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numbers of Italians living in Australia, 1871-1981

Vince Higgins

Chairman, Trades Hall Association

I recall vividly [my first Trades Hall meeting] because I was in my late 20s, and it was a meeting of the Labour Council on the Thursday night, I was attending as an alternate delegate because one of the regular union delegates was not able to attend. And you saw personally these great names in the Trade Union movement at the time. I mean men who were giants, like spoken of in the press, and as a new official you tend to be a bit overawed by these people who appeared to know everything and feared nobody, and they were fascinating meetings where the debate, the debate was pretty strong because there were strong political differences on the matters being discussed, and it was a matter of the delegates who spoke endeavouring to convince others of the rightness of their point of view. And that was fascinating to any young person, the opportunity to attend meetings like that to me has always been fascinating….
Well see, I’m talking just after the end of the second World War when probably most of the delegates, although they wouldn’t have boasted about it, but most of the delegates were returned servicemen and women and they’d lived through pretty difficult times and came back to work with the promise of better times and better times mean[t] better opportunities at work, better pay, better facilities, better leave facilities and a better opportunity for your family and for your children, and opportunities for school, education and all of those things. So like, this was the evolutionary process that was taking place. There was also the severe political differences that were on at the time, like we had a Menzies Government came in 1949, and they were changing the political face of Australia, or as far as we were concerned they were, and then you had the differences within the Labor movement as to how to tackle those questions which kept continually arising and on, I mentioned before, the first Monday in October at the Labour Day procession the banners and slogans and that of the various unions highlighted what those differences were.

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