History of AMWU receives international recognition

Some of the signatories on the first AEU minutes in 1852

One of the precursor unions to the AMWU, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, has had its first minute-books internationally recognised and inscribed on the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register.

The minute-book details the first meeting of the Sydney branch of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, which was formed on board the ship Frances Walker as 26 members of the British union immigrated to Australia.

A total of 317 individual minute-books were contained in the UNESCO listing including other small company and geographically-specific associations such as those developing in the large newspapers and in the gold fields of central Victoria. One of these was the typographers association at the Sydney Herald, which would eventually become part of the Printing and Kindred Industries Union, a key part of the modern AMWU. The minutes of that association from 1848 have also been recognised by UNESCO, another key link to the early industrial history of our union.

Maggie Shapley, University Archivist and head of the Noel Butlin Archives Centre described the minute-books as, “a record of collective, democratic decision-making by Australian workers, both men and women, at a time when there were few labour laws or social security networks, and little concept of occupational health and safety."

“The minute-book of the Melbourne Lodge of the Operative Stonemasons’ Society records a strike in April 1856 which started the eight-hour day campaign and radically altered working conditions in the country.”

“The minute-books document the early formation of Australia’s current industrial relations system, the beginnings of our social welfare system, and working lives that are no longer common today. Some of the minute-books relate to trades such as coopers, lumpers, glass-bottle makers, shipwrights, felt-hatters and tailoresses. The trade union activities of three future Prime Ministers – Chris Watson, Joseph Cook and Billy Hughes – are also recorded by documents kept at the Australian National University.”


Contact Person: David Gibney
Contact Email: david.gibney [at] amwu.asn.au

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