I got my first taste of Australia in a Qantas plane. Our family, two adults and our five-year-old daughter, exhausted after all the trials and tribulations of becoming stateless refugees from the USSR, boarded a Qantas aircraft bound for Melbourne.
Australia, to us a strange and mysterious land, was good in one sense only to us then—it was as far as possible from the Soviet Union.
It was our first flight on a Western airline and we, brainwashed to our eyeballs, expected the worst. Don’t ask what we expected, we just did. I remember a prickly sensation at the back of my neck—all my previous experience was screaming at me: Be alert! It’s going to begin soon! We did not know what it would be, but we two were afraid. We sat at the back of the aircraft, surrounded by billowing cigarette smoke—it was 1978—and waited for it to begin.
We did not have to wait too long. A young woman in the distinctive Qantas uniform approached, told us something, smiling, pointing at our daughter Lena, who had fallen asleep. Seeing that we did not understand what she was saying, she reassuringly patted Valentina’s arm and asked, slowly and clearly: “What is your language?” We answered, “Russian” (that was almost the extent of our combined English vocabulary) and she went away. Soon she was back with another young woman, who spoke Polish. Somehow, we understood each other. All the first air hostess wanted was to offer to put our daughter in the empty row of seats in first class. (In first class? Our daughter? Nobody would believe it back in Russia! A stateless refugee! In first class!) These two girls, one of Polish and another of Italian origins, spoke with us afterwards, undoubtedly recognising the familiar immigrant anxieties their own families had been through. They managed to allay a lot of our anxiety with their kindness and empathy, by telling us about their families’ experiences and by the mere fact of their holding a prestigious (yes, it was considered to be prestigious in those days) job. All this told us a lot about Qantas and, by implication, about Australia. The warmth and the informal efficiency, along with the enviable safety record—that was Qantas, Australia’s calling card to the world.
Now I must ask for my reader’s indulgence while I dig into the shared history of trade unionism and communism. There is a connection with Qantas, but you will have to take my word for it and be patient.
Lenin did not like British trade unions. He called trade unionism a betrayal of working-class interests, as usually substituting his party’s or his personal interests for interests of the public. He loathed social democrats for similar reasons. From Lenin’s point of view, anyone calling himself a Marxist but not pursuing political power within a totalitarian ideological framework by the use of violent means, with him as the only leader, was a traitor. One of the things about the British trade unions that was especially loathsome to Lenin was their struggle for the betterment of the working and living conditions of British working men and women. Lenin regarded this struggle as a direct threat to his own goal of the creation of a totalitarian state. He knew that those who live well are less likely to rebel, mutiny or be vulnerable and responsive to the communist propaganda. Improving the living conditions of the working class would automatically reduce the pool of the loyal followers of the communist cause.
There was another reason for Lenin’s loathing: the effectiveness of the trade unions in modifying the worst excesses of capitalism, creating a political and economic balance of power between employee and employer. Lenin was concerned about the spread of workers’ rights and the resulting betterment of their lives. Since the communists never tired of declaring themselves to be the only real defenders of workers’ rights, the respect for and implementation of these rights as a result of trade union work would make communists superfluous.
No wonder Lenin hated trade unions. These pesky unions were, in fact, deadly antibodies to the toxin of radical Marxism infesting the healthy body of the working class. Clearly, something needed to be done with trade unions. These unions could not be allowed to undermine communist supremacy by turning workers—victims of exploitation by the hated bourgeoisie, in communist newspeak—into members of the very same bourgeoisie. The catastrophe of irrelevance must be prevented. The Marxist remedy was the “unification of the party and trade unions”. The tactics of the process were formulated: infiltrate by stealth, dominate by standing over, and take charge in the name of proletarian rights. The end result was expected to be achieved either with the help of the Soviet bayonets or, in case of military failure, by gradualist infiltration from within. The aim was the same—destroy capitalism by destroying private enterprise.
