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Pat Mackie and the Mount Isa Dispute 1964/5

Source: Anarchist Age Weekly Review

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The Mount Isa dispute in 1964/5 was different to the normal union controlled 24 hour show of strength.  The Mount Isa miners took on one of the worlds biggest mining corporations, the American Mining and Smelting Corporation (ASARCO) and won.  The dispute was a spontaneous uprising of not only the miners but their wives and many of the people who lived in Mount Isa.  They won the dispute despite the outright hostility of ASARCO, the Australian Workers Union, the Queensland Government and the mass media.

The Mount Isa dispute was in Pat Mackies own words "a living lesson in the constructive social potentialities of rank and file working people".  "It was a triumph of the human spirit".

Pat Mackie a member of the Industrial Workers of World was involved in the very beginning of the dispute.  He began work at Mount Isa mines in December 1961 as a "trucker". He couldn't handle working as a mining contractor and eventually finished up working in the mines as a timber contractor (piece worker). The dispute began as many of these disputes do:- over the seemingly trivial matter of the mine not providing adequate showers for the men after they had finished work. Although it may seem a trivial matter, at first glance, when you look at the situation from a miners perspective, you soon realise how important it is to have a hot shower at the end of your shift, to get off the grease and dust you've accumulated by working underground. The dispute ebbed and flowed from May 1964 to April 1965.

Pat Mackie's role in the Mount Isa dispute is an excellent example of how someone who has the experience of working within a militant anti-authoritarian group can influence the direction a dispute will take and its final outcome.  Pat Mackie had been a member of the I.W.W. for almost two decades before he began work at Mount Isa.  He had seen first hand how the rank and file can conduct and control workplace struggles.  Pat had the experience of working with United States Seafarers Unions and he understood the importance of setting up democratic structures that used rank and file delegates with limited mandates to conduct a workplace struggle.

The Mount Isa dispute, one of the few major rank and file disputes in Australia, greatly concerned both the Queensland State government and the Federal government. The Federal government believed they could break the back of the rank and file movement if they could deport Pat Mackie. Even after the workers had been forced back to work, a vindictive government did all it could to deport Pat Mackie.

Questions were raised in parliament about Pat Mackie's birthplace and the Prime Minister's department were involved in a number of meetings with A.S.I.O. to see if they could "legally" deport Pat Mackie. Records released from the National Archives of Australia Series AI2009/115 clearly show that the Federal government was willing to bend the country's immigration laws to strip Pat Mackie of his Australian citizenship. After extensive investigation they decided that the Commonwealth didn't even have the glimmer of a case.

Pat Mackie's father had been born in Australia. Although Pat had been born in New Zealand on the 30th of October 1914, under the citizenship act at that time he was an Australian citizen. Pat Mackie was in Australia in 1937, under the Nationality and Citizenship Act Section 25 (3). Pat Mackie became an Australian citizen by dissent on the 26th January 1949, the date of commencement of the Act. As he had not acquired nationality or citizenship of another country since 1949 he was an Australian citizen and continued to be an Australian citizen.

Page 4 Series 65.6397 of a document dated 17th August 1965 from P R Heyden, the Secretary of the Prime Minister's department told the Prime Minister "Regardless therefor of the manner of Mr Mackie's entry into Australia in 1949, there can be no question of his being liable for deportation".

Thanks to John Englart for providing me with copies of the National Archives files that were used for this article.

Anarchist Age Weekly Review Number 436, 5th 11th February, 2001

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