The belief that arbitration and similar forms of state labour market regulation in Australia have limited the collective mobilisation of workers at the workplace is examined in this article. Using John Kelly’s mobilisation framework, the article explores the impact of state regulation on workplace regulation and the implications for the capacity of workers to mobilise for collective action. While state regulation spread throughout the Australian states in the early years of federation, the systems varied. The Victorian wages board system was much more restricted in scope than the arbitral system established in New South Wales. The article examines the implications of this for worker mobilisation through three workplace case studies in the early decades of the twentieth century; one in Victoria and two in New South Wales. While wage boards in Victoria neither constrained nor supported collective mobilisation, in New South Wales the picture is more complicated. The article demonstrates that the impact of arbitration was uneven and contradictory, both assisting and constraining collective mobilisation and action.