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, 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. Download pdf or read online.

Three big disputes

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. A more important strike that I had a little bit to do with was the British miners’ strike of 1984-1985. The Seamen’s Union of Australia in those days put on a complete ban on any coal to go to Britain during the strike. Not one ounce of Australian coal...

The political journey to Trotskyism

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. The last five years has been my great political growing...

Early years in the 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? I remember my father being...

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