Lloyd Ross became secretary of the Amalgamated Railway Workers Union (ARU) in September 1935, and in this interview he discusses his time in that role, delving into union politics.
Ross discusses the conditions that lead to the General Strike of 1917, including the impact of World War I, a mood of war weariness among workers, and the recent defeat of conscription. He also explains the divisions in the union movement that grew out of the 1917 General Strike, in particular the Catholic / Protestant divide, and the formation of two strikebreaking unions which amalgamated into the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR). He says in 1935, workers still remembered the events of 1917 and consequently unions at Eveleigh Railway workshops were divided, although over time unity slowly developed.
Before becoming ARU Secretary, Lloyd organised lunchtimes lectures and classes at Railway workshops.
GW: What were conditions like in ’35 in Eveleigh? What sort of place was it as a workshop? Can you just give me some kind of…
LR: It was very divided from the point of view of unionism. The ARU had the so called unskilled grades and the other grades were divided among the craft unions. That was a very difficult situation as you can imagine. If you had a meeting to decide union policy, there would be a good gathering of ARU members at lunchtime but they could easily make decisions which wouldn’t be acceptable to the craft unions. That was the cause of the rise of the workshop committees where they did attempt on local shop matters anyway to get agreement. That idea of unity spread through the workshops. When, some years later, I conducted, with them, a big campaign for an industry allowance for the railwaymen it was settled or so they thought by the Sydney Trades and Labour Council who got an increase mainly for the craft unions. My members in the permanent way were the lowest paid of all and they got practically nothing.