Published in The Australian
Greg Sheridan’s recently published memoir shows him to be a superb writer and a romantic. Unfortunately, the latter trait colours his assertions recently published in The Australian about the officers of the Labor Council of NSW and the NCC.
Co-operation between the two was extremely limited. Obviously we shared an intense antipathy to anti-communism. Whereas the dreamer in Greg sees us as separated brethren, the more intense saw each other as heretics. A major reason for this was the NCC never forgave the NSW ALP Right for choosing to stay in the party after the Split of the 1950s. At one time, John Ducker’s defeat as a Vice President of the ACTU at its Congress was in part blamed on some NCCers being negative about the NSW ALP Right. The old, bitter criticism of the Santamaria forces of their erstwhile NSW allies was a potent brew.
That didn’t mean that we never spoke to each other. At the ACTU Executive and Congresses there were a lot of open and cooperative discussions between the NSW Right and leading unionists who also happened to be members of the NCC, such as leaders of the clerks, shop assistants, and ironworkers. I greatly admired Jim Maher and Michael O’Sullivan, to name but two figures from this period.
I had no idea, though, until recently that John Maynes, National President of the Clerks, was a full time official of the NCC.
Inevitably, there was also some social contact between some of us. As Greg mentions in his book, I ran into Bob O’Connell, the NSW NCC head, twice when I was visiting Greg. But I was seeing Greg, not him. I do not remember chatting alone with Bob for any length of time. I was fascinated by Labor history and why certain events — in the mid-1950s onwards — occurred. I asked about Charlie Anderson, former NSW ALP Secretary, and other figures who peeled away from the Movement prior to, during, and after the ALP Split. We discussed that.
Greg suggests that officials of the NSW Labor Council raised money for internal union campaigns until 1984.
As I discovered when I was elected Assistant Secretary of the Council in 1984, fund-raising for union campaigns had ceased in the late 1970s. All the money left over had dried up by the early 1980s.
Being a senior officer of the Labor Council also brought me into regular contact with senior members of the communist-aligned Left. As with the union officials who were members of the NCC, co-operation with the Left was governed by a concern for the interests of union members, rather than factional politics. I liked many of them, whatever our sometimes significant political disagreements.
I admired anyone across the factional divide who stood for something.
As with members of the NCC, personal relations with members of the Left varied greatly. For example, in contrast with John Halfpenny, whom I never trusted, some of the former communists I found in their own way admirable and genuinely inspirational figures. A vital few changed their previously reckless behaviour on industrial and political matters.
One of the remarkable achievements of Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, and Bill Kelty was to get some leading members of the Left to be creative and effective influences in the great reforms of the 1980s and beyond.
Re-reading this, I see that I protested too much.