Introducing Laurie Carmichael

Laurie Carmichael was a prominent Australian working class and trade union leader throughout the second half of the twentieth century. He was born in Coburg, (Melbourne, Victoria) 1925[1], and died on August 18th, 2018. (Click here, and here also, for more.)

It is possible to locate Laurie Carmichael's participation in the Australian working-class movement over 5 primary periods:

  • first, his activity in the 1940s as a fitter and turner apprentice and political activist in the Eureka Youth League, Young Engineers, and Communist Party[2];
  • then his role from 1948 as a shop steward representing fitters and turners and other metalworkers at the Williamstown Naval Dockyard in Melbourne, Victoria;
  • third, his role as an elected Melbourne District Secretary of the Amalgamated Engineer's Union;
  • fourth his contribution as the Assistant National Secretary of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union, and in other roles; and
  • finally his role as the Assistant Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

Throughout his decades of union and political activism, Carmichael was also a prominent member of the Communist Party of Australia, acting as its National President from 1978-81.

Carmichael started his union activism as an apprentice fitter and turner and continued as a shop steward and then the Convenor of the shop stewards' committee at the Williamstown Naval Dockyard. From there he was elected by the members of the union to be the Secretary of the Melbourne District of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and later the Assistant National Secretary of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union. At the end of his union years, he was the Assistant Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. During that time he led a major national government review of the Australian vocational education system.[3][4][5][6]

Carmichael was the classic, self-taught working-class intellectual. He read very widely for pleasure, for the sake of learning, and to inform his practical activity. His reading ranged broadly from the Marxist classics, non-Marxist political and economic commentary, classical and modern history, technology and computerization, and classical music.

From 1983 to 1993 the Australian Labor government operated a method of consultation with big business and Australian unions, commonly known as the Accord(s). Carmichael was a "linchpin" of the union team that represented workers in the consultations between the government, employers, and unions.[7]

Memorial services were held to pay respects to his unique contribution to Australian life in Melbourne on September 6, 2018, and Sydney on October 10, 2018.

The Melbourne memorial was chaired by Andrew Dettmer (current National President of the AMWU) and the speakers were: Laurie Carmichael Jr., Senator Doug Cameron, Bill Shorten M.P., Bill Kelty, Max Ogden, and Sally McManus.

The Sydney memorial was chaired by Judy Mundey (former National President of the C.P.A.) and the speakers were: Andrew Dettmer, Laurie Carmichael Jr (by video), Marie Armstrong (Laurie’s former administrative secretary), Laurie himself by a 1997 video recording, Bruce Campbell (retired AMWU organizer and leading shop steward in the shorter hours campaign in the late 70’s and early 80’s), Tom McDonald (former National Secretary of the BWIU), and Sally McManus (current Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.)

Carmichael's personal life ...

At both memorial services, Carmichael’s son Laurie Carmichael Jr, provided insights into his personal life and the broad range of his recreational interests. These included classical music, ice-skating, ballroom dancing, gardening, mechanical and electronic tinkering, and above all, reading.

Laurie Carmichael Jr’s Sydney speech will be posted soon. He was the first of the speakers at the Melbourne Memorial and his tribute to his father can be listened to here.