Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Australian Workers' Union

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Founded  1886
Members  100,000
Australian Workers' Union
Full name  Australian Workers' Union
Affiliation  ACTU, ALP. ITF, IUF, IMF
Key people  Daniel Walton, National Secretary
Office location  Sydney, New South Wales

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) is one of Australia's largest and oldest trade unions. It traces its origins to unions founded in the pastoral and mining industries in the 1880s and currently has approximately 100,000 members. It has exercised an influence on the Australian trade union movement and on the Australian Labor Party, throughout its history.


The AWU is the most powerful union in the Labor Right faction of the Australian Labor Party.


The AWU is a national union made up of state, regional and industry-based branches. Each AWU member belongs to one of nine geographic or industry-based branches. Every four years AWU members elect branch and national officials: National President, the National Secretary, and the National Assistant Secretary. They also elect the National Executive and the Branch Executives which act as the Board of Directors for the union.

The AWU's rules are registered with Fair Work Australia and its internal elections are conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission.

The AWU is affiliated with the Australian Labor Party, Australian Council of Trade Unions, the International Metalworkers' Federation, the International Union of Foodworkers and the International Transport Workers Federation. The current AWU National President is Bill Ludwig, and the National Secretary is Daniel Walton.


The AWU grew from a number of earlier unions, notably the Australasian Shearers' Union, founded by William Spence, Alexander Poynton (OBE, an inaugural member of the Australian House of Representatives), brother Charles Poynton, and David Temple in Creswick, Victoria in 1886. This union joined with shearers' unions in Bourke and Wagga in New South Wales to form the Amalgamated Shearers Union of Australia in 1887. In 1894 this union amalgamated with the General Labourers Union, which had formed in 1891, to form the Australian Workers' Union.

The Queensland Shearers Union, formed in 1887, and the Queensland Workers Union merged in 1891 to form the Amalgamated Workers Union of Queensland. In 1904 the AWUQ amalgamated with the AWU, to form a union with a combined membership of 34,000.

The AWU later absorbed a number of other unions in the pastoral, mining and timber industries notably the Amalgamated Workers Association of Queensland in 1913, and the Federated Mining Employees Association of Australia in 1917. Since these industries were the principal sources of Australia's wealth in the 19th century, the AWU soon became Australia's largest and most powerful union.

The defeat of the great 1891 shearers' strike and the 1890 Maritime strike led the AWU to reject direct action, and it has been a force for moderation in the Australian union movement ever since. It was a firm opponent of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Communist Party of Australia, NSW Premier Jack Lang and other radical forces in the Australian labour movement. For many years Communists were banned from AWU membership. In the 1930s the Communist Party launched a rival Pastoral Workers Industrial Union, but this failed to break the AWU's grip on its membership.

The Northern Territory branch of the AWU was a central faction in the most recent worker's rebellion in Australia, the Darwin Rebellion in 1912 - 1918.

When the trade unions formed the Australian Labor Party following the defeat of the 1890s strikes, the AWU became a powerful influence in the party, particularly in Queensland and Western Australia, and to a lesser extent in the other states. Labor state governments were heavily influenced by AWU leaders such as Edward Grayndler, Tom Dougherty and NSW AWU Secretary Charlie Oliver. Labor was in government in Queensland from 1915 to 1929 and from 1932 to 1957, and the AWU was able to exert considerable political influence through long-serving premiers such as William Forgan Smith and Ned Hanlon.

The federation of the Australian colonies in 1901 led to the establishment of the Australian Arbitration system. The AWU strongly supported arbitration as a mechanism of resolving industrial disputes without resorting to strike action. The Pastoral Industry Award, negotiated by the AWU, was the first federal award granted by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The AWU maintained its registration under state industrial systems and continues to participate in many state awards.

During the years since federation that the Australian industrial relations system has been dominated by the Court and its successors, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, the AWU and its members were among that system's principal beneficiaries. The AWU remains a strong advocate of arbitration in the union movement. The AWU was not affiliated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions for many years, preferring to maintain its independent relationship with the arbitration system.

With the shift in employment from the pastoral industries to the urban manufacturing and service sectors, the AWU's political influence and power declined as the pastoral areas became less significant in terms of employee numbers. This shift led to many rural electorate areas that were influenced by the AWU and workers falling to the conservative side of politics and in particular the National Party. The split in the Queensland ALP in 1957, which resulted in Labor being in opposition for 32 years, deprived the AWU of its greatest area of influence, although it remained influential in the long-serving (1941–65 and 1976–88) New South Wales Labor governments.

In 1993 the AWU amalgamated with the Federation of Industrial Manufacturing and Engineering Employees (itself an amalgamation of the Federated Ironworkers' Association of Australia and the Australasian Society of Engineers) to form the AWU-FIMEE Amalgamated Union. In 1995 the union reverted to using the name Australian Workers' Union.

In recent years the AWU has sought to modernise and to broaden its membership beyond its declining traditional base. Today it represents workers in the metals, aviation, oil and gas, mining, construction, food processing and retail industries, as well as its traditional base in the pastoral and mining areas. Its expansion into new areas has brought the AWU into conflict with some other unions, particularly the National Union of Workers and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.

For many years the AWU published two newspapers, The Australian Worker in New South Wales and The Worker (founded in 1890) in Brisbane. Under the editorship of Henry Boote from 1916 to 1943 they were among the most influential union newspapers in Australia. The two papers were merged in 1974 and today The Australian Worker is published in a magazine format in association with Australian Consolidated Press.


Australian Workers' Union Wikipedia