A Conversation with a Syndicalist from New Zealand: Max Nettlau talks to Percy Short

A rare interview with NZ Wobbly Percy Short, conducted by anarchist archivist and historian Max Nettlau around 1914. It was found by Jared Davidson in the Nettlau Collection at the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam). Thanks to Urs Signer for the translation.

Note: it’s not known whether Short was actually Maori by birth (his family don’t believe he was), and some of the claims re Maori support for syndicalism and strikes may be exaggerated by Nettlau or Short. Nonetheless, it is still an important piece of syndicalist transnationalism and an interesting take on events.

A CONVERSATION WITH A SYNDICALIST FROM NEW ZEALAND

We had the pleasure to speak with a comrade from the antipodes who has come to Europe to get to know the syndicalist movement of the various countries.

A few weeks ago, the Auckland branch of the Industrial Workers of the World received a letter from an official syndicalist publication in Europe to gain an insight into the recent big strikes in New Zealand.

Our comrade Percy B. Short, together with another comrade, was tasked to draft a response; but because Short was on his way to England, it was decided that he would personally deliver the answers and further information and also get an insight into the European movement.

Having been a member of the Sydney I.W.W. branch for some time in the past, Short has knowledge of the whole revolutionary-syndicalist movement and we were pleased to be able to talk about both movements. Our conversation was even more interesting because our comrade is Maori by birth, the son of a native of New Zealand, the people who is more and more pushed to the side but keeps standing tall with unbelievable energy and endurance.

So that our readers can orientate themselves a little, we would like to mention that a revolutionary syndicalist publication, Direct Action, is published in Sydney (New South Wales), meanwhile the Industrial Unionist stems from Auckland. The Maoriland Worker is published in Wellington, New Zealand. The editors of that paper are comrade Harry Holland and J.B. Allen, the latter is a revolutionary syndicalist who was active in England for years.

The revolutionary trade union movement in Australia and New Zealand is organised along the lines of the constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World of the Unite States, where a vast amount of propaganda literature in the antipodes is from. Through the principle of Industrial Unionism (ie. the federation of the various industries), the syndicalist movement in Australasia and North America differs from the organisational point of view of the old trade associations.

First of all we discussed the general forecast of revolutionary syndicalist propaganda with comrade Short. We were thoroughly surprised when told that this propaganda is particularly successful amongst Maori because of the past of this people with their indigenous communism.

Amongst Maori, a worker who acts as a scab and steals the bread out of their comrades’ mouths is basically unheard of because their old sense of solidarity stemming from their tribal customs prohibits such actions.

We talked at length about anti-militarist propaganda which has started over the last few years since the introduction of military service in New Zealand. Several young men, sentenced to jail, started a hunger strike, just like the Suffragettes in England now. The anti-militarist movement is still alive.

Finally, it was the trade union movement and the behavior towards the conservative organisations that interested us the most:
- Are the conservative unions, we asked, who are organised under the Arbitration Act gaining or loosing influence?

- At present, replied Short, 80,000 workers live in New Zealand. 65,000 of those are organised under the Arbitration Act and 15,000 under the labour federation act . The latter settle their disputes with the employers directly.
- And how are the strikes in your ‘workers’ paradise’, the ‘country without strikes and lock-outs’, as our social reformers in Europe like to call it?
- The strikes are growing, both in terms of numbers and in intensity.
- And the law on strikes, which makes them illegal?
- The compulsory Arbitration Act has had its head smashed in New Zealand (Arbitration is killed in New Zealand).

Short explained how the national government conceals reality.

- You will probably remember the big strike of the miners in Blackball a few years ago. The government went so far as to sell the council house of the strikers who were sentenced to pay a fine. However, no one dared to buy it. Finally, the government paid for the fines under the pretext, that they were paid for by the miners – an utter lie confronted with much protest of the miners.

Until just a few weeks ago, as you will recall, we had a general strike across New Zealand, which spread to all cities and across almost all industries.

Short explained further that in Australia, where the legislation is less stringent and the attempt of reconciliation is preceded by arbitration, the situation is less tense and revolutionary syndicalism has progressed immensely.

We would have liked to continue our conversation but, as we have already mentioned, comrade Short’s visit wasn’t only about passing on information, but also to obtain information. Because his time was limited, we had to promise to resume talking about the European movement at a later point.



GERMAN TRANSCRIPTION

EIN GESPRÄCH MIT EINEM NEUSEELÄNDISCHEM SYNDIKALISTEN.

Wir hatten das Vergnügen mit einem Genossen von den Antipoden zu sprechen, der nach Europa gekommen ist um die syndikalistische Bewegung der verschiedenen Länder kennen zu lernen.

Vor einigen Wochen erhielten die Industrial Workers of the World der Sektion Auckland ein Schreiben vom Herausgeber eines offiziellen syndikalistischen Organes in Europa, um Auskunft über die letzten grossen Streiks in Neuseeland [zu erhalten].

Unser Genosse Percy B. Short wurde mit einem anderen Genossen beauftragt, die Antwort zu redigieren; da aber Short nach England reiste, wurde er ersucht, persönlich die Antwort und alle ferneren Auskünfte [zu] überbringen, um seinerseits auch über die europäische Bewegung Erkundigungen einzuziehen.

Da Short auch einige Zeit Mitglied der Sektion der I.W.W. in Sydney war, und also die ganze revolutionär-syndikalistische Bewegung kennt, waren wir sehr erfreut über beide Bewegungen mit ihm sprechen zu können. Unsere Unterhaltung war desto interessanter, weil unser Genosse von Geburt ein Maori ist, ein Sohn der Einborlinge [sic] Neuseelands, des Volkes das immer mehr von den Blanken verdrungen wird, sich aber mit unglaublicher Energie und Ausdauer aufrecht erhält.

Um unsere Leser einigermassen zu orientieren, bemerken wir an erster Stelle dass in Sydney (Neu Süd-Wales) ein revolutionär syndikalistisches Organ besteht, Direct Action, während in Auckland der Industrial Unionist erscheint. Ferner wird in Wellington, Neuseeland, der Maoriland Worker herausgegeben. Die Redakteure dieses Blattes sind die Genossen Harry Holland und J.B. Allen, der letztere ein revolutionärer Syndikalist, der in England Jahrelang tätig war.

Die revolutionäre Gewerkschaftsbewegung in Australien und Neuseeland ist ganz nach dem Muster und mit den Statuten der Industrial Workers of the World der Vereinigten Staaten organisiert und unsere Antipoden verdanken den selben auch einen betrachtlichen Teil ihrer Propagandaliteratur. Durch das Prinzip des Industrial Unionism d.h. der Föderation nach Industrien, unterscheidet die syndikalistische Bewegung in Australasien sich ebenso wie in Nord-Amerika vom organisatorischem Standpunkt aus von den alten Berufsvereinen.

Wir haben uns allererst mit Genosse Short unterhalten über die allgemeinen Voraussichten der revolutionär-syndikalistischen Propaganda und mit einer wahren Überraschung hörten wir dabei, dass ganz besonders unter den Maoris diese Propaganda durch die Vergangenheit der Bevölkerung mit ihrem Urkommunismus begünstigt wird.

Unter den Maoris scheint ein Arbeiter der als Streikbrecher seinen Kameraden das Brot aus dem Munde nimmt, so gut wie ein unbekanntes Wesen zu sein, dessen bestehen schon durch das alte Solidaritätsgefühl in den Volkssitten ausgeschlossen ist.

Lang sprachen wir weiter über die anti-militaristische Propaganda, welche in den letzten Jahren seit der Einführung des Militärdienstes in Neuseeland angefangen hat. Verschiedene junge Burschen, zum Gefängnis verurteilt, begangen den Hungerstreik, gerade wie es jetzt auch die Suffragets in England machen. Die anti-militaristische Bewegung dauert noch stets weiter.

Schliesslich war es die Gewerkschaftsbewegung und zwar das Verhalten zu den konservativen Verbänden, das uns am Meisten interessierte:

- Sind die konservativen Gewerkschaften, so fragten wir, diejenigen eben, die unters Gesetz auf den verpflichteten Schiedsspruch organisiert sind, im Fortschritt begriffen, oder büssen sie vielmehr an Einfluss ein?

- Augenblicklich, antwortete Short uns, gibt es auf den 80000 Arbeitern, die in Neuseeland leben, 65000, die unter dem Arbitration-Act organisiert sind, während 15000 unter einem anderen Gesetz sind, das auf der Arbeitsföderation; letztere regeln ihre Streitigkeiten mit den Unternehmern direkt.

- Und wie geht es mit den Streiks in ihrem Lande dem ‘Arbeiterparadies’, dem ‘Lande ohne Streiks und Aussperrungen’, wie unsere Sozialreformer in Europa es so gerne nennen?

- Die Streiks nehmen immer mehr zu in Anzahl und in Intensität.

- Und das Gesetz auf die Streiks, wodurch dieselben verboten sind?

- Das Gesetz den Verpflichteten Schiedsspruch ist den Kopf eingedrückt in Neuseeland (Arbitration is killed in New Zealand).

Und Short setzte uns auseinander, wie die Landesregierung es macht, um die wahre Lage zu verbergen.

- Sie werden sich wohl, schon vor einigen Jahren her, [an] den grossen Streik der Bergarbeiter in Blackball erinnern. Die Regierung ist dabei soweit gegangen, den Hausrat der zu Geldbusse verurteilten Streiker verkaufen zu lassen; Niemand wagte es aber davon zu kaufen. Schliesslich bezahlte die Regierung nun selbst die Geldbussen, unter Vorgeben, dieselben seien von den verurteilten Bergarbeitern selbst bezahlt, eine Lüge wogegen Letztere laut ihren Protest erhoben.

