Labor is a case study on how “Great Man of History” syndrome poisons everything it touches

Let’s talk about how American informant Bob Hawke undermined unions militancy as ACTU president in pursuit of his destiny as one of those “Great Men”.


This is one of two supplemental threads is one of two to fill in the gaps between part 2 and 3 of my series on the SDA.

It’s focus is largely on Hawke during the the time period of the Whitlam opposition and Whitlam government.

The other will chart how the DLP slowly died.

To understand this properly you need to understand the broader context of the time.

The world was going through a period of instability and Australia wasn’t immune to this.

Following in Menzies’ authoritarian footsteps the Gorton government actively considered banning protests


Introduction to Part II: The First Whitlam Opposition 1980: 7). Nineteen sixty-eight was a watershed, featuring the turning point in the Vietnam war, the Tet offensive in January, which in turn roused opposition to the war in many countries; riots broke out in black ghettos across the United States in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It saw the development of militant student movements; the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland began at this time; and France was the site of the largest general strike in history when 10 million workers joined rebellious students in resisting de Gaulle in May (Harman, 1988). The year 1968 may not have been world-changing in the manner of 1648, 1789 or 1917, but it nonetheless shook the world (Harman, 1988: vii). On the thirtieth anniversary of May ’68, Australian radical Hall Greenland (1998: 14) looked back at a remarkable year, when world revolution seemed not only possible but actually in process’. The immediate period after 1968 was one of great political unrest. The French May was followed by the Italian hot autumn of 1969, Watergate, workers’ rebellions in Poland in 1970-71, a miners’ strike that brought down Britain’s Conservative Government in 1974, a popular revolt followed by military coup in Chile in 1973, and revolution in Portugal in 1974 (Harman, 1988: viii). The foundations of Australian society were shaken in the period leading up to Whitlam’s election. Like many other countries, a student movement developed alongside the growth of a mass anti-Vietnam war movement; a strike wave caused the highest levels of industrial disputation since 1929; militant protests dogged the South African Springbok rugby tour in 1971; Aboriginal land rights activists established a tent embassy outside Parliament House, which was the scene of fierce battles between protestors and police hellbent on shutting it down. The women’s and environment movements were born; and in 1972 the conservative parties were ousted from federal government for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century. Former governor-general Sir Zelman Cowen captured the period in his George Judah Cohen Memorial Lecture in 1976 – Opposition Vanishing: The Australian Labor Party and the Crisis in Elite Politics – Ashley Lavelle 2018

 The Labor movement was no exception.

From 1967 onwards industrial unrest began to build creating a positive feed back loop of increasing class consciousness and union militancy.

This is the story of how Hawke broke this cycle in order to pursue his lust for power.



(1974: 290), Rawson (1978: 131) “From this year on, the ABS recorded both workers involved and working days lost in thousands, meaning that the figures given in Table 5.1 are approximated to the nearest hundred demands, and the militant manner in which the unions are making them, threaten the traditional forms of our industrial society …’ A year later, the same newspaper was even more alarmed: ‘[Australia) is approaching a situation intolerably close to industrial anarchy’ (SMH, 1971a: 6). The upsurge in disputation spread to traditionally somnolent areas of the labour force. Sydney council workers in September 1967 and New South Wales cinema employees in 1970 engaged in industrial action over pay for the first time in 50 years (The Australian, 21 September 1967: 1; Thornhill 1970: 2).

Even the military was not quarantined, with sailors and RAAF pilots effectively mutinying over pay the same year (Wain, 1970: 14; Williams, 1970: 2). Women in occupations normally associated with industrial passivity, such as nursing and the airline industry, joined the groundswell (Jones, 1970:2). Strikes by hitherto docile white-collar workers rose steadily from the late 1960s as a result of heightened class consciousness, a process of ‘proletarianisation, and a recognition that militancy secured improvements in pay and conditions for blue-collar workers (Griffin, 1985: 206, 207; Hallows, 1968a: 9; Rawson, 1978: 135; Thomson, 1971a: 11).

