History has been changed by building power, and there’s power in drawing upon the lessons of history. This podcast series discusses power and how to build it. The series starts by looking at values and their place in underpinning decision-making and guiding behaviour and action. Strategy is the art of building power. Episode 2 considers the pivotal importance of understanding the strategy of those who seek to prevent the change you want to make. Episode 3 unpacks the elements of strategy for success while episode 4 discusses tactics and what militancy looks like. Episode 5 examines how vision, values and a compelling strategy built Australia’s safety net. The series concludes by discussing the challenge of building and sustaining power to win the future. Underpinned by the wisdom of great Australian change makers, this series is essential listening for all those wanting to forge a fairer and more democratic and inclusive society.



This Masterclass series will inspire, educate and assist activists to become workplace and community leaders. Moderated by Professor Ed Davis, it draws on the wisdom of union elder Tom McDonald and many past and current Australian union leaders. Musicians Chloe and Jason Roweth also share the stories and music of some of the great moments in the history of the labour movement

VALUES: A set of values lay at the core of any cause or movement. Values constitute the social philosophy that is the central part of any world outlook. In Episode 1 “Values: Guide posts for decision making and action” Sally McManus, Jo-anne Schofield and Tom McDonald discuss values, their place and role in driving change, how to counter right-wing populists and shock jocks, and how to win the support of working people for the cause of building a fairer Australia.

ANALYSIS: To win change and build a fairer workplace or society, it is first necessary to know your opposition’s strategy. Those who do not carefully study their opposition’s strategy will be captured by it. In Episode 2 “Neoliberalism: Knowing our enemy’s strategy” Sharan Burrow, Dave Noonan and Tom McDonald unpack the strategy of neoliberalism to wind back workers’ rights and living standards and weaken our democracy.

STRATEGY: Strategy has been described as the art of creating power. It comes into play when values and interests collide. In Episode 3 “Strategy for Success: The essential ingredients”, Bill Kelty, Sally McManus and Tom McDonald discuss how to design and execute a winning strategy to build power and achieve your goals and breakdown the strategies of some of the great struggles in forging a fairer Australia.

LEADERSHIP: A key attribute of leadership is the capacity to envisage a better future and turn it into a reality. Vision and the courage of your conviction can inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. In this Bonus Episode “Vision and Leadership: Women’s road to leadership at the ACTU,” Bill Kelty, Sally McManus and Tom McDonald discuss what it took to win equal representation for women on the ACTU Executive. 

TACTICS: Militant action is pivotal to creating a fairer society. But militancy that is not underpinned by principles and smart tactics is doomed to lead the workers to defeat. In Episode 4 “Mindful Militancy: Tactics for Success” Lisa Fitzpatrick, Doug Cameron and Tom McDonald discuss the role of militant tactics in pioneering social change. Our panel unpacks militancy, the difference between good and bad tactics, and the role that values-driven leadership and culture plays in successful action.

VISION: In the midst of unprecedented global economic crisis in the 1980s the Australian labour movement defied the insidious neoliberal attack on the welfare state to forge a world class safety net. In Episode 5 “How the labour movement built the modern Australian safety net” Bill Kelty, Anna Booth and Tom McDonald share the amazing story about how a bold vision came together with a compelling strategy through the ACTU-ALP Accord to enrich the quality of life for working people. The Accord was an extraordinary blueprint for change and delivered Labor its longest period of government in Australian history. In this episode we reflect on the lessons and legacy of the Accord and an epic period of social change. 

POWER: It has been said that making change happen means both understanding the power that prevents change from happening as well as understanding the power we have within ourselves and with others to create change. In Episode 6 “Building and Sustaining Power: What’s required to win the future” Michele O’Neil,  Michael Kaine, Nadine Flood and Tom McDonald discuss what power is, why it’s important to analyse and understand it, how to build it, and how people can better influence decisions that affect their lives. Warning: This episode includes a story about workplace fatality and suicide.

INSPIRED TO LEARN MORE? Discover more about many of the great struggles of the Australian labour and women’s movements and what it took to win in Dare to Dream, the memoirs of Tom and Audrey McDonald, whose inspiration is behind the creation of this podcast series.

