1936-1972

The events below highlight key points in maritime union history during the period 1936-1972. To learn about each event in more detail, follow the "read more here" link:

"Pig Iron Bob" and the Dalfram: Jim Healy had no sooner assumed the position of General Secretary of the WWF when the Port Kembla branch took on a fight that turned into a national cause. Japan had attacked China in July 1937. The conservative Australian government adopted a policy of appeasement towards Japan but broad constituencies in Australia were deeply opposed to Japan's aggression, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which passed a condemnation of Japan at its Congress...(read more here)

The Rotary System: In April 1942, the Stevedoring Industry Commission was formed, partly to rationalise wartime waterfront operations which, up until that time, the WWF, under the leadership of Jim Healy, was hesitant to cooperate with. The most significant change made under the Commission was the creation of the rotary gang system...(read more here)

The McQueen Report: 1940s Safety on The Wharfs: What started out in 1942 as an industry hunt for phantom malingerers turned into a step forward for the recognition that wharf labour was a health hazard...(read more here)

Solidarity--Indonesia: Spurred by World War II, Seamen's Union members came in contact with Indonesian seamen because Dutch ships docked in Australian ports. The conditions on the ships were extremely difficult--they had to eat their food on deck because no tables or chairs were provided below; the ate, slept and washed and went to the toilet in one area. They were forced to sail into war zones for barely more than 1 pound a month and were treated less than humanely by the Dutch officers...(read more here)

Solidarity--China: Chinese seamen first came to know the Seamen's Union during the early years of World War II, with a flood of Chinese seamen in Australia by the end of 1941...(read more here)

Mechanisation: The biggest threat to the WWF in the 1950s would be mechanisation. It was a difficult process because while some changes in technology eliminated heavy or dirty labour, mechanisation also threatened jobs...(read more here)

The Ampol Campaign: In 1962, the Union started a "Don't Buy Ampol Campaign" as a way to focus on employment and manning conditions. The target of the campaign was the Ampol tanker, P.J. Adams, which had been built in an Australian shipyard and subsidised by Australian taxpayers for about $1 million pounds. Commissioned in 1962, the ship left with a low-waged foreign  crew...(read more here)

Solidarity--Greece: In the post-war period of civil war in Greece, the SUA assisted Greek seafarers when the General Secretary of the Federation of Greek Maritime Unions, Tony Ambatielos, was jailed along with other left-wing unionists. Bolstered by a boycott of Greek shipping in Australian ports, which spread around the world, Ambatielos and others were saved from execution, and eventually released from prison in 1964...(read more here)

Containerisation: Containerisation was the most significant change to hit the waterfront in the 1960s. Bulk-loading was already commonplace but when the first fully containerised ship, the British ship Encounter Bay, arrived in Australia in 1969, the world had changed...(read more here)

Opposition to the American War In Vietnam: The Waterside Workers Federation and the Seamen's Union were both quite active in the movement opposing the United States' involvement in Vietnam and, in particular, the Australian government's support for the US war against the Vietnamese people...(read more here)


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