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20 March - Compulsory conference

On 20 March, Justice HB Higgins, President of the Commonwealth Court of Arbitration and Conciliation, called a conference in an attempt to end the Agricultural Implement Makers’ Union (AIMU) strike. Now that the strike had spread beyond Victoria, Higgins was legally entitled to compel representatives from all parties involved in the dispute to negotiate.

At the conference, the AIMU dropped its demand that employers use only non-union labour, and employers agreed to raise wage rates to those set by Higgins in his 1907 ruling. However, employers refused to accede to the AIMU’s demand that they officially recognise the place of shop stewards, who represented the union, on the factory floor.

Melbourne Punch cartoon titled Conciliation and Arbitration
Cartoon from Punch (Melbourne) showing Justice Higgins offering to end the dispute. The two opposing parties are represented by HV McKay and J Skehan, president of the AIMU. The caption indicates Higgins’ obvious sympathy towards the AIMU.
Melbourne Punch, 30 March 1911, p. 451
National Library of Australia

THE DISPUTANTS:— "Yes, we’ve come to an agreement—we agree to differ."
JUDGE HIGGINS (the Angel of Peace):— "You are a pair of bad-tempered, contentious brutes, and if the two of you don't stop fighting at once, I'll hit you over the head, M'Kay."

Excerpt from the Adelaide Advertiser, 23 March 1911

Excerpt from the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper, 23 March 1911
National Library of Australia
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