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Joseph Archibald Cranwell (1889–1965)

by Greg Patmore

This article was published:

Joseph Archibald Cranwell (1889-1965), trade unionist, was born on 22 February 1889 at Braybrook, Melbourne, eldest child of Victorian-born parents George Cranwell, grocer, and his wife Joan Ann, née McLeod. In 1905 Joseph was apprenticed as an ironturner at H. V. McKay's Sunshine Harvester Works. He married 29-year-old Alice Caroline Lynch on 17 December 1913 at the Presbyterian Church, Sunshine. In September 1916 he went to England as a munitions worker, and was employed at Tinsley, Yorkshire, and at the Austin Motor Co., Birmingham, Warwickshire. There, for patriotic reasons, he worked during a strike in May 1918. He was discharged in Melbourne on 2 March 1919.

A shop steward for the Amalgamated Engineering Union, in 1922 Cranwell represented the Fitzroy No.2 and Sunshine branches on the union's Melbourne district council, of which he was president in 1923-30. He also served in Victoria as a delegate to the Melbourne Trades Hall Council, to the State Labor Party conferences and to the wages board for engineers and skilled brassworkers. In 1930 his dedication to union duties helped him to win a vacant, full-time position in Sydney, representing Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania on the Commonwealth Council of the A.E.U.

With the retirement of A. S. Evernden, Cranwell was elected council chairman in 1934. Although only allowed a casting vote if a councillor were absent, the chairman represented the union in important dealings with employers, other unions and the government. Cranwell was the most respected and perhaps the most competent chairman the A.E.U. ever had. He fiercely defended the status and conditions of members, and was prepared to take militant action to achieve union objectives, even if it meant clashing with other sections of the labour movement.

During World War II he questioned the ability of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions to represent A.E.U. members. Ignoring an A.C.T.U. boycott, he chaired the Trade Union Advisory Panel, established in 1940 by (Sir) Robert Menzies. Cranwell resisted pressure from the Federal and Victorian Labor governments, and the A.C.T.U., to limit and end the metal trades dispute of 1946-47. He did, however, serve as an A.E.U. delegate to A.C.T.U. conferences on numerous occasions and was A.C.T.U. vice-president (1945-47). In addition, he was president (1943-54) of the Metal Trades Federation of Unions.

Following the conflict between pro-Lang and anti-Lang forces in the 1930s, Cranwell had been elected president of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party in August 1939 and played a critical role in stabilizing the party at a unity conference in Sydney. Although not a member of parliament, he chaired a parliamentary Labor Party meeting on 5 September at which (Sir) William McKell defeated Lang in a leadership ballot. Deposed as president, Cranwell supported intervention by the federal A.L.P. in August 1940 and remained on a provisional executive established by the federal party. He also represented the State on the A.L.P. federal executive in 1939-40.

After retiring as chairman of the Commonwealth Council of the A.E.U. in 1954, Cranwell was briefly company secretary for a printing firm. He died on 26 November 1965 at his Hurlstone Park home and was cremated; his wife and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Sheridan, Mindful Militants (Cambridge, 1975)
  • P. Weller and B. Lloyd (eds), Federal Executive Minutes, 1915-1955 (Melb, 1978)
  • B. Nairn, The 'Big Fella' (Melb, 1986)
  • M. Easson (ed), McKell (Syd, 1988)
  • ACTU records (Australian National University Archives)
  • AEU records (Australian National University Archives and University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Munitions Workers dossiers, MT 1139/1 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Greg Patmore, 'Cranwell, Joseph Archibald (1889–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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