The Guardian 28 September, 2005


Joe Staats:
June 1, 1933 — September 3, 2005

Joe Staats was a comrade and friend without peer. He was an inspirational figure and example to the many union and community activists and comrades who knew him over the years. When you spoke to Joe you immediately felt his compassion, commitment and determination and the politics that were the foundation, guide and fired his positive outlook.

A fearless comrade who would enter any discussion with the objective of putting forward a positive political position, not by confrontation but in a firm, friendly, clear and colourful way which was constructively directed at uniting, winning involvement and activity.

Few events stuck more clearly in the memory than the old Communist Party’s Tribune Fair. The sunny spring days and the one thing that no comrade who attended could miss — Joe’s strudel.

Joe worked at many of the biggest construction projects undertaken in Australia, including the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the Latrobe Valley power complex, the Williamstown Naval Dockyard. He narrowly escaped death at the West Gate Bridge disaster. In order to provide for his family he went away to work in Bass Strait. Scores of other industrial jobs provided him with a vast experience of class struggle. In every one of these jobs, Joe was a thorn in the side of the boss. He was always openly a communist who always sold the party paper at work. In fact, Joe sold more Tribunes over a longer period of time than any other comrade except Taffy Jones. He built up a Tribune round of well over a hundred regulars in Yallourn. The Sino-Soviet split caused the sudden collapse of this round in the early 1960s permanently losing 95 per cent of his sales almost overnight. He said that split caused those workers to lose faith in the Party.

Joe was a member of the generation of Europeans which grew up during the rise to power of fascism. The imprint of such a childhood steeled Joe with a hatred for fascism which he retained for the rest of his life. He lived under occupation in the Netherlands in a railway town with a German military garrison, and the horrors he witnessed there as a child left him with an abiding respect for the best anti-fascist fighters, the communists, and for the Soviet Union. The working class movement of that time was a very disciplined one; and Joe applied this approach to his politics. The other great influence on Joe’s life was his father, Big Joe who could claim to be one of the very few who ever escaped the notorious Dachau death camp.

Joe served the AMWU well for over 40 years. He also served the old Communist Party of Australia well. For many years he was the one of the best rank and file activists the CPA possessed in Victoria. He was a tireless fundraiser who spent his spare time making articles for the Party to sell. Everything Joe made was made well. It either tasted good, or was built to last a hundred years.

The old CPA received the full benefit of all Joe’s disciplined devotion to the cause. But the Party never allowed Joe a leading position, except for a short stint on the large State Committee. The reason for this was that the CPA leadership hated the two political principles that Joe loved most: Leninism and the USSR.

With the split in the early 1970s, Joe followed the example of his friend, the great Ralph Gibson and stayed in the CPA. But eventually, after a particularly virulent outburst of anti-Sovietism by certain members of the Victorian leadership, Joe finally lost patience with the revisionists, and resigned. Immediately he made an appointment with Alan Miller, who warmly welcomed Joe into the Socialist Party of Australia (now the CPA).

Joe was a life long peace activist, retired union member organiser, Public First campaigner, regular Eureka commemoration attendee, strong supporter of Australian and working class culture, committed to Irish republicanism, one of the last of the great European anti-fascist tradition and an active Communist to his death.

How do you replace a Joe Staats? What can we say to express our thanks to him and his family for a life of commitment to the working class and their liberation from a system of exploitation by the rich few?

The answer is that we can never replace Joe and he would say that the only thanks and reward he would ask is that we continue his and his many past and present comrades’ commitment to organise, educate and act for revolutionary change.

Memorial for Joe to be held in the Old Ballroom, Trades Hall, Melbourne at 4pm on Wednesday, October 5. All welcome.

Andrew Irving & John Bennett

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