By Oscar Wobbly – Original Tweet/thread
Today we are going to talk about how Tony Abbott’s mentor and notable fascist BA Santamaria who tried to infiltrate the Australian Union movement and reshape both in his image.
We are also going to talk about the people who opposed him inside both the Catholic Church and ALP.
If you are shocked at me calling Santamaria a fascist I recommend you read the first part of this series.
I have detailed Santamaria’s history of supporting fascism and how its ideology has influenced the largest private-sector union in Aus, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA).
Our story begins while Santamaria is in University writing his thesis defending Mussolini and Franco.
He emerged from university societies designed to provide an alternative to communism.
“In 1936 Santamaria was one of the founders of the “Catholic Worker”, a newspaper influenced by the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly the encyclical “Rerum Novarum” of Pope Leo XIII. He was the first editor of the paper which declared itself opposed to both Communism and Capitalism which it saw as the greater threat.
Although the Catholic Worker group campaigned for the rights of workers and against what it saw as the excesses of capitalism, Santamaria came to see the Communist Party of Australia, which in the 1940s made great advances in the Australian trade union movement, as the main enemy. In1937, at the invitation of Archbishop Daniel Mannix, he joined the National Secretariat of Catholic Action, a lay Catholic organisation concerned to permeate and improve society.” – Source – Enwiki – B. A. Santamaria
“The headquarters of the National Secretariat were in Melbourne, and B. A. Santamaria was first its Assistant Director and then its Director. The National Secretariat for Catholic Action organised a number of associations to further its aims, the four main ones being: the Young Christian Workers movement (¥.C.W.); the National Catholic Girls’ Movement (N.C.G.M.); the Young Christian Students movement (Y.C.S.); and the National Catholic Rural Movement (N.C.R.M.). The National Secretariat and its subsidiary organisations engaged in vigorous activity from its foundation until the reorganisation of Catholic Action organisations in Australia at the end of 1954.”
Even as early as 1937, the Roman Catholic Church had realised the need for some form of organisation within the industrial labour movement. In that year, the Australian Catholic Truth Society had published a pamphlet entitled ‘Red Menace in Australia’, which was very favourably reviewed in the Record on 4 September 1937.
The review read in part:
The final chapter is entitled ‘Catholic Social Study’. Catholics are advised to form study groups and thoroughly master the encyclicals. The following practical suggestion is made: ‘The development of interest in trade union activities, and organisation within the unions: firstly to improve the working conditions, wages, hours, etc; secondly, to counteract Communist influence therein.” – Labour and the Catholic Social Studies Movement –
Santamaria’s paper received attention and praise from the church hierarchy who placed him in charge of its astroturf campaign.
There are remarkable similarities between this and the Koch brothers’ libertarian astroturf campaign in the United States.Part of his mandate as the head of “the movement” was infiltrating the union movement.
This was done by imitating communist tactics and a wide array of dirty tricks, under the iron rule Santamaria exerted over the cells.
“It has been noted in the United States of America, that men who are prepared to accept the risks involved in attacking the established power oligarchy in a trade union—the risks include possible loss of job, ostracism, blacklisting in the industry and even physical intimidation—are apt to be men who feel a ‘The Movement’ men in Australia certainly had such a ‘calling’, and attempted to combat the power of Communist union officials by organising secret cells in much the same manner that the Communists had proved so effective. Such cells provided a dedicated and trained cadre of leaders with whom ‘The Movement’ contested trade union elections. ‘The Movement’ cells remained secret and exclusive to selected Roman Catholics in an effort to protect themselves from Communist infiltration.”
“In an attempt to alleviate feelings of isolation and to keep the cells or groups informed of the progress of the overall struggle, ‘The Movement’ began a weekly newspaper entitled Freedom. Later, in order to widen the anti-Communist struggle and to influence non-Roman Catholics, Freedom’s format was altered to that it was no longer obviously a religious denominational publication, but became a genuine anti-Communist industrial news sheet with a new name, News Weekly.
