By Joe Montero
On 4 July American celebrated their 4 July. This I s their day of independence, marking victory over Britain and the end of being a colony. The American revolution was important. It inspired the word, stood for freedom from tyranny and the right of a people to choose their own future. This is worth celebrating.
Fast forward and it is easy to see that this legacy has been distorted and used to deny the same to others. The United States rose as an imperialist power, established its own colonies, and imposed its will on other nations through the barrel of a gun. All of which runs counter to the aspirations of the revolution.
We know that since World War Two, military intervention has been continuous. Again, and again, the aim has been to impose a government to liking of the United States.
There is also the softer exercise of power, through economic dominance, interference in the internal politics of other countries, and the use of pollical muscle.
Australia has been no exception. There is credible evidence that threats were made to thwart Australia’s post war plan to develop an independent economy with a strong public sector. Washington regarded this as a drive to socialism.
More importantly, Washington saw Australia as its own sphere of influence and place for investment. United States investors became the single biggest group of new investors in the Australian economy. This also saw the rise of political influence. The double standard hit a peak during the Vietnam war.
Unprecedented numbers of Australians took to the streets to oppose the war during the Vietnam Moratorium Movement.
An article by Jeff Sparrow (The Guardian 3 July 2021) is timely. It concerns itself with another side of the Bob Hawke story. One that is vastly different to the Rupert Murdoch inspired legend.
Murdoch flagship, The Australian, has published a less than flattering piece, dealing with allegations of being an informer of Australia to Washington. Of course, Hawke ally Stephen Loosely, who now works for the University of Sydney’s US Studies Centre, was given plenty of scope to refute these allegations.
The new allegations emerge form a new paper from Federation University’s Cameron Coventry. The source? A trove of documents dating from 1973 to 1979, This was the period that encompassed the coup against Gough Whitlam in 1975 and a period of building industrial unrest.
Those who were close to the turbulent period following John Kerr’s sacking of the government, know that Hawke undermined Whitlam. by pulling away active union support. Hawke was the Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) at the time.
Some saw this undermining as no more than being driven by an ambition to clear the way towards becoming Prime Minister himself. This may have been part of it but there is good reason to believe there was much more to it.
Revealing this is not an attack on the Labor Party. The truth is important to both the unions and the Labor Party. Even more so in the current political climate, demanding a real alternative from what the Morrison Coalition government has been imposing on Australia.
Cameron Coventry details communications between the American Labour Attaché and Hawke. Within this, a union dispute and the joint American-Australian facility at Northwest Cape are mentioned. This was back in 1973. I happen to know a little about both matters.
The industrial dispute was a strike at the Ford complex at Broadmeadows in Melbourne’s north in 1973. I started working in the car plant a while after this. Over the subsequent years, I got to know many of those who had participated in the strike. Most were migrants, brought to Australia as factory fodder, and forced to work in sub-standard conditions and for low pay. The strike happened because these workers wanted to be treated as equals and with respect.
Inside the Ford car Assembly Plant at Broadmeadows around 1973
In a cable to the American Ambassador, Hawke warned about Ford and other American companies being “targeted” by activists and unions. One would have expected as the foremost union leader, his concern would be with the union members and their grievances. No such thing. Discontent was blamed on troublemakers. There could hardly be a better illustration of his support for employers and betrayal of the union members he was supposed to serve.
I played a prominent role in the subsequent 1981 strike, which in a many ways, was a continuation of the earlier strike. This time, strike action was pivotal in breaking a national wages freeze that had been imposed over several years.
Hawke had supported holding down wages from as far back as 1973, when he blamed too high wages as the cause of the economic problems of the time. The solution he proposed was that wages could be held down through a tripartite arrangement, of employers, government, and unions. He implemented this after he became Prime Minister in 1983, through the misleadingly named Prices and Incomes Accord.
A cable reveals that the tripartite idea was suggested to Hawke, through his contacts with the United Sates.
An investigation on behalf of the Ford Shop Stewards Committee around 1981 strike, revealed Hawke’s connection to the CIA associated Harvard Union Program. He and the then National Secretary of the Vehicle Builders Union, Len Townsend, were trustees of the Australian chapter of the program, alongside Laurie Short of the Iron Workers Federation.
At Ford, Townsend, with the behind the scenes assistance from Hawke, began to target shop stewards and union activists. I was a principal target. I vividly remember the occasions, usually prior to a union meeting, when Townsend, flanked by company senior management, would come to warn me at my workplace. On a couple occasions, Townsend threatened to have me killed.
Each year, a group of unionists is sent to Harvard for training at Harvard. A way was found to get a shop steward to attend under cover. This confirmed that this is about creating operatives to apply American policies within the Australian union movement, and through this, into the Labor Party. The program involved the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia.
Sparrow says the Americans particularly, appreciated Hawke’s willingness to de-radicalise the labour movement. As Coventry puts it: “Hawke proved useful in pre-empting and pacifying union disputes.”
Another body, the Congress of Cultural Freedom, also a front for the CIA, was active in Australia. John Kerr was one of its leading lights. Since its emergence in the 1950’s. a key role was to channel grants to promote certain political leaders and intellectuals. It put out a magazine called Quadrant. today Quadrant exists in digital form.
Coventry names some of those who benefited from this support. Don Willesee, Billy Sneddon, Barrie Unsworth, Don Dunstan, and BA Santamaria are among them.
Northwest Cape is a major military communications station in Western Australia, and its role in overseas wars had become a major national debate. I joined a long Australia wide cavalcade, which moved from the East of the country to the gates of the base in Exmouth. It was big news at the time. Most Australians wanted foreign bases off our soil.
Northwest Cape military communications base
The place was guarded by U.S. marines. Many of them joined our camp us in the evenings. They didn’t want to be there and felt that it was right for Australians to want American bases out.
Hawke was using an elaborate network to push the opposite. While publicly talking up his support for an independent Australian foreign policy, revealed communications show he was secretly supporting the alliance.
Coventry says the Americans valued their relationship with Hawke because he “helped protect [US] defence installations, provided information about union disputes and warned officials that installations could be targeted”.
Another revelation was Hawke’s idea to leave the Labor Party and start up a new party, to form a national government, which would bring together large parts of Labor and the Liberals. One document shows that he invited industrialist tycoon and close friend Peter Abeles to support the plan.
This didn’t eventuate. But it is an insight into the man’s thinking and his role.
The truth about Hawke is important. His legacy had an ongoing and negative influence. It undermined the position of the union movement. His government brought neoliberal economic policies into Australia. Its shows that the United States has long been interfering in the internal affairs of Australia. This runs counter to the principle of national sovereignty and the right of Australians to make our own decisions in every sphere of life.
If we want to reverse the direction in which Australia is heading, the lessons of history must be learned. Only then, can we avoid the pitfalls an find the way forward.