Little has been written about this organisation, which was a strong and influential one in its day. The Australian movement stemmed from the American movement. At the 1915 Convention of the political IWW in Detroit, the name was changed to the Workers' International Industrial Union.
The preamble was amended as follows:
The Working Class and the Employing Class have nothing in common. There can be no peace as long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few who make up the employing class have all the good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the toilers come together on the political field under the banner of a distinct revolutionary political party governed by the workers' class interests and on the industrial field under the banner of one great industrial union to take and hold all means of production and distribution and to run them for the benefit of all wealth producers.
The rapid gathering of wealth and the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands make the trade unions unable to cope with the evergrowing power of the employing class, because the trade unions foster a state of things which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping to defeat one another in wage wars. The trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.
These sad conditions must be changed, the interests of the working class upheld and while capitalist rule prevails all possible relief for the workers must be secured.
That can be done only by an organisation aiming steadily at the complete overthrow of the capitalist wage system and formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.
This preamble is stronger than any previous one in its reference to "a distinct revolutionary political party."
Following the change of name some members of the Australian Socialist Party decided to form a branch of the W.I.I.U. in Australia. An application for a charter was made to the Detroit organisation. This application was granted and headquarters were set up at Hatter Arcade, King Street, Newtown, N.S.W. Local No. 1 Newtown was formed.
Local No. 2 was formed in Melbourne in 1917 with headquarters at 47 Victoria Street, Melbourne, the headquarters also of the Australian Socialist Party. This move annoyed the S.L.P. who claimed they were double-crossed and declined association with the W.I.I.U. and carried on with the W.I.I.U. Club of Sydney formed by the S.L.P. there.
At this stage both the Melbourne and Sydney locals were weak, the only activities were the holding of local meetings. The total membership of the two locals was between thirty and forty.
The Melbourne Local realised if progress was to be made, printed propaganda was needed, and Sydney Headquarters were approached to publish an official journal. They agreed so Tom Audley visited Sydney to clear up difficulties and the One Big Union Herald was launched from Melbourne with J. A. (Jim) Dawson as Editor.
Having only 30/- in cash, finance was an obvious difficulty so printer C. Smithson was approached and his only inquiry was, "Do you think you can sell the paper?"
This assurance being given he agreed to print 2000 copies and hold the type. 1000 were sent to Sydney and the remaining 1000 sold in Melbourne in one day, mainly because a conference on Closer Unionism was being held at the Trades Hall. The first issue reached 5000 copies, and the O.B.U. Herald was published throughout the whole existence of the W.I.I.U. Its peak circulation was 20,000 copies, though the norm was nearer 10,000. Many went to other States and a team of fifty sellers operated in Bourke Street every Saturday night, disposing of some 1000 copies.
This activity did not meet with the approval of the Melbourne Herald as both papers were often sold by the same boy. Legal action was threatened for infringement of copyright in the use of the name "Herald". Tom Audley as Manager, interviewed Mr. T. Fink, the Melbourne Herald's legal adviser, who ordered a change of name and offered expenses for doing so. Their bluff was called and no further action was taken.
The paper was popularly written with job news, reports of progress of the organisers, current affairs and comment on other organisations.
Jim Dawson was Editor most of the time. Temporaries were Olive Willans and Tom Audley. In 1923 articles appeared which were critical of the Communist Party, then functioning in Sydney. One such paragraph reads: "The WIIU is opposed to the Communist Party's concept of socialism in that it is not democratic. The C.P. relies upon the few leading the mass—a dictatorship by the Communists through a political State (how not specified). This must result in a dictatorship in industry and result in a bureaucratic State—not socialism." The Police Strike was written up, and material republished from the American paper, Industrial Union News a banned paper circulating under the counter. A letter from Jack London with the heading, "Why I left the Socialist Party" and signed, "Yours for the revolution" was reprinted. Some long articles by General Secretary, Tom Audley appear, one headed, "A fighting Policy to meet Australian Conditions".
No. 1 issue of the One Big Union Herald announced that the paper cost more than one penny and that the organisation relied on donations to keep going. Published monthly the subscription was 2/- yearly posted. "Bundle Order for Agitators"—15 copies for 1/-, 6/6 per 100 copies. This notice was signed by A. D. Dodds. Another paragraph read "Articles for publication urgently requested on matters of labour troubles and constructive propaganda. Never mind the grammar. The Editor can lick matter into shape for the OBU Herald is conducted by voluntary labour. Melbourne Oct. 24, 1918." The Post Office rejected an application for the paper to be registered as a newspaper which would have meant much lower postage costs. Tom Audley went to see Dr. Maloney and the latter took the matter up with the Post Office and finally convinced them to grant the registration.
