Doug Cameron
Doug Cameron hugs Anthony Albanese after his valedictory speech. (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

If you followed politics, you knew of Doug Cameron, then-head of the AMWU, back in the 1990s. And for those of us who came of age in the Hawke-Keating years, he seemed like a dinosaur. He was a hard left-winger, an ardent advocate of protectionism, a man indelibly shaped by the post-war Scottish steel town he grew up in, who "joined the union on my first day at work" as he put it in his valedictory speech this week. He moved to Australia in the early 1970s and worked, at first, at the Pagewood car plant (around the corner from where I grew up), before taking a job at the Liddell power station, which led to his ascent within the AMWU.

How different from what we'd been given by federal Labor since 1983. Cameron was entirely at odds with the economic reform led by the urbane Paul Keating -- the abandonment of protectionism, the embrace of a global economy that would accelerate Australia's decline as a manufacturing nation, the reform of industrial relations to move to enterprise-level agreements rather than industry or even national wage-fixing. "A union is only as strong as its weakest shop and we would use the strength of our ‘hot shops’, the well organised sites, to raise standards across the industry," Cameron said in his valedictory. "Pattern bargaining, as it was known, is the most effective way for working people to get decent pay and conditions."