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Tuesday, 6 November 1973
Page: 1533


Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) - If we lived in an ideal trade union community we might perhaps look at the propositions being put forward by the Government in regard to amalgamations with a favourable eye. But as anybody here who has had anything to do with trade unions knows, we do not live in an ideal trade union community. The- amalgamation drive is not a new one. We had one during 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1949. Ernie Thornton had amalgamated a number of unions in the ironworkers field. On the basis of the success of that amalgamation which resulted in one of the most corrupt unions from the ballot point of view that we have ever had in this country and which resulted in a union where a communist boss dominated everybody, as Senator Mulvihill knows, Ernie Thornton dealt it out to Laurie Short. That was amalgamation. On the basis of this success the Communist Party began a big drive for the amalgamation of trade unions. Senator Mulvihill will remember it. In those days, although it was a policy on the books of the Australian Council of Trade Unions to have amalgamations, just as it is now, the leaders of the ACTU were as cold as ice in regard to amalgamations because they knew what they would lead to. In those days the position was that Ernie Thornton could be elected to represent the trade union movement of Australia at international conferences. For that reason the best elements in the trade union movement combined to see to it that the amalgamation move in those days did not succeed. Even in the Soviet Union they did the same thing.


Senator Milliner - The honourable senator talks crap.


Senator McMANUS -Senator Milliner talks in a most insulting way and he uses language that he ought not to use. I am surprised that Senator Milliner should use that type of language. I hope that he will endeavour to restrain himself. I say to Senator Milliner that in those days the official trade union movement frowned upon amalgamations. In those days we even had the position that the trade unions, such as they are in the Soviet Union, announced that in their view amalgamation was bad for any system of trade unions. Having had big amalgamated unions, they determined to decentralise the whole of the trade union movement in that country.

What is wrong with amalgamations? Bigness is not necessarily always good. You do not necessarily improve a trade union by amalgamating it with another. One of the troubles with big amalgamations is that the unions become so big that the only way to run them is to have a very large measure of executive control. After all, the biggest amalgamated union in Australia before this proposal to amalgamate was the Australian Workers Union. Who was more eloquent in his allegations that that Union in some respects was being run without regard to the welfare of the rank and file than the Minister? I believe that the Minister put before this Parliament a very powerful case to indicate that in his view the Australian Workers Union, the prime example of amalgamation, was a union in which there was a denial of the rights of the rank and file to a degree that should not have occurred. The Minister was one of the chief attackers of the biggest amalgamated union in this country in certain respects. So it surprised me that he came forward and presented this Bill, although I realise that it is his Party's Bill and his Cabinet's Bill, and is not necessarily solely his responsibility.

We have had an amalgamation, and what an amalgamation! What percentage of the members voted in the famous amalgamation of the metal trades unions? Was there ever a bigger scandal in regard to democracy than to allege that the amalgamation was democratic when only about 1 7 per cent of the members voted? Do Government Senators call that democracy? If there is to be a takeover of a public company, 90 per cent of the shareholders have to vote. Why does not a trade unionist have the same protection of his interests as is demanded for the shareholder in a company? Surely he deserves the same protection. I believe that he is entitled to protection. People say to me that 50 per cent is too many; that 50 per cent cannot be expected to vote. If 50 per cent of members are not prepared to vote favourably, it means that a majority of the members are not in favour of amalgamation.

The only other point that needs to be made relates to the history of the big amalgamated unions in other countries.. Go to Great Britain and ask about the Transport and General Workers Union and about democracy in the Amalgamated Engineering Union.


Senator Mulvihill - They are not left wing.


Senator McMANUS - It does not necessarily have to be a left wing union for ballots to be crook and for the rank and file to be dealt with in a way in which they should not be dealt with. It happens in right wing unions as well as in left wing unions.


Senator McLaren - What about political parties?


Senator McMANUS -Well, I was the subject of that type of treatment. It happens in political parties. People are expelled because they stand up for their principles. The point I want to make is that once there is a huge amalgamated organ- .isation democracy flies out the door because it is too big for people to get to the rank and file. That has been the experience and that is why even the Russians turned round and said that they would decentralise the trade unions.

I thought that the way of dealing with demarcation disputes was determined by the Australian Council of Trade Unions. It has a wonderful policy for dealing with demarcation disputes. The only thing wrong is that it never uses it. The heads of the ACTU do not have the intestinal fortitude to carry out the policy of the ACTU in regard to demarcation disputes. I invite honourable senators on the Government side to tell me where the ACTU has intervened in recent demarcation disputes and has stopped them.


Senator Mulvihill - I can tell you one.


Senator McMANUS - There might be one or two. But, one of the main features of Bob Hawke 's presidency of the ACTU is that when there is a demarcation dispute he is usually attending a directors' meeting. According to the literature of the Communist Party in this country over the last 30 years, what has been its objective? The communists are quite clear on it. They want to have one big union controlling iron and steel, one big union controlling transport, one big union controlling light, fuel and power, one big union controlling the building industries and one big union controlling all the rest. If they can get 5 big unions like that in a country like Australia, where the average of trade union membership is the highest in the world, and can arrange, as is normally done, for the secretary or man in charge of the amalgamated union to be a communist, they are well on the way to controlling the whole of the economic life of the country.

Lance Sharkey said repeatedly in his book on the blueprint for the Communist Party in this country that the communists must seek to amalgamate the trade unions and then must use the shop steward movement for the purpose of achieving their ends. It has been stated repeatedly by communist leaders that amalgamation is essential to the achievement of the shop steward organisation under which they will run the industrial life of this country. Whenever I hear men of experience in the trade union movement talking as though the trade union movement was an idealistic organisation in which everybody is as pure as the driven snow -


Senator Mulvihill - We are brothers.


Senator McMANUS - Yes, you are brothers until the union fight starts and then you will cut one another's throat without the least compunction. The trade union movement is a movement with great humanitarian ideals, but it is a movement which is under attack by people who have in view political ends which are not for the good of this country. You can see, Mr Chairman, that we all agree that the trade union movement is under attack at present by people who have political ends in view. If we let the people with political ends in view obtain control of the trade union movement, we are in for trouble.

Sometimes I hear people say that communist union secretaries can be good blokes, that they are very efficient and that it is no wonder that many of the workers vote for them. I have heard Labor Party senators say that so-and-so was a communist but he was a good union official. But a communist can never be a good union official because, when the welfare of the union comes up against the welfare of the Communist Party, what does he do? He has to do what the Communist Party wants; otherwise he will not remain a Party member. For that reason I say that when we have people such as Sharkey and others clearly setting out what they are going for, namely, amalgamation and then rank and file control of a sort- not true rank and file control, not true democratic control; but control through the shop steward organisations- we are in for trouble in this country. Therefore, I stand firmly for the present amalgamation provisions. If a union wants to amalgamate, let it get 50 per cent of its members to say yes. In my view that is democracy.







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