Noch vor wenigen Wochen, wie sie sich gewiss erinnern, haben wir noch einen Generalstreik in Neuseeland gehabt, der sich über alle Städte und über fast alle Arbeitskategorien ausdehnte.”

Short setzte uns weiter auseinander, wie in Australien, wo die Gesetzgebung weniger streng ist und wo der Versuch zur Versöhnung der Schiedsrechtsspruch vorausgeht, der Zustand nicht so gespannen ist und der revolutionäre Syndikalismus auch dort grosse Fortschritte macht.

Gerne hätten wir das Gespräch noch fortgesetzt, aber wie wir schon sagten, was Genosse Short nicht allein gekommen um Auskunft zu geben, sondern auch um Auskunft zu holen, und das seine Zeit bemessen ist, haben wir versprechen müssen, das Gespräch wohl wieder aufzunehmen, aber um diesmal  über die europäische Bewegung zu sprechen.

Prophets from across the Pacific: The influence of Canadian agitators on New Zealand labour militancy in the early twentieth century

H M Fitzgerald (ATL photo 1/2-007676-F)

From a paper presented to the conference ‘Canada and New Zealand: Connections, comparisons and challenges’, Wellington, New Zealand, 9 February 2010, by Peter Clayworth.

Labour situation in New Zealand and Western Canada 1900-1907

The early twentieth century saw the growth of unprecendented labour militancy in much of the English speaking world, including Canada and New Zealand. In both dominions sections of the working class challenged employers and the state through the organisation of revolutionary industrial unions. In New Zealand, there was the NZ Federation of Labour, the ‘Red Feds’; in Canada, the One Big Union. In both dominions the industrial challenge was smashed with the defeat of major strikes by a coalition of Government, employer and opposing class interests; using a combination of legislation and coercion- the 1912 Waihi and 1913 Great strikes in New Zealand; the series of strikes surrounding the Winnipeg General strike of 1919 in Canada.[1] This paper examines links between these events through the influence of western Canadian activists on labour militancy in New Zealand.  

Labour relations in Western Canada and New Zealand at the beginning of the twentieth century appeared, superficially at least, to be two quite different situations. Western Canada’s large extractive industries, such as mining and timber milling, were dominated by large companies, relying to some extent on itinerant labour forces. Industrial conflict was widespread, especially as employers often refused to recognise unions. State and federal governments made little effort to enforce labour legislation. The similarity of conditions and the mobility of workers and ideas across the 49th parallel meant that both moderate and militant American unions established locals in Western Canada. The Western Federation of Miners, the American Labour Union, and, from 1905 onwards, the Industrial Workers of the Worlds, the IWW or Wobblies, were in Western Canada fighting for workers rights and advocating versions of socialism and revolutionary industrial unionism. Revolutionary industrial unionism was the idea that workers should organise in large combined unions on an industry rather than a craft basis, in order to be able to combat the large combinations of employers. The eventual goal was the control of industry and society by the workers, although the revolution spoken of was not necessarily envisaged as a violent one.[2]

Western Canada was also the birth place of the Socialist Party of Canada, a small but very influential working class party. The SPC taught that capitalism could not be reformed but must be overthrown. Their version of Marxism held that a revolution was inevitable once the working class became aware of its class position. The role of the party was to stand in elections, not because elections would change matters, but because this was the most effective platform to educate the workers on the class struggle. In its early days the SPC held that union activities were irrelevant as reform was impossible- despite this official line, many party members were in fact union activists and some of the more militant unions backed the SPC.[3]

New Zealand was regarded by many Canadian labour activists as a “working man’s paradise”, whose progressive social legislation should be copied in Canada. The Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1894 was admired as it gave legal recognition to unions, with compulsory arbitration of disputes by an Arbitration Court, making decisions that were legally binding on both employers and workers. Lock-outs and strikes were illegal and supposedly unnecessary. The New Zealand unions, weakened by their total defeat in the 1890 Maritime strike, had welcomed this legislation as a great benefit to working people. New Zealand became known as the ‘land without strikes, a utopian example to the world. But by 1906, following the death of the populist Premier King Dick Seddon, disillusionment was spreading among New Zealand workers. Many workers had come to see the Arbitration Court as favouring employers, while proving unable or unwilling to deal with inflation or improve working conditions.  In 1908 a successful miners strike at Blackball on the West Coast was to prove a key event in sparking off the challenge to the arbitration system and the subsequent organisation of militant New Zealand unions into the NZ FOL. North American ideas of industrial unionism were to provide theoretical back up to this growing militancy- two figures who came to prominence at Blackball were the public voices of such ideas. One was Pat Hickey, a New Zealander, had recently returned from the USA where he had been involved with the Western Federation of Miners. The other figure was a Canadian revolutionary H. M. Fitzgerald.[4]

H M Fitzgerald

In 1907 the tiny Socialist Party of New Zealand, keen to shatter the apathy of the working man’s paradise, imported a firebrand orator, ‘Fiery Fitz’ Harry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s background remains something of a mystery, we are not even sure which country he was born in. He was a presser by trade, but became a professional agitator and was said to have fought in a revolution in South America. In Canada he was based in British Columbia, where he was an activist for the SPC. In an age where platform oratory was an art form critically examined by its audiences, the SPC was renowned for the quality of its speakers. Fitzgerald was acknowledged to be the master of them all, described as “a platform general with no equal in all Canada.”[5] He regularly spoke to standing room only audiences at Vancouver’s Empress Theatre, seating capacity 1800. He assailed capitalism and religion through socialist parables of his own devising, such as ‘the Story of a Coat’ and the tale of his own ‘Descent into Hades.’[6]

In order to understand the impact of activists such as Fitzgerald, it needs to be remembered that unions and the small working class political parties were strands of a larger, vibrant working class culture that stretched across the English speaking world. Evangelical religion, women’s suffrage, and prohibition all competed with socialism for public attention. Public speaking, on any subject, was as much a form of entertainment as propaganda; lodges and friendly societies were an established form of welfare and fellowship; socialist newspapers had respectable circulations and included large sections on literature and sport; unions had their own brass bands, picnics and sports  days; while socialist Sunday Schools competed with the churches to educate the young.

Erik Olssen has described Fitzgerald as ‘the key figure in transforming New Zealand socialism.’ An independant thinker, Fitzgerald rejected the SPC line on unionism. He preached that workers should vote for socialists at the ballot box, while organising their unions industrially along the lines of the newly formed IWW. He helped broaden the appeal of the rather staid NZ Socialist Party from ‘typographers and civil servants’ out to the unskilled working class. With John Dowdal in Wellington he helped set up an IWW club and was also active in setting up a socialist choir. Fitzgerald’s Wellington winter lectures were so popular that they were continued through to December. These activities were pursued despite the fact that Fitzgerald was suffering from an incurable disease; apparently some form of tuberculosis.[7]

 In 1908 Fitzgerald toured the country speaking on socialism. While he was on the South Island’s West Coast, the heartland of the mining unions, the Blackball strike broke out. The miners struck in response to the sacking of seven comrades, resulting from a dispute in which the union had tried to extend the 15 minutes allowed for ‘crib’, their mid-day meal, to half an hour. Fitzgerald heard of the strike when he was a day’s journey away at Millerton north of Westport. Over the next two days, despite ill health, he travelled by foot, coach and train to Blackball, to Greymouth, and to the mining centre of Dunollie, delivered a series of impassioned speechs and finally collapsed on the platform at Blackball’s Steven’s Hall. Fitzgerald became the revolutionary conscience of the strikers, always encouraging them to reject arbitration and fight to the end for their rights. His stance was appreciated by the miners, who made him a member of the union. The conservative press, on the other hand, condemned him as a parasite who used agitation as a way to live off genuine workers.[8]

After continued speaking tours and organising, Fitzgerald returned to Canada around 1910. He was in New Zealand again in late 1911 and 1912, speaking for socialism and indistrial unionism. While in New Zealand he married a Miss Crowther, daughter of an official of the Dunedin Bootmakers Union. In 1914 Fitzgerald was back inVancouver, a principal spokesman for the SPC in support of Sikh activists from the Komagata Maru, who were challenging British Columbia’s racist immigration laws; not a popular stand among the majority of the white working class. By 1916 Fitzgerald was at the Tranquille sanitorium, dying of tuberculosis, but still writing impassioned letters to the left wing BC Federationist, hailing socialism while condemning the direction of the Socialist Party of Canada.[9]

J B King

By 1911 the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies, had become a force to be reckoned with in the North American industrial scene. The ideas of the Chicago IWW, discounting electoral politics in favour of industrial organisation, had come to dominate over the  ideas of the Detroit IWW, which had emphasised the ballot box as a weapon to be used alongside the industrial union. In Western Canada the Wobblies organised unskilled workers - loggers, longshoremen, construction workers, teamsters and harvesters, as well as gaining a strong ideological foothold among miners in the Kootenays. In 1909 and again in 1912 the Wobblies were at the centre of major free-speech battles in Vancouver, organising mass arrests in the fight to overturn bylaws against political speech-making in the streets. The peak of IWW activity in BC was their organisational role in the Fraser River strikes of construction workers on the Canadian Northern line.[10]

