Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

Defying Industrial Trends and Resisting a Wage Cut: Melbourne and Launceston Textile Workers’ Strike, 1932

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2014), 107, (1), 53–73.

Abstract

Textile workers in Melbourne and Launceston defied contemporary industrial trends by going on strike in late 1932, against a wage cut. Despite the fact that industrial struggle was at a record low, they embarked on the first major strike in the textile industry in Australia. This article explores their motivations for doing so. These mill workers, who were largely young women, had endured low wages, often worked less than full-time hours, and harboured grievances about their working conditions. The young women’s income was often essential to their households, since many male breadwinners were unemployed. Upon the implementation of the wage cut, Communists agitated for strike action, and some Australian Textile Workers Union officials urged the strikers to continue. Textile workers were influenced by union leaders but gave the Communists a mixed reception. They displayed their own determination to resist the wage reduction.

Access Token
£25.00
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Footnotes

1. Mercury, 3 September1932, 9. Both would-be strike breakers returned home, having failed to enter the mill. See alsoExaminer, 3 September 1932, 7. Google Scholar

2. Mercury, 3 September1932, 9. Google Scholar

3.Airlie Worrall, “All Wool and a Yard Wide: Victoria’s Textile Industry, 1900 to 1930”(PhD diss.,University of Melbourne, 1989), 383;Julian Burgess, The Outcome of Enterprise: Launceston’s Waverley Woollen Mills, (:Friends of the Library, 2009), 82. Google Scholar

4.L. J. Perry, “A Long-Term Perspective on Industrial Disputes in Australia: 1913–2003,” Economic Papers 24, no. 3(September2005):264–65;Bruce Kaufman, “The Determinants of Strikes in the United States, 1900–1977,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 35, no. 4(July1982):479, 486–87. Google Scholar

5.Female workers are generally held to be less prone to strike activity. See for exampleJohn Shorey, “An Inter-Industry Analysis of Strike Frequency,” Economica 43, no. 172(November1976):349–65. Shorey’s clichéd generalisations about female labour (352–53) are questionable, but the study’s results (358) nonetheless show a negative relationship between the proportion of women in an industry and its strike propensity. Google Scholar

6.Perry, “A Long-Term Perspective,” 265;Paul Marginson, “The Distinctive Effects of Plant and Company Size on Workplace Industrial Relations,” British Journal of Industrial Relations 22, no. 1(March1984):3–9. Google Scholar

7.Raelene Frances, The Politics of Work: Gender and Labour in Victoria, 1880–1939(:Cambridge University Press, 1993), 137–50. Google Scholar

8.Janey Stone, “Brazen Hussies and God’s Police: Fighting Back in the Depression Years,”inRebel Women in Australian Working Class History, ed.Sandra Bloodworth andTom O’Lincoln(:Red Rag Publications, 2005), 43–44, 48–61. Google Scholar

9.Selina Todd, “‘Boisterous Workers’: Young Women, Industrial Rationalization and Workplace Militancy in Interwar England,” Labour History Review 68, no. 3(December2003):303;Sam Davies, “‘A Whirling Vortex of Women’: The Strikes of Scots Herring Women in East Anglia in the 1930s and 1940s,” Labour History Review 75, no. 2(August2010):194–96;John Tully, “‘Nothing but Rebels’: Union Sisters at the Sydney Rubber Works, 1918–42,” Labour History, no. 103 (November2012):64. Google Scholar

10.Tully, “Nothing but Rebels,” 73;Davies, “A Whirling Vortex,” 196–97. Google Scholar

11.Worrall, “All Wool,”appendix 9a. Google Scholar

12. Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia(hereafterCYB), no. 26(1933):667, Australian Bureau of Statistics, accessed August 2014,http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/1301.01933?OpenDocument. Australia’s total factory output that year was worth £281,645,785. Google Scholar

13.CYB, no. 26 (1933):690. The Launceston woollen mills were Paton and Baldwin, Kelsall and Kemp, Waverley and Reliance. Melbourne’s major mills were Foy and Gibson, Yarra Falls and Lincoln. Unless otherwise noted, “mills” refers to spinning mills (which manufactured yarn and woven fabrics), not knitting mills. Google Scholar

