Jim Beggs went to work on the Melbourne waterfront at the age of 21, where the country’s most militant union held sway. Little did he know that, in 20 years’ time, he would be elected its President, bringing peace to an industry plagued with division.
Jim’s father came from Northern Ireland in 1920; his mother was fifth-generation Australian. Jim was raised as a Protestant (now Uniting Church), in a working-class area of Melbourne, where he left school at the age of 15 during World War II, and got a job as a shop fitter. At 21, he started work on the Melbourne waterfront.
As he walked up the gangway, Jim did not think he would last long with ‘all these tough wharfies’ from the Waterside Workers Union of Australia. Strikes and stopwork meetings were frequent.
In 1955, Jim and his wife Tui came to know IofC through a neighbour, who asked him, ‘Jim, do you want to see the waterfront different?’ They had just been through a punishing three-week strike, and Jim’s answer was yes. At the time, Jim and Tui were ‘doing it tough’ - living in a garage with no hot water, no toilet, no roads, one child and one more on the way.
The neighbour introduced him to the idea of ‘guidance’ and the idea that change could start with himself. This helped his marriage and also got him involved in the union to bring about change. After many years of hard work, Jim was elected President of the Waterside Workers Union, a position he held for 25 years till he retired. Today, he is still involved in the industry, serving on a committee that looks after the welfare of over 100,000 seafarers who come through the port each year.
With Tui, he has three children and eight grandchildren.