Australian History. 1942

A Review of the Report of the Ironworkers’ Union Federal Council

by D. Lovegrove

Source: "Reason in Revolt", Source documents of Australian Radicalism;
First Published: in the “Labor Call” October 1st, 1942;
Republished: as A Review of the Report of the Ironworkers’ Union Federal Council and Communists and The War;
Transcribed: by Chris Clayton.

“We must see that the war changes for us, when the character of the war changes. Does it change because Russia, as Russia, is now in the war? IT CHANGES BECAUSE NOW THE WORKERS’ RUSSIA IS IN THE WAR, BECAUSE THE WORKERS’ RED ARMY NOW GUARANTEES THE DEFEAT OF THE NAZIS AND NOW GUARANTEES A DEMOCRATIC PEACE.”

Mr. E. Thornton’s Report to the Ironworkers’ Union Federal Council, June, 1942.

I HAVE just read two reports. One is called “Trade Unions and the War,” and was published by the Ironworkers’ Federal Council last June. It records the Union’s policy on the War. The other is called “Grim Glory” and was published by a man named Gilbert Mant, who was Reuter’s War Correspondent during the Malayan campaign. It records the undying heroism of the Australians who fought in that ill-fated campaign, and it was published last July.

And as the Federal Council of the Ironworkers’ Union has not read “Grim Glory” before it published its ambitiously titled report, it is probably able to plead ignorance on some few matters concerned with modern warfare. In any case, this is the most charitable view to take, as it is far better to assume that people are stupid than to admit that they have forgotten that they are Australians, and that Australian blood has been literally shed in their defence against Japan.

The alleged opinions of the Ironworkers’ Union (as expressed by its Federal Council) are not, however, the opinions of the Australian Trade Union Movement, which declared its opposition to Nazism, and its readiness to defend Australia, in 1939, and which, unlike some people described as Trade Unionists (but with relatively short records of service in the Unions) has not found it necessary to change is policy since 1939.

Nor does the Ironworkers’ Report express the opinions of the Australian Labor Party, which also declared its opposition to Nazism in 1939, and its

Undivided Allegiance

to the Allied cause, and which also has not found it necessary to change its policy since 1939.

Nor does the Ironworkers’ Report express the opinions of 99 per cent. of Australians, who love their country, who hate Nazism, or any other form of political dictatorship, and who are working and fighting to defend Australia, because they believe in Australia. Because they believe they possess the ability and courage to work out their social salvation in their own way. Because, in any case, they prefer the Australian capitalistic system to the German or Japanese capitalistic system: and because, above all, they are Australians, and, as Mr. Curtin said, loyal to this soil.

Australians, therefore, do not require Communistic apologies served up to them through their trade unions, as reasons why they should defend their way of life against foreign despotisms.

The character of the war has not changed for Australians. Australians like their British brethren, were defending their way of life against the Nazis long before Germany attacked Russia. They would have continued this struggle, irrespective of whether the Red Army, or any other Army ... “guaranteed” ... (to use Mr. Thornton’s words) ... “the defeat of the Nazis...”

Australians know that the British people fought the Battle for Britain, and won it, without such guarantees, and despite the bellyaching of the British Communist Party during those terrible months when the skies rained death, and Britain faced her destiny, magnificently defiant and alone.

And Australians will face their destiny in that same high tradition. Australians will continue the struggle as they commenced it, irrespective of whatever new “changes” may distinguish Communist “explanations” of the war, including even Communist “explanations” published by Trade Unions such as the Ironworkers’ Union.

For in so far as it deals with the War, the Ironworkers’ Union “Report” is indistinguishable from Communist policy (at the moment), and it is only upon this basis that it can be analysed. Particularly when its author has been associated with that policy from its inception. And particularly when that policy is conspicuous for those peculiar little fits of forgetfulness which distinguish the publications of the Communist Party, but which should not distinguish the publications of any Trade Union. And more particularly when the “Report” has for its noble object the whitewashing of the Communist Party.

The Switch

The “Report” commences by admitting that, before Germany attacked Russia, the Ironworkers’ Council declared the War to be imperialist, and that its delegation to the A.C.T.U. in 1941 “supported a resolution demanding negotiations for a democratic peace.”

This is true, although neither the ironworkers’ delegations nor the Communists succeeded in showing the Congress just how the “democratic peace” was to be obtained.

And one of the Communist arguments at that time was that if peace were made, the people of Germany would themselves overthrow Hitler and German capitalism.

The Communist “Tribune” of October 20, 1939, said that:

“The destruction of Hitlerism and the liberation of the Czechs and Austrians can safely be left to the Anti-Fascist victory of the people of Greater Germany themselves. This Victory, which would be assisted by the restoration of peace, is inevitable, sooner or later.”

The “Report” then continues that “Our Management Committee met in October 1941, and declared that the military defeat of the Axis Powers was the most important task of the world’s workers.”

In the interim, of course, Germany had attacked Russia, and the Ironworkers’ Council (and the Communist Party) had not only changed their views upon the “character of the war,” but had also changed their views as to how Hitlerism was to be overthrown. This, however, is only one of the remarkable “changes” which have distinguished Communist policy, and is more evidence of stupidity than deceit. But deceit it is not lacking. For on page 6 we read that:

“Any suggestion that when Germany marched into Poland, the war took place over Polish independence, is incorrect. The war was a war between Britain and France on the one hand, and Nazi Germany on the other. It had the same Imperialist character as the war of 1914-1918.”

This may be true. But if it is, the Communist Party and its trade union politicians were particularly mistaken when in the “Guardian” of September 9, 1939, they told the trade unionists (including the members of the Ironworkers’ Union), that:

“This war, launched for the purpose of the conquest of Poland, and its subjection to the Fascist Empire of Hitler, of Krupp, of Thyssen, the German Monopoly Capitalists, is an act of stark aggression, without justification of any kin whatever. Therefore, lovers of justice and liberty throughout the world will support the struggle of the Polish people for their independence and against enslavement to a foreign Power.”

But, of course, this was before the German-Russian Pact, and the Communists had not yet discovered that the War was Imperialist, and that the overthrow of Hitler could safely be left to the German workers. And if the Communists were mistaken, surely there is some excurse for the Federal Council of the Ironworkers’ Union.

But let sweet charity draw a veil over this unfortunate phase of various Communist “explanations” upon the intriguing subject of “Trade Unions and the War,”l and proceed to the next remarkable argument submitted by the Federal Council of the Ironworkers’ Union.