The Guardian April 5, 2000


Jim Mitchell receives Labor Council Award

by Richard Stone

The South Australian United Trades and Labor Council presented veteran 
communist Jim Mitchell with its Meritorious Service Award at its March 
meeting. This was in recognition of his long-standing service covering more 
than six decades to the labour and trade union movements.

In presenting the award, Labor Council Secretary Chris White defined the 
two traditions in the labour movement: social democracy, with its emphasis 
on reform, and Marxism-Leninism, emphasising revolutionary traditions. Jim 
Mitchell, he said, clearly came from the latter.

Opening his address in a jovial manner, Jim produced a collection of 
official papers which he said was his ASIO record for which he had paid a 
large sum of money to obtain under the Freedom of Information Act.

Jim read sections of the large ASIO files, accompanied with his own 
observations. Spies, informers and report-scribblers had had their field 
day. Their precise identity, however, was still protected by having their 
names "blacked out".

The large collection of documents revealed the paranoia of the State in 
placing Jim under surveillance. They provided a fascinating insight into 
the security services, their siege mentality and ability to recruit corrupt 
and rotten elements within the labour movement.

Jim, joined the Communist Party during the 1930s and emerged from the 
Second World War period and the late 1940s as an experienced political 
activist. He became editor of the Party's SA newspaper, The SA 
Tribune.

It was a time marked by the development of the Communist Party into a 
large, influential organisation with its own MP, Fred Paterson. The Party's 
paper had a large circulation and readership within the working class and 
trade union movement.

Being in the forefront of the class struggle during the period, the Party 
presented a significant challenge to the capitalist system, ideologically 
and organisationally.

Active on the Trades and Labor Council during the 1950s Jim was in the 
forefront of many important struggles to counter right-wing influence. 
Their strength was based on religious divisions, and drew on traditional 
allegiances and supporters within immigrant groups entering Australia. They 
became a formidable force.

The right-wing industrial groups, as they were known, eventually split the 
ALP and prevented it from taking office for many years. The divisions had a 
direct bearing within the trade union movement.

Jim provided a wealth of information about the struggles of the period and 
the major players. He paid tribute to the orators he admired and took time 
to draw comparisons with the present.

Jim became a wharfie and this provided him with strong working class 
backing around the Port where he was a popular figure in the trade union 
movement. This support helped him to be elected to the Woodville Municipal 
Council.

In this capacity Jim was able to assist many working people in the area. He 
was defeated after a four-year period due to the organisational strength of 
the right wing.

Jim became a member of the Communist Party's Central Committee.

He became a resident reporter in Moscow for The Socialist, the 
newspaper of the Socialist Party of Australia.

He developed a love of Russian culture, music and literature and was able 
to witness and write about life in the Soviet Union. He visited Afghanistan 
twice in 1980.

Completing his presentation, Jim sang an alternative version of the 
Internationale. He filled the auditorium with his fine, strong 
voice, revealing that a recent bout of ill-health had not dampened his 
political enthusiasm and that he was very much alive and kicking!

Paying tribute to Jim on behalf of the many people who had known him over 
the years Labor MP Stephanie Key said that the many discussions between 
them had played an important part in her political education. She thanked 
Jim for assisting with her visit to the Soviet Union during the late 1980s.

For more than a few generations of trade union and political activists, Jim 
has provided a role model of steadfastness and commitment.

For the writer of this article and for many other delegates to the SA Labor 
Council in recent years, Jim is remembered for his loyalty, seated near the 
rostrum at the front with the MUA delegates, carefully observing council 
proceedings.

A social function for Jim, arranged by the Maritime Union in Port Adelaide, 
completed the presentation.

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