These secret trade unions cells met with some success, and defeated Communists in several trade unions, including the Railways Union, the Tramway and Busmen’s Union, the Electricians Union, and the Vehicle Builders Union in New South Wales.. In Victoria, they were also responsible for getting a sufficient number of delegates elected to the Melbourne Trades Hall to save J. V. Stout and his supporters from being voted out of office by the Communists.” – Labour and the Catholic Social Studies Movement –
Santamaria’s anti-communism supported by ASIO and the CIA
They didn’t limit themselves to the unions either.
They infiltrated the ALP and then used their influence to sponsor official anti-communist industrial groups which in turn gave the movement cells more power inside both the ALP and ACTU.
Notably the industrial groups had covert support from both ASIO and the CIA and Santamaria was an informant to American intelligence.
The movement also informed on alleged communists in a truly McCarthyite manner
The support for the industrial groups was part of a broader wide-ranging bipartisan surveillance and interference program targeting the Union movement.
“Much of ASIO’s resources were devoted to watching trade unions. Field Officers were allocated to union-watching and strikes and union elections were monitored. Informants in the unions, newspaper reports and the Special Branches of the states’ police forces were all tapped for information, particularly for those unions that had CPA members on their executive. It published for Ministers and permanent heads a monthly summary of all industrial disputes and this printing continued until 1973. ASIO maintained more than a passing interest in the way in which the Federated Ironworkers’ Association, under the direction of Laurie Short, deposed its Communist executive. The refusal of the members of the Waterside Workers’ Federation (WWF) to do the same led to some despair in ASIO reports.” – Cain, Frank. “ASIO and the Australian Labour Movement: An Historical Perspective.” Labour History, no. 58 (1990)
It’s important to note Santamaria targeted anyone who opposed his authoritarian theocratic agenda within the union movement and ALP.
This is crucial in understanding both the backlash and the coming split.
“By 1953 the objective of the Movement and the ALP Industrial Groups to break the Communist influence within the trade union movement had largely been accomplished, aided as it was by external events and the mindless militancy of some CPA trade union leaders. No longer content with weeding out communist unionists, Santamaria and the Movement now sought to exert their influence through the Grouper faction of the ALP to exclude from the party those who did not share their anti-communist view of foreign relations, and to pressure Labor to advance Catholic social policies, including his rural settlement proposals.”
His apparently unlimited ambitions for the Movement were highlighted in a confidential letter he wrote to Archbishop Mannix in December 1952. It brazenly predicted that within a few years the Movement: should be able to completely transform the leadership of the Labor movement, and to introduce into federal and state spheres large numbers of members who … should be able to implement a Christian social program in both the state and the federal spheres… This is the first time that such a work has become possible in Australia and, as far as I can see, it the Anglo-Saxon world since the advent of Protestantism” – Costar, B. J., & Strangio, P. (2004). B.A. Santamaria: ‘a true believer’?
Santamaria’s Movement raises concerns with his fellow Roman Catholics
It’s also important to note that Santamaria had moved beyond fighting communism which was already in decline at this point, to a deliberate attempt to take control over both the ALP and the ACTU.
This caused a rift within the clergy between a Victorian pro-Santamaria faction led by archbishop Mannix, opposed by an NSW group led by cardinal Gilroy.
Notably, an archbishop leaked confidential movement documents to the CPA in a probable attempt to undermine Santamaria.
“Anti-Movement Roman Catholics in the A.L.P. were perturbed by ‘The Movement’s’ control over the A.L.P. Industrial Groups. Mr. James Ormonde, a prominent labour journalist in New South Wales, was one of these, and on 23 November 1954 at a time when Federal Executive intervention in New South Wales was contemplated, he wrote to Mr. F. E. Chamberlain: . a prominent Monsignor (sic) of the Church expressed concern at this delay. He said that Labour must not only publicly dissociate itself from the ‘Movement’ but it also must destroy the Industrial Groups because the groups by their very nature provide the bridge-heads for Santamaria’s (sic) work.. The possibility of trouble arising from this situation seems obviously and ominously clear.”