14.Colin Forster, Industrial Development in Australia 1920–1930(:Australian National University Press, 1964), 88–89. Google Scholar

15.Miranda Morris-Nunn andC. B. Tassell, Launceston’s Industrial Heritage: A Survey: Part 1(:Australian Heritage Commission/Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, 1982), 172–75, accessed August 2014,http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/qvmag/index.php?c=160&langID=1#researchreports;Worrall, “All Wool,” 3–4, 39–46, 110–27;Forster, Industrial Development, 72–74, 79–80. Google Scholar

16.Forster, Industrial Development, 79. Google Scholar

17.Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, Australia, Commonwealth Arbitration Reports(hereafter CAR)32(1933):474. Google Scholar

18.“Tariff on Woollen Piecegoods: Public Inquiry by the Tariff Board,” Textile Journal of Australia 7, no. 5(15 July1932):201. The number of processes depended on the type and quality of the wool and the finished article. Google Scholar

19.Forster, Industrial Development, 87, 89–90;Worrall, “All Wool,” 185–88, 194–98, 207–10. Google Scholar

20.Worrall, “All Wool,” 149. Google Scholar

21.The United Nations General Assembly defines “youth” as persons between the ages of 15 and 24 inclusive.“Using Children and Youth Statistics,” Australian Bureau of Statistics, accessed August 2014,http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/c311215.nsf/web/Children+and+Youth+Statistics+-+Using+Children+and+Youth+Statistics. References to “young” people in this article adhere to this definition. Although age categorisations are historically malleable, this definition is suitable here because by the early 1930s in Australia, the average age at marriage for women (the point at which most left the paid workforce) was about 25.5 years. CYB, no. 26 (1933):807. Google Scholar

22.CYB, no. 27 (1934):650, Australian Bureau of Statistics, accessed August 2014,http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/1301.01934?OpenDocument. CYB, no. 26 (1933):654, 658. Google Scholar

23.Worrall, “All Wool,”appendix 9f. Google Scholar

24.Ibid. Google Scholar

25. CAR 32(1933):611;Worrall, “All Wool,” 184, appendix 9f. Google Scholar

26.Worrall, “All Wool,” 196–98, appendix 9f. Google Scholar

27.Ibid., 152–53, 253, 318–20, 381–88, (317–407passim). Google Scholar

29. CAR 25(1927):196; Minutes of Meeting, 7 November 1931, SMC minutes, box 40, ATWU Victorian Branch Records, A.1982.0068, UMA. Other officials did not necessarily agree. Google Scholar

30. CAR 32(1933):472–75;Worrall, “All Wool,” 145; Australian Textile Workers Union and Foy and Gibson Proprietary Limited and others, 1932–33, Principal [Industrial] Registry, series B1958, Transcripts of cases heard by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, item 239/1932, National Archives of Australia (hereafter Transcripts 239/1932), 51–54. Google Scholar

31.Transcripts 239/1932, 421, 644. Google Scholar

32.Author’s estimate. For calculations of ATWU density (comparing those of Worrall and Kelloway), seeKelloway, “Melbourne and Launceston Textiles Strike, 1932,”appendix 4. Google Scholar

33.David Clark, “A Closed Book? The Debate on Causes,”inThe Wasted Years? Australia’s Great Depression, ed.Judy Mackinolty(:George Allen and Unwin, 1981), 20–23. Google Scholar

34.For example in 1933, male unemployment rates in Melbourne included 31.2 per cent in Collingwood, and 33 per cent in Fitzroy. In Launceston in 1933, unemployment was 20.1 per cent for men and 8 per cent for women.Peter Spearritt, “Depression Statistics,”inMackinolty, The Wasted Years, 204, 211. Google Scholar

35.C. B. Schedvin, Australia and the Great Depression: A Study of Economic Development and Policy in the 1920s and 1930s(:Sydney University Press, 1970), 211–12, 288, 303. Google Scholar

