Less conspicuous than the results achieved in a short time by the discovery of gold in the demographic and economic fields of production, trade, the whole life of the country, material and moral (extraordinary development of railways, telegraphs, telephones; increase in consumption and popular savings; spread of journalism; decrease in illiteracy, mortality and morbidity, etc.), but even more interesting and worthy of study, although not translatable into figures, were the results achieved in the political and social fields, culminating, only half a century after the discovery of gold, in the constitution of an Australian Commonwealth, of which a workers’ democracy still unknown to the world assumed power. In vain had the pastoral aristocracy sought, when the new constitutions of the autonomous Australian colonies were being drawn up, to consolidate, with a hereditary political power, its socio-economic pre-eminence; because the stream of workers of gold diggers, which in those years poured into the country, had failed the attempt to create a hereditary nobility, leaving instead, where more and less deeply, its democratic imprint on the various colonial constitutions. Reinforced in a way as effective as unexpectedly by the abundant spontaneous immigration of the second half of the century, the initial seeds of the Australian workers’ democracy found in the very high standard of living of the working classes, and even more in the urban centralization of these, the best environment. in which to take place. As the first fever of the gold, with the rapid exhaustion, successively, of the deposits and the consequent collapse of the cities that arose as if by magic in the middle of the gold fields, but not located in a geographical or topographical position happy enough to survive the exhaustion of them, the surplus of immigration, which could not be absorbed either by restricted agriculture or even less by incipient manufactures, had to inevitably gravitate to the few cities of the coast, in whose ports, due to the configuration of the country, the economic operations of breeders, farmers, traders were concentrated, of industrialists from an entire region: Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide in the forefront.
According to toppharmacyschools, Melbourne, which in 1841 did not reach 3,500 residents, in 1872 it exceeded 200,000 and in 1901 it reached half a million; Sydney, which in 1872 did not exceed 137,000, in 1901 it was very little less than Melbourne; Adelaide, which in 1840 did not reach the 8000 residents, in 1901 passed the 150,000 and so on. In short, from 1871 to 1891, the population of the colonial capitals of Australasia, taken together, was more than three times greater, while the total population of Australasia only doubled: so that, already in 1891, 50% of the residents it was gathering in the cities. These urban masses, far superior to the demand for arms and therefore destined, under the simple empire of economic laws, to unemployment, if from time to time, in moments of crisis in particular, threateningly asked for land on which to settle, in normal times they found it more comfortable, more convenient to their tastes, their habits, to their demands for high wages, get employed by the state; and with the preponderance of the number and with the weapon of suffrage, they easily obtained in a country with highly centralized political and administrative powers, with extremely unlimited state attributions, the allocation in the budget of ever new sums, drawn from public loans from the metropolis, to build roads, canals, railways, ports, government buildings, public works in general, necessary or not, provided they were used to employ the unemployed and keep the floating population in the colony, otherwise willing to emigrate elsewhere. The rate of wages, although descended from the fabulous height determined, at the first moment of the gold-bearing discoveries, by the extreme scarcity of manpower,
On this splendid economic basis, with very democratic constitutional forms, devoid of binding traditions, with the central public powers at the mercy of capital cities where the worker element was by far predominant, it was not difficult for the working classes to found their political power, as soon as they organized themselves and reached a political class consciousness. This in fact happened in the last years of the century. XIX, through the painful events that preceded and followed the great crisis mentioned in 1893, in the midst of the bitter conflicts that then broke out between capital and on the eve of the crisis he tried to avoid the reduction of his profits, cut down by the fall in prices of specific Australian products on the world market. Organized here and there in local trade unions since the fifth and sixth decade of the century, for the conquest of the eight hours of work, then reached, the working class passed later, with the eighth and ninth decade of the century, from organization by category to the general class based organization on a federative basis and from the local organization to the wider territorial and then even Australian, or rather Australian, while a similar concentration was determined by backlash in the employers’ field, hopes in this the colony of Victoria, with the his Union of Entrepreneurs of Victoria. In 1886, we saw the first collision between capital and labor of an entire continent, occasioned by a strike by coal heavers in Melbourne and ended with an arbitration which gave the work won cause in all points, except in the request to exclude non-union haulers from work: in 1890-91 the gigantic battle was fought, centered on precisely on the trade union monopoly of labor, between the employers ‘federations, headed and linked together by the Federation of Shipowners, and the workers’ federations of the whole of Australasia, led by the Australian Federation of Labor. Caused in 1890 by an accident between shipowners and naval officers while the so-called wool block was being prepared by the Union of shearers (in the journey from the interior to the coast and from this to England), the general strike extended to Whole Australasia in all branches of industry, trade, land and sea transport and after violence and states of siege ended with the surrender at the discretion of the working classes in the face of the bosses’ resistance, richer in means and above all more disciplined, because it was concentrated in the hands of a few. Having broken the maritime unions and weakened the workers ‘federations, the employers’ unions thought then of giving the coup de grace to that Union of shearers, which, after the ruin of the maritime unions, represented the strongest bulwark left for the working class. And in 1891 they forced the shearers, union or not, to sign an individual employment contract. The Union responded with the shearers’ strike, which extended from Queensland to all the colonies; but, after five months of bitter struggle, squatters. The most solid fortress of the workers ‘organization was thus dismantled, and the employers’ unions, in the icy breath of the impending crisis (1893), could, despite new partial strikes which had broken out here and there, reduce wages throughout Australasia.