It is not proposed to go into detail on the work and experiences of the IWW as this has already been done in Sydney's Burning by Ian Turner, as well as in pamphlets written in the IWW period.
An IWW Club was formed in Melbourne early in 1908 and Montaigne (Monty) O'Dowd, the son of the poet Bernard O'Dowd, was appointed Secretary. The Club first met at 177 Russell Street and later held meetings in the Oddfellows Hall.
As early as 1906 Phil Halfpenny was reported in The People as speaking on "The Objects of the IWW—Industrial Unionism. The futility of Craft Unions and Wages' Boards and Arbitration Courts—and the Class Struggle."
On the 22nd October, 1907 it appears that the first IWW Club was formed in Sydney, although Adelaide has claimed to be the founder in 1906. Clubs were soon established in Newcastle, Cessnock, and Lithgow. H. J. Hawkins was secretary of all Clubs.
In Melbourne the early members were M. O'Dowd, Mark Feinberg, A. G. Roth, Harry Cook and J. F. Solano.
An important recruit was E. F. Russell of the VSP. He was an official in the Agricultural Implement Makers' Union and conducted the famous "Harvester" case for the Union. Other good recruits were E. A. McDonald and A. Gray. J. Solano, succeeded O'Dowd as secretary when he left for Western Australia in December, 1908. E. A. McDonald succeeded Solano. Percy Murphy was the last IWW Club secretary. The first IWW local (Direct Action) in Australia was in Adelaide, formed May 1911, with Ted Moyle as secretary. It received a Charter as the Australian Administration. In 1912 a local (Branch) was established in Sydney with Harry Denford as secretary. The Charter was now transferred to Sydney.
A local was organised in Pt. Pirie in June, 1914.
The IWW was originally formed in America from a Conference held in Chicago in 1905 and it adopted a preamble 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 amongst millions of working people and a 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, as well as on the industrial field, and take and hold that which they produce by their labour through an economic organization of the working class without affiliation with any political party.
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 ever-growing 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 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 can be changed and the interests of the working class upheld only by an organization 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.
Australia did not have a delegate present but a letter was read from Albert Hinchcliffe on notepaper headed "The Australian Labour Federation", Brisbane, and with date 27th May, 1905. It was addressed to W. E. Trautmann, Secretary of the Industrial Union Movement. Hinchcliffe gave thanks for the invitation to send delegates and wrote—"In reply I regret to say that time, distance and want of funds preclude our compliance with this invitation. You will be pleased to know, however, that my Executive are in sympathy with the class-conscious spirit which animates your manifesto, and I am desired to wish the efforts being put forth in this direction every success."
Already in 1908 at an annual conference in Chicago it was decided to take out the political clause and this resulted in a split. The breakaways became known as the "political IWW" because they retained the political clause in their preamble. They were also known as the Detroit IWW as they conferred in this town. Those who deleted the political clause were known as the non-political IWW or the Chicago IWW, and also "the direct actionists".
In Australia, the IWW locals were under the influence of Chicago—they stood for direct action and industrial unionism, whereas the IWW Clubs retained the political clause.
Laidler and Menzies worked with the IWW Club but still spoke for the VSP. Later they worked with the IWW.
It is clear that "direct action" did not thrive on Melbourne soil as it did in Queensland and New South Wales. The itinerant workers in the latter two States made for conditions more like those in America, where the itinerant worker played a big part in spreading the word of the IWW. Victoria, the smaller State, did not have the same conditions. The movement was much more a "family" (a legacy from Tom Mann, and the VSP, whose members tended to marry each other—the Australian Socialist Party used to call the VSP "the matrimonial party"), and far more respectable because of well-known Victorian traditions.
Rooms were taken at 197 Russell Street, and later in Little Bourke Street, west of Russell Street on the south side. Up a steep, narrow, dark staircase the small hall was used for Sunday night meetings preceded by a tea, and on Saturdays a social and dance took place.
Norman Jeffrey was secretary and when he went interstate, the position was taken over by Eddie Callard. Jim Pope sent pithy reports of Melbourne affairs to Direct Action in Sydney.
