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The Graham F Smith autobiography “Speak Up, Reach Out. A Life to Reckon With” (2015, Wakefield) is a good read for comrades who lived the times and lessons to be debated for new comrades, labour historians, unionists, educators and the general public.
We discover “wonderful stories, rich in humanity and with keen analysis of local and international political struggles and social reform from the 1940’s to 1980’s.”
THE MASSES MAKE HISTORY WORKERS WRITE HISTORY
The names of kings and warlords are handed down in manuscripts and in books to after generations, but few ever think of the great and humble army whose sweat and blood are mingled with the concrete and bricks as surely as if the walls were built over a framework of human flesh.
This will remain unhonoured and unsung till workers write the histories that are taught in our schools.
– Charlie Sullivan (1926) who held the first ticket in the Shearers Union at Wagga Wagga in 1886.
My review of these stories brings back fond times of a close union activist, political comrade, teacher and a friend.
Graham is in that gentlemen breed of non-sectarian communist organisers wise in bringing together left unity. Graham is active in the South Australian Communist Party of Australia. He is an optimistic educator and teacher union activist.
“Speak Up, Reach Out does not provide answers to the petty discriminations that Graham experienced. Rather it recounts the achievements of a profoundly dignified and humble man who refused to be defined by the hostile environment in which he found himself.”
From 1981, Graham is active in the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and People for Peace and this is decisive. He builds Palm Sunday rallies and the organisation is hard work and in 1985 15,000 attend and everyone agrees with Graham that marchers at the front stop, move to the left and right and welcome the organisations struggling for peace and against nuclear war.
In 1985 he assists a blockade of at Roxby Downs, “without uranium you can’t make atom bombs.” He works with CANE and CND and tells of his duties, such as the water cart for the protest camp. Graham relates anti-uranium and anti-Nurungar issues amongst the unions and “in doing so, strengthen both movements, the peace movement and the union movement.” From 1983 to 1987 he helps organise May Day marches and annual dinners.
I was Assistant Secretary of the United Trades and Labor Council of South Australia UTLC at the time and I like his account as a SA Institute of Teachers SAIT delegate affiliating to the UTLC in 1983. At first teacher delegates “made a deliberate decision to do it quietly, sit and listen, learn from other delegations…We soon realized we had a contribution in education – the upgrading of education for working class girls and boys; in regard to the significance and importance of the public sector in the total economy and in relation to the social wage, those publicly provided services and benefits enjoyed by all. And taking up issues related to the circumstance of women.” He reminds me that the UTLC eventually sets up child-care for Friday night Council meetings. SAIT delegates link “education into the general demands of the trade union movement. …and, with the PSA Public Service Union and nurses union raise the question of public sector funding much more sharply…” such as to oppose the Liberals’ Premier Olsen privatisations. Graham works for SAIT to take a collective democratic approach. “I have seen a lot of individualism in unions, which I think fails to tap the strength and contribution which members can make to the life and being of the union.”
Graham comments on UTLC solidarity on international issues. “There were very good resolutions passed and messages of solidarity often expressed and visiting speakers were heard from liberation struggles throughout the world. But it struck me that what was missing was good follow up to the speeches and resolutions. …Not much was done with follow up initiates.” He devotes time on the UTLC Peace and International standing committee. “In January 1984 I participated in the first Eureka Work brigade to Cuba.” In 1987, the UTLC sends Graham to the Philippines International Solidarity KMU May Day celebrations – the first time. On his return, he educates unionists on Philippine workers’ political and economic challenges.
Graham recounts the story of his legendary organising the Eddie Funde tour for the ANC African National Congress in 1987. He organises Eddie speaking to workers in railway workshops, electricity workers, building sites and in country regions with the Timber Workers in the South-East, Food Preservers in the Riverland, Metal Workers and Seamen in Port Pirie, Whyalla and Port Augusta. Eddie meets Christians in the anti-apartheid movement, the Uniting Church and Catholic Church. Meetings are with women’s groups, such as the Women’s Trade Union network.
“Whenever I see Eddie now, he always comments that this was one of his most effective tours in Australia, because he felt that he was really reaching out to people who wanted and needed to know about the struggle in South Africa, and who were very supportive of that struggle of the people for liberation and freedom.” I am in a group photo with Eddie.
On the SA CPA Executive and later on the National Committee, Graham reflects on the world communist debates and changes in the CPA. These started for his generation with Khrushev’s speech against Stalin, Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. The 1969-71 split sees in SA more SPA union delegates than CPA to the UTLC, “a period of shakeout of the socialist forces in Australia,” but despite the political acrimony he remains friends. “I’ve often wondered whether the split could have been avoided …and the Soviet question was a shadow question…The real questions were feminism, workers control, drugs and homosexuality. There were also differences about the nature of the Party – whether it should be a ghetto organization shut in by a conspiratorial view of the world or an open, interactive party deeply involved in the mass movements. …The real questions of substance were to do with the New Left perceptions of the nature of the socialist revolution being linked with more traditional forms of working class policies and organization, and how to relate to one’s attitude to the Soviet Union was actually the shadow question…. we are in Australia still working through an identification of our own position as a socialist movement. “ He makes his arguments. “Young people want to do it their own way. I understand that. I don’t want to be acting in a paternalistic fashion.”
I now move back to Chapter 9 “Teaching, study and struggle.”