Researchers reading the files of O.B.U. Heralds may be puzzled to find successive issues with precisely the same contents, excepting for the number of issue and "month" of publication. The reason for this is explained by Tom Audley as being that they had to publish each month to keep their registration for transmission as a newspaper with the Post Office. Some months they had no money for type and consequently used the type of the previous month, thus satisfying the rules and regulations. WIIU had its first headquarters in Rooms 29-31 Eastern Arcade, running through from Bourke Street, to Little Collins Street, just below the Eastern, Market.
The Eastern Market headquarters had two shop-fronts and this was an aid to a good bookshop and literature distribution centre. A great number of publications came from Charles Kerr in America and the WIIU were able to sell cheaper than the American price because of the exchange rate. English publications were obtained on a barter system. The WIIU would send over £40 worth of literature and receive the same value back: thus money never changed hands. A large amount of literature came from Laidler at Andrades.
The Australian Administration headquarters were transferred to Melbourne and all work directed from that city. The publication of the O.B.U. Herald had advanced Melbourne to the claim of being the main centre.
Pamphlets written by local members were published as well as reprints of American publications. Trautmann's "One Great Union" had several reprints, "Beacon Light", "Job Control", "How the One Big Union Works", "Revolutionary Industrial Unionism" and "Disarmament" are some of the titles. "New Democracy and the State" was financed by W. (Bill) Slater (later an Attorney General in State Labor Government). A series of six stickers were issued, one reading "Knowledge is Power—Join the WIIU."
Leaflets of an agitational and educational nature were published and permission obtained from the Government to issue leaflets in the Italian language. These were used in Timber Camps and at Eildon Weir where the WIIU joined up a large number of workers and were confronted by the AWU which union declared the job "black" and forced the WIIU members off the job. Headquarters were moved to 237 Little Bourke Street, two doors from Swanston Street during 1922.
The organisation was on the basis of industry divided up as follows: Manufacture and General Production, Pastoral Industry, Transportation, Timber Industry, Building and Construction. There was also a Press Committee.
The first General Secretary was Jack Vincent. In 1918 Tom Audley was elected general secretary and remained so for the life of the organisation (it terminated in 1925).
Tom has had a long political career which began as a result of attending Australian Socialist Party meetings at the Albert Park Yachting and Angling Club. These were held on Sunday nights and speakers were frequently Mark Feinberg, Bill Harris and Mrs. McDonald. Without joining the ASP he used to help them sell the International Socialist at football matches. On the outbreak of war he joined the No Conscription Fellowship, and then in 1917 the WIIU. After the demise of the organisation he concentrated his attention on trade union activity in the Shop Assistants' Union of which he is now a Life member.
He was active in the "early closing" campaign and represented the union on Wages' Boards and was on the THC for several years. In the early thirties he joined the ALP and is now a very active member of the Society for the Study of Labour History. Other active members in the WIIU, were Alf Wilson, Mark Feinberg, Bill Fox, Victor Petruchenia, Olive Willans, Bill Harris, Bill Chudleigh, George Harrigan, Chris Woods, P. Isaacs, Fred Roberts, J. B. Scott, J. A. Dawson, Alan Shain and Bert Davies.
The work of the field organisers was arduous. They had to live under primitive conditions on low wages, which had to be earned by sales of literature and collections at meetings.
J. B. (Jim) Scott toured and set up organisation in Western Australia, and in Victoria at Eildon Weir and Wonthaggi. His wife, Bertha Scott (formerly a member of the VSP) was a battler who kept the family of three small children going, when necessary. Son Dan, was named after Daniel De Leon, one of the founders of the IWW in the USA. Jim was a popular "mob orator" with a caustic wit. When on the Eastern Goldfields of W.A. he wrote Laidler, "We will have 400 members at the end of the month in Kalgoorlie . . ." He tells of driving in a jinker at 3 a.m. as "cold as a frog", to get to mining and woodchopping camps. He suggested that Western Australia needed five organisers. All working class organisations in those days, measured their success by the amount of literature sold and much of this came from Andrades.
An order from Scott in a letter to Laidler, dated October 2nd, 1920, was: 40 Communist Programme, 60 In Russia, 60 Victorious Russia, 2 Red Europe, 10 War What For? (banned during war), 2 King Coal, 2 The Underworld, 1 Proletarian Dictatorship.
Alf Wilson was also an indefatigable literature seller, and spent many months organising in Adelaide. Scott was a keen letter-writer and copies of some of his papers are now in the La Trobe State Library.