Irrespective of the official policy of the IWW leadership in Sydney, there were a number of rank and file members who held theories of "destroying capitalism with fake currency" just as Hitler realised he could cause a certain amount of chaos by printing fake English £5 notes and flooding Europe with them, during the war.
One day a Sydney visitor arrived at Andrade's shop. When in the office with Percy, he showed him a thick wad of fake fivers, handed them to him, suggested he might be being followed and then hurriedly left. Percy called Eddie Callard in, handed him a parcel and told him to be very careful with it, to take it home and bury it in a hole in the garden without looking inside it, and wait for Perc to come out there.
Eddie asked no questions, walked down to the station with Flo Delalande, one of the Socialist girls who had joined the IWW, and said before leaving her, "I don't know what is in this, but Percy told me to be very careful of it—I think it might be a bomb."
However Perc arrived out that night, told Eddie to bring the parcel in, and tell his mother they were going to burn some literature that might get them into trouble. When Perc opened the parcel an astounded Eddie Callard viewed a great thick wad of notes which possibly ran into a thousand or more pounds (had they been real). They set to work and burnt them up, one note escaping up the chimney causing them some alarm. A search around the house next day failed to locate it. Apparently the Sydney visitor divulged that he had brought in a pack of fivers to another member—who later came to Callard and told him "I want some of them—you shouldn't have them all." He made vague threats apparently thinking all men were like himself and that Eddie was bound to have taken them for personal pecuniary gain. When J. B. King came out of gaol Eddie told him what had happened and King said "You did the right thing."
No fake fivers were passed by Melbourne members of the IWW in Melbourne. Similarly they did not take too kindly to ideas of sabotage. Sabotage and go-slow were regarded by IWW men as weapons that could be used to undermine the capitalist system. The IWW men were frequently called the "I Won't Works" by the press. Callard reports that Laidler said to him of the go-slow supporters, "these are the buggers that will cause us a lot of trouble later" (meaning, after the revolution).
Actually it wasn't one hundred per cent true that those who would not work then, would not work later. J. B. King, a famous IWW man (and one of the twelve) was known in Australia as an expert at going slow (he claimed to have introduced the scourge of the Queensland farmer, the prickly pear, to that State) but when he went to the Soviet Union he became a shock brigader, setting the pace for Russian workers on the Moscow underground. Alf Wilson is another example. He was a big strong man who could orate for hours and work like a machine. When on the wharves in Melbourne, he said to Laidler, "I know I should go slow but I can't possibly do it. I try but before I know what I'm doing I'm, slogging into it." Audley tells of another incident where a member of the WIIU, Tom Kohane, was arguing with the Head Gardener in charge of City Council Gardeners working on the Alexandra Gardens, over the IWW. Kohane pointed out one of the workers (a member of the IWW), and said "What is he like?" The opponent replied, "He's one of our best workers."
The Melbourne local would rank amongst the most respectable of IWW organisations. Other members in Melbourne were Bill Casey, who wrote one of the most popular IWW songs, "Bump me into Parliament", (later Secretary of the Seamen's Union in Brisbane), the two brothers Stephanski, Viv Crisp, Bert Wall, Bill Acheson, Rose Acheson, Gwen Snow, Bert Sutch and Jim Payne. Young Bob Bessant joined up and went to Sydney—he was one of the twelve men framed in Sydney. In later years he joined the Communist Party and became a full-time worker, however, his gaol term, no doubt, contributed to his death at a young age.
Bob's brother, "Snowy", who worked at Andrades for a time and his sister, Violet, were active supporters. Violet married IWW man, Bill Acheson.
It is not clear what relationship Laidler had to the IWW insofar as official membership is concerned. In a published interview in 1937 Laidler said he was a member of the IWW, "Distinct from the political IWW who had formed clubs preaching syndicalism as early as 1907, the non-political IWW based their struggles on revolutionary direct action, the One Big Union, and anti-war propaganda." This is certainly in accord with his statements and attitude described in the chapter "Syndicalism". Eddie Callard (ex-secretary, IWW) and Viv Crisp both assert emphatically that he was never a member of the IWW although he played an active part with it. Baracchi, in a glossary to a poem refers to Perc Laidler as "leader of the IWW in that town [i.e. Melbourne]." In the thirties he was frequently regarded as a member of the Communist Party and other organisations, when in fact he was not. On the other hand Tom Audley saw his name in a minute-book (now missing) of the IWW Clubs—a policy which he definitely did not support.
