Published in Denis L. Bark and Owen Harries, editors, The Red Orchestra, The Case of the Southwest Pacific, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, 1989, pp. 74-118. The papers collected in the book were first given at a conference in Washington D.C., under the auspices of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 3-4 March 1987.
This Chapter argues that even though the pro-Soviet elements of the New Zealand and Australian labor movements have devoted themselves to a major effort to win allies and neutralize opposition to their ideas in the Southwest Pacific, the degree of influence and popular support they have achieved is limited. Even so, this Chapter also proposes that there is no ground for complacency about the foothold they have gained in the region.
Although a case could be made – in Australia, for example – that the far left (defined as the Communist sects and the fellow-traveling intelligentsia) produces more propaganda, articles, and what-is-to-be-done papers than any other group, including the major political parties, its influence remains slight. As Dr. Dick Klugman, a Labor member of the Australian House of Representatives has observed, there are more pigeon-fancier club members than there are Marxists of all kinds in Australia.
This is important to note because researchers are sometimes tempted to develop a fetish about documents and sources and even to accept at face value some of the most outlandish claims of the Left. The contributions by communists to World Trade Union Movement (the official publication of the [communist aligned World Federation of Trade Unions] WFTU) and the articles published by attendees at far left union conferences frequently highlight the ‘enormous gains’ made by the Left, the peace-loving and anti-nuclear forces. All those writings, however, need to be carefully assessed, judged critically, and neither credulously accepted nor incredulously rejected.
In dealing with Pacific issues – whether in Canberra or in Washington – there is the dreary task of exciting the attention of opinion leaders. This has led to the bellow and hose-down syndrome. To be noticed, one often must bellow that a problem exists or is emerging. Once noticed, however, one may find it necessary to hose down the over-reactions in order to begin the process of considering realistically the situation in its actual complexity.
Before investigating the character of the Pacific labor movement, there is a further point to be made about the far Left’s influence. Since the 1970s a tendency has emerged among some conservative writers to write about the hegemony of Left ideas in the media, the union movement, and elsewhere. The term is employed by such writers in similar ways to some Leftists. Hegemony in this context is a concept borrowed from Antonio Gramsci’s writings, and at first glance it is a seductive and persuasive idea. Among other things, it seems to explain why the working class, in the opinion of some Marxists, is ideologically idle and not acting as a class: the existing ideological and social superstructure represents the hegemony of capitalist ideas, which frustrates the raising of consciousness necessary for militancy.
This theory deserves to be contested for various reasons. It was invented as an excuse for Marxism’s failure to predict the unrevolutionary potential of the proletariat. The theory obscures the fact that Marxism was and remains incoherent and incorrect in many aspects. Further, a theory that seeks to explain everything explains nothing. The concept of a ruling ideological hegemony does not explain why such a phenomenon should arise in the first place and why a distinct workers’ culture cannot develop. It is vague about characteristics of the ruling culture. People are seen as witless sponges who passively absorb any ideas and arguments fed to them from above. A central oddity and weakness of the theory is that to the extent that the theory is believed and gains credence within a society, it undermines its own credibility, for what reality does a cultural hegemony have if it is compatible with the spread of such ideas?1
Some conservative critics have borrowed Gramsci’s jargon and created a bold explanation for the Left’s domination in certain areas of the world of ideas. Such explanations, be it noted, are being pronounced at the very time that neoconservatism has gained ascendency in intellectual debates in many parts of the United States and Europe. How is this relevant to the Pacific? The danger is that the claims about Left-wing ideological dominance in the Pacific labor movement, and the undoubted success of the Left in extending its influence in some areas, might lead to the startling but ill-informed view that the West is losing the Pacific, that anti-United States sentiment is sweeping over that part of the globe.
This chapter advances three propositions:
(1) Although the Pacific region is diverse, it is in the main a reservoir of goodwill toward the West.
(2) The trouble spots in the region need to be strategically assessed, without sweeping generalizations and with attention to specific circumstances and conditions.
(3) The Pacific labor movements should be recognized as indigenous developments that have been greatly assisted by various international organizations. Apart from the political or parliamentary institutions, the unions are the best organized and strongest institutions in most Pacific countries.
Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive history of unionism in any of the Pacific countries and still less for the Pacific as a whole. For those interested in research it is frustrating to discover that many records do not exist and that little scholarly work has been done. Consequently, this chapter has a number of gaps and omissions of which the author is very conscious.
Thirty years ago the labor unions in the Pacific islands were weak, poorly organized, and in some island entities nonexistent. In the last fifteen years the situation has begun to change, although many unions still struggle to survive. Whereas it was easy in the 1960s to describe union activity (there was little of it to write about outside Papua New Guinea and Fiji), that is not so today. Unions exist in nearly every country and range from the effectively organized, wealthy Papua New Guinea Public Employees Association to the tiny, low-budget unions in some of the smaller islands.
In a region extending over thousands of miles, covering peoples of varied ethnic, cultural, historical, and economic backgrounds, it is not surprising that diversity is one of the features of union organization. At the same time there are also important similarities among many of the unions of the region: their origin; the inexperience of most union leaders; the importance and status of the unions in their respective societies; the need to educate and train union members; the role of foreign assistance in the establishment of unions; the strength of public sector union organizations; the sense that unions can play a major role in the economic and social development of each country; and the opportunities open to union leaders to forge international contacts, to gain experience and training, and to form views concerning the various political and economic issues facing their country and the region.
Characteristics of the Region
Trade unions generally reflect the aspirations and characteristics of the people they represent. The peoples, economies, cultures, and history of the Pacific islands vary considerably, and so too do the trade unions. The following describes some general characteristics of both the region and the unions (for more detailed information, see the appendixes of this chapter).
In the past hundred years plus, the Pacific region has been politically stable, pro-Western, and Christian.2 With a few exceptions, the transition to self-government or independence has been relatively peaceful. Interestingly, the French territories have been the exception. In French Polynesia violent struggles erupted in the 1950s and 1960s over the resistance of the French authorities to the principle of greater autonomy. The political situation in that territory was calmed by the huge amounts of French aid associated with the nuclear-testing program and the granting of greater autonomy in the 1970s and early 1980s.3 In Vanuatu, French resistance to independence (Vanuatu, prior to independence, was jointly administered as a condominium with the United Kingdom) assisted in the radicalization of the New Hebrides National Party, which later became the Vanuaaku Pati.4 The nonaligned foreign policy of the present Vanuatu government can be explained, in part, as a reaction to the resistance of the French to independence and the experience of the separatist struggles in Espiritu Santo after independence, which were funded by the American Phoenix Foundation and possibly encouraged by the French authorities in 1977-1978. This rebellion was put down only with the assistance of the army of Papua New Guinea, which airlifted troops to Vanuatu.5 In New Caledonia, French settlement policies insensitive to the economic and land-rights claims of the native Kanaks have undoubtedly contributed to a radicalization of the Kanak population. In contrast, in the Wallis and Futuna Islands (where the French expatriate population is small) there seems to be no radical political activities against French rule.
The countries in the region are all developing economies, and many rely heavily on overseas aid and tourism. There are, however, exceptions such as Nauru and New Caledonia, which are economically stronger primarily because of mineral exports (phosphate and nickel, respectively).6 The Pacific island countries are also developing in the sense that the inhabitants are moving from subsistence, village-based agricultural and fishing societies to urbanized societies demanding modern economic and social conveniences. Trade unions are associated with and influence these changes. In nearly every island the union movement is a recent phenomenon.
There are no communist parties in the region outside Australia and New Zealand. The only extreme left parties are associated with the Kanak liberation. However, some unions in the region, including the SINUW and the Kanak-based Union des Syndicats des Travailleurs Kanaks et Exploites (USTKE), are affiliated with the WFTU, the communist trade union international. Thus although the level of ideological debate varies throughout the region, in most parts there is little of it. Some countries do not have political parties, and many of the parties that have been formed are little more than personality vehicles. There are, of course, exceptions, such as the Melanesian Alliance in Papua New Guinea and the Labor Party in Fiji. Nonetheless, it would be a grave mistake to accept uncritically the claim that the far left has much influence in the political parties of more than two or three countries.
The union movement in the Pacific islands is poorly organized. The exceptions are Fijian unions, some of the public sector unions in Western Samoa and Papua New Guinea, and SINUW in the private sector. There are not a lot of full-time officials, and many of those who are full-time are funded by international organizations. Appendix A at the end of this chapter estimates the number of union members in the various Pacific islands. The union leadership is mostly young (in their thirties and younger) and, incidentally, inexperienced concerning international affairs. Many unions and union leaders are open to influence, particularly through patronage (especially trips) and material assistance. At the last conference of WFTU in 1986, Oceania was well represented with delegates from Australia, New Zealand, and other Pacific countries (see Appendix B of this chapter). It is tempting to regard the list of those who attended from the Pacific as an index of WFTU success in the region. But this would ignore alternative explanations. It is more likely that most of the Pacific islanders went to East Berlin because of a desire to travel and widen their range of experience. East Berlin may not be the best-loved tourist spot in Europe, but it is an exciting thing to be offered an all-expenses-paid trip to the other side of the world when most of your traveling is from one side of an island to the other.