“Communist advances in the trade union had already caused concern to the National Secretariat for Catholic Action, and the problem had also received attention from the Catholic Worker. Almost inevitably, many Roman Catholics in politics and in trade unions had some group-connections with and through the National Secretariat, which had itself studied and discussed the difficult task of countering industrial Communist successes. Centralised planning was obviously needed, and after approaches in 1940 from trade union and A.L.P. officials in Victoria – including J. V. Stout, R. Broadby and H. Cremean – to B. A. Santamaria, moves were begun which eventuated in an organisation.”
“In this endeavour Mr. Santamaria received advice, co-operation and financial assistance from Dr. Mannix, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne. The improvised structure set up was the Catholic Social Studies Movement, generally referred to simply as ‘The Movement, which had its first meeting in August 1942.19 By 1945, ‘The Movement’ was Australia-wide in scope, and received a mandate from the Australian Roman Catholic Hierarchy to oppose Communism in the trade unions.” – Labour and the Catholic Social Studies Movement –
Less than three dozen copies of the 1945 report were printed – one for each archbishop and bishop. Those attending the hierarchy’s extraordinary meeting in Sydney were advised of the highly confidential nature of the document. James Duhig took the instructions so much to heart that when travelling overnight from Brisbane to Sydney, he placed the document under his pillow. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Except that when disembarking at Sydney’s Central Railway Station, the Archbishop of Brisbane forgot to check his bed.
The top-secret document was discovered, presumably by a unionist with connections to the Communist Party, and handed over to the CPA. Subsequently, it formed the basis of the pamphlet Catholic Action at Work, which was issued anonymously by the Australian Communist Party and included a two-page photocopy of Santamaria’s 1945 document. A substantial report on Catholic Action at Work was published in the June 1946 issue of left-of-centre magazine Tomorrow.
The cloak-and-dagger theme is evident in much of the book. One vivid instance is a longstanding puzzle over how a vital Movement document fell into the hands of the CPA in 1945. While it suited his purposes, Santamaria supported the story that a careless bishop had left his copy on a train (which was found, conveniently, by members of a CPA-controlled union). Aarons exonerates the bishop, arguing that the leak came from “within” — not a possibility Santamaria could afford to admit. STRANGE BEDFELLOWS AND FELLOW TRAVELERS – Mark Aarons and John Grenville
The main backlash however occurred within the ALP with former supporters of Santamaria’s movement reversing course.
Notably, ALP leader Doc Evatt turned in response to Santamaria’s support for Menzies anti-communist bill, contrary to the ALPs opposition to the bill.
“Such doctrinaire zealotry was bound to provoke opposition, and by the early 1950’s there was evidence of a growing groundswell against the Catholic Social Studies Movement in both the industrial and political wings of the Labor Movement.. The story of the A.W.U. falling out with ‘The Movement’, and of Dr. H. V. Evatt, the leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, swinging from support to antagonism is well known. The effect of these changes was to shift the balance of power slightly in favour of the anti-groupers who seized their opportunity and went over to the offensive.” – Labour and the Catholic Social Studies Movement –
Tensions continued until the ALPs defeat at the 1954 election. Evatt called a spade a spade.
Dr Evatt accuses “The Movement” of working against the Labor Party
He correctly accused Santamaria’s industrial groups of undermining the ALP, infiltrating the labour movement and accurately compared them to both McCarthy and fascists.
“In November 1954 the A.L.P. Federal Executive met to discuss Dr. Evatt’s charges, and Evatt made a long and detailed statement to the meeting.? He said that he had become . . . convinced that there was a deliberate attempt by a small but determined group to subvert the Leadership of the Party by methods of systematic defamation, it being perfectly well known to all in the Caucus that critical remarks made in confidence would find their outlet to the anti-Labor press through one or more traitors.
