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Issue #1928      August 17, 2020

Union denies membership to communist!*

This article originally appeared in Tribune August, 1955

J Shand, QC (for L Short and Ironworkers’ officials) “did not have the courage to call expert evidence”, E F Hill (for Thornton) told the Full Bench of the Industrial Commission this week.

Thornton has called on Short and the FIA [Federated Ironworkers’ Association of Australia] officials to show cause why he should not be readmitted to the Union.

Thornton said in evidence that the general manager of E T Wards had told him Short had told the firm not to employ Thornton.

Short was in the court throughout the hearing, but Shand never called him as a witness. In fact, Shand called no witnesses.

Shand had submitted “a lot of empty assertions against a background of political mud-slinging,” Hill said.

“What the respondent (Short) is asking the Court to do is deny the right of every man to work,” Hill said.

“But your Honours will be quick to safeguard this fundamental right and see that it is jealously preserved.”

Shand asked Thornton what he meant by a statement that “we can restore the Ironworkers’ Union to its former greatness.”

Thornton: I was referring to the occasion when the union was of great standing and repute before the Industrial Groups destroyed its reputation.

“Team of crooks”

He told Shand he had been invited to address some members of the Ironworkers’ Union in Newcastle in 1954.

Shand: Broadly, what did you say – I think I said there was a team of crooks in control now, and it was time genuine trade unionists recovered control of the union. The leadership should be changed and replaced by men who had the real interests of the union and its members at heart.

Thornton at one stage told Shand he was replying to questions truthfully.

“I am sorry if those answers do not suit you, Shand,” he said.

Fourteen jobs

Thornton said he had been engaged by fourteen different firms since early 1954.

Some had cancelled his engagement before he could start work.

Others had sacked him a day or two after he started.

Immediately on starting his first job, Thornton said he filled in a union application form and paid 24/- entrance fee and dues.

He got a receipt from the delegate, but the union had refused to issue an OK card.

No employer had found fault with his work.

After working a week at E T Wards, the manager had told him: “Ernie, we’ve reached the parting of the ways.”

The General Manager told him there was no fault to find with his work.

But short had told him to sack thornton

The workers on the job, however, told the boss to ignore Short.

If Thornton was sacked they would all stop work.

Thornton worked there for two months, then all hands got two weeks’ notice when the section they worked in closed down.

At the present time, Thornton said, he was working at Clark, Goldie and Collins and had been there since 1st June.

He started work at 4:30 am and was employed as an ironworker.

Sheer McCarthyism

Mr Wootten (Junior to Mr Shand) told Judge Beattie he believed everybody who sincerely held Communist views was of general bad character.

Judge Beattie: I don’t think all revolutionaries are of general bad character.

Wootten described Thornton’s explanation of changes in the character of World War II as “double-talk”.

Hill objected

“That is a reckless assertion that has nothing to support it,” he said.

“Wootten is not confining himself to the evidence. In fact, his remarks can be described as from the bar table.”

Their Honours had been asked to conclude that many members of the medical and legal profession, and men and women in all walks of life, were of general bad character, E F Hill told the Full Bench.

That was the meaning of the assertion by Wootten, that anybody who sincerely believed in communism must be of general bad character.

Hill said: “Such an outrageous statement is a mark of desperation.

“If your Honours accede to the respondent argument, you will be agreeing to put on trial a man’s political beliefs.

“This is sheer McCarthyism.”


To earn a living

Shand asked Thornton what reasons he had for wanting to join the union.

Thornton: Because I want to earn a living. I have had a long association with the union, and I am working as an ironworker. I want to be a member of the union covering my calling.

Shand: You have no ambition to take up an official position in the union? – Not at present.

No plans at present? – Such plans would be premature.

Shand suggested Thornton could have changed his name to get a job.

He asked Thornton if he had used his correct name merely to get a number of rejections.

Thornton: I battled hard to keep the jobs I have been in.

Shand: Is it your belief that the beliefs of communism should penetrate into the trade union movement – It is my belief that the beliefs of communism should be expounded everywhere.

Shand: Is it your belief that the way to advance communism is through the workshops? – I have already told you communists believe they have the right to spread their ideas everywhere, including the workshops.

That is one of the primary sources through which you aim to spread communism? – Wherever the workers are; factories, shearing sheds, farms or anywhere else.

Hill said Thornton had clearly proved his occupation was that of an ironworker.

The evidence had also shown that Thornton was a man of eminently good character and that he had an outstanding record in his occupation, and in his occupation as a union official.

Hill said Thorton’s record was “virtually unblemished and a record that many people in the community would be proud of.”

Hill said the opposition to Thornton’s admission was not a bona fide opposition. No explanation, had been given for it

* The original title of this article was “Thorton was sacked on Short’s orders”. This was changed for editorial reasons.

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