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Issue #1913      May 4, 2020


The legislation of the NSW Labor Government providing for absolute preference for unionists is meeting with bitter opposition from the Liberal-Country Party leaders, the capitalist press and the employers.

Noel Counihan’s Farmer – Worker Unity, 1940.

These enemies of trade unionism denounce the legislation as a violation of human rights and of the freedom of the trade unions.

[Liberal Opposition Leader] Mr Treatt says the legislation is a violation of “the basic human right to work”, but did not tell us when or where the capitalists had ever conceded to the workers the “right to work.”

Everyone knows the Menzies Government and the employers want a “pool of unemployed” in order to strengthen their attacks on the trade union movement and the conditions of the workers.

One of the gems of Treatt’s speech was his concern at “Government interference” in union affairs.

“Government interference and control in union affairs which this Bill is starting”, said Treatt, “is only the beginning of the road to disaster for free and independent unionism.”

After that warning, Mr Treatt should tell the Menzies Government, and also the Cahill Government, to repeal all the legislation, that is, all the compulsory laws, limiting the activities of the trade unions. He should especially denounce the legislation under which the Menzies Government, in collaboration with the Industrial Groups, compels unions to hand their ballots over to the control of the Government.

It is quite clear that the opposition of the boss class to compulsory unionism has its basis in their hatred of trade unionism, their fear of the working class.


We agree with the Labor Minister, Mr Landa, that they are the spiritual descendants of those who deported the Tolpuddle Martyrs for organising a trade union and who did everything in their power to prevent the growth of trade Unionism.

These loud-mouthed advocates of “freedom” do not want strong, free and independent unions. Their brand of “freedom” is freedom for non-unionists, freedom for strike breakers. They want to be “free” to disrupt and destroy the unions.

At the same time the question must be asked: is compulsory unionism in the best interests of the working class?

The Communist Party believes that every worker should be a member of a trade union. We agree entirely with those Labor Party members who point out that the non-unionist gets the benefit of all the conditions won by the trade unions but contributes nothing in the form of cash support.

Does this mean, however, that the trade unions should turn to the capitalist State, which has always been used against them, to build the unions?

Should the boss class, the mortal enemies of trade unionism, be called upon to force reluctant employees into unions?


If the trade unions are to depend upon this form of compulsion, as provided for in the Labor Government’s legislation, then the outlook is poor indeed. Such compulsion will not make for strong and independent Unions. It will weaken the trade unions and make them more and more dependent on the capitalist State.

There are a number of industries – mining, maritime, metal, building, railways, etc. – in which all, or nearly all, the workers are organised in the trade unions. The workers do not need the intervention of either the State or the employers. Indeed they would oppose such interference. Any worker who resists joining a union after the reasons are explained to him is compelled by the rank and file of the union to join or leave the job.

In these industries the trade unions are strong because the workers are convinced trade unionists.

The unions most anxious for compulsory unionism are the right-wing controlled Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), Clerks and Shop Assistants’ Unions.


The officials of these organisations are not concerned with arousing Union consciousness or the building of fighting unions. They collaborate with the boss and want the union members to be passive instead of active.

With compulsory unionism the work of collecting union dues will be simplified for them, as the employer will be expected, by law, to see that his employees are financial unionists. With the union’s finances assured, there will be less need than ever for the right-wing officials to contact and consult with their rank and file.

Compulsory unionism, therefore, will result in a more powerful and entrenched bureaucracy in these unions and less democracy for the rank and file.

Compulsory unionism increases the interference of the capitalist State in the internal affairs of the unions. Already there are the powers enabling the Government to take control of union ballots, to enforce awards unsatisfactory to the workers, to suppress strikes, to impose heavy penalties on unions and to jail union officials and members who defend the interests of the workers against attacks on living standards and so on.


It is time the trade unions took up the fight against Government interference instead of seeking to extend it.

Compulsory unionism has many dangers for the working class and should be rejected.

The trade unions can be soundly built only in the struggle against capital. Membership of the Unions should be on a voluntary basis and the control of union affairs should be centred on the rank and file.

This article appeared in Tribune November, 1953.


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