Part of a series of interview segments produced by the SUA/MUA in which retired Australian merchant seamen recount their working lives at sea as well as their engagement with union campaigns and activities. Each episode features a seaman, or sometimes a pair of seamen, sharing their story in a largely unstructured and extended interview. They form an important on camera collection of oral histories about Australia’s unionised merchant seamen.
In this episode seaman Fred Krausert recounts how the wives were the champions of the working class. They endured hard work to support their men, who were at sea for weeks and even up to 6 months. Fred considers himself lucky to have a very good wife. He explains that the Seaman’s Union had a community conscience, which was unlike the attitude of individualism today. Onboard there were few arguments amongst the crew and they were always there if needed. Everyone had the same responsibility on the ship and many were socialists and Marxists – men of high principle. Half of their lives was spent on ships.
Seamen working the fires in the old burners didn’t last long with many of them dying in their 40s and 50s. He describes some ships as being “heaps of shit” and unseaworthy, they were dangerous and you had to be careful.
Fred is of the opinion that BHP could have achieved better results with the men instead of using the whip, but instead employed the same tactics as the Howard Government. He feels that the Seaman’s Union made them what they are and built character, passing on their insight and wisdom to the young. Since they couldn’t afford lawyers they all had to learn. It was a communist leadership, working for the worker. Remarks that seamen are internationalists, prepared to help everyone, whether Asian or Greek. He feels blessed to be enriched by the people he lived with on the ships. The Seaman’s Union School was a great facility, teaching the politics of the organisation. And the ships had great libraries to educate the members and the young.
Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.
Author: J Bird, 2023