In 1923 Laidler was made assistant editor, later designated as Sub-Editor, of The Shop Assistant, described as "A Monthly Journal published by the Shop Assistants' and Warehouse Employees' Federation of Australia, at the Trades Hall, on the 20th of each month."
This is followed up with a brief screed on how MSS should be written, an invitation to divisional secretaries and organisers to send in reports, etc. etc. and ends with the little verse—
For the cause that lacks assistance,
For the wrongs that need resistance,
For the future in the distance,
And the good that we can do.
Laidler, being one of the delegates on the Trades Hall Council frequently reported on the Council activities, and often contributed articles on the issues before Council, viz. "Childhood Endowment. Our Children's Welfare. Why should they be Penalised?" in issue of August 20th, 1923. Here he refers to the Report of the 1920 Basic Wage Commission, of which Mr. Piddington was Chairman, and upon which there were three employers as well as three employees. After thorough investigation, this Commission unanimously agreed that the present basic wage was not sufficient to support a family. They stated that it was only sufficient to provide four-fifths of the necessities of a man, wife and three children. "In that case", wrote Laidler, "we can readily see that the family consisting of a husband, wife, and three, four and more children is hard put to it to make both ends meet. They are undergoing a struggle that no human beings in the 20th century should be called upon to experience. This fact cries out to us for rectification, and by Childhood Endowment we can do it."
The article goes on to explain the apparent anomaly of the basic wage set by the Higgins' enquiry into the cost of living in 1907. Laidler says it was not deserving of the name of an enquiry at all, and claimed that the Australian wage is a single man's wage, or at best a wage of a man without dependent children.
In the same issue he wrote "An unemployed man should be fed, clothed and housed," as a follow up to a front page article in the previous month's journal titled "The Grim Spectacle of Unemployment. Why are People out of work? The cause of the Evil, and the Remedy".
With a heading "Working Men and Donkeys—Are we Fellow Workers?" he contrasts the workers' lot with that of donkeys and horses, who get enough to live on.
In September issue he reports on the decision of the Eight Hours' Committee re Labor Day—
Resultant from the initiative of the Shop Assistants Union it was decided that the committee hitherto known as the Eight Hours' Anniversary Committee is to be known in future as 'The Eight Hours Day Anniversary and Labor Day Celebration Committee'.
There were some who wanted to abolish the Eight Hours Celebration altogether. These people, we believe, were short sighted. They saw the comparative non-success of the celebration in recent years, and naturally there arose in their minds the conception that the time had arrived for its abolition. We believed these people were wrong. We held that the general depression existing in the Labor Movement was partly responsible for the slackening in enthusiasm for the celebration, but that the strong cause for the situation was the general unfitness of the celebration to call forth the real spirit and enthusiasm of the Labor Movement. We contended that the celebration of the victory of the Eight Hours Day inspired the older unionists, but that a broader demonstration was required to call forth the enthusiasm of the younger generation. So we fought for a combination of the two celebrations. We want to retain all the enthusiasm of the older unionists, and to give adequate opportunity for the celebration of the ideals of the younger men. This should be done by the celebration as now changed.
But the change must be a real one, and not one in name only. The whole celebration must be re-considered from the new point of view. If this is not done, our efforts will have been in vain. The procession hitherto has fallen far short of the requirements of a real Labor Movement such as ours aspires or claims to be. If the coming year's Eight Hours Committee proves equal to the job of bringing the celebration up to date, it will be a Committee that will establish its right to a place in the annals of Victorian Labor history.
In the same issue under the heading "Catastrophe in Japan" the effects of the earthquake are compared with war and he attacks a certain section in these words: "It has even been urged that we should give freely to Japan in her hour of need, because it affords us an opportunity to establish good relationships with her. Such mercenary donors to Japan will have their hopes shattered. Let us, when we give, do so without regard to whether we get value back for our gifts . . .
In October issue, Laidler heralds as a great victory won by Grocers' Assistants that their Wages Board had acceded to their request and reduced the adult age from 23 to 21. "For a long time the pernicious practice has been developing of increasing the age at which the full adult minimum wage becomes payable."
