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W.G. Spence

Extracts from

Australia's Awakening

W.G. Spence

Unionism came to the Australian bushman as a religion. It came, bringing salvation from years of tyranny. It had in it that feeling of mateship which he understood already, and which always characterised the action of one "white man" to another. Unionism extended the idea, so a man's character was gauged by whether he stood true to Union rules or "scabbed" it on his fellows. The man who never went back on his Union is honoured today as no other is honoured or respected. The man who fell once may be forgiven, but he is not fully trusted. The lowest term of reproach is to call a man a "scab".

Experience has taught that the man who sells himself to the employer at a time of strike is a man of weak character, if not worse. At many a country ball the girls have refused to dance with them, the barmaids have refused them a drink, and the waitresses a meal.

Unionists have starved rather than accept work under other conditions. Hundreds of men have worn their boots and clothes to tatters seeking work upon Union terms; and, not finding it, have gone without for a year - remaining penniless, but independent, and proud that they had not degraded themselves. It was such men who made the Union a success, and enabled it to hold its own against well-organised Capitalism aided by friendly Governments. Men imbued with such a spirit put the Cause above personal self-interest. They needed no prompting - no exciting by fiery orators - but stood loyal to principle, no matter what the consequences might be. Rough and unpolished many of them may be; but manly, and "white" all the time, and the movement owes them much.

[pages 78-79]

The A.W.U. was the first to introduce the idea of applying Trades Union methods to secure political and social reform. It teaches its members that to vote straight for Labor candidates is as necessary as to act straight in regard to Union rules and conditions industrially. The working man who supports any candidate for Parliament opposed to a Labor candidate is considered as politically black-legging on his class. The effect of this teaching has been such that wherever the A.W.U. holds sway the representatives in Parliament are all Labor members, and if there be any member of the Union who votes for any other he is unknown and unheard of.

The Union has recognised that it is not by hoarding money, but by the judicious expenditure of its funds, that success comes. To secure an educated membership is its aim rather than the building up of big funds. It is men rather than money who will win the fight for social justice. Every year the Union sends out organisers, and last year it had twenty-eight working at one time, all of whom are paid, and whose duty it is not only to enrol members, but to educate them industrially and politically. A certain sum is spent on literature, and one shilling per member per year is set apart in a Parliamentary fund for paying the expenses of candidates.

[pages 76-77]

This document comprises extracts from Australia's Awakening by W.G. Spence (Sydney, 1909). These were reprinted in A Documentary History of the Australian Labor Movement 1850-1975, edited by Brian J. McKinlay (Richmond, Victoria, 1979), pages 359-361.

The Association for the Advancement of Australian Culture