John Benjamin King was a staunch activist for the IWW in British Columbia. He was born around 1870, probably in Canada, although some sources claim he was American. King had been a teamster, stoker, engine driver and miner. Fellow Wobbly Alec Holdsworth said that King told him he became a labour activist after realising the error of his ways following being beaten up as a strikebreaker. In 1909, King and a fellow miner were at the centre of a dispute at a copper mine at Greenwood following their dismissal for involvement with the militant Western Federation of Miners. King was a full time activist for IWW by 1911, based with the Vancouver local. He helping organise the teamsters strike in Victoria, BC, a construction strike in Prince Rupert and the building trades general strike in Vancouver. He was described as a fine orator, but was also known as an advocate of sabotage as a strike weapon.[11]

After the defeat of the building trades strike in August 1911, King and two other Wobblies called Sullivan and Childs left Vancouver for New Zealand. On the ship they met two Yorkshiremen, Alec Holdsworth and Charlie Blackburn, who joined them as IWW activists in New Zealand. George Hardy, another Yorkshireman who had joined the IWW in Vancouver in 1909, also made his way across to New Zealand at this time. While the organsing activities of the Red Fed’s were at their height at this time, the IWW were only a small presence. An IWW group existed in Christchurch, but the Wellington IWW club appears to have been defunct by this time. John Dowdall still flew the red flag for the Wobblies within the Wellington Watersiders Union. The radical pamphlets produced by Charles H Kerr Co of Chicago were also widely distributed among New Zealand workers, spreading Wobbly ideas on One Big Union to combat the capitalist class. As Wobbly activist Tom Barker later explained it, there was a free flow of ideas and people backwards and forwards between San Francisco and Vancouver in the east, and New Zealand and the eastern ports of Australia. For working class activists interested in left wing ideas, North America was as much a source of information as Britain and Europe.[12]

King and his comrades were soon busy preaching on the street corners of Auckland and spreading their message further afield. With Tom Barker, a New Zealand activist originally from Westmoreland in England, King and the others formed a vibrant local of the IWW in Auckland. Barker later noted that the lack of other entertainment for the large youthful population in Auckland, made it a very active place politically at that time.  King became an organiser for the Labourers’ Union and toured the North Island preaching the industrial unionist message. The Wobblies became the left wing of the labour movement, advocating industrial rather than political action and condemning any move by the Red Feds perceived as a move towards moderation. King settled in the mining town of Waihi where he gave economics classes to miners. Waihi became the centre of one of the most bitter strikes in New Zealand history, when the miners’ union struck in reaction to the creation of a breakaway engine drivers’ union.  The miners’ union, including those engine drivers who refused to join the new organisation, considered the engine drivers’ union to be a scab body set up with the support of the bosses. King soon became a member of the strike committee, where he encouraged a militant stand by the strikers.[13]

King attended the Red Fed’s 1912 May conference, where he unsuccessfully called for a general strike in support of the Waihi miners, denounced the nationalisation of industries in favour of the Wobbly idea of direct worker control and urged the Federation to push for industrial rather than political action. The Waihi strike continued to escalate as employers and the state flooded the town with scab workers and police, while strike leaders were imprisoned for refusing to pay good behaviour bonds. (The strike’s opponents were particularly incensed when strikers sang a parody on the national anthem with the lines “God Save Our J B King”). Violence increased, ending in November 1912 with the storming of the miners’ hall, the killing of unionist Frederick Evans and the eviction of union members and their families from the town. J B King had already left the New Zealand in August 1912, departing under circumstances that remain mysterious, and making his way to Sydney.[14]

In Australia, King continued his activities as a Wobbly agitator, later being joined by his old comrade Tom Barker, who had left New Zealand as a consequence of persecution following the great strike of 1913. King, as General Organiser, revamped the local Wobblies into Chicago style activists, preaching industrial organisation and denouncing electoral activity. He travelled the country promoting the aims of the IWW and distributing its paper Direct Action. With the outbreak of war the IWW became the spear head of anti-militarist movement and bitter opponents of conscription. In 1916 King was a leader of the successful campaign to free Tom Barker, who as editor of Direct Action, had been imprisoned for publishing an anti-militarist cartoon. King himself was arrested in August 1916 for forging bank notes, in what may have been a plan among a small group of Wobblies to debase Australia’s wartime currency. He was further charged in September 1916 as part of the ‘IWW twelve’ who were accused of a treason for an alleged arson campaign in Sydney.  The Wobblies maintained the charges were a frame up but the twelve were found guilty of seditious conspiracy- King was sentenced to five years imprisonment.[15]

After a prolonged broad-based campaign for the men’s release, King was one of last of the twelve to be set free, emerging from jail in September 1921. He continued to work as a labour activist, torn between his old industrial unionist ideas and the appeal of the newly emerged Communist Party. Eventually joining the Communists, he spent the early 1930s in the Soviet Union. He returned to Australia and New Zealand in 1936, on a tour extolling the virtues of the workers’ state. While touring the South Island, King disappeared, never to emerge on the political scene again. Rumour had it that he retired to Queensland to live on the pension.[16]

Aftermath

The IWW activism sparked off by J B King and his fellow agitators helped build up the labour unrest in New Zealand during and after the Waihi strike. The ideas they presented gave ammunition to those more radical workers, who worried that the Red Feds were playing into the hands of the moderate unions and the employers. The IWW also stimulated the fears of farmers and employers organisations and the government, who became determined to break the power of the Federation of Labour, seeing all militant labour unions as dangerous revolutionaries. The confrontation came with the Great Strike of November 1913, the largest industrial dispute in New Zealand’s history. The Red Feds were defeated by a combination of employer and state power and violence, along with their own inability to win the support of the moderate unions and the rural working class. Following their defeat many of New Zealand’s revolutionary industrial unionists went on to work within the reformist Labour Party, founded in 1916, while a minority helped found the small but influential Communist Party in the early 1920s.[17]

Labour militants in Western Canada also had their trial of strength with employers and the state. The Socialist Party of Canada shifted from disparaging union activites to support for the industrial unionist policy of One Big Union. In 1919 disatisfaction with post war working and living conditions, combined with the lack of union recognition, led to the outbreak of strikes across Canada, with the central feature being the Winnipeg General Strike of May-June 1919. As in New Zealand the strike was broken by a combination of legislation and state violence, with fear of the One Big Union and the possibility of a Bolshevik revolution acting to build the conservative backlash against the unions.[18]

Some of the SPC and One Big Union activists were to be involved in the early Communist Party and to have a role in events in New Zealand.  John Amos “Jack” MacDonald of the SPC was brought over to New Zealand in 1921 to help organise and publicise the fledgling New Zealand Communist Party. Instead his visit brought with it much of the factionalism that had dogged the SPC in Canada. In Blackball he met miner William Balderstone and his wife Annie, who had both been SPC activists in British Columbia. Annie was the daughter of prominent Canadian unionist and political campaigner Frank Henry Sherman. Bill Balderstone, originally from Hull, England, had met Annie and come under the influence of Frank Sherman while working in the mines of Fernie, BC. The Balderstones were to become the most militant and uncompromising Communists on the West Coast, with Blackball for a while acting as the headquarters of the Communist Party. Later, in their new role as ‘tribute mine’ operators, the Balderstones themselves were to be the targets of a strike that split the Blackball community in 1931.[19]

Conclusion

Canadian activists had a role as prophets bringing in some of the more radical ideas of North American revolutionary industrial unionism to New Zealand, at a time when the concensus of the Liberal era was giving way to discontent and labour militancy. The transcience of these activists was not unusual, as this was a time of great mobility for the working class, especially the white English speaking working class who could move with relative ease through the British Empire and the USA. Among these workers were small but significant numbers of activists, whose activites were strands of the broader working class culture of the time. The economic conditions of the early twentieth century produced class conflict in many industries. This ensured the travelling activist had an audience for their views, but never with the guarantee of a sympathetic hearing. Advocacy of revolutionary industrial unionism was a global phenomenum in the early twentieth century. The stories of H M Fitzgerald, J B King and other Canadian activists in New Zealand illustrate not just a Canadian-New Zealand connection; but also this international feature of the history of the working class.


NOTES

[1] For the Red Fed period in New Zealand see E. Olssen, The Red Feds: Revolutionary Industrial Unionism and the New Zealand Federation of Labour 1908- 1913, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988; L. Richardson, Coal, Class and Community: The United Mine Workers of New Zealand 1880-1960, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1995; M. Nolan (ed.), Revolution: The 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand, Canterbury University Press, Christchurch, 2006.  On Canadian labour militancy in the early twentieth century see A.R. McCormack, Reformers, Rebels and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical Movement, 1899-1919, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1977; D J. Bercuson, Fools and Wise Men: The Rise and Fall of the One Big Union, McGraw Hill Ryerson, Toronto, 1978; G.S. Kealey, ‘1919: The Canadian Labour Revolt,’ Labour/Le Travail, 13(Spring 1984),  pp 11-44.

[2] McCormack, Chps 2 & 6; Bercuson, Chp 2, J. Mouat, ‘The Genesis of Western Exceptionalism: British Columbia’s Hard-Rock Miners 1895-1903, Canadian Historical Review, LXXI, 3, 1990, pp 317-345, E.S. Pickett, ‘Hoboes Across the Frontier: A Comparison of Itinerant Cross-border Laborers Between Montana and Western Canada,’ in Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Spring 1999 from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3951/is_199904/ai_n8840736/print downloaded 7 August 2007.

[3] McCormack, Chp 4, Bercuson, pp 47-52; A. Seager, ‘Socialists and Workers: The Western Canadian Coal Miners, 1900-1921, Labour/Le Travail, 16 (Fall 1985), pp 23-59.