On September 13th, 1920, Laidler wrote Scott in W.A.:
Dear F. W. [Fellow Worker] Scott,
Pleased to get your letters. I showed them to Baracchi who will no doubt write you. In the meantime I might say the 10 who are out seem lost. [10 of the 12 framed IWW men had been released by this date]. They are not acquainted with the last 4 years' development in political theory but they sense the change in things and are not prepared to state their views of things as they are, until they have studied some. However they have been impressed some with the attitude of the 3rd International and we in Melbourne have also tried to influence Glynn and Larkin especially. There is to be a meeting of the I.W.W. fellows here tonight just to discuss things with them before they return to Sydney. I will write later as developments occur.
What seems quite possible anyhow is a big movement based on the 3rd International. We are printing a manifesto of the 3rd International to the I.W.W. It is a fine document and should influence the boys everywhere. I will send you some. Re literature we sent all the lines in stock and took the liberty of sending some others which you can return if not wanted over there. We also sent 3 copies each of No. 1 and No. 2 Pro Review [Proletarian Review] free of charge. You can pass these around so that all may read them. They are scarce or I would have sent more. Best wishes.
September 19th, 1920 ... Scott to Laidler.
I do wish that the 10 men would hurry up and make up their minds, what they are going to do, not that it should matter much, for if the working class are waiting for "leaders" they have gone to the pack, if they do not know now where they stand the movements of 10 frail mortals surely cannot influence them.
I heard that Glynn was seriously thinking about throwing in his lot with the Trades Hall OBU. Is there any truth about this? I will be pleased to learn from you Perc what they are contemplating doing and what transpired at the meeting while they were in Melbourne.
September 20th, 1920, Scott wrote to David Humphryie, Kurrawa, telling him he was sending the Preamble translated into Italian and requesting it be pasted on water tanks. He says: "This is the form of organisation that is striking the fear of death into the Master Class of Italy today."
Further from Laidler re the attitude of the 10:—
Larkin is a very tolerant man and is ready for almost any fighting organisation. Grant, I should think is uncertain as to his future. Glynn is still hazy, seems rather to favour the attitude put up in the Manifesto we are printing. We had several meetings of discussion with them in Melbourne. The old I.W.W. will not be resurrected.
The tendency towards a Communist Party seems strong, Glynn has evidently not decided for or against the Trades Hall One Big Union. Generally speaking the unattached fellows here (and there are a good number now) favour something like a C.P. embracing the ASP, or forming a Branch of the ASP here. Baracchi seems to strike the dominant note in the Pro Review. The OBU and Industrial Unionism are not given primary importance by the crowd everywhere, in the same way as members of the I.W.W. and WIIU give to it. However, the Manifesto will speak for that.
September 29th, 1920, Laidler to Scott:
A Communist Party has been launched in Sydney, apparently by Earsman and probably Peter Simonoff has a hand. Here the fellows are not too clear yet as to what to do. There seems too many points of difference to make the track easy for them to do much just yet.
Scott from Melbourne to Cyril Gould, Cwmgwrach, South Wales, April 10th, 1921:
I know that the need for a revolutionary political party does exist and if the Communists came out openly and endorsed that particular school of Socialist Industrial Unionism to which we adhere, and exposed the capitalist nature of the pure and simple craft unions and propagated for revolutionary unionism, I would be a member of the C.P. tomorrow. But with their sleeping endorsement of industrial unionism and their unconcrete position I see no reason why I should divide my efforts when in reality the only real revolutionary propaganda done in Australia at the present time is done by the WIIU and its advocates.
A resolution from Kalgoorlie Local for the Convention to be held at the end of 1921, read "that the General Executive Board get in touch with all the loose ends of the revolutionary industrial union movement and immediately call a conference where the position of the WIIU can be stated for the purpose of bringing about unity in the industrial union movement throughout Australia, and that an invitation be specially extended to the released 10 IWW men to attend this Conference."
Jim was born in Perth, Scotland and died in 1970. Before coming to Australia he lived in Canada and the USA where he became prominent in the Painters' Union. His son Don, is an organiser in the Painters' Union, Victoria.
Organiser Alf Wilson was also a "mob orator" who could speak for hours and boasted of being as fresh as ever, and ready to go on after four hours.
In August, 1917, speaking on the Yarra Bank, Melbourne, where there was a big roll up, he said, "We could afford to defy the law that was not the law for another 24 hours" (Amendments to Illegal Association Act, which outlawed the IWW). "I suppose you think that this is our last appearance on the Yarra Bank but we will be here the same as ever. We stand for the One Big Union, and neither Hughes nor any other Prime Minister will prevent us. I for one will be on the Yarra Bank next Sunday even if I have to wear a frock coat and carry a bible in my pocket." Wilson joined the WIIU and became a fulltime organiser. He was very strong on literature sales and in Adelaide brought the sale of the One Big Union Herald up to 100 dozen a month, and sold 400 per week of International Socialist organ of the ASP in Sydney.
