Bronc Finlay, 1904-1999

Issue 

Bronc Finlay, 1904-1999

On March 11, in his 95th year, Communist Party veteran Bronc Finlay died.

One of Comrade Finlay's greatest contributions to the proletarian cause was spearheading the Communist Party of Australia's courageous and successful campaign for workers' internationalism in the Kalgoorlie goldfields. During the summer of 1934, in the face of vicious riots and strike action against immigrant miners incited by local Laborites in the Australian Workers' Union (AWU) and state parliament, the Kalgoorlie unit of the party struggled to forge class unity against the mine owners.

In this struggle, Finlay and his comrades stood unshakably against physical violence, threats and other intimidation. They repeatedly called for the anti-migrant strike to be turned into a strike for a higher minimum wage, a 35-hour week, a share in the increased gold price and government compensation for those who had lost their homes. The party unit helped set up a camp in the bush for those migrant workers driven and burnt out of their homes by the rioters.

Their fierce spirit of class solidarity turned the tide early on in the anti-migrant strike. While failing to redirect the action against the bosses, their intervention caused native- and foreign-born miners to resume working together.

The enormous respect won by Finlay was demonstrated when he was elected secretary of the mining section of the WA branch of the AWU in 1938, in place of the incumbent Laborite.

I will never forget hearing Comrade Finlay speak, along with Comrade Jack Coleman, his close collaborator during the Kalgoorlie campaign, at a CPA function marking the party's 75th anniversary. I was greatly moved by the iron certainty of their class conviction and the liveliness of their wit.

Still harbouring — quite rightly — a deep indignation towards those Laborites who had incited the anti-migrant chauvinism, Coleman and Finlay showed a tenacity and defiance at odds with the many younger, yet politically more frail, socialists who back-pedalled furiously after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Finlay was of a generation for whom a socialist world must have seemed, when they were young, within easy reach. Yet despite all the setbacks of this century, he refused to abandon his class. In his last years, his eyesight had deteriorated to the point where younger comrades visited to read him the Guardian, the party newspaper.

This inability to freely keep up with the issues of the day frustrated him no end, but he never wavered from a firm and abiding concern for the interests of working people.

There was no funeral, just a memorial service, as Finlay had donated his body to medical research. Even in death, he embodied that selfless spirit that gave the early communist movement unrivalled moral force among workers and youth.

— Iggy Kim