36.Worrall, “All Wool,”appendix 18a. Google Scholar

37.L. J. Louis, Trade Unions and the Depression: A Study of Victoria 1930–1932(:Australian National University Press, 1968), 103;Stuart Macintyre, The Reds: The Communist Party of Australia from Origins to Illegality(:Allen & Unwin, 1998), 185. Google Scholar

38.Peter Sheldon, “State-Level Basic Wages in Australia during the Depression, 1929–35: Institutions and Politics Over Markets,” Australian Economic History Review 47, no. 3(November2007):261–62, 274–75;Colin Forster, “Wages and Wage Policy: Australia in the Depression, 1929–34,” Australian Economic History Review 30, no. 1(March1990):25–27. Google Scholar

39.Louis, Trade Unions and the Depression, 82–89, 132–35, 139, 147–48, 153–55. Google Scholar

40. CYB, no. 26 (1933):736. Google Scholar

41.Charlie Fox, Fighting Back: The Politics of the Unemployed in the Great Depression(:Melbourne University Press, 2000), 146, 152–54. Google Scholar

42.Ibid., 167–68. Google Scholar

43.Stone, “Brazen Hussies and God’s Police,” 57;Bradon Ellem, In Women’s Hands? A History of Clothing Trades Unionism in Australia(:NSW University Press, 1989), 166–67. Employers did not fulfil their promise. Google Scholar

44.This reduction was due to have been implemented from 1 July, but the ATWU had it postponed until 1 August.Argus, 11 August1932, 7. Google Scholar

45.Ibid., 20 August1932, 23;Mercury, 22 August1932, 5. Google Scholar

47.Transcripts 239/1932, 411–13;Examiner, 27 August 1932, 7. The smallest spinning mill, Reliance, was exempted by the union from industrial action, along with the local knitting mill, Thyne Brothers. Google Scholar

48. Age, 27 August1932, 11. Google Scholar

49.Ibid., 26 August1932, 9;Argus, 27 August1932, 21. Google Scholar

50.Even the names of these leaders were rarely recorded. For a discussion of the available information, seeKelloway, “Melbourne and Launceston Textiles Strike, 1932,” 25–26. Google Scholar

51. Workers’ Weekly, 19 August1932, 4;Working Woman, September 1932, 1. These women were promptly dismissed, but re-instated the following day when their co-workers struck. Google Scholar

52. Examiner, 22 August1932, 7. Google Scholar

53.Transcripts 239/1932, 351. The exact size of the workforce at Reliance is unclear, although it was smaller than that of the Waverley mill, with its 120 employees;Examiner, 22 August1932, 7. Google Scholar

54. Examiner, 2 September1932, 7. Google Scholar

56. Red Leader, 7 September1932, 4. They were C. Lavers and J. McPherson. Google Scholar

57.Ibid., 17 August1932, 5. Google Scholar

58. Mercury, 6 September1932, 5. Google Scholar

59.J. Tuthill, letter to the editor, Examiner, 31 August1932, 3. Google Scholar

60.Letter to the editor, Examiner, 6 September1932, 10. Google Scholar

61.G. Shoddy, letter to the editor, Examiner, 3 September1932, 3. Google Scholar

62.T. S. Boyd, letter to the editor, Examiner, 3 September1932, 3. Google Scholar

63.Transcripts 239/1932, 43–651passim.This case decided on variations to the existing 1927 Award. Google Scholar

64. Examiner, 26 August1932, 7. For a full list of Tasmanian rates, see Tables 1 and 2. Google Scholar

65. Argus, 20 August1932, 23. The rates differ slightly between states because they were based on different cost of living indices. SeeCAR 25(1927):197, 199. Google Scholar

66. Argus, 20 August1932, 23. Google Scholar

67. Mercury, 26 August1932, 7. Google Scholar

68.Census of the Commonwealth of Australia(hereafterCensus) (1933): 1524, 1526, Australian Bureau of Statistics, accessed August 2014,http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/2110.01933?OpenDocument. Author’s calculations, based on census data. Google Scholar

69.Transcripts 239/1932, 313, 317, 327–28, 335, 344–45, 351–52, 369. Google Scholar