He claimed delegates had frequently been compelled to fight against the employers' efforts to make 25 the age at which the minimum shall be paid. In the article he pointed out that during the war there was no hesitation in calling a 21 year old a man. He was called upon to take "a man's part", do "a man's job", etc.
In the same issue he deals with "Disputes Between Unions" explaining a resolution put before the Trades Hall Council by Shop Assistant delegates—
That in future the settlement of all disputes between unions be a function of the Industrial Disputes Committee, who, in reaching their decisions, shall be guided by what will add to the fighting strength of the class as a whole, and by the All Australian Union Congress decisions in favor of Industrial Unionism, but shall in no case force men from a craft to an industrial organisation without the consent of a majority of the men to be transferred. Such disputes may be brought to the committee by either the Unions or by the rank and file members in question.
The disputes referred to here were over lines of demarcation, amalgamations and in recognition of the tendency towards industrial unionism.
November issue naturally writes of the Police Strike and tells why shop assistants should support it, and December gives "A Christmas Review—Where are we Going?"
During his active union years he held a number of positions (including President), was on the Management Committee, was elected to Conference and represented the Union on the THC, Eight Hours' Day Committee, Labor Day Committee and various other committees. He was also union representative on the Booksellers' Wages Board.
He spear-headed the campaign for early closing, both in the industry and in other unions, canvassing support for the shop assistants.
The Labor Propaganda Group began as the "Labor Discussion Group" but soon changed its name. It only existed in Victoria.
The group served as a bridge over the period that the first IWW died and the new Communist Party was born.
Various people came together on the 26th March, 1922 and amongst their number were twelve active trade unionists, some of whom (including Laidler) were on the Trades Hall Council. There was only one woman member, Mrs. Nell Rickie, who represented the Theatrical Employees' Union on the THC. Laidler convened the meeting and it was held at Parer's hotel, Bourke Street. He opened the proceedings by stating—
The reason for the gathering was to be, the getting together of the progressive elements active in the trade union movement in order that each would recognise a member who was engaged in the same work as he was, and in order to discuss Labor Problems as they arose so that some unanimity of attitude may be reached by the progressive elements.
A motion was carried "That the immediate policy of this group be to discuss working class problems as they arise, in order to fit our members for more effective work in the Labor Movement". A motion reading "Members pledge themselves to advertise the Labor College on all possible occasions at working class meetings" was carried.
Further, "That realising the International character of the Labor Movement we ask individual members of the Group to specialise on the activities of different countries, with the view of making available a mass of information of value as propaganda for work here."
It was decided that P. Laidler should act as secretary pro tem and that the Group meet on alternate Saturday evenings. Each meeting to elect a chairman.
The Group issued a leaflet headed "A Labor Program" which ended with the following paragraph: "It is a clear and concise programme, means something, gets us somewhere, and one which will inspire the working class with enthusiasm for the whole Labor movement. It will thus help to throw off the present apathy, and by doing so, remove very many of the evils which now feed upon the movement to its detriment."
Labor Propaganda Group members: Percy Laidler with Jimmy Hannan of the Liquor Trades' Union
It will be seen that the group intended to carry out educational propaganda and also to give a lead in the unions, THC and ALP Branches in an effort to activise them. Some members were Bowers and Moyes (Timber Workers' Union), Jeffries (or Jeffrey) (Carters' and Drivers' Union), Dan McLaughlin (Hospital Employees' Union), E. Pomfret (Butchers' Union), F. Boughton (Shop Assistants' Union), Roote (AWU), Asche (Clerks' Union), Dickinson (Storeman and Packers' Union), Wilcock (Carpenters' Union), Armour (Engine Drivers' Union), M. Hassett (Bricklayers' Union), Bert Payne (Fuel and Fodder Union), H. Partridge (Opticians and Watchmakers' Union), Leo Bakker (Leather and Canvas Union), Deveraux (AWU), Percy Taylor (AEU), Anderson (Engine Drivers' Union), Jennings (Shop Assistants), Denchfield and Ken Moore, C. Wardley (Confectioner's Union), Pain (Bricklayers Union), Wally Mohr (Hospital Employees' Union), Wilkshire and G. Watson (Carpenters' Union), Jimmy Hannan (Liquor Trades' Union) and Wylie (Agricultural Implement Makers' Union).
