Interview conducted by Lesley Dormer for Workers Weekly, Radio 5UV, University of Adelaide. (Produced by Ray Broomhill.)
Introduction - Don Sutherland
This interview was run about 12 months into the Hawke Labor government’s operation of “The Statement of Accord by the ALP and the ACTU regarding Economic Policy” (The Accord), created in February 1983.
Interviewer, Lesley Dormer, enables Laurie to explain what had been achieved in the first 12 months, outline the character of the Accord from his point of view as a medium for “higher intervention” by workers, and why that was necessary. He starts by emphasizing a point about strategy: that in that first year the Liberals’ monetarism had been rejected.
Carmichael also outlines the problems and obstacles that have not been overcome and introduces the crucial question of the relationship between the industrial wage and the social wage in defining living standards.
Presciently, he describes the potential of the finance system to be a defining "nuisance" in the efforts to get the full value out of the Accord strategy.
His discussion on the industrial wage raises vital questions; for example, “militant” unionism can, in a particular form, promote a wages struggle that aligns with the free-market approach of the employers. Thus, here in 1984, he suggests “enterprise bargaining” is in that framework.
The interview concludes with a brief discussion that links his approach to the Accord to earlier views he had expressed about an open-ended transition to socialism.
Also CLICK HERE.
Organising Works was an ACTU young organizers education programme introduced in the early 1990s to support union efforts to reverse the decline in union density.
Along with other veterans, “retired” union leaders Tom McDonald (BWIU / CFMEU) and Tas Bull WWF / MUA), Laurie gave a short series of lectures on the themes of “strategy” and “leadership”.
He also conducted a seminar with the Victorian Organising Works Trainees, in 1997, some of which was video recorded.
This is an excerpt from that recording that focuses on Laurie’s method of union organizing including his “thrippence method” and active committees.
Laurie was a renowned organizer. His election to his first full-time role as the Secretary of the AEU’s Melbourne District would not have been possible without the application of this method developed during his time as Convenor of the AEU and Combined Shop Committees at the Williamstown Naval Dockyard. As Secretary, he extended this method through his dedicated and strong-minded team of organizers and, that led to the successful union campaigns that followed.
There are several “key ideas” in Carmichael’s presentation that are summed up at the start of the video as alerts for viewers who really do want to get into in-depth learning about organising.
Tom Mann was one of the greatest figures of the global union movement at the end of the nineteenth century and into the first part of the 20th century.
Here in this article, in 1976, Laurie Carmichael, then becoming, unconsciously, one of Australia’s finest labour and socialist movement leaders, introduces Tom Mann to the members of the metalworkers union. The article coincides with the decision of the National Council to name the new theatre on the ground floor of the new national headquarters of the union in Chalmers St, Surry Hills, as the Tom Mann Theatre. He is explaining some of their heritage to them. The article – about Mann – also says a lot about Laurie Carmichael himself. It required reading and other detailed research and, also, some serious thinking about the then modern legacy that Mann had left; including that unions should be the centre of the recreational and cultural development of its members. Carmichael alerts the members to Mann’s activities as a socialist unionist and its synergy with political intervention into both the Labor Party and socialism to the left of the Labor Party. Some years after this article was published, new research was published on Mann’s life. There is an updated version of this original Carmichael article that takes account of this research, available on request.
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, 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;
- 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.
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.
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.