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John (Jack) Kenna (1914–2011)

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Kenna, John ‘Jack’ (1914-2011) tailor’s presser, trimmer, and cutter and trade union leader 

Birth: 26 June 1914 in Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Wales, son of native-born parents James O’Connor Kenna (1883-1950), carpenter, and Victorian-born Charlotte Agnes Sophia, née Horne (1891-1973). Marriages: (1) 27 December 1937 at St Joseph’s church, Newtown, Sydney, to native-born Lilian Frances Jupp (1913-1993), a tailoress. They had one son. The marriage ended in divorce. (2) 12 February 1971 at the Registrar General’s Office, Sydney, to Thora Lucy, née Parkes, late Kearney (1922-2015). Death: May 2011 at Botany. Religion: Catholic. 

  • By 1936 was a tailor’s presser, living with his parents and siblings at Dulwich Hill, Sydney.
  • About 1945 became pressers' delegate, NSW branch of the Clothing & Allied Trades' Union (CATU). Leader of emerging right-wing Grouper [Industrial Group] faction within Australian Labor Party. Became branch organiser of CATU in 1952. In 1954 outmanoeuvred left-ALP faction to become secretary, with 'Kenna team' taking effective control of branch.
  • Led zealous assault on illegal outwork, perceiving outwork as a threat to both the women concerned and the union.
  • Prominent foundation member of Democratic Labor Party in NSW. Stood as DLP candidate for Sydney City Council in December 1956.
  • From 1957 on began to lose control of NSW branch of the CATU. By 1958 had lost support of former right-wing ally in union Jim Collins.
  • 1959 unsuccessfully opposed branch’s endorsement of federal council's decision to intervene in Queensland branch, the only other right-wing dominated branch. Without its support his position became very tenuous.
  • In 1960 was defeated for secretaryship of the CATU by Collins as ALP endorsed candidate.
  • In October 1961 he pleaded guilty of embezzling trade union funds and was placed on a good behaviour bond for ten years.
  • His younger brother was playwright Peter Joseph Kenna (1930-1987).

Bradon Ellem, In women’s hands? A history of clothing trades unionism in Australia (Sydney, 1989).

Citation details

'Kenna, John (Jack) (1914–2011)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


26 June, 1914
Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


May, 2011 (aged 96)
Botany, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.

Key Organisations
Political Activism