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Henry Patrick (Harry) Scanlon (1902–1987)

by Jim Comerford

Long-time Miners Federation stalwart and working class activist Henry Patrick Scanlon died in Cessnock Hospital on January 22, aged 84.

Henry, who came from an Irish/German lineage, was born in Teralba in 1902. His father worked as a face miner in the original Pacific Colliery at Teralba. The family later moved to Weston, and then on to Cessnock.

After leaving school, Henry found work as a surface hand at Aberdare. In May 1927 he married Grace Barrett who also came from a longtime mining family.

Along with most of his fellow Federation members, Henry was caught up in the Northern Coal lock-out 1929-30.

And again, together with most of his comrades, he was involved in the Rothbury 'troubles' on December 16 1929. In the years that followed he became a noted authority on both incidents.

The Lock-out directed scores of mineworkers into militant working class activity. Branches of the Communist Party and the Militant Minority Movement (MMM) were formed on the fields and Henry and Grace joined both. Henry soon won recognition as a leader of the militant left in the Cessnock area.

At the end of the Lock-out, Henry was again cavilled out. He became a founder and president of the Cessnock branch of the Unemployed Workers Movement (UWM). Through the efforts of people like Henry, the UWM succeeded in winning significant gains for the unemployed, which softened some of the harshness of their dole existence.

Henry's turn to go back to Aberdare Central came in 1933. Within months he was elected Aberdare Central's lodge president.

Two other militants, Bill Orr and Charlie Nelson, running on the MMM ticket, were elected as the Federation's general secretary and general president. Henry soon joined them as vice-president of the Federation's Northern District.

With new and more vigorous methods of organisation and campaigning the militant leadership quickly succeeded in winning restoration of the Lock-out wage cuts, increased wages, shorter hours, paid holidays, better safety and health measures and the miners' pension scheme.

Henry played a major role in all the actions that led to those brilliant results. If he ever owned a kid glove he must have thrown it away. His methods were always direct and forceful.

In 1941 Henry was elected as Northern miners president and was also elected to the post of Central Council vice-president.

At that time trade union policy was in full support of the war effort. Henry threw himself into it with all the zeal he was capable of. It could be said that over the war years he was a single-minded anti-fascist.

At the time of his retirement Henry was working at Kolingo Colliery. In retirement he maintained his interest in the working class movement. At a critical time he saddled up as president of the Cessnock Retired Mineworkers Branch and was Retired Mine Workers Association (RMWA) District President for three years. RMWA State Council honored him with life membership.

During his last illness Henry read to me extracts from the magazine Marxist Review in hospital. His keenness was unquenchable.

Now that he is gone it is pertinent to say that those now working in the industry might ponder what they owe this comrade who more than once felt the heavy hand of the police and officialdom during his efforts to establish paid holidays, pensions and so much more.

He is survived by Grace, daughter Colleen and two fine grandchildren.

Vale Henry! They don't come any better.

(This is an edited version of an obituary which first appeared in the Miners Federation paper Common Cause on February 4 1987.)

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • profile, Workers' Weekly (Sydney), 10 April 1936, p 4

Citation details

Jim Comerford, 'Scanlon, Henry Patrick (Harry) (1902–1987)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 July 2024.

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