Monday, April 2, 2012

Use of the Word Comrade @fbeu + @NSWFBEU | #AusUnions


Comrade Full Movie

This comes up now and then, so thought I might reprint the following for a bit of discussion, and few personal thoughts. The following is an article I wrote for the NSW Fire Brigade Employees' Union / FBEU Journal (NSW Firefighter) in 2007.

By Darin Sullivan

We often hear the word ‘Comrade’, and it is usually in reference to our union activities, or to a fellow union member. Some use the term with pride, others cringe when they hear it and think it is old fashioned. 

While the term does have references to the Communist Party and Socialists, it has wider and richer meanings. 

Definitions of comrade:
At the word's simplest meaning, a comrade is a companion either through friendship or related interest/situation. Today it is somewhat associated with communism due to its use by socialists and communists, and due to media generalisations, but is also a method of addressing someone that doesn't imply a status-level. Similar to companion or fellow. The communist use of the word is said by many dictionaries to have originated during the French Revolution and was first recorded in English with this usage in 1884.

The word comes from the French camarade, which in Old French translated to roommate. This came from the Old Spanish word camarada, meaning much the same thing as the French version but especially related to companions in a barracks. Camarada was derived from camara for room, which originally was the Late Latin word for chamber. 

Comrade's first recorded entry into the English language is in the 1500s.
The word comrade does not originate from the Russian language, as many people likely believe.

Other meanings for ‘comrade’:

• companion: a person who is frequently in the company of another; "drinking companions"; "comrades in arms".

• brother: used as a term of address for those male persons engaged in the same movement; "Greetings, comrade!"

• Comrade is a term meaning friend, colleague, or ally. The term originally carried a strong military connotation, a "roommate". 

• fellow soldier, workmate.

You can see from these definitions, the word comrade relates to us as firefighters and Australian workers in many ways, but also within the Trade Union movement.

Interestingly, at our FBEU 1996 Annual General Meeting (22/11/96), debate on this issue was included on the agenda. The motion which was carried at that meeting was as follows:

Agenda item 2. Adoption of the fraternal address of “comrade”
State Committee of Management recommendation:

That the undated members’ correspondence questioning the Union’s use of the term comrade and proposing that the Union instead revert to the use of the terms brother or sister, as the case may be, be received, and that this meeting confirm as policy this Union’s adoption of the use of the fraternal address of comrade due to it being standing ACTU and NSW Labor Council policy, its gender neutrality and primarily, it being considered the most appropriate fraternal term for union members generally, and firefighters particularly, due to its most literally accepted meaning of ‘a fellow, mate or equal in work or play or fighting’.”

So the term ‘comrade’ has been well debated and accepted as policy within the FBEU, and this serves as an interesting historical look as to why many FBEU members use the term.

As firefighters we share a rare camaraderie. We work together, we cook, eat and sleep together. This closeness manifests itself into a family that is recognized worldwide. As a collective, a group of members belonging to the same trade union, we share a strong need to protect each other and “the family”, possibly more than any other type of Union. In referring to our brothers and sisters using the term “comrade”, many of us believe that we are bestowing a respect only possible to give to those who you would give all to protect.

It should come as no surprise that the oldest firefighters Union in the world – the FBEU – maintain such terms and traditions, as a show of pride and strength.

So next time you hear the phrase “comrade”, don’t think that you have been invaded by some crazy commie ! Appreciate that you are being referred to as a friend, ally, brother or sister – by someone who stands side by side with you, no matter what side of politics you believe in.

I hope just talking about this, and explaining some of the history about it's origins can break a bit of the Taboo around the use of the word Comrade. From a personal point of view, when you work and meet with those around the trade union movement, the word Comrade is used often, and with respect. But it is also used in that environment so much that it is just another way of saying 'mate'. However 'Comrade' is our word, we feel like we own it a bit more, and it carries more respect.

Importantly, it means you are calling some your equal - something that can be foreign in a para-military organisation - but this is what makes it so important. When we use this word, it means we are stepping back from work, that we are engaging as equals, and we are engaging with respect.

Make no mistake, when a Union Official turns up and calls you Comrade, or when a fellow firey, or a fellow worker at a rally, calls you 'Comrade', it's not some secret club ritual, or someone trying to emulate 'the old guys from the fifties', this is someone saying, 'I'm your friend, I respect you, and we are united in our goals'.

I know it sounds weird to some, and maybe we throw it around too much, but is that such a bad thing when you take on board all of the above?


Darin Sullivan

Posted via email from The Left Hack

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