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In 1998 the Howard Government and the anti-union Patricks Corporation took on the Maritime Union of Australia – and lost.
The Howard government was obsessed with attacking unions.
Within its first year in office it introduced legislation to stymie union organising, and tried to shift as many workers as possible onto individual agreements to make it tougher for them to negotiate good deals with their bosses.
And Howard decided to take on unions like the MUA to try and stop workers coming together through their unions to be strong when they bargained.
The waterfront dispute started when the Patrick’s Stevedores company sought to de-unionise the docks, sacking MUA members with the full support of the government.
Security guards wearing balaclavas with attack dogs appeared on the wharfs.
But the wharfies didn’t back down and never gave up the fight. They stood strong by each other on picket lines across the country.
The MUA sprang into action, organising community pickets and launching a legal challenge alongside the ACTU.
The response in support of the wharfies was emphatic. Across the country unionists from a variety of trades and industries joined the community picket lines.
Union after union leant their support, both in personnel, and financially. Union members and community supporters popularised the chant across the country: “MUA: here to stay!”
Eventually, public opinion put pressure on Patrick’s and a court decision meant the MUA members returned to work. The MUA had not been defeated.
Their bravery and determination to stick up for their right to decent work and to be part of their union won a huge victory.
The MUA’s victory in 1998 was an inspiring example of how unions can win even against the toughest of opposition.
MUA: here to stay!
You can watch the MUA’s video on the dispute: