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Issue #1744      August 17, 2016

Vale Frank Gosden 1926–2016

The following contribution by CPA General Secretary Bob Briton was made at a celebration of the life and work of Frank Gosden at the Semaphore Workers’ Club last Thursday.

Comrades and friends, it is my great honour to address this gathering today as the General Secretary of the Party to which comrade Frank devoted much of his life and a good part of his enormous energies. I first met Frank in 1990 when I moved to Adelaide with my family. Frank had already retired from his trade union work but not from the struggle for socialism.

The people’s flag at half mast at the Semaphore Workers’ Club for comrade Frank Gosden – August 11.

I can remember him selling the Guardian at the meetings of the Trades and Labour Council, picking up bundles of papers from our shop on Sturt St and delivering them to many trade union and other subscribers. I remember him as a practical person. I can still see him attaching perplex sheets to the front of the Platon Club in Waymouth Street to prevent our enemies breaking the windows of our new office.

I saw straight away what an unassuming working class person he was. A reasonable, modest and patient person. It was only later that I learned the full extent of his hefty contribution to the trade union movement and our communist movement in South Australia.

I know comrade Ben Carslake will be speaking about Frank’s decades-long contribution to the trade union movement, his role in uniting workers and unions to get a better life for workers in a very tough industry but I thought I would make a comment about the political content of that work in the plasterers’ union and later at the head of the Building Workers’ Industrial Union in SA.

Frank became a bricklayer as a young man at a time when the employers were trying all sorts of new ways to further exploit workers. That never changes. They were engaging bricklayers as contractors and constantly driving down the going rate. Frank understood the economic and ideological underpinnings of the bosses’ attempts to divide workers and, from our perspective, the need for unity among workers to defend and advance their interests.

I was surprised to learn recently, given Frank’s understanding and patient nature, that he could “handle himself” in a scuffle. This shouldn’t have surprised me given the nature of building and construction where the bosses, or their stooges, regularly take the gloves off to workers. I’ll say it again, nothing has changed and we see today the attacks being made on the CFMEU so as to force it from the industrial scene, to drive up profits at the expense of workers.

Frank was a steadfast opponent of opportunism in the trade unions and opposed to the class collaborationist approach that swept over the movement with the advent of the so-called Prices and Incomes Accord of the 1980s and 1990s. Unfortunately, voices like Frank’s didn’t prevail and I believe we are still paying a price for this setback.

I know that Frank’s Communist beliefs rankled with some conservative forces in the movement. His support for the celebration of May Day through the May Day Committee was frowned upon but his persistence, through some very lean years it must be said, has born fruit. The success of May Day events today is built on Frank’s patient work both when he held trade union office and after. Comrade Len Lean tells me that people will still come up to him at the May Day Dinner and ask where Frank is, i.e. on the rare occasion he was too ill to attend. He was a very early recipient of the May Day Collective’s annual spanner award and I know Frank prized this award very highly.

Frank joined our Party at a very important time, in 1971. I’ve been told that he attended Party events with brother George for a long time before he took the leap to join his brother in the Party’s ranks. Our movement was being dragged in many directions at the time and, with all due respect to people present who took another position, I am convinced Frank’s decision to join the Socialist Party of Australia (as it was called then) was the correct one.

Once Frank joined, he threw himself into the work of building the Party. He was a long-time member of the State Committee and was a supporter of initiatives and new ideas to build the Party. He was active in his Party Branch as long as he was physically able, and that was a very long time.

As I mentioned at the outset, our State Committee has an extensive delivery round for its weekly newspaper, the Guardian. A lot of trade union offices take the paper. This round was established by Frank and while I know our paper is respected in progressive circles, a big factor in the establishment of this round was respect for Frank as a person and a comrade.

I wonder sometimes what will happen to the Party and the left more generally when Frank’s generation passes away. They were tough and resourceful people. Frank was an outstanding example. I was amazed to learn he had built his impressive stone family home in Plympton Park pretty much on his own.

This generation built organisations and publications, too, with scant resources and a lot of hard work. They sacrificed a lot of time for the Party out of a sense of duty and love for their class. Frank’s generation were the stalwarts.

Still, I remain confident because Frank and his generation built solid foundations. New generations of builders of a better socialist future will come to complete the work. They are coming – too slowly given the nature of the challenges in front of us but they are coming. I think we should never forget our great debt of gratitude for the painstaking, skilful and sheer hard work of comrades like Frank Gosden.

Next article – Happy birthday Fidel!

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