Major material and training assistance to Pacific island trade unions has been provided in recent years by a number of bodies,7 including these:
1) The International Labour Organization (ILO)-Danida project existed from 1982 to 1986 and was based in Fiji. Over this period the Danida foundation (funded by the government of Denmark) provided financial assistance for trade union conferences and courses and direct grants to unions. The project enabled several full-time ILO officers to be based in Suva. The ILO has also organized labor education programs, the employment of union support staff, and other activities in its own right in the region. Its major projects include financial and administrative assistance for the development of KTUC in 1982-1984 and, since 1985, trade union training conferences in the region.
2) ICFTU has provided funds to many of the national trade union centers, including the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC), the Papua New Guinea Trade Union Congress (PNGTUC), the Vanuatu Trade Union Congress (VTUC), and the Kiribati Trade Union Congress (KTUC). In addition the ICFTU has kept an education officer in the region since the late 1970s and has organized a number of regional labor conferences.
3) The Commonwealth Trade Union Council has developed a niche in the region. Its major projects include financial and administrative assistance for the development of KTUC in 1982-1984 and, since 1985, trade union training conferences in the region.
4) The AAFLI was formed in 1962 and began to be active in the region in 1984.8 Provision of typewriters, office facilities, direct grants, and regional labor union training conferences have been the major focus of AAFLI’s activities.
5) The Israeli Histadrut, primarily through its Afro-Asian Labor Institute, has organized a number of regional trade union courses, some related to the idea of workers’ cooperatives and the role of unions in economic and social projects. The institute normally accepts one or two Pacific islanders to its three-month, full-time program in Tel Aviv each year.
6) The International Trade Secretariats (ITSs)9 affiliated with the ICFTU have also been present in the region. They include the International Transport Federation, the Public Service International (PSI), the International Metal Workers’ Federation, and the International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional, and Technical Employees.
7) The Australian Trade Union Training Authority has also been important in sponsoring island unionists to attend courses offered at the National Trade Union College in Wodonga in Victoria, Australia.
8) in addition, there are courses and programs organized by individual unions. In Australia the left-leaning Australian Teachers’ Federation, the Amalgamated Metal Workers’ Union, and the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association have provided direct assistance to some of the Pacific island trade unions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has organized some programs – in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, for example. The New Zealand Public Service Association has also organized training courses for unionists in the region.
In assessing the political and labor scene in the region, it is important to bear in mind the factors that are potentially destabilizing and are likely to militate against Western interests. There seem to be three categories of problems: (1) economic, (2) errors in Western strategy, and (3) deliberate attempts by the far left to win over key leaders in the region.
Economic problems may lead to destabilizing situations in the island communities and possibly to a radicalization of some sections of society. The consequences of economic deterioration have varied from country to country. For example, the decline in world sugar and copra prices, as well as currency problems, has significantly affected the Fijian economy. It was primarily those economic problems that convinced the government of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara to impose a wage freeze in late 1984, leading to a chain reaction: the deterioration in relations with the Fiji unions, the cancellation of the Fiji Tripartite Forum (the economic forum involving the government, employers, and the unions), and, in turn, the creation of the Labour Party.10 Additional factors leading to the formation of the new party were the belief of many unionists that the Alliance government was unimaginative in tackling economic and social problems, that possibly some ministers were corrupt, and that the opposition National Federation party was weak and divided. In addition, labor leaders believed that a multiracial Labour Party could break down the divisions in the Fijian society and the racial polarization embedded within the electoral system. It is significant that less than a year before the formation of the Labour Party the secretary of the FTUC openly and strongly spoke about the need for the union movement to stay out of partisan party politics.11 Admittedly, there was always a strong element within the unions favoring political adventurism, but the consensus of opinion had been against forming a Labor Party. Fiji’s economic problems, however, led to decisions on the part of the Fijian government that ruined this consensus and led to the creation of a new political movement – a union-backed Labor Party.
Similarly, economic problems in Vanuatu have had significant political consequences. Vanuatu’s economy has been severely affected by several devastating cyclones in recent years that have wrecked tourist resorts; airline services to this country from Australia have been reduced; the French have cut back on aid programs; and there has been a downturn in the value of exported commodities. The cumulative effect of all this has been a weaker economy and a badly weakened union movement.12 The situation induced the unions, through the VTUC, to form the Vanuatu Labour Party (VLP) in November 1986. The party is critical of what it sees as economic mismanagement and corruption in sections of the ruling elite. The party is also hostile to the government’s foreign policy. The VLP regards the international publicity given to the contacts between Libyans and some members of the Vanuaaku Pati as a reason for the decline in tourist interest in the country and for a tightening of aid purse strings by the French. Against this the government argues that the recently concluded fishing agreement between Vanuatu and the Soviet Union was good business for the weak Vanuatu economy.
The economic viability of most of the microstates is a continuing problem that is relieved by aid receipts. Table 1 provides a glimpse of the situation for several island economies.
As indicated by the table, three countries – French Polynesia, Nauru, and New Caledonia – enjoy a relatively high per capita income. French Polynesia is relatively prosperous because of the location there of the Centre d’Experimentation du Pacifique, the French nuclear-testing facility, with its troops and technicians. The economy of Nauru is based on the phosphate industry. New Caledonia’s wealth mostly relies on the mining and export of nickel. After Canada, it is the world’s second-largest producer of nickel ore. All Pacific countries, however, face economic problems related to the small size of their domestic economies, high transportation costs, significant subsistence sectors, limited domestic capacity to develop secondary industries, heavy reliance on capital inflows for economic development, and narrow economic bases.13
The second category of potential problems relevant to Pacific labor is political. It includes French policy in New Caledonia, nuclear testing in the Pacific, and failures of the moderate wing of the international labor movement in the region. This last point overlaps with the left’s determination to cultivate support, and this question is more fully discussed below.
The political instability in New Caledonia is perhaps the most serious strategic concern in the region. The Kanak population, particularly since the mid-1970s, has become considerably more radicalized, and some sections, such as the Front Uni de Liberation Kanake (FULK), have established contacts with the Libyans. It is important not to exaggerate the influence of the extremists, because there is little doubt that the leader of the Kanak independence movement, Jean Marie Tjibaou, is more moderate than, and embarrassed by, the extremist wing of his coalition, FLNKS.14
It stretches credibility to say the French have no responsibility for the political instability and the radicalization of the Kanak population in New Caledonia. Land settlement policies, extreme economic inequalities between the races, and the insensitivity of the French settlers to the indigenous culture have contributed to the present difficulties.
Another political difficulty is the French nuclear-testing program. There are many reasons for France’s force de frappe and for the belief that this program is in the interests of the West. Nonetheless, the French nuclear-testing program in French Polynesia has been a focus of unanimous regional condemnation. For many of the countries in the region it has become as important a cause as apartheid is to many countries in Africa. An enormous amount of time is spent at regional political and labor forums condemning the French testing program.
It is necessary to understand this condemnation not so much as evidence of the forward march of leftist ideas in the region but as part of the process of freshly hewn states expressing themselves on an issue they regard as important and signifying their independence and nationalism. Such attitudes are easy to mock, but they are widespread, are mostly non-ideological, and offer a reason why many of the countries in the region support the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (SPNFZ) treaty.
Most of the countries in the Pacific are far away from the major powers and do not think in the global strategic terms that, larger and more powerful nations do. Therefore the arguments in favor of docking nuclear-powered U.S. warships are harder to win when the appeal to self-interest as a reason for port access is challenged by the question, ‘Who would want to attack us?’ The reason why Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, for example, refuse access to nuclear-powered US naval vessels has little to do with anti-United States sentiment or the ascendency of left ideas. It has more to do with what the leadership of those countries perceive as in their national interests.
But this does not entirely explain the popularity of a nuclear-free Pacific among the labor unions in the Pacific. Surely there is something about the experience of Pacific islanders in the nuclear age that is relevant. For the cultures of the Pacific, some of whom would prefer to be left to the splendid isolation of a romanticized golden age, the nuclear weapons are a reality-jolt to the modern world. “The men and women who have grown up on the thousands of islands across the Pacific Ocean have been for the most part isolated from the conveniences and controversies of the modern age by the vast stretches of water that separate them from … the continents.”15 However, they have not been spared direct contact with nuclear controversies:
Pacific Islanders have experienced first-hand suffering from nuclear testing.
They have been passive recipients of nuclear fallout, have developed health problems, and have lost several of their atolls because of the many tests conducted by the United States, France and the United Kingdom in their region. Because they frequently saw events unfold in a manner at variance with what they thought they had been told would happen, and because they have not seen any direct benefit for them from the nuclear testing, they have developed a deep suspicion of things nuclear.16
This suspicion has been exploited into a political movement by the Pacific Trade Union Forum (its original name, later changed to the Pacific Trade Union Community) PTUF/C. A combination of real experiences and the reactionary desire to escape from the modem world are factors operating in favor of the anti-nuclear movement and the PTUF/C. Pro-Soviet activities in the Pacific labor movement have become credible when they have supported anti-nuclear issues, as will be discussed below.
Yet another political difficulty is the attempt by the far left to win support in the region. The activities of WFTU and its allies and the role of PTUF/C are discussed below. The effectiveness of WFTU and PTUF/C are related to the strength and actions of their opponents.