In all, only about thirty people joined the LPG and not all were consistent attendees. Some held membership in the WIIU, VSP, IWW (2nd), SPGB and ALP but of this membership at least thirteen were delegates on the Trades Hall Council for some time during the period of the Group's two years of life. Laidler himself was elected to the THC and his credential accepted on the 1st December, 1921 and was again accredited for 1922, 1923, 1924 and 1925. The LPG members played an important part in shaping the progressive policy of the Council: the Council degenerated rapidly after the LPG disbanded.
An indication of the fairly liberal attitude of the Council at this time is shown in the following resolution carried at meeting held August 4th, 1921.
Lemmon moved, Hartley seconded—
"That we deeply deplore the sad news contained in the cablegram reporting the accident on the Russian Railways resulting in the death of two of the working class delegates to the Moscow Conference and serious injuries to others. We desire to convey our sympathies to the relatives of those who lost their lives and express the hope for the speedy recovery of the injured." Carried.
This refers to Paul Freeman and Zuzenko, both Communists and attending the Red International of Industrial Trade Unions. The Party and International were both rejected by the THC. At the end of January 1922, Laidler, Roote, Richards, Graham, Maruschak and May Francis were nominated to a Labor College Conference. Laidler and May Francis were elected.
Laidler was also on a committee of speakers to work for the Electrical Trades Union to raise funds for the Installation Section strike. A Wages' Board had cut rates by 7/6 a week in this Section and 6/- a week for others.
1921 and 1922 were big unemployed years. The return of the AIF brought the labour market into a surplus position as it had been before and during most of the war.
Employers took advantage of this surplus labour to launch an attack on wages in most industries.
Laidler stood for the Executive of the Council but polled only 37 at the June Elections. Maurie Duffy who was a past President of the Council polled 92 as top figure.
J. B. Scott (WIIU) and Laidler were elected delegates to the June Congress of the Council of Action.
Laidler was also elected to the eight hours day celebration committee.
Early 1923 Laidler was elected as a member of a Research and Information Committee polling 55 votes with the highest, 73, gained by M. Duffy. P. Laidler and Mrs. N. Rickie were elected to the Labor College Board.
Laidler was elected president of the Labor College and during this time Frank Boughton, Phil Woolf, Eric Asche, George Watson, Bert Payne, Bob Brodney, May Francis and Wally Mohr were prominent.
In January 1923, an adjourned matter, The Motherhood Endowment Scheme as set down in Mr. Piddington's book The First Step was up for discussion.
Laidler moved and Wilcock seconded:
"That this Council cannot agree to the re-arrangement of the wages system as proposed by Mr. Piddington in his book 'The Next Step' but we endorse the principle of childhood endowment and urge all labour bodies to place it upon their platform of immediate demands."
This was adjourned until the 1st February, when it was announced that Mr. Piddington wanted to address them. Laidler moved that he be invited to do so and this was carried.
Piddington addressed the Council at its next meeting and a Vote of Thanks moved by E. H. Foster, Vice-President, and seconded E. J. Holloway, secretary, was carried by acclamation. Laidler's motion was again adjourned.
At last, on the 5th April the original motion was put and carried, together with an amendment by Duggan which was accepted by Laidler and Wilcock as an addendum and incorporated in the motion so that it now read "That while we recognise and acknowledge the invaluable effort of Mr. A. B. Piddington towards instituting a system of Child Endowment, this Council cannot accept child endowment based on a redistribution of wages as suggested in his book 'The Next Step' but believes that an acceptable system must be based on payments out of consolidated revenue per medium of taxation."
On the 10th May the Central Executive asked for five delegates to meet with them to draw up a Motherhood and Child Endowment Scheme to give effect to the proposal. Delegates elected were McPherson, Laidler, Holloway, Wilcock and Bowers.
The Labor Propaganda Group felt very pleased with their efforts as number 2 in their program was "Full upkeep of children until the earning age, and motherhood endowment." The Group felt that it had played a big part in securing this essential, when nothing was being done, and Victoria lagged behind New South Wales and Federal Labor; the latter approved it as a plank in 1919, at a Federal Conference and a NSW Labor Conference adopted child endowment during the war. Lang introduced Family Endowment in 1927 in New South Wales and it was the first State so endowed.
