Making a nation Defining Moments, 1750–1901
Investigation 3: Ordinary lives
3.3 1885 Employers unite: Victorian Employers’ Union
The second half of the 1800s saw more and more workers joining unions, including female and unskilled workers. These unions existed to protect the workers, and improve their pay and working conditions. The basic idea was that people organised as a group could be more effective than as separate individuals.
As unions grew in size and strength, they also combined to help each other.
What would the individual employers do in response? Would they also start uniting with each other to increase their strength against the better-organised unions?
And how did the growth of both workers’ unions, and later employers’ unions, help to shape the emerging Australian nation?
1. The Victorian Employers’ Union was set up in response to the growing number of workers’ unions that had emerged since the 1820s, to help workers press their demands against employers. How did these workers’ unions become stronger during the nineteenth century?
2. How were workers in unions more powerful as a group than as individuals?
3. How was the Operative Bootmakers’ Union able to force employers to meet their demands in 1884?
4. Why would this situation make the possibility of industrial unrest both less likely in some circumstances and also more likely in other circumstances?
5. What did employers in Victoria do in response to the Operative Bootmakers’ Union in 1885?
6. What role did the new Victorian Employers’ Union play in influencing relations between employers and workers’ unions?
7. How was the emerging Australian nation shaped by the growth of both employee and employer unions?
8. Why was this Defining Moment so significant in Australian history?
9. If you were advising the National Museum of Australia on an object that it could display to tell the story of this event, what would you suggest? (You can see what objects they actually have using the National Museum of Australia collections search)