• • •
The Melbourne local held meetings in outside halls, issued leaflets, distributed Sydney leaflets, sold Direct Action (150 dozen on the Yarra Bank) and one of its major successes was the gigantic sticker campaigns that were carried out. Laidler, according to Viv Crisp, was a keen organiser of these campaigns. A small handy size, they could be slapped up with ease. One read: "FAST WORKERS DIE YOUNG", another: "WANTED 1,000 MEN NOT AFRAID OF DEATH OR JAIL—YOU JOIN THE IWW." This was a paraphrase of the recruiting poster, "YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU. YOU JOIN THE A.I.F." captioned to Kitchener pointing an accusing (or threatening) finger at the beholder.
The sticker campaign was then used by the anti-conscriptionists to good effect and in 1934 was a great success with the Kisch campaign, the sticker reading simply "KISCH MUST LAND". The axe fell on the IWW with the frame-up of twelve of its leading members in Sydney, on the eve of the first conscription plebiscite. The organisation was declared illegal under the War Precautions Act, in 1917. On the passing of the Bill the Melbourne local disbanded to reform as the International Industrial Workers (I.I.W.) This organisation issued a paper Industrial Solidarity, edited by Guido Baracchi.
Some remnants of the IWW formed the "One Big Union Propaganda League", meeting in a room above the Palace Theatre at the eastern end of Bourke Street. Bert Wall and Charlie Dunn were leading lights, and Rose Acheson and Gwen Snow were well-known women members.
The IWW Clubs were not "declared" because they had retained the political clause and apparently that gave them "respectability". However, they were raided and their literature seized. The IWW Clubs had been supported by the SLP and most members became active in the SLP, which body received the Club's literature from the authorities some time after the ending of the war.
Andrade's bookshop was raided and the Laidler family's living quarters searched, when an exuberant detective ripped up his small daughter's Teddy Bear, searching for what? Fivers or Bombs.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica referring to the IWW says: "AUSTRALIA.—The I.W.W. locals existed in nearly every industrial country, especially in the ports. In Great Britain they appeared in London, Liverpool and Glasgow. But they only achieved importance, outside the U.S., in Australia between 1911, when the first local (Adelaide) was chartered from Chicago, and 1917-18, when the organization faded away."
The similarity of background of U.S.A. and Australia as "new" countries must provide the reason for popularity of IWW. In Europe the working class parties were firmly and traditionally entrenched whereas here the ALP was just in its beginning and already had disillusioned thousands of workers—particularly when Hughes betrayed on the conscription issue. It was easier for a new party to arise. The unions were strong, there had been many strikes and the idea of industrial unionism was logical. It encouraged "Internationalism", even its title helped. The proportion of itinerant members was both a strength and a weakness, the weakness being the greater.
It was a strength in that there was a greater exchange of ideas and information throughout the country. A campaign in any place would be sure to attract other members from all over the country who would arrive to take part. The weakness was that there was no solid, consolidated strength in the unions. Their lack of roots encouraged adventurist ideas and led to anarchism, sabotage, etc., etc., which were not constructive to the organisation. They addressed each other and the audience at meetings as "Fellow Workers". This replaced the Socialist "Comrades". Laidler disliked the term "Comrade" for the rest of his life. He regarded it as "cissy" (a legacy from the IWW). He used the term in later years himself because as the middleclass became progressive, many of the audience were no longer "fellow-workers".
The IWW did not recover from the frame-up, and by the time the men were released (ten in 1920), the success of the Russian revolution was leading to the acceptance of ideas of a Communist Party for Australia.
