Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

Revolutionary Ireland and Transnational Labour Solidarity on the Victorian Railways: The Case of Alex Morrison and Tom Wilson, 1921–22

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2018), 114, (1), 17–36.

Abstract

In 1921, the Victorian railways became a site of contested loyalties surrounding the response of the Australian labour movement to the Irish revolution. This paper will examine the case of Alex Morrison and Tom Wilson, two non-Irish shop stewards of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Railways Union (ARU) victimised by the Lawson Government in March 1921 for publicly sympathising with Irish railway workers killed by the “Black and Tans” in Cork during the Anglo-Irish War. The controversy, which coincided with the birth of the Self-Determination for Ireland League, became a focus for both an Empire loyalist backlash and a labour movement defence campaign in the lead up to the 1921 State Election. It marked a moment at which the Irish crisis of 1916-23 catalysed organised campaign activity in the industrial wing, in addition to the political wing, of the Australian labour movement. Framed within the paradigm of international labour solidarity instead of Irish diaspora, the stance of Morrison and Wilson reflected the mutual entanglement of Irish-Australian and labour internationalist allegiances in the wake of both the Australian conscription plebiscites and the Russian Revolution. A “view from below” of the “Irish Question” in the Victorian railways presents an alternative, if parallel, form of transnational politicisation around Ireland to that of “long-distance nationalism.”

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Footnotes

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Yan, Jimmy