[4] J. Holt, Compulsory Arbitration in New Zealand: The First Forty Years, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1986, especially Chps 1-4. Olssen, pp 1-49, Richardson, pp 52-125. On Canadian interest in the New Zealand Arbitration system see Mouat pp 339-340.

[5] Roy Dovore, ‘Politicians out of the Past’, radio broadcast 27 August 1959, reprinted in The Western Socialist, Vol 26, No. 211, 1959, pp. 9-11. From http://www.worldsocialism.org/canada/politicians.out.of.the.past.1959.v26n211.htm downloaded 1 Feb 2009.

[6] H.O. Roth, biographical notes on H. M. Fitzgerald, MS-micro- 0714-27, Alexander Turnbull Library; R. Devore, ‘Politicians’; D. G. Steeves, The Compassionate Rebel: Ernest Winch and the Growth of Socialism in Western Canada, J J Douglas, Vancouver, 1977,  p. 14; P Campbell, ‘“Making Socialists”: Bill Pritchard, ‘The Socialist Party of Canada and the Third International’, Labour/Le Travail 30 (Fall 1992), pp 45-63 (see in particular p. 55), Grey River Argus, 3 March 1908, p. 3; NZ Truth, 4 January 1908, p. 8, 11 December 1915 p. 3.

[7] Olssen, p 17.  Commonweal, October 1907 p. 3, November 1907 p. 3, January 1908 p. 3.

[8] Commonweal,February 1908, p. 4; March 1908, p. 4. Grey River Argus, 29 Feb 1908, p 3, 3 March 1908, p. 3, 4 March 1908, p 2, 27 March 1908, p. 3.

[9] Roth , Fitzgerald biographical notes, Grey River Argus, 6 Sept 1911, p. 8, Poverty Bay Herald, 31 Oct 1911, p. 5, P. Campbell, ‘East Meets Left: South Asian Militants and the Socialist Party of Canada in British Columbia, 1904-1914,’ International Journal of Canadian Studies, 20 Fall 1999, pp. 35-65. BC Federationist, 29 Sept 1916.

[10] McCormack, Chp 6, Bercuson, pp 40-42; M. Leier, ‘Solidarity on Occasion: The Vancouver Free Speech Fights of 1909 and 1912,’ Labour/Le Travail, 23 (Spring 1989), pp 39-66.

[11] H O Roth, Biographical notes on John Benjamin King, MS-papers-6164-121, Alexander Turnbull Library, A. Holdsworth to H. O. Roth, 18 July 1961 & 5 August 1961, MS-papers-6164-120, Alexander Turnbull Library, The Labour Gazette, Vol X, Govt Printer, Ottawa, 1910, pp 52-66, V. Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, pp 38-39, F. Shor, ‘Left Labor Agitators in the Pacific Rim of the Early Twentieth Century,’ International Labor and Working Class History, 67, Apr 2005, pp 143-163 (see in particular p. 151).

[12] Holdsworth to Roth, 18 July 1961 & 5 August 1961, H. O. Roth, Biographical notes on George Hardy, MS-papers-6164-120, Alexander Turnbull Library, Olssen pp. 86, 117, 127-130. P. H. Hickey, Red Fed Memoirs, Worker Print, 1925, p. 9. E C Fry, Tom Barker and the IWW, Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Canberra, 1965, http://www.iww.org.au/history/tombarker/  downloaded 25 Nov 2003, Chp 3 pp 3-5.

[13] Holdsworth to Roth, 18 July 1961 & 5 August 1961, Roth, Biographical notes on J B King, Olssen, pp 130-134, Shor, pp 153-154.

[14] Roth, biographical notes J B King, Shor, pp 153-154, Olssen, pp 135-160, H. Holland, ‘Ballot Box’, and R. S. Ross, The Tragic Story of the Waihi Strike, Worker Printery, 1913.

[15] Roth, biographical notes J B King, Burgmann pp 36-38, 202-245, Fry Chps 4-6.

[16]N. Jeffrey to H.O. Roth MS-papers-6164-121, Alexander Turnbull Library, Roth, Biographical notes on J. B. King, Burgmann pp 229-245.

[17] Nolan (ed) Revolution, Olssen pp 180-223.

[18] G. S. Kealey, ‘1919: The Canadian Labour Revolt,’ Labour/La Travail, 13 (Spring 1984), pp 11-44. G. Friesen, ‘“Yours in Revolt”: The Socialist Party of Canada and the Western Canadian Labour Movement’, Labour/La Travail, 1 (1976), pp 139-157.

[19] K. Taylor, ‘“Jack” McDonald: A Canadian Revolutionary in New Zealand.’ Labour/Le Travail, 32 (Fall 1993) pp 261-268. Richardson, pp 196-197, 230-233.

The IWW in International Perspective: comparing the North American and Australasian Wobblies

American labour historiography has tended to assume, as Patrick Renshaw does, that the Locals of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) that appeared in countries like Canada, Britain and Australia ‘slavishly followed all the American trends, debates, and schisms’.[1] While it is true that the Australian, New Zealand and Canadian IWW Locals inherited their ideology and organisational principles more or less intact from their American parent after the founding conference in Chicago in 1905, intriguing contrasts nonetheless emerged in the application of these shared ideas and principles on the two sides of the Pacific Ocean. The Australian IWW, established in 1907, was especially distinctive. The most significant differences between the North American and Australasian expressions of revolutionary industrial unionism were: the degree of opposition to political action; the social position of their supporters; relations with existing trade union structures; the responses to the Great War; and the manner of their persecution.

Opposition to political action

To the American IWW, political action was less a practice to be rejected as a matter of principle but an irrelevancy, because those to whom the IWW most clearly appealed had no political means, because they were estranged from the electoral process by the racial, linguistic and residency requirements for voter registration. Accordingly, the American IWW, while rejecting control by political parties, never expressly condemned political action and many American Wobblies were active members of parties such as the Socialist Party.[2] In 1908 the American IWW had split over the issue of political action. Those who believed the IWW should remain unaligned with any particular political party were in the majority; they remained headquartered in Chicago and became what is commonly known as the IWW. The minority under Daniel De Leon argued the IWW should engage in parliamentary politics by linking up with the Socialist Labor Party, and these ‘De Leonites’ set up a rival IWW based in Detroit; and this division was replicated in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain. Yet even the Chicago IWW was ‘non-political’ rather than ‘anti-political’. J.R. Conlin insists too much has been made of the deletion of the political clause in 1908; equally significant was the rejection without discussion by the 1911 Chicago IWW Convention of an amendment to the Preamble that referred to ‘the futility of political action’.[3] The situation in Canada was similar, according to A. Ross McCormack:

Like their fellow workers south of the forty-ninth parallel whose attitudes have been described by Dubofsky and Conlin, the Wobblies in western Canada were essentially non-political rather than anti-political; their syndicalism was empirical. The IWW disdained political action because the great majority of its constituency was, what Wobblies called, constitutionally ‘dead.’ Either because they had not been naturalized or because they could not meet residence requirements, most itinerant workers were without the franchise.[4]

Mark Leier likewise explains that one reason the Canadian IWW eschewed the ballot box was that its members, usually migrant workers who could not meet property and residency requirements, and immigrant workers who were not citizens, could not vote. For instance, during the 1909 British Columbia election, the Industrial Worker commented on the Socialist Party of Canada’s call for electoral support by pointing out that, of the 5,000 Wobblies in the area, only 75 were eligible to register and vote.[5]

     Göran Therborn’s examination of the onset of democratic processes in the current OECD countries shows that Australia and New Zealand, important racial restrictions apart, were the first of the modern OECD countries to achieve the four defining variables of a bourgeois democratic political order: a representative government elected by an electorate consisting of the entire adult population, whose votes carry equal weight and who are allowed to vote for any opinion without intimidation by the state apparatus. Australia attained this situation in 1903, New Zealand in 1907, Canada in 1920 and the USA about 1970.[6] The preconditions for working-class representation in Australasian parliaments were established prior to the period of ascendancy of the IWW; in Canada and the USA such circumstances did not pertain at the time and, indeed, have barely materialised subsequently in Canada and not at all in the United States.

     In New Zealand, in 1890, organised workers won unprecedented political gains when six unionists were elected to the House of Representatives and another 30 members enjoyed union support. These men ensured the newly elected government responded to the demands of labour and the new government became known as Liberal-Labour or ‘Lib-Lab’, passing laws that cemented workers’ loyalty and improved their lot. Over the ensuing decades, most working-class families remained loyal to the Lib-Lab coalition.[7] The New Zealand labour movement was therefore less politically advanced than its Australian counterpart, with a false start in 1904 with the formation of an Independent Political Labour League, which became the United Labour Party in 1910 but subsequently foundered and split.[8] Only after workers experienced significant industrial defeats between 1908 and 1913 and the conservative Massey Government was particularly harsh on striking workers did the New Zealand Federation of Labour become converted to the need for political representation independently of the Liberals, leading to the establishment in 1916 of the New Zealand Labour Party that has endured to this day.[9] The situation in New Zealand thus bore more resemblance to that in Britain, with a similar experience of parliamentary cooperation with Liberals. It is thus hardly surprising that in both Britain and New Zealand, the Detroit IWW Clubs were stronger in relation to the Chicago IWW Locals than in Australia, because they were able to argue that political action could indeed be highly productive if pursued independently of Liberals.[10]

     In Australia, on the other hand, independent political action had already been tried and found wanting. Len Richardson notes that in New Zealand it was miners who had worked previously in Australia who were most sceptical about the prospects of keeping honest any workingmen elected to parliament, pointing to the ALP’s endorsement of compulsory military training to press their point.[11] Australia, even more than New Zealand, was a white democracy, with labour parties viable because of this democratic status, many years before the USA and Canada with significantly better-developed economies. Also significant was the relative ease with which the migratory worker could secure electoral registration in Australia; electoral registration was even compulsory under the Commonwealth Electoral Act and fines were administered to those who did not register, a decided contrast to the situation in North America. It was alleged that the IWW encouraged workers to avoid registration and many Wobblies did choose to avoid electoral registration and were accordingly fined under this Act.[12] However, disenfranchisement was their illegal choice; it was not imposed upon their kind, as in the USA and Canada. With workers in Australia forcibly enfranchised, Labor Parties were spectacularly successful in comparison with similar parties elsewhere in the world, forming government briefly in Queensland in 1899 and federally in 1904. During the heyday of the Australian IWW, Labor was in government federally in 1908-09, 1910-1913 and 1914-1917. It was also in government for much of this period in most of the six States.