An effort was made to reform the IWW in the twenties. Noel Lyons, Charlie Reeves, Jack Zwolsmann and Ted Dickinson being amongst its best known members. There was a small group in Melbourne which continued from the end of 1924 to 1931. The basic group members were Jimmy Markland, Dickinson, McCudden (Seamen's Union); three brothers, Albert, Bill and Fred Sharpe, Mr. and Mrs. Philpott and 15-year-old son, Ron. Bob Jones (a poet), H. Wilkinson and Mick Gallagher were also members. Jack Zwolsmann was a well-known Adelaide IWW man who visited Melbourne. IWW (2) used to hold meetings on the Yarra Bank and at the South Melbourne Market regularly for a time and in the end, only occasionally. After a lapse of time, Noel "Ham and Eggs" Lyons arrived in Melbourne and asked could a meeting be organised for him on the Bank and this was done. He only stayed a few weeks in Melbourne. The members still followed the policy of the non-political IWW and its Preamble. Most of them admired the Soviet Union but thought there was no need to get involved in politics. American papers were sold, Industrial Solidarity and Industrial Worker, as well as literature from other organisations.
The members participated in general working class campaigns. As with the first IWW, many members were itinerant workers and bobbed up from time to time in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. They still retained their crude uniquely IWW manners. When Fred Sharpe looked up the Sydney Branch on the Domain and offered to speak, he was told, "We haven't got enough time for ourselves; we can't let every bum that comes along speak." Fred's companion protested that Fred was a regular speaker on the Yarra Bank, however the result was a begrudging "if there's time he can speak". There wasn't time! Other working class organisations conformed to certain usual relations, one member with another and to outside organisations, too. The IWW had a peculiar flavour of its own and probably had more in common with the American IWW than with other Australian working class organisations.
Although the IWW in Melbourne was very respectable it had some members who, appearing as ordinary, respectable members, decided to try for personal emancipation. One attempted to rob the Treasury. He had left a motor-bike running outside for a quick getaway. Some conscientious character shut the engine off and this possibly caused his capture. He was sent to gaol. Another was charged with robbing the Post Office of a large sum. Notes were missing at the Registration Branch of the Post Office and replaced with small packets that turned out to be paper cut to size. The authorities were able to trace that this man bought paper of the same character from a printer in Sydney. He was tried in Melbourne three times but on each occasion the jury disagreed; the result was "unproven". Laidler felt sure another member had committed a murder, with robbery in view. It was blamed on Squizzy Taylor. The recent excellent documentary concerning Squizzy made by Nigel Buesst, makes it appear that this particular murder was quite out of character with Squizzy's usual efforts.
When men were arrested Laidler took a keen and active part in working for their release and raising financial assistance for their dependants.
He was active for Holland, Stokes and May (Broken Hill) on a Prisoner Release League formed in Melbourne.
On 29th March, 1918, it was reported in Socialist, "Mr. Percy Laidler visited Albury last week, for the purpose of seeing Tom Barker, in gaol. He had a good chat with the stalwart agitator, and on his return to Melbourne reported that Tom was looking well and bearing up splendidly." Adela Pankhurst Walsh was with Perc on this trip to Albury. Henry Boote interested himself in working for the IWW twelve and visited Melbourne in May 1918 for the purpose of raising funds. He spoke at the Palace Theatre. Boote was able to take back £150, mainly from collections, for the Release Committee set up by the Sydney Trades & Labor Council. Three of the twelve IWW men, Thomas Glynn, Peter Larkin and William Teen had families. The IWW had been paying each family £2 a week until it was put out of action by the Government. A big Art Union in Queensland produced £50 to each family. The Committee in N.S.W. was now undertaking to raise £2 a week for the families. During Boote's Melbourne visit, a "Melbourne Manifesto of Appeal for Dependants" was signed by Mrs. Nicholson (Australian Socialist Party), Joe Swebleses (Victorian Socialist Party) and Percy Laidler (One Big Union League).
Laidler visited Wonthaggi by invitation of the WIIU, to further the appeal. In March, 1919 Percy Laidler, Roley Farrall, Syd. Gower and Gordon Speers were appointed as collectors under the signature of M. Stevens (Stephanski), Secretary of the Committee.
Andrade's Bookshop, with Laidler as manager, proved a great centre for raising money for this fund. Laidler had a great admiration for Judd (Sydney) at this time, as he did sterling work in the campaign.
Laidler chaired the main meeting at the Palace Theatre, welcoming the IWW men in Melbourne after their release.
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