So far as the efforts of moderates in the region are concerned, they have been significant but insufficient to counter the persistence and drive of the left. As earlier outlined, a range of mostly moderate organizations have provided assistance to labor unions in the region. This aid has meant the survival of some local unions. But not enough has been done by labor moderates, particularly in Australia. The center and moderate forces in the Australian union movement, up to 1987, largely left the Pacific labor movement to the influence of the far left. The Labor Committee for Pacific Affairs (LCPA) was one exception to this trend. As will be discussed later, LCPA collapsed not only because of the eruption of hostile media publicity but also because of its own failures.
Another moderate organization has been the ICFTU, which also has not fulfilled its potential in the region. This is a bonus for such organizations as PTUF/C. The activities of each of these organizations – ICFTU, LCPA, WFTU, and PTUF/C – deserve to be looked at in greater detail.
It is interesting to read the articles in the 1983-1984 FTUC Trade Union Directory. One article was a long piece written about the regional labor unions’ conference organized by ICFTU in Fiji in 1982. The article optimistically cited the conference as evidence of greater involvement in the region by ICFTU. The article observed:
The first ever get-together of Pacific Country Trade Union Leaders sponsored by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and its Asian Regional Organisation …was inspired by the host organization – the Fiji Trades Union Congress – in May 1981, arising out of developments at the inaugural meeting of the Pacific Trade Union Forum at Port Vila, Vanuatu. The idea of a meeting of the Pacific Country Trade Union Leaders was contemporaneously reinforced by a two-member ICFTU-APRO mission that visited the Pacific countries at the identical time … in Suva between 4th-9th October, 1982.17
This is interesting in that it was only after PTUF/C got under way that ICFTU began to take up the role of providing a forum for regional labor meetings. This event in 1982 foreshadowed the fact that PTUF/C would set the agenda on many issues in the Pacific.
An earlier edition of the Directory commented: “the South Pacific Trade Union Forum is not intended as an alternative to the established international affiliations of the trade unions involved and will remain as an information exchanging and unified action body in respect of special situations that may arise in the region.”18
As recently as 1983, PTUF/C was strongly criticized by the FTUC, which claimed:
The high hopes held in the formation of the PTUF/C as a focal point of regional cooperation, however, has been substantially diluted on account of the actioning of decisions in an uncoordinated manner and the disillusionment apparent amongst representatives of some smaller countries who have apparently seen a tendency of dominance by Australia and New Zealand.
The fact that the second Pacific Trade Union Forum meeting was held in Noumea in October 1982 was contrary to the decision made by the Coordinating Committee at its meeting in Nadi in April 1982, that the meeting should be held in Suva after the ICFTU-ARO meeting. Moreover, a decision to demonstrate against nuclear activities and a boycott on French goods between June 7 and July 8 1982 was put off unilaterally without regard to the fact that we had already actioned the resolution.19
Since then, PTUF/C has increased in influence and significance for the following reasons: First, it has become the only major forum for regional union conferences and regional meetings of Pacific union leaders. Second, and related to the above, ICFTU has not devoted enough resources or effort to organize regional conferences and executive meetings. Further, the ICFTU’s man in the region, a Sri Lankan unionist named Harry Sandrasekera, does not have the stature, personality, or drive to be anything more than what he is: a capable trade union education officer. Third, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and New Zealand Federation of Labour (FOL), the major trade union centers in the region, have favored PTUF/C over the ICFTU. Indeed, one of ACTU’s assistant secretaries, Bill Richardson, became the secretary of PTUF/C and was able to use the ACTU headquarters in Melbourne as the address for correspondence and contacts. Richardson, who was an assistant secretary of ACTU from 1979 to May 1986, when he resigned for health reasons, was allowed to use ACTU facilities for PTUF/C work partly because no one cared much in the ACTU industrial section what he did as long as he did not become involved in industrial disputes.20
It is worth noting that at the second conference of PTUF/C in Noumea, New Caledonia, in 1982 the federal secretary of the Australian Federated Storemen and Packers Union, Simon Crean, who in September 1985 was elected president of ACTU, spoke strongly against a number of resolutions adopted, including those opposed to Australia’s export of uranium and the transit of allied nuclear-powered ships through the region. In contrast, Cliff Dolan, ACTU president for 1980-1985, supported PTUF/C, attended its third conference in Fiji in 1984, and endorsed its anti-nuclear stance.
As for FOL, its secretary is Ken Douglas, a member of the Socialist Unity Party (SUP), the pro-Moscow communist party in New Zealand. He has never been enthusiastic about the ICFTU and has been keen to see PTUF/C prosper as an alternative regional trade union body to ICFTU’s Asian Pacific Regional Organisation (APRO).
The LCPA was born in Sydney in November 1982 in a discussion among Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT); David Dorn, AFT’s international affairs director; Barrie Unsworth, secretary of the Labor Council of New South Wales; and myself, the then education officer of the Council. All of the parties were concerned about the gains made by PTUF/C and the far left within the labor movement in the Pacific. There was concern that there was no battle of ideas in the region and that moderates were not doing enough to influence and assist the essentially practical-minded unionists in the region.21
Subsequently, and arising out of the visit by Shanker in 1982, a delegation of US unionists visited Australia and New Zealand in March 1983. The delegation included Jay Mazur, general secretary-treasurer of the International Lady Garment Workers Union; Jim Woods, associate director of the Campaign on Political Education of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; Herb Magidson, a vice President of AFT; Frank Drozak, a vice president of the AFL-CIO and president of the Seafarers International Union; and Larry Specht, secretary of the Labor Desk of the United States Youth Council. The delegation met a number of leading unionists in Australia and New Zealand, including Dolan, Crean, and the recently elected Labor prime minister, Robert Hawke. In New Zealand, the delegation apparently did not meet the leadership of FOL, including the president, Jim Knox, or the secretary, Douglas.
In April 1983, Shanker invited unionists in Australia and New Zealand to join LCPA. Some, though not all, of the labor leaders that the US unionists had met were included in the invitation. Dolan was one of those left out.
The three major activities of the LCPA were the following:
(1) Organizing two visits by representatives of LCPA to Fiji and Papua New Guinea in July-August 1983 and a subsequent visit to New Caledonia and Vanuatu later that year;
(2) Sponsoring the inaugural conference of LCPA that took place in December 1983 in Sydney;
(3) Organizing itineraries for delegations to the United States. (Three such visits took place in 1983 and 1984, with labor leaders from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Western Samoa, and Vanuatu participating.)
The LCPA was bound to stir up controversy, largely because it saw itself as a rival to the efforts of the far left in the region, including those of PTUF/C. A number of libelous articles in the Australian communist paper Tribune by Denis Freney attacked the group as inspired by the CIA.22 FOL criticisms were loud about the US LCPA delegation’s boycotting them, and allegations spread that LCPA was keen on generating Cold War, sectarian antagonisms in the region. A key loss on the Australian side of LCPA was Unsworth, who resigned all of his positions in the union movement in February 1984 to pursue a career in New South Wales state politics. (In July 1986 he became the premier of New South Wales.)
Some people in the region who had agreed to join LCPA became nervous about their association. This was particularly the case with the Fijians and the New Zealanders. In the latter case, the New Zealanders who joined LCPA stressed that they disagreed with the anti-United States views of FOL and could not support the communist-inspired foreign policy views of Douglas. They were careful, however, to say that they did not disagree with and in fact supported the New Zealand Labour Party’s policy that nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships should not be allowed access to New Zealand harbors. The Fijians, in contrast, vacillated in their response. In the face of the declared hostility toward the LCPA by the people in ACTU and FOL with whom they dealt, they were reluctant to commit themselves to the LCPA. FTUC secretary James Raman claimed that he could not support LCPA if it wanted to replace PTUF/C and that, in any event, LCPA would survive only if it were genuinely concerned with the welfare of the region and not exclusively preoccupied with foreign policy questions.
There were two factors that caused the demise of LCPA. The first was the publication of a long report and associated articles in the New Zealand Times, a major Sunday weekly. The lead article was headed “Unions Linked to CIA” a reference, incredibly enough, to the LCPA.23 The author of the articles, Alastair Morrison, observed that there were deep suspicions about LCPA by the leadership of the union movement on both sides of the Tasman Sea. The article contained a number of false and defamatory allegations, some of which the paper subsequently retracted. Several of the New Zealand unionists were able to win out-of-court settlements over the libel suits that they brought against the paper. Some of the allegations were not dealt with, and the following letter from me, as secretary of LCPA, rebutting a number of falsehoods was never published.
22nd November, 1983
The New Zealand Times
Mr Alastair Morrison’s article on the Labor Committee for Pacific Affairs (New Zealand Times, October 30th) contains so many confused allegations, it is difficult to know where to begin a reply.
However, I shall confine this letter to those points Mr Morrison makes concerning Australian involvement in the Labor Committee for Pacific Affairs (LCPA).
First, it should be noted that although Mr Morrison was prepared to make sensational allegations about Australian participation in the LCPA, no attempt was made by Mr Morrison to contact me or any of the other Australians named in his article.
