw out at that level for out current crop.

cartoon communist dissolution


11th September 2001 was the beginnings of the “War on Terror” that has continued unabated since that terrible day.

 The horrific actions on that day have been used by western governments run by all shades of political party to crack down on their own citizens in the interest of “our freedoms”. In Australia the First World War campaigns finds its equivalent in our fighting the war within by sending troops t the middle east and Iraq to defend our freedoms by killing people elsewhere.

 The premise for our attacks on terrorist was based around an Iraqi store of weapons of mass destruction, one that did not exist. The attack on Afghanistan that our politicians supported was supposed based on restoring democracy against fanatics and has totally failed in that regard, if that was in fact the real purpose. It is estimated that the Iraqi death toll amongst civilians is between 134,000 and 153,000.  The Afghan toll over 20,000 and these places are not more “democratic” or safer than they we 15 years ago.

 Humphrey McQueen, author of many articles and books defending working people from the overbearing terror of those who claim to be their betters quotes a building worker speaking during the imperialist attack on working people (World War One): “Our liberties were not won by mining magnates and stock-exchange jobbers, but by genuine men of the working-class movement who had died on gallows and rotted in dungeons and are buried in nameless graves. These are the men to whom we owe the liberties we enjoy today”.

 The quote fails the gender issue but otherwise sums up well the way our liberties are constantly attacked by the ruling class, claiming to be doing it to defend us all, rather than honestly stating that they are defending their wealth and power. Tony Abbott’s action in February 2015 in ramping up terrorism laws  because “we are being played for mugs” are a continuation of this, 100 years after Hughes sought to claim the patriots false cloak to attack his opponents.

Lionel Murphy as a High Court Judge gave perhaps the best statement of the importance of agitators and their rights in his 1982 judgment on an appeal by Yarrabah Councillor, Percy Neal:

 “That Mr Neal was an ‘agitator’ or stirrer in the Magistrate’s view obviously contributed to the severe penalty. If he is an agitator, he is in good company. Many of the great religious and political figures of history have been agitators, and human progress owes much to the efforts of these and the many who are unknown.  As Wilde aptly pointed out in The Soul of Man Under Socialism, ‘Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilisation’. Mr Neal in entitled to be an agitator.”

  (quoted  on 28th September 2001 in the excellent 15th Lionel Murphy Memorial Lecture: Reconciliation – Moving beyond broad support and goodwill by Patricia Turner)









 Early Bicycle riders


The Bicycle is a tool of the worker, a means of transport, a way of protesting, a form of liberation and a crucial part of a people centred future, creating jobs in manufacturing, tourism and all this without many, or at least less, of the harmful impacts of relying on low job creation industries such as mining

 Susan Anthony, one of America's most influential suffragettes said: She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life. In her opinion, "the bicycle had done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance." The creation of bloomers (pictured), so radical at the time, evolved from the need for new attire to wear whilst riding a bike.

In Australian bicycling history, the history of bicycles in rural Australia includes the shearers using the bicycle tomove from shed to shed, of AWU organisers using bicycles to move around the country signing up members, organising workers across vast distances and  terrible tracks.

Union orgnisers on Bikes










Workers in the UK and Australia benefited from the freedom afforded by the railways (cheaper tickets across a wide area) and bicycles enabling organisers  to move around easily. Bicycles were very important n the growth of mass unionism and working class agitation politically and industrially.



morris workers






















 Strike Bikes


After Lone Star Funds, a US based private equity “investor” announced it would close a bicycle factory in Nordhausen, Thuringia it had acquired, its workers to decided to occupy the factory in July 2007. From October 22 through 26, the workers continued the bicycle production. With the help of the Free Workers Union (Freie Arbeiterinnen- und Arbeiter-Unionor Freie ArbeiterInnen-Union; abbreviated FAU) over 1,800 of the bicycles were sold under the label "Strike Bike". RED was the colour. Orders came from all over Europe. The occupation of the factory ended after the company's liquidator forced the workers out.




Route of Shame


Public Services International (PSI) organised a Route of Shame bike ride in June 2014. While trade union leaders from around the world joined in the ride that took place on Wednesday 4 June 2014 in Geneva (Switzerland), parallel ‘Route of Shame’ events were held in other countries all over the world. The rides were a protest against countries that consistently violated international labour rights and who were attacked public services around the world.  Rides took place in Geneva, Korea, Canada, Japan, Peru, Bangladesh and Indonesia. These events coincided with trade union rights violation hearings at the annual International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva.

route of shame








Bikes and Jobs

The importance of bicycles for jobs and a sustainable future is highlighted in a recent report prepared for the from the European Cyclists’ Federation by the Transport and Mobility Leuven Research Institute, which claims 655,000 directly related to the bicycle in retail, tourism and manufacturing in Europe, more than the estimated 615,000 people involved in mining and quarrying.. The steel industry directly employs 350,000.


If cycling’s three per cent share of journeys across Europe were doubled, the numbers employed could grow to over one million by 2020, says the ‘Jobs and job creation in the European cycling sector’ study.

The study also signals some unexpected knock-on benefits that bikes can have for local businesses. Cycling “contributes probably more to the local economy than the use of other transport modes,” because “cyclists go more to local shops, restaurants, cafes than users of other transport modes,” the paper says. Many café owners would attest to this with groups of cyclists having regular pitstops and end of rides haunts.










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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