Tribute to union legend Tom McDonald

Published: 29/04/2022
Category: Workers rights
Published: 29/04/2022
Category: Workers rights

Tom McDonald was a building union leader and industry reformer, superannuation pioneer, and union legend. He passed away peacefully 16 April 2022 at Gosford Hospital aged 95.  

Tom was the National Secretary of the Building Workers Industrial Union and Vice President of the ACTU.    

We owe our deepest gratitude to his hard-won fight for universal superannuation, accident pay for injured workers, long service leave and the minimum wage system that supports millions of Australian workers. 

Tom’s own activist journey began early with his first strike was as a teenage apprentice working on Cockatoo Island. He led a group of apprentices to protest poor training and lack of work.  

He later planted his roots at the Building Workers Industrial Union after his apprenticeship. It was with the building unions that Tom became a key driver of the union campaign for universal superannuation in 1983.  

The building unions turned a campaign for a wage increase in 1983 into a campaign for superannuation. With superannuation introduced in the building sector, it was spread across other industries, becoming the ‘industry super’ we know today.   

Dave Noonan, CFMEU National Construction and General Division Secretary, described Tom as “a legend of our union” and “a driving force”. 

“Tom came from a background of poverty in the Sydney suburb of Glebe and became a socialist. He never forgot where he came from and never gave up the good fight for workers’ rights, social justice and economic equality.” 

Educated by working people, the Communist Party and by his own quest for knowledge, Tom 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. 

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.

Celebration of the life of Tom McDonald

The ACTU and the McDonald family invite you to join us in celebrating a remarkable life. 

A memorial will be held in Sydney on 9 May. 

Funeral Service

Monday 9 May 2022, 9am arrival for 10am start 
Sydney Town Hall
483 George St Sydney

You can find more details for the memorial here

We hope you are able to join us in celebration of Tom and his generation and the achievements of the Australian union movement.

Tribute to union legend Tom McDonald

Tribute to union legend Tom McDonald