The Guardian 30 January, 2008
Ernest Henry (Ernie) Crimes 1907-2008
South Australia lost an irreplaceable socialist icon recently with the passing of Ernie Crimes. The tireless stalwart of the labour movement remained sharp as a tack and fervent in his socialist beliefs to the end of his very long life. Ernie was interviewed last year by local community activist Jim Douglas, not long before the veteran turned 100. He was as direct and forthcoming as ever on a host of current and historical issues:
"We’ve got to get back to first principles. The idea of becoming an Australian peacekeeper and supporter of pre-emptive war is quite ludicrous. It is difficult to see how war against one country can be justified on the basis that we have received some information that a country is going to attack us, therefore we must stop this by having a pre-emptive war against them. It just does not make sense", Ernie observed about Australia’s falling in with US-led military adventures.
It was the same when Phil Robins interviewed him shortly afterwards for a piece in the Labor E-Herald. He did not hold back on the state of Australian politics or the ALP — the party he belonged to and worked devotedly for over long decades before resigning in 1985. That was the year Bob Hawke, former ACTU president and carrier of the hopes of many progressive Labor people (including Ernie) privatised the Commonwealth Bank. It was the last straw. Hawke had "ratted on the ALP".
"What we’re going through now is a gigantic capitalistic swindle on the world. They’re trying to make something last that won’t last. And of course they’re completely ignoring the class nature of society. As the Labor Party is now asserting we’re all just citizens of one country, which is a load of rot."
Ernie was born in Crewe in England. His family moved to Adelaide in 1913 where his socialist father joined the Labor Party and the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Ernie was one of the kids at Hindmarsh Primary who wore an ALP badge with a big red NO on it in opposition to the proposal put in two referendums to allow conscription for Australians to fight in WWI. On leaving school he worked as a clerk then administrator in the secretarial firm Bristow & Co.
He became president of the commercial section of the Federated Clerks’ Union and began his association with The Workers’ Weekly Herald (later known as The Herald). He joined the paper full-time in 1949 and became managing editor — a post he would hold until 1985! He was an industrial organiser for the Australian Workers’ Union and secretary of the Gas Employees’ Union. In the 1950s he twice stood against Premier Thomas Playford in the un-winnable Liberal seat of Gumeracha. He was elected to two terms as state member for Spence between 1970 and 1975.
Along the way, Ernie was involved in the many tense political struggles of the time and rubbed shoulders with the household names of labour movement politics. He admired Clyde Cameron and Jim Cairns. He didn’t think much Gough Whitlam, Kim Beazley or Kevin Rudd, though he did think Rudd would make the more capable leader. He concedes SA Labor Premier Don Dunstan was a good, though naïve, man. Ernie had cause to qualify his admiration of the much-praised reforming 1970s Premier. Dunstan had Ernie’s ALP membership suspended for twelve months for his association with "known Communists". Several others were expelled outright for their "pro-Soviet leanings".
Ernie visited the USSR and described it as being "like going to a new world" … "wonderful". He never described himself as anything other than a simple socialist but had a great respect for the dedication of Communists in the great political battles of his times:
"When Hitler took over in Germany, it was only the Communists who made a stand. The Social Democrats said, ‘Oh Herr Hitler, we’ll work with you, we’ll work well.’ And he said, ‘Like hell you will. You’re going to the concentration camp too’, which they did."
Ernie served out the last years of his working life as a trustee to the State Savings Bank. He continued to live in his humble home in Woodville with Lucy, his wife for over 70 years. His secret for a long, fulfilling life? Lucy — "she’s been absolutely marvellous, really" and a keen interest in what’s happening in the society around us. "Wherever I can I will spread the gospel of socialism. I WILL DO IT, right to the end. Keep the flag flying — and it’s red!"
Acknowledgements: Phil Robins, Labor E-Herald; SA Unions, Movers and Shakers, 2007