At first, these tactics were applied in post-revolutionary Russia, and with resounding success. Trade unionism in Russia for all intents and purposes ceased to exist. However, when subsequent attempts to inflame world revolution by direct military intervention failed because of the heroism of the Polish people, the tactics of quiet infiltration were adopted. That’s how the International School of the Trade Union Movement was established in Moscow. The importance of this “school” to the Politburo was highlighted by an appointment of Alexander Shelepin, to be in overall charge of the Soviet trade unions, including this “school”. A little-known fact about this “labour” leader is that in addition to his full Politburo membership he was also chairman of the KGB (secretly) as well as the chairman of the International Association of Democratic Youth (openly). In its heyday this association was able to bring thousands of well-meaning people onto the streets of Western capitals. They demanded unilateral Western disarmament. People for disarmament, physicians for peace, people’s alliance against nuclear weapons in Europe, and many others of similar persuasion—all were offshoots of the same rotten tree. All were funded from the same source. The Soviets called it the “struggle for peace”—with the chairman of the KGB in charge.
I’m getting back to Qantas; just hang on a bit longer. You see, this school was not called “International’ for nothing. Like its illustrious colleague People’s Friendship University, the International School of the Trade Union Movement was specifically designed to train overseas “cadres” to lead the trade union movement in the liberal democracies and the Third World. They were taught how to infiltrate, dominate and take over unions, how to suppress dissent in the ranks, how to use union muscle to disrupt, undermine and destroy private enterprise. These overseas trade unionists were taught the fundamentals of Marxist ideology, understanding of the weak points of the capitalist system, and how to apply pressure to these points. They were trained in crowd control techniques, in the art of subversion, and the use of brutal force. Above all, they were indoctrinated in loyalty to the USSR.
Quite a few Australians were pupils at this school. I remember feeling flabbergasted when I heard John Halfpenny, remembering his time there. The funny thing was, they never made any secret of being Moscow students. As a matter of fact these graduates boasted about their years in Moscow, remembering their years there with a touch of nostalgia. I tend to believe these reminiscences—foreign communists were treated like kings in Moscow. They never knew any of privations ordinary Soviet citizens were subject to.
The relevance of this story to Australia was underlined during the Petrov affair and the famous split in the ALP, when the courageous Bob Santamaria (may his soul rest in peace), stood up to communist infiltration of trade unions in Australia and undermined their influence. However, Petrov affair and the Split were not the only blights on the history of trade unionism in Australia.
Who could forget or forgive the Fremantle docks affair during the Second World War? The Americans were loading their ships before going to the battle. They were frustrated by the slow rate of loading their ships. Their comrades were fighting the Japanese Imperial Navy and needed help urgently. Fremantle dockers disregarded all their entreaties and continued working at a tempo which amounted to sabotage in wartime. The Americans, having had enough, started loading their ships themselves. The Aussie dockers were infuriated and shouted, “Hope you’ll all be sunk!”
And then there was the Builders Labourers Federation. Their behaviour was so eminently criminal and thuggish that even their cousins in ALP had enough and banned their union. If they hadn’t, the building industry in Australia would have come to a standstill. Which it almost did.
And then the Maritime Union of Australia, which as a result of an act of desperation by the stevedoring company Patrick, put all Australia on the brink of being cut off from international trade. Only after the company management was forced to lock out the entire workforce did militant unionists agree to negotiate in good faith.
These examples show the tactics of the militant part of trade union movement. If you try to discuss these things openly you are labelled a union basher. Like all good communists, militant trade unionists have fragile egos and take umbrage at open discussion of their behaviour. Usually they call it provocation. Knowing that their actions are not quite what their mothers taught them in childhood, they like to think they are knights in shining armour, defending workers’ rights.
These examples show a common pattern of behaviour: a total disregard for others and inbuilt hatred towards liberal democracy. Like all kinds of communist aggression, it can be stopped only by firm action. As Chairman Mao, the recently departed darling of our literati, used to say, “Strike your bayonet deep. If you find a soft spot, push harder. If you strike steel, pull out.”
In case of Qantas, Alan Joyce’s decision to ground the planes ensured the trade union’s bayonet struck steel. They will pull it out, as Mao taught. The conclusion is simple – Alan Joyce had guts. Qantas has still got a chance to be the calling card Australia can be proud of once again. Goodon’ya, Alan!