In addition to the personal attack on his leadership, Dr. Evatt claimed that some members of the party in Victoria, ‘Messrs. Mullens, Keon and W. M. Bourke’, were actively working against the A.L.P.: These members not only failed to obey the decision to work for the defeat of the Communist Referendum of 1951 but, in addition, paraded their abstention which, of course, meant the sabotage of our campaign. But they apparently acted in the belief that the governing Executive of the Labor Party in Victoria would not discipline them even if they conspicuously absented themselves from Labor’s campaign…
The attitude of this group or faction is expressed from week to week in the Melbourne paper ‘News Weekly’ which acts as their organ and which they never oppose. Dr. Evatt claimed that the members of this faction had treacherously worked against endorsed A.L.P. candidates in electorates where the endorsed candidates were thought by this group to be ‘left wingers’. The statement concluded by saying that there was no place in the A.L.P. for members of this type.”
Labor purges the Industrial Groups
Evatt didn’t stop at mere rhetoric.
He took decisive action to remove the cancer from the party and staged an intervention into the Victorian branch rolling back constitutional rules used by the Industrial groups to dominate the branch and replacing the state executive.
“As a result of Dr. Evatt’s allegations and leadership, the Federal Executive moved into Victoria where, after hearing evidence for and against the Victorian Central Executive during November and early December 1954, it voted against the Victorian Central Executive and resolved to upset the status quo in that State. The Federal Executive called a Special Conference of the Victorian Branch to elect a new State Executive, and altered the branch’s constitution in such a manner as to ensure that credentials to the Special Conference could be obtained by trade unions which were under sentence of expulsion by the Grouper-controlled Victorian Central Executive. Because they feared being swamped in a conference of this sort, the majority of the members of the Victorian Central Executive refused to attend, and together with their supporters boycotted the conference. As a result, the anti-Groupers obtained a most powerful hold over the new Victorian Executive.” – Towards a Reassessment of Dr. Evatt’s Role in the 1954-5 A.L.P. Split – F. G. Clarke
The expelled executive turned up at the 1955 national conference and demanded to be recognised as the ALP delegation from Victoria.
Predictably the ALP rejected them and the rejected delegation formed their own breakaway party, The Australian Labor Party (anti-communist). The implication that the ALP was in any way pro-communist is absurd.
I’ve created a supplementary thread detailing the extremely hostile and bloody history between the communists and the ALP because of how ridiculous the claim is.
The conference also expelled the unions controlled by the industrial groups including:
Our old friends the SDA
The Federated Clerks Union
The Federated Ironworkers Union
The Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners
The split came at an extremely high cost.
The DLP deliberately kept the Liberals in power under the guise of “fighting communism” locking the ALP out of government for:
18 years on the Federal level
27 Years in Victoria
32 Years in Queensland
Santamaria also paid a heavy price for the split. Cardinal Gilroy appealed directly to the Vatican who ordered that the Church immediately cease interfering with the Union movement and the ALP
“This faction fight continued until the end of 1956, when Cardinal Gilroy, perhaps realising that he and his supporters were in a minority amongst the Australian Hierarchy, appealed over the head of that body to the Congregation for the Propaganda of the Faith in Rome.” The Cardinal asked for guidance, and an answer was not long delayed. On 27 May 1957, a series of instructions ordered ‘The Movement’ to cease all political activities, to withdraw immediately from organising within political parties, and to concentrate its activities on an educative programme designed to make Roman Catholics assure of the evils of Communism… Such instructions in the light of Cardinal Gilroy’s previous position went further than the Cardinal had bargained for, but having requested guidance, he had no alternative but to obey.” – Labour and the Catholic Social Studies Movement –
Santamaria’s National Civic Council
Not to be deterred Santamaria set up an independent organisation the National Civil Council.
It’s still active today and supported Santamaria’s protege, Tony Abbott during his leadership struggles with Turnbull.
There was a long term silver lining from the split.
Once the ALP was able to overcome the DLP barrier on the Federal level, they were able to put forward a truly progressive platform under Whitlam.
The next Labor prime minister, American informant Bob Hawke would bring the fascists back into the party to crush the democratic socialists within the ALP.
We will explore why and it’s far-reaching consequences in the next thread