70.David Edward Lark, with 28 years’ experience in the industry in Australia, testified that January to June was typically very busy. Transcripts 239/1932, 585–86, 604. Google Scholar

71. Examiner, 29 August1932, 7. Google Scholar

72.Transcripts 239/1932, 330. Google Scholar

73.Ibid., 426. Google Scholar

74.Letter to the editor, Examiner, 27 August1932, 9. Google Scholar

76.Ibid., 367. Google Scholar

77.Ibid., 356. Google Scholar

78.Ibid., 387. Google Scholar

79.Australian Textile Workers Union and Foy and Gibson Proprietary Limited and others, 1932–33, Principal [Industrial] Registry, series B1958, Transcripts of cases heard by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, item 258/1932, National Archives of Australia, 686. See alsoExaminer, 26 August1932, 7. Google Scholar

80.Transcripts 239/1932, 207, 225, 341, 352. Google Scholar

81.Ibid., 384, 339, 227, 217–18. Google Scholar

82.Ibid., 348. Google Scholar

83.Ibid., 312, 314, 324, 335, 367–68, 585. Google Scholar

84.Ibid., 352. Census data indicate that only 3.5 per cent of female woollen and tweed workers earned an average of £3 a week or more.Census(1933):1524. Google Scholar

85.SeeWorrall, “All Wool,”ch. 6, 216–50for a thorough analysis of mill working conditions. Google Scholar

86.Transcripts 239/1932, 315. Google Scholar

87.Ibid., 340, 356, 326. Google Scholar

88.Ibid., 335, 346, 196, 162, 356. Google Scholar

89.Ibid., 559. Google Scholar

90.Ibid., 214, 325a, 196. Google Scholar

91.Ibid., 214, 235, 311, 315, 326–27, 339, 351, 354–55, 362, 385. Google Scholar

92.Ibid., 339. Google Scholar

93.Ibid., 326. Google Scholar

94.Ibid., 354–55. Google Scholar

95.Ibid., 361. Google Scholar

96.Ibid., 211, 343, 369–70, 389–90, 401–2. Google Scholar

97.Ibid., 402. Google Scholar

98.Ibid., 297, 369. Google Scholar

99.Ibid., 325a. Google Scholar

100.Ibid., 196. Google Scholar

101.Ibid., 323, 340. Google Scholar

102.Ibid., 363. Google Scholar

103.Ibid., 357. Google Scholar

104.Ibid., 295. Google Scholar

105.Ibid., 394. Google Scholar

106.Ibid., 391. Google Scholar

107.Janet McCalman, Struggletown: Public and Private Life in Richmond, 1900–1965(:Melbourne University Press, 1984), 196. Google Scholar

108.Wendy Lowenstein, Weevils in the Flour: An Oral Record of the 1930s Depression in Australia(:Scribe Publications, 1981), 19, 49, 81–82, 111–12, 119. Google Scholar

109.Edie Ryan, interviewed and cited byMarilyn Woolley, “Working at Cash’s: A Group of Women’s Perceptions of Work in a Textile Factory in Richmond, Victoria,”(BA Hons diss.,La Trobe University, 1978), 14. Google Scholar

110. Red Leader, 17 August1932, 5. Google Scholar

111.Letter to the editor, Examiner, 26 August1932, 11. Google Scholar

112.Editorial, Mercury, 5 September1932, 6. Google Scholar

113.Editorial, Argus, 25 August1932, 6. Also, letter to the editor, Examiner, 6 September1932, 10. Google Scholar

114.Todd, “Boisterous Workers,” 303. Google Scholar

115.Macintyre, The Reds, 187–89. Google Scholar

116. Red Leader, 17 August1932, 5. The report was dated 11 August. Google Scholar

117.Ibid., 7 September1932, 6. Google Scholar

118. Argus, 12 August1932, 7. Google Scholar

119. Workers’ Weekly, 19 August1932, 4. Google Scholar

120. Argus, 11 August1932, 7. See also“Stop Press: Strike at Yarra Falls,” Textile Journal of Australia 7, no. 6(15 August1932), 260;“A Strike in the Textile Industry,” Textile Journal of Australia 7, no. 7(15 September1932), 294. Google Scholar