     The IWW was able to point to the behaviour of Labor governments to warn against political action. ‘I was absolutely convinced,’ explained leading Wobbly Tom Barker, ‘particularly after seeing [Labor] politicians in both New Zealand and Australia that a strong and even ruthless working-class body was necessary to see that people were properly protected and properly paid.’[13] The IWW claimed the doings of the New South Wales McGowen Labor government should ‘serve as a warning to the working-class, not alone of this country but of the whole world.’[14] Direct Action had a running commentary on the futility of political action, sell-outs and betrayals by Labor politicians, their huge salaries and perks, and so on. The defining message of the IWW was that Labor politicians could not be trusted. The best-known song of the Australian IWW was ‘Bump Me Into Parliament’, which ridiculed the pretence of Labor MPs to advance working-class interests while enjoying so much the pomp and circumstance of parliamentary life.[15] Also to ‘Yankee Doodle’ was a less well-known Australian IWW song, ‘Hey! Polly,’ which began:

The politician prowls around,

For workers’ votes entreating;

He claims to know the slickest way

To give the boss a beating.

Chorus:

Polly, we can’t use you, dear,

To lead us into clover;

This fight is ours, and as for you,

Clear out or get run over.[16]

Australian Wobblies were in a peculiarly strong position to make judgments about the experiment of working-class parliamentary representation, to indulge effectively in polemical abuse, based on concrete evidence about the performance of Labor representatives: ‘Workers of Australia, you have raised up unto yourselves gods, in the shape of Labor politicians, and behold events have proved that their feet are but of clay.’[17] The Australian IWW was not just abstractly but empirically anti-political.

     The strength of the IWW in the USA and Canada stemmed from discontent with the weak, conservative, craft-based and ineffective nature of existing forms of trade unionism and not from disillusion with parliamentary politics, which had not been seriously tried. In Australia, by contrast, it was the precocious nature of the political labour movement that explains the appeal of the Chicago IWW to militant workers in this period. The Australian IWW was able to recruit from amongst the most disaffected Labor voters, because it expressed and reinforced the strong feelings of resentment felt by many militant workers towards their elected representatives, resentment that increased as politicians became more and more influential within the labour movement. So the Australian IWW, operating in a country with a comparatively democratic franchise and compulsory electoral registration, was more expressly and truly anti-political, a stance informed by the experience then unique to Australia of the inability of Labor governments to unmake capitalist social conditions.

The social position of their supporters

In all four countries, miners, transport and construction workers were an important component in the IWW membership base. Another common element was the migratory rural worker: in railway construction, lumber, wood and various sorts of agriculture; in Australasia also those in the pastoral industries of sheep and cattle grazing. McCormack observes such similarities across North America: ‘the IWW in western Canada organized the same constituency as that of western American Wobblies, unskilled, itinerant workers—loggers, harvesters, longshoremen, construction workers.’[18]

     Despite these commonalities between North American and Australasian Wobblies, the economic, political and social position of the itinerant worker was significantly different in the two realms. In stressing the hobo characteristics of the Wobblies, North American accounts have in mind a social aberration, whether romanticised or pathologised;[19] or rationalized, as in Richard Rajala’s argument that Wobbly mobility should be understood as a reasonable response to the vagaries of the labour market.[20] David Schulze refers to the relatively large group of unskilled, migrant, and largely immigrant workers in early twentieth-century North America, employed in seasonal, labour-intensive industries, who were largely ignored by craft unions and too transient to be easy converts to Socialist parliamentarianism. ‘The social and economic marginalisation of this segment of the working class was particularly well-suited to IWW radicalism …’[21] He attests, too, to the divisions within the Canadian working class, between the more respectable, urban, craft-oriented sections and those to whom the IWW appealed: the ‘rough labour element’.[22] He argues further that, although IWW radicalism was a mobilizing force, ‘it could not overcome this constituency’s objective weaknesses’; their political force was only equal to their threat to public order, given their social and economic marginality.[23]

     Mark Leier’s study of the Vancouver Free Speech Fights of 1909 and 1912 draws a similar picture of a segmented labour movement, with the IWW speaking for those whom the city authorities and ‘the respectable labour leaders’ of the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council both saw as ‘undesirables’.[24] McCormack also notes the distance between Canadian Wobblies and the mainstream labour movement:

By the very nature of its tactics and doctrine, the IWW was isolated from workers organized by the American Federation of Labour (AFL) and the Trades and Labour Congress (TLC). This condition was substantially reinforced by the nature of the Wobblies’ constituency; unskilled, unorganised and un-British, the itinerants never constituted a part of the labour movement.

For example, the Winnipeg Trades Council was unaware of the existence of the north-end IWW Local of 400 Ukrainians and Poles.[25]

     Within the Australian labour movement, by contrast, the itinerant ‘bush’ worker was more revered than reviled. Far from being neglected by Australian unionism as their equivalents were by the American Federation of Labor, itinerant workers were amongst its strongest participants and were especially active in the new unions formed late in the nineteenth century. Unlike the American and Canadian hobo, largely ignored by institutionalised labour, the ‘nomad’ was respected within the Australian labour movement: witness Lawson’s poem about the itinerant worker whose body was identified by his union card.

     Encapsulated in the labour pantheon, the nomad was honoured also in the wider society, as Russel Ward famously argued in The Australian Legend in 1958: the mores of the nomadic rural proletariat worked upwards and outwards until they became the principal ingredient of a national mystique: loyalty to one’s mates; antagonism towards authority; and contempt for middle-class virtues such as sobriety, industry, formal education and religious observance. The relatively higher standing of itinerant workers in Australia reflected the difference between Australian and American economic structures: Australia was primarily an extractive and large-scale grazing economy absolutely dependent on the labour of migratory workers; the USA was a more industrialized economy in which transient workers played a vital but far smaller role.

     Because of the significant position of the itinerant worker in Australian society at this time, the antipodean Wobblies have even been cited by P. J. Rushton as representatives of the national character, ‘part of a larger legend’, because they not only recruited many of their members from amongst the nomadic rural proletariat but manifested many of the attitudes and values of the national character based on this mythologised worker.[26] The Australian IWW was a quintessentially Australian organisation; unlike its American progenitor and its Canadian counterpart, it was in tune with stereotypical national characteristics. Australian Wobblies thus blended easily against the background of labour movement and national types. They were able to play on accepted themes dear to the national character. The inventive genius of Wobbly argot easily absorbed local cultural mores. In particular, the capacity of the antipodean Wobblies to mount their critique of Laborism was facilitated by the greater standing within their societies of the footloose worker.

Relations with existing trade union structures

Given this degree of alienation of North American Wobblies from the mainstream labour movements, the IWW Locals in the USA and Canada considered that ‘boring from within’ the established trade unions was largely futile. North American Wobblies therefore created new unions in competition with the existing unions, a tactic known as ‘dual unionism’. The Australasian IWW Locals, by contrast, had little choice but to ‘bore from within.’ Dual unionism remained a long-term aspiration, but not an immediate tactic; so they bored from within with propaganda about the need in due course for building from without.

     This significant departure from North American IWW practice was an adaptation to Australasian circumstances. Figures indicate that in 1916 union density was 47.5 per cent in Australia and only 12.2 per cent in the USA.[27] By 1913 New Zealand was the third most unionised country in the world.[28] The Australasian IWWs were operating in an environment where the labour movement was extremely well-organised by international standards. New unions of semi-skilled and unskilled workers had developed in both Australia and New Zealand, and it was these new unions that became the backbone of the labour movement in these countries, working cooperatively with the older craft unions but in many ways outflanking them as the locus of power within these much less stratified labour movements.

     The Australasian IWWs were not, like the North American, aiming to organize workers neglected by trade unionism; they were hoping, rather, to change the basis on which all workers were organized. Thus most Wobblies were members, also, of established trade unions. Within these unions in both Australia and New Zealand, Wobbly activists criticised craftism and sectionalism, and in particular the emergence of a trade union bureaucracy, especially when it was numerous and better remunerated than the workers it serviced. They nonetheless worked productively within these unions, their most critical instincts tempered by their recognition that the tactic of boring from within could only succeed if relations with other unionists were reasonable. It is interesting that, in private IWW correspondence seized by police, Wobblies advised each other not to alienate craft unionists.[29] Tom Barker expressly warned the miners establishing the Tottenham Local in 1915 not to ‘antagonise the crafties’, for ‘they are the material we have to work upon, and therefore every care should be taken to keep their good will’.[30] A security file on the IWW noted that ‘there has been a growing movement on the part of the I.W.W. men to join Unions so that the principles of their organization might be more widely promulgated’.[31]

     It was indeed by such means that Wobbly ideas spread within the Australian labour movement. Military intelligence regretted that IWW theories had ‘struck deep into the militant unions’.[32] New South Wales Labor Premier Holman regretted ‘the secret but steadily growing influence of the Industrial Workers of the World over union organisations’.[33] Jimmy Seamer, a mining industry unionist of the time, recalled: ‘You met Wobblies wherever you went … All militants followed the Wobblies … They had a foot in everywhere.’[34] Wobbly support subsisted in unstructured, informal and ground-level networks of militancy within mainstream trade unions, which enhanced the influence, effectiveness and resilience of the IWW.

