Class conflict in Queensland society in the period 1929- 1939 is a neglected area of study.(1) Despite the importance generally accorded the 1930s Depression, there is no published account of Queensland during this period comparable to G.C.Bolton's A Fine Country to Starve In, Ray Broomhill's Unemployed Workers, L.J.Louis' Trade Unions and the Depression, or Len Richardson's The Bitter Years.(2) The major publication on Queensland in the 1930s, Diane Menghetti's The Red North, is limited by region to North Queensland, by period to the latter half of the 1930s, and by topic to the Communist Party's Popular Front(3) Brian Costar's published and unpublished works dominate the historiography of Queensland in the Depression.(4) His argument that Queensland was less affected by the economic downturn than other Australian states and suffered comparatively little upheaval has tended to discourage detailed consideration of conflict in Queensland in the 1930s.(5)
This study is based on the premise that examination of conflict is essential to an understanding of Queensland history. It rejects what Raymond Evans criticises as a 'rather cavalier approach to the historical recounting of social and political turbulence' in which examples of conflict are occasionally acknowledged and rarely analysed by historians who present an essentially consensus view of Australian history.(6) It also avoids the tendency of some historians to stress the factors inhibiting militancy during the Depression to the exclusion of an adequate assessment of the militancy which actually occurred. In addition to underestimating the extent of working-class activism, such analyses appear to assume that militancy is an attribute peculiar to the working class. In fact, fears of falling profits and recognition of the constraints imposed by the Depression on the trade union movement often encouraged employer militancy. In contrast to the emphasis placed on the political labour movement in this period by Queensland labour historians, Brian Costar and Ross Fitzgerald, this study is primarily concerned with the industrial labour movement.(7) The Queensland Labor Party is assessed in relation to its response to and influence on the levels of militancy displayed by the industrial labour movement.
The following account investigates the strikes, lockouts and unemployed protests which occurred in Queensland between 1929 and 1939, and examines class conflict and mobilisation as revealed in these disputes. Many of these incidents have not previously been recognised or analysed by historians. A major theme of this study is the impact of the Depression and its aftermath on the nature and scope of industrial militancy. The different levels of activism displayed by members and executives of Queensland trade unions, and the effect on militancy of the anti-strike stance of both the political labour movement and the executive of the Australian Workers Union are examined, as is the role of the Communist Party of Australia, the Militant Minority Movement and the Pastoral Workers' Industrial Union. Employer militancy and State intervention are also central concerns of this study.(8) Although particularly interested in charting the extent of working-class militancy in Queensland in the 1930s, this study rejects 'one-class' history. It details the interaction of workers, employers and the State in incidents of overt conflict.
This study is thus primarily concerned with class conflict. It nevertheless recognises that class relations in Queensland history do not occur in isolation from race and gender relations. The Queensland working class presented in this thesis includes employed and unemployed men and women of different ethnic and racial heritages. Finally, the selection of unemployed protest as a central component of this study repudiates the patronising attitude of those historians who dismiss unemployed protest as unimportant. E.P.Thompson's oft-quoted comment on 'the condescension of posterity' is an appropriate reminder to historians of the 1930s Depression in Australia to recognise the significance for the unemployed of the issues for which they fought, and the achievement of unemployed workers in protesting against their condition despite their vulnerable position in Australian society. ..........