Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Balmain: Birthplace of the Australian Labor Party

Last Saturday, the NSW Liberal Party trounced Labor in a convincing victory that ended 16 years of Labor rule. Only five seats remain "too close to call" and one of those hotly contested seats is the seat of Balmain. Incumbant Labor member Verity Firth has seen a considerable swing against her and her Party, while her rivals, Leichhardt Mayor Jamie Parker and Liberal candiate James Falk had votes go their way. The State Electorial commision still has the seat as too close to call with 70% of the vote counted.

Since it is a relevant time for political talk, I thought I'd talk about the influence Balmain has had on the Labor Party. Many people know that Balmain has a strong working-class history, but it is also credited as the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party in NSW.
In April 1891, a group of unionised workers, mainly maritime workers and shearers gathered at the Unity Hall in Darling Street and formed the Labor Electoral League adopting the recent constitution of the NSW Trades and Labor Council. This was the first ever meeting of what was to become the Australian Labor Party in NSW. A few months later, "Labor" as their members were calling themselves, won 35 seats in the NSW Assembly to establish themselves as a new governing force within Australian colonial politics.

Over then next 10 years, the universal appeal of leftist political thought grew the popularity of the League - socialists, women suffergists and rural communities all found representation within the Labor Electoral League. In 1901, the year of Federation, the Labor representatives of the four colonies of NSW, QLD, Victoria and South Australia met at the inagural Federational Conference and hastly joined together to form the Australian Labor Party, ready to contest in the first Federal Elections. And the rest is history

Historically, Balmain has been a working-class seat and very safe for Labor; however in recent years a demographic change has led to a rise in the Greens vote, transforming it into a maginal seat. April 2011 will be the 120th Anniversary of the founding of the NSW Labor Party in Balmain but it may very well be a quiet celebration if Verity Firth looses her seat.

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