September 11, 2017
With this final issue of Common Cause, it is time for me to say Thanks to all of you I have had the great privilege to meet and fight alongside throughout my 38-years at our Union’s National Office.
During that time I have been fortunate to have met some of the best people I have ever known and as I embark on a new phase of my life I feel a great sense of gratitude for the kindness and support I have received from you and your families throughout mining communities in Australia. Being Editor of Common Cause has never just been a job to me, but a way of life.
As a young 27-year journalist not long arrived from Ireland, I won one of life’s great lotteries in 1979 when the Miners Federation National Executive gave me the opportunity to succeed the eminent Pete Thomas as Editor of the then weekly Common Cause.
I was very conscious of the great historical role that Common Cause has played in Australia’s history and of the esteemed labour movement journalists who had previously been Editors – Norm Freehill, Edgar Ross, Len Fox and Pete Thomas, the giants among them.
Throughout my years as Editor of Common Cause and in other areas of media and campaigning, I have always tried to live up to the high standards they set and to earn the respect of the membership of our great Union.
I have learned so much from the wisdom and courage of our Union members and their families too. I have been incredibly lucky to have such great and generous mentors throughout my time and while most of them like Digger Murphy have passed on, I am particularly grateful to Fred Moore and Bill Chapman, two incredible miners leaders with whom I still retain a special friendship.
Starting as a young Editor back in 1979, I was lucky to be able to get to know some of the Federation’s legendary leaders who were at that time retired and since then some of the most outstanding leaders of our modern era. Indeed, in my time I have worked with three general presidents and six general secretaries and many District officials.
Outstanding as some of them are, for me the most impressive feature of our Union and its great strength are the rank and file delegates and their families that I have been associated with through decades of campaigning on the job, in our mining communities and in political battles.
I have learned that an essential strength of our Union’s fighting ability has been the women in our mining communities. They rarely get the public recognition they deserve, but I know of no dispute that we have ever fought that the mining women did not play a decisive role in. I have never seen anything that compares to the resilience and compassion shown by mining women in the great tragedies and loss of life that I have witnessed in my time as Editor of Common Cause. The women have borne much of the pain with great strength and character. They are the steel in the spine of our mining communities. I will always consider it one of the great privileges in my life to have worked with so many outstanding mining community women through the Women’s Auxiliary, the Miners Support Groups and the Families Support Groups.
I shall also treasure my relationship with our retired members who carry such great experience and knowledge into their community work and support for our Union struggles. Their readiness to fight for our shared values and principles remains an essential part of any successful campaign we have been involved in. The rights and conditions we have today are a direct legacy of what they won for us.
I have seen many politicians come and go at a Federal and State level, in government and in oppositions. Only a very few who became MPs were working coal miners but they were the very best who served in Parliament. I am thinking particularly of Col Markham in NSW and Jim Pearce in Queensland – both underground coal miners before they entered Parliament and neither ever forgot for a single day where they came from.
As I leave this role, I am still in awe of the courage and conviction that characterises our members. The sort of guts that sees you through bitter and lengthy industrial disputes in the fight for a Fair Go. For having the pluck to never give up even in the face of attacks by some of the most powerful and ruthless multinationals the world has seen. I am gobsmacked at your ability to never be cowered when the odds seem impossibly stacked against you and to stand with you as we’ve seen it through.
But it is not just in industrial disputes that our Union has taken the lead. In my time I have seen this Union take on and beat the all powerful Fraser LNP Federal Government in the great Tax Revolt of 1980 and again take on and beat the Howard Government at the height of its power in the Oakdale dispute 1999.
It is easy to reflect nostalgically on the past and think that today’s workers are not made from the same tough stuff as their predecessors. Sure there are differences, but we live in a different world. I know what this generation of mineworkers and their families are capable of because I have seen it first hand. For me, the proud historic mantle that has been passed by our predecessors to today’s generations is in good hands.
I have no doubt that this generation is up for the fight and as the CFMEU goes from strength to strength through further unity with unions like the MUA, it will add to the great legacy our predecessors have given us.
By and large, our Union has been served by outstanding National and District Officials. I am grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded by the current leaders Tony Maher and Andrew Vickers. They have supported the expansion of our work into creative campaigning backing ground-breaking videos like What have the Unions Ever Done for Us? and Fair Go for Billionaires as well as further enabling me to put together a production team for documentary films like Lockout and Last Stand at Nymboida. Tony and Andrew also commissioned our historian Alan Murray to bring our history up to date with a trilogy of books covering miners in the 1980s,1990s and from 2000-2015.
A special thanks to Stephen Smyth, Tim Whyte and Mitch Hughes for commissioning the feature length documentary film of the Queensland miners history, Blood on the Coal and to the Queensland District rank and file who voted overwhelmingly to fund it.
Most of these projects developed from the work I was privileged to do with Fred Moore and Ray Harrison in compiling the Miners Oral History Project that produced two books, At the Coalface and Back at the Coalface. This project would never have got off the ground without the full support of former Miners Federation General Secretary Barry Swan.
My heartfelt thanks to the wonderful staff that I have worked so closely with in our National Office. Every one of them is a credit to our great Union and we are lucky to have them. Thanks also to the staff in our Union’s various branches who have always been so helpful and pleasant.
I could never find the words to thank the best person I have ever known, my wife Elinor, who has shared every step of my journey with this Union for the past 25 years. Without Elinor, it would have been impossible.
Finally, in this last edition, I would like to wish retiring General Secretary Andrew Vickers and his wife Margaret and their family all the very best for a long, happy and healthy life. To Tony Maher, now the longest serving General President in the history of our Union, a sincere thanks for your support and best wishes in the great challenges ahead in steering our Union into the future.
Farwell and thanks to each and every one of you. It’s been a hell of a ride but worth every bit of it.