Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of History and Politics


In 1913 one of the most significant events in the history of Australian industrial relations and Labor politics occurred - the amalgamation of several rural unions with the preexisting Australian Workers' Union (AWU) to form a truly national AWU. Perhaps the most dominant branch of the newly amalgamated AWU was the Queensland Branch. Encompassing not only shearers and other workers within the pastoral industry the Queensland AWU represented numerous workers (mostly rural and semi or unskilled) in mining, construction, the sugar industry, transport and the hospitality and other service industries. At a stroke the Queensland AWU became far and away the most numerically strong industrial organisation in that state. That industrial strength soon manifested itself into political power through the close relationship that developed between the AWU and the Labor Party.

This thesis will examine the rise of the Queensland Branch of the AWU and in particular its relationship with the Labor Party and the workers it sought to represent. Of particular interest will be the means by which the AWU attained, maintained and ultimately lost its dominance over the Queensland labour movement, the Labor party and more broadly the Queensland electorate.

It will be the contention of this thesis that AWU was able to maintain its level of influence and power over such a sustained period due to the geographic, industrial, social and political peculiarities of Queensland that allowed for the rise of a rurally based, reformist yet economically and socially conservative organisation such as the AWU to emerge. Coupled with this was the AWU's ability to manipulate the mechanisms of the industrial and political labour movement in Queensland to ensure a steady flow of AWU nominees to the Labor Party and then Parliament. This in turn allowed for the passing of legislation beneficial to the interests of the AWU and its supporters. A mixture of strict control, numerical superiority and genuine industrial and economic progress for its members and sympathizers ensured that however ruthless its methods the AWU would continue to receive the necessary support.

Only in the face of a changing economic and industrial climate and the potential threat to its power from within the labour movement did the AWU depart from its traditional policies and embrace militancy in order to preserve its power. Such actions were anathema to its supporters within the AWU and the Labor Party and the electorate as a whole. In an effort to maintain its power in the face of a largely imagined threat the leadership of the AWU willingly risked the security of the Labor government in Queensland to assert its power. The result was disastrous for both the AWU and the Labor Party in Queensland.