Students do not know what is happening to their teachers so this is interesting. Graham from 1958 to 1964 tells of the public anti-communist attacks on him as a teacher at my school Unley High. “Ann Neal, on her own confession had been sent by ASIO into the peace movement as an informer, the Peace Council…and into the CPA…she wrote a series of articles in the Sunday Mail which were part of an onslaught launched against communist teachers.” She names Graham. The RSL is hysterical and Federal Liberal John McLeay viciously attacks. Support comes from the school. The Education Department investigation finds those named as the best teachers. The conservative male dominated union concurs they know of no subversive teaching.
I was an A stream student (streaming was In and Graham taught the lower streams). I remember as current politics were not on the curriculum going to Graham’s Social History Club on Thursdays. Students like Alan Reid now a Professor of Education asked. “We had a speaker who had been to East Berlin, and one who believed in flying saucers…comics, pornography, social problems, aboriginal issues. We had staff members talk about socialism, fascism and parliamentary democracy. Our attempt to get a Labor and Liberal politician was vetoed…as too political.” Graham has speakers Hugh Stretton the Historian and Social Scientist and George Rude Professor of History at Flinders University. He tells of staff arguments and pressure from some in the Education Department, and parents support for the innovation.
Graham is teaching economic history. He realizes what is missing is a social studies textbook about Australia. He writes and publishes Government Today. It becomes popular in schools, running to 11 editions over 15 years. He also writes Australia: A Social Study with Glenn Woodward, also a teacher at Unley High. These books lead to debates on curriculum reform. He is an Australian Teachers Federation representative on a national body on social studies with Professor Bill Connell. He moves to Underdale High school in 1965. He is active on the SAIT executive and describes a long struggle defending a teacher unjustly demoted.
In 1969, Graham studies and passes Politics courses at Adelaide University with radical lecturers from Monash University Brian Abbey and Graeme Duncan. “The courses were wide ranging, and Marxist in their primary analysis. It was like a thunderclap…students involved …Chris White…it was the most stimulating subject I studied. …The Adelaide Revolutionary Marxists (I was a member) were formed in this period, and the atmosphere of the courses contributed to this and other groups like Radical Education Alliance. Another side effect was that it contributed, along with the anti-war movement, to a rejuvenation of the CPA, as a number of students joined its ranks.” I add, not in the book, that ARM dissolves and Rob Durbridge (later Secretary of the CPA) and others move into the CPA. I begin work as a Union Advocate with the AWU and then the Miscellaneous Workers Union and go into the ALP.
Chapter 10 Teacher unions – the late sixties
Graham recounts how his generation changed the SA Education system. He tells how they debated from 1957 education issues and strategy and 1967-69 is a turning point as teachers are fed up and organise.
“The progressive forces in the union, women and men, made an assessment as to which of the many issues we should concentrate on to break through in respect of women’s rights. We reckoned that the key issues were equal pay followed by permanency for married women.” These successful campaigns are described.
An interesting story has Graham arguing against militants at teachers meetings for action now but rather leading step-by-step developing the confidence of SAIT members in schools and increasing industrial pressure and winning on equal pay.
In the 1970’s questions of education in capitalist society and socialist policies are debated.
I enjoyed discovering Graham’s childhood moving around conservative country SA with his father working in the railways as a train controller. Later he recounts his marriage and children.
In 1942 he and others in the CPA are in the Army in WW2 discussing politics and wanting to aid the Indonesians against the Dutch colonialists. From 1946 to 1949 there is a great feeling of confidence that it is time for socialism and capitalism is inadequate. Graham becomes Secretary of the South Australian Peace Council organising activities. He experiences being refused employment because of his peace actions.
In the turn to industry, Graham works at Perry Engineering and tells stories with colorful characters. “We went to work in the factories because we knew where the Promised Land was. The only trouble was the workers didn’t want to come there with us.” He campaigns against Menzies’ anti-communism.
After being a school teacher, Graham becomes a lecturer in Colleges of Advanced Education. He marries Leonie Ebert. They travel overseas. She wins the election for the President SAIT in 1980. In 1983, SAIT attends their first ACTU Congress and a photo with many famous SA union activists. Graham becomes a ‘house husband’ but is more socially and politically active.
“I have chosen to contribute to the making of our history by being an active participant in it as it happened. And the very act of writing about it and interpreting it is part of the process of making our history.”
His family and friends (in the photos) give wonderful tributes:
“Graham was never a hater. Always a builder, educating without patronising and much more likely to meet division with humor than criticism,” Barbara Pocock;
“Lasting memories of political discussions and comradely company, ” Don Jarrett;
“A superior strategic wisdom set him apart. A lesson to us all,” Dean Aschenden;
“He didn’t have two heads, he didn’t have cloven hooves, horns or even a tail. Not my idea of a communist at all. ” Rosemary Thompson.
“I had great admiration for Graham as he had embraced socialism wholeheartedly, taking up jobs in factories and spreading the word. He enlisted me to carry the banner in the Palm Sunday Peace rallies,” Ian Davey.
“very out about his communism” Cathy Picone; “committed to the struggle,” Craig Campbell.
“Dad was driven by curiosity and guided by commitment,” “my big brother schooled my conscience,” Gill Smith; “thoughts of Dad are of grace, grit and joy,” Jude Fanton.
The Graham F Smith Peace Trust is conceived before his death in 1989.
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Congratulations to those recording his writings, editing, and Wakefield Press publishing. Available from