A stop-work meeting in December 1968 was the Australian Bank Officials Association’s first instance of industrial action in its 150-year history (Griffin, 1985: xi). Glascott (1970: 2) surveyed the scene in 1970: “Teachers, airline pilots, postal officials, nurses, bank officers, municipal officers, design draughtsmen, marine pilots, engineers and ships’ captains-all have been on strike in the last two or three years.’ In teaching, the ‘mild-mannered Mr. Chips has gone into retirement and in his place has emerged a new man [sic] no longer politically malleable and easily crushed’ (Broderick, 1972: 12). – Opposition Vanishing: The Australian Labor Party and the Crisis in Elite Politics – Ashley Lavelle


It’s also important to remember that the DLP and the grouper unions had been sidelined from the union movement because of the DLP split.

Things like their support of the war in Vietnam also meant they were in a historically weak position and unable to push back on militancy.

Hawke was born into the ALP aristocracy. His father, Clem was the South Australian General Secretary of the ALP and his uncle Albert was premier of WA. It’s important to note that his Uncle stayed in power until 1959 as the DLP never gained significant traction there.



To understand Hawke you need to know two things about the man.

The first is that he was driven completely by ego and his lust for power.

The second is that he had no core worldview beyond this. His stated values changed frequently according to his self interest at the time.

The most compelling evidence of this comes from Hawke’s handlers in the American State department.

We know from American diplomatic cables that Hawke was an American informant throughout his career as the president of the ACTU.

He is remembered as having been “the front man for industrial militancy”, but one with “vigorous anti-communist opinions”. More generally, there was a resurgence in unionism and the unions experienced a period noted for their successes, especially wage increases. Publicly, Hawke was often in contest with the Whitlam government and would say the unions should not be its “automatic guarantors”. The United States saw Hawke as being effective at grappling with the competing interests between labour, capital and the state. The diplomats perceived that the ACTU’s core tactic under his presidency was to maximise union self-preservation by allowing the Australian government, regardless of party, “to make [the] bulk of big, headline catching mistakes” with respect to industrial relations. –  “The Eloquence of Bob Hawke, United States informant 1973-79” Australian Journal of Politics and History C.J. Coventry, 2021


During the Whitlam opposition years, ACTU president Hawke played a double game of undermining union militancy while adopting rhetoric and public positions that were left of the parliamentary party.

Hawke deliberately undermined union cohesion and solidarity in order to advance his own political interests which aligned with American foreign policy objectives in Australia.

It’s important to understand that Hawke was pursuing his own ends rather than being a US puppet

Diplomats lauded his ability to keep militant unions at bay and his ability to resolve disputes with what he “jokingly” called “my eloquence”. 39 Hawke displayed a willingness to involve the United States in the machinations of the labour movement. Such was their confidence in him that, before the ACTU conference of 1973, one diplomat reported: “[considering role of ACTU in Australian politics and fact that its president, Robert Hawke, is personally involved, [the Attaché] expects to be deeply involved”. 40

Occasionally in these conversations, Hawke would denigrate various unions as “industrial idiots” and disclose information about their long-term financial viability.40 The diplomats noticed a change in union politics under Hawke’s leadership, with the ACTU Executive having become “significantly more conservative” by 1977 and therefore less militant.41 To their eyes the trend was favourable: [Hawke’s] hand has thus been considerably strengthened in his efforts to keep control of the Australian labour movement and direct it towards a more responsible and influential voice […]

Hawke provided information about union disputes with multinational corporations operating in Australia, like the Ford Motor Company.35 In 1974, he warned Ambassador Green that these corporations could be targeted by unions and activists.36 Hawke forewarned diplomats on another occasion “that if the left-wing of the ACTU becomes more influential, his political survival could require him to adjust [his] own rhetoric to the prevailing line”. 38 – “The Eloquence of Bob Hawke, United States informant 1973-79” Australian Journal of Politics and History – C.J. Coventry, 2021

One of the most important incidents was driving a wedge through the labour movement over Uranium mining.

It’s why the ALP never made the same stand against American nuclear warships that New Zealand’s Labour party did in 1984.

