Long term union stalwart and trade union activist Charlie Weldon has passed away peacefully in his sleep. He was 74.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin paid his respects to Charlie and his family, saying he had stood tall in the face of many health problems in recent years.
"A seagoing caterer, Charlie was a committed MUA and SUA member renowned for his forthright and honest activity and unrelenting commitment to our industry," Crumlin said.
“Shaped by activity in the troubles of Northern Ireland, Charlie was an internationally respected Republican who translated that militancy into a lifelong commitment to trade union and workers’ rights more generally.
"Charlie was a natural leader who would stand his ground against any odds for what he believed in. He was tough, loyal and uncompromising on matters of principle.”
Charlie came to Australia with his family on a ship called the Northern Star in 1971. He married Emily Lowe in Belfast before coming out. Emily came from a family of seafarers and her brothers Frankie, Danny, Gerry and Tom all went to sea on the Australian coast and were proud and active members of the union.
Charlie and Emily and the family settled in Broadmeadows, Victoria. He found work in the construction industry and was well known for his commitment not only to the trade union movement but working people whoever they were. He worked in that industry until December 1974 when he got away to sea.
Charlie with Collin Burgess and TomMcQuid on the Empress of Australia
Long term member and official of the Marine Stewards Union, SUA and MUA Dick Ryan recalls: “We both were waiting to get away to sea and did so on December 6, 1974 after waiting for some nine months to do so.
“Our first ship was the Empress of Australia, where we joined the Marine Stewards Union.
“Like everyone before us, we had to wait six months to become full members, before we could vote or move a motion and Charlie soon made his feelings known about that.
“During all this time he made people aware of the terrible situation in Ireland and the atrocities of the UK Government of the time including under Thatcher.
“Charlie was also a leading light for the amalgamation with the then SUA, He joined Brambles Shipping and was Chief Steward with them for many years.
“There are a lot of people who owe him a great deal of thanks not only for finding them work in both the maritime and construction industries, but for raising money and whatever else he would do for them. That was Charlie all over.”
Former MUA Deputy National Secretary Mick Doleman told an anecdote from his days as Victorian Branch Secretary of the SUA.
“When SeaCat wanted to launch is high speed catamaran into Bass Strait without the involvement of the then Seamen’s Union, Charlie and I did an inspection voyage from Hobart to Melbourne.
“They thought Charlie was the bodyguard so he had to look mean, which worked a treat."
“Everyone on board except me and Charlie were throwing up all over the place, those ships were terrible at sea and we used that experience to convince them and the authorities that experienced seafarers were needed for safety and ability to do the work.
“We won the day and SUA crew were recruited.”
Charlie was equally known and respected in the CFMEU as an activist and union stalwart, including during both the BWIU and BLF disputes.
Crumlin said Charlie’s toughness was tempered by a generous good humour that also went the distance.
"A great and loyal friend and loving and proud family man was equally not a man to cross and much of the wide respect he enjoyed and deserved was due to these two qualities,” Crumlin said.
“Charlie defied the barriers of age and it didn't matter what generation you came from, Charlie would engage as long as your principles and values were steered towards the benefit of the many and not the few.
“Many a young Seafarer who was fortunate enough to meet Charlie would have a story of how he engaged them and influenced their thinking.
“If fortunate enough to sail with Charlie or just simply be in his company having a beer, it wasn't long until the politics were shared in between many a laugh.
“Charlie's leadership and influence on the younger generations is part of his legacy and many a trade union leader elected today is a testament of that legacy.”
MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray recalled how Charlie had engaged him in the real politics of workers while still in his early 20s and encouraged him to stand for office.
“The stop work meeting was always a day-long event if you were in the company of Charlie – four hours at the meeting and eight hours in the pub,” Bray said.
"Charlie was as honest as the day is long and would tell it how it is, but was also man enough to listen and be convinced otherwise."
"Charlie idolised his kids and was a family man that adored his grandkids - he was as compassionate as he was hard."
Charlie came from an extended family clan and had a wide network of comrades and friends in Australia and around the world.
Born on the 5th of January 1943 in Ireland, Charlie leaves behind his wife Emily, children Cathy, Charles, Marie, Joanne and Gerard and 15 grandchildren.
Charlie, Gerard and Marie - in keeping with family tradition - are members of the MUA.
On behalf of The Maritime Union of Australia, our members, officers and staff the National Secretary and National Presiding Officer Christy Cain offer our deepest sympathies and condolences to the Weldon family and his army of friends and comrades in Australia, in Ireland and around the world at this time of great loss to them and us all.
Vale Charlie Weldon. Comrade, seafarer, construction worker, loving man of family, Republican and international trade unionist. Now at rest after a mighty effort.
Gerry Adams message to Memorial Tribute to Charlie Weldon
Sinn Fein expresses its condolences to the family, Comrades and friends of Charlie Weldon on his sad passing.
In paying tribute to Charlie we acknowledge the great support he has given to the struggle for Irish freedom and unity.
Even through our toughest and darkest times, Charlie was never found wanting as a proud Irish Republican.
We also salute the wonderful contribution Charlie has made to the struggle of Australian workers, particularly as a staunch activist in the maritime and construction unions. We know Charlie will be especially missed by his Comrades in the MUA and the CFMEU as he will indeed by our Irish Republican family.
Vale Charlie Weldon.
Gerry Adams, President Sinn Fein