Railway Union


Iron Road

Rail Unions


logo of the RTBU
There were several unions involved with the early part of the railways history. Over the years they have been amalgamated – in solidarity there is strength – And for a long time the ARU was the dominant union. It is now known as the Rail, Tram & Bus Union.

This great old union poster is framed in the RTBU office in Sydney.

May Day

May Day is traditionally the annual celebration of unionism. This is following statement, complete with rhetoric, is typical of the ‘union speak’ of the time.

‘The coming May Day has a special significance to the Australian working class – it is not only the day of many great battles of the workers all over the world, but it means the opening of a new leaf in the history of the Australian working class. On the 1st of May the workers of Australia will be called upon to stop work, and demonstrate against capitalism, with its wage cuts, rationalisation etc to declare our solidarity with the oppressed workers of other countries. We must intensify the struggle from now until all forms of capitalistic exploitation are abolished.’

(Quoted in The Railroad. Issue: April 1930)

The 1920s and 30s saw the emergence of several socialist labour groups and parties including the International Workers of the World and The International Socialists. These groups played a leading role in revolutionising industrial law in Australia. They also produced many songs and poems ‘for the cause’, such as The Scab’s Dream and the poems Who Owns What and Without a Card.

Journal note:
The poem (Without a Card) has special significance for railway workers in NSW for in no other calling is a similar state of affairs allowed to prevail. When working-class understanding is established, those who do not conform will meet a just fate.

The Railroad

This monthly Union newspaper appeared in several formats including title changes. The State Library holds issues from 1927-31.

These, of course, were extremely turbulent times with the position of labour continually under review and also under attack by capitalism and government both retaliating the forces of extreme left wind groups such as the IWW and Communist Party. Whilst it took on the usual business of a union newspaper it is interesting to see how wide the rail industries spanned. Even the Railway Refreshment Room staff conditions were addressed in every issue! It is hard to realise just how massive the rail industry was at this crucial time of Australia’s industrial growth – it affected so many sectors of manufacturing and service including the supply of rolling stock, timber, water, steel, bridges, leatherwork, coal, electricity, cleaning, mail service, lube and millions of nuts, screws and bolts! The other notable feature is the number of sporting and cultural groups affiliated with the various rail unions.

Sport was also covered – especially if the journalist could get a railway spin on the story.