Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of History


This thesis explores the history of clothing trades' unionism in Australia from its origins in the nineteenth-century until 1967. From 1907 that history is the history of the Clothing and Allied Trades' Union, an organisation established in that year under the aegis of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.

The Introduction establishes explicit organising questions and themes and locates them within current debates about labour history. The Introduction asks the question: 'what is the Clothing Trades' Union?' The thesis examines how this question has been answered by unionists themselves and it examines the circumstances under which those solutions have been conceived. This requires an analysis of the industry itself and of the economic and social structures of which it is a part.

The first three chapters examine the origins of the Union. They show that at the very founding of the Union, there were tensions within the new structure and contradictions in the forces which shaped it. These are important because they are themes which are addressed in all the subsequent chapters. Although the Union was formally a law-made organisation, it was not only that. It was created by craft unions which had traditions of workshop control and resistance. These led to conflict with the needs of state-based arbitration. Second, the constituent unions were very different from each other. Although many craftsmen believed in the principle of amalgamation, there was neither a need nor a desire for a powerful Federal structure.

A deeper series of contradictions lay in the nature of the industry. By 1907 the clothing trade was already overwhelmingly a female trade but the most durable unions were those of male artisans. They carried with them craft motifs of control and exclusivism which were directed as much against women as employers. Because of social practice, the nature of work and union traditions, women were poorly placed to exercise control within the Union.

Chapters Four and Five show how industrial and political change led to conflicts about arbitration itself. The Union was torn between competing ideologies before the principle of Commonwealth arbitration was restored in 1919. Chapters Six and Seven deal with the inter-war years and they explain how, after a period of industrial militancy and political unity, the Union relied increasingly upon arbitration and was unable to develop policies to defend the mass of its membership. The Depression of the 1930s fractured what unity there was and the autonomy of the Branches again increased.

The state gave greater impetus to centralism and" enhanced Federal Council's authority as against the Branches because of the needs of War-time planning. Chapter Eight discusses this trend and its reversal after 1945. The final chapter examines more explicitly than any other the question of the nature and purpose of unionism. It argues that this is largely how the split in the labour movement in the 1950s should be understood. Although the more radical groups triumphed, they did so on terms which meant that the Union's structure was little changed and that, indeed, the definition of trade union activity was no wider than in the past.

The Union was and is a loose amalgamation of relatively autonomous State Branches under a weak and self-styled non-political Federal Council. The thesis concludes that this structure has its origins in the arbitration system and has been sustained by both the differences between Branches and the limitations to those differences. Industrial and social stability meant that the Union itself was stable. Underpinning and explaining the nature of union structure and practice is the tension between two forms of organisation: craft and industrial unionism. Despite the nature of the industry it is the former which has held sway.

02chapter1.pdf (1606 kB)
03chapter2.pdf (1242 kB)
04chapter3.pdf (1534 kB)
05chapter4.pdf (1330 kB)
06chapter5.pdf (1785 kB)
07chapter6.pdf (2066 kB)
08chapter7.pdf (1829 kB)
09chapter8.pdf (1916 kB)
10chapter9.pdf (1835 kB)
11conclusion.pdf (574 kB)
12bibliography.pdf (631 kB)