“(NZ) Labour swept to power in the election and immediately made clear its intention to pursue policies that would establish New Zealand as a nuclear-free country. This was a popular stand, and by the end of the year nearly 40 towns and boroughs had declared themselves nuclear-free. Labour announced its decision to ban ships that were either nuclear-powered or-armed”. – Nuclear-free New Zealand Page 4 – Nuclear-free legislation

The United States thought Hawke’s “little here, little there” approach succeeded in gradually undermining internal opposition; causing a de-radicalisation of the labour movement.44 One example of this was Labor’s ban on uranium mining. Hawke was reported to have “masterminded” the “erosion” of popular anti-uranium policy by exploiting a “break in union solidarity”.45 – “The Eloquence of Bob Hawke, United States informant 1973-79” Australian Journal of Politics and HistoryC.J. Coventry, 2021

Hawke also repeatedly undermined strikes including during this time.

An excellent example of this is the landmark 1973 Ford strike saw workers go on strike against the wishes of Union leadership due to dreadful working conditions.

Employees at Broadmeadows and other sites were also the victims of an unofficial speed-up which had seen Ford increasing production demands whilst failing to replace the many workers who had quit. Conditions at the plant were notoriously unsafe with workshops smothered in noxious fumes and covered in wet paint. The little safety equipment available was either broken or totally antiquated. On top of all this the treatment of workers by management was at best patronising with line men being forced to wait hours before they were permitted to raise their hand and ask for permission to go to the toilet.

As one worker, Sol Marks, described it in Wendy Lowenstein’s Weevils at Work, “It was worse than I had imagined… I’d never worked in a place so bad, particularly for migrant workers… there was degradation, humiliation, brutality.” On May 18 strikes were already underway elsewhere. Following a disappointing rise in the award wage four unions in the automotive industry had been forced to undertake action against the main employers Ford, Chrysler and GMH.

The union leadership had decided on a strategy of “guerilla action” that largely amounted to sporadic action aimed against GMH. In line with this they attempted to contain support for the campaign with a series of short stop work meetings held at plants around the country. The mood at Broadmeadows however was contrary to that of the leadership and the 4000 workers spontaneously voted to start striking then and there. When the leadership attempted to steer workers away from this course of action scuffles and fights broke out between workers and union marshals.

Left with no choice the union was forced to endorse the strike in the hope that things in time would simmer down. The strike dragged on until early June. By this point Ford had lost an estimated 27 million dollars with orders piling up and other plants laying idle in wait for assembled work. Faced with further losses the company cut a deal with union bosses and on June 11 handed over a slight pay rise with no change in conditions. Desperate to calm things down the union leadership called a meeting at the Broadmeadows Town Hall. Few of the workers could understand English and had trouble following what the officials were discussing. After cutting discussion short the two main unions, the AMWU and VBU, called for a vote on a return to work. Amidst shouting and arguments AMWU assistant national secretary Laurie Carmichael claimed a slight majority in favour of the settlement.

Things could not have gone worse for the leadership as the announcement triggered an explosion of rank and file anger against the obvious attempt to wind down the strike. Despite the company’s tough talking it was clear the workers would not back down. An “official free” meeting held the day after the riot unanimously agreed to continue the strike. Anger spread throughout the automotive industry with GMH workers across the country wildcatting. Production was halted and cars began to pile up before GMH capitulated handing over improvements in wages and conditions.

Local support for the strikers was high with the council providing financial and other assistance. Doctors opened free clinics for striking families and even the Greek Orthodox Church chipped in a few hundred dollars toward strike funds. The Glaziers Union came out and refused to fix windows broken in the riot until Ford settled the dispute. Ten weeks after the riot Ford finally gave in. The company agreed to slow the assembly line, hire more workers, hire women, increase the number of toilet breaks, repair leaking roofs and increase wages over and above their original offer. – 1973: Broadmeadows Ford workers’ strike


Hawke fed information about the strike back to the Americans. In the wake of the strike Hawke assisted a CIA astroturf campaign designed to suppress union militancy through a mix of violent threats towards militant organisers and installing compliant stewards.