     In New Zealand the IWW operated as a left grouping within the New Zealand Federation of Labour, known as the Red Fed. This was not a narrow craft-conscious federation but a militant one based on less skilled workers, especially miners, shearers, construction workers, general labourers, waterside workers, who were becoming increasingly critical of arbitration and faith in parliamentary action; and which achieved considerable success in winning improved conditions and rates of pay. The argument within the Federation was whether or not the entire Federation should be remodelled on the lines of the IWW: should all unions in each industry surrender their local autonomy and become one centralised national industrial union, ultimately allowing for the formation of One Big Union throughout the entire country—the ultimate purpose of the IWW.[35]

     The main issue within the Red Fed was arbitration. Because the New Zealand Labour Party was less precocious, the IWW there was less able than in Australia to focus on the duplicity of Labour politicians, but it could home in on the perceived shortcomings of arbitration from a militant working-class perspective. The Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1894 was the foundation of the Lib-Lab alliance and a new system of industrial relations: the establishment of a court of three (a neutral judge and one elected by unions of workers and other by unions of employers) armed with power to bring down legally binding awards. A similar regime was established in Australia, but not until 1904 and the system was more entrenched in New Zealand. Militant workers were tired of the delays and felt they could get even better results through collective bargaining. Within the Red Fed the IWW pushed for industrial action outside of the arbitration system, to ‘toss every agreement to Hell’.[36] According to Erik Olssen, this argument was particularly pushed in New Zealand after 1911 when certain North American Wobblies arrived.[37] Foremost among these was John Benjamin King, who worked his way to Auckland as a stoker, perhaps, muses Olssen, to see for himself the country with the famous labour laws, for the success of such legislation was a contentious issue in the American debate about political action.[38] Just as Australian Wobblies condemned political action on the basis of experience, the New Zealand IWW decided on the evidence before it that the country’s Arbitration Act was the ‘last refuge of capitalism’.[39]

     The effects of the Australasian IWW Locals’ decisions to make a political virtue out of industrial necessity were significant. In relegating dual unionism to the realm of long-term aspiration and boring from within in the meantime, Wobblies down under secured considerable protection. They did not experience the same degree of violent employer resistance encountered by their fellow workers across the Pacific in forming an embryonic dual union structure. The notorious brutalities inflicted on American Wobblies were not experienced by Wobblies in Australasia, where industrial relations were conducted with a comparative gentleness, disdaining use of gun and lynchings, resorting merely to dismissals, blacklisting, police interference with strikes and the occasional arrest. Australasian employers could not easily isolate and physically intimidate Wobblies, because they worked under the cover of a strong trade union movement that, in Australia, had the added respectability of sponsoring one of the two parties of government. Where American Wobblies were confronted physically by employers and their thugs, Australasian Wobblies were simply hemmed in by the trade union movement itself.[40]

The significance of anti-war campaigning

The IWW in New Zealand reached its zenith between 1911 and 1913 then largely self-destructed with the disappearance of significant Wobbly leaders to Australia, such as King in 1912 and Barker in 1914.[41] In Canada, too, by the beginning of the War the IWW was on the decline, its membership falling and its locals disintegrating. This collapse had resulted from employer opposition, earlier instances of government repression and economic depression, especially the ending of the railway building boom, which produced the dispersion of the construction workers.[42] In both these countries, the IWW was already too weak to be affected greatly by the issue of militarism; and IWW responses to the Great War made little impact on society. This was not the case in the USA and Australia. In the USA, the IWW was internally riven over the question of the war. Most American Wobblies believed there was a serious danger that anti-war activity would distract from organisation at the point of production and invite government repression. This position encouraged American IWW reticence on the war and withdrawal of anti-war pamphlets it had initially produced.[43] Overall, as Melvyn Dubofsky states, the American IWW ‘did nothing directly to interfere with the American war effort.’[44]

     By contrast, in Australia, no organisation opposed the outbreak of the Great War as promptly and vociferously as the IWW. The front page of Direct Action for 10 August 1914 declared:

WAR! WHAT FOR? FOR THE WORKERS AND THEIR DEPENDENTS: DEATH, STARVATION, POVERTY AND UNTOLD MISERY. FOR THE CAPITALIST CLASS: GOLD, STAINED WITH THE BLOOD OF MILLIONS, RIOTOUS LUXURY, BANQUETS OF JUBILATION OVER THE GRAVES OF THEIR DUPES AND SLAVES. WAR IS HELL! SEND THE CAPITALISTS TO HELL AND WARS ARE IMPOSSIBLE.

On 22 August Tom Barker urged: ‘LET THOSE WHO OWN AUSTRALIA DO THE FIGHTING. Put the wealthiest in the front ranks; the middle class next; follow these with politicians, lawyers, sky pilots and judges. Answer the declaration of war with the call for a GENERAL STRIKE.’

     The Australian IWW was aware of the arguments that had motivated American IWW quietude on the issue of the war and was alert to the possible dangers of anti-war mobilisation. Yet, unlike its American progenitor, it threw itself wholeheartedly into campaigning against the war and Australian involvement. In so doing, it increased rather than diminished its opportunities to organize at the point of production, because its anti-war activity won it many supporters amongst workers inclined to be critical of the senseless slaughter. The threat of conscription in particular gave the IWW its greatest opportunity to have its voice heard. It expanded rapidly in this period.[45] ’Great crowds used to come to our anti-conscription meetings,’ Tom Barker recalls, ‘up to a sixth of the population of Sydney gathering around and trying to hear the speakers.’[46]

     Just as the IWW became established in the patriotic mind as the source of disloyal infection, so also was it confirmed in the radical working-class mind as the centre of anti-militarist resistance. As the labour movement divided over the issue of the war and Australia’s involvement in it, ultimately tearing itself apart over the question of conscription in 1916-1917, the role of the IWW in encouraging this regrouping into left/anti-conscription and right/pro-conscription forces, was crucial. By November 1916 Labor Prime Minister Hughes was complaining that the IWW was ‘largely responsible for the present attitude of organised labor, industrially and politically, towards the war.’[47] Three-quarters of the Labor politicians in federal parliament indicated they would refuse to pass a Conscription Act. For this Prime Minister Hughes blamed the IWWs, ‘foul parasites’ who had ‘attached themselves to the vitals of labour.’[48] He appealed to ‘organised labour’ to cast out from its midst those who dominated the anti-conscription wing of the movement: ‘Extremists—I.W.W. men, Revolutionary socialists, Syndicalists, ‘red-raggers’ … who seek to use labour for their own purposes.’[49] Hughes’ desire to beat back all IWW influence from within the labour movement sealed the fate of those he blamed for fomenting opposition to him and his kind from within that movement.

The manner of persecution

As the American experience suggests, the Australian IWW would have been suppressed regardless of its position on the war, so its stricter adherence to the IWW’s internationalist principles was not the principal cause of its undoing. The Australian IWW was persecuted not because it opposed the war, nor because it constituted a serious threat to the established order, but because it provided a focal point of far-left opposition within the labour movement, and an expanding one, to the right-wing of that movement. According to a contemporary observer, the right of the labour movement resented the IWW for its ‘determination to make workers believe their representatives in Parliament are all unmitigated scoundrels’.[50]

     Given the near disintegration of the IWW Locals in Canada and New Zealand by 1914, there was little need for wartime governments in these countries to engage in concerted repression of the IWW. This was not the case in the United States and Australia, but there were fundamental differences in the manner of their destruction.

     In the USA it was employer-sponsored lynch mobs that inflicted the most serious damage upon American Wobblies, backed up by extreme measures against ‘criminal syndicalism’ enacted in twenty states and two territories between 1917 and 1920.[51] In Australia, the repression of the IWW was engineered by the right-wing of the labour movement—in government— to prevent the formation of revolutionary industrial unions that would seize control of the labour movement, if not of the means of production. Labor governments at federal and state level utilized the paraphernalia of patriotism, casting the IWW as an enemy agent, to contest the radical economic and social ideas espoused by the IWW that were becoming increasingly influential within the labour movement. So, while the Australian IWW did not endure the privatised retribution inflicted upon their American fellow workers—the beatings, the lynchings, the intimidation and torturings by individual loyalists—the state-sponsored suppression of the Australian IWW, which occurred in advance of American criminal syndicalism legislation, was sufficiently draconian to achieve the eradication of the IWW as a viable organisation.

     This was assisted by the framing of twelve Wobblies and their trial late in 1916 for treason-felony: plotting arson on Sydney business premises. With public hysteria aroused by this case, the Hughes National Labor government enacted the Unlawful Associations Act, passed on 19 December 1916, under which any member of the IWW could be imprisoned.[52] In the next few months, 103 Wobblies were imprisoned, usually for terms of six months with hard labour, and many more were sacked from their jobs. Twelve foreign-born Wobblies were deported; at the same time, United States authorities were shipping some American Wobblies to Australia.[53] The ships passed each other in the Pacific.

