'Not easy work to starve their employees': the 1921-22 Tasmanian Timber Dispute

John Dargavel

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    1 Citation (Scopus)


    Although there is a rich industrial history of the timber industry, little has been written on its labour history. This paper recounts the course of a dispute in Southern Tasmania in 1921-22. It occurred during a national campaign by employers against Justice Higgins' 1920 decision to set a 44-hour week for timber workers and engineers. Local and state factors exacerbated the Southern Tasmanian dispute where a group of sawmilling companies commenced a lockout. The Australian Timber Workers' Union resisted attempts to force them to work a 48-hour week, enter a contract system and countenance non-union labour. The dispute lasted for 15 months and was marked by violent events, court cases and attempts by the Premier, the police and leading citizens to mediate a settlement. Although nationally the union had their hours set back to 48 by the Arbitration Court in 1922, locally it succeeded in having the non-union labour removed. The social character of the region helps explain why the dispute was so long and bitter. The paper concludes that future labour histories of the forest sector are likely to find that concentration/isolation of workers is an important parameter. There were three substantial problems that any similar studies would face: those of evaluating the influence of the social context, the limitations of historical sources and the specificity of the case study approach.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)47-67
    Number of pages21
    JournalLabour History
    Issue number84
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2003


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