“An investigation on behalf of the Ford Shop Stewards Committee around the 1981 [Ford Broadmeadows] 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 of occasions, Townsend threatened to have me killed. “Each year, a group of unionists is sent to [the US] for training at Harvard [University]. Bob Hawke: union leader, Labor PM and CIA informantJim McIlroy – Green Left Weekly

This is extremely important because the weakening of the left faction unions fundamentally changed the balance of power within the ALP. This would have long term consequences when Hawke became prime minister a decade later.

The diplomats noticed a change in union politics under Hawke’s leadership, with the ACTU Executive having become “significantly more conservative” by 1977 and therefore less militant.To their eyes the trend was favourable: [Hawke’s] hand has thus been considerably strengthened in his efforts to keep control of the Australian labour movement and direct it towards a more responsible and influential voice. If Hawke’s purposes are not altogether altruistic, he is at least [a] pragmatist who accepts that too much energy has been wasted on divisive political issues. In this the diplomats were prescient. Although Hawke left the ACTU in 1980, the trade unions continued to achieve influence in policymaking. The United States thought Hawke’s “little here, little there” approach succeeded in gradually undermining internal opposition; causing a deradicalisation of the labour movement.

This continued through and after Whitlam won the 1972 federal election.

Hawke gave the Americans information about what was happening in the Whitlam government while alerting them to threats to American interests within the union movement.

Hawke helped to protect defence installations, provided information about union disputes and warned officials that installations could be targeted.141 In 1973, the Labour Attaché contacted Hawke about a possible union dispute at the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station (or the “North West Cape”) in Western Australia.142 The cable reported that Hawke “volunteered to intervene informally” as he felt “concern and surprise at the militancy” of certain workers described by the commanding officer. This was not the last time Hawke proved useful in preempting and pacifying union disputes. – “The Eloquence of Bob Hawke, United States informant 1973-79” Australian Journal of Politics and HistoryC.J. Coventry, 2021

Hawke also played a public role in defending American diplomats from legitimate criticism that they were interfering in Australia’s domestic affairs.

He also predictably denied CIA interference in Australia while assisting them.

When Labor’s Bill Brown publicly accused Ambassador Green of political interference in June 1974 he was widely rebuked, especially by colleagues.136 Many people voiced support to Green directly, including Governor of Victoria Henry Winneke, in professing “undiminished loyalty” to the bilateral relationship. 137 Hawke offered an especially vigorous defence of Green and was thanked in person during a meeting at his house. 138 Hawke is reported to have said to Green, “while no one could be expected, and he least of all, to give complete agreement with US policy on every issue, [anti- Americanism] […] was intolerable and too emotional and wrong to be useful. 139 Later, in the United States, Hawke would say that the bilateral relationship, “despite some tensions”, was “sounder” and that the rebuke of Brown served as proof.140 A similar episode occurred in 1977 with Labor’s Bill Hartley, and again Hawke led the public defence, denying any Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) activity in Australia.141 “The Eloquence of Bob Hawke, United States informant 1973-79” Australian Journal of Politics and History C.J. Coventry, 2021

Hawke also undermined Whitlam’s policy of “even handedness” when dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict

He also used it to grow his own power base inside both the parliamentary party and the Victorian branch.

Hawke undermined the foreign policy of the Whitlam government in 1974. A supposed intermediary of Yasser Arafat used Hawke to pass a message to Israel, and while waiting for instructions from the Israeli ambassador he sought advice from the seemingly bemused United States diplomats. The cabled reported, “[i]n reply to suggestion that he check [with] Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, Hawke said he doesn’t agree with Whitlam Government’s so-called “even-handed” policy and didn’t trust [the Department] on the question [of Israel]. 172 Hawke explained to them that he was “attempting to build a cabal in Parliament directed at [the] PM” with Victorian Labor leader Clyde Holding, called, the “Friends of Israel”. 173 Holding, another informer, had told them – along with deputy leader, Frank Wilkes – of a “carefully planned” coup or “renovation” within the Victorian Young Labor Association to “expel” dozens of “pro-Arab” members of Labor by stacking a vote with new “pro-Israel” members. 174

