Year

1984

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (Hons.)

Department

Department of History

Abstract

The Illawarra Trades and Labour Council, now known as the South Coast Labour Council, is a significant organisation in the social fabric of the Illawarra district. It is a body which does not confine itself to the protection of workers' wages and conditions as union organisations traditionally do. It also takes an active role in community debates about the social and political issues which arise, and is an avenue through which many local people seek to have perceived injustices corrected. This thesis is, in part, an attempt to discover the origins of this socially comprehensive role which the Labour Council adopts and which the community, by and large, expects of it.

This thesis attempts to show how the structures of the Australian trade union movement and the issues which concerned it were dealt with in the specific conditions of the Illawarra in the period 1926-45. It examines the economic conditions which provided the impetus to the formation of the I.T.& L.C., as well as the political motives of those who worked to bring it about.

Chapter One traces the source of workers' desire to organise, and the way in which compulsory arbitration expedited existing moves of workers towards consolidation in the formation of unions and councils of unions. The importance of the connection between the trade unions and their political party in establishing labour movement principles is noted, as is the brief manifestation of the first Illawarra Labour Council.

The foundation in 1926 of the I.T.& L.C. in response to the prospects of increased employment in the steel industry about to be established at Port Kembla, and the paradox of it having, in the event, increased not reduced unemployment in the Illawarra is demonstrated in Chapter Two. In Chapter Three the difficulties which constrained the Labour Council and forced its discontinuation in 1931 are analysed. How social problems of the district, the methods used by the people who worked to counter the unsympathetic official attitudes to the problems of the unemployed, and the influence of the Communist Party's organisations for implementing a United Front of all working class organisations laid the foundation of the I.T.& L.C.'s present day self concept is discussed.

Chapter Four examines the implications for Illawarra workers in the recovery after the Depression, and in the Hoskins steelworks expansion plans. The matters brought before the I.T.& L.C. after its re-establishment in 1935 are shown to be of both industrial and social concern. The influence on the labour movement's activities of the C.P.A.'s United Front policies is demonstrated.

Chapter Five traces the development of industrial workers' confidence as the recovery continued. The direct action which two major unions of the I.T.& L.C. took, and the council's maintenance of interest in social issues is shown. It also deals with the reluctance of the Australian and Illawarra labour movement to accept the contingencies proposed by the conservative Federal Government to deal with a wartime situation, and its change of heart when the Curtin government came to office in 1941. The strong commitment of unions to the war brought by Germany's invasion of Russia was not merely an I.T.& L.C. phenomenon born of the esteem in which its Communist members were held, but reflected also the labour movement's attitudes including those of the A.C.T.U. The links between the I.T.& L.C. and other local bodies were maintained by the Labour Council's assistance to charities, hospital services and the Volunteer Defence Corps throughout the war. The role played by the successful strike of 1945 when the two steel cities, Wollongong and Newcastle, maintained 13,000 men on strike, and their families, in developing further local confidence in the I.T.& L.C. is explored.

It is concluded that the belief of Illawarra unionists that no effort should be spared to bring about unity to give strength to workers led them so to concern themselves to ameliorate the harshness of the Great Depression that people identified the I.T.& L.C. with actions which had given them dignity and strength. Their support for the I.T.& L.C. gave it dignity and strength in turn, and defined the role of the Illawarra unions' council as not merely to negotiate industrial matters, but to be a vehicle by which social and political protest could be made.

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