Second, it is alleged that the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) was unaware of the activities of the LCPA. To the contrary, the American LCPA delegation led by Mr Frank Drozak, an AFL-CIO Vice President, met with Mr Cliff Dolan, the President of the ACTU, in his office in Melbourne and with the former ACTU President, now Prime Minister, Mr Bob Hawke in Canberra in March. Mr Barrie Unsworth, the Secretary of the Labor Council of New South Wales and one of the Australian committee members of the LCPA, wrote to Mr Dolan in August concerning the activities to date of the LCPA.
Third, Mr Morrison implies that when I attended the FOL Conference in May I did so in order to “talent spot” for the LCPA. This is a malicious and false allegation. I was in New Zealand for two reasons: (a) to interview applicants and referees for the position of General Manager of 2KY, a radio station wholly owned by my employer, the Labor Council of NSW. Indeed, a New Zealander was appointed to this position as the result of my inquiries; and, (b) to attend the FOL Conference in order to become familiar with the organisational problems of such a large conference; this knowledge was required as the Labor Council of NSW (which is similar in size to the FOL) organises its first annual Conference in February 1984.
I reject completely the insinuation that I improperly interfered in the FOL Conference on behalf of the LCPA.
Fourth, Mr Morrison’s references to the CIA, the National Civic Council and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service in relation to the Australian members of the LCPA are bizarre. I find it absurd and libellous to be “linked” with such a farrago of organisations, none of which I ever have had anything to do with.
Fifth, the aims and objectives of the LCPA are not mysterious or insidious. The LCPA was formed to promote exchanges of views and foster cooperation between the free labor movements in the Pacific, including initially Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the United States of America. Members of the LCPA are members in an individual capacity and will be meeting to discuss future activities. So far nothing has been done beyond publishing a “Statement of Purpose” and the LCPA in the United States hosting several delegations.
Sixth, Mr Morrison states that the “Australian committee reads like a who’s who of conservative unionists”, the appellation “conservative unionist” is not one I am happy to wear. All of the Australian members of the LCPA named by Mr Morrison are active members of the Australian Labor Party, which can hardly be described as a conservative political party.
Seventh, when all of the allegations dredged from the fever swamp of Mr Morrison’s imagination are considered, it points to a sober conclusion. And that is that some journalists are prepared to be McCarthyists in reverse. When those people who are prepared to favour closer links between free, democratic labor movements in our region are slandered in the press as dupes of the CIA, it is hardly a healthy sign of responsible journalism.
I hope these points clarify the situation for your readers.
Labor Committee for Pacific Affairs
The significance of the New Zealand Times article was that it gave a boost and a false credibility to the critics of LCPA. Copies of the article were distributed throughout Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere in the Pacific. This damage might have been contained but for the errors on the part of the US organizers of LCPA itineraries. They placed too much emphasis on political and foreign affairs matters. Unionists from Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Western Samoa with little knowledge or understanding of international matters, a few of whom were on their first visit outside their country, were exposed to briefings by a US rear admiral in Hawaii on the Soviet expansion in the Pacific and briefings by the National Security Council (NSC) in Washington. These briefings were way over the heads of some of those attending. Moreover, a common criticism by the LCPA visitors was that the people they met from NSC and the US State Department did not display much appreciation for the Pacific region.
On the US union side, discussions opened up about how wise it was to support the LCPA. The following issues surfaced:
1) The Labor Desk of the United States Youth Council, which performed the basic administrative tasks for the US side of the LCPA, was separate from the AFL-CIO (though a majority of its governing board was made up of union leaders). The argument arose as to whether the AFL-CIO, particularly after its reaffiliation with the ICFTU in the early 1980s, should be directly involved with an activist group like the LCPA or whether it should maintain correct relations only with national trade union peak councils, such as the ACTU.
2) The argument was strongly put by ACTU president Dolan to the AFL-CIO that it should not support groups like the LCPA and should have relations only with national peak councils. With the eroding credibility of the LCPA this line became more attractive. Also it is necessary to recognize that Dolan was no stereotypical leftist. Although he passionately and strongly opposed nuclear energy on what he believed were moral grounds and although he believed that Australia should pursue a nonaligned foreign policy, Dolan was an enthusiast for many good things, including the ICFTU. At the ILO, Dolan was one of the union leaders to defend effectively Israel’s right to exist and to be represented at the ILO. He was also a vocal critic of Soviet labor unions and labor practices in Eastern Europe. Some US unionists who saw only this side of Dolan were keen to ensure that he not be offended by the LCPA.
3) As noted earlier, criticisms emerged that the US itineraries were too much tilted to foreign policy concerns. The argument here was between those who believed the United States and US labor’s international policy speaks for itself and those who thought that although this might be true, it was also necessary and important to drum home the message.
There were further complications. During a visit sponsored by the LCPA to the United States in November 1983, Fijian unionists voiced public criticism of the program arranged for them. The Fijian delegation included Mahendra Chaudhry, the assistant secretary of FTUC; Krishna Datt, a FTUC vice president, Isimeli Volavola, also a FTUC vice president; and Bob Kumar, the FTUC treasurer. They were quoted in the press in Hawaii as critical of the LCPA itinerary and the foreign policy matters discussed on the tour.24 They felt that not enough union matters were covered on the trip. The fact that senior officials of the FTUC were moved to vocal criticism indicated that LCPA was in deep trouble.
The whittling away of influence of the Labor Desk of the United States Youth Council was another problem. The funding to the Council by the US government was reduced in 1984, and the Labor Desk’s resources were consequently cut back. As the Labor Desk had provided the basic administrative support for the US side of the LCPA and had paid nearly all of the costs of the delegations, this meant a scaling down of resources for the LCPA. Subsequently, in 1986 the Labor Desk ceased to exist.
In addition, there was the decision by moderate Australian union leaders, in the face of widespread criticism, to delay further LCPA activities. As a face-saving exercise and in an effort to persuade ACTU to change its approach, an offer was made in 1985 by Australian union moderates to the ACTU leadership that in exchange for abandoning the LCPA the ACTU should scale down its support for PTUF/C and embark on its own regional activities.
At the September 16-22, 1986 WFTU conference in East Berlin, there were 22 Australians, 12 New Zealanders, and 13 Pacific islanders from seven countries. (Appendix B of this chapter lists the Pacific islanders who attended this conference.)
The attendance of senior Pacific island labor leaders at the conference does not mean, in every case, that they were won over to WFTU. Nonetheless, the attendance sheet at the eleventh WFTU conference does point to the efforts of communist union leaders and their allies in the region to cultivate Pacific labor unions.
Some of the WFTU successes in the region include the following:
(1) Some unions in Australia and New Zealand more or less openly identify with WFTU.
In Australia in the early 1950s a number of unions were threatened with disaffiliation from the ACTU unless they canceled their affiliation with the WFTU.25 Similarly, the FOL in the same period enforced the rule that no affiliate could directly affiliate with the WFTU.26 Since the early 1970s, however, the Australian Building Workers Industrial Union, whose political leadership was mostly pro-Soviet, has been directly affiliated. At the last WFTU conference there were representatives from three of the six state branches of the ACTU and from seventeen Australian unions, including building, maritime, seafaring, metal, food, and electrical unions. Some of the representatives were not pro-Moscow, but they seemed to accept the Soviet Union as a workers’ state and Soviet unions as credible organizations. The building workers union’s assistant national secretary, Ernie Botswain, was elected a vice president (for Oceania) of the WFTU at the 1986 conference.27
Pat Clancy, then national secretary of the Australian Building Workers Industrial Union, observed at a conference celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the WFTU:
The national centre of Australian trade unionism was one of the founding organisations in the 1945 Congress and took its place on the executive board. Unfortunately, the leadership of our trade union organisation succumbed to the cold war pressures and left the WFTU, joining with the ICFTU. But that decision did not reflect the opinions of a large body of unions with progressive leaderships. Throughout the whole history of the WFTU there has remained and still remains in Australia warm, friendly ties and joint and common actions on the issues of common concern. And a number of Australian unions are part of the WFTU through the TUIs (Trade Union Internationals).28
In New Zealand the pattern has likewise changed since the 1950s and especially since the election in 1979 of Douglas as the FOL secretary. Douglas, a leading member of the pro-Moscow SUP, has enormously increased the plausibility of the WFTU in the region. Interestingly, at the East Berlin congress the twelve New Zealand delegates were official observers from the FOL.
(2) Several important Pacific unions have affiliated with WFTU – namely, SINUW, USTKE, and the Confederation Syndicate de Nouvelle Caledonie (CSNC).
SINUW, with 13,000 members, is one of the largest unions in the region, and USTKE in the last few years has claimed to be the main organization covering Kanak workers in New Caledonia. These groups are significant in the region; SINUW is arguably the best-organized private sector union in the Pacific island countries, and the USTKE representatives are widely viewed in the region as heroic fighters against colonial repression. Both organizations are useful ambassadors for the WFTU.
(3) Besides winning actual affiliates, WFTU has been able to nullify its image as a pariah of international unionism. It has reached a position of respectability, with representatives from unions in all the major Pacific countries having attended its forums.