     The final irony was that the labour movement, whose more right-wing political representatives had suppressed the IWW, was also responsible for releasing the Twelve, testimony to the degree to which the strategy of boring from within had enabled Wobblies to become accepted as a legitimate part of the wider labour movement. The agitation on their behalf was so strong that the movement to release them spread outward from the Wobblies themselves to embrace all manner of labour organisations: trade unions; labour and trades hall councils and regional industrial councils; left-wing parties; and even sections of the Labor Party.[54] Union after union committed itself in support of the release campaign and to industrial action if necessary. The Twelve were released in stages by a New South Wales Labor Premier during 1920 and 1921, bowing to the strength of the mainstream trade union campaign to defend those whom they saw as their most militant but also their own. Labor News boasted moreover that the liberated men owed their freedom to the fact that Labor was in power.[55] It is unlikely that any of the Twelve, in departing Long Bay Gaol, were cursing ‘crafties’ or singing ‘Polly, We Can’t Use You Dear’.

     Though the Australasian and Canadian IWWs were direct transplants from their country of origin and remained recognizable as such, they adapted to local circumstances. The extent to which they flourished and the ways in which they did so in these different settings depended on distinctive attributes developed in intelligent response to the environments in which they operated. Had these IWW outposts been obliged to toe a Chicago line, their local impacts would have been less remarkable. As we remember 100 years of revolutionary industrial unionism in Australia, it is worth noting this contrast with the Communist movement that succeeded it and to celebrate the significance of the IWW’s commitment to freedom of working-class manoeuvre.

— By Verity Burgmann, Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 2007


Notes

[1] Patrick Renshaw, The WobbliesThe Story of Syndicalism in the United States, Doubleday & Company, New York, 1967, pp. 258-9.

[2] J. R. Conlin, Bread and Roses Too: Studies of the Wobblies, Greenwood, Westport Conn., 1969, pp. 29-30.

[3] Conlin, Bread and Roses Too, p. 35.

[4] A. Ross McCormack, ‘The Industrial Workers of the World in Western Canada: 1905-1914’ in W. Peter Ward and Robert A.J. McDonald (eds), British Columbia: Historical Readings, Douglas & McIntyre Ltd, Vancouver, 1981, pp. 474-499,p. 482.

[5] Mark Leier, ‘Solidarity on Occasion: The Vancouver Free Speech Fights of 1909 and 1912’, Labour/Le Travail, 23, Spring 1989, pp. 39-66,pp. 61-62.

[6] Göran Therborn, ‘The Rule of Capital and the Rise of Democracy’, New Left Review, 103, May-June 1977, pp. 4, 11.

[7] Erik Olssen, The Red Feds. Revolutionary Industrial Unionism and the New Zealand Federation of Labour 1908-14, Oxford University Press, Auckland, 1988, pp. xi, xiv.

[8] Len Richardson, ‘Parties and Political Change’ in Geoffrey Rice (ed.), The Oxford History of New Zealand, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, Auckland, p. 217.

[9] Olssen, The Red Feds, pp. 164, 210, 221.

[10] For details of the British experience, see Raymond Challinor, The Origins of British Bolshevism, Croom Helm, London, 1977.

[11] Len Richardson, Coal, Class & Community. The United Mineworkers of New Zealand, 1880-1960, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1995, p. 139.

[12] J. W. Miller, ‘The I.W.W. and the political Labor movement,’ unpublished manuscript, July 8, 1916, IWW Collection, Ai8/6, Mitchell Library, Sydney; Vanguard, 19 April 1917, p. 2.

[13] Tom Barker, ‘Self-portrait of a Revolutionary,’ Society for the Study of Labour History Bulletin, 15, Autumn 1967, p. 20.

[14] Direct Action, 15 June 1914, p. 2.

[15] IWW, Rebel Songs, Melbourne, 1966, p. 15. Also in Verity Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1995, pp. 144-5.

[16] IWW, Songs of the Industrial Workers of the World, 3rd Australian edition, Sydney, c. 1916, p. 64. Also in Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism, pp. 145-6.

[17] Direct Action, 1 May 1914, p. 2; 16 Sept. 1916, p. 1.

[18] McCormack, ‘The Industrial Workers of the World in Western Canada’, p. 478.

[19] Vincent St John, The I.W.W., Its History, Structure and Methods, IWW Publishing Bureau, Chicago, 1917, pp. 23-4; P. F. Brissenden, The I.W.W., A Study of American Syndicalism, Russell & Russell, New York, 1957, p. 341;Carleton Parker, ‘The I.W.W.’ in The Casual Laborer and Other Essays, Russell and Russell, New York, 1967, p. 106; Thorstein Veblen, ‘Farm Labor and the I.W.W.’ in Essays in Our Changing World Order, Viking Press, New York, 1954, p. 321;Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1969, pp. 148-50, 333; Melvyn Dubofsky, ‘Dissent: history of American radicalism’ in A. F. Young (ed.), Dissent: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism, Northern Illinois University Press, De Kalb, 1968, pp. 192-3; Robert Tyler, Rebels of the Woods: The IWW in the Pacific Northwest, University of Oregon Books, Eugene, 1967, p. 26. See also William Preston, ‘Shall this be all? U.S. historians versus William D. Haywood et al’, Labor History, 12, 3, Summer 1971, pp. 441-2; Robert Zieger, ‘Workers and scholars: recent trends in American labor historiography’, Labor History, 13, 2, Spring 1972, pp. 255-6; ‘The I.W.W.—an exchange of views’, Labor History, 11, 3, Summer 1970, p. 371. Against the grain, Conlin, Bread and Roses, p. 69, contends that the membership of the IWW was more like a cross-section of the working class.

[20] Richard A. Rajala, ‘A Dandy Bunch of Wobblies: Pacific Northwest Loggers and the Industrial Workers of the World, 1900-1930’, Labor History, 37, 2, Spring 1996, pp. 207-11, 218.

[21] David Schulze, ‘The Industrial Workers of the World and the Unemployed in Edmonton and Calgary in the Depression of 1913-1915’, Labour/Le Travail, 25, Spring 1990, pp. 47-75, p. 48.

[22] Schulze, ‘The Industrial Workers of the World’, p. 53.

[23] Schulze, ‘The Industrial Workers of the World’, p. 75.

[24] Leier, ‘Solidarity on Occasion’, esp. pp. 50, 48.

[25] McCormack, ‘The Industrial Workers of the World in Western Canada’, p. 489.

[26] Peter Rushton, ‘The revolutionary ideology of the Industrial Workers of the World in Australia’, Historical Studies, 15, 59, October 1972, p. 446.

[27] Greg Patmore, ‘Australian Labor Historiography: The Influence of the USA,’ Labor History, 37, 4, Fall 1996, pp. 521-2.

[28] Olssen, The Red Feds,p. 217.

[29] Detective Moore’s Report re History and Proceedings of the IWW, SANSW7/5588.

[30] Quoted in Frank Cain, The Wobblies at War, A History of the IWW and the Great War in Australia, Spectrum Publications, Melbourne, 1993, pp. 73-4.

[31] IWW, Statement giving a brief outline of the activities of the above organization in Australia, Australian Archives, ACT Branch, CRS A456 Item W26/148 P. H.B.

[32] Items 5/6/18, 18/2/18, 1st Military Dt, 26/12/17-29/6/18 and Item 12/3/19, 1st Military Dt, 1/3/19-7/6/19, A6286, Australian Archives, Canberra; Item WA1024A, Vol. I, Investigation Branch Reports, Summaries 1-25, AA1979/199, Australian Archives, Canberra.

[33] Argus, 12 Oct. 1916, p. 8.

[34] Interview by Verity Burgmann with Jimmy Seamer, Wollongong, 29 August 1985.

[35] Olssen, The Red Feds,pp. 134-5.

[36] Ibid., p. 130.

[37] Ibid., p. 108.

[38] Ibid., p. 128.

[39] Ibid., p. 163.

[40] For details of Australian IWW involvement in industrial disputes, see Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism, pp. 159-80.

[41] Olssen, The Red Feds, p. 211.

[42] McCormack, ‘The Industrial Workers of the World in Western Canada’, p. 494.

[43] Renshaw, The Wobblies, pp. 206-7, 216; Conlin, Bread and Roses, p. 80; Philip Taft, ‘The federal trials of the IWW,’ Labor History 3, 1, Winter 1962, pp. 59, 71-3.

[44] Dubofsky, ‘Dissent’, p. 202. See also Renshaw, The Wobblies, pp. 206-7, 216; Veblen, ‘Farm Labor and the IWW’, p. 329; Conlin, Bread and Roses, p. 80; Taft, ‘The federal trials of the IWW’, pp. 59, 71-3.

[45] Notebook 1, Ted Moyle Collection in possession of Jim Moss, Adelaide; Peter Rushton, ‘The IWW in Sydney, 1913-1917’, MA thesis, University of Sydney, 1969, p. 190, Appendix III.

[46] Eric Fry (ed.), Tom Barker and the IWW, ASSLH, Canberra, 1965, p. 27.

[47] L. C. Jauncey, The Story of Conscription in Australia, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1968, p. 223.

[48] Quoted in Direct Action, 22 Jan. 1916, p. 4.

[49] Direct Action, 30 Jan. 1916, p. 1; Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Oct. 1916, p. 34.

[50] J. W. Miller, ‘The I.W.W. and the political Labor movement,’ unpublished manuscript, July 8, 1916, IWW Collection, Ai8/6, Mitchell Library, Sydney.

