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Issue #1909      March 30, 2020


Eleven Federal trade unions with a membership of over 200,000 will throw their full weight into a campaign against attempts to impose Fascism on the Australian people.

In Sydney Town Hall last week the powerful Metal Trades Federation called on the ACTU to organise a nation-wide campaign for repeal of all anti-trade union and repressive legislation.

Five hundred delegates, shop stewards and officials of unions comprising the federation carried a resolution describing this legislation as “increasingly menacing to the working class.”

A manifesto, issued by the eleven Federal unions and endorsed by the Federation, declares that “the alarming growth towards fascism in Australia” is shown by:

  • The brutal batoning of legal observer Fred Paterson, MLA, and many Brisbane trade unionists taking part in a peaceful procession on March 17.
  • The anti-trade union, strikebreaking legislation of the Hanlon, Hollway, and Playford Governments.
  • The hysterical demands by “Liberal” and Country Party leaders and others for the suppression of the Communist Party, and further measures to destroy trade union militancy.

The eleven unions which issued the manifesto include Ironworkers, Boilermakers, Blacksmiths, AEU, Moulders, Sheet Metal Workers. Miners’ Federation, FED and FA, Waterside Workers’ Federation, Seamen and ARU.

The manifesto was supported by the town hall meeting of 500 shop stewards, union delegates and officials, representing unions in the Metal Trades Federation.

Those present pledged themselves to support the principles of the manifesto and to fight for a free, democratic Australia.


The text of the manifesto is:

The great Australian trade union movement, the chief guardian of traditional living standards and the main stronghold of democracy, must gather together all its forces to defeat attempts to impose fascism on the people of Australia.

The Queensland legislation has been described by the Queensland Labor Council as the “most vicious anti-working-class legislation ever introduced in Australia.” It bans picketing and gives the police power to arrest without warrant and to enter any premises, including union offices and meetings, at any time.

It bans the publication of the strikers’ side of the case and prohibits the display of signs and posters soliciting support for striking unions.

Police are given full power to use force against striking unionists wherever they deem it necessary.

The purpose of this, and similar legislation in other States, is to outlaw strikes, legalise scabbery, smash organised picketing, intimidate workers and, above all, to destroy trade unionism.


Similar repressive legislation by German Governments preceded the coming to power of Hitler in 1933. Hitler also attempted to blame the Communists for all Germany’s industrial and political ills and proclaimed the banning of the Communist Party to be his main aim.

When Hitler came to power, however, he suppressed not only the Communist Party but also the Social Democratic Labour Party and the Free German trade unions, including the Christian trade unions. Communists, Social Democrats, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, all who protested against forced labour at starvation wage-rates were persecuted and herder into concentration camps without distinction.

The terrible tragedy of the German labour movement was that the great trade unions, that could have done so much, did so little to unite and fight fascism while it was still in its formative stages.

To prevent this tragedy being repeated in Australia, the Federal unions that subscribe to this manifesto call on all Australian workers to unite their forces and fight with the utmost determination to defend their traditional liberties.

The right to strike, the right to picket, the right to assemble without police interference, and the right to publicise our cause without police censorship, are traditional rights won in 100 years of struggle and essential to the very existence of free trade unions in Australia.


The great trade unions have always maintained the unassailable right of individual members of their own religious and political beliefs and will fight to uphold these rights against any move to ban the Communist Party or any other working-class organisation.

To defend democratic rights and defeat growing fascism before it has time to gain a foothold on Australian soil, the whole trade union movement must unite in a campaign for the repeal of Hanlon’s Industrial Law Amendment Act, Hollway’s Essential Services Act, Playford’s Industrial Disputes (Inquiry) Bill, Dr Evatt’s approved Defence Projects Protection Act and all similar anti-trade union, anti-democratic legislation.

The working-class movement, providing it is firmly united, is much stronger than the forces of reaction and fascism. United struggle now will safeguard trade union and democratic rights.

This article originally appeared in Tribune in March,1948.


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