Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of History


This thesis provides an account of the history of the growth and character of the Federated Miscellaneous Workers' Union of Australia from 1915 to 1985. With an emphasis on its New South Wales Branch and the years up until 1955, the argument is pursued in examinations of the union's origins and its periods of major change and development.

It is argued that the union was originally created by craft unionists out of the arbitration laws enacted in Australia during the first two decades of the century. The union's general composition initially derived from the fact that its early manbers lacked the fundamental sectionalism assumed by craft unionism and these laws.

The major changes to the union over its first 30 years occurred during the period of working class radicalism between 1917 and 1927 and in the aftermath of the Great Depression fran 1934 until the Second World War. As a consequence of this history, by 1945 the union reached a point of profound internal contradiction. It had a goverrment that had becone philosophically and structurally integrated with arbitration and a maonbership v*iere sections vAiich had come under militant rank-and-file leadership had developed to the extent that they were capable of taking their own direct action.

Arising from this contradiction, between 1945 and 1955 the union underwent a major period of internal conflict and re-definition that ushered in a new and more radical leadership and generally accounts for the union's subsequent growth and character. Between 1955 and 1970 the organisation developed into one of the largest, more progressive and most effective unions in Australia.

Against the orthodoxy that has defined trade unions primarily as autonomous instruments of sectional economic interests, it is argued throughout that the union's growth and character were determined by a much greater conplexity of social relations.

While recognising the special significance of this institution's relationship with the state and the labour movanent at large, central to the thesis is the proposition that at least as important to the union's history as its immediate relationships were the wider social relations which these presupposed. Trade unions are evidence as well as agents of change in society and, it is argued, any understanding of their history depends on the extent to which both these aspects of their past and the relationship between them are able to be realised.

"The Giants who formed this world into its sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains, are in truth the causes of its life and the sources of all activity, but the chains are the cunning of weak and tame minds which have power to resist energy according to the proverb the weak in courage is strong in cunning. Thus one portion of being is the Prolific, the other the Devouring: to the devourer it seams as if the producer was in his chains; but it is not so, he only takes portions of existence and fancies that the whole ... But the Prolific would cease to be Prolific unless the Devourer as a sea received the excess of his delights. Seme will say: 'Is not God alone the Prolific?' I answer: 'God only Acts & Is in existing beings or Men'. These two classes of men are always upon earth, & they should be enemies: whoever tries to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence."

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1789-90

02Whole.pdf (7724 kB)



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.