Obituary – Dr Lloyd Ross

Lloyd Ross was born in 1901, the year of Federation and a time of growth for political labor. The young Lloyd grew up under the influence of parents who hoped that their socialist ideals would be realised in Lloyd’s lifetime. Lloyd’s father, R.S. Ross, had learned his socialism from William Lane, one of the pioneers of Australia’s Labour Movement. Lloyd’s affection for his father’s cause was reflected in 1937 when Lloyd published his first book, a biography of Lane.

Ross displayed great intellectual ability from an early age. In 1916 he won a scholarship to attend University High School in Melbourne, and in 1919 another scholarship provided an opportunity to study at Melbourne University. Ross was drawn to the study of the British labour movement.

In 1926 Ross took up a position with the Workers Education Association in New Zealand. He wanted to bring his theoretical learnings closer to the world of workers. It was a path leading Ross towards the trade union movement.

In 1933 Ross was appointed as W.E.A. tutor-organiser in Newcastle. Here he conducted lunchtime classes amongst railworkers at the Broadmeadow Workshops. Ross developed contacts with A.R.U. activists and ultimately the leaders of the A.R.U.’s State Council, dominated by communists and left-wing militants.

Tom Hickey was the A.R.U.’s sub-branch Secretary in Newcastle in the 1930’s and became a close supporter of Ross. The two also combined as impresarios, staging several plays such as “May Day Through the Ages” “Labor’s Cavalcade” and a dramatisation of John Reed’s “Ten Days That Shook the World”. The A.R.U.’s activists became greatly impressed with Ross’s abilities. .

In 1935 Ross was elected N.S.W. A.R.U. Secretary. In the same year he became Dr. Ross with the awarding of a doctorate from the University of New Zealand. Ross now turned energetically to the work of improving the appalling conditions experienced by many rail and tram workers.

Ross favoured strong on-the-job agitation and aggressive publicity in support of industrial campaigns. Broken Hill fettlers, Railway Refreshment Room girls, Tram per-way labourers and Darling Harbour porters all benefited in the late 1930’s from Ross’s tactics.

The outbreak of the war brought new pressures for Ross. In 1935 Ross joined the Communist Party of Australia, believing it to be the only effective Workers’ party. But he rejected the Pact of convenience concocted by Hitler and Stalin, which the C.P.A., falling in line with the Soviet Union, supported.

Ross swung to support the Federal Labor Government of Prime Minister John Curtin, and the A.R.U. lined up with Ross, despite bitter factional fighting. It was a split that led to lasting divisions between some A.R.U. activists and in Ross’s case, between himself and his brother Edgar.

Ross left the A.R.U. in 1943 to take up the position of publicity officer with the Department of Post-War Reconstruction, serving with the Department until the defeat of the Chifley Labor Government in 1949. He worked as a journalist with the Melbourne Herald for some time, and in 1952, when A.R.U. state Secretary Jack Ferguson retired, he sought re-election to his old job.

Ross returned to a union that was rapidly becoming one of the battle grounds between the communists ad the anti-communist “groupers”. Ross acquired a reputation as a virulent anti-communist, and in 1955 was one of those who walked out of the ALP’s Hobart Federal conference, thus playing a leading role in the turmoil that rent the ALP apart in the fifties.

In the 1950’s and the 1960’s Ross pursued his efforts to improve railworkers’ conditions with characteristic vigour. The introduction of diesels to replace steam trains brought hard times for many A.R.U. members in the country, with depot closures and forced relocations being common.

But Ross was able to ensure that the Railways Department did not sack anyone because of dieselisation.

In 1960 Ross led the union in its first major industrial action since the 1917 strike. A two hour stoppage in support of an industry allowance saw the union united and determined. There had been fears that the stoppage would cause a desertion of members as occurred in 1917, but Ross’s careful planning and sustained agitation prior to the stoppage led to a great success for the union.

In 1969 Ross retired as A.R.U. N.S.W. Branch Secretary, having served a record 25 years in the job, 1935-43 and 1952-69. He brought to the position a profound belief in the trade union movement, a knack for identifying areas where the union could make gains, even in the trying circumstances of the 1930’s, and a formidable skill as a pamphleteer and agitator. It was the kind of ability that shone most brightly in hard times, and particularly in his first period as secretary he gave a wavering organisation energy and purpose. Few have had the opportunity to achieve as much in the Australian labour movement.