History: Nest of Traitors
Interview: A Nation of Hope
Unions: National Focus
Safety: The Shocking Truth
Tribute: A Comrade Departed
History: Working Bees
Education: The Big Picture
International: Static Labour
Economics: Budget And Fudge It
Technology: Google and Campaigning
Review: Secretary With A Difference
Poetry: The Minimale
Satire: Howard Calls for Senate to be Replaced by Clap-O-Meter
The Locker Room
To the Victors The Spoils
The Story in General
Thinking of America
A Comrade Departed
Way back in 1958 a Melbourne doctor challenged a seafarer, newly arrived from Hobart, to explain how his worldview differed from that of the doctor's middle class mates.
"Well," the seaman-turned-wharfie began, "if you left your Mediterranean cruise ship in Naples and saw the narrow, dirty streets and the ragged, unkempt urchins who run there, you would say - gee, look how they live in Naples.
"But if our cargo shipped docked in Naples and we saw the same thing, we would say - look how WE live in Naples."
The doctor was Alf Liebhold, his patient was Tas Bull and, on the strength of that exchange, a tight friendship blossomed.
Last Tuesday, Liebhold related the story to the biggest labour movement funeral Sydney had hosted in years.
Rank and file wharfies and seamen rubbed shoulders with the instantly recognisable - Bob Hawke, Martin Ferguson, Bill Kelty, Jennie George, Greg Combet, Meredith Burgmann and John Coombs amongst them - in a tribute to a distinguished chief of their tribe.
They marched down Hickson Road, Darling Harbour - the Hungry Mile to generations because, before permanent hire, it was where hungry wharfies would offer themselves to even hungrier ship owners in the hopes of a day's pay.
Then they boarded STA buses for the Northern Suburbs Crematorium to farewell Bull on his final voyage.
Knots of well-wishers clogged the intersections, waving banners, as the convoy turned onto the harbour bridge.
Sydney had shrugged off its winter grey for Bull. The warm sun sparkled off the waves in a perfect backdrop to the docks where he forged his formidable reputation.
Tasnor Ivan Bull was born in Sydney. The unusual first name tribute to both his Tasmanian mother and Noweigan father, abiding influences he revisited, in "retirement", with a book, to be published soon, investigating his Norse roots. It will join Politics in the Union: The Hursey Case (1977) and his labour classic Life on the Waterfront (1998).
Bull left school at 14 and within a couple of years was indulging a passion that would last a lifetime and craft a committed internationalist. He jumped trains, slept in gaols, and dossed under the stars in an epic trek across the USA. From there he wandered northern Europe, Britain, the Middle East and the Caribbean on ships and trains before finding his way home. It was on those ships, aged 16, that he tasted his first industrial action.
Bull's parents had imbued him with a respect for work and the Salvation Army. His experiences convinced him to add a layer of Marxism.
Back in Hobart, he threw himself into Communist Party work but by the late 60s, then working on the Melbourne docks, he allowed his membership to lapse. In 1974, on a challenge from a fellow union official, he signed up with the ALP.
"Simon Crean reckoned he had a bit of influence on Tas joining the ALP. No doubt, Tas felt he had a bit of influence on Simon," Combet said.
Bull rose through waterfront ranks, from job delegate and welfare officer to become general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation from 1984 until 1992. He had cut his teeth, back in Tasmania during the notorious Hursey case, and helped see the union through massive change - containerisation, waterfront reform and, eventually, amalgamation with the seamen.
Comfortably militant, his abiding priority was survival of the union and the labour movement.
Safety, asbestos compensation and the fight against Flag of Convenience exploitation, were issues synonymous with Bull.
Yet, for every domestic issue he fought, he threw himself into an international one, largely out of hours. The Vietnam War, the anti-aparthed struggle, French nuclear testing, Chile, Palestine and East Timor were just some that drew his commitment.
Harold Lewis, Brit and former ITF general secretary, told how Bull's political views created waves when he arrived at the international. It didn't take long, however, for mutual respect to calm the waters.
"Tas's ability in debate was phenomenal," Lewis said, "it made people very wary of him in the ITF."
He recalled one meeting where Bull clinically lacerated a position advanced by right wing, hard men of the American movement.
"They were furious and shouted - you put Bull up to shaft us and you enjoyed every minute of it," Lewis said. "I told them the first part was wrong, nobody put Tas Bull up to anything, but they had the second bit right."
Comrades, a word with deep meaning for Bull, would take issue with any suggestion that he ever retired. While he finished as ACTU vice president in 1991; Waterside Workers Federation national secretary in 1992; and ITF executive member the following year; he immediately threw his energies into a range of related undertakings.
He was the hands-on founding chairperson of the ACTU's organising works program, sitting in on individual interviews and lecturing many of the 400 union organisers trained since that time.
He was also chairperson of Apheda - Union Aid Abroad and brought special passion to his role as president of its Cuban Children's Fund. Last year, he and wife Carmen celebrated his 70th birthday with family and friends in Havana.
Speaker after speaker talked about the man, husband and father; his sons Anders and Peder; and the long, loving, supportive role of Argentine-born, Carmen, not least these past weeks as those closest faced up to their imminent loss.
Anders himself became a Waterside Workers official on the Melbourne docks and revealed it hadn't been the easiest thing in the world. Father and son argued long and hard over the rights and wrongs of Australia's involvement in the uranium industry.
"He came down to Melbourne and I thought I had him on toast, a very stupid thing to ever think about Dad," the young Bull recalled, telling how he had invoked the well-being of his wife and children who were, after all, Bull's daughter-in-law and grand children.
Undanted, his father took up the challenge.
"They took the vote and, as usual, it was unanimous for the national office," Anders continued. "He came up to me later and said - how are you? - I told him I was pretty pissed off.
"He just said - well, you have learned something today, if you want to win the vote, move the resolution."
Perhaps more significantly, he related how he had gone to his Dad's favourite restaurant, Captain Torres, just around the corner from the union's head office, on the night before the funeral. A waiter had taken him aside, shaken his hand and expressed his sympathy, explaining he had been a friend of his father's for 16 years.
Captain Torres and stories of lunches that nearly became breakfasts featured over and over as speakers like Combet, MUA successors Coombs and Paddy Crumlin, told of Bull's humanity.
John Cleaver, Hobart school friend and former shipmate, put it this way. "His deeply meaningful friendships were legion. His socialist morals and leadership made him a truly good human being. I am proud to have shared a lifelong friendship with this comrade."
Coombs spoke of the "open house" Bull and Carmen ran at Hunters Hill for the benefit of friends from around Australia and the world. "He even had friends from the employers' side," Coombs revealed, "although mostly after they had retired and seen the errors of their ways."
It would have been an eye-opener for many to have seen Combet and Coombs - the tough men of the 1998 fightback against Peter Reith, Chris Corrigan, their mercenaries and goons - crying openly at their loss.
"He made a difference to the lives of thousands of people in our society," Combet said. "He was tough, intelligent and pragmatic and he always maintained his integrity.
"I feel for him as I do my own father."
The spirit of Tas Bull, it seems, is in rare good health.
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