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Patrick Martin (Pat) Clancy (1919–1987)

by Suzanne Jamieson

This article was published:

Patrick Martin (Pat) Clancy (1919-1987), trade unionist, was born on 21 January 1919 at Redfern, Sydney, third of four children of Denis Edward Clancy, grocer, and his wife Olive, née Kitchen, both born in New South Wales. Pat was educated at St Peter’s De La Salle School, Surry Hills. He left at 14 and, after working in a boot pattern factory, began an apprenticeship in the printing industry, but it was terminated. He was then employed in a battery factory. He played Rugby League with the Balmain juniors in 1936 and had some success as an amateur boxer.

In 1937 Clancy contested a professional fight at Leichhardt that netted him 22s. 6d., which covered his fare to Port Kembla to take up an apprenticeship as a bricklayer with Australian Iron & Steel Ltd. He began to represent other apprentices in disputes with management. His political consciousness was raised in 1938-39 by the dispute over the export of pig-iron to Japan, and further in 1940 by the strike called by the Australasian Coal & Shale Employees’ Federation which led to the closing of the Port Kembla steel works and to his sacking. When the works reopened he returned to a job there.

Early in 1941 Clancy joined the United Operative Bricklayers’ Trade Society of New South Wales. After the bricklayers and carpenters amalgamated at State level in 1942, he was elected to the committee of the new organisation. In February 1943 he became secretary of the South Coast district council of the Building Workers Industrial Union of New South Wales. On 10 August 1940 Clancy had married Alma May Thomas, a machinist, at St Francis Xavier’s Catholic Church, Wollongong. He studied Marxism with the intention of converting Alma, whose family were committed socialists, to Catholicism. Instead he became a Marxist and in 1943 joined the Communist Party of Australia. Elected as a delegate to the South Coast branch of the Labor Council of New South Wales, he soon became a vice-president. He later served on the parent body in Sydney for many years until he moved to the federal sphere.

In 1944 Clancy was elected an organiser in the New South Wales branch of the BWIU, a paid position which necessitated a move to Sydney in January 1945. He settled with his family at Revesby. Known as the `boy organiser’ because of his youthfulness, he led the struggle for full daytime trade training for apprentices. In Sydney he met Tom McDonald, with whom he soon had close links through the union and the CPA. They also played Rugby League in a Eureka Youth League team. Through the Eureka league Clancy also organised sporting events for children.

A `craggy, bespectacled, soft-spoken, affable man’, Clancy became assistant secretary (1947) and secretary (1953) of the New South Wales branch of the BWIU, then acting federal secretary (1971), and federal secretary (1973) after the death of Frank Purse. At a time of intense rivalry between the building unions, he served (1970-73, 1975-79) as the building group’s representative on the executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, losing one election to Norm Gallagher of the Australian Building Construction Employees’ & Builders’ Labourers’ Federation. Under Clancy’s leadership the first national building trades construction award was processed through the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1975. This development was important not only in reflecting market rates in an award but also because its first renewal, in 1976, under the so-called Ludeke formula foreshadowed the process of award restructuring in the late 1980s. Permanent employment for building workers was also won under his leadership. He retired from the federal secretary’s position in 1985 and became the honorary chair of the union’s international department, developing fraternal relations with overseas unions—a continuation of his work through his representation of the union on the executive of the communist-aligned World Federation of Trade Unions. Since 1980 he had been completely blind, as a result of diabetes, but, through a combination of tenacity, prodigious memory, sharp intelligence and the assistance of other union staff, had continued to work effectively.

After returning to Sydney Clancy had been elected to the Sydney district committee of the CPA in 1947 and to the central (national) committee of the party in 1958. He had stood unsuccessfully as a Communist candidate for the Federal seat of Banks in 1954. He sat on the executive of the central committee at the time of the split in the CPA after the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The party’s attitudes to industrial policy and its relationship with the trade unions had long been a source of conflict: he regarded his first obligation as being to the interests of union members. He resigned from the CPA in 1971. The Socialist Party of Australia was formed in December that year; although he was cautious initially he became president. The party was pro-Moscow in its outlook and he was fondly referred to as `Clansky’. Because of differences among members he was removed as president in 1983 and resigned from the party. In 1984 he formed the Association for Communist Unity in an attempt to reunify the communist Left.

A choir boy in his youth, Clancy had been appointed as the trade union representative (1973-78) on the board of the Australian Opera as a result of his interest in classical music. He had always followed the South Sydney Rabbitohs; he continued to do so by listening to the radio when he could no longer see them. Although he presented a gruff exterior at times, he was a man of integrity, concerned for the welfare of workers and for world peace. The Soviet Union awarded him the Order of People’s Friendship in 1979 and the New South Wales Labor Council included him on its list of leading unionists in 1980. After suffering a heart attack, he died on 24 July 1987 at Bombay (Mumbai), India, on his way home from a peace conference in Mongolia. He was survived by his wife and their two sons.

Select Bibliography

  • The BWIU (1985)
  • G. Mitchell, On Strong Foundations (1996)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Feb 1979, p 15, 17 Oct 1985, p 2, 27 July 1987, p 7
  • Bulletin, 10 Apr 1979, p 76
  • Mercury (Hobart), 10 Aug 1983, p 8
  • R. Raxworthy, interviews with P. Clancy (typescript, 1985-86, National Library of Australia)
  • series A6119, item 133 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Building Workers’ Industrial Union records (Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Suzanne Jamieson, 'Clancy, Patrick Martin (Pat) (1919–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 January, 1919
Redfern, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


24 July, 1987 (aged 68)
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

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.