Piddington, of course, became a Chief Justice of NSW.
E. J. Holloway, Secretary of the Trades Hall Council was a sincere and honest man, but he was a conciliates. He endeavoured to keep a balance between right and left and please both.
During the four years that Laidler was on the Trades Hall Council whenever anything new was raised in a motion, the policy was to set up a committee, usually of 5, sometimes 8 or 12 to investigate the question and report back. Reading the minutes today it seems evident that the executive was always playing for time.
A fair number of left resolutions were carried after the committees reported back.
Laidler, Rickie and other LPG delegates were nominated for almost every committee, but usually declined, apparently it was a policy of the LPG not to take on more than they could handle, or possibly where they could see they would not command a majority on the committee, they refused to have their hands tied by being minority committee members. Thus they were free to criticize to the full.
In June, Laidler was nominated for Vice President, Executive, Industrial Disputes Committee, and Auditor. He withdrew. Mrs. Rickie also withdrew.
Laidler did accept nomination, and was elected to, a committee of enquiry into a domestic clash between the Engine Drivers and Firemen's Association and the Timber Workers' Union.
It was fairly easy for a visitor with an interesting subject to gain permission to address the Council, although later, it was decided that the Executive vet those who wished to do so. During Laidler's period on Council some of the visitors were Patrick Webb (later, Minister of the Crown in New Zealand), Malcolm MacDonald (son of Ramsay MacDonald), Eric Asche (recently returned from Russia), who delivered an address on "Russia, Past and Present and particularly the work of the Soviet Government", Jock Garden (Sydney Trades and Labor Council) also returning from Russia, who "gave his impressions of Russia", Guido Baracchi (returning from Germany), who spoke on "Conditions in Germany" and Mr. Herscovici, a visitor from overseas organising Russian Famine Relief who spoke on "Workers' International Reconstruction of Russia". Joe Shelley and Ted Dickinson from the Unemployed Union addressed Council.
In July 1923, Mrs. Rickie and Mrs. Rogers moved a resolution on equal pay for the sexes thus introducing Plank 3 of the Labor Propaganda Group's program which reads "A uniform basic wage for all workers, irrespective of sex."
It was moved and carried (T. J. Smith, Clerk's Union, mover, and M. Duffy, seconder), "that a standing Council of 8 members be appointed for the purpose of propagating the principle of equal pay and opportunity for the sexes."
The result of the work of this committee was the publication of a leaflet under the heading "Statement of THC Melbourne—Reprint of leaflet with Statement prepared by Committee appointed to propagate the principles of equal pay for the sexes and endorsed by the above Council."
Plank 6 of the LPG reads simply "Workers control of Industry". At the beginning of 1923 Cosgrove (not a member of LPG) moved and Bryan seconded "That a Committee of 5 be appointed to submit a scheme for the Council whereby affiliated unions may acquire ownership and control in the industries and callings of their members." This was adjourned and did not reappear until 24th May, 1923, when it was reported that the Committee had held five meetings. A very nebulous resolution was presented, the first part referring to the forming of "guilds". Laidler moved an amendment deleting the first clause but this was declared out of order.
Delegate Taylor moved, Mrs. Rickie seconded "That this Council recognises that the time has now arrived for withdrawal from the Arbitration Court"—this motion was lost. (This was not a plank in the platform).
On 19th October, 1923, the executive reported:— A Conference of the executive of the THC, the Industrial Disputes Committee, and the executive of the Council of Federated Unions at which Mr. Laidler was present, decided on a sub-committee of 3 from each of Trades Hall Council, Council of Federated Unions and Industrial Disputes Committee be appointed to enquire into and prepare report on the following matters:
(1) Industrial unionism.
(2) Present position of craft unionism.
(3) Lines of demarcation.
(4) Methods of preparation of matter submitted to wages board and Arbitration Courts affecting wages and conditions.
(5) And in matters which would tend to forward the better organisation of the working class.
It will be noted that whilst Laidler declined nomination to various committees he was invited along in an advisory capacity on this occasion at least. Anyone familiar with his writing would recognise that the five points were drafted by him. The immense popularity and wide sales of his pamphlet on Arbitration, plus his knowledgable and logical debating style would be reason for consultation with him.
