In this issue of the Australian Marxist Review the main focus is on trade unions and their struggles.
The first of these articles is an interview with Warren Smith on today’s trade union struggles. Smith has been active in the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) for 33 years and held numerous positions. At present he is the chair of the Maritime Branch of the CPA. He is also a member of its CC Executive and Secretariat. Smith worked as a wharfie prior to being elected to various positions within the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). He is currently the MUA Assistant National Secretary, so is well qualified to speak on the question of trade unions and the issues they face. The MUA is one of the most hated trade unions by employers, the government and mass media because of its militancy and protection of members. It is a result of a merger between the former Waterside Workers’ Federation and Seaman’s Union of Australia, which more recently merged with the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, another militant trade union.
This interview is followed by an article by Katjoesja Buissink on community unionism in New Zealand, which is a subject of particular relevance today. It provides lessons and ideas that we could consider for use in Australia. Buissink is the Chair of the Central Committee of the New Communist Party of Aotearoa (NCPA). Sympathetic to Marxism since their school days, Buissink got involved with the Communist Party of Australia while in Sydney during 2018. Experiencing a Marxist party for the first time solidified their convictions and on return to New Zealand, they resolved to re-establish the Communist Party in New Zealand. The New Communist Party of Aotearoa was founded in May 2019 and Buissink was elected the Chair of its Central Committee at its First National Congress.
Outside of Party work, Buissink is an organiser for the Hospo Workers’ Union (HWU), a new trade union for restaurant, café and bar workers in New Zealand and the only member union of the World Federation of Trade Unions in New Zealand. HWU was established with the backing of NCPA members as part of the redevelopment of the class-oriented union movement in New Zealand.
Still on the subject of trade union struggles, the third contribution is by Edgar Ross. It provides an insightful outline of the organisation and execution of historic strike action in 1937 by the Miners’ Federation under communist leadership. It is particularly relevant to the present situation demonstrating education and involvement of members, planning, and discipline with united action. The strike occurred during a very dark period coming out of the Great Depression. The trade union movement, wages, and working conditions had taken a hammering. Workers’ morale was low as was militancy and class consciousness.
Ross held a number of positions including subeditor with the Barrier Daily Truth, the newspaper of the Workers Industrial Union of Australia, president of the local Militant Minority Movement, and he joined the CPA in 1933, which brought with it active membership in the Movement Against War and Fascism.
Ross became editor of the Miners’ Federation journal, Common Cause in 1935, and continued in that role until 1966. He vigorously supported the successful campaign for the forty-hour week and was a mining group representative on the New South Wales Labor Council Executive from 1936 to 1966. Ross also published several works of labour history, including The Russian Revolution: Its Impact on Australia (1967), A History of the Miners’ Federation of Australia (1970), Of Storm and Struggle (1982), and These Things Shall Be! Bob Ross, Socialist Pioneer: His Life and Times (1988).
The next article by Dr Hannah Middleton provides a Marxist analysis of how Aboriginal people lived as an integral and integrated part of the natural environment. Their traditional life does not dominate or exploit nature, and their social life reflects this harmony. She describes the impact of colonisation with its destruction of Aboriginal traditional society, the struggle against the British colonisers including the seizure of their lands, and analyses this in terms of class formation.
Middleton has been a member of the communist movement in England, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and Australia for 60 years. She has held leading positions in the CPA, including former President and General Secretary, and has written many pamphlets for the Party. She studied the national question at Humboldt University in the GDR and wrote her PhD on the land rights struggle of the Gurindji at Daguragu in the NT. Middleton has continuing contacts with Aboriginal activists in most States. For a number of years she was a Lecturer at the University of New South Wales and continues to assist post-graduate students with their research projects. She is Secretary of the Port Jackson Branch of the CPA and an activist in the peace and public housing movements.
Middleton is author of a number of publications including But now we want the land back and Flowers to Make Daguragu Pretty: The Gurindji 1966-2016. Middleton lived and worked with the Gurindji at Daguragu from April 1970 to February 1971.
The Editorial Board hopes that readers find material in this issue of interest and useful to them.
David Matters (Convenor)