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Waterside Workers Federation of Australia Sydney Branch, In memory of our fallen members at the front

1986.0040.0001

Waterside Workers Federation of Australia Sydney Branch, In memory of our fallen members at the front

Object information

Description

This banner was used in May Day rallies from 1901-1950s and was painted by Eric Whitbread.

Physical description

Trade Union double-sided commemorative memorial banner. Executed in many coloured oil paints on canvas, the front depicts an allegorical woman in loose flowing robes, whose left breast is exposed. She is holding a billowing Australian red ensign on a staff in her right hand, and supporting a fasces in her left, which is an allegory symbolising strength through unity. She is flanked by clusters of different types of flowers that are commonly found across New South Wales. "WATERSIDE WORKERS' FEDERATION / OF AUSTRALIA / SYDNEY BRANCH" is in an aqua band above her, and the dedication "In Memory / OF / OUR FALLEN / MEMBERS / at the FRONT" is in gold in a black circle below her on her left side. Another circle on her lower right side contains a vignette of workers standing atop massed sacks next to a small railway freight wagon containing sacks, which they are loading or unloading. The motto "UNITY IS / STRENGTH" is in an aqua scroll below the woman. The back of the banner depicts waterside workers undertaking a variety of activities on the dock beside a green and white ship that is moored there. The bannner has 22 looped tabs along the top edge so it can be suspended from a wooden rod.

Educational significance

This is a Waterside Workers Federation of Australia, Sydney Branch, double-sided commemorative memorial banner measuring 3840mm (h) x 3335mm (w) x 90mm (d). Executed in many coloured oil paints on canvas, it shows images relating to the union movement. The banner has 22 looped tabs along the top edge so it can be suspended from a wooden rod.

This banner, which dates from the early 1920s, consists of two large oil-painted canvases joined together with a cotton border. One side depicts a wharf scene with labourers hard at work unloading a ship. The reverse features a heroine wrapped in the Australian flag. Members are reminded that 'unity is strength'. The banner is dedicated, 'In Memory of Our Fallen Members at the Front'. Banners such as these were a major feature of May Day and Labour Day processions. Each banner was an expression of the pride for individual unions and a rallying point for members.

The Waterside Workers' Federation of Australia, which in 1993 amalgamated with the Seamen's Union of Australia to form the Maritime Union of Australia, is one of Australia's oldest and most controversial trade unions. Formed in 1902, it was built on a number of state-based unions. William Morris Hughes, who later went onto be Prime Minister of Australia, was the union's first president. He was eventually expelled from the union in 1916 for his pro-conscription views.

The waterfront has been the site of many bitter industrial disputes. Prior to the Second World War, 'wharfies' were employed under the 'bull' system where workers were selected for jobs on a daily basis. The work itself was backbreaking, cargoes being unloaded by hand with limited mechanical assistance. The lack of secure employment, combined with dangerous and exhausting working conditions, encouraged militancy amongst the workforce. Throughout the union's history a major theme has been the struggle to stop the use of a non-union workforce on the waterfront.

Object information

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