Labor Pains

6

With the fuss amongst Labor Party types and their union supporters/members, it is instructive to read the report of the early conferences of the NSW ALP, edited by Michael Hogan and lavishly published by Federation Press.  In his introduction to volume one (which covers the founding of the party to the conference of 1905, Hogan points out that that “the first 15 years of the Labor Party in NSW showed both a divided party and a number of attempts to assert elitist control. Yet what is truly impressive is how often the reality of internal democracy was reasserted. The mass meetings of 1901-1905 – with over 200 delegated, meeting every day or evening, sometimes for nine or ten days, with uninhibited discussion and struggles to gain consensus on controversial issues – show a party with healthy internal democracy.” The early conference (1892) could only muster about 20 delegates.

AND do you know that one of the key debates at this early (1892) conference was? It was about representation of unions, in the form of the NSW Trades and  Labour Council. Mr Skelton moved that the Labour Council representation on the Central Executive of the Labour Electoral League be reduced from 11 to 5.The Labour Council was the founder of this League ie founder of the Party with the aim of having parliamentary representation. Wonderful that the very first conference moved to reduce the role of the founders. Not to stop there, Mr Howes moved an amendment to Skelton’s motion, reduce it to 3, not 5. This move gained majority support. Mr Winspeare went further, however, and moved that Labour Council representation on the central executive be abolished altogether!!  This was rejected because the delegates didn’t wish the league to be too “out of touch” with the working classes. It was lost 12-4.

So after a little further debate (reduce it to 2, not 3) the conference accepted the 3, and decided to discuss the 2 at a later date.

Thus today’s worries pale. The unions had suffered big defeats and the colonies were in depression as part of a worldwide capitalist crisis. Unions had decided to form a political party as a way of introducing laws that would help them deal with capilalists, red in tooth and claw. Immediate effect, the politicians saw the unionists as a threat to their desire to “govern for all”.

See Labor Pains Early Conference and Executive Reports of the Labor Party of NSW vols 1-3. Edited by Michael Hogan (Federation Press, 2006-2010). Hogan has worked up another 2 volumes but has been unable to obtain funding for print publication but they are online apparently and take us up to 1935. This was a time of storm and struggle, with conscription, splits, Lang, Curtin and all.  The ALP of NSW hasn’t been willing to assist the publishing of their history

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