Labour History

A Union Goes to War: The Victorian State Services Federation in the Great War

Labour History (2017), 112, (1), 119–136.


The Great War saw dramatic growth in the Victorian State Services Federation, the union that covered state public servants and a variety of other public sector workers. The economic and political crisis engendered by the war is revealed, not only in this growth, but in an internal argument (and split) within the Federation over the issue of the Federation’s support for Maurice Blackburn in the 1917 state election. The sectarian dimensions of this division are particularly revealing, especially in association with the formation of the Police Association, under the aegis of the Federation, also in 1917. For all that the Federation never resorted to industrial action, beneath the veneer of white collar respectability the radicalisation of a significant section of the working class by the crisis of the war is evident.

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


*The author thanks Labour History’s two anonymous referees and acknowledges the support of the Community and Public Sector Union (Vic) which funded the research this article was based on. Google Scholar

1.See for instance, John Connor, Peter Stanley, and Peter Yule, The War at Home (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); Joan Beaumont, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2015); Robert Bollard, In the Shadow of Gallipoli: The Hidden History of Australia in World War I (Sydney: NewSouth Publishing, 2013); Robin Archer, “Stopping War and Stopping Conscription: Australian Labour’s Response to World War I in Comparative Perspective,” Labour History, no. 106 (May 2014): 43–67; Charles Fahey and John Lack, “The Great Strike of 1917 in Victoria: Looking Fore and Aft, and from Below,” Labour History, no. 106 (May 2014): 69–97. Google Scholar

2.For a more detailed critique of Turner’s historiography, see Robert Bollard, “‘The Solidarity was Misapplied’: The Historiography of the Great Strike of 1917,” The Past is Before Us: Proceedings of the Ninth National Labour History Conference 2005, ed. Greg Patmore, John Shields and Nikola Balnave (Sydney: ASSLH, 2005), 245–52. Google Scholar

3.See for instance, Beaumont, Broken Nation, 219–34. Google Scholar

4.See, for example, Nial Brennan, Dr Mannix (Adelaide: Rigby, 1964); Walter A. Ebsworth, Archbishop Mannix (Armadale: H. H. Stephenson, 1977); Frank Murphy, Daniel Mannix: Archbishop of Melbourne 1917–1963 (Melbourne: Polding Press, 1978); B. A. Santamaria, Archbishop Mannix: His Contribution to the Art of Public Leadership (Carlton South: Melbourne University Press, 1978); Michael Gilchrist, Daniel Mannix: Priest and Patriot (Blackburn: Dove Communications, 1982); John O’Brien, Daniel Mannix: Builder of the Australian Church (Dublin: Veritas, 1988); James Griffin, Daniel Mannix: Beyond the Myths (Mulgrave: Garratt Publishing, 2012); Brenda Niall, Mannix (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2015). Google Scholar

5.L. L. Robson, “The Origin and Character of the First AIF, 1914–1918: Some Statistical Evidence,” Historical Studies 61 (1973): 737–49; John McQuilton, “Enlistment for the First World War in Rural Australia: The Case of North-Eastern Victoria 1914–1918,” Journal of the Australian War Memorial, no. 33 (2000), accessed March 2017,; John McQuilton, Rural Australia and the Great War: From Tarrawingee to Tangambalanga (Carlton: MUP, 2001); Ina Bertrand, “The Victorian Country Vote in the Conscription Referendums of 1916 and 1917: The Case of the Wannon Electorate,” Labour History, no. 26 (May 1974): 19–31. See also A. D. Gilbert, “The Conscription Referenda, 1916–17: The Impact of the Irish Crisis,” Historical Studies 14, no. 53 (October 1969): 54–72; M. McKernan, “Catholics, Conscription and Archbishop Mannix,” Historical Studies 18 (1977): 299–314; D. J. Murphy, “Religion, Race and Conscription in World War One,” Australian Journal of Politics and History 20, no.2 (August 1974): 155–56; Max Charlesworth, “Australian Catholics and Conscription,” in Conscription in Australia, ed. F. Forward and B. Reece (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1968), 22–65. Note how few of these studies have been conducted recently. Google Scholar