[51] E. F. Dowell, A History of Criminal Syndicalism Legislation in the United States, Da Capo Press, New York, 1969, p. 21; Dubofsky, ‘Dissent’, pp. 202-3; R. E. Ficken, ‘The Wobbly horrors: Pacific Northwest lumbermen and the Industrial Workers of theWorld, 1917-1918’, Labor History, 24, 3, Summer 1983, pp. 325-41; R. C. Sims, ‘Idaho’s Criminal Syndicalism Act: one State’s response to radical labor’, Labor History, 15, 4, Fall 1974, pp. 511-12.

[52] Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, LXXX, 18 Dec. 1916, p. 10100; 18 Dec. 1916, p. 10111; 19 Dec. 1916, pp. 10158, 10178-9.

[53] Frank Cain, ‘The Industrial Workers of the World. Aspects of its suppression in Australia, 1916-1919’, Labour History, 42, May 1982, pp. 57-8; Notebook 2, Ted Moyle Collection in possession of Jim Moss, Adelaide; Francis Shor, ‘Masculine power and virile syndicalism: a gendered analysis of the IWW in Australia’, Labour History, 63, Nov. 1992, p. 98.

[54] Notebook 2, Ted Moyle Collection in possession of Jim Moss, Adelaide; Item W26/148/57, CRS A456, Australian Archives, Canberra; Australian Boot Trade Employees Federation, Minutes, T49/1/17, Noel Butlin Archives, Canberra; Hotel, Club and Restaurant Employees Union of NSW, Minutes, T12/1/2, Noel Butlin Archives; E. J. Holloway (Ass. Sec. Trades Hall Council) to Sec. Industrial Council, Brisbane, 16 Mar. 1918, Item 10/4/18, 1st Military Dt, 26/12/17-29/6/18, A6286, Australian Archives, Canberra; Argus, 20 Dec. 1916, p. 9; 22 Dec. 1916, p. 8; 23 Dec. 1916, p. 10; 30 Dec. 1916, p. 11; 6 Jan. 1917, p. 15; 11 Jan. 1917, p. 6; 6 Feb. 1917, p. 8; 22 Feb. 1917, p. 8; 31 July 1917, p. 5; 23 April 1918, p. 3; 19 June 1919, p. 7; Militant Propagandists, Minutes, Dec. 1916-Nov. 1918, Brodney Collection, 10882/4/6, State Library of Victoria; Arch Stewart, Sec, PLC, to Dear Comrade, circular letter, 13 Feb. 1917, F. J. Riley Papers, 759/6, National Library, Canberra.

[55] Labor News, 7 August 1920, p. 1.

Tom Barker: Industrial Worker of the World

After emigrating to New Zealand and joining the IWW, Tom Barker became an organiser for the syndicalist union, he organised the Auckland general strike of 1913 which led to him being forced to move to Sydney, Australia where he becamse editor of the IWW’s Direct Action. He was deported to Chile in 1918 and then travelled the world organising workers, before returning to the UK in 1927.

Tom Barker
Born Westmoreland, England, 1887, died London, 1970

Tom Barker became the editor of the Australian IWW’s Direct Action in 1915 after Tom Glynn was arrested in 1915. He supported industrial unionism because of the failure of Labourism. “I was absolutely convinced after seeing politicians in both New Zealand and Australia that a strong and even ruthless working-class body was necessary to see that people were properly protected and paid.” Tom Glynn and Tom Barker brought an infusion of Marxist perspective to the Australian Socialist Party and the IWW Clubs when they joined in 1913.

All governments in modern society, Barker argued, existed for the purpose of protecting private property and the interests of the propertied class; whether the politicians were socialists or conservatives, they could only safeguard and perpetuate the system of oppression. Barker attacked the Second International for being spineless. “Let us get to work, we of the Industrial Workers of the World, we, the countryless, the pariahs, the hobos, the migratory workers. Let us throw off the pusillanimity of political sentimentalists. Economic conditions are bringing us together in spite of ourselves and we, the workers of the world, are dependent upon one another.

Born in Westmoreland, England in 1887 of Lakeland farming stock; he worked as a farmer at age 11 and then at a milkhouse at age 14. In 1905 he joined the army at age 18 and became a member of the cavalry. He left the army, at the rank of lance corporal, when he began suffering from heart problems. He worked on the Liverpool railways till emigrating to New Zealand in 1909. He got a job as a conductor for the Auckland tramway. During 1911 to 1913 he was the branch secretary of the New Zealand Socialist Party’s Auckland Local. After being laid off in 1913 he began organizing for the IWW and led the Auckland General Strike of 1913. He was imprisoned in Wellington during the winter of 1913 and charged with 3 counts of sedition. He was released in the winter of 1914 under a bond of 1500 pounds, at which time he emigrated to Sydney, Australia.

In 1915 Baker railed against the Australian Workers Union for refusing to organize coloured workers, even after a series of strikes in which the coloured workers refused to scab against the AWU. “The Class War is a nobler sentiment than the Race War, for it strives for the abolition of chains and not for their perpetuation.” Coloureds and immigrants were an economic factor and it would be better if they organized with white workers instead of against them.

When Edith Cavell was murdered by the Germans, Barker was disgusted by the ensuing outcry. “It ill becomes the capitalist press of Australia to howl about the murder of one Englishwoman, when it consistently stood for the exploitation of little girls, who have been taken from the playground, and pushed into the unhealthy and dangerous atmosphere of the factories; working for wages that are not sufficient to house and feed them.”

He believed feminists to be misguided. The women’s suffrage had not secured equal pay for equal work. He believed women should be fighting with the men of their class and not against them. He also blamed capitalism for prostitution. “When wandering the streets of Sydney one sees the ever-growing army of the night, with its sweet recruits, and its battered veterans, you can see the gripping hand of commercialism and low wages.”

Under the administration of General Secretary Treasurer Barker no office holder was allowed cast a tie-breaking vote. Motions were accepted only if passed by the clear majority and in case of ties the motion lapse to insure fairness and true democracy.

When the Labour government began arresting Wobblies for selling anti- conscription literature in Sydney’s Domain, Baker spent a week in jail rather than pay the 10 schilling fine. Barker threaten to summon 10,000 unemployed men to the Domain if IWW persecution did not cease. During a meeting of the Political Labour League, Wobblies trapped Labour representatives in the room. They barricaded the doors after cutting the lights. The representatives where rescued by police after breaking a number of windows and shortly afterwards the prohibition of selling literature was lifted.
After the conscription issue was defeated in referendum, Barker claimed the IWW through its speaking tours of Sydney and wide circulation of literature had swayed public opinion.

Barker detested state-ownership of industries and fought for worker- controlled industry. “After the capitalist turns his profitless industry over to the state, his interest comes in regularly year by year, and he is save the worry of managing the industry and trying to calm the waters of industrial discontent. It is no consolation to the worker to know that the state exploits him now, in place of his capitalist employer. There is no hope for the working-class in state ownership. let us organize to control society by organizing to control the job. We who would be free ourselves must strike the first blow.” Barker sent out the call for Wobblies to send donations to support the 1916 wildcat strike by shearers. He also went on a speaking tour to raise funds for the miners’ strike at Broken Hill which was for shorter hours and better pay. In 1916 Barker cautioned Australian workers against jingoism and said they have no quarrel with German, Austrian, and Turkish workers. “Let those who own Australia do the fighting. Put the wealthiest in the front ranks, the middle class next, and follow them with the politicians, lawyers, and ministers. Answer the declaration of war with call for a general strike.” The IWW seized the opportunity to increase agitation after the Second International and the political socialists failed to prevent the war. He was imprisoned after creating and distributing posters such as the one, left.

He was released after winning his appeal on a technicality. He was later imprisoned on the same charge after distributing posters with a cartoon of a business man getting fat from the blood of a conscripted worker. After being released he joined in the fight with the coalition of anti-conscription forces which included the IWW, the Anti- Militarist League, Labour Party dissenters, various rival socialist parties, and the Catholic Church.

Barker organized the protest of the imprisonment of the Sydney Fifteen - fifteen prominent members of the IWW imprisoned on charges of sedition after mysterious cases of arson in Sydney and the counterfeiting scheme by a couple of rogue Wobblies. He got numerous groups from across the globe to send letters of protest including the National Union of Police and Prison Officers in Britain.

In 1918 he was deported to Chile and then expelled to Argentina where he worked the wharves of Buenos Aires, becoming active in the Marine Transport Workers Union. In 1920 represented the Argentinean Labour Federation at the Marine Transport Workers Union Conference in Oslo and attended the Syndicalist Conference in Berlin, where he denounced the dictatorship of the proletariat as inherently bad. In 1921 he attended the RILU conference as an Argentinean delegate. He wrote to Tom Glynn in prison that politicians will have no place in Russia - Lenin has denounced them.

He worked with Big Bill Haywood on the Autonomous Industrial Colony Kuzbas, which sought to utilize foreign expertise to bring heavy industry to Siberia. He never joined the Communist Party of Russia because it conflicted with his IWW ideals. When the matter was brought to Lenin and Trotsky both men support him. In 1926 he and his wife Berta Isaakovna went to NYC to recruit American technicians and engineers. In 1927 he returned unimpressed and disenfranchised; later returning to England.

He worked as a clerk with the London Electricity Board. He became a Labour member of the St Pancras Council in 1949 to 1959. When the Tory government was set on raising tenants rents he refused to operate civil defence arrangements, insisted on a closed shop for council employees, and flew the red flag each May Day. He took care of his wife who was blinded in 1950 and became a Camden councillor in 1960. He died in 1970 at the age of 83.

*From Libcom.org

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