This is the first part of my 4 part series on the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association SDA

If you’re going to talk about the SDA you need to understand the man who reshaped the organisation in his own image.
B.A Santamaria is one of the most influential people in union history.
He was also a fascist.


So why am I calling him a fascist?

He explicitly defended Fascism in his 1934 masters thesisItaly changes shirts: the origins of Italian Fascism“.

He also defended Mussolini and Franco in an infamous debate at Melbourne Uni.

“By now, a young Bob Santamaria had understood politics to be his calling, and an activity for which he possessed many talents. He was extremely lucky to have been born in Australia, where the Labor Party still had a home for a Catholic right. Had he been elsewhere, Bob Santamaria would undoubtedly have become a fascist — a fact attested to by his defence of Franco in a famous debate at Melbourne University, and by an honours thesis that was an approving study of Italian fascism, something that has been of enormous embarrassment to his supporters ever since.” – Source







Here’s Santamaria linking his project to fascism in his autobiography. Fascism is built into the core of his ideology.

He calls it anticommunism but let’s be 100% clear, Franco was a fascist dictator, backed by Mussolini and Hitler who killed hundreds of thousands of people.

“Without the passionate commitment derived from issues fought over during the Spanish Civil War, the long fight against communist influences within Australian Labour, the formation of the Movement, and later the Industrial groups is incomprehensible.”

If you thought he mellowed with age, think again. Here’s a Catholic priest talking about how Santamaria helped right wing dictatorships and their death squads indentify human rights activists

Many Catholics were dismayed that Santamaria continued to interpret overseas events so rigidly with his preoccupation with communism. In the struggle for human rights in South East Asia, he repeatedly sided with authoritarian regimes… he attacked many human rights campaigners, like Father Brian Gore, as communists… My Redemptorist colleagues in the Philippines were very disturbed that he sometimes denounced individuals by name, endangering their lives as they could then be targeted by death squads”Costar and Strangio,2004 “B.A Santamaria, True Believer?” Australian history 1.2

“In May 6, 1983, he was arrested along with two other priests, Fr. Brian Gore, an Australian, Fr. Vicente Dangan, a Filipino and six lay workers – the so-called “Negros Nine”, for the murders of Mayor Pablo Sola of Kabankalan and four companions. The priests where held under house arrest for eight months but “escaped” to prison in Bacolod City, the provincial capital, where they felt they would be safer.

The case received widespread publicity in Ireland and Australia, the home of one of the co-accused priests, Fr. Brian Gore. Charlie Bird interviewed Fr. O’Brien in his overcrowded prison cell on RTE TV. When Ronald Reagan visited Ireland in 1984, he was asked on Irish TV how he could help the missionary priest’s situation. A phone call the next day from the Reagan administration to Ferdinand Marcos resulted in Marcos offering a pardon to Fr. O’Brien and his co-accused.” Source

I really want to you to remember this when we talk about the DLP split next week.

The leader of the ALP was Doc Evatt, a social democrat who had the audacity of opposing Menzies ban on the CPA and interning every radical in the country.

“…a steelworkers’ strike in the Sydney docks caused a group of current and ex-Trotskyists (including a future governor-general John Kerr) to mount a challenge to the CPA-led union (which was, erm, somewhat less than scrupulous in its electoral methods) and pretty much opening the portal whereby the CIA and its precursors entered Australian politics – all of it culminating in an attempt to ban the Communist Party (and anyone deemed a communist, i.e. any militant leftist) and intern them in camps. The High Court case by the CPA against this was run by … Doc Evatt, ALP leader, and a former High Court judge. When the law was struck down, Menzies made it a referendum issue, which he (narrowly) lost. Source

Santamaria was also a cheerleader for multiple genocides and atrocities committed by right wing dictatorships.

“The NCC, through its News Weekly publication, was resolute on the crimes of the left, in China and elsewhere. But for these parallel depredations it had only praise. The dirty war in Guatemala was as bad, on its own scale, as the Holocaust or the Gulag, and much of it was directed at indigenous people; the Vietnam War was a high-tech slaughter on a peasant civil war, killing more than a million directly, and millions more indirectly.

The failure to cow subject populations only caused an urge to redoubling efforts. In 1966, as the killings continued in Indonesia, News Weekly ran an editorial condemning them — because they were targeting ethnic Chinese. The paper urged Indonesians to get back to killing communists and choking the rivers with them (this was the year Gerard Henderson joined the NCC). At home, the NCC stood against abortion decriminalisation, no-fault divorce, state-funded women’s refuges, homosexuality decriminalisation, anti-discrimination laws, and much else that we now believe to be essential to a secular civilised society.” Source

Including the US and Australian backed genocidal communist purge committed by the Indonesian military.

