Making Off with the Union’s Books for All the Right Reasons – Bert Speck’s Flight from Port Pirie

Trade union history is littered with instances of miscreant officials making off with the union records for less than laudable reasons. But here’s a case where an official decamped with the books for good and Iproper reasons. It’s the case of Port Pirie unionist, Bert Speck, who abandoned this company town with the branch records of the local Amalgamated Miners’ Association during the AMA ‘s 44 hour week campaign in Broken Hill-Port Pirie in 1916. The information is extracted from an obituary on Speck which appeared in Broken Hill’s union newspaper, The Barrier Daily Truth, on 11 November (there’s that date, again!), 1929. Note the superb epitaph in the concluding paragraph.

The late Mr Speck first came to Broken Hill from Port Pirie early in 1916 under circumstances that will ever link his name with union loyalty in high degree. In January, 1916, Messrs M.P. Considine (president of the A.M.A., now W.LU. of A.) and J.J. O’Reilly, went to Port Pirie as delegates to place the Broken Hill fight before the Port Pirie workers who were members then of the A.M.A. In accordance with the rules Port Pirie had to make common cause, but this they did not do. The books and property of the branch there were the possessions of the parent body and Mr Speck was the secretary. Of all men he had most to sacrifice and sacrificed it, in obedience to unionism’s call in Unionism’s fight. He was overwhelmed with the opposition to his appeal to his fellows to make common cause with Broken Hill, and left with the books and property for the Barrier. He chose the starvation coupon and sacrificed his job and when he got off the train, at Sulphide Street station he was carried shoulder high to the Trades Hall. Mr Speck went to work on the mines when a resumption was made on the basis of the 44 hours week after the short struggle had ended and had worked underground practically ever since till his fatal illness attacked him.

In the anti-conscription campaigns Mr Speck was ranged with the unionists of Broken Hill, and again in the big strike of 1919-20 he was a prominent worker in the cause of shorter hours, better wages, improved conditions and compensation. He served his union in various capacities and was one of the mine workers’ representatives on the Joint [Compensation] Committee. In this capacity Mr Speck showed marked ability and his knowledge of the Compensation (Broken Hill) Act was very sound. It was in view of this knowledge that Mr Speck was asked by the Industrial Council to go to Sydney early this year to assist the members for the district in combating Farrar’s [Compensation] Destruction Bill. Mr Speck worked with great enthusiasm at that time, but immediately after it his malady took control.

In general matters connected with the Labor movement, the late Mr Speck was well educated and was a good debater. He leaves the movement stronger for having lived and played the part, and much poorer for having died.