Labor Federation [5 May 1891]

[Editor: The constitution of the Australasian Federation of Labour, adopted by the seventh Intercolonial Trades and Labor Congress held in 1891. Published in The Advertiser, 5 May 1891.]

Labor Federation.

The following is the full text of the scheme of federation as adopted by the seventh Intercolonial Trades and Labor Congress recently held at Ballarat:—


It is desirable for the maintenance and furtherance of unionism in Australasia that a definite federation of labor unions shall be instituted, which federation, while leaving to each individual union or local aggregation of unions full self-government in their own particular affairs, will be a means for securing unity of purpose and action on all general matters and for facilitating the mutual co-operation of affiliated unions whenever necessary for the common welfare. With this end in view the accompanying scheme of federation is submitted by the seventh Intercolonial Trades and Labor Congress, held in Ballarat, Victoria, to the labor councils and labor unions of Australasia.


1. The name shall be “The Australasian Federation of Labor.”


2. The federation shall consist of labor unions consolidated for mutual assistance and the furtherance of the cause of labor generally, and shall be governed as hereinafter provided.


3. The following shall be the objects of the federation:—

(a) To improve the condition and protect the interests of all classes of labor throughout Australasia.

(b) To discuss, consider, and put in force, when approved, any scheme for the better guidance and extension of Australasian labor organisation.

(c) To prevent, if possible, by conference or otherwise, any threatened strike or dispute between members of the federation and their employers, and to endeavor by conciliatory measures to uphold the rules of an federated body; failing which, to provide ways and means for the maintenance of the union involved.

(d) To secure the direct representation of labor in Parliament, and promote such Legislative reforms as will ensure social justice to Australasian workers.

(e) To secure a better advocacy of the principles and rights of labor through the press.


4. Each and every affiliated union shall pay to the district council of the federation under which it is governed the sum of fourpence per month for each one of its financial members, payment to be in advance, and to commence from date of admission. Of this fourpence one farthing shall be paid through the provincial council to the general council for its sustentation, twopence to a defence fund in each district council, the balance to be apportioned for management and organisation purposes as may be decided by the respective provincial councils. Women’s unions shall be admitted to full affiliation upon payment of half the above dues. Provided that nothing in these rules shall prevent provincial or district councils from making such further financial arrangements for internal government as may appear to them necessary, so long as such arrangements are not in contravention of these rules.


5. For the purpose of facilitating the working of the federation, its unions shall be grouped into districts, governed by district councils, the district councils in each province to be severally represented on a provincial council, which shall be the central authority for the said province, and shall be subject only to the general council of delegates representing the whole federation.


6. The general council, which shall meet at least once in each year, shall be composed of one delegate from each district council having not more than 5,000 members, and for every additional 5,000 members, or part thereof, one additional delegate. The general council shall be invested with the following powers:—

(a) To order a plebiscite of the federation upon any question of amending, rescinding, or making rules for the government of the federation.

(b) To elect or remove any of its officers, except the general president, general secretary, and general treasurer, who shall be elected by a plebiscite vote of the federation.

(c) To control the general council fund.

(d) To decide all appeals against the decision of the general executive.

(e) It may institute legal proceedings on behalf of the federation, and may direct the general trustees to take legal proceedings against any officer of the federation who misappropriates its funds.

(f) It shall see to the carrying out of the objects of the federation in strict accordance with the general votes.

The expenses of all delegates to general council meetings shall be defrayed by their respective provincial or district councils. The official seal of the federation shall be attached to every document issued by the general council, and no document emanating from the general council shall be received or discussed by provincial or district councils unless the said seal is so attached.


7. The general executive of the federation shall consist of a general president, general secretary, and general treasurer, who shall be elected in February of each year by plebiscite of the federation, and of the provincial presidents, who shall hold seats on the general executive by virtue of their office. The powers of the general executive shall be limited to the superintendence of the federation in the interim between the meetings of the general council. It shall take every means to secure the due observance of the rules of the federation, to further its objects, and protect the funds. It shall direct the action of the trustees, and be responsible for the rightful administration of the general fund in accordance with the instructions of the general council. It shall have power to summon special meetings of the general council, when deemed necessary. It shall, on request from any provincial or district council, determine as to the interpretation of any general rule, or decide any matter on which the rules are silent. The decision of the general executive in all such cases to be subject to appeal to the general council, whose decision shall be final.


8. Any provincial council may, by a two-thirds majority, request the general secretary to summons a meeting of the general executive for the consideration of special business, the nature of which shall be fully stated. Such meeting shall be held as speedily as possible after the receipt of the summons by the general secretary, who shall, in convening the meeting, inform each member of the general executive of the special business to be transacted. Should the general executive, however, deem the business or object of the meeting frivolous the expenses of such special meeting shall be defrayed by the provincial council at whose instance it was summoned.


