It was only when I heard the sad news that I realised how deeply he had affected me and how much of a lasting impression he had left.
Of course he would be totally embarrassed and probably very disapproving that we are here gathered today to eulogise him. I expect he would have said quite simply: “Aw you shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble”.
Bill started work in the Department of Labour and National Service. He won a Commonwealth Overseas Scholarship which took him to Cornell University where he was awarded a PhD.
In 1966, he came to a lectureship at Monash in the Department of Economics, which was then the centre of industrial relations scholarship in Australia. He later moved across to what is now the Department of Management where he continued to research and teach in industrial relations and labour economics, rising to the position of Associate Professor before his retirement in 1993
He was influential in the development of the industrial relations field at Monash and led it for the last twenty years of his service. While his work showed the influence of his economic training, he strongly believed in the importance of institutions.
Bill taught a variety of subjects at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Bill even taught industrial relations in the MBA, and it was these students in particular who appreciated Bill’s grasp of the worlds of business and government. He is fondly remembered by countless students and at a recent 40 year reunion for the Monash MBA, it was Bill whom I was most asked about.
His one liners and his comebacks were so fast that before you had time to respond he’d unleashed yet another quip. But none of it was vicious: sometimes it was called for criticism; often uninvited but useful advice.
Bill published widely; his most influential piece was the 1977 ‘Trade Unions in the Context of Union Theory’. It was here that he first published what has come to be known as the union dependency thesis. Like many of Bill’s views, I do not know anyone who agreed with it entirely but no one could ignore it. It had to be grappled with.
Out of curiosity, I googled Bill yesterday and six things came up – not bad for someone who has been out of the trade for 16 years!. Clearly his major works are still being cited.
Before I leave his publication, I want to highlight another feature of his character. Almost invariably, he did not go first author. I am sure that was not for lack of contribution. I can imagine him saying something like: Look...you have done the lion’s share of the work and I wouldn’t feel right about it”.
Individual to the end
Certainly, Bill only published when he had something to say. Although the pressures to publish were there then, captured in the phrase “publish or perish”. He simply would not play the game.
But when he wrote something it was well polished. He wrestled with the arguments – something which seems to happen less and less today. The polishing was not about drafts and re-drafts to find an elegant phrase; these came naturally and often the first draft was close to the final.
Bill could have equally been a novelist or an historian; he loved literature and he drew on it frequently in conversations. And he always had a ready story or anecdote with which to illustrate or drive home his point.
Mentor and Advisort
He always had time to stop what he was doing to provide advice and counsel to a host of friends, students and colleagues.
From my perspective he was always doling out advice, whether or not I wanted it or agreed with it. At some level it was a provocation as our political views were quite opposed; I am not sure if he was trying to change me or whether he just enjoyed the game.
At the same time as he gave advice he always sought it, even from me, and on things which I had no idea – but Bill gave me credit for knowing far more than I did.
But the last word must do to Bill. In 2002 we brought some of the leaders in the field together to provide their reflections on 25 years of Australian industrial relations. Ever incisive, ever humble he wrote in words that have not dimmed:
“Doubtless some of you are thinking about the future of industrial relations. As a spectator, I think that something will have to be done to mend the decline of unionism – self evident like most of my predictions. I do believe that, even if the good old days weer good, yon wont find salvation in the past.
One of the reasons I suggest this, apart from general principles, is the nature of the Industrial Relations Commission. From inception it has tried to be fair (an part of my criticism of the Commission relates to that . I think it is more appropriate for a legislature to dispense fairness). But it doesn’t seem that fairness is something any government of the future is likely to promote. Of course, they will all say they want tob e fair , but they will have an eye on the votes they need”
Professor Julian Teicher