I have just read in the morning paper that Pat Mackie has died at the age of 95.
Pat was a great wobbly and to pay tribute to Pat Mackie’s life I have found this story ‘Red Cap’ about Pat written by Lachlan Hurse. It was previously posted on WBT in 2007.
I remember the Mt Isa Mines dispute and the effect it had on Queensland at the time. It must count as a watershed workers struggle In Queensland along with the 1912 General Strike, 1948 Railway Strike, the 1954 Wharfies Strike, the 1957 Palm Island wages strike, the early 1970s Miners Strikes and the 1985 SEQEB dispute — all uniquely Queensland workers struggles.
As a boy I knew of Pat Mackie and heard of the role he played in the dispute. Any school kid who read their Social Studies textbook knew the significance of My Isa to the Australian economy. Copper, lead, zinc mining was exploited by Mt Isa Mines Pty Ltd (MIM). MIM has disclosed large profits and a market value of £230 million (worth billions of $ today) and was more than 50% foreigned owned by the Guggenheim group of the USA.
Yet The Mt isa Dispute was an example of how worker political organisation can overcome local reactionary government and big capital. A tory mayor of Brisbane, Sir Reginald Groom, was one of MIM’s directors.
The then premier of Qld, Frank Nicklin used the state of emergency legislation that was to become the stock in trade of his successor, Joh Bjelke Petersen. Joh used it in 1971 during the Springbok tour and then again in 1982 during a short lived general strike called off by the TLC for fear that it would cost the ALP votes and bring in big penalties against the unions.
The Prime Minister, ‘Pig Iron Bob’ Menzies described the leader of the dispute:
“…This man Mackie is a curious character … and not even an Australian, I believe”.
Pat Mackie’s retort was “Sir Robert Menzies said that I am a very curious character and not even Australian.
That may be right—but it also applies to the Mount Isa company.”
The US parent of MIM (ASARCO) had mineral interests in USA, Canada, Peru and Mexico.
Mount Isa, the story of a dispute / by Pat Mackie with Elizabeth Vassilieff.
Many ships to Mount Isa : autobiography / Pat Mackie ; edited by Elizabeth Vassilieff Wolf
Storm in the Tropics: The Historic Mt. Isa Struggle 1964-65 by Pete Thomas
In July (2007) La Boite Theatre is staging a musical theatre piece called ‘Red Cap,’ about Pat Mackie who was the leader of the 1964/65 Mount Isa Mines dispute. When I heard about the play I was reminded of another story of my youth, and while it relates to last week’s story, I only learnt much later from my father in 2002.
The Mount Isa miners dispute was a major confrontation of miners with the company, the government, the arbitration system and even the leadership of their own union, the Australian Workers Union, who expelled Pat Mackie from their ranks, against the demands of the strikers, who had a number of grievances against the company, were looking to end contract labour, and work for wages. The government of the day led by the Country-Liberal Party coalition under Premier Nicklin declared a state of emergency, gave extraordinary power to police, and flew in a special squad of police who put a blockade around Mount Isa, to prevent support getting to the miners. The mine closed for four months, and when it reopened miners picketed the gates, virtually closing it for another two months.
In a show of complicity, the AWU called on the government to take measures to end the picket. The government complied, putting into force exceptionally harsh legislation allowing police to enter houses without warrant, and to seize banners, pamphlets and other material used to support the strike.
Meanwhile the Federal Government was taking measures to have Pat Mackie deported. Nicklin described him as ‘a vicious gangster unfit to mix with decent society.’ However his name became a household word as images of the strikers were frequently broadcast on national television.
Under these circumstances Pat Mackie went south to gain support for the cause.
When he arrived in Melbourne in February 1965 he was met at Essendon aerodrome by supporters, including the Federal ALP member for Yarra, Jim Cairns.
At that time my father, David Hurse, a minister of religion in inner city Melbourne was friends with Jim, and shared his views on social reform. When Pat arrived in Melbourne Jim thought that it would be best if Pat stay hidden and asked my father to help – who would think of looking for a radical trade unionist in a Presbyterian church!
My father arranged for Pat Mackie to speak to the congregation of St Luke’s Methodist church in Richmond on February 7, 1965 (I suspect it was all too much for the Presbyterians).
After the service Jim, Dad and Pat went down to Victoria Street in Collingwood, where they ate at the very same Chinese cafe that I mentioned in last week’s story.
Pat returned to Mount Isa shortly after, and managed to avoid arrest sneaking through the cordon that the police had set up, and triumphantly entered a mass meeting of the miners. He had brought with him financial support and told his striking comrades about the tremendous reception that he had down south. He later described to friends a particular night with Jim Cairns, a Chinese cafe, and a chicken dish with a spicy ginger sauce that they had shared.
Pat later declared the strike ‘A triumph of the human spirit’.