In September, Laidler moved and Bowers seconded "that it be the policy of this Council that Labor Day be observed on the first Monday in May". Carried.
Laidler and Bowers again, "that this Council write to the 8 hours committee and endeavour to get them to fall into line" Carried.
The Socialist Party sent a letter asking for a representative of the Council to attend the Russian revolution celebrations on the 7th November—this was agreed and Laidler appointed.
During reports on the Labor College, Laidler announced that a Bookstall would soon be in operation.
During 1923 the caretaker of the Trades Hall resigned. Applications were invited. This was the only time that Laidler was tempted to apply for a paid position in the movement. He had scorned office in Parliament and the position of union official, but seriously thought about applying for a caretaker's job. He was, at this period, completely integrated with the Trades Hall—he went there every night whether he had a meeting or not.
With the job came living quarters, a small cottage in the grounds of the Trades Hall. In many ways it would have been ideal but in the end his old fear, that once in "their" pay his hands would be tied, triumphed and he did not apply.
It had been suggested by executive members that he would get the job if he applied.
With the report on the calling of applications for a new caretaker, was a statement that three male cleaners would be employed. The Miscellaneous Workers' Union created quite a stir when it demanded that the exclusion of women cleaners be remedied.
At the second meeting in January 1924, Laidler announced that Labor College classes would begin on the 4th February and that the Bookstall had been established.
In March the executive recommended "that a May Day Committee be formed on similar lines to pre-war days, i.e., unions be asked to send representatives to form a committee to carry out the May Day demonstration." Russell moved, Rickie seconded endorsement.
Duffy and Lightfoot moved amendment "that a subcommittee of 4 be appointed by and from this Council to carry out the May Day Demonstration and that the ALP be asked to cooperate." The amendment was defeated.
E. F. Russell/W. Russell, "that the executive be instructed to circularise all unions and ask the ALP to cooperate." Carried.
Lewis/McLean, "that a committee of 5 be elected to represent the THC on the committee." Carried.
Russell, Lewis, Rickie, Laidler and Holloway elected.
Plank number 1 of the Labor Propaganda Group read: "Full maintenance on basic wage rates of all workers when not at work through sickness, accident, old age and unemployment."
On the 13th March, 1924, Laidler supported a motion on a Scheme of National Insurance.
On the 8th May, Laidler reported that the May Day procession was a great success.
On the 22nd May, he moved a motion supporting tramway workers in "a most splendid action of solidarity in recent strike."
At this stage he accepted nomination for the executive of the Trades Hall Council and was elected with 63 votes, he was fifth from the top vote, with 8 other delegates polling lesser votes.
In July the following anti-war resolution was moved by Ross and seconded by Laidler.
"That this Council, convinced that with another Great War the horrors and terrors of the last will be eclipsed, and fearing that such another war may be imminent in capitalism itself, affirms it to be the duty of the Labor Movement of Australia to declare that in no circumstances, compulsory or otherwise, will the workers take up arms in the interest of capitalistic rivalries, but instead will join with the organised workers of all countries in striving wholeheartedly for peace by international action directed by the socialisation of industry."
And "that the foregoing be submitted to THC's of Australia with a request that all carry it with a view to presentation to the Federal Labor Convention this year." Painter/Hannan moved an amendment to refer it to a committee of five to draft a policy in regard to war and submit to Council for ratification, then send to the Interstate Labor Conference in October.
The amendment was lost and the motion carried.
On the 16th October, Laidler announced that G. S. Browne, MA, was to lecture under the auspices of the Labor College on "Education Policy of the British Labor Government".
Laidler/Myers moved "that the executive of the THC be instructed to request the Government to proclaim the 1st day of May in each year as the Labor Day Holiday." Carried.
Painter/Delahuntly "that the TLC's and Labor unions throughout Australia be asked to cooperate to have the day proclaimed a national holiday." Carried.
Labor had been returned in the State Elections in June and Pat Loughnan and Laidler (both Shop Assistants Union) moved "that this Council request State Labor Government to immediately introduce into the House the long promised Shops and Factories' Act Amending Bill on the lines of the amendments proposed by the THC last year at the request of the Lawson Peacock Government." Carried.
