[Marxism] The Amazing Life of Monty Miller (Australia)

Tom O'Lincoln suarsos at alphalink.com.au
Wed Oct 5 01:10:39 MDT 2005

My short article in "Socialist  Alternative" issue 96, October 2005 

In 1854, the diggers of Ballarat fought back against oppression at the
Eureka Stockade. 15-year old Montague Miller was among them. Sixty years
later, when the Industrial Workers of the World faced jail for opposing an
imperialist war, Monty was among them too.

His must be the most remarkable activist career in Australian history.

Wounded at the stockade, Miller escaped and found work in the town. Later
he moved to Melbourne where he got involved in pro-democracy politics and
in the Carpenters’ Union, which he represented at Trades Hall. He was
frustrated by the narrow craft exclusiveness of the union, and was known
for his emphasis on the solidarity of the whole working class.

Monty was active in the Secular Association’s campaign to open the library
and art gallery on Sundays. He argued for scientific alternatives to
religion, but rejected the “Darwinist” notions popular at the time which
emphasised genes over free will and accepted “survival of the fittest” as a
social model.

He joined the Anarchist Club and worked with its leaders, yet found himself
dissatisfied with their individualist philosophy.

In the 1890s depression, Monty organised food and fuel for the unemployed.
After the unions met industrial defeat, worker militants turned to building
the Labor Party, hoping that political action would overcome their
industrial weakness. Miller worked closely with the party’s founders, while
refusing to see it as the sole solution to workers’ problems.

He entered a new stage in his political career in the mid-1890s when he
moved to Western Australia.

Not long after arriving in Perth, Monty threw himself into a major building
workers’ strike, the biggest industrial conflict WA had known. Amidst the
strike activities, Miller agitated for breaking down barriers between
different crafts. When after a week the union president proposed a return
to work, Miller unsuccessfully argued to battle on.

Monty next involved himself in the Labour Church, the Mental Liberty League
and the Social Democratic Federation. On behalf of the latter he lectured
on the fight for women’s emancipation. He paid regular visits back to the
eastern states, addressing meetings wherever he travelled. But he was still
looking for the right political vehicle. He found it early in the new
century, discovering the Industrial Workers of the World.

The IWW, or “Wobblies”, called for One Big Union across all industries, and
declared that “The working class and the employing class have nothing in
common.” They promoted social revolution. This was just what Monty had been
looking for. He became chair of the Melbourne IWW club, and later
established a branch in Fremantle.

When the First World War broke out, the Wobblies stood against the
patriotic tide. Infuriated by mass resistance to the war, which defeated
attempts to introduce conscription, governments hauled IWW members before
the courts and threw them into jail.

Miller, now in his seventies, defied the hostile judge. His final speech
appeared in the press, calling for “the complete emancipation of the worker
from all the disabilities and discontents of the capitalist mode of
production”. Convicted, but not imprisoned because of his advanced age, he
resumed mass agitation, travelling again to the east where a crowd of
30,000 cheered him in the Sydney Domain.

For continuing his IWW activities, a Sydney court sentenced him to six
months’ hard labour. Again, his age saved him from actually serving it, and
he lived to stage another speaking tour around Australia. In his last
months, he still had the energy to join an illegal march in Brisbane,
before retiring to Perth to finish his book, Labour’s Road to Freedom. A
road we are still on. 


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