Veteran Trotskyist Issy Wyner passed away in August, aged 92.
June 30 1916—August 13 2008
Wyner’s life was closely bound up with the development of the Trotskyist tradition in Australia. The story of his life of work in the labour movement is truly inspirational.
Issy Wyner was born in Marrickville, a working class suburb of Sydney, in 1916.
His father was a founding member of the Communist Party of Australia in 1921 and the young Wyner’s life was characterised by the political tumult and radicalism of the era.
In 1928, aged only 12, he was part of the movement to occupy houses in poor sections of Sydney as the Depression gripped the economy. It was in this era that Wyner’s father plied him with reading material—the minutes of the First International.
Wyner’s early experience with the Communist Party set him on a lifetime of radical activism. He was expelled from the Young Communist League in 1933, the first in a long life of battles against Stalinism.
It was from this point that Wyner’s involvement in the labour movement took off. After a series of other jobs, Wyner landed on the docks of Balmain, where he was a painter and docker.
He joined the Ship Painters and Dockers Union in 1939. It was on the docks that Wyner battled the Communist Party for leadership in the union.
For 30 years Wyner was an official for the Ship Painters and Dockers Union, involved in a series of battles that greatly improved conditions on the wharves.
The union held elections for officials every year—leading many to remark that Wyner was perhaps the most elected man in Australia.
On top of his role in the union (the history of which he went on to write in With Banner Unfurled and The Union Right or Wrong), Wyner was elected to Leichhardt Council in 1959 as a member of the ALP. Along with his Trotskyist colleague Nick Origlass, Wyner led a series of radical reforms at a council level.
They fought for community-interested development, over the expansion of Sydney Airport and for better community services.
Both Origlass and Wyner were expelled from the ALP in 1968. They were continually re-elected as part of independent Labor and Community Independent tickets, finally losing to the ALP in 1990.
The Hawke government disbanded the Ship Painters and Dockers Union in 1993 but that was not the end of Wyner’s activism.
He was active up until the end of his life, through Leichhardt Council and writing the history of his union.
Wyner’s dedicated 92 years to the labour movement and the development of Trotskyist politics in Australia. His contribution was momentous.