The Official Organ of LaborNET
click here to view the latest edition of Workers Online
The Official Organ of LaborNET
Free home delivery
May 2004   

Interview: Machine Man
It�s regarded as the most powerful job in the Party, but new NSW ALP general secretary Mark Arbib wants to build a bridge with the union movement.

Unions: Testing Times
Unions are not opposed to drug and alcohol testing, but they do want to see real safety issues addressed, writes Phil Doyle.

Bad Boss: Freespirit Haunts Internet
FreeSpirit forked out a motza for a whiz bang internet presence then disappeared right off the radar � once it was nominated as our Bad Boss for May.

Unions: Badge of Honour
Surry Hills is home to one of the world�s finest displays of union badges thanks to Bill "The Bear" Pirie and a supporting cast headed by Joe Strummer, Mark Knopfler, George Benson, Annie Lennox and other seriously big noises.

National Focus: Noel's World
Shrill bosses bleat over minimum wage rise, union spinmeisters congregate in Melbourne and Tassie�s nurses take the baton from their mob in Victoria reports Noel Hester in this national round up.

Economics: Safe Refuge
A humanitarian approach to refugees and an economically rational one?? I�d like to see that. Frank Stilwell did, when he went to Young in NSW to look into the impact of the Afghan refugees on temporary protection visas who came to work for the local abattoir

International: Global Abuse
Amnesty International have joined the chorus against the violation of trade union rights in the former Soviet republic of Belarus.

History: The Honeypot
To the Honeypot come those individuals anxious to get their hands on instant wealth. So it was in the early days of Broken Hill, wrties Grace Hawes in this homage to the mining town.

Review: Death And The Barbarians
This new take on coming of age films focuses on the coming of death and the dignity and maturity it can inspire among those touched by it - though not always easily in the overcrowded Canadian public health system, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Resident Bard David Peetz uncovers some of the unfolding mysteries of talk back radio.


The Soapbox
Rethinking Left and Right Part 1
Dr David McKnight, from the University of Technology, Sydney presents a new frame for looking at the competing ideas within Social Democracy.

The Soapbox
Rethinking Left and Right Part 2
David McKnight concludes the paper he presented to the �Rethinking Social Democracy� conference, in London, April 15-17, 2004.

Out On A Limb
Phil Doyle becomes the first Australian journalist to state that the Olympics will be called off.

The Westie Wing
In the latest episode, Ian West explores what Disraeli called "Lies, damn lies and statistics".

Message from America
Searing snapshots from a landscape of uncertainty have plunged the Bush Administration into deeper crisis, writes WorkingForChange's Bill Berkowitz.


The Mouse That Roars
A number of campaigns this week show how web campaigning is reaching a level of sophistication that is transforming it from a gee-whiz fad to a potent industrial tool.


 Casual Affair Costs Family

 Dob a Driver Strikes Out

 Crash LAME�s Smoking Gun

 Axe To Fall On Skippy

 Internet Replaces Crayons

 Young Lives Crushed

 Feds Move Goal Posts

 Telstra Baulks at Two Percent

 Crane Death Brings Fine

 Worker Breaks Unwritten Law

 Private Nurses Short Changed

 RailCorp Wrecks Weekend

 Thunderbirds Are Stop

 Activists What�s On!

 Justice For Victims Denied
About Workers Online
Latest Issue
Print Latest Issue
Previous Issues
Advanced Search

other LaborNET sites

Labor Council of NSW
Vic Trades Hall Council
IT Workers Alliance
Unions on LaborNET
Evatt Foundation

Labor for Refugees



Badge of Honour

By Jim Marr

Surry Hills is home to one of the world�s finest displays of union badges thanks to Bill "The Bear" Pirie and a supporting cast headed by Joe Strummer, Mark Knopfler, George Benson, Annie Lennox and other seriously big noises.


Pirie, who earned his Bear monicker as a shipyard militant on the banks of the Tay, has more than 7000 badges, from all continents and what seems like most labour organisations.

Thousands proclaiming their affinities in English are mounted in a huge cabinet of old-fashioned printers trays, while the thousands that don't live in ring binders.

It's been a labour of love for Pirie who fell into collecting by accident.

As a shop steward, at Caledons, Dundee, one of his first breakthroughs was convincing the company that worker representatives should have their own office and phones.

The Bear had growled his way through enough meetings to know how the boss reinforced his status with scrolls, plaques and certificates. The answer, he figured, was filling the union office with tokens of solidarity.

With 24 different unions at the shipyards, it turned into a larger undertaking than he had ever imagined as fellow stewards returned from conferences, pickets and meetings with various keepsakes.

In the finest British tradition, framing the scrolls and certificates turned into a nightmare.

"The whole thing was fraught with danger, it became one long demarcation dispute," Pirie joked.

"Anyway, the other stewards thought I was a collector, which I never was, and started bringing back badges and that's where it all started".

The 1970s were tumultuous times for British labour activists. Pirie found himself rallying and picketing on behalf of miners, jailed dockers, printers and countless others as Thatcherism loomed on the horizon.

Finally, change caught up with Caledon. Pirie was a ringleader of an occupation that held hostage vessels bound for New Zealand and Poland but, as 1980 came around, another 1500 Scots hit the job market.

Fortunately, the Amalgamated Engineering Union steward had been knocking around pubs and clubs for years. The marine engineer had been moonlighting as a roadie and odd jobs man for mates in a range of bands, at one point taking 13 weeks leave from Caledon, to join Mike Oldfied on a trip around continental Europe.

"I thought I had died and gone to heaven," is how he recollects his first taste of life on the road.

A group of friends, The Vikings to locals, had gone to London where they transformed into the Scots of St James and then The Average White Band. Doors started to open.

Before long Pirie was a production manager with a CV that might have been composed in a groupie's dream.

By the time he arrived in Australia 14 years ago, for a four-month gig with a band called Dire Straits, he had toured Europe, the States, sometimes the world, with the biggest names in popular music - The Clash, Depeche Mode, Chris de Burgh, The Cure, Eurythmics, Stevie Wonder, Meatloaf, George Benson, Eric Clapton and Van Morrison amongst them.

Of them all, the late Joe Strummer holds a special place in Pirie's memory.

"The Clash were great to work for. If everyone was like them it would always be a great job and a lot of that was because Joe was a good man. He had politics and he did his best to put them into practice," Pirie says.

He recalled one European tour, early on in the piece, when promoters tried to get them to crash a French drivers' picket so a Paris concert could go ahead.

Strummer and Pirie put their heads together and decided to circumnavigate France altogether, play in Italy, and then return. The publicity about their support for the strikers ensured a full stadium in Paris and even the promoters were happy.

On another occasion, Pirie arrived in Dublin to be greeted by a boisterous protest of unemployed teenagers who said ticket prices had got too dear - The Clash, by implication, had forgotten their roots.

When the band arrived, Pirie registered their complaint. Within minutes, he swears, Strummer had abandoned his guitar for a heart-to-heart with the promoter that resulted in half price entry for anyone on a benefit.

The Clash, of course, rejected many of the trappings of the commercial concert. Rather than highly choreographed lighting, co-ordinated by a lighting designer, The Clash encouraged individual technicians to do their own things as the concert unfolded.

By the end of their world tour the most radical thing the liberated operators could think of doing was choregraphing their "follow spots" in the traditional manner.

"When it started Strummer just laughed but we did get a bit of a bollocking," Pirie admits.

Dire Straits had politics, too.

"They were quite hard task masters but they took a pride in making sure they had enough crew and people were properly treated," he explains.

In more recent years, Pirie's expertise has been picked up for glitzy ceremonies. He has managed MTV Music Awards out of Ibeza, Brit Awards and various sports and music presentations.

His world travels allowed him to build his badge collection and forge links with fellow travelers. He's stood on picket lines from New York to New Zealand.

A non-drinker and smoker, Pirie could never fathom workmates who wouldn't deviate from the track between their room and the bar for weeks on end.

"I saw the travel as a great opportunity," he says. "I wanted to get out and meet as many people and see as much of the culture as I could."

When he arrived in Sydney, three months before Dire Straits played 20 back to back concerts at the Entertainment Centre over the summer of 1985, for example, he met up with leaders of the old Metalworkers and Waterside Workers Unions.

It was during that tour that he met his partner, Joy, and quickly became convinced that Sydney would be a good place to live.

This time around, he is helping the Labor Council's Neale Towart preserve and record many of the documents and banners that will go on display when the organisation returns to a renovated Trades Hall.

Pirie is off to the UK again in a matter of weeks. He's got about three months worth of work - first off as technical production manager for a "staff dance" staged for 11,000 employees; then a festival in the south of England featuring Blondie and Jools Holland; followed by a series of concerts at stately homes.

More and more, though, these days are spent in Sydney. He even seems to be warming to the idea of an exhibition of his union badges.

"They're fascinating," he says. "Not the badges themselves, so much, but the people who wore them and their stories."


email workers to a friend printer-friendly version latest breaking news from labornet

Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue

© 1999-2002 Workers Online
Workers Online is a resource for the Labour movement
provided by the Labor Council of NSW
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005

Powered by APT Solutions
Labor Council of NSW Workers Online