He went to the bush camps in Western Australia and relates, of a Woodcutters' Camp at Hampton Plains, "It was customary for a notice to be posted on every tank so that the woodcutters when they went for water would be able to read it. At meeting time someone would beat a tank with a billet of wood. Woodcutters supplied fuel for steam and power to work gigantic machinery that had been erected to crush gold. They lived under slave conditions. Poor food, hessian houses and tents of store calico over a frame."
Alfred Wilson was born near Warrnambool on 20th September, 1878, the son of a school teacher. He worked at varied jobs, mining in Alaska and British Columbia; in the stokeholds of ships and on the wharves. Wilson had trained as a parson. He preached at Gaffney's Creek and Woods Point as a lay preacher.
A friend took him to the Yarra Bank and he became interested in socialism, and active in working to that end. He died in 1937. His wife Kathleen Glenie is referred to in Jauncey's book on the Anti-conscription campaigns as the secretary of the Anti-conscription committee in Adelaide at the age of 16.
A. E. (Bert) Davies was secretary of an important WIIU Branch at Wonthaggi. He was for three years secretary to Bob Ross in the VSP. Bert was born in South Melbourne. He was a clerk in the Victorian Railways Union, working for Frank Hyett and decided to go to Broken Hill. First he worked on the Barrier Daily Truth while its journalists were on holidays. He got a job plate laying on the railway line at Minindie and worked on the surface and underground in the mine. He was surprised at getting a job with the Zinc Corporation office as he had been rebuffed in other offices when he produced a reference signed by Frank Hyett—one secretary indignantly said to him, "Don't you think we've heard of 'hell-fire' Hyett up here?" In Broken Hill he was active with the LVA. Returning to Victoria he went to Wonthaggi and obtained work in the mine, and was active in the WIIU.
Coming back to Melbourne he worked on the wharf, in 1920 in the Meat Industry union, in 1925 the Clothing Trades Union and in 1928 ceased clerical work in that union and became an organiser. The economic crisis reduced the number of members and there was no job for Bert. He was Mayor of Port Melbourne during the depression. He finished up, until retirement as the industrial roundsman on the Herald. At present he is writing a history of the Meat Industry Union and is an active member of the Society for the Study of Labour History. He married Alice Warburton, daughter of active socialist parents.
Meetings were held on the Yarra Bank, the South Melbourne Market and at the corner of Bridport and Montague Streets, Albert Park for which permits were granted by the local Council. This later became known as "Red Square" and became identified with Jimmy Coull.
Mark Feinberg, Jim Dawson and Tom Audley were regular speakers on Friday nights.
The WIIU worked with other organisations.
In the anniversary celebrations of the Russian Revolution it participated with The Russian Association and Communist Party at St. Peters Church, Eastern Hill. It celebrated May Day with a meeting on 1st May, in 1923 at the Temperance Hall and in 1924 at the Unitarian Church in Cathedral Place, Melbourne.
Campaigns participated in were for Release of the 12 IWW Men, the Tom Mooney case, Hands off Russia and in support of the Victorian Peace League's campaign against war. It suffered some amount of persecution in regard to selling literature on Sunday. In 1924 two members, John Geikie and B. Salt, new arrivals from England, were arrested by Dets. Saker and Banner for selling papers outside the Bijou Theatre. They were fined 40/- each, with Maurice Blackburn defending them. George Harrington was fined £2 for selling the OBU Herald on the Yarra Bank on Sunday. When a Labor Government was in power with George Prendergast the Chief Secretary, Percy Laidler and Tom Audley decided to test the Sunday law. They sold papers at the Bank on Sunday on May 4th, 1924, and their names were taken by Det. Saker—as a result of a deputation to the Chief Secretary, no prosecution was launched.
Early in 1925 the WIIU took the initiative (as it had before) in trying to get a new place for Sunday afternoon meetings. It wrote a letter to the THC requesting cooperation. On the 26th February the Assistant Secretary of the THC reported on a deputation to the Minister for Lands requesting a meeting place on the Domain. Representatives of the THC, ALP, WIIU, VSP and Communist Party were on the deputation. The Minister replied he would submit the request to Cabinet but there were objections to the proposal. Nothing came of this.
The organisation of the WIIU began to wane with the formation of the Communist Party in Melbourne in 1924 and the Workers' Industrial Union of Australia (WIU of A) in both Sydney and Melbourne. The WIIU was absorbed by the SLP in 1925.
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