Bob Carnegie: four decades in the workers’ movement: Workers' Liberty 3/56

Bob Carnegie: four decades in the workers’ movement: Workers' Liberty 3/56

Bob Carnegie has been active on the left and in the labour movement in Brisbane, Australia, for nearly four decades.

Bob Carnegie, currently secretary of the Queensland branch of the Maritime Union of Australia, which organises dockworkers and seafarers, has been active in the labour movement and the left, mostly in Brisbane, Australia, for nearly four decades. This issue of Workers’ Liberty pulls together interviews done with Bob during a speaking tour he did in England in May 2015, and at various times in Brisbane, with other material, to tell the story of the big workers’ struggles Bob has been involved in or led, and his political odyssey.

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Three big disputes

Author: 

Bob Carnegie

The most important industrial disputes that I’ve been involved in were the 1985 SEQEB (South East Queensland Electricity Board) dispute; the maritime dispute of 1998; and the 63-day Queensland Children’s Hospital construction workers’ dispute of 2012, after which I had a long battle against both criminal charges and litigation for civil damages.

An interview with Bob Carnegie in 2015 about the most important industrial disputes he was involved in, the 1985 South East Queensland Electricity Board dispute; the maritime dispute of 1998; and the 63-day Queensland Children’s Hospital construction workers’ dispute of 2012.

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The AWL, Labour and the Left: 

The political journey to Trotskyism

Author: 

Bob Carnegie

I always had a strong underlying humanist bias. I tended not to view things not just from an ideological viewpoint, as was the rule in the SPA [Socialist Party of Australia, a “hardline” pro-USSR split-off from the Communist Party of Australia]. My moral break from authoritarian state-capitalism, or Stalinism, which still infects the Australian left and the Australian trade union movement to a much larger degree than people realise, took a long time. I would say it took from 1979, when I joined the SPA, to the final break in about 1994.

Bob Carnegie described his political itinerary, from young cadre of the Stalinist movement through Maritime Union official to anti-Stalinist revolutionary, in an interview with Workers’ Liberty in October 1999.

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Early years in the movement

An interview with Bob Carnegie about his early years in the labour movement

Looking back, the watershed moment of the modern Australian labour movement was really 1975. The Governor-General sacked the reforming Labor government and put in the conservatives under Malcolm Fraser to govern instead. Workers organised a huge surge of strikes and demonstrations in response; but the union leaders limited and deflected the movement. After that, the left-wing ferment of Australia’s early 1970s subsided quite fast, thought the trade union movement remained strong. You would have been in your early teens then. Do you remember what you made of it?

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Hutchison: fighting for jobs, 2015

Within days of Bob taking office as MUA Queensland secretary, the union faced a major dispute. On 6 August 2015, Hutchison, the world’s biggest container operator, summarily sacked half their workforce in their Brisbane and Sydney terminals, 97 workers out of 194. The sacked workers ran a 24/7 protest line at the Brisbane and Sydney terminals, with the support of the workers not sacked, who were called in for minimal working hours but handled very little traffic.

Within days of Bob taking office as MUA Queensland secretary, the union faced a major dispute. On 6 August 2015, Hutchison, the world’s biggest container operator, summarily sacked half their workforce in their Brisbane and Sydney terminals.

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Fighting for workers’ rights

Author: 

Bob Carnegie and Martin Thomas

Below is an article from Workers’ Liberty Australia, jointly written by Bob and Martin Thomas, setting out ideas at the beginning of the battle against WorkChoices, in 2005.

In 2005, John Howard set out plans to bring in anti-union legislation more drastic than former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ever attempted in one instalment, and arguably more drastic than the sum total of the whole long series of laws introduced by Thatcher’s government through the 1980s.

An jointly written by Bob and Martin Thomas setting out ideas at the beginning of the battle against WorkChoices, in 2005.

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The importance of democracy

Author: 

Bob Carnegie

Bob wrote about the dispute at the Queensland Children’s Hospital construction site in 2012. The hospital is now named the Lady Cilento Hospital.

An article Bob wrote about the dispute at the Queensland Children’s Hospital construction site in 2012.

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Comrade Hand Grenade

Author: 

Bill Hunt

The Builders Labourer, the journal of the Builders Labourers Federation of Queensland, carried this tribute by Bill Hunt to Bob Carnegie in 2008 when Bob decided to step down as a full-time organiser with the BLF to return to work on the sites.


By now many if not most of our members will be aware that Bob Carnegie is no longer an organiser with the BLF Bob has a job with Grocon as a peggy [site cleaner] and is looking forward to reacquainting himself with the rank and file.

The Builders Labourer, the journal of the Builders Labourers Federation of Queensland, carried this tribute by Bill Hunt to Bob Carnegie in 2008 when Bob decided to step down as a full-time organiser with the BLF to return to work on the sites.

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