Unionists celebrate defeat of penal powers
By Garry Walters
MELBOURNE — Following the May 26 Victorian Trades Hall meeting, 30 unionists attended a function in the Old Ballroom to mark 25 years since the historic six days of industrial action by millions of workers to win the release of jailed Victorian Tramways Union Secretary Clarrie O'Shea in May 1969.
This action defeated the hated penal powers, which had been used to fine many unions thousands of dollars for taking basic industrial action ever since the anti-worker Menzies government enacted its Arbitration Act in 1956.
The strike movement, led by mass shop stewards' rallies and supported by the ACTU and many trades and labour councils, sought not only the release of O'Shea, but also repeal of the penal powers.
While the mass solidarity quickly won the release of O'Shea, peak labour movement leaders did not provide enough real leadership to win the repeal demand. But in practical terms, the penal powers became a dead letter.
The May 26 celebration was organised by the Melbourne branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History.