When Trades Hall was first granted the crown land on the corner of Victoria and Lygon street, conservative politicians quipped that at least they wouldn’t have far to drag us… referring to the Old Melbourne Gaol on Russel St. Then, as now, being a unionist meant coming into conflict with the laws written by a ruling class intent on repressing workers and preserving power for a privileged few.
Adela Pankhurst was a leading Women's Peace Army activist, socialist, and leader of the "Bread Riots" in which up to 3000 union and working class women defied the War Precautions Act to protest food shortages at Parliament House. In 1917 she was arrested for her role in the riot, and during her two months in Pentridge gaol was regularly serenaded by women activists, aiming to keep her spirits up.
On 15 May 1969, Clarrie O’Shea, Secretary of the Australian Tramway and Motor Omnibus Employees’ Association, was jailed for refusing to pay “Penal Powers” fines accrued by the union. Over the next six days 1.5 million people struck or participated in stop-work meetings, demanding the release of O'Shea - striking for the right to strike. In Victoria transport stopped, the ports shut down and the electricity supply was disrupted. After six days, an anonymous donor paid the outstanding fines and O'Shea was freed.
John Cummins, BLF official and later CFMEU President, was no stranger to a pair of handcuffs. Cummo was arrested on numerous occasions for going onto worksites and standing up for his members. Following the BLF’s forced deregistration at the hands of the Hawke, Keating and Cain Governments, he lead BLF members across to the construction division of the CFMEU, ensuring their proudly militant traditions came with them.
Each of these unionists was driven by a philosophy that regards justice as a higher ideal than lawfulness. It is a philosophy we stand proudly by. In the words of ACTU Secretary Sally McManus: "I believe in the rule of law when the law is fair and the law is right. But when it's unjust I don't think there's a problem with breaking it.”