His “extremely pro-Israel” stance – or “crusade” – led him to contemplate resignation as Labor president on 20 February 1974. 166 This was only days after he stopped a plot to remove him from the Labor presidency. 167 But Hawke’s advocacy for Israel had a pragmatic side. The United States was told of the importance of pro-Israel supporters to Labor’s coffers and, again, Hawke was one of numerous informers disclosing this.168 Whitlam was said to have “begged money” from the “Jewish community” before the 1972 election but had, upon taking office, rebuffed it.169 The Iraqi loans affair may be further evidence of the financial problem created by “even-handedness”. 170 The exact value pro-Israel donors contributed to Labor is unclear, but could have been as much as “a fifth of the total funds” during the years of the Whitlam government.171 “The Eloquence of Bob Hawke, United States informant 1973-79” Australian Journal of Politics and HistoryC.J. Coventry, 2021

Hawke’s double game over workers rights continued with the collaboration of the Whitlam Government.

Despite the narratives of Hawke being a significant break from Whitlam, it’s actually more accurate to say the neoliberal shift began happening under Whitlam.

The cables suggest that Hawke and the government began working closely on this matter before the Kirribilli Accord and the Special Conference. In August 1974, Hawke told diplomats, contrary to public protestations, that he personally thought union wage demands were responsible for Australia’s rampant inflation. 112 Soon after, during one of their meetings with Hawke, diplomats listened to a telephone conversation between Hawke and the Prime Minister’s office, in which a draft resolution for the Special Conference was agreed to. 113 The resulting conference was described by one diplomat as “Pavlovian”, with Hawke telling him during a lunch break that his plan “had the numbers”. 114 In the intervening years, before the Accord, the ACTU came to accept wage restraint and, under the Accord, worker living standards were eroded and unionism, from the 1990s, declined. 115

The Accord was pursued during the debates on wage indexation and acceptance of a “social contract” to curb inflation. 104 In the 1970s, the ACTU advocated price controls and full wage indexation; it was opposed to various forms of wage restraint. 105 It stopped the Whitlam government’s attempts to bring about wage restraint and Hawke was “unequivocal” in his public opposition to such measures. 106 But after historic wage increases were secured in 1974, negotiations with the Whitlam government became possible. 107 However, the ACTU Special Unions Conference of September 1974 resolved that wage indexation would curb inflation.108 But, as Whitlam later observed, the “loosely worded indexation package” of the Special Conference was, in fact, the first sign that union resolve was softening.109 After the conference, Hawke brokered an agreement with the Whitlam government — the Kirribilli Accord — for voluntary wage restraint, but this proved premature. 110 Hawke and Whitlam would portray their efforts as having been ahead of the politics. 111 “The Eloquence of Bob Hawke, United States informant 1973-79” Australian Journal of Politics and HistoryC.J. Coventry, 2021

It’s far better to understand the progress of the Whitlam years as Whitlam being dragged by a militant union movement towards progress.

The ALP in this period attempted to co-opt and contain an increasingly powerful and independent labour movement.

The Whitlam Opposition had done little by the way of women’s policy development prior to 1972, according to Labor’s first woman federal minister, Susan Ryan: ‘many of the dramatic changes made for women during the Whitlam administration were a response to the vigorously flourishing women’s movement rather than the fruit of long standing work of Labor Party policy committees’ (Ryan, 1993: 86). Whitlam’s election as party leader in 1967 coincided with the birth of the women’s, Aboriginal land rights, and environmental movements, and the former barrister successfully adapted Labor’s ‘policies to the needs of the social movements. The Whitlam Government’s achievements in these fields should be seen largely as reactive rather than programmatic’ (Warhurst, 1996: 244, 250; emphasis added). – Ashley Lavelle, 2018 “Opposition Vanishing” Springer, p46-7

Not only does this neglect the context in which the Government was elected, it ignores the fact that Whitlam on many occasions was unsuccessful in his objectives, and often had to reorient his own public statements for electoral and internal party political reasons. As we shall see, on key policy issues, in particular Vietnam and industrial relations, the party’s position often was not Whitlam’s. At times, he was humiliated by decisions that went against him (notably the vetoing by Caucus of the leadership’s strike penalties policy—see Chap. 5). The example Atkins cites of Whitlam’s battle with the Victorian branch was almost a Pyrrhic victory, for even after the federal executive approved in 1970 the ouster of its Victorian counterpart, Whitlam was dealt a bitter blow with the election in 1971 of George Crawford –

Once his rival had been dismissed Hawke was essentially the unchallenged leader of the labour movement despite Whitlam remaining as Opposition leader.

