Profile - James (Jim) Healy (1898-1961)
Trade unionist Jim Healy was born in Manchester, England. In 1925 he migrated to Queensland along with wife Elizabeth and their three sons.
Jim found work as a fireman and boiler attendant at the Mackay powerhouse and then as a labourer at Mackay wharf. Soon afterwards he was elected to the local committee of management of the Waterside Workers' Federation of Australia (WWF) and was the union's delegate to the Mackay branch of the Australian Labor Party. He was soon appointed to the Mackay Trades and Labor council and began his first term as branch president of the WWF.
During the 1930s Jim became increasingly frustrated with the inability of the Queensland Labor Government to address the plight of the unemployed during the Depression, and following a study trip to the USSR, he joined the Communist Party of Australia.
Jim focused on improving the pay and working conditions of wharfies at a national level. In 1936 he relocated to Sydney and was elected General Secretary of the WWF in 1937. He then instigated a series of changes to craft a modern trade union including relocating the head office from Melbourne to Sydney, introducing national policies, and establishing a national journal, The Maritime Worker. None of this came easily, particularly with wharfies split between two rival trade unions, the WWF and the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers' Union of Australia. Many in the WWF had disdain for the latter, with the view that it had been formed largely with “scab” labour. Many consider Healy’s greatest achievement as the amalgamation of the two unions, a process which began in 1946 and was eventually completed in 1955.
Jim was a formidable figure who led the WWF through many significant campaigns. This included campaigns in the 1930s and 40s in which Sydney and Port Kembla waterside workers refused to load scrap metal and pig iron destined for Japan. He also led the WWF boycott on Dutch ships carrying goods which could be used to crush the Indonesian independence movement during 1945-49.
Jim took on the Menzies Government in their attempts to ban the Communist Party of Australia and their introduction of the Stevedoring Industry Act (1954) and subsequent committee of inquiry into the industry.
Jim Healy died in Sydney on 13 July 1961. He was given a ‘comrade’s farewell’ at the WWF Hall on Sussex St in the Sydney CBD. His funeral cortege stretched for almost a mile and blocked city traffic for an hour.
Markey, R and Svensen, S 1996, James (Jim) Healy (1898-1961), Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 14, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed <http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/healy-james-jim-10470>
Lockwood, R 1951, Jim Healy: Leader of the Waterside Workers' Federation, Current Book Distributors, Sydney