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John Peter Maynes (1923–2009)

by Frank Lee

John Maynes, who was one of the most significant trade union leaders to emerge in postwar Australia, died of cancer and pneumonia at the Austin Hospital, aged 86.

As a driving force within the Federated Clerks Union (FCU) of Australia, Maynes played a leading role in the Australian Labor Party's industrial group — known as ''Groupers'' — who took on the left, and especially the communists, in an era-defining struggle that led to the 1955 split in the ALP and the formation of the Democratic Labor Party.

Born at Clifton Hill and educated at Christian Brothers College, Parade, he joined the Australian Army but in 1942 was discharged on medical grounds.

He worked as an accountant for the Macquarie Broadcasting Network when he joined the FCU in 1948. They were stirring times. Eastern Europe had fallen under murderous Josef Stalin's Soviet Union, and soon, Australian soldiers under the United Nations flag were fighting the communist Chinese army in the Korean War. In Australia, industry and workers were suffering from waves of communist-led strikes in the unions of miners, seamen, waterside, power and railway workers.

Maynes and others persuaded the 1948 ALP biennial conference to recognise widespread ballot rigging in union elections. The following year the Chifley Labor government legislated for legal challenges to rigged elections in unions and allowed a union to apply for a ballot independently from the control of union officials.

Maynes and his group challenged ballot rigging in the clerks union, won control of the Victorian branch in 1950 and, by 1952, the union was rid of communist control in NSW and at the national level.

Earlier, Mr Justice Dunphy in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration had ordered a fresh election in the Victorian branch, where at one stage, the ballot return was 127 per cent! In 1951, a courageous Laurie Short won a similar court challenge to become national secretary of the Federated Ironworkers' Association after a 1949 election marked by ''forgery, fraud and irregularity on a grand scale".

The successes of the ALP industrial groups in combating communism in the unions of clerks, ironworkers and others were enhanced by the support they received from the Catholic Social Studies Movement, itself to become a target for opposition and sectarian attack.

The 1955 ALP federal conference withdrew the charter of the industrial groups; by then the groups had established an enduring legacy of clean ballots in union elections. Maynes went on to serve in the Victorian branch of the FCU as vice-president, deputy president and was then president for 38 years until he retired in 1992. (In 1988, Lindsay Tanner's left-wing faction gained control of the FCU's Victorian branch.)

Under Maynes, the FCU pursued claims for improved wages and conditions for clerical workers through industrial agreements and awards in state and federal tribunals. Membership agreements and preference for unionists were won and later lost in a climate of economic rationalism. He also played a key role in the introduction of computers to safeguard the jobs of clerks and other workers. The FCU won a High Court case to be consulted about the introduction of technology at the feasibility stage before employers installed new equipment.

He also served on the executive of the international Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional and Technical Employees, which has 9 million members in 88 countries.

Women, in particular, can thank Maynes. He campaigned against the unjustness of the basic wage for female workers being set at only 75 per cent of the male basic wage from 1949. He encouraged the ACTU to mount an "equal pay for equal work" case in 1969, but it was not until 1972 that it succeeded.

As a member of the ACTU executive, Maynes was ready to serve claims on employers for occupational superannuation in 1986. The FCU and the shop assistants union jointly sponsored the clerical, administrative and retail employees superannuation plan (CARE), with Maynes as chairman until he retired in 2000. Union members now receive 9 per cent of their wages paid into their ComSuper fund. The clerks union had more than 100,000 members — the biggest white-collar trade union in Australia

After the ALP split in 1955, Maynes joined the DLP for several years but his greatest interest remained with his union members. Some on the political left were critical of his support for the prime ministership of Bob Hawke and his association with Bob Santamaria of the National Civic Council. But he dismissed such criticism as red herrings from people who envied his industrial record.

Bill Kelty, when he was ACTU secretary, described Maynes as one of his heroes, and the clerks union as "practical and honest".

In 1985, Maynes was awarded the Order of Australia for services to the trade union movement. He was a champion of universal human rights, democracy and personal freedom, and supported the Solidarity trade union and social movement in Poland throughout the 1980s until the Soviet-backed communist regime was demolished in 1989, and the Berlin Wall fell.

His wife of 60 years, Therese, died in 2004; five of their eight children survive him.

* Frank Lee is a former editor of The Clerk, the national journal of the FCU.

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Citation details

Frank Lee, 'Maynes, John Peter (1923–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 March, 1923
Clifton Hill, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


15 April, 2009 (aged 86)
Heidelberg, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service
Key Organisations
Political Activism