9. The provinces of the federation for the time being shall be:— The northern province, comprising the present colony of Queensland; the eastern province, comprising the present colony of. New South Wales; the southern province, comprising the present colony of Victoria; the central province, comprising the present colony of South Australia; the western province, comprising the present colony of Western Australia; the Pacific province, comprising the present colony of New Zealand; and the Tasmanian province, comprising the present colony of Tasmania; or such of these provinces as may come under the jurisdiction of the Australasian Federation.


10. Provincial councils shall meet within four weeks prior to the general council annual meeting, and at such other times as they may deem necessary. It shall be the duty of each provincial council to adopt by-laws dealing with its constitution and functions, always provided that such by-laws are in strict conformity with the general rules of the federation.


11. The executive management of the provinces of the federation in the interim between provincial council meetings shall be entrusted to such officers as may be instituted by the provincial council rules, which officers shall be designated as provincial president, provincial secretary, &c. Provincial presidents and provincial secretaries shall be elected by a plebiscite of their respective provinces.


12. Districts shall be organised as may seem advisable to local affiliating societies, and shall afterwards be chartered by the general executive upon the recommendation of the provincial council in whose jurisdiction they are situated. The federation shall recognise only such districts as affiliated which are working under such charters.


13. District council rules dealing with their constitution and functions shall be framed by the respective districts, but such rules must not clash with the general rules of the federation, or with the rules of the province in whose jurisdiction districts are located. District executive officers shall be designated as district president, district secretary, &c.


14. In the event of a disturbance threatening an affiliated union, such union shall:—

(I.) Endeavor to settle the dispute peacefully, failing which it shall submit its case to its district executive, who shall act in conjunction with a committee of the union involved. This joint committee shall endeavor to settle the dispute in a peaceful and friendly manner; failing this the district council shall without delay bring the matter before the affiliated unions.

(II.) In the event of emergency or trifling dispute the district council may decide by a two-thirds majority to take action in defence of the principles of the federation without previously consulting the affiliated unions, but it shall submit its action to them with all possible dispatch. Under ordinary circumstances before taking action the district council shall place questions involving disputes before the affiliated unions, and shall be governed in its subsequent course by their decision.

(III.) Before the district council shall pledge its assistance to any disturbed union (excepting in the cases provided for by section II. of this rule) it shall obtain the results of the voting in the various affiliated unions, the voting to be conducted according to the rules of such district council; but in any case a majority composing two thirds of the votes cast shall be necessary before the council shall pledge such assistance. Should the threatened disturbance show a likelihood of affecting any other district or province the joint consideration of the provincial or district councils interested shall be given it in accordance with the provisions of this and the preceding section, and none shall act without the consent of the others affected. In case of great emergency a meeting of the provincial council shall be called.

(IV.) When it has been decided to financially support an affiliated union the district council shall make arrangements for financial support to the extent of a sum not exceeding 20s. weekly for each financial member locked out or on strike, such support to be distributed as the union in question may think fit. Provided that in no case shall such support be given during the first week of any disturbance.

(V.) Any decision of a district council involving action shall endow that council with the following powers of levy, unity, and censure within its jurisdiction:—

(a) To levy a special contribution upon every employed enrolled member in its district.

(b) To strengthen the disturbed union or unions by securing in the name of the federation the active co-operation of other unions in other districts, and to take any other steps for ensuring the united action of workers which the urgency of the case may require.

(c) To censure, in the name of the federation, any corporation, firm, or individual whose conduct shall, in its opinion, show them to be unjust, cruel, or bitter enemies to labor; it shall communicate such censure where necessary to its provincial executive for general notification; and it shall be obligatory upon members of the federation to give effect to that censure.

(VI.) The powers provided in the preceding section shall be exercised only upon a two-thirds majority decision of a district council which shall assume control of all disturbances in conjunction with the strike committee of the union or unions involved, and shall cease with the termination of the dispute.

(VII.) The federation reserves to itself the right of withholding assistance from any affiliated body entering upon a strike without having received the sanction of its district council.

The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), Tuesday 5 May 1891, page 6

Also published in:
The Worker (Brisbane, Qld.), Saturday 16 May 1891, page 7

Editor’s notes:
The article, as published in The Worker (Saturday 16 May 1891) concluded with the names of the main union officials, along with the place and date of the union congress:

W. HURDSFIELD, President.
P. J. BRENNAN, Vice-president.
T. H. LAWN, Treasurer.
JOHN WILSON, Secretary.

Ballarat, April 27th, 1891.

[Editor: Corrected “ACTION ON DISTUBANCES” to “ACTION ON DISTURBANCES”; added a full stop to the end of “throughout Australasia”.]

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