Whitlam himself was involved in a failed plan to pave the way for Hawke to replace him as opposition leader.

After the 1975 election, in which Labor was defeated, the ACTU was seen by diplomats “as the de facto political opposition at the national level”.191 In their eyes, Hawke had effectively assumed the role of opposition leader, as demonstrated by his meetings with Fraser and the “trio who control Australian press”: Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer, and the head of John Fairfax Holdings.192 Packer is known already to have been an informer.193 The plan to install Hawke in parliament is said to have intensified at this point.194 As Hawke explained to diplomats, under a plan devised by Whitlam on 14 December 1975, he would “move over” to become Labor leader.195 He told them of a draft press release Whitlam had written, and of various preparations, including consultations with state party leaders and a caucus numbers count.196 Under the plan, Whitlam would become shadow attorney-general, while Fitzgibbon would become ACTU president.197 – “The Eloquence of Bob Hawke, United States informant 1973-79” Australian Journal of Politics and History – C.J. Coventry, 2021

Hawke was terrified that his window of opportunity was closing and that the ALP wouldn’t recover.

He actively considered leaving the Labor Party to either set up his own party or help form a national unity government with the Liberals.

Hawke appears to have contemplated — and advocated — abandoning Labor in 1974 to pursue a British-style national government in order to face the economic crisis. In late 1974, when Labor’s grip on power began to weaken, he was asked about the idea: In reply to […] inquiry about possibility of involvement of non-Labor party supporters in decision making process, Hawke said he had not noticed any movement toward a national unity government concept but he had several feelers about political realignment. He mentioned his long time association with Sir Peter Abeles, controversial industrialist who is a financial supporter of the Labor Party but whose personal philosophy more easily fits him within the Liberal Party

Apparently Abeles has recently sounded out Hawke’s availability for a leadership position in such a new political unit. Hawke reported this flatly […]. without indicating whether or not he favoured such idea.202 Abeles was Hawke’s trusted confidant on economics and politics.203 There is also contemporaneous corroborating evidence, in the form of another cable, which records Murdoch as having told the Ambassador: Hawke is fiercely ambitious to become Prime Minister […]. He is intelligent and essentially moderate […]. Hawke is now talking ‘national government’, which would give him the best chance personally [at becoming Prime Minister]. He sees the ALP going down to defeat and does not want to board the sinking ship.204 “The Eloquence of Bob Hawke, United States informant 1973-79” Australian Journal of Politics and HistoryC.J. Coventry, 2021

Hawke would eventually decide against these options and was parachuted into the safe ALP seat of Wills.

Hawke attempted to seize the leadership from Hayden in July 1982 but fell short of the mark by 5 votes.

Later that year the ALP under performed at a by-election and Hawke would finish the job.

Hawke would go on to win the next Federal election and continue the party’s shift to Neoliberalism

That’s all for today. Next time we will talk about how Hawke would take drastic action by bringing the fascist grouper unions back into the ALP.

This would ensure that ACTU and the ALP would never be threatened by the left or militant unions demanding more.

I’d just like to thank to @motorcymick who has begun uploading these threads with extra context like video footage and other media to his indie news outlet Dingo News.

Bob Augustine Santamaria and his influence on Australian trade unionism (in particular the SDA) – by Oscar Wobbly | Dingo News


“The Eloquence of Bob Hawke, United States informant 1973-79” Australian Journal of Politics and History – C.J. Coventry, 2021 (PDF)



Bob Hawke: union leader, Labor PM and CIA informantJim McIlroy – Green Left Weekly

Opposition Vanishing: The Australian Labor Party and the Crisis in Elite PoliticsAshley Lavelle

1973: Broadmeadows Ford workers’ strike