Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This thesis analyses the history of the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage Employees' Union (Wages Division) between its birth in 1909 and 1970. The context is the particular development of a water supply and sewerage industry for Sydney and the patterns of unionisation of construction labourers. Until 1928, the Public Worics Dqiartment had responsibility for the major construction works, the Water Board for maintenance. This thesis argues that the nature of the industry's financing and technical operation encouraged the development of a dual labour force and dual union culture. Construction labourers were casuals while those doing the Board's maintenance received permanent jobs. As a result, the former developed an outward-looking industrial culture and formal organisations with traditions of militancy. The opposite was true for the latter, which only survived due to preferential treatment from the employer and the arbitration system. Hence, it was to these institutions that the officials of the house union looked. The Board aided and used its willing house union's position within the arbitration system to keep less cooperative organisations outside. The union's officials used the Board's concessions to hold the allegiance of the key maintenance groups. In this way, they kept control of the union while maintaining industrial peace. Where the Board failed to compromise, union officials attempted to apply pressure through the the Labor Party. When, in 1928, the Board took over sole construction responsibility, it imported the traditions of the construction workers into its workforce and into its house union. Nevertheless, the group from maintenance who ran the union maintained control until 1970, despite the numerical superiority and hostility of the construction workers. In the same way, in harmony with the Board, they maintained industrial peace. Construction workers faced intermittent unemployment which reinforced their casual status, made them industrially vulnerable and hindered attempts to build up any competing organisation. They also tended to live and work in isolated areas. If these two factors did not opiate for any length of time, the ruling group faced great dangers to its control of the union. In the same way, the union's comfortable relationship widi the Board came under stress. To buttress their dominance, the officials structured the union, its meetings and electoral processes to effectively disenfranchise and marginalise the mass of those on construction. The overall result was a system for maintaining control which used institutions of the state for industrially domesticating a potentially rebellious workforce. As such diis is an important case study of die tradition of labourism which has dominated the Australian labour movement

02Chapter1.pdf (2633 kB)
03Chapter2.pdf (2196 kB)
04Chapter3.pdf (2228 kB)
05Chapter4.pdf (2776 kB)
06Chapter5.pdf (1391 kB)
07Chapter6.pdf (3484 kB)
08Chapter7.pdf (2632 kB)
09Conclusion.pdf (431 kB)
10Bibliography.pdf (929 kB)
11Appendices.pdf (102 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.