Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


Scotland's Radical Exports: Book Launch

6:50 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to talk briefly about a book that I launched in Collins Street in Melbourne. It is unusual for me to be launching a book in Collins Street, especially with Collins Street being the home of capitalism in Australia. The name of the book is Scotland's Radical Exports: the Scots abroad—how they shaped politics and trade unions. I thought it was quite delightful to be—

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Was Senator Macdonald there?

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No, Senator Macdonald was not there. Senator Macdonald's tartan tie was not even there. And Senator Macdonald—I must disappoint him—did not get any mention in this book about Scotland's radicals abroad and how they shaped politics and trade unions. The book was written by a former president of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, Pat Kelly, and the book is fantastic. It is a great book. I ask everyone who has an opportunity to do so to have a look at the contribution that the Scots have made all around the world. Pat traverses and chronicles the struggles, defeats and victories of the trade union movement in Australia, the US, Canada and New Zealand. Central to those struggles was and is the role of Scottish trade unionists. Many Scottish trade unionists and their families paid a massive price as the owners of capital victimised, assaulted, blackballed and vilified union activists. As I said, being in Collins Street to launch this book was quite an experience.

We talk about globalisation and we hear a lot about some of the things the Scots have done, such as bringing culture and engineering excellence to the world. They have taken economics around the world, and they have also taken trade unions around the world. Wherever capitalism went, the Scots trade unionists were there. I am very happy to be one of them. This book talks about the values and principles that the Scots brought to trade unionism and the effect of that around the world—and particularly in Australia. In Scotland they did lots of education during the early years of unionisation—mostly self-education. Trade unionists were educated in Marxism, they were educated in economics, they were educated in politics. They were also educated in reading, debate, critical analysis and political analysis. As I said when I was launching this fantastic book, you can be smart, you can be well read, but you need values, principles and courage—and nobody had more values, principles and courage than some of the leading Scottish trade union officials who emigrated from Scotland and set up trade unionism around the world.

This book deals not just with the leaders of the Scottish trade union movement; it also deals with rank and file trade unionists. When I came to Australia and worked at the Garden Island dockyard, there were lots of Scottish accents. When I went to the Liddell power station, there were lots of Scottish engineers and Scottish accents. They were doing a great job keeping the wheels of this country turning. They also had great solidarity and commitment. The families of unionists did it really tough. Some of the unionists outlined in the book include William Wilson, the leader of the US miners who became the Secretary of the Department of Labor. He played a huge role in ensuring that workers got decent rights. I did not realise until I read the book that Philip Murray, born in Blantyre and who was the head of the steelworkers union in the US, had a street in my home town of Bellshill named after him. There are references to Doug Fraser from the United Auto Workers union, one of the key trade unionists in the history of the United States; JB McLachlan, from the Nova Scotia miners; and Tommy Douglas, who was the leader of the NDP in Canada. He was a Scottish trade unionist who went over there and got involved in politics, and only a few years ago he was voted the greatest Canadian of all time—a Scots emigrant to Canada. He was voted the greatest Canadian because of his trade union activities, because of his political activities and because he started the health system in Canada that created that huge difference between the United States and Canada.

The book also refers to great names in Australia such as William G Spence, who founded the Australian Workers Union. If you read the book, you will see he founded three unions. He did a fantastic job of organising during the great disputes, including the shearers dispute and the maritime dispute. He was an eight-year-old during the Eureka Stockade, and he was at the Eureka Stockade with his father. He knew plenty about deprivation and he knew plenty about trying to make sure that workers came together to form trade unions and get decent rights and not be treated simply as the goods and chattels of employers. Another great trade unionist who came to Australia, at the age of 18, was Andrew Fisher—the first Labor Prime Minister. It is interesting to note that Andrew Fisher was blackballed in Scotland as a union activist—he had to leave Scotland and come to Australia. I know Senator Williams would like to blackball me from the Senate, but I am going to be around for a little while. Andrew Fisher came to Australia and in 1910 won the first election for the Labor Party, on a very socialist platform, to bring Australia into modern times.

Of the 25 members of the first Labor caucus, 13 were Scottish. I would not have had a problem with my accent in that caucus—I think I would have been understood pretty well. The Scots made a huge contribution not only to trade unions in Australia but also to politics. The book Scotland's Radical Exports: The Scots abroad—how they shaped politics and trade unions is a must-read for anyone who has been influenced by a Scottish trade union official or has parents or friends who have been involved in the trade union movement in Australia. The union movement is not just about the Scots, but the Scots have made huge contributions around the world. As I said earlier, the Scots are well-known for their contribution to engineering and to capitalism, so Scottish entrepreneurs always had that check and balance from the Scottish trade unionists. I am glad I am keeping the tradition alive in the Senate and in the Labor Party.

It is interesting that so many Scots have made such huge contributions. If Senator Williams has a look at the book he will find that there is actually a chapter about me. I am very pleased about that. I do not know why I am in there with such Labor luminaries as William G Spence and Andrew Fisher, but I actually do get a mention in the book. I want to try to keep the whole thing going. I do not want to say too soon that it has all come to an end, because there is lots of work for Scottish trade unionists and there is lots of work for progressive Scottish politicians in the Australian parliament, especially in the Senate. When you hear the arguments being put up from the other side, you can tell that there will always be room for progressive political argument here.

I would recommend reading the book to anyone who gets the opportunity—to look at the tragic circumstances that many Scots founds themselves in. Being locked up for five years because of your political activism in the US is a big call, but that was done. It was about advancing the rights of working people and we should continue to do that. I am very pleased to have launched the book in the seat of capitalism—Collins Street. (Time expired)