6.Val Noone, “Class Factors in the Radicalisation of Daniel Mannix, 1913–17,” Labour History, no. 106 (May 2014): 189–204. Google Scholar

7.Leader (Melbourne), 16 March 1918, 26. Google Scholar

8.Public Service Journal of Victoria, 30 March 1918, 48. Google Scholar

9.The Education Department’s Record of War Service (Melbourne: Victorian Education Department, 1921) recorded the names of well over 700 Victorian teachers who served in the AIF. Google Scholar

10.Public Service Journal of Victoria, 30 March 1918, 41. The combined membership of the two defecting organisations was only 290. Google Scholar

11.For a definitive account of the crisis in the union in 1919, see Dustin Halse, “From Servants to Citizens: A History of Victorian Public Service Unionism 1885–1946” (PhD. Diss., Swinburne University, 2014), 85–102. Google Scholar

12.Official Yearbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, No. 8 (Melbourne: Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, 1915), 122. The 1911 Census gave figures of 921,425 Catholics out of a total population of 4,455,005, which is 20.68 per cent. Google Scholar

13.Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Religious Affiliation,” Year Book Australia, 2006, no. 1301.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, accessed March 2017,!OpenDocument. Google Scholar

14.The study compiled details lists of public sector employees of the Victorian state government (excluding the railways) who enlisted in the AIF. These can be viewed at Victorian Public Sector Employees in World War I, Community and Public Sector Union Victoria, accessed March 2017, Google Scholar

15.See Arthur Augustus Calwell, Be Just and Fear Not (Hawthorn: Lloyd O’Neil, 1972); Mary Elizabeth Calwell, I am Bound to be True: The Life and Legacy of Arthur A. Calwell 1896–1973 (Preston: Mosaic Press, 2012); Colm Kiernan, Calwell: A Personal and Political Biography (West Melbourne: Nelson, 1978). Google Scholar

16.Calwell, Be Just and Fear Not, 27–28. Google Scholar

17.Data obtained from Victorian Public Sector Employees in World War I. Google Scholar

18.John O’Shanassy, Premier 1858–61; Charles Gavan Duffy, Premier 1871–72; and Bryan O’Loghlen, Premier 1881–83. Google Scholar

19.Argus, 26 March 1918, 6. Google Scholar

20.Advocate, 13 December 1919, 12. Google Scholar

21.Argus, 21 March 1918, 6; Tribune, 21 March 1918, 3–5. Google Scholar

22.See J. R. Poynter, “Leeper, Alexander (1948–1934),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed March 2017, Google Scholar

23.Argus, 22 March 1918, 8. Google Scholar

24.Age, 22 March 1918, 7. Google Scholar

25.Circulars from Premier to Heads of Department, 13 March 1916, 15 March 1916 and 8 March 1918, VPRS 1179/P0000/2, Public Record Office Victoria (hereafter PROV). Google Scholar

26.Age, 17 March 1919, 8. Google Scholar

27.Advocate, 25 March 1920, 4–5; Argus, 22 March 1920, 8. Google Scholar

28.Robert Haldane, “The Police Association: The History 1904–1918,” Police Association (Victoria) Journal 69, no. 5 (2003): 12–13. Google Scholar

30.Report by Police Commissioner, Sainsbury, 6 April 1918, A8911/218, National Archives of Australia (hereafter NAA). Google Scholar

31.Robert Keith Haldane, The People’s Force: A History of the Victoria Police (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1986), 82–86. Google Scholar

32.Malcolm Grant, They Served in Blue and Served in Khaki: Victoria Police in the Military Forces during World War One (Gisborne: Malcolm Grant, 2005). Google Scholar

33.Robert Keith Haldane, Days of Violence: The 1923 Police Strike in Melbourne (Ormond: Hybrid, 1998), 132. Google Scholar

34.Correspondence Files of the Commonwealth Investigation Service, 1916–60, series A8911, NAA. Google Scholar