“In Indonesia in October 1965, Suharto, a powerful Indonesian military leader, accused the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) of organizing a brutal coup attempt, following the kidnapping and murder of six high-ranking army officers. Over the months that followed, he oversaw the systematic extermination of up to a million Indonesians for affiliation with the party, or simply for being accused of harboring leftist sympathies. He then took power and ruled as dictator, with U.S. support, until 1998.” – Source

Santamaria was also heavily influenced by an open letter written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 called “Rights and duties of capital and labour”

“Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless … If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.” Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum.

It was extremely influential on the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese fascist movements which Santamaria idolized.

To explain why they this is influential we are going to have to look at one of the pillars of fascism – corporatism.

Despite the terms understandable misuse in popular discourse corporatism isn’t when corporations run society, the correct term for that is Corporatocracy.

So what is corporatism?

It treats different groups in society as different parts of the same body.

These parts including business owners, unions, guilds etc… organised into corporate groups under the control of the ascendant state.

Here’s Mussolini explaining the concept.

Mussolini: No individuals or groups (political parties, cultural associations, economic unions, social classes) outside the State. Fascism is therefore opposed to socialism to which unity within the state (which amalgamates classes into a single economic and ethical reality) is unknown, and which likewise sees in history nothing but the class struggle.

Fascism is likewise opposed to trade unionism as a class weapon. But when brought within the orbit of the state, fascism recognises the real needs which give the rise to socialism and trade unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or cooperative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the state.”

If this sounds familiar it’s because it’s the modus operandi of the SDA and their relationship with employers.

If you’ve ever worked in retail sector you know how this works out for workers. They get crushed.

“News of the Coles deal was just the first in a string of revelations about SDA-negotiated workplace agreements that deny Australia’s lowest-paid workers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Dozens of agreements across the retail and fast food sectors are now under scrutiny, including those with Australia’s three biggest employers: Woolworths, McDonald’s and Coles.”

Former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty says of them (SDA): “They’re Catholic, they’re tribal, they’re anti-communist. But they do believe in social justice. Source

We will talk about this more in part 3.

Santamaria’s fascism is based on the fascist government in Portugal, a deeply theocratic project where the division between church and state was abolished.

Regrettably, such views provided a theological buttress for author regimes such as in Spain under Franco and Salazar which, although respecting the rights of the Catholic Church, seriously violated the rights of ordinary citizens. While Santamaria later condemned Franco for his “barbarities”, in neither edition of his memoirs does he as much as mention Salazar. Santamaria was well acquainted with anti-modernist papal political theory and took it seriously, which explains his ambivalence to democracy and his open hostility to social libertarianism.

“In short, Santamaria’s preferred social system was one that would best prepare people for the Kingdom of God by creating the conditions in which religious and spiritual life would flourish in the temporal world.” – Costar and Strangio,2004 “B.A Santamaria, True Believer?” Australian history 1.2 (PDF available)

The theocratic project continues within the SDA:
– They stalled Same Sex marriage for a decade
– Opposed Abortion and Euthanasia
– Opposed Mandatory reporting of priests abusing children
– Their MPs are the reason the ALP supported the bigot bill

“Santamaria made no bones about the long term goal, writing to Mannix that the “Social Studies Movement should within the period of five or six years be able to completely transform the labour movement… They should be able to implement a Christian social program in both the state and federal spheres” – Letter from Santamaria to Archbishop Mannix, sourced from Fitzgerald, 2003, ” The Pope’s Battalions: Santamaria and the Labor Split” – Sydney Morning Herald

Some SDA-linked politicians, including James Merlino, the Victorian Deputy Premier, and Greg Donnelly, a NSW Labor upper house member, have made their views clear. Merlino came to support same-sex marriage but was an opponent of voluntary assisted dying legislation, which passed in Victoria in 2017. Donnelly, who is the president of the NSW branch of the SDA as well as sitting in Parliament, campaigned against same-sex marriage and is a leading anti-abortion voice.

Make no mistake Santamaria wasn’t the polite type of bigot towards the the queer community. He said the quiet part out loud.

He was given a TV show by 9 oligarch, Frank Packer which he used to denounce “aberrant sexual behaviour and “sodomites”

His bigotry wasn’t limited to the queer community either. He was an open racist who called for white Christian expansion while denouncing the “Red Asiatic Flood”.

