Doug Jordan, socialist militant, 1951-2014

Issue 
Doug Jordan speaks at a launch of his book in Sydney on May 6.

Doug Jordan, a long-time socialist and union militant, who transformed himself in later life into an innovative labour historian, died on May 19 in Melbourne at the age of 63. Doug passed away after a hard struggle with cancer.

In recent years, Doug was a community activist, especially with the campaign to defend public housing, and co-presented the 3CR program City Limits on Wednesday mornings for 14 years.

Co-presenter Kevin Healy recently wrote on the 3CR website that Doug's "community and working-class commitment was evident in the issues he brought to and attitudes he expressed on City Limits.

"Doug was diagnosed with cancer in the leg last year, and in February this year was informed it had spread and he had only a few months to live. He was determined to live as normally as possible, even held his own wake, an 'I'm still here' party, and continued to present City Limits until the Wednesday before he died."

Doug was a member of the Socialist Workers Party and then Democratic Socialist Party in the 1970s and 1980s, and remained a committed socialist for his whole life. He worked as a tram conductor in Melbourne, and in Adelaide for a time, and was a strong rank-and-file militant in the Tramways Union over many years.

Healy said: "He was arrested during the 1990 tramways dispute which saw Melbourne streets lined with trams as the union fought the then-Labor government attempts to introduce a new ticketing system which would reduce staff levels."

Doug was forced to leave the trams in the late 1990s when Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett removed the conductors, and he refused to be trained as a ticket inspector. He later returned to tertiary study and gained his PhD in labour history at Victoria University.

His thesis became the basis of an important new book, published late last year by Resistance Books titled Conflict in the Unions: The Communist Party of Australia, Politics and the Trade Union Movement, 1945-60.

At a launch of the book in Sydney on May 6 this year, Doug was able to attend and explained: "At the centre of this book is an examination of the political work of CPA members in the trade unions during the early Cold War ...

"The book looks at three areas of CPA political activity in the unions: building support for the peace movement, attitudes to the post-war arrival of refugees and migrants, and convincing unionists to support the growing Aboriginal civil rights movement. They were important issues at the time, and remain with us today.

"As a society and for the broad trade union movement, there is much to be done in these areas. Unions need to visit the past and learn from the successes and failures of the CPA."

Doug also noted: "It is entirely appropriate that the book launch be held today because 44 years ago I attended my first mass demonstration in Australia — the Vietnam Moratorium. Having arrived in Sydney [as a migrant from Britain] only a few weeks before, I didn't know anybody so I decided to march with the students from Sydney.

"By the time we got to Town Hall, the main gathering point, there were about 15,000 people there. Then the call went up, 'The waterside workers are coming.' Within a few minutes, the crowd was swelled as thousands of overall-clad workers joined the crowd.

“That was my first direct experience of the longstanding political traditions of waterside workers — a memory that has remained with me ever since."

Doug himself campaigned tirelessly for progressive politics throughout his time as a union militant in the tramways. At the Sydney book launch, he quoted his PhD supervisor, Phillip Deery, as telling him: "You are putting your own history down on paper in a different form."

I knew Doug well as a friend, comrade and even housemate for a time in Melbourne. His ironic sense of humour and feeling for working people and the oppressed was unquenchable.

His fighting spirit will be long remembered by all who knew him.

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