Bob Gould, 2002

Brothers: eight leaders of the NSW Labor Council
A review

Source: Self-published pamphlet, July 9, 2002
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Brothers, Eight Leaders, of the Labor Council of NSW, by Marilyn Dodkin. Published by UNSW Press, 2001

Brothers is rather dry. It is an expanded version of Marilyn Dodkin’s PhD thesis. Nevertheless, it is an extremely useful and informative book for anyone seriously interested in the history of the NSW labour movement. It complements Ray Markey’s equally useful history of the Labor Council (In Case of Oppression. The Life and Times of the Labor Council of NSW, ISBN 1864030054, January 1994).

As a long-established personality, and a kind of unofficial archivist and historian integrated into the fabric of the NSW Centre Unity machine, Dodkin has had unique entree into the complexity of the relationship between that grouping and the Labor Council of NSW.

Her account of the life and times of the eight leaders she discusses, and of the Labor Council and the Centre Unity faction, is matter-of-factly empirical, but it is also infused by an attempt at a balance sheet based on the collective interest of the Centre Unity machine.

From this point of view, Dodkin views most of the leaders as successful, but she is critical of Michael Easson’s leadership, which she doesn’t regard as so successful.

She concludes the book with a kind of homily to all those in authority in the Labor Council and the Centre Unity, to preserve the traditions of the grouping, particularly the apprenticeship system for future Labor Council secretaries.

From that point of view, she’s obviously not too keen on the division that has emerged over the past 18 months or so between the new leadership of John Robertson, and the grouping around Tony Sheldon and the Transport Workers Union, a division that shows no sign of having disappeared.

The book was published late in 2001, so she does not comment on the role played by the new Labor Council leadership in campaigning for a more civilised Labor Party policy on refugees.

It seems likely that Marilyn Dodkin may disapprove of this development because at the recent May 2002 state conference of the NSW ALP, the policy committee of which Marilyn is chairperson rejected the Labor for Refugees resolution moved by John Robertson. Despite the rejection, Robertson’s amendment opposing mandatory detention was overwhelmingly carried by the state conference.

The most controversial thing in the book is the evidence Dodkin presents that appears to establish the likelihood that Jim Kenny had some kind of intimate connection with ASIO, and she also records, as a matter of undisputed fact, that Jack Clowes, a retired ASIO agent, was employed as a research officer and librarian at the Labor Council. (Interestingly, in Bob Carr’s new book, Thoughtlines: Reflections of a Public Man (Viking, ISBN 0670040258) one chapter is an extract from Carr’s unpublished novel, in which he includes a thinly veiled pen portrait of Clowes.)

The Clowes connection is of some interest to me. I have recently obtained both my New South Wales Special Branch police file, and my ASIO files up to the end of 1971, more than 5000 pages in all.

Way back in 1969 there is a curious series of entries in my Special Branch file. The context is that Resistance, with which I was associated, held a forum at Goulburn Street on the result of the 1969 federal elections, with the participants in the forum being Arthur Gietzelt of the Labor Left Steering Committee, John Ducker, and myself.

This was a smallish meeting, due to competition with other meetings on the same night. In my Special Branch file, there is a weird entry, allegedly from an informant present at the meeting, which fits me up by presenting Bob Gould as having boasted at this forum about organising violence at demonstrations.

Obviously, even this imaginative agent’s handlers were a bit cautious about his report, because there is a further entry a bit later in my file offering a kind of “second opinion” from someone else who was at the meeting, who, when questioned, asserted that he didn’t hear Gould say anything like that.

In context, it appears possible to me that this “second opinion” may have been acquired by Clowes asking John Ducker, and Clowes passing on the relevant information to his old colleagues at ASIO and the atate Special Branch. Who knows!

Despite its dryness of presentation, Dodkin’s book, along with Ray Markey’s book, is indispensable reading for anyone with a serious interest in the nuts and bolts of how power is wielded in the NSW labour movement, and how the peak organisation of the unions in this state, the Labor Council of NSW, has evolved.

July 9, 2002

More on the NSW Labor Council: Brothers: Eight Leaders of the Labor Council of New South Wales, reviewed by Bobbie Oliver, To Organise Wherever the Necessity Exists