Authors

Shirley Nixon

Abstract

The Labor Council of the Illawarra grew, like the unions which joined it, out of the desire shared by workers in industrial societies everywhere to achieve some control over their working conditions. In Australia unions began to form in the 1830s, and developed more rapidly in the second half of the nineteenth century. The formation of the New South Wales Labor Party in 1891, after the defeat of the Great Maritime Strike united trade unions, craft and unskilled, under its umbrella. It also placed unions within a broader peoples’ movement which had to contend with the necessity for its representatives to win electoral favour with the broader population. In the first years of Labor Party representation in Parliament the varying expectations in the electorate did not prevent some of the labour programme being implemented. Reforms in the franchise and in conditions in factories, regulations to exclude non-European migrants and the introduction of old age pensions were won.2 Labor parliamentarians advocated compulsory arbitration as a means of settling industrial disputes because it was electorally more attractive than strike action. Workers in New South Wales began to recognise the value of compulsory arbitration, preferring it to the Wages Boards of Victoria, because it provided a tribunal which would hear the union case directly, and which could be called upon by either party to a dispute for a judgement which was legally binding.

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