‘Solidarity Forever’ was written by Ralph Chaplin (1887–1961), a member of the ‘Industrial Workers of the World’ (IWW). In Australia, the IWW (‘Wobblies’) frequently battled the ALP for the hearts and minds of the working class. They lost, and the ALP won.
Less than a quarter century before the appearance of the IWW, the Labor Party in New South Wales had vowed to ‘make and unmake social conditions’; the memory of this promise was still fresh in the mind of many workers, who had lived to see the undertaking woefully unfulfilled. Hughes acknowledged in federal parliament early in 1917 that the strength of the IWW represented ‘the revolt of the people against the chicanery of legislatures’, which had not relieved their suffering: ‘The best remedy for syndicalism is effective political action’. The IWW had decided that the reverse was the case: that the best remedy for ineffective political action was revolutionary industrial unionism. It expressed and reinforced the strong feelings of resentment felt by many militant workers towards their elected representatives. Accordingly, it was widely resented by Labor apologists for its ‘determination to make workers believe their representatives in Parliament are all unmitigated scoundrels’; concern was also expressed that the IWW was encouraging workers to avoid registration under the Commonwealth Electoral Act…
In Australia, with a comparatively democratic franchise and reasonably fair access to electoral registration, the IWW was more expressly and truly anti-political [than it was in the United States]. The Australian IWW’s determined rebuttal of political action was informed by the experience, peculiar to Australasia, of the duplicity of Labor, the betrayal of working-class interests by Labor governments. While many individual Wobblies may occasionally have voted in elections, the IWW itself was insistent that political action had nothing to offer: ‘The I.W.W. does not say that the workers must not vote at Parliamentary elections; but that such voting is of no use to the proletariat in the great class struggle.’ Direct Action explained: ‘Our members are not pledged to do one thing or the other on election day. They simply please themselves. They can vote if they wish, or they can “strike at the ballot box with an axe”. It matters not to the organisation.’
…The ballot, the IWW argued, was ‘the greatest fraud ever perpetrated upon a long-suffering and over-patient working class’. Hundreds of thousands of workers were living in a fool’s paradise because of ‘insidious teaching on the part of those whom the workers themselves have raised to positions of privilege and of others aspiring to such positions’. The best-known indigenous Wobbly creation was the song of the Labor MP, ‘Bump Me Into Parliament’, written by Bill Casey in Melbourne, to the tune of ‘Yankee Doodle’:
Come listen, all kind friends of mine,
I want to move a motion,
To make an El Dorado here,
I’ve got a bonza notion.
Bump me into Parliament,
Bounce me any way,
Bang me into Parliament,
On next election day.
Some very wealthy friends I know
Declare I am most clever,
While some can talk for an hour or so
Why, I can talk for ever.
I know the Arbitration Act
As a sailor knows his ‘riggins’,
So if you want a small advance,
I’ll talk to Justice Higgens.
Oh yes I am a Labor man,
And believe in revolution;
The quickest way to bring it on
Is talking constitution.
I’ve read my Bible ten times through,
And Jesus justifies me,
The man who does not vote for me,
By Christ he crucifies me.
So bump them into Parliament,
Bounce them any way,
Bung them into Parliament,
Don’t let the Court decay.
~ Verity Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia, Cambridge University Press, 1995, Chapter 10: ‘Bump Me Into Parliament’: the Critique of Laborism, pp.143–145.