STORIES of UCS members and allies

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George Georges 

The former senator George Georges (1920-2002) had a well-developed social conscience and felt that the community should give more attention to war and conscription, racism, justice for indigenous people, trade union rights, the right to protest, animal welfare, the Great Barrier Reef and other environmental matters. He fought against the deregulation of the Australia’s financial system and the decision to export uranium to France. His ideological approach and devotion to people power meant that he fought long and hard battles within and outside Parliament to improve people’s lives. One of his great achievements was to establish the Union Cooperative Society. George, and his wife Gloria, committed much of their working lives to promoting the work of the Co-op. Another of George’s initiatives was to initiate a peace rally and march in 1981 in response to increasing nuclear arsenals, the stationing of US troops in the Northern Territory and recent elections of Ronald Reagan. The tradition of holding a peace rally and march on Palm Sunday in Brisbane continues and many UCS members participate. The UCS Board continues to support an important legacy, the George Georges Research Scholarship at the University of Queensland

 

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Colin Hardie 

Col Hardie (1957-) was a committed trade unionist - Assistant Secretary of the Federated Liquor Trade Union Queensland Branch) and member of the UCS Board from 1992 to 2006. Later in life he became a solicitor focussed on social justice issues, particularly native title law. He was interviewed by Sue Yarrow in 2019. (Below)

 
 

COLIN HARDIE INTERVIEW
UNION CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWED BY SUE YARROW

10am Sunday 24.2.2019 at Kelvin Grove.

Col Hardie speaking:

I met up with Senator George Georges though the Labour Movement in the early 1980s. I was based on the Gold Coast working as a Union Organiser with the Liquor and Allied Industries Employees Union. At that time the Liquor Trades State Secretary was John Murphy and he was friendly with Wilf Ardill, State Secretary of the Federated Miscellaneous Workers’ Union. Wilf lived on the Gold Coast and I met him frequently. George was a friend of both Wilf and John. I also met up with Hughie Hamilton (BWIU) and Ian McLean (ATEA) in this way.

Along with other Labour Movement people, I often attended meetings and functions held at the then Union Co-Operative rooms in Paddington. 

There were various union struggles occurring through this period (e.g. Hughie William’s move to become State Secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union) and like-minded unionists tended to congregate at the Co-Op where George was to be found between his attendances in the Senate.  

Hamish Linacre was always around the Co-Op at that time. He stood unsuccessfully for the ALP in the seat of Forde. 

The Co-Op was the home of much planning and collaboration under George’s guidance.

I remember thinking Paddington was an odd venue for a working class center, as most of this formerly working-class area had been taken over by middle class people. You could still see remnants of its working-class history, but it had already changed markedly.

I was aware that Bob Hawke, as Prime Minister had supportive views regarding co-operatives in consumer societies and that other Labour Movement figures from other states were supportive of George and his work in Queensland. 

It was not until the early 1990s that I served on the Board of the Co-Op. By the time I started, the Paddington Co-Op had already stopped its groceries/supermarket trading but fuel was still sold. The Co-Op was able to provide banking services – take deposits and provide loans at more favourable rates than the banks.

Regarding UCS aims and objectives, and its hope to position itself to be of service to the unions and unionists, I had the view that the Co-Op considered it was looking to support the consumption side of the equation for working class people. As we know, ultimately, market forces overtook these aims and squeezed out and legislated away the capacity of co-operatives to strongly develop their movement. 

My experience in Melbourne showed me similar co-operative supermarkets closing in similar circumstances to what we were experiencing in Queensland.

But the petrol sales were a big feature and lasted into the 1990s both at Paddington and in the off-shoots at Moranbah, Ipswich and other Co-Op operations through Queensland. Some of those sites also offered groceries. The Ipswich Co-Op was run for some time in the 1990s by Brian Elton (a former Liquor Trade Union Secretary). 

Georges’ main focus was his Senate responsibilities but once he retired from the Senate in 1987, he had more time to turn to the Co-Op. I recall with a smile, remembering George in his shorts around the Co-Op asking my views regarding the future development of the Co-Op and my suggestion of a club, with a bar and cold room and facilities. No more than a week later, I was back and George proudly showed me he had built the bar and had the cold room on order… never one to let the grass grow under his feet, was George.

George was most insistent on regularly paying the Co-Op capitation fees to the ALP as the union Co-Operative held a place amongst the “Small Unions” Group at the ALP State Conference and on the parties governing bodies. There were times when that vote was a critical decider of contentious issues in the ALP.

