When the Canberra Region Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History was established in 1995, one of its first activities was to initiate an oral history project featuring some past and serving officials of the ACT Trades and Labour Council, now known as Unions ACT.
The project was very much a self-driven initiative, conceived and carried out by the unionists themselves. Chief amongst them was Ted Forbes, inaugural ASSLH Branch President and former ACT branch secretary of the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union. Ted recorded most of the interviews himself on an old analogue tape recorder.
Some of the original participants are now deceased but their interviews bear witness to their pioneering efforts to get the union movement on a firm footing in Canberra. One was the veteran TWU bus driver Doug Carpenter who ‘ran the union from the seat of a bus.’ Another was Amos McVeigh who tells of his experiences in the Great Depression, how he organised the hospitality workers in the Canberra men’s hostels and later rose to become Federal Secretary of the Liquor Trades Union.
More recent history is contained in an extensive interview with Charles McDonald who served as Secretary of the ACT Trades and Labour Council for 20 years from 1974 when the entire assets of the TLC consisted of ‘$4,000 in the bank, no office, a Gestetner, a manual typewriter and a four-drawer cabinet.’
The interviews delve into the major issues that confronted the trade union movement during the Hawke-Keating years – issues such as enterprise bargaining, the Prices and Incomes Accord and the impact of union restructuring. Taken together, they comprise an interesting snapshot of Canberra’s industrial history at an important turning-point in union history.
The order in which the interviews are presented is based roughly on when the participants first became active in the trade union movement in Canberra.
The interviewees and positions they held were as follows:
|Branch Secretary TWU and TLC President
|Branch & Fed Secretary Liquor Trades Union
|Branch Organiser AWU
|Secretary Trades & Labour Council
|Branch Secretary BLF and TLC President
|Branch Secretary FMWU and TLC President
|Branch Secretary ADSTE & AMWU
|Branch Secretary LHMU
|Industrial Officer BWIU and TLC Secretary
|Branch Secretary CFMEU
|Industrial Officer MEAA
|Branch Secretary AMWU