In 1884, in a small gold mining town, 25 miles south of Ballarat, named Corindhap, Thomas Percival Laidler began his unusual life. His mother, Annie, was born in Australia and his father, William, brought from the coal mining country of County Durham, England at the age of six weeks, was essentially an Australian.
A small mining cum pastoral township and politically conservative, economically-safe parents would seem the most unlikely background for a man who devoted fifty years of his life to revolution. Yet by the age of 23 Percy Laidler was leading the unemployed of Melbourne, with J. W. Fleming, anarchist, into Federal Parliament House and Parliament had to adjourn for one and a half hours during what was described as a "riot". In 1909, key industrial town in Australia, Broken Hill, saw the unemployed with Laidler at the head threatening to take over the British Mine. It hit the headlines in London papers and annoyed the Government as embarrassing to its hope for greater emigration. In Broken Hill the unemployed threatened to march on Sydney pillaging on the way.
Leaving school at the age of 14 years did not prevent Laidler from becoming the manager of Andrade's bookshop in Bourke Street, from which he published the first marxist literature in Australia. Reprints of standard pamphlets flooded the Commonwealth from 201 Bourke Street. Larger works like Das Kapital were imported. Shortly after the Russian Revolution he published huge quantities of literature about the revolution. He aimed at one new pamphlet every month. In 1919, with Guido Baracchi as editor, the first marxist theoretical journal named The Proletarian Review and later, simply The Proletarian, was published by Laidler and when Baracchi left Australia Laidler acted as editor.
In 1921 Laidler wrote and published the first worthwhile pamphlet on Arbitration. It sold to 25,000 copies in several editions, initially called "Arbitration and the Strike" in later editions it was titled "Arbitration". Its arguments are still vibrant.
He was active, and usually held positions, with the Victorian Socialist Party (VSP), Industrial Workers of the World Clubs, the anti-conscription campaigns, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the IWW Release Committee, Communist Party, the Shop Assistants' Union, Trades Hall Council, Eight Hours' Day Committee, May Day Committees, Trades Hall Band, Labor College, Labor Propaganda Group. He was also mentor and counsellor, though not a member, of the Communist Party. He worked with the Movement against War and Fascism, Friends of the Soviet Union, Soviet Friendship League, Spanish Relief, Unemployed Workers' movement, and in strikes (notably the Police Strike 1923 and the British Seamen's Strike 1925). He spoke at, and chaired meetings in city theatres, cottage meetings and on the Yarra Bank; he delivered hundreds of educational lectures to the unemployed groups during the depression; and during the war, under the auspices of Army Education delivered lectures to units of the services on "Our Ally—The Red Army".
He was an all-rounder—a lecturer, teacher, speaker, orator, pamphleteer, editor, publisher, organiser and leader, completely indifferent to self-advancement, unique in his early years which might be termed to have cradled one of the best crops of personal opportunists in the labour movement. He scorned the suggestion of becoming a parliamentarian or trade union official. His greatest assets were that he had great objectivity and his life was integrated with humanity.
When Laidler came to Melbourne in 1906 and in many subsequent years, all revolutionaries were described by the establishment as "foreigners". The Laidler family were as pure Australian as Australians can be, short of being aborigines.
His paternal grandfather started work at the age of six in Durham, England. His father would carry him to work in the coal mines to work a ten hour day opening a gate for the skip to pass through. The pay was 1/- per week. When they set out for work in the dark early hours, the child would be in one arm and on the other a lantern to light the way. As they reached the pit mouth there would be seen two or three dozen bobbing lights—all representing babies being carried by their fathers to work. Child labour was not abolished until 1870. Percy Laidler frequently described this scene at propaganda meetings.
His paternal grandmother was in service as a nursegirl when very young and received the sum of 6d. per week.
The book Solidarity Forever! is Copyright © the estate of Bertha Walker 1972.
This website is Copyright © Alan Walker 2012.
Direct all enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.