Diary of a Labour Man 1917- 1945

Full text. Editor of the 'Westralian Worker'


Westralian Worker, 23 January 1925, page 11.

That 'Black Episode'. Decision by A.L.P. State Executive

At its meeting on Tuesday night, the State Executive of the A.L.P. gave lengthy consideration to the situation which has developed in respect to the resolution of the Fremantle branch of the Seamen's Union declaring Mr J. Curtin (editor of the 'Westralian Worker' and trustee of the State Executive) 'black' for having refused to publish a letter in the 'Westralian Worker' which he considered to contain libels and misrepresentations respecting the State Disputes Committee and other Laborites.

A motion was moved as follows: -

'That in view of the Fremantle branch of the Seamen's Union having declared Mr J. Curtin 'black' for having in his capacity as editor of the 'Worker,' refused to publish a letter which contained libels and misstatements regarding the State Disputes Committee, the Fremantle District Council be directed to suspend the branch from affiliation, and that in the event of the Fremantle Branch of the Seamen's Union not withdrawing its declaration within three months from date, the branch and its executive officers be expelled from membership in the Australian Labor Party.'

Debate ensued, whereupon the following amendment was tabled:-

'That the State Executive of the A.L.P. declares that the Seamen's Union had no authority to declare Mr Curtin 'black,' and he has not been declared 'black by any competent body. We have every confidence in Mr Curtin, and repudiate the declaration of the Seamen's Union, and call upon them to immediately rescind the resolution reflecting on him.'

In a speech, Mr Curtin declared that he was entirely opposed to any action that, however justifiable it may be in view of the actions which had been taken by those concerned, would none the less put the Seamen's Union in the position of being expelled from the Labor Movement, and isolated in its fight against the Commonwealth Government and the shipping companies. He had never put himself above the Movement, and was convinced that the great body of members of the Seamen's Union regarded the stigma put upon him as outrageous and iniquitous. However hurt he had been at what had occurred, it would not influence his judgment in respect to the best interests of the great body of unionists, and he hoped that the amendment would be carried. It was essential if he was to serve the Labor Movement in the future, that his bona fides to speak and write should be above question by any, whoever they might be. He needed an unimpeachable credential, or, contrawise, should be put outside the pale. The declaration of the supreme body of Labor in this State would be a sufficient answer to the coterie who had used the Fremantle branch of the Seamen's Union as an instrument to defame him. He sincerely hoped that whatever action was necessary in order to vindicate the rules and constitution of the A.L.P., it would be taken at such time and in such fashion as would enable the union to retract its ukase without injuring the rank and file of its members in their struggle to preserve their standard of living or win the industrial conflict in which they were engaged.

Other speakers followed, and the amendment was unanimously carried.


With the references in this issue to the question as to whether I am to be regarded as 'black' because the Fremantle branch of the Seamen's Union says so, I end the matter so far as the columns of this paper are concerned. The great task ahead of us demands that space be given to other subjects. My offence was that I declined to print a letter that contained libels and gross misstatements of fact. For that I am called a suppresser and declared 'black.' I find that at a 'stop-work' meeting of the Sydney branch of the Seamen's Union held on January 28, 1924, the following resolution was carried by an overwhelming majority:-

'In consideration of the General President's (Mr Tom Walsh) refusal to sanction publication of the Sydney branch report as directed by the December stop-work meeting and regarding the report as containing information of value to members, we instruct the Sydney Branch Executive to have same printed, with explanatory preface by writer, and distributed as a supplement to the 'Seamen's Journal'.'

It appears that Mr Jacob Johnson, as acting-secretary of the Sydney branch, had written a report for publication in the 'Seamen's Journal,' which is edited by Mr Tom Walsh. Publication was refused, with the editorial comment:-

'Your letter, or branch report as you call it, contains too much abuse to be of interest to anyone but yourself.'

Apparently Mr Walsh has one standard for himself as an editor and another standard for other editors. He may as editor refuse to publish what he considers abusive even though it be a report of a branch of the union, and remain as white as snow; but another editor becomes a 'press wolf' and a 'suppressor,' and subject to the declaration that he is 'black' for the self-same decision. JOHN CURTIN


Dear 'Worker,' – In your last issue it was stated: 'Mr Tom Walsh officially wrote to the Printing Industry Employees' Union, apprising that organisation that Mr Curtin was 'black.' The inference is very clear. It was hoped that the printers would take cognisance of what had been done and refuse to work with him. The anticipation signally failed.' – This statement is misleading. Executive officers of the Seamen's Union approached me as president of the Printing Industry Employees' Union re the publication of their side of the case. As this request was similar to one made to the union executive by Mr McCallum daring the loco drivers' strike several years ago, I gave the seamen's representatives the same reply the Printers' Union had given Mr McCallum. I then suggested that the request should be put in writing, when it would be placed before a meeting of the board of management that night. Considering that Mr Curtin was well aware of the whole of the facts, it is difficult to understand his penning of the foregoing misleading statement, and his reference to an anticipation which 'signally failed.' The 'black' aspect was not even discussed. Possibly Mr Curtin, when writhing, had in mind his visit to the rooms of the Printing Industry Employees' Union, where he himself suggested that he should be declared 'white' or our members should refuse to work with him. G. W. WHITBREAD

(I reply that it is a fact that Mr Walsh apprised the P.I.E.U.A. that I was 'black'. We are all entitled to believe what we like concerning the significance of that intimation. As to my suggestion that the printers should either declare me 'white' or refuse to work with me, I still think it a reasonable proposal. If my offence is such that I should be 'black-listed,' then the P.I.E.U.A. and all other organisations should either endorse the verdict or say it was not justified. Seeing that a notion to give effect to Mr Walsh's request was defeated by the board of management, I was right in saying that 'the anticipation signally failed.' – John Curtin.)

JCPML. Records of the Australian Labor Party WA Branch.  That 'Black' Episode'. Decision by A.L.P. State Executive. Westralian Worker, 23 January 1925, page 11.  JCPML00984/155