In November, Kelly (Shop Assistants) and Painter moved suspension of standing orders for the following resolution: "that all unionists be requested to have their shopping done before Christmas Eve, December 24th and further, that all unionists be urged to refrain from doing any shopping on Saturday, December 27th in any shop that may be open that day."
During December, 1924, Ted Dickinson and Joe Shelley addressed the Council and appealed for assistance for the unemployed and requested that the THC allow the Unemployed Union to affiliate with it. This was declined on the grounds that some members of the Unemployed Union may not be members of their trade union and that the THC could not control it. It was pointed out that the THC had machinery of its own to set up committees. This was another very bad year of unemployment and more and more the question of a 44 hour week was raised as a means of giving work to some of the unemployed.
A report was brought down from the Executive on the 15th January (Dickinson and Shelley took part in the deliberations), and the Trades Hall became a Relief Depot for the unemployed, and depots were organised in several suburbs.
It was around this pre-depression date (when some assume there was prosperity) that the writer, then at school, at Queensberry Street, Carlton, would be asked for banana peels and orange peels to eat, by children with no lunches. Some of the teachers brought sandwiches from home and fed the most necessitous children, in the babies' class.
Soup kitchens were set up.
In 1925 a similar resolution on May Day was carried as that in 1924, when the celebration had been so successful.
A Committee of five was elected to represent the THC and consisted of Laidler, Duggan, Taylor, Darcy and Jeffrey. By then another member of the LPG H. E. (Bert) Payne had been elected to Council from his union The Fuel and Fodder Workers' Union. He was nominated but declined, to ensure the other group members were returned.
On the 23rd April as Propaganda Secretary of the May Day Committee Laidler outlined what the committee had done, and intended doing.
It was typical of his thoroughness that he arranged that Tunnecliffe, MLA, should address the Council at its next meeting (the eve of May Day), on "The significance of May Day". This would be an effort to sway some of the more conservative elements on Council into attending the celebrations.
Other topics throughout the year were The British Seamen's Strike which the THC supported and the Sale of the Commonwealth Shipping Line which it opposed.
During the British Seamen's Strike Joe Shelley was President of the Communist Party, and a member of the Strike Committee. Under the name of the "Communist Party of Australia" he got out a circular calling militant unionists together at 7.30 on the 10th October, Room 8, Temperance Hall, for the purpose of rendering better aid to the Seamen's Strike. This evoked bitter hostility on the THC.
Gibson and Hayes moved an amendment to the executive report that it was "inimical to the Strike," they recommended his withdrawal from the Strike Committee. The motion was carried 54 to 29.
As an addendum to the executive recommendation Bryant moved and Roote (former LPG member) seconded, "that the Council repudiates the issue of the circular."
Some of the British seamen strikers also repudiated Shelley. However the British seamen on the whole, disregarded the instruction that Shelley be withdrawn from the Strike Committee. The Argus of 12th October, 1925, declared this a "Communist victory", and further went on to point out that he was permitted to remain on the Strike Committee though not a seaman. It was reported that the explanation was that "he had worked hard for the seamen." It was also reported that the THC attitude was that it was the "greatest stab in the back that the labor movement had had for many years." The press hazarded the guess that unions represented at the meeting were Clerks, Builders' Laborers and Carters and Drivers. The suggestion of a Minority Movement in the Unions was put forward at the meeting.
Although Laidler accepted nomination and was elected to the 8 hours' committee at the last meeting in 1925, it was announced at the first meeting in 1926, that J. V. Stout would replace him as delegate to the THC as he had resigned. Stout was to the left at this time but speedily changed to the right. He ended his years in a more mellow frame of mind.
As soon as the new Communist Party was formed in 1924 Laidler urged the disbanding of the LPG. He considered that the LPG was doing work which should be carried out by a Communist Party and that they should stand down to allow the CP an opportunity of developing. Towards this end probably, Joe Shelley and Jim Morley, two foundation members of the CP had joined the LPG. However the LPG members did not join the CP: most simply remained in their old parties, i.e., WIIU, SPGB, VSP, ALP. It can be seen from the foregoing that a good deal was achieved in livening up the THC and keeping it on a progressive line.
