Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Railway Strike in Queensland (1948)

Editorial from the April 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the S.P.G.B. pamphletIs Labour Government the Way to Socialism?” there is a brief description of the conflict between the Queensland Labour Government and the railwaymen in 1927 which helped to defeat the Labour Government at the elections two years later. A similar conflict broke out in February of this year, and for weeks Queensland’s State railways were at a standstill. From reports in the London newspapers it appears that in the first place railway workshop workers struck for increased pay, refusing to wait the long time before their claim would have been heard by the Arbitration Court. The rest of the railwaymen came out in support and refused to go back when ordered to do so by the Arbitration Court. Thereupon the Labour Government took drastic action. They “proclaimed a state of emergency, under which the police have power to arrest all strike pickets . . . . To-day the Government announced that all workers must return on Monday or they would be dismissed from the service.” (Times, February 28th, 1918.) Then they hurried a Bill through the legislature "giving the police drastic powers to deal with unauthorized strikes.” (Times, March 10th, 1948.)

Dockers, both in Queensland and New South Wales came out in sympathy with the railwaymen and in protest against the measures taken by the Government. Here is a report of an incident during the strike : — 
    "The police drew batons to-day in their first major clash with Queensland railway strikers. About 400 of the strikers, carrying placards and yelling, broke through the police cordon in a march through Brisbane streets. Pickets fought the police as they seized placards and several men were hit by the batons.” (Evening News, March 15th, 1948.)
According to the Daily Mail (March 16th, 1948) "the Federal Labour Government has now become involved, as the powerful Seamen’s Union and the Waterside Workers’ Federation have declared for the Queensland strikers. They are both ‘Federal’ unions, and Communists hold key positions in them.”

Naturally the Queensland Labour Government has seized upon the convenient excuse that the Communists are responsible for the strike, but workers who still believe that the Labour leaders can do better than the avowed supporters of capitalism at running their system should not be misled by that red herring, but should wake up to the fact that strikes against capitalist exploitation are inevitable no matter which party runs the system. And railwaymen who have just been holding celebrations for the nationalisation of the British railways should observe from the example of Queensland (where the railways have been nationalised for many years) that nationalisation does not remove the need to struggle to maintain the standard of living.

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