Following the lead of Britain from where many of the original settlers came, workers in various occupations banded together to form unions. Ship writers, boat builders, tailors, bakers and carpenters were among the first craft unions form in Australia before 1848.
By forming an association workers could obtain better wages and working conditions. However the employers wanted the highest profit margins so wished to keep wages low and spend little money on the working environment. The law of supply and demand in the labour market often determined which group was dominant.
A third factor in the balance in Australia was the government. A successful strike by newspaper workers in 1829 for better wages and conditions resulted in the Masters and Servants Act being implemented which discriminated against the workers, who could be gaoled for minor revolts.
Early in the colony, skilled labours were in short supply but in the 1840's after active promotion of emigrants by Britain this improved and a depression forced wages down and jobs were lost. With the discovery of gold, prices and wages rose, labour was scare and licenses imposed on miners and the Eureka incident occurred. Bust and boom economic conditions paroled surges recessions for unionism over the next few decades. .
The industrial union formed in the 1880's as a grouping of workers within an industry and across colonial and the Shearer's Union and small bush workers unions became the Australian Workers Union. Unions then looked to represent workers in Governments and the 1890's major strikes were held and the Labour Party was formed.
With coming of Federation compulsory arbitration - settling of disputes between employer and employee by a third party - encouraged unionism, with unions representing the workers. The labour market and demand for goods has been influenced by world wars, depressions and recessions. In the 1980's 'national reconciliation' initiated by the Government, aimed at resolving some of the conflict between workers and employers.