Life-long supporter of the workers

Warren Baker: Union organiser supremo and co-saviour of the Mechanics Institute in Lawson.
Warren Baker: Union organiser supremo and co-saviour of the Mechanics Institute in Lawson.

Warren Baker was a key player in transforming the dilapidated Mechanics Institute in Lawson into a thriving community hall and performing arts venue.

A dedicated community campaign in the early 2000s had saved the historic hall from demolition for the Roads and Maritime Services highway widening and from council development plans.

However, there was a real risk that the rundown building, which lacked adequate parking and basic facilities, would become a white elephant.

Built in 1902 as a public training college or 'Mechanics Institute' for the working classes, the hall's heritage resonated with Warren's socialist values. As a carpenter and builder, he appreciated its fine design and wonderful acoustics and as an accomplished jazz musician he saw its potential as an arts venue.

From 2013, Warren was chair of the council's volunteer hall committee and also served as a member and sometimes chair of the Friends of the Lawson Mechanics Institute.

In these roles, he joined forces with John Sheehy, Erst Carmichael, Leila Wedd, Julius Timmerman and others to successfully advocate and raise money for the building's renovation, new carpark, new portico, and professional lighting and sound systems.

The result is a fully equipped community hall for local events and world class performances such as the Great Southern Nights concert series last year. Warren, as usual, was in attendance.

Warren was born in Raglan, New Zealand, one of five children, on 14 July ,1952.

He and his Australian partner, Barbara, arrived in the Blue Mountains in 1979. They raised their three children on the edge of the Wentworth Falls bush in the elegant verandah-ed house that Warren designed and built.

Disciplined and meticulous with an appreciation of the finer things in life and an unwavering commitment to social justice, Warren did not suffer fools, scabs or shirkers lightly. He was a devoted father, foodie and animal lover, especially of cats.

A carpenter by trade, in the early 1980s Warren became an organiser with the Builders Workers Industrial Union (BWIU), later the CFMEU, where he continued for nearly two decades before moving to the Australian Workers Union

Colleague and close friend Nick Fodor remembers Warren as one of the best union organisers he has ever known and formidably organised. Warren's desk was immaculate - even the boot of his car had its own filing system.

He arrived at meetings smartly dressed with a briefcase out of which came his red notebook and pencil case to record detailed minutes. Warren advised Nick: "If you can't organise yourself, how do you expect to organise the members you represent."

Warren became the first BWIU organiser for manufacturing shops that supplied the construction industry. He built the union membership in this sector from zero to almost 10,000 members, transforming their unsafe and underpaid working conditions in the process.

A non-smoker and peppermint tea drinker, workers' health was as important to Warren as their safety. He would turn the air-conditioning to an icy blast when his comrades lit up around him in union meetings. His tireless campaign against smoking ultimately led to a ban in all the union's offices

After more than two decades as an organiser protecting workers' conditions, Warren trained as an accredited occupational health and safety auditor, leaving his work with the AWU for senior roles with international safety management auditing firms.

When he retired in 2013, Warren had more time for his lifelong love of jazz, as the drummer for the band Axiom playing in hotels and other venues.

The restoration of the Mechanics Institute in Lawson as a community resource and performance space was his final abiding passion. Warren was also a friend and colleague of former Greens councillor Kerry Brown, offering her valuable advice on work, health and safety legislation.

He drafted the notice of motion that committed the council to accredited safety management to the Australian and international standard. Warren is survived by his partner, Barbara, children Nadia, Jarrod and Eugene and grandchildren.

  • Supplied by The Mechanics Institute and Kerry Brown.