Interview: Machine Man
Unions: Testing Times
Bad Boss: Freespirit Haunts Internet
Unions: Badge of Honour
National Focus: Noel's World
Economics: Safe Refuge
International: Global Abuse
History: The Honeypot
Review: Death And The Barbarians
Poetry: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
The Mouse That Roars
Justice For Victims Denied
Labor Council of NSW
Badge of Honour
By Jim Marr
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."
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