Tom McDonald, a SEARCH Foundation member and a lifelong communist, socialist, trade union and progressive activist, died on Saturday 16 April 2022, a few days short of his 96th birthday. Tom’s passing has been widely reported, and numerous tributes and condolences have been expressed to his immediate and wider family and friends, and circulated widely via online and social media.
We reproduce below the wonderful tribute to Tom by ACTU Secretary Sally McManus, on behalf of the Australian union movement, which was published on the day of Tom’s death. As Sally’s tribute says, Tom was an elder, legend and mentor of the Australian trade union movement. He was also a committed socialist activist who supported many struggles large and small for social justice, both in Australia and in solidarity with international struggles, such as those against apartheid in South Africa and to end the war in Vietnam.
SEARCH will publish further tributes to Tom in coming weeks.
The SEARCH Foundation expresses our deepest condolences to Audrey, Tom's partner of more than 60 years in life and politics, his son Daren, Daren’s partner Nivek and Tom’s granddaughter Casey, and to all of his many comrades and friends.
Matt Kunkel Luke Whitington
President Executive Officer
Tom passed away peacefully this morning at Gosford Hospital aged 95.
The union movement, across all generations, is in deep mourning today.
Tom McDonald was the National Secretary of the Building Workers Industrial Union and Vice President of the ACTU.
A union legend, Tom fought for and won universal superannuation, accident pay for injured workers, long service leave and the minimum wage system that supports millions of Australian workers.
Tom was also the union movement’s greatest ever mentor to young and developing trade unionists.
Tom started work as a ships’ carpenter and joiner at Sydney’s Cockatoo Docks at a time of very low wages, terrible safety standards, no support for injured workers, long hours, insecurity and no superannuation.
By the time he retired as leader of his union 1991 he had transformed his industry.
But the struggles he led went on to deliver workers compensation and superannuation for all Australian workers across all industries.
Tom was a deeply principled person who, along with his life partner and comrade, Audrey McDonald dedicated his life to working people.
Tom believed in collectivism and solidarity, and he was a remarkable strategic thinker.
Educated by working people, the Communist Party and by his own quest for knowledge, he applied his magnificent strategic abilities to achieve major advances and increases in living standards for every worker in Australia.
He loved the union movement and dedicated his life to it, generously pouring all that working people had taught him into every generation of union officials who came after him.
His lifelong commitment to passing on what one generation had learnt onto another so we could all be lifted up was an act of love and generosity unsurpassed in our movement.
Tom believed that unions are about “we”, not “I”. After his retirement he volunteered for another twenty-four years inspiring and imparting his experience and considerable wisdom to trainee union organisers in the ACTU’s Organising Workers program, writing several books, many essays and recently podcasts.
Tom had a deep love for the Australian union movement, as an active rank and file building worker, organiser, union leader and elder.
Over his life he helped build and shape wins for all Australian workers, and then carefully and lovingly watched over those who came after him to continue the fight for better rights for working people.
The gift of his time and wisdom was an honour to receive.
All of us who were privileged to know Tom loved and were inspired by him.
The Australian union movement extends our deepest condolences to his partner Audrey, to Daren, Nivek, Casey and to all Tom’s comrades.
Our movement has lost our greatest elder.
Our country has lost a great Australian.
- Sally McManus