In my view, the UCS offered a service to Unions and unionists. In the 1980s, unions were quite well resourced and looking for positive ways to offer their members benefits – investments that could provide benefit to their members. The services provided by UCS fitted into this formula exactly. 

The early 1980s to mid-1980s was a time when, even in Queensland under Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the Liquor Trades Union (which covered Hotel/Motel staff especially bar staff), had 70 – 80% coverage of workers. Russ Hinze, the Queensland MLA for South Coast and Minister for Local Government and Main Roads owned the Oxenford Hotel. It was no doubt pure co-incidence that a side road off the main Gold Coast Highway went straight through his Hotel’s Bottle shop. All Hinze’s staff were union members. It was a closed shop. The Publican would greet me when I visited and there was never a dismissal amongst the hotel staff. Despite Bjelke-Petersen’s rabid anti-unionist stance, one of his senior ministers tolerated a full union shop in his establishment.

So, the unions were looking for ways to harness more members and offer attractive services and the UCS helped in that regard. 

Once the cheap groceries were gone, the UCS considered many different ways to offer services working class people would appreciate. George was keen on: a Union Co-Op Hostel; Holiday Units for working people. But these did not eventuate. George also kept a constant watch on property in the UCS Paddington area, overseeing the unit housing development next door and checking the Foresters Lodge as a possibility. 

Moranbah had a groceries outlet but the fuel in this regional community was the main draw card. The service station was well-positioned on a main road. By 2006, there was some tension between Paddington and the Moranbah operation, as the Moranbah community felt they needed to manage in their own way. 

In the late 1980s the Union Shopper took over aspects of the role previously played by the UCS. 

In the 1990s, there was not so much a movement by the unions against the UCS, rather the unions began making their own commercial arrangements

The main characters I recall are:

George Georges was the originator of the Co-Operative. His ideological commitment underpinned the enterprise he helped establish for the Labour Movement in Paddington and other venues around Queensland;

Hamish Linacre who worked on the Board with George until his death in 1995 was always a bit of a pontificator – strong on the talk and argument before the action;

Billie Watts was a force to be reckoned with who fiercely watched over George and all his works;

Hughie Williams, who aided and abetted George, provided financial support through his union the TWU, and picked up the baton upon George’s death in 2002. Hughie then chaired the UCS Board until his death in 2017.

In the early 1990s, both George and Hamish were concerned when the services offered by UCS were diminishing and felt the organization may be losing its way with mainly property interests. They watched the Southport and Mt Gravatt  Workers’ Clubs offering other facilities but these required much larger venues than the Paddington site offered. 

The introduction of the Financial Institutions (Queensland) Act 1992 raised big issues for UCS and led to the demise of the Union Credit Union. Previously both George and Hamish had been able to operate borrowing and lending arrangements as do bankers, but they could no longer provide the qualified financial scrutiny demanded in the new legislation. UCS lobbied vigorously and received some limited exemption from these requirements. They stopped being a credit union and could now only take deposits, not lend or charge interest.

By the end of the 1980s the unions were taking care of their own large deposits, using these for the direct benefit of their members. The Australia-wide decline in union membership saw unions focus on what was relevant to their members. 

The Paddington Workers’ Club was set up to attract new young workers/members. It became the hub, the focal point for Left Unions and the Labour Movement – that was the genesis of the Workers’ Club. It went on to help many individuals and unions. The Board wanted to keep relevant but did not have the resources to offer full time catering or poker machines, and the Board could not commit to that. Most of the working class had moved out of Paddington by this time.

There was a threat of litigation from Hall Payne who wanted to withdraw money for one of their union clients. UCS could not pay without selling property, but this was settled in the end with the UCS getting time to put its house in order.

The Hutchinson’s Plan of 1995 proposed a large precinct development including a Woolworths supermarket which the Board did not agree with, considering it not in accord with the Co-Op aims. They felt there would be little benefit for unionist resulting from the plan.  But the financial situation of the UCS was not “at the last straw” stage. They always had a substantial asset base but liquidity was the problem. 

Some time around 2000, the TWU provide a loan of about $1.5m. Around that time the CFMEU, ETU, Missos, Seaman’s Union and BWIU took large sums out which they needed for their own unions. This was never so much a lack of faith in UCS by the unions, as an urgent need to focus their funds within their own union.

George passed away in 2002, leaving Hughie taking over the reins. Again, the TWU under Peter Bigani helped out with the Workers’ Club. The goals of UCS have changed in recent years. No longer is the focus so much on the financial side, although this still exists in limited form, but the development plan to see the Paddington site as a working people’s precinct is the new direction for the future.