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Guide to Records of the Intercolonial Trades Union Congresses

The Noel Butlin Archives of Business and Labour is the oldest non-government collecting archives in Australia. It maintains, preserves and makes available for research records of national significance with comprehensive coverage of archives of employer, employee and professional organisations and a major collection of Australian companies.

Its holdings range in date from the mid 1820s to the mid 1990s. Introduction Scope of the Guide Holdings Access to Records Finding-Aids Published Sources Further Information Introduction The Intercolonial Trades Union Congresses were a means for Australian labour organisations to collectively organise themselves and to discuss issues of concern to all unions in all states. The first Congress met in Sydney in 1879. The Congress report states that “it was established that the labour organisations of Australasia were practically unanimous in holding certain opinions in social politics”. Political reform remained high on the agenda of subsequent Congresses. In total there were eight Congresses: 1879 (Sydney); 1884 (Melbourne); 1885 (Sydney); 1886 (Adelaide); 1888 (Brisbane); 1889 (Hobart); 1891 (Ballarat) and 1898 (Adelaide). Between 1879 and 1898, topics regularly discussed included legislation of trade unions, organisation of labour, abolition of “Chinese and coolie immigration”, Compulsory Court of Arbitration, Employers Liability Act, legalisation of the 8 hours system, land nationalisation, manhood suffrage, direct representation of labour in Parliament, appointment of working men on technical and other boards, free compulsory and secular education by the state and regulation of apprentices. Among the resolutions passed were those concerning the Commonwealth Draft Bill, assisted immigration, payment to Members of Parliament, single tax, paid union organisers, minimum wage and industrial federation. The 7th Congress in Ballarat was held after the defeat of the Great Maritime Strike in 1890, and concern over the effectiveness of labour bargaining power is reflected in the papers of the Congress. Issues relating to the political organisation of the labour movement and of restructuring trade union organisation under the Australasian Federation of Labour were of major importance. Scope of the Guide This guide identifies records of the Intercolonial Trades Union Congresses held firstly, by the
Noel Butlin Archives Centre and then by other collecting archives and libraries. The Congresses were originally listed under various titles including Intercolonial Trades and Labour/Labor Congress and Intercolonial Trades Union Congress. We have standardised it for the sake of simplicity. The items listed in this guide come from several collections including: Victorian Operative Bricklayers Society (Deposit T8), the Tom McDonald Papers (Deposit P20), the Ballarat Trades and Labour Council (Deposit E97), the Federated Seamen’s Union of Australasia – Port Adelaide Branch (Deposit P92), Printing Industry Employees’ Union of Australia – New South Wales Branch (Deposit T39), and the Printing Industry Employees’ Union of Australia – Queensland Branch (Deposit T51). We were unable to find items in our collection relating to the Fourth Intercolonial Trades Union Congress (Adelaide, 1886). However, it is likely that there are other records or collections of use at the Centre regarding the other Congresses.

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