(4) To some extent, the WFTU has overcome the setback it suffered in Fiji in 1972, when a rival organization to the FTUC was formed. The new group, the Fiji Council of Trade Unions (FCTU), was affiliated with the WFTU. The leading force behind the new body was Apasai Tora, a one-time labor radical who participated in the 1959 general strike in Fiji.29 He formed an Airline Workers Union, covering workers at Nadi report, and ultimately won five unions to the FCTU, including building, municipal, and maritime unions. The 1986-1987 Directory of the FTUC noted:
The Fiji Trades Union Congress had its own quota of personality clashes which generally resulted in the formation of rival organisations. This explains the existence of the Fiji Council of Trade Unions, which was established by Apasai Tora as a breakaway group from the FTUC in 1972. The raison d’etre for Tora’s action was his unsuccessful attempt to contest the FTUC leadership. The FCTU was affiliated to the World Federation of Trade Unions. After an initial spurt of activities which saw five unions seeking affiliation in the FCTU, it has now disintegrated.30
Despite the unpleasant rivalry between the WFTU and the ICFTU and between the FTUC and the FCTU, a vice president of the FTUC had no qualms about attending the eleventh WFTU conference (see Appendix B).
Besides these efforts, the WFTU has been able to organize in the region through a number of front bodies, including the Sydney-based Committee for International Trade Union Unity (CITUU), the Asian Oceania Trade Union Organising Committee (AOTUOC), and union-supported peace groups
When, at the 1985 Asian and Oceania Trade Union Conference on Development and for a New International Order, Knox was elected president of the coordinating committee,32 the ICFTU criticized him directly for participating in a WFTU front (referring to the CITUU, which sponsored the conference). Both the CITUU and the AOTUOC have been busy in the late 1970s (when they were formed) and in the 1980s, organizing conferences, arranging regional delegation exchanges, and financing cheap airfares for participants at various conferences. For example, the 1979 South Pacific and Asian Trade Union Unity Conference held in Sydney and organized by the CITUU was attended by 92 delegates and 46 observers from unions in the Pacific and Asia, including Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tahiti.33 ACTU president Dolan chaired the opening session and participated in the work of the conference. The speeches to the conference by both Dolan and Knox stressed the importance of unity and solidarity and commended the conference’s organizers.34
Perhaps the most significant activities of WFTU have been related to the formation of PTUF/C. A forerunner to PTUF/C was the South Pacific Trade Union Forum, which was convened in Auckland, New Zealand, on December 4-5, 1977, by the New Zealand Drivers Federation. Representatives from the WFTU attended, and more than “fifty trade union delegates participated from New Zealand and seven from Australia. Trade Unions from Fiji and Papua New Guinea were also represented.”35 The conference declaration stated: “It was agreed unanimously that unions should be urged to give active support to the growth and defence of the trade union movement in the South Pacific area, including Fiji, New Caledonia, New Hebrides, Papua New Guinea, Gilbert Islands, Ellis Islands, Cook Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti and Solomon Islands.”
According to a joint statement by Krishnan Gopal Sriwastava, general secretary of the WFTU, and Alexei Davidov, head of the Asian and Oceania Department of WFTU:
In the South Pacific the struggles in the region for peace and disarmament are exemplified by the integrated activities of the Pacific Forum an organisation whose members are trade unions affiliated to both the ICFTU and the WFTU. This organisation successfully held the 1st (Vanuatu, May 198(1]) and the 2nd (Noumea September 198(2] in New Caledonia) Pacific trade union conferences devoted to the question of peace and security within the region.
The important role in this part of the Pacific belongs to the Committee for International Trade Union Unity (CITUU) formed by some trade unions of Australia. The CITUU successfully held a regional seminar (Sydney, Australia 9-11 August 1982) for the trade unions of the South Pacific. The participants – who were affiliated to trade unions of different orientations – paid much attention to the points concerning the safeguarding of peace in the region.”37
To such claims can be added statements from union leaders such as Botswain and Douglas to WFTU gatherings about the importance of the “unity work” in PTUF/C.38
Because the CITUU was formed in 1978 at the ninth WFTU conference in Prague and because PTUF/C was founded in 1980 by some of those who attended the WFTU conference (foremost among those being Australian union leader, John Halfpenny), it has been argued that PTUF/C was an invention of WFTU.39 This puts the case too strongly and therefore erroneously.
In an issue of the Metal Worker, the journal of the Australian Amalgamated Metal Workers’ and Shipwrights’ Union (AMWSU), it is stated: “[The PTUF/C] has been formed mainly as a result of initiatives taken by the AMWSU national council,” which had delegated Halfpenny “to establish contact with trade union movements in the Pacific area with a view to developing policies of mutual concern to workers in the region and also to join forces on problems of common concern.”40
At the first conference of the PTUF/C in 1981 the final declaration of the conference concentrated on the dangers of “all aspects of the nuclear industry – military, reactors, waste disposal, and uranium mining,” which “pose an imminent threat to the Pacific countries and their peoples.” The action proposals adopted by the conference included “to examine the possibility of a consumer boycott on selected products widely used in the Pacific from Japan, America, France and any other country involved in nuclear activities.” Such an examination may still be under consideration because nothing has come of it. In addition, in a move aimed directly at the U.S.-Australian joint facilities, the conference decided “in cooperation with peace and concerned organisations in our respective countries, trade unions shall conduct an investigation of foreign military bases located in each of our countries and mount campaigns against them.” This resolution presumably had application to Guam and Belau, as there were delegates from those places at the conference. The conference also called for “contributions from unions for promotion of a Nuclear Free Pacific and Pacific as a zone of peace for education and production of propaganda.”41
At the next conference of the PTUF/C, held in Noumea, New Caledonia, in 1982, resolutions along the same vein were adopted. The declaration of their meeting boasted: “Since its inaugural organisation the PTUF has established the region’s most effective communication network. Contact amongst workers and trade union movements in the Pacific has been strengthened by the Forum giving effect to the inaugural conference’s desire for solidarity within the region.” Moreover, “despite the forces confronting the Forum, support for a Nuclear Free Pacific amongst the peoples and governments of the region has grown and more has been achieved than would have been the case had the PTUF not been established.”
Like the previous conference, the second PTUF/C meeting called on all unions and unionists to oppose “vigorously” the “presence of nuclear vessels and nuclear military bases” and, specifically, to “work for the complete dissolution of military alliances particularly those associated with nuclear powers.” This was directed against the ANZUS treaty and the U.S. arrangements with many of the countries in the region for the transit of nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered naval vessels.
The conference even decided to support “the Chamorro people of Guam in their fight for self-determination” and “the education programme and efforts by organisations in Belau in opposition to the proposed Compact of Free Association between Belau and the USA.”
At the 1984 conference (the third) and the 1986 conference (the fourth) of the PTUF/C, resolutions consistent with the earlier conferences were adopted, including support for the New Zealand government’s decision to ban nuclear-powered ships from its harbors.42
But how representative are the conferences? Appendix C of this chapter describes the attendance by regional organizations at the four PTUF/C conferences. At the fourth conference of PTUF/C, held in Auckland, New Zealand, on May 18-20, 1986, ten countries were represented. Australia, Fiji, Japan, Kanaky/New Caledonia, Kiribati, New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Western Samoa. In addition, 1 delegate purported to represent Hawaii. Eighty-eight delegates attended, of which Australia (with 28 delegates) and New Zealand (with 25) provided 60 percent, Japan was represented by 8 Sohyo delegates and 5 Junchuritsu observers; New Caledonia was represented by 4 delegates from the Union des Syndicates des Ouvriers et Employes de Nouvelle Caledonie (USOENC) and 4 delegates from USTKE (who, in contrast to the other delegation, insisted on calling their country Kanaky); and Fiji was represented by 8 FTUC delegates. Five countries – namely, Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Western Samoa – were represented by a total of 10 delegates. Significantly, Papua New Guinea was not represented at the conference, apparently because of PNGTUC’s reservations about PTUF/C’s objectives. A number of observers attended, and some of them – including those from the WFTU, ICFTU, Fretelin (from East Timor), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU; the Philippines’May First Movement), and the USSR’s All Trade Union Council – addressed the conference.
The political complexion of the fourth conference is indicated by the resolutions adopted and the composition of the delegations. The Australian delegation was dominated by the hard left, including Halfpenny,43 Botswain, Ray Hogan, and Richard Walsham. There were only 6 non-hard left members in a delegation of 28. The entire New Zealand delegation was from the left, including Douglas. The leader of the Solomon Islands delegation, Joses Tuhanuku, was of the left, as indicated by the fact that the union of which he is secretary is affiliated with the Prague-based WFTU. The representative from Hawaii, who claimed to have been selected by the unions interested in PTUF/C from the state, also supported the left. The delegates from USTKE were all on the extreme left and were led by Louis Uregei, a leader of the faction within FLNKS that advocates close ties with Libya. They stated that USTKE was affiliated with FLNKS.
Those delegates (22 of the Australians, the New Zealanders, Solomon Islanders, the Hawaiian, and the FLNKS delegates), or 61 percent of all the conference delegates, were supporters of the hard left. In addition, the 8 Japanese Sohyo delegates could be expected to support the majority position, particularly given Sohyo’s support of international non-alignment, nuclear-free zones, and unilateral disarmament. With the Sohyo delegates, more than 70 percent of the conference was predisposed to support hard left positions on international issues.
