by John Tognolini
On May 10, 1989 the
Fifteen years after the strike was defeated, it is worth looking at this struggle against the background of the ALP-ACTU Accord years.
In the 1983 federal election, federal Labor leader and former ACTU president Bob Hawke campaigned against Malcolm Fraser's Coalition government at
Bob Galleghan, the federal secretary of the Ship Painters and Dockers
Galleghan was again in the thick of it during the 1989 strike-occupation. His leadership of the painters and Dockers was in sharp contrast to most of the other union officials, including Pat Johnson, the organiser from the metalworkers' union, now part of Australian Manufacturing Workers
A key factor in our ability to maintain the occupation for the length of time we did was that a large number of shipyard workers lived on the island for three months. They were from all the jobs in the dockyard — painters and Dockers, electricians, riggers, metalworkers, clerks, firefighters. Some were fifth generation shipyard workers.
Support from the ACTU and the NSW Labor Council was token for a couple of weeks, and then turned into outright opposition to the struggle of the Cockatoo Island Dockyard workers to save their jobs.
Dockyard workers stormed a Labor Council meeting that voted down a motion for a 24-hour general strike to save the dockyard.
During a protest by the
After this, there was the last mass meeting, which had union leaders telling strikers on their 93rd day “on the grass” that they would be open to fines under section 45D of the Trade Practices Act. Bob Galleghan said: “Anyone with a 45D fine could stand on the end of the line with the other creditors to the union.”
Isolated and ignored by the broader union movement, largely as a result of the hostility of the ACTU and the NSW Labor Council to the strike, the dockyard workers were forced to return to work. In June 1990, the federal Labor government reaffirmed its decision to sell the island.
The ALP and the ACTU don't like this historical period being discussed — it takes the spin-doctor gloss off the Hawke-Keating years. The bulk of the trade union leaderships preferred working against their memberships as Hawke and Keating Labor governments decimated large traditional blue-collar workplaces in the name of opening up the Australian economy to the rigours of the global marketplace.
from Green Left Weekly 21-8-04