In short as one of his critics has noted, Santamaria’s aim was to build a rural Catholic peasantry in Australia, Indeed, Santamaria urged that the families be settled on the land should preferably be drawn from the rural areas of Europe Asia was typical of Santamaria’s commentaries on international affairs. Indeed, ‘five-minute-to-midnight’ alarmism about Australia being swamped by a ‘Red Asiatic Flood’, as a 1950 News Weekly headline declared, was a constant theme of those commentaries, including when Santamaria was one of the most vociferous advocates of Australia’s military involvement in Vietnam.” Less well understood, but even more remarkable, is that Santamaria seriously entertained the Eurocentric and imperialist delusion that it might be part of Australia’s divine mission to serve as ‘the “mirror of Christianity to Asia – Source

Once again the authoritarian and racist legacy lives on in the SDA.

When Kevin Rudd decided to open concentration camps on Manus and Nauru the man he chose for the job was Tony Burke, an SDA aligned MP.

“In the strongest line a modern Labor prime minister has yet taken against asylum seekers, Mr Rudd said: ”As of today, asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.” SourceAustralia’s offshore detention centre network is in crisis, with more staff turning on a ”cruel and degrading” system they say makes riots inevitable. Their accusations came as Immigration Minister Tony Burke embarked on his own mission to investigate allegations of rape made by a former employee at the detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. – Source

I really want to stress how anti-democratic Santamaria was.

He infiltrated the Union movement and ALP using every dirty trick on the book and openly supported Menzies attempt to ban and lock up his political opponents en masse.

He never denied, however that he adopted the tactics of Bolshevism ‘my thought was that battles to defeat communist power in the labour movement… Should essentially be cadre against cadre, cell against cell, faction against faction” In the short term this strategy was successful and the fact it was clandestine allowed Santamaria and his supporters influence disproportionate to their actual support.

This has had a profound effect in the SDA.

Undemocratic structures, collaboration with employers and a high turnover have given a conservative Catholic vanguard control of the largest private sector union in Australia.

“Then the rules were changed so there couldn’t be counterattacks from the left”, says one union critic of the SDA, who is well versed in the complex machinery of it’s oligarchy.

“There’s a whole range of impediments foreign to a democratic structure. There has not been a genuine contest in 15-20 years. And the leadership have access to vast election funds to fight off any challenge.

As Josh Cullinan, current bete noire of the shoppies, said in an interview with Fairfax a couple of months back, recalling his 2002 job interview with the union. “I was told … that if I worked for them I’d have to join the ALP and I’d have to attend ALP conferences,” Cullinan recalled. “And [at the conference] I was to vote against abortion, rights for homosexuals and [vote for] a whole lot of conservative agendas.”

But those agendas, it now appears, came at a huge cost to members. Not millions of dollars, as in the case of the HSU, but hundreds of millions.

Back at the end of May, the Fair Work Commission found an agreement between Coles and the SDA covering 77,000 workers resulted in many of them being paid well-below-minimum wages set by the safety-net award system. – Seccombe “Unions Poisoned by ALP affiliation The Monthly

This has left members powerless as their values and livelihoods are undermined by the leadership using the SDA resources and power to pursue their fascist agenda.

It has made people like Don Farrell some of the most powerful people in the parliament.

The autocratic methodology hasn’t been contained to the union. It’s part of the right faction that collaborated with Anthony Albanese to destroy grass roots democracy in the NSW branch

These people despise democracy. They only care about their crusades

Their grubby paws were also all over the Victorian branch stacking scandal.

One of Somyurek’s flunkies, Nathan Croft was affiliated with the SDA before being expelled from the ALP for his role in the scandal.


As you can see BA Santamaria has has left a toxic imprint on the SDA because of the DLP split he’s also left a lasting legacy on the liberal party as well.

Some of the former DLP people didn’t go back to the ALP, they went to the liberal party including Tony Abbott.

There’s a fantastic quarterly essay called “Political Animal” by David Marr which goes into how Abbott was shaped by his mentor, going as far as calling him Australia’s first DLP prime minister.

It’s excellent if you want to understand Abbott.


This link with the Liberal Party will be crucial when we talk about why the SDA has never been held accountable in part 4.

It’s also going to be crucial in understanding why hard right liberals like Eric Abetz (Otto Abetz) are so fond of the SDA.

As you can see this has turned into a monster of a thread.

Next week we are going to talk about how Santamaria infiltrated the union movement, the DLP split and why Bob Hawke let the fascists back into the ALP.







How the Liberals got from ‘subsidies for sodomy’ to ‘let the people decide’

On the ‘Religious Discrimination Bill’ and the Labor Party – by Matthew Sinapi

Rundle: how B.A. Santamaria shaped post-war Australia


Feature Image from The AIM Network and  The Monthly


By Oscar Wobbly – Original Tweet/thread