By Humphrey McQueen
Paddy Malone learnt to struggle during the war for Irish independence. In 1917, his father sent the thirteen-year old to work on a farm in his native county of Tyrone. Immigrating to Melbourne in 1927, he laboured for the State Rivers Commission where the AWU enriched his education. Out of a job by 1929, he tramped the countryside, making his way to Cairns. The cane-cutters and small growers there were at the mercy of the monopoly Colonial Sugar Refinery, with its allies in the AWU and the State Labor government.
Malone drifted back to Melbourne in 1934 to find work on a building site, and married in 1938. He linked up with BLF militants, though his name was not prominent. From the start, he was a quiet achiever, his manner matching his lilt. He topped the ballot for the committee to investigate the branch in July 1939, and came onto the executive later that year after the defeat of the old gang. However, he lost a ballot early in 1940. Next April, he attended his first ACTU Congress. From there, his rise was rapid. After a branch meeting chose him as acting organiser, he learnt to ride a motor cycle. He became State secretary early in 1941, about the time he joined the then illegal Communist Party.
Shortly afterwards, he pointed out that his Italian members ‘were in some instances better unionists than Britishers’. After the war, union policy was a blanket objection to immigrants as labourers, ‘irrespective of what he might think himself’. Again, his Communism kept him apart from ethnic prejudices against the Displaced Persons (‘Balts’). However, he had to convince his rank-and-file. He could lead, but not over-ride.
Malone played a key role in defeating the 1948 Essential Services Act which had aimed at the right to strike. Next year, before the Royal Commission into Communism, he protected his comrades by claiming that his union duties had stopped his attending any Communist gatherings. If he had ever been to one, he could not remember who else was there.
Prime Minister Menzies named Malone in 1950 as one of the ‘traitorous minority’ determined to damage ‘this great and beloved country’. Labourers did not share this view since Malone was re-elected with ever larger majorities. In 1952, he won by 819 to 165. In 1958, he was ahead by 816 to sixty-one.
Malone kept the branch safe from the Industrial Groupers and the gangsters who grabbed control in all the other States. Those Federal officials were after any excuse to intervene in Victoria. When they told him to pull out of one strike, he did as told. But his comrades in the Plumbers stopped the job until the employer settled with the BLF. Without Malone’s steadying hand, the Federation might have ceased to exist. Keeping Victoria on the Left was an anchor for the defeat of the Right in NSW.
Having served as secretary of Eureka Day Committee in 1948, Malone was keen to mark its centenary in1954. When the BLF joined the commemorations, he called on members to recapture Eureka’s fighting spirit in their current struggles. To that end, he had spelt out ‘a course of action’ to steer the union through a period when capital had the upper hand. The union, he advised, had to ‘impose the minimum hardship on our members and of such a nature as to condition the Master Builders’.
Malone guided all Victorian building workers in their struggle for the Building Industry Agreements from 1956, which broke out of the arbitration system. He knew ‘from experience, our members would require all of their allies possible, therefore maximum unity amongst all building workers on the jobs must be worked for’.
His fighting the boss kept him safe from the fantasies of a peaceful transition to socialism or peaceful coexistence with the imperialists. He, therefore, accepted the position of vice-chairman of the CPA (M-L) from its formation in 1964.
Paddy saw every penny of union dues as a trust for his members and his class. After the 1960 Federal Conference elected him as treasurer, he worried about spending £40 on a Conference dinner for the delegates. He also suggested that Conferences be held every two or three years to cut costs. In 1965, he convinced the officials that the Federation could not afford a dinner. Norm Gallagher had owed his start as an organiser in 1952 to Malone, just as his success as Federal secretary from 1961 drew on Paddy’s guidance.
Paddy needed time off in the 1950s and again in the 1960s because of a cancer. Although his energies were failing, he retained office until a few days before his death on 14 October 1970, aged 66.
Party chairman E F Hill opened his funeral oration by pointing out that Malone had bequeathed ‘a monument of man of the greatest single-minded integrity. That integrity came from his devotion and adherence to the cause of the liberation of the workers and all oppressed people’. The service spilt onto the steps of the Trades Hall from the BLF office which was a nerve centre of the campaign to expose the murder for profit behind the collapse of the Westgate bridge on the day after Malone’s death. His farewell was one more action for a life-long militant.