14. THE LABOR PARTY. The Aus tralian Labor party has its genesis in the great maritime strike of 1890. It is true that spasmodic attempts had been made during earlier years to procure direct parliamentary representation for working-class interests, and in two or three isolated instances men had been returned to one or other of the colonial Parlia ments. Nothing, however, in the nature of an extended or sustained effort had been attempted prior to the great strike. For some years before 1890 the trades unions generally had been gain ing in strength and influence and had won many concessions from the employers in regard to wages and working conditions; but the sea faring classes had not participated in these ad vantages in anything like equal degree. A crisis was reached when the marine officers, who had been for years overworked and under paid, decided to form a union and affiliate with the other labor organizations. The shipowners demanded, as a preliminary to the discussion of grievances, that the officers should dissociate themselves from the labor unions; but fearing this would leave them at the mercy of the em ployers, the officers refused to acquiesce,, and a strike was precipitated. In sympathy with the officers, the seamen and longshoremen around the coast ceased work and as the employers continued obdurate the trouble extended until the strike included many unions wholly uncon nected with shipping. aFreedom of Contract"— an equivalent of the American °open shoe— became the war-cry of the employers, and prac tically the whole community took sides with one party or the other. After a struggle lasting some three months, during which trade was paralyzed, much bad blood created and both sides financially injured, the men acknowledged defeat. Apart from the cost to the combatants themselves thepublic had suffered severely, and when the smoke of battle had cleared away there was a general desire expressed to find some way of avoiding similar conflicts in the future. A royal commission was appointed by the government of New South Wales, and served some good purpose in ascertaining clearly the grievances of the men; but it achieved little of a practical nature beyond suggesting the creation of an arbitration court to which disputes could be voluntarily referred. The
press, while mostly taking the employers' view upon the points at issue, concurred in advising the unions to rely upon legislation to remedy their legitimate grievances, and this advice was taken seriously by the men when they emerged trom the conflict— defeated, but grimly deter mined to retrieve their lost influence.
While the effects of the strike had been felt all through Australia, the battle had raged most fiercely along the eastern seaboard, where population is greatest, and therefore the colonies mostly affected were those of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Aus tralia. It was in these colonies, then, where the cry arose for a more equitable distribution of political power and a greater consideration of labor interests. This demand was ac centuated by the political conditions existing at the time. From the granting of self-govern ment the Parliaments of the various colonies had included many men who fought strenuously for the people's interests, and who deserve the whole-hearted gratitude of the reformers of to-day; but in spite of their efforts matters political were so backward in 1890 that there was an urgent need of a fresh impulse. While manhood suffrage had been nominally secured, plural voting obtained in all the colonies except South Australia; factory legislation was either non-existent or so inefficient as to be practically useless; except in Victoria, nothing had been done to protect those working in dangerous oc cupations, such as mining; the question of em ployers' liability was in a very unsatisfacto state; hours of employment were unregulated and sweating was rampant; and many other social questions were carefully avoided. In addition, and perhaps most important, there was no method by which public opinion could find expression in an authoritative manner with regard to the merits of labor disputes. Briefly, the complaint of the unionists and their sympathizers was that working-class interests had been neglected, as should perhaps have been expected from Parliaments made up for the most part of the wealthier classes or their representatives.