The Guardian 30 November, 2005


Michael Williams

Michael Williams was committed and active in a wide range of social issues in West Australia.

As a teenage student he marched early in the protest against the Vietnam War, not just with parents, but with an anti-imperialist understanding. In 1971 his marble was drawn out for conscription to serve in Vietnam. He was prepared to go to prison, rather than serve, but he went north to work in the iron industry and was not picked up.

While studying Geology at WA University as part of the course he served as a geologist at Mt Newman and assisted in proving iron ore reserves which are now major mines. He found a design of standing stones over a wide area and recognised it to be of spiritual significance to Aborigines and won support for its preservation.

When mining started in that area, the whole stone creation was carefully plotted and moved entirely to a new site. He maintained his concern for Aboriginal rights and much later used his extensive knowledge of Aboriginal artefacts to assist southern groups in their land claim.

Michael joined the Socialist Party in 1977. In 1979 when he became concerned at the US nuclear powered and probably nuclear-­armed warships in the harbour, he and a comrade initiated the first action against the warships with posters and leaflets outside the Fremantle Town Hall. The response to the initiative became very strong, with thousands demonstrating on the wharf directly against the ships, and culminating in Jo Valentine being elected as Senator for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in 1984.

In 1980 he completed a degree in environmental science and gained appointment as senior instrument hand with the Metro Water Board to check pollution in the catchment of the dams in the Darling Ranges. But his reports were too good and pointed to the polluting activities of some major companies. The Liberal Minister for Water Supply could find no excuse to sack him, so they abolished the position.

Michael took the labouring job they offered him with the Water Board. In a strike he was one of the leaders, and finally through amalgamation he was made an organiser for the Miscellaneous Workers Union (LHMU) from 1981 to 1986, dealing with issues from shop floor to the courts, especially fighting back on the injustice to women, and worked for the further goal of real equality. After a full day’s work for the union, he would help the women getting out their material.

From 1989 to 1995 he was employed as Industrial Officer by the Australian Services Union (ASU). His experience in the courts from the previous union, meant he won many court cases for the union. This was recognised by the executive and staff of the ASU in a notice of his death: "Yours was a terrific contribution on behalf of working people and many benefited form your efforts".

Comrades in the LHMU recognised, "A committed comrade, union organiser and activist for peace and justice. Workers’ rights, unionism and peace were always your priorities".

In the early ’80s he was Secretary of the Palm Sunday rallies that brought 10,000 together. When the Perth City Council refused the right of the Palm Sunday rally to meet at the Supreme Court Gardens, he used his extensive court experience to take them to Court and established the right of all people’s organisations to the Gardens.

In 1988, Michael with others organised the March on the Cape, demanding the US withdrawal from the station that was sending messages to their submarines under water. The Exmouth Council refused its hall to a meeting of those who had marched, but they were able to meet in a church hall. Michael was angry, and took the refusal to the Equal Opportunities Commission, and using his court experience won the case and established the right of people’s organisations to meet in halls of all Councils and Cities.

From 1996 to 1999, he worked in Albany with the Ministry of Fair Trading, dealing with matters concerning the Workplace Agreement Act, Minimum Conditions of Employment Act and Awards and Rates and helped and made friends with a lot of people.

Michael was brought up in a literary household, writing his own stories and poetry, and helping with advice and experience in the preparation and publication of Eureka and Beyond, the autobiography of Monty Miller, the Eureka veteran and a key activist in the anti-conscription campaigns of 1916-17.

Michael was very opposed to the Australian participation in the Vietnam, and the increasing participation of US with military bases, such as the one being developed at Cockburn Sound. He worked consistently with the organisation fighting to prevent the takeover of Cockburn beaches with housing and canals.

In 2004, when he was working as a casual in a warehouse, he joined the Shop, Distribution and Allies Employees Association. He looked up their constitution on the internet and found a clause that prevented a "known communist" from holding office.

He applied to the WA Industrial Relations Commission for a hearing to disallow that rule. It was heard in February 2005, and President Sharkey ordered and declared that the rule was tyrannical and oppressive, and imposed unreasonable conditions upon the membership. He ordered the Association to amend the rule before April 30 or it would be disallowed in its entirety.

The Association appealed to the full bench of the WA Industrial Relations Commission but its appeal was rejected. They appealed to the Supreme Court in July, but it upheld the decision of the WA Industrial Relations Commission. This decision, supporting the internal democracy of Australian unions, is of national importance.

Michael had great courage and initiative, physically, socially, intellectually. He was generous in his time and abilities in helping people, and in sharing the fruits of his exploits in the sea. His concern and activities for the local and world environment was strengthened by his wide and deep study of scientific achievements.

He used his position and influence in the trade union movement for world peace, marching and protesting against Vietnam and Iraq Wars, against nuclear weapons, against the ruthless drive of imperialism.

He will be missed by all who knew him and loved him.

Vic Williams

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