The eight Fijian delegates (led by Raman, Chairman of PTUF/C and secretary of FTUC) adopted a cagey position concerning some of the more extreme resolutions floated during the conference. The Fijians cannot be easily categorized either as leftist or moderate. The four delegates from USOENC also cannot be easily categorized, and it was clear that there was some friction between them and the delegation led by Uregei. The delegates from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Western Samoa (a total of 9 percent of the conference) were not much interested in leftist issues and were more inclined to stress practical questions such as union education and support for the establishment of cooperatives and credit unions.
The fourth conference of PTUF/C adopted a long declaration and a number of resolutions. The declaration supported a totally nuclear-free Pacific, declared opposition to visits to the area by nuclear-armed or fueled vessels, listed alleged weaknesses of the SPNFZ treaty, and praised to the skies New Zealand’s decision to ban nuclear-ship visits. The declaration stated that, henceforth, the group would be called the Pacific Trade Union Community and stated that PTUF/C is a “non-aligned voluntary Pacific organisation of trade unions.”44
Interestingly, there was a desire by the New Zealand delegates (particularly Douglas, who moved the adoption of the declaration) not to carry anything which might unduly embarrass the New Zealand prime minister, who supported the SPNFZ treaty at the conference. Thus the conference declaration did not condemn the treaty. This was too much for Tuhanuku and Uregei, both of whom attacked the declaration as too weak. Tuhanuku walked out of the conference when the declaration was adopted.45
A number of resolutions were also adopted concerning independence for Kanaky, indigenous peoples, women, East Timor, the Philippines, South Africa, and economic dumping in the region. An Australian delegate moved an amendment to the resolution on the Philippines to delete the reference congratulating KMU for its campaign against U.S. installations; the amendment did not receive a seconder. This resolution on the Philippines highlighted the anti-United States feelings of the fourth conference.
Significantly, the New Zealanders decided not to push the conference to condemn alleged U.S. interference in the affairs of the New Zealand labor movement. The president of the FOL, Knox, stated in addressing delegates on the first day of the conference that he would be “very disappointed indeed” if the conference did not condemn the “American Development Institute”, as he described AAFLI. He referred delegates to an article in the New Zealand Herald that summarized an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald on May 17, 1986, alleging a million-dollar campaign by the government of the United States to win the hearts and minds of New Zealanders and Pacific islanders, partly through assistance to AAFLI.46
On the first day of the conference Knox was interviewed on a New Zealand television news program (Channel One, Auckland) and stated that he expected that the conference would condemn “this American interference.” He was followed by Raman, who said he was unaware of any hard evidence against AAFLI but was also cautious about his position; he in turn was followed by Moana So’onalole of Western Samoa, who declared that AAFLI had provided considerable assistance to the Western Samoa Public Service Association and that the union welcomed AAFLI’s involvement in the region. Interestingly enough, the delegates from Kiribati, Western Samoa, and Vanuatu in the country reports to the conference thanked the ICFTU and AAFLI for their assistance, particularly in worker education.
Although the Australian newspapers – the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age – and the New Zealand Herald carried stories predicting condemnation of AAFLI, no such resolution was adopted. No stories were written about this fact, demonstrating a strange lack of curiosity on the part of the newspapers as to why the predicted event did not occur.
Such a resolution was not pushed for a number of reasons: the opposition of at least three delegations; the opposition of the ICFTU observer, Sandrasekera; and the recognition that such a resolution could be going too far and would risk embarrassing the New Zealand government. New Zealand prime minister David Lange, who addressed the conference and praised PTUF/C’s efforts to denuclearize the Pacific, would have been discomforted if the conference had carried such an anti-United States resolution. Besides, the conference did not need formally to adopt a resolution: sufficient damage had been done to AAFLI through the Knox attacks and the newspaper articles.
All of the Pacific island delegations strongly stated their wish for a nuclear-free Pacific, which shows that such support is not only a left-wing cause. Many islanders worry about nuclear accidents and damage to their fishing areas. Such concerns may be far fetched, but they are important factors in explaining why some delegations support PTUF/C despite the fact that they are generally moderate.
What does this prove? First, it is clear that the main persons responsible for the formation of PTUF/C – Halfpenny, Douglas, Richardson, and Tuhanuku – are ideologically motivated and have been able to create an organization reflecting their political position. Second, there has been a consistency in approach between the WFTU-ICTUU line and that adopted by PTUF/C. For the left, PTUF/C is a successful united front. Third, PTUF/C has been able to set the agenda for and create a climate of opinion in the trade unions of the region. (This, however, is not always easy, as the events at the 1986 PTUF/C conference showed.)
It is necessary to see the activities of members of the left such as Halfpenny as divorced from Soviet commands. In Halfpenny’s case his strong and public support for Jewish migration from the Soviet Union and condemnation of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan should not be discounted. He is no dopey admirer of the USSR. Instead he represents the world-view of many individuals on the left who believe that the United States is an evil to be opposed actively; that decolonization is good; and that the Soviet Union, although an unpleasant society and a corruption of socialism, is morally equivalent to the United States. As Paul Hollander has observed of individuals of Halfpenny’s stripe:
It often seems that in the contemporary world moral passion and indignation have become more potent political forces than they used to be, or at least there is a greater propensity to advance moralistic arguments in the political arena than ever before. Likewise, intense commitments and partisanship have resulted in new ways of suppressing moral indignations, in rationalizing and legitimising moral outrages. In short, double standards in moral-political judgement have achieved unusual prominence.47
How can Halfpenny’s political activities in the Pacific in alliance with CITUU and WFTU be explained other than as a failure of moral judgment? Presumably a similar failure is at the heart of all fellow traveling.48
If the Pacific labor movement were to be judged only on the kinds of resolutions adopted at PTUF/C gatherings, there would be considerable strength in the assertion that anti-Western interests dominate labor in the region. But PTUF/C conferences are not representative gatherings and indeed provide a misleading view of the scene.
Nonetheless, it is true that since the 1981 formation of the PTUF/C, the organization attracted representation from nearly all countries in the region with labor movements, and became the major Pacific region forum of unions. Because the founding and principal PTUF/C officers were solid leftists, PTUF/C has reflected their world view. Does this indicate that PTUF/C was an invention of WFTU? Probably not, even though WFTU elements played a prominent part in its foundation and development.
What needs to be explained is why the PTUF/C succeeded. It prospered for various reasons, including the following: the sustained effort of WFTU forces in the Pacific to create a so-called independent organization of Pacific unions; the overlapping desire and activities of many non-Soviet but leftist labor unions in Australia and New Zealand to create a Pacific forum of unions; the failure of ICFTU to devote sufficient resources and personnel to the region; the loss of FOL as an active supporter of ICFTU in the region; the neglect by the ACTU leadership of foreign policy issues; and the delegation by the ACTU leadership of responsibility for international issues to someone like Richardson;49 the setback of the LCPA experience; the lack of interest in the region shown by labor moderates in Australia and internationally; and the attachment of PTUF/C to popular causes such as anti-nuclearism and decolonialization.
It would be simplistic and unduly pessimistic, however, to argue that the PTUF/C has reached an unassailable position of influence in the region or has converted the Pacific labor movements to an anti-Western policy posture. That argument does not explain, for example, the attitudes of organizations such as PNGTUC (which is wary of leftist influences), VTUC (which is highly critical of the government of Vanuatu’s foreign policy), and KTUC (which was determined that Soviet influence be contained following the fishing agreement between the USSR and Kiribati in 1985).
Where the far left and WFTU have won firm friends is in the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, and Fiji; these successes, however, have been achieved independently of PTUF/C. In New Caledonia CSNC forged close contacts with WFTU in the early 1970s, partly with the assistance of CGT. USTKE was formed by the FULK political party in 1982 for reasons peculiar to the situation in New Caledonia. In the Solomon Islands SINUW affiliated with WFTU in the late 1970s, before PTUF/C was founded. In Fiji since the early 1970s there has been a base of WFTU support in the unions once aligned with the FCTU (which is now defunct).
Although the PTUF/C has enhanced the legitimacy of the anti-Western left forces in the Pacific labor movement, there is reason to question the longterm effectiveness of this. The orientation of most Pacific island union leaders has been laborist – that is, concerned with practical problems as mundane as gaining enough funds from members to open an office, employ an organizer, hold meetings, or find a typewriter. Despite the fact that some countries have experienced spectacular strikes (Kiribati and Western Samoa in the early 1980s come to mind), the issues have been about employment and wages, not ideology.50
So far, militant, radical labor unions have not emerged in the Pacific (with the possible exception of USTKE in New Caledonia). There are a number of reasons for this, including the relative smallness of the proletariat in the various Pacific countries, the regulation of labor unions by governments, the lack of a militant left-wing tradition in any of the Pacific countries. It is also true that “the strength of chiefly systems in countries like Tonga, Western Samoa, and Fiji has hindered development of strong unions. Indigenous workers are reminded by their Chiefs not to threaten the status quo and often pressured not to make ‘extreme’ demands of their employers.”51 This situation is not likely to change for some time.
It is possible that the PTUF/C could dwindle in importance in the future or even be reformed from within. So far, because it has been a forum for debates mainly about left-wing political causes, PTUF/C has not done much to assist the unions in the region. A feature of its conferences is the lack of consideration given to the question of providing practical aid to Pacific labor unions. This is resented by some of the Pacific labor leaders.
