The Amalgamated Shearer's Union of Australasia was formed in 1887, seven years latter becoming the Australian Workers' Union. By 1920 the AWU was a giant general union and for the next forty years it dominated the Australian union movement and the ALP.
John Merritt's study, based on the period to 1911 when the AWU, while still a shearers and shedhands' union, achieved organisational stability and acquired a distinctive character. The union which emerges from his account differs from the AWU presented in W.G. Spence's History of the AWU and from the shearers' unions of Australian folksong. Radical shearers did exist, but the making of the AWU was more the achievement of men who were indifferent to unionism.
They convinced the AWU's leaders that the union's future would depend less upon class consciousness than upon favourable arbitration awards; the 1907 award set the union on its path to power and influence.
Merritt's argument involves a re-examination of the strikes of the 1890s and a close analysis of the shearing workforce, shearers and pastoralists. In the process he challenges some of the labour movement's most enduring legends. His book will be required reading for students of Australian history and for anyone interested in the events that have so influenced Australia's folk heritage.