MUA Front And Centre Of Dalfram Dispute Commemoration

A new monument to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Dalfram Dispute was unveiled at a ceremony in Wollongong today.

The event was attended by current and past MUA members and officials, politicians and guests from the Chinese consulate and local community.


MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin, MUA SNSW Branch Secretary Garry Keane, Sue Roach, daughter of WWF Leader Ted Roach and Penny Lockwood, daughter of Rupert Lockwood were all present at the gathering.

Following Japan’s invasion of China in 1937, the Waterside Workers Federation had begun a nationwide campaign of militant action in response to the Japanese aggression. 

The slogan ’No Scrap for the Jap’ began to appear on wharves around the country.

Workers argued that these materials were being used for war purposes against the Chinese and in particular, against the civilian population.

In addition, Melbourne wharfies refused to load scrap iron on to a German ship in May 1938.

On 15 November 1938, the British tramp steamer Dalfram berthed at No. 4 jetty in Port Kembla.

Mitsui, the controlling company for Japan Steel Works had chartered the vessel to take pig-iron from Port Kembla to Kobe, Japan.

Ted Roach, then Branch Secretary for the Waterside Workers’ Federation, addressed the men at the labour pick up for the ship - the Dalfram.

He told the men of the destination of the pig iron and the uses the Japanese would make of it: bombs - first against the Chinese and eventually against Australia. 

In protest, men walked off the ship declaring they refused to load pig iron for Japan to turn into weapons. 


Crumlin paid tribute to the 180 wharfies who refused to load the Dalfram, backed by their leader Ted Roach and the local community.

The dispute lasted more than 10 weeks, with the workers and their local community eventually emerging victorious in the fight against the Japanese war machine.

“After the Nanking massace, these workers had the guts to directly take on imperialism,” Crumlin said.

“They used their moral judgement and political judgement and the fact we are here talking about them 80 years later reflects the enormity of the decision."

“Workers using their political and moral values isn’t always good for business and the government of the day wasn’t happy about it.

"These are lessons that resonate today – the Dalfram Dispute shone a light on the future in terms of not just imperialism but also economic elitism."

Crumlin paid tribute to ACTU Secretary Sally McManus, who in her first major television interview after taking on the role, said workers shouldn’t accept bad laws.

"What do you do with bad laws – you stand up to them,” Crumlin said.

"Peace is union business and we will continue to make a difference. We are the difference."

Crumlin spoke of the Transport Workers’ Act - known to working people as the Dog-Collar Act.

The Act stipulated that only licensed wharfies could be employed in particular ports specified by the Government. 

If a licence was taken out and wharfies did not comply with the licensing provisions, then the licence could be revoked. 

So, if wharfies took out licences, they would sign away their right to strike.

"The Dog Collar Act – we have similaset of rules now,” Crumlin said.

"Ted predicted this sort of stuff would come back again and he was right."

Keane spoke of the importance of the Dalfram dispute in the history of the Illawarra.

This action went against the Federal Lyons Government’s endorsed contract to provide 300,000 ton of pig iron to Japan.

The Government ordered the wharfies back to work but they refused.

“No-one could believe the community support,” Keane said.

“They shut down the steel works for eleven weeks across Christmas and put around 4,000 people out of work.

“The intention was to put pressure on wharfies but it had the opposite effect – the dispute got bigger and bigger.

"That says it all about the Illawarra and the people who live here.”

The Government had underestimated not only the wharfies but their families and community as well.

A picket was established at the wharf and a women’s committee organised donations of food and rallied support for the strikers’ families. 

The Chinese community provided truckloads of produce from the Sydney markets and local farmers also donated fresh food. 

Support for the stand against Imperial aggression poured in from the public and other unions from throughout Australia and Internationally. 

The Lyons Government accused the WWF of trying to dictate Australia’s Foreign Policy and implemented the Dog Collar Act.

Only one licence was issued however and that was ceremoniously burnt on the stairs of the Wollongong Town Hall.  

The lockout lasted for 10 weeks and 2 days, during which Robert Menzies went to Wollongong to try and end the gridlock.

Menzies was met by an angry crowd and it was there he was awarded his unfortunate nickname after a woman in the crowd heckled him with “Pig Iron Bob”.

"The day Menzies came to twon he had two meetings, the first at the Wollongong Hotel and the second across the street,” Keane said.

"Police approached Ted Roach and the wharfies to get Menzies across the road.

"There is a photo in the union rooms of the wahrfies accompanying Menzies – one bloke with a big grin on his face.

"Pig iron Bob stuck with him for the rest of his career."

Keane said that almost eleven weeks later, the Government said there would be no more steel sent under the contract to Japan.

“This was a dispute run on moral grounds – a social and moral dispute in support of the Chinese people who were being massacred,” Keane said.

“This was also a protest against a war we knew was coming.

“It is an incredible legacy."