A collapse of PTUF/C is not likely in the immediate future, although now that ACTU – the single most important outside influence on Pacific island unions – is moving away from PTUF’s objectives, it is possible that things will change. What is required is that the APRO of the ICFTU allocate senior personnel and more resources to the region. APRO should be the body spending time and money in the organization of Pacific regional labor meetings. It does not do so partly because of financial difficulties but more important because of a lack of strategic planning. APRO is based in New Delhi, and its leadership regards the Pacific region as remote and already well funded – which is true compared to most Asian countries. Possibly there will always be a difficulty convincing APRO to devote more effort to the Pacific. In addition, because the WFTU has set up a separate Oceania section, the ICFTU headquarters in Brussels should consider reassessing its priorities.
The future of the region depends on what is done by mainstream labor, particularly in Australia. It would be foolish and fantastic to write off the region’s labor unions as hopelessly captured by the friends of WFTU. It is to be hoped that this chapter has conveyed a little of the diversity and complexity of the Pacific labor movement and its politics. The present danger arises not only from the activities of the far left but also from the possibility that the far left’s influence might be misunderstood, minimized, or exaggerated, thereby, to use a favorite WFTU phrase, obscuring a “correct approach” to strategy.
1. For a useful discussion of Gramsci’s ideas, see: James Joll Gramsci (Glasgow: Fontana, 1977), particularly pp. 88-109. An analysis of political culture is to be found in Gabriel A. Almond and Sidney Verba The Civic Culture (Princeton, N.J.; Princeton University Press, 1963).
2. John Dorrance Oceania and the United States: An Analysis of U.S. Interests and Policy in the South Pacific (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1980), pp. 1-20.
3. William Tagupa Politics in French Polynesia, 1945-1975 (Wellington: New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, 1976); Barry Shineberg ‘The Image of France: Recent Developments in French Polynesia’, Journal of Pacific History, Vol. 21, no. 3 (1986): 153-68.
4. Julie-Anne Ellis and Michael Parsons ‘Vanuatu, Social Democracy, Kastom and Melanesian Socialism’, in Peter Davis, ed., Social Democracy in the Pacific (Auckland: Ross, 1983), pp. 112-28; James Jupp ‘Custom, Tradition, and Reform in Vanuatu Politics’, in Proceedings of the 1982 Politics Conference on Evolving Political Cultures in the Pacific Islands (Honolulu: Brigham Young University, 1982), Institute for Polynesian Studies, pp. 143-58.
5. For leftist critiques of Vanuatu’s foreign policy, see Michael C. Howard, ‘Vanuatu: The Myth of Melanesian Socialism’, Labour, Capital and Society, 16, no. 2(1983): 176-203; and Ralph Premdas and Michael C. Howard, ‘Vanuatu’s Foreign Policy: Contradictions and Constraints’, Australian Outlook, 39, no. 3 (1985): 177-86. Howard and Premdas in both articles argue that there is nothing particularly radical about a policy of nonalignment, and in the government of Vanuatu’s case its international reputation as a progressive state contrasts with its conservative domestic policies.
6. Nonetheless New Caledonia is by no means economically self-sufficient. The large number of Europeans resident in New Caledonia ensures a statistically high average standard of living, but there is a marked contrast between the economic conditions of most of the indigenous population and the Europeans. Joan Robinson’s observation that the misery of being exploited by capitalism is exceeded only by the misery of not being exploited by capitalism is apposite. Undoubtedly, the European settlement, with its domination of New Caledonia’s economy, has ensured many benefits. However, a better-educated and self-confident Kanak leadership is keen to break down some of the uglier features of French rule.
7. The information in this list is derived from the author’s knowledge of the region.
8. Although AAFLI (which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO) stepped up its activities after 1984, when it located an office in Fiji, it previously had been involved in some projects in the region, including assistance to PNGTUC and FTUC. See, for example, Michael Howard ‘The Trade Union Movement in Fiji’, in Michael C. Taylor, ed., Fiji Future Imperfect? (North Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1986), p. 113. AAFLI moved its Pacific office from Fiji to Hawaii in 1986. The official reason for this move was that cutbacks in financial appropriations by the U.S. administration required savings, including the closure of the office in Fiji. (AAFLI receives most of its finances from U.S. government agencies.)
9. See A. P. Coldrick and Philip Jones The International Directory of the Trade Union Movement (London: Macmillan, 1978) for details about various international labor union bodies, including ITSs.
10. Mahendra Chaudhry ‘The Rise of the Fiji Labour Party’, paper delivered at the H.V. Evatt Foundation’s conference, ‘Australia and the Pacific’, Sydney, October 1986, mimeo; Brij V. Lal ‘Postscript: The Emergence of the Fiji Labour Party’, in Brij V. Lal, ed., Politics in Fiji: Studies in Contemporary History (North Sydney: Brigham Young University, Institute for Polynesian Studies, Allen and Unwin, 1986), pp. 139-57; Timoci Bavadra ‘Text of Address by the Newly Elected President of the Fiji Labour Party’, South Pacific Forum, 2, no. 1 (1985): 70-81; Michael C. Howard ‘The Evolution of Industrial Relations in Fiji and the Reaction of Public Employees’ Unions to the Current Economic Crisis’, South Pacific Forum, Vol. 2, no, 2 (1985): pp. 106-62.
11. Howard, “The Trade Union Movement in Fiji,” p. 118,
12. J.V. MacClancy ‘Current Developments in the Pacific – Vanuatu Since Independence: 1980-83’, Journal of Pacific History 21, nos, 1-2 (1984): pp. 100-112; Helen Fraser, “Election Year Gives Birth to New Parties,” Pacific Islands Monthly 58, no. 2 (February 1987): p. 10; Denis Freney ‘South Pacific Election Fever’, Tribune (Sydney) March 4, 1987, p. 6; Nicholas Rothwell, ‘The Men Behind the Libyan Connection’, Weekend Australian, April 25-26, 1987, p. 22.
13. For several discussions of the economic problems facing Pacific island communities, see Langi Kavaliku ‘A Strategy for Pacific Islands Development’, Pacific Perspectives, 9, no. 2 (1980): pp. 62-76; Te’o I. J. Fairbairn, Island Economies: Studies from the South Pacific, (Suva: 1985); Institute of Pacific Studies/University of the South Pacific, R. V. Cole and T. G. Parry, eds., Selected Issues in Pacific Island Development (Canberra; National Centre for Developmental Studies/Australian National University, 1986).
14. ‘FLNKS Rift over Libya’ Pacific Islands Monthly, 57, no, 2 (February 1986): p. 13; Sue Williams ‘Both Sides Claim an Election Victory’, Pacific Islands Monthly, Vol. 57, no. 5 (May 1986): p. 21; ‘Libya Training “Not a Good Idea”’, Pacific Islands Monthly 57, no. 12 (December 1986): p. 16.
15. Jon Van Dyke, Kirk R. Smith, and Suliana Siwatibau ‘Nuclear Activities and the Pacific Islanders’, Journal of Pacific Studies 10 (1984): p. 1. This article contains much information about the nuclear-testing programs of the United States, United Kingdom, and France since the 1950s and documents the sometimes insensitive treatment of particular Pacific island communities in the rush by the Western powers to improve their nuclear capabilities.
17. ‘Pacific Country Labour Leaders Meeting,’ Official Directory, Fiji Trades Union Congress, 1983/1984 (Suva; Fiji Times Press, 1983), p. 152.
18. ‘Regional Co-operation’, Official Directory, Fiji Trades Union Congress, 1981/ 1982 (Suva: Fiji Times Press, 1981), p. 89.
19. ‘Regional Co-operation’, Official Directory, Fiji Trades Union Congress, 1983/ 1984, pp. 150-51. This article was almost certainly written by FTUC secretary James Raman.
20. Richardson had been a union official for many years, beginning his career with the Public Service Association of New South Wales in the 1960s. By 1979 he was secretary of the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations, which merged with the ACTU in 1979, at which time he became one of the ACTU’s assistant secretaries. Richardson’s career with ACTU was mainly as an administrator. He was kept more than an arm’s length from the industrial and dispute-settling side of the ACTU’s operations. Some believed that he was a victim of the ACTU industrial staff’s opinion of his capacities as a negotiator.
21. The meeting coincided with Shanker and Dorn being in Australia for a conference of PSI, an ITS, which is affiliated with the ICFTU. In part, Shanker and Dorn had in mind forming a group based on the Labour Committee for Transatlantic Understanding (LCTU). The LCTU was formed in 1976 by moderate socialists, social democrats, and labor leaders in the United States, Britain, and Western Europe. It included, in 1983, some important leaders: Mario Soares (Portugal), Lane Kirkland (United States), Frank Chapple (United Kingdom), David Owen (United Kingdom), Shanker (United States), and members of parliament from Belgium, France, Holland, Italy, Portugal, and West Germany. At the 1982 British Trades Union Congress a number of British union leaders published the pamphlet Peace Through Nato; Arms Control and the Search for International Security, which was their affirmative contribution to the debate about Britain remaining part of the Western alliance.