35.Memo from Police Commissioner, 20 January 1916, VPRS 4652/P0002/8, PROV. Note the obituary for Supt. Patrick McManamny, Record (Emerald Hill), 16 June 1928, 6, mentions that he was buried with a Catholic service and all the pallbearers had Irish names. Google Scholar

36.W. M. Hughes Papers, MS 1538/21/114, National Library of Australia. Google Scholar

37.“Obituary: Inspector F. L. Heaney,” Public Service Journal of Victoria, 31 October 1917, 158. Google Scholar

38.For a detailed account of Jaguer’s short life (including a transcript of the letter to his father), see Pamela O’Neill, “Michael Davitt and John Davitt Jageurs (1895–1916),” The Australasian Journal of Irish Studies 6 (2006/07) 43–56. Google Scholar

39.Tribune, 14 March 1918, 4. Google Scholar

40.Police Report, 25 March 1918, Shamrock Club and Young Ireland Society, William McCABE and Patrick Francis O’SULLIVAN (Sinn Fein Organizations), A8911/251, NAA. Google Scholar

43.Geoffrey Serle, “Maloney, William Robert (Nuttall) (1854–1940),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, accessed March 2017,; Kevin Ryan, “Brennan, Francis (Frank) (1873–1950),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, accessed March 2017, Maloney, despite his Irish name, was not Catholic and was not opposed to the war. Brennan, was more anti-war and more in tune with Irish disaffection though, curiously, Maloney was otherwise more left-wing; Brennan was in most matters a moderate. Google Scholar

46.Ibid. Google Scholar

47.The figures are 6,292,500 days lost to strikes in 1974, and 5,652,726 in 1919. See Year Book of Australia, No. 61, 1975 and 1976 (Canberra: ABS, 1977), 305; Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia, No. 13, 1920 (Melbourne: Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, 1920), 1082. Google Scholar

48.Wage figures for 1915 from the Victorian Public Service Act 1915 sourced at: Central Administration Correspondence Files, Department of Agriculture, VPRS 10163/P0003/239, PROV. Figures for 1919 from various memos from Public Service Commissioner regarding public service wages, 1919–22 sourced at: VPRS 1226/P0000/115, PROV. Google Scholar

50.Figures sourced from Public Service Journal of Victoria, 30 June 1915, 1–2; 31 July 1917, 1–3; and 11 December 1918, 1–2. Google Scholar

51.Public Service Journal of Victoria, 29 June 1918, 82. Google Scholar

52.Public Service Journal of Victoria, 31 May 1918, 1. Google Scholar

53.See, for instance, [Maurice Blackburn], “The Service Defended: Stirring Speech in the House,” Public Service Journal of Victoria, 31 August 1917, 115–16. Google Scholar

54.Public Service Journal of Victoria, 31 October 1917 (the last issue before the election) devoted a number of pages to positive articles about Peacock and didn’t even mention Blackburn. Google Scholar

55.NSW Government Railway and Tramway Commissioners, Report of the Commissioners for the Year Ended 30 June 1914, 1, held 12/12633.3, NSW State Archives; Report of the Commissioners for the Year Ended 30 June 1918, 1, held 12/12633.5, NSW State Archives. These documents reveal that the railways, which had made a profit of £209,367 before the war were now running at an annual loss of £412,253. Interest payments had increased by £735.735. Google Scholar

57.Letter from Maurice Blackburn to Doris Hordern, 4 August 1914, Box 73, MBP. Google Scholar

58.Argus, 8 November 1917, 7. While the Argus was a notoriously conservative newspaper and is hardly an impeccable source for determining whether Blackburn actually said this, it is nevertheless an excellent example of the hysterical reaction to Blackburn’s stance on the war. Google Scholar

59.Public Service Journal of Victoria, 31 March 1917, 2. Google Scholar

60.Ibid., 31. Google Scholar

61.“A Secret Dossier: Astounding Proposals,” Public Service Journal of Victoria, February 1918, 1. Google Scholar

62.National Advocate (Bathurst), 26 June 1918, 2; Murray Perks, “A New Source on the Seventh ALP Federal Conference, 1918,” Labour History, no. 32 (May 1977): 75–79. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

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


Author details

Bollard, Robert