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Joseph (Joe) Keenan (1900–?)

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Joseph Keenan (1900-?) seaman, trade union leader, Communist 

Birth: 1900 in Scotland. Marriage: unknown. Death: unknown. 

  • Arrived in Australia in 1921. Worked as a seaman and joined the Federated Seamen’s Union of Australasia [from 1925 the Seamen’s Union of Australasia]. Member of the Militant Minority Movement of the Communist Party of Australia.
  • Attended world congress of Seamen and Harbor workers in Hamburg, Germany, in 1932 and was elected a member of the executive committee of the International of Seamen and Harbor Workers.
  • Returned to Australia, claiming he had spent two years in England and been refused membership of the National Union of Seamen, and rejoined the SUA in October 1934. In February 1935 elected acting Sydney branch secretary. Led 1935 seamen’s strike.
  • Opponent of former secretary Jacob Johnson and his allies Bill Casey and W. J. Clarke. Replaced Johnson as general secretary of the Seamen’s Union in January 1936. Uproar continued. At a meeting in February Keenan narrowly avoided being assaulted and other SUA officers refused to recognise his election.
  • Lost support of the CPA because of alleged personal failings. Fraser cites a CPA central committee meeting at which Ernie Thornton accused Keenan of “carousing in a Greek ‘sly-grog’ shop”, “buying drinks for prostitutes” and having a “cynical, flippant attitude to serious questions”. Attempts to recall him, however, were resisted until July 1937 when CPA-endorsed W. J. Daley replaced him as SUA general secretary.
  • Continued active in the CPA and SUA and failed in an attempt to secure re-election as general secretary in 1939 and came “close to sabotaging the election” of Elliott as general secretary in 1941.
  • Still a trouble-maker in August 1942 [Fraser p.229]. Later activity unknown.

Workers Weekly
(Sydney), 7 February 1936, p 3; L. J. Louis, ‘Recovery from the Depression and the Seamen’s Strike 1935-6’, in Labour History, November 1981, No. 1, p 74-86; Donald Sinclair Fraser, Articles of agreement: The Seamen’s Union of Australia, 1904-1943 a study of antagonised labour, PhD thesis (University of Wollongong, 1998).

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'Keenan, Joseph (Joe) (1900–?)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Joe Keenan, 1936

Joe Keenan, 1936

Workers Weekly (Sydney), 7 February 1936, p 3

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