121. Argus, 25 August 1932, 7. Google Scholar

122.Ibid., 12 August1932, 7; 19 August 1932, 8; 23 August 1932, 7;Workers’ Weekly, 26 August1932, 1. Google Scholar

123. Workers’ Weekly, 19 August1932, 4. Google Scholar

124. Argus, 23 August1932, 7. It is unlikely that these Communists were textile workers because the CPA lacked a presence in the mills, but it is possible that a small number of them were in the industry. Google Scholar

125.Ibid., 25 August1932, 7. Google Scholar

126. Workers’ Weekly, 23 September1932, 4. Google Scholar

127. Red Leader, 7 September1932, 6. Google Scholar

128.Ibid. Google Scholar

129.William Orr, “Lessons of the Strike Struggles and the Growth of the MM: The Tasks of the Militant TU Movement,” Secretary’s Report to the 2nd National MM Congress, 24 December 1933, 6, MLMSS 5021 add-on 1936, box 16(76): VII, CPA Records, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. Google Scholar

130.Editorial, Mercury, 23 August1932, 6;Editorial, Examiner, 23 August1932, 6. Google Scholar

131.For an exposition of these manoeuvres, seeKelloway, “Melbourne and Launceston Textiles Strike, 1932,” 24, 37. Smith presumably had support from other Tasmanian Branch officials. Google Scholar

132. Argus, 29 August1932, 7. Google Scholar

133.The fact that donations were not forthcoming in Melbourne may have been due to a shortfall on the ATWU’s part, or it may have been that other unionists would not support the strike if it was associated with Communists, due to the hostility between them and the rest of the labour movement. SeeMacintyre, The Reds, 185–88, 199–200. Google Scholar

134. Examiner, 26 August1932, 7. Google Scholar

135.Ibid., 23 August1932, 7; 25 August 1932, 8; 5 September1932, 7. Google Scholar

136.Minutes of Meeting, 31 October 1932 and 7 November 1932, SMC minutes, box 40, ATWU Victorian Branch Records, A.1982.0068, UMA. Specifically, references are made to these moves in reports attached to minutes of both of these meetings, concerning the ATWU’s Federal Council Annual Meeting, 15 to 19 October 1932. See also Transcripts 239/1932, 635–36, 641–45. Google Scholar

137. CAR 32(1933):611. Google Scholar

138.Transcripts 239/1932, 636, 641, 642a–644. Google Scholar

139. Examiner, 25 August1932, 7–8. The discrepancy was largely due to NSW base rates being higher than Commonwealth rates, a situation which only continued for a few more months. SeeSheldon, “State-Level Basic Wages,” 255–61. Google Scholar

140.Transcripts 239/1932, 49. Google Scholar

141.Frances, The Politics of Work, 134–35. Google Scholar

143.Macintyre, The Reds, 183–88, 199–200. Google Scholar

144. Workers’ Weekly, 19 August1932, 4; 2 September 1932, 1; 9 September 1932, 4;Red Leader, 31 August 1932, 1; 7 September 1932, 4;Working Woman, September, 1932, 1. The sole exception is a passing mention that Loft moved a recommendation that the strike continue.Red Leader, 7 September1932, 4. Google Scholar

146. Argus, 1 September19321932, 9. Google Scholar

147. Red Leader, 31 August1932, 1. Google Scholar

148.For the repercussions of this division on the branch, seeKelloway, “Melbourne and Launceston Textiles Strike, 1932,” 40–41. Google Scholar

149.Richard Hyman, Strikes, 2nd ed. (:Fontana/Collins, 1977), 56–58. Google Scholar

150. Examiner, 25 August1932, 7. Google Scholar

152.Ibid. Google Scholar

153. Examiner, 20 August1932, 7; 22 August 1932, 7;Mercury, 22 August1932, 5. Google Scholar

154.Letter to the editor, Examiner, 30 August1932, 10. Google Scholar

155. Mercury, 24 August1932, 5. Google Scholar

156.Stone, “Brazen Hussies and God’s Police,” 55–56. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Details

Author details

Kelloway, Phoebe