THANKS TO ALL OUR CONTRIBUTORS The Masterclass for Activists podcast series was made possible by the volunteer efforts of Professor Ed Davis and union elder Tom McDonald, all the current and former trade union leaders who joined Ed and Tom in conversation. The support of The Committee to Defend Trade Union Rights, Tony and Nina Bleasdale, Chloe and Jason Roweth, and the team at deliberately Engaging is gratefully acknowledged.


Tom McDonald

Tom McDonald AM is the former National Secretary of The Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia and a former Vice President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

Tom joined his union when an apprentice at Sydney’s Cockatoo Island during WWII and has been a continuously financial member of his union for over 75 years.

Since his retirement in 1991 he has trained and mentored over 1000 activists through the ACTU Organising Works program, including ACTU Secretary Sally McManus (pictured).

On his retirement Prime Minister Bob Hawke described him as having made one of the outstanding contributions to advancing the interests of working people. He was awarded the Order of Australia in 1994 for services to industrial relations and the trade union movement.

In 2016 he and his partner Audrey published their memoirs Dare to Dream: Stories of Struggle and Hope. He is also the author of The future of Trade Unions in Australia (1989); Unions 2001: A Blueprint for trade union activism (co-author, 1995); Creating a super union – The story of the CFMEU (2010); and The Quiet Revolution – Superannuation for all workers (2017).

Ed Davis

Professor Davis AM gained a BA at Cambridge where he majored in Economics. His academic career began at Monash University in 1974 where his focus was industrial relations. He retired from full-time employment in 2008 after six years as Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Financial Studies at Macquarie University.

Professor Davis attended and reported on ACTU Congresses from 1979-2015. He is the author of Democracy in Australian Unions, published by Allen and Unwin (1987) and was Secretary of the UNSW Branch of the NTEU from 1985-88.

Professor Davis is the former National Vice President and NSW & ACT President of ABC Friends. He is passionately committed to the fight for well-funded, strong and independent public media.

He is a former National President of the Industrial Relations Society of Australia and is a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia for “service to education and to the community in the areas of equity in employment, industrial relations and human resource management”.


In this series Emeritus Professor Ed Davis is joined in conversation by leading Australian trade unionists including:  

  • Anna Booth, former Deputy President, Fair Work Commission and former ACTU Vice President and National Secretary Clothing and Allied Trades Union.
  • Sharan Burrow AC, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and former President, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).
  • Doug Cameron, former National Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and a former Labor Senator for NSW.
  • Lisa Fitzpatrick, Victorian Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).
  • Nadine Flood, former National Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).
  • Michael Kaine, National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union of Australia (TWU).
  • Bill Kelty AC, former Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and former board member of the Reserve Bank of Australia.
  • Tom McDonald AM, former National Secretary of The Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia (BWIU) and a former ACTU Vice President.
  • Sally McManus, Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the former NSW Secretary of the Australian Services Union.
  • Dave Noonan, National Secretary of the Construction and General Division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union (CFMEU)
  • Michele O’Neil,President, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and former National Secretary, Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA).
  • Joanne Schofield, National President of the United Workers Union (UWU).


Chloe & Jason Roweth have been researching and presenting the living tradition of Australian music for over twenty five years. Drawing their inspiration from the warmth of old-style bush entertainment, the Roweths work with vibrant arrangements of new and old traditional Australian ballads and work songs, early country music, original music, poetry, yarns and dance tunes, weaving together and carrying forward diverse threads of the Australian tradition. In this series the Roweths present powerful examples of music used in support of progressive change

To find out more about Chloe and Jason’s wonderful music, you can visit their website here

We acknowledge and thank;

  • Traditional Tune (McAlpine’s Fusiliers)
  • Traditional Tune (Jack Munro)
  • Poem: “Green Ban” By Denis Kevans.
  • Song “The Green Ban Fusiliers” Words: Denis Kevans, Traditional Tune (McAlpine’s Fusiliers)
  • “The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away” Words and Music by Alistair Hulett
  • “Don’t Be Too Polite Girls” Words: Glen Tomasetti, Traditional Tune (Flash Jack from Gundagai)
  • “Ballad of Norman Brown” Words: Dorothy Hewitt, Traditional Tune (The Collier Laddie)
  • “Which side are you on” Words: Florence Reece
We seek to build the capabilities of government, business and civil society to realise the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 16 to:

“Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels” and

“Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels”