BY WILL WILLIAMS
WOLLONGONG — "Seventy-nine-year-old great-grandfather, tribal initiate, retired coal-miner, unabashed socialist and enduring activist", was how the May 7 Illawarra Mercury described Fred Moore after the Wollongong Trade Union Centre was renamed in his honour. As Fred arrived for the annual May Day march on May 5, a guard of honour holding peace and trade union flags welcomed him to the surprise unveiling of Fred Moore House.
"I was thinking I was only there for the march", Moore told Green Left Weekly. "But everyone was cheering and yelling 'here he is!' Then someone said 'up this way, look up', when I saw the sign I was emotionally blown out!"
Moore is a legend in Illawarra activist circles — a living symbol of militancy and unity in the trade union movement. Known to local Kooris and other activists as "Dad", Moore has been given life-member status with: the Illawarra Aboriginal community (he is also a blood-brother to the Jerringa people); the Wollongong May Day Committee, which he chaired for 20 years; the Miners Federation (now the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union — Moore was the first life-member of the federation); and the Miners' Women's Auxiliary.
He has been involved in workers' struggles for nearly 70 years — attending his first May Day march when he was just 10. "All my life I seem to have been in some sort of struggle", Moore explained. "Even as a boy I was involved in the struggles with the community.
"We were always sort of under threat, because our parents were involved with communist movements and extreme parts of the labour movement — so we were always having to fight for everything.
"We fought in the mines for a shorter working week and [workplace safety] and workers' compensation. At one time we had very few conditions", Moore remembered, adding, "it's just as hard to try and retain them as it was to win them.
"Men had to lose [work] time [through strikes] for safety. Better safety conditions, better bathhouse facilities — all had to be won. Nothing was given at all."
May Day has always held special significance for Moore. "May Day is the most important day of any, because it's the international workers day", he said, "a day to build goodwill, to enjoy each others company, and for the workers and people to portray their grievances'.
Moore believes the trade union movement needs to aim to reclaim May 1 as a public holiday. "May 1 is the day that's set down. The miners fought hard for it although the coal-owners and ruling class tried to smash [them] off the streets — using the police. [The public holiday] was worked into the award from 1912. They sustained it until 1964 when the coal tribunal took it off them as a holiday, and that reduced the May Day march's size.
"If the unions and workers could reclaim May 1, it would be wonderful. To try and get people on the streets on that day is the ultimate aim.
"But you've got to be careful. May Day has to be run for the workers, and be able to involve everyone: men, women, children, the frail and the aged. May Day [should] involve the working class [and be] a day for rejoicing, singing, dancing as well as to demonstrate.
"Where it's been suppressed by batons or gunfire, and people have died, that's not what May Day is about These things mightn't have happened if the police and other reactionaries weren't so vicious.
"The great dream for May 1 is [for it to be] like in Cuba, where more than one million workers can come together and no-one gets hurt, that's the great dream for May Day.
"May Day has stood for more than 100 years despite the efforts of the establishment, and it's our duty to sustain it. We owe this to the thousands who have died on the streets for May Day, we owe it to our forerunners and to the people to continue to build [working-class] unity."
Moore is proud of unions for taking up issues that are broader than just workers' wages and conditions. He argues that it is vital for trade unions to support campaigns such as that to free Palestine and for refugees' rights.
"It's like the slogan 'peace is trade union business'. The trade unions should always be the vanguard of the people, working with political parties and the progressive community. With the bargaining power of the unions [on its side], any movement is in a better position to win."
Moore has devoted his entire life to these principles. Since that first 1932 May Day march, Fred has been a leader in struggles for peace, democracy, international solidarity, workers' rights, women's rights, Indigenous people's rights and socialism.
"I fully support any policies that fight racism and support refugees. If we don't, who's next? Today the refugees, tomorrow the trade unionists, you know?"
According to Moore, solidarity is needed to beat back the attacks of the current Coalition government. "They've all been pretty bad, but this is the worst government we've had in my lifetime, with its war-hawk policies", he says. "The government stands by and supports the richest country while it bombs the poorest back to the Stone Age."
Moore is hopeful about the future. "I have great confidence in the young people and their courage. I support them [protesting] their way, and they're not too clear of the mark. It would be wonderful if they can put [May Day] back in the streets on May 1 and build it up. It won't be the same as it used to be, but it's something that needs doing and can be done."
From Green Left Weekly, May 29, 2002.
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