22. Most of the Tribune articles by Freney about LCPA were eventually collected and published as a pamphlet, All the Way with the CIA? The Labor Committee for Pacific Affairs and the Attack on the Pacific Trade Unions (Sydney: 1984), mimeo. Conveniently enough, copies of the pamphlet were available for every delegate attending the third PTUF/C conference in Nadi, Fiji, in October 1984. [Late at night they were slipped under the door at each of the rooms of delegates staying at the hotel most delegates were staying – with the exception of those alleged as CIA-connected)]
23. Alastair Morrison, ‘Unions Linked to CIA’, New Zealand Times, October 30, 1983, pp. 5-6.
24. Susan Manuel, ‘Fijians Perturbed After D.C. Visit: Panel Woos Pacific Labor Chiefs’, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 1, 1983.
25. Jim Hagan, The History of the ACTU, (Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1981), pp. 238-39.
26. This is discussed in Anthony J. Neary and Jack Kelleher, Neary – The Price of Principle (Auckland: Harlen Publishing, 1986), pp. 165-70.
27. World Trade Union Movement, no. 11 (1986): 3.
28. Pat Clancy, ‘The Unity of the Trade Union Movement is More Vital than Ever’, World Trade Union Movement, no. 11 (1985): 25.
29. For a discussion of the 1959 general strike in Fiji, see Peter Hempenstall and Noel Rutherford, Protest and Dissent in the Colonial Pacific (Apia, Western Samoa: University of the South Pacific commercial printers ground is discussed in Denis Freney, ‘Background to Fiji’s Coup – Strong Suspicions of Intelligence Operations, Tribune (Sydney), May 20, 1987, p. 6. The CPA’s line is that Tora is a possible CIA agent. He is now a member of parliament representing the Alliance Party and a former minister in the Alliance government; he is also a leader of the racist Fiji for the Fijians group called the Taukei Movement.
30. ‘Fiji Trades Union Congress’, Official Directory, Fiji Trades Union Congress, 1986/1987 (Suva: Fiji Times Press, 1986), p. 55.
31. For a discussion of WFTU, including CITUU, involvement in the peace movements in the Pacific, see John Whitehall, ‘Peace Movements in the Pacific – Part I’, Quadrant 27, no. 10 (October 1983): 42-47; and ‘Peace Movements in the Pacific – Parts II and III’, Quadrant 27, no. 11 (November 1983): 69-72.
32. ‘Asian and Oceanic Trade Union Conference on Development and for a New Economic Order’, World Trade Union Movement, No. 4 (1985): 17.
33. Documents, South Pacific and Asian Trade Union Unity Conference, November 12-14, 1979, Sydney.
34. ‘South Pacific and Asian Trade Union Unity Conference – Conference of Unity and United Action’, Asian Worker (Bulletin for Asia and South Pacific Region of WFTU), no. 1 (January 1980): 1-3.
35. ‘South Pacific Trade Union Forum’, Asian Worker, no. 1 (January 1978): 3.
36. Ibid. The Gilbert Islands is the pre-independence name for Kiribati; the Ellice (not “Ellis”, as stated in the resolution) Islands since independence have been known as Tuvalu.
37. Krishnan Gopal Sriwastava and Alexei Davidov, “Progress of United Trade Union Action in Asia,” World Trade Union Movement, no. 9 (1984): 19.
38. See, for example, Ernie Botswain, ‘The 10th Congress Will Be of Precious Assistance to Our Future Struggles’, World Trade Union Movement, no. 3 (1982); 26; Ken Douglas, ‘There Can Be No Democracy Without Socialism, and No Socialism Without Democracy’, World Trade Union Movement, no. 5 (1982): 8-9; Ernie Botswain, ‘Nuclear-Free Pacific – An Urgent Task’, World Trade Union Movement, no. 2 (1986): 28-29.
39. Whitehall ‘Peace Movements in the Pacific – Part I’, p. 42.
40. ‘Pacific Unions Get Together’, Metal Worker 2, no. 1 (1981): 4.
41. The quotations in this and the next several paragraphs are from Declarations and Decisions, Pacific Fade Union Conferences: 1981, Vanuatu; 1982, New Caledonia: (Melbourne: PTUF, 1982), mimeo, pp. 1-12.
42. Declaration, Decisions, and Documents, Pacific Fade Union Conferences: Auckland, New Zealand, May 18-20, 1986 (Melbourne: PTUC, 1986), mimeo.
43. Halfpenny was a member of CPA for several decades until 1978, when he resigned. The CPA from the late 1960s regarded itself as close to the line of the Italian Communist Party and no longer beholden to Moscow. In 1981 Halfpenny joined the ALP and in 1987 was endorsed for the number six spot on the Victorian ALP ticket for the senate. He lost. He was for twenty years a union official with the Amalgamated Metal Workers’ Union and is now the secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council. Douglas is the secretary of FOL and also an executive member of the pro-Moscow SUP. Tuhanuku, the SINUW general secretary, is a leftist and affiliated his union with the WFTU in the late 1970s. After the first PTUF/C Conference, Halfpenny became the PTUF/C organising secretary, and Tuhanuku, the PTUF/C secretary. With Douglas they have been the PTUF/C’s leading lights. Botswain is the assistant national secretary of the Building Workers Industrial Union and a pro-Moscow communist. Hogan is a member of the Socialist Left faction of ALP and the Victorian secretary of the Miscellaneous Workers Union. Walsham, a member of the CPA, is the assistant national secretary of the Australian Federation of Teachers.
44. Declaration, Decisions, and Documents, May 18-20, 1986, p. 9.
45. David Robie, ‘Unionists on Spy Alert’, Islands Business 12 (June 1986): pp. 22, 24.
46. David McKnight, ‘US Targets Our Anti-Nuclear Unions’, Sydney Morning Herald, May 17, 1986; ‘$1M US Bid in Pacific to Combat NZ Stance’, New Zealand Herald, May 19, 1986; ‘Union Leaders to Push for N-Free Pacific’, New Zealand Herald, May 21, 1986. The author of this chapter attended the fourth PTUF/C conference and was a witness to some of the events described here.
47. Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 65.
48. David Caute, The Fellow Travellers (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973).
49. There are signs that the ACTU’s attitudes and actions are changing. With Richardon’s resignation as assistant secretary in 1986, the ACTU leadership is no longer delegating its interests in the region to a representative from the left of the Australian trade unions. At the fourth PTUF/C conference in 1986, the ACTU was not represented by an ACTU officer. In 1986, the ACTU gained funding assistance from the Australian Development Assistance Bureau for its Pacific trade union training program and in conjunction with the Commonwealth Trade Union Council opened an office in Brisbane for training work. A centrist in the Australian labor movement, Mike Kinnane, was appointed to head this office.
50. Anand Chand, ‘Industrial Relations in the South Pacific’, Journal of Pacific Studies (1983): 300-316.
51. Ibid., p. 303.
The Conference to which a first draft of this paper was given was held in Washington in 1987. My former university teacher, Owen Harries (1930- ), founder editor of the National Interest journal, invited me to speak on the challenges with the unions in the Pacific. I knew John Wheeldon (1929-2006), the former Labor Senator, raconteur, and editor – with The Australian newspaper and elsewhere, would be attending along with some other of my friends. So, taking leave from work, I accepted the invitation.
In opening the Conference, the Hoover Institute’s Denis Bark explained that the Institute had published companion volumes on Soviet influence, the “red orchestra”, in other parts of the world. This was a reference to a phrase uttered in 1983 by Konstantin Chernenko (1911-1985; General Secretary, Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 1984-85) that the USSR’s “ideological work” could be compared to an orchestra, with “harmony achieved by skillful conducting.”
By the time the book came out in 1989, the Soviet Union was collapsing. The Labor Council of NSW had sent one of its officers, Michael McLeod, to Melbourne as the new ACTU International Affairs Officer. Support for the PTUF/C was emasculated. Its influence evaporated. The extreme left threat in the region faded completely. There was no longer the threat of a red orchestra, as ‘home base’ had gone dead. There was a dwindling interest in the region internationally. The qualms of the Fijiian union leaders and others about how sincere many of the actors were in support of local unions seemed vindicated. No cold war, no interest, it seemed. Except that along with the end of the cold war came a dwindling of membership, power, and resources of all of the national trade union centres in the West. It was not only a turning inwards, a lower level of international activity by, say, the AFL-CIO. There were also fewer resources. Plus governments in many countries reduced, even eliminated, support to trade unions for their international endeavours and associated aid projects.
Some myths lived on. John Pilger refers to the “CIA-linked Labor Committee for Pacific Affairs” and menacingly comments that: “The organising secretary of the LCPA, Michael Easson, is now Secretary of powerful New South Wales Labor Council”. (John Pilger, A Secret Country, Jonathan Cape, London, 1989, pp. 265-266.) I used to joke to those who accused me of being in or linked to the CIA “that is outrageous. How dare you say such a thing. That was months ago.”
I wonder how some people look back on those times. One adversary, who I considered clever, nuanced, and outstandingly strategic was Ken Douglas (1935- ), the pro-Soviet union leader in New Zealand. Even in New Zealand, being a Moscow-aligned socialist is assuredly a handicap. But through charm, guile, networking, tactical nous, inspiring rhetoric, and winning sincerity, he captured the top position in the New Zealand union movement as President of the FOL, 1987-1999. In his post union life, as David Grant explains in his biography, Man for All Seasons, The Life and Times of Ken Douglas, Random House, Auckland, 2010, Douglas became much more conservative, active on the boards of large corporations.