The address of Mr. H. V. Johnson, M.H.R, General President
Australian Workers Union
9th February 1944
What other country in the world enjoys the same political rights to the same free and untrammelled degree. Australia Leads the Way. I would like to point out to you, in passing, that until about five years ago the workers of the United States, of America had only reached the stage industrially upon which the Australian Workers’ Union concentrated following the ’91 Strike; and, politically, even now they are still in! the discussion stage as to the desirability of running their own working-class candidates for State and Federal legislatures. Industrial disputes until President Roosevelt’s New Deal were settled by negotiation or direct action, and on the coalfields and other large industrial concerns workers were frequently murdered in cold blood because they struck for increased wages or better conditions.
I have seen it stated that, politically and industrially, the working-class organisations of America and to a lesser extent those of Canada are over half a century behind those of Australia and New Zealand, because they have so far been content to leave the control and administration of government to the employing classes, and they have never until very recently had a direct Labor representative in Parliament. In Australia and New Zealand to-day both countries are governed by Labor administrations, and in Australia our Prime Minister and a number of his Cabinet colleagues are members of the Australian Workers’ Union.
And what I like best to contemplate, fellow delegates, is the fact that these political rights were secured for the men and women of this country without the firing of a shot or the shedding of a single drop of innocent blood.
Initiated in the sheds and camps many of them tabled at our Branch and Party meetings most of our industrial and political reforms. were beaten out by our representatives on the anvils of our Conferences and Conventions, and today some of these’ are the models of political efficiency and desire for which the peoples of other democratic countries are still patiently hoping, If time and opportunity permit ted, one could with great inspirational advantage to our members give some very interesting details of what has been done for the Cause of Democracy in Australia by our industrial pioneers, but the dangerous and difficult times through which we are now passing, render it necessary that we should. concentrate upon the problems that now confront us.
The Union Plays its Part In the struggle for democracy and for the preservation of individual freedom no greater conflict has ever been fought than that which now engages the attention of the people of Australia. In the last Great War it was estimated that nearly 60,000 members of the Australian Workers’ Union were involved, and many of them left the shores of their native land never again to return. In the present war, which has pressed so heavily upon us and our resources, it would not be possible to estimate what the members of this organisation have contributed to its success.
Besides those countless thousands of A.W.U. members who have carried the battle to the enemy wherever he may be found, on land, on the sea, and in the air, countless other thousands of our valiant members in the munition works, in the factories and on the great transcontinental construction works have helped to turn what was considered by many to have been a defence less community into an impregnable stronghold of democratic freedom. And in the process the majority of our members, with the rest of the people of this country, have voluntarily placed at the service of their native land all their spiritual and material possessions to ensure that the torch of liberty shall burn brightly, not merely above the Land of the Southern Cross, but above all other lands on earth.
With justice for their battle cry, the members of the Australian Workers’ Union have endeavoured to shape the destiny of this fair land that all may live a life of economic freedom, secure in the knowledge that the grand cause of humanity will remain unsullied, and that slavery and oppression will not taint their heritage as the descendants of those great pioneers, whose proudest boast was their undying hatred of wrong and their love of freedom.
The Fight for White Australia.
In the early days of this great organisation our industrial and political pioneers fought strenuously against the introduction of coloured labor, and in their: opposition to slavery and oppression they emblazoned the principle of White Australia on Labor’s standard. After a long and bitter fight the Chinese coolies were’ eliminated from the shearing sheds, and with the unanimous approval of the people kanakas were excluded from the sugar fields of North Queensland. Labor alone in those early days fought for the principle of a White Australia, and for humanity’s sake it was a glorious Labor triumph that it became the law of the land.
To day we find vested interests the same interests which, nearly a century ago, were anxious to
flood our rural industries with indentured slave labor, and which afterwards shamelessly advocated the handing over of northern and north-western areas of Australia to the Japanese — are’ discussing the advisability or expediency of revising our policy of White Australia. In their advocacy they are unfortunately encouraged by people who ought to know better, and who are, to say the least of it, extravagantly reckless of the consequences of the renewal of a traffic, of which Robert Louis Stevenson said there had ‘never been anywhere in the world any thing more hideous.
Not for the Melting Pot! So far as the Australian Workers’ Union and the Labor Movement are concerned, I know that the organisations which gave it birth and which have fostered and nurtured it down through the years, will not under any consideration tolerate for a moment, the suggestion that the policy of ‘White Australia’ should be thrown into the international melting pot.
The Australian Workers’ Union, which stands four-square before all men as the enemy of industrial slavery and economic depression, will. I say, fight with renewed vigor. The capitalist groups and interests which would open wide the doors of this country under any specious pretext for the flooding of our rural industries with cheap alien labor to break down the living standards and conditions of our members.
The fight that will involve this Union and. its members in the period that lies ahead, and particularly in the post-war period, whenever that arrives, will not be an easy one. In the change over from war to peace there will be many’difficulties and complex problems. The shape and the pattern of these may be very different from what we imagine, but if we can judge the future by past experiences, vested interests will fight like hell to secure for themselves the fruits of victory, and the workers will be hard put to regain their pre-war standards and conditions.
No magic wand will be waved to restore at any given time the personal liberties which were pooled in the nation’s war effort, and the way back to normalcy will be slow and it will call for the best that we can give of our courage and ability. Of this, however, we can rest assured: the destiny of our fair land, industrially and politically, is in our own hands, and insofar as we are loyal to one another and faithful to our organisations we will be able to achieve success.
The Australian Worker