It is interesting to note the contrasting attitudes of the THC towards the LPG and the suggestion of CP led groups in the unions. In fact, the LPG worked in a factional manner within the unions and THC and it was accepted on friendly terms. As soon as Shelley suggested some similar activity (i.e. Minority Movement) the Council reacted strongly.
It was frequently contended that Shelley's personality had held back the advance of the CP: that he antagonised people. Certainly he was an entirely different man to Laidler. Laidler used logic to make it almost impossible to reject his suggestions. He was also a keen tactician and not only had LPG members initiate motions, but went around and organised other people to take initiatives.
Shelley was brusque, direct and at all times conscious of the "superior" role of the CP, and was one of those who was ready to assert that the CP was always right: "The party is never wrong." He would not hesitate to tell his opponents that they would have their throats cut, after the revolution, and that he would have great pleasure in doing it personally. He did rather terrorise the timid. However, apart from this personal factor the local organisation of the LPG would seem innocent to the officials of the THC, compared to the International character of the Bolshevik Party.
Another interesting habitue of the shop was Eric Asche. He was the nephew of Oscar Asche, famous actor, mostly remembered for his part in long-running "Chu Chin Chow".
He had represented Australian Relief Organisations in Russia during the famine, spent two months in the worst regions of Buzuluk and Samara, and three months in Moscow.
He left England for Australia on the Jervis Bay on 30th January, 1923.
On arrival, he stressed that the need for relief on an international scale, was due not to political causes, but to the fact that there had been a three years' drought, and that starvation was inevitable under any Government.
His intentions were to carry on propaganda in Australia, for relief funds, as the need was greater than ever, particularly as the American Relief organisations had ceased feeding adults, and confined their attention to children. The Quakers planned to continue operations until September.
Commenting on the Socialist Government, he said there were many arrests of suspect anti-Bolshevik agents while he was there, in fact he was imprisoned for a week himself, as a suspect. He said that he and other prisoners were all well treated. On one occasion when he was penniless he went to the Communist Party headquarters and was immediately given a free hotel room and one meal a day. During his stay he met a number of famous people, including Anna Louise Strong and Trotsky.
In Melbourne he addressed the THC and joined the Labor Propaganda Group. He worked for the Crown Law Department and became a THC delegate representing the Clerks' Union. He persuaded his boss, Sir Robert Garran, the Crown Solicitor, to speak to the THC on the Constitution, and explain how the Arbitration Court came into being. The LPG got out a leaflet on this address.
Eric had brought with him from Russia, Anna Louise Strong's book—which proved a world best seller— The First Time in History. By arrangement, a special edition of the book was published and printed in Australia at a low price. It was the first full-length book published in Australia on Russia, after the revolution. Eric Asche published it in conjunction with Laidler. Fraser and Jenkinson were the printers. He disappeared from the movement after marrying into the "legal" family of Woinarski.
Naturally all strikes were supported by Laidler but two he gave every minute of available time—the Police Strike of 1923 and the British Seamen's Strike of 1925.
His reasons for singling out these two strikes were, that they were more important than some other strikes and they were likely to be "unpopular" with the ordinary workers. All strikes are unpopular with the establishment but these two, he anticipated, would be unpopular with some sections of the working class.
The ordinary unionist had no love for the police, who were always ranged against him in an industrial struggle. It was nice to see them on the other end of the baton.
However, people with understanding knew how important it was to give heart and practical assistance to the police because of their inexperience on this side of the industrial front and because action for sectional advancement of part of the State apparatus is of particular interest and educational value to all sections of the community.
Laidler's reason for singling out the British Seamen was that never before had a big struggle developed on such an international scale, with workers fighting it out in "foreign" countries. The possibility of the strike being unpopular was because Australia then, was far more insular in outlook, and there was a good deal of animosity to British people because they were frequently brought out as immigrants, when unemployment was great, and the indigenous workforce felt its position weakened by them.
Time proved the organised working class mature enough to give wholehearted support in what proved to be an unparalleled struggle in Australian labour experience.
The British Seamen's Strike is dealt with in a later chapter.
The